Cardinals’ BJ Ojulari making up for lost time amid continued development
Oct 14, 2023, 8:52 AM
(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)
TEMPE — Excitement is brewing for Arizona Cardinals rookie linebacker BJ Ojulari.
Coming off a season high 22 defensive snaps in Week 5, the 2023 second-round pick out of LSU is hoping for even more this Sunday against a tough Los Angeles Rams offense.
Now, 22 snaps are far from the front end of Arizona’s OLB rotation, but for how Ojulari’s NFL career began, he’ll take every snap he can get.
Relegated to the sideline for most of the offseason and training camp due to a knee issue, Ojulari has had to fight from behind the eight ball to get to where he is today.
Unlike most of his fellow rookies, the linebacker missed out on valuable reps ahead of the regular season, undoubtedly impacting his growth along the way.
But Ojulari didn’t let his status keep him down, turning over every stone he could away from the field to get to where he is today on it.
“It was real frustrating at the beginning, but just having the people in the building continue to coach me hard, continue to develop me and understanding that I wasn’t able to get the reps in camp and OTAs and stuff like that,” Ojulari said Friday.
“I just continued to hammer in my iPad, hammer in the playbook and just seeing my progression from where I started at to now is definitely positive and definitely keeps me going to see what I can really become in the future.”
Among the biggest things Ojulari did for himself injured or not was his ability to absorb all he could from his coaching staff and teammates.
Whether that meant heading back to the field to get more work in after meeting with OLBs coach Robert Rodriguez or chatting with Zaven Collins, Myjai Sanders or any of the other pass rushers before or after practice, Ojulari was all for it.
“A lot of guys went through what I went through,” he said. “Not even being hurt, just being a rookie, trying to make your name in the league, getting used to the game speed, the technicality of just not just playing the game but what’s going on all around you.”
“It means a lot,” Ojulari added about gaining the trust of Collins, Sanders and others. “You’re in the room with those guys, you hang out with them outside the locker room. Just to have that trust, that camaraderie, it means a lot. It makes me go harder for them and the organization as well.”
If anything, those added conversations eased the mind of the rookie and made him much more comfortable in his new surroundings.
And equally as important, Ojulari picked up a ton of respect from his peers through all the added conversations and practice sessions.
“BJ’s coming along really well,” Collins said Thursday. “He’s always eager to learn, we stay after, we watch film understanding that the league is a lot. … He’s come a long way, he’s doing well, he’s getting comfortable with where he’s at and how this defense is operating. He’s going to be a great player for sure.”
“He’s a raw talent. He’s going to be a killer in the — I ain’t even going to lie — the next couple games,” Sanders added Thursday. “As long as I keep working with BJ, he’s going to be nice. I’m just giving him everything I got. He’s going to be a nice cat coming off the edge for sure.”
Despite his very limited showing during offseason work and training camp, Ojulari has had some sort of role in each of the team’s first five games of the season on both defense and special teams.
That’s not to say, however, that he still isn’t making up for lost time five games into 2023.
Though he has appeared in every game this season, Ojulari has seen just 67 defensive reps (19% of available snaps). He’ll soon have even more competition for snaps in a loaded OLBs room with the expected return of Sanders off injured reserve sometime in the next two weeks.
“BJ’s still a rookie who didn’t get a lot of snaps early on in training camp, so I think his development is still going to continue to take off and increase over the course of the season,” defensive coordinator Nick Rallis said Tuesday.
“That is a deep room and everyone that has a jersey is going to play in that room. … The flow of the game can determine a little bit how the reps go, but I think he’ll continue to improve throughout the year.”
For Ojulari, it’s all about sticking with what got him here.
Ojulari on the rookie class seeing a lot of run in 2023:
“You can tell the future is going to be real bright here. (Head coach Jonathan Gannon and general manager Monti Ossenfort), they have a great plan for each and every one of us. It’s very specific, very detailed. As a rookie class, we just want come and do our role and contribute to the team. We’re great character guys, we mesh well and mesh well with the locker room and we just continue to put our head down and continue to just go out there and ball.”