Nature of Okafor’s toe injury a mystery as Cardinals move on

Jan 12, 2016, 3:24 PM | Updated: Jan 13, 2016, 6:41 am
Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Alex Okafor (57) in the first half during an NFL football game...
Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Alex Okafor (57) in the first half during an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Word that the Arizona Cardinals were working out linebackers Jason Babin and Matt Shaughnessy Monday was curious, but did not exactly raise any eyebrows or red flags.

Even though it is the playoffs, it is not unusual for teams to take a look at available veterans, and in Shaughnessy’s case, someone who was with the team as recently as training camp.

Then Tuesday the team announced it had signed Babin, while at the same time placing defensive lineman Cory Redding on injured reserve with an ankle injury and linebacker Alex Okafor on the non-football injury list with a toe issue.

The Redding news was not surprising, as he had already missed time this season due to the ankle and and re-injured it in the team’s Week 17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

That the team also lost Okafor, however, came as a shock. The third-year pro was out a few games earlier in the season due to a calf injury, but had appeared in all eight games since the bye week and appeared to be in good shape for the playoffs.

“Alex Okafor is not a non-injury list,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians announced Tuesday. “He was injured over the weekend and he is no longer active.”

Asked how Okafor injured himself during the team’s bye week, the coach responded, “You’ll have to talk to Alex.”

Okafor was not in the locker room for comment, however.

The mysterious nature of Okafor’s injury will lead some to speculate he was perhaps participating in something he shouldn’t have. That may very well be the case, though it’s also possible he was not doing anything out of the ordinary and was the victim of fluky circumstances.

“The head coach said ‘hey, don’t be that guy’, somebody was that guy,” linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said, noting he’s not sure what happened but is praying for Okafor. “I know he’s a good kid — don’t get it twisted — Okafor is a good kid. Things happen.

“He’s one of those guys I’ve known for about a year now and just he has some bad luck, but ultimately you’ve got to take care of your business and make sure you’re there for your teammates, being accountable. That’s what it all comes down to, accountability. But I wish him the best.”

Weatherspoon added he and some of the veterans on the team will reach out to Okafor to help because, as he said, this could go two ways from here and they will try and help him get back on the right path.

Regardless of what actually happened, the Cardinals will enter their Divisional Round playoff matchup with the Green Bay Packers — as well as any subsequent game from there — without Okafor, who had two sacks, 13 QB pressures — which was tied for second-most on the team — and eight QB hits. Okafor led the Cardinals with eight sacks in 2014.

“It’s a tough one,” defensive lineman and captain Calais Campbell said. “It happens, though. Things happen like that all the time. You have the ‘next man up’ mentality.

“Alex is a good kid, a big part of the team. But when things like that happen you’ve just got to move on, and next man up.”

With Okafor on the shelf, the Cardinals will likely rely more heavily on rookie Markus Golden, who was back on the field this week while recovering from a knee bruise. Arians also mentioned Babin as well as rookie linebacker Alani Fua and second-year pro Kareem Martin.

“So it’s just the next guy up,” he said.

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