TEMPE, Ariz. – The loss of third-year linebacker Alex Okafor is a significant one as the Arizona Cardinals head into the postseason.
How significant will depend on whether or not others will be able to step up to fill the void, especially this week knowing how successful the Cardinals were at pressuring Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the first meeting.
The good news is linebacker Markus Golden is expected back after sitting out the regular-season finale against Seattle with a knee bruise. The Cardinals also anticipate the return of defensive tackle Josh Mauro, who missed the past two games with a calf injury.
Then there’s the addition of veteran linebacker Jason Babin, signed to a contract Tuesday after working out with the team only 24 hours earlier.
“I love the style of defense and how they get after the quarterback and how fast they play. It’s the way I like to play, so I think it’ll be an easy transition,” Babin said following practice Tuesday. “At the end of the day it’s about whipping the man across from you; so if they didn’t think I could whip the man across from me I don’t think they would’ve signed me to a contract.”
Babin, 35, is a two-time Pro Bowler with 64.5 career sacks over 12 seasons, including two games this season with Baltimore.
Babin said he was in Florida when he received a Sunday call from the Cardinals to try out. His trip, which under normal circumstances would’ve taken four-to-five hours, turned into a 14-hour journey due to the difficulty of finding flights and later a rental car because of the National Championship game.
“But everything worked out just fine,” he said.
The Cardinals hope Babin becomes the latest in a long list of successful mid-season additions, that this year includes Dwight Freeney, Red Bryant, D.J. Swearinger and Chris Clemons.
“Our front office does a great job of finding hidden gems and hopefully (Babin will) be another one,” defensive tackle Calais Campbell said.
Head coach Bruce Arians offered no explanation as to what happened to Okafor, who was placed on the non-football injury list with a toe issue.
“You’ve got to talk to Alex,” Arians told reporters.
Disappointed teammates were at a loss, as well.
“The head coach said ‘hey, don’t be that guy’. Somebody was that guy,” linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. “I know (Okafor is) a good kid. Unfortunately, things happen. (But) we got to do what we got to do. It’s playoff football.”
In 13 games, Okafor had two sacks, both of which came in Week 1 against New Orleans, and 13 quarterback hurries, tied with Campbell for the second-most on the team.
Without Okafor, Alani Fua and Kareem Martin are expected to see some time at outside linebacker; plus there is a role, too, for Babin.
“Coach did mention I would have a role,” he said. “It’s a loose definition. What is a role, I don’t know but I’m just here to work. I’m just happy to be playing football and be a part of this great organization.”
Babin added the Cardinals’ defensive verbiage is similar to what he’s experienced in the past, which he hopes will make for a smooth transition.
Babin admitted, however, being thrust into a playoff run is a new situation for him.
“The furthest I’ve ever been was round one, twice,” he said, referring to his postseason resume. “It means a lot to me, and I know it means a lot to everybody in this building.”
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