TEMPE, Ariz. – When the Arizona Cardinals began their 2015 postseason run, they did so without their starting outside linebacker Alex Okafor.
He missed the divisional playoff win over Green Bay and the NFC Championship Game loss in Carolina.
Reduced to a spectator, Okafor doesn’t want to experience not being on the field with his teammates ever again.
“It hurt,” he said. “This is my career and to miss one of the biggest moments in my career, it hurt more than I can explain.”
Why Okafor wasn’t on the field—the Cardinals had placed him on the non-football injury list with a toe injury—was somewhat of a mystery, nearly becoming a bigger story than how his absence might’ve affect the team.
Head coach Bruce Arians offered up only three words as an explanation.
“Go ask Alex,” he said back in January.
Okafor, however, wasn’t around to ask.
He was on Tuesday, when the Cardinals held their first organized team activity of the offseason.
Though he was a willing interview subject, Okafor shed no light on what had happened just days before the Green Bay game.
“I’m just telling everybody I’m putting it in the past, and it’s a new year for everybody, not just me,” he said. “It’s bigger than me and nobody is even focused on me right now. We’re focused as a team right now, and that’s what we’re working towards.”
During the NBC broadcast, it was reported Okafor hurt his toe in a swimming pool accident.
“It’s in the past, man,” he said. “I’m not getting into that. I don’t want to create a story with that. It’s in the past, and we’re moving forward.”
The off-field incident had some questioning Okafor’s future with the Cardinals.
Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Okafor, 25, had those worries alleviated not long after the season ended.
“There’s no security in this league, so yeah, I didn’t know what was going to happen with me,” he said. “I talked to B.A. mid-offseason, and he told me he was going to bring me back, so I was just appreciative of that; and just ready to come in here and give it my all.”
Asked about Okafor on Tuesday, Arians was again short with his answer.
“He’s doing really good,” Arians said.
The Cardinals hope Okafor is good this season.
With his healthy return, Markus Golden going into his second season and the addition of Chandler Jones, the Cardinals believe they’ve improved their pass rush, possibly significantly from a year ago.
“We saw the formula with the Broncos,” Okafor said. “They had depth at outside linebacker and end position, and that’s how they got after the quarterback and won the (Super Bowl). So, we saw the formula and we’re trying to do the same thing here.”
In 13 starts last season, Okafor had two sacks, both coming Week 1 against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. He also tied for second on the team with 13 quarterback pressures and added eight quarterback hits.
For his career, Okafor has 10 sacks in 27 games.
“I’m going to attack it this year,” he said. “I got a lot to prove. This team has a lot to prove. We all ended the season sour. We’re just trying to get that taste out of our mouth.”