Okoye's stint was short-lived in Tampa following a knee scope that never allowed him to get on the field during the preseason. First-year Bucs coach Greg Schiano was not happy with Okoye's inability to get on the field, stating (via the Tampa Bay Times):
At the end of the day, you've got to go out and earn a spot.
The Buccaneers' loss immediately becomes the Bears' gain.
When the Bears did not re-sign Okoye this offseason, a void was left in a defensive tackle rotation that sorely lacked depth. Henry Melton, Matt Toeaina and Stephen Paea were the three locks at defensive tackle coming into camp with the Bears, bringing along Nate Collins, DeMario Pressley, Brian Price and John McCargo, among others, to vie for a spot in the rotation.
The Bears released Price, who was traded to Chicago from Tampa Bay earlier in camp, along with Pressley and McCargo for simply not producing when given the opportunity. Collins is currently on the reserve/suspend list for one game for violating the NFL's drug policy, but is expected to join the rotation following his suspension.
Last season in Chicago, Okoye played in all 16 games, starting one and finishing the season with four sacks, the second-highest total of his young career. Despite entering his sixth season in the league, Okoye is still just 25 years old, giving the Bears one of the youngest defensive-tackle corps in the NFL, with the average age of Melton, Toeaina, Paea, Okoye and Collins at 25.
Okoye was considered by many to be a bust in Houston after he was drafted 10th overall in the 2007 draft at the age of 19. He was viewed as a tremendous talent at the position, combining speed with a nose for the football. His rookie season, he collected four sacks in his first four games but finished the year with just five-and-a-half sacks and ultimately ending his tenure in Houston with just 11 sacks.
Not having to be "the guy" in Chicago helped take some of the pressure off of Okoye. Expectations weigh heavily on young players, especially those who enter the league at 19. By not having a multitude of expectations placed on him, Okoye was able to have one of his most productive seasons since his rookie year.
Okoye's best work in the rotation was during third down last year, when he was allowed free range to get to the quarterback. Okoye's four sacks were second only to Melton's seven among the defensive tackles, and many would argue that Okoye was more effective at the three-technique toward the end of the season than Melton was.
Okoye will likely be rusty given the fact that he did not suit up in the preseason. The Bears currently list him third on the depth chart at the three-technique behind Melton and Paea, but once he regains his role in the rotation, Okoye helps bolster a position that before this week was uncertain with exactly what they had.
Matt Eurich is a contributor to Bearsbacker.com. Follow Bears Backer on Facebook andTwitter for up to the minute news about the Bears. Also, check out Matt’s work onBleacherreport.com and follow him on Twitter @MattEurich.
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