Alex Okafor to Cardinals: How Does OLB Fit with Arizona?

Shaun ChurchContributor IApril 27, 2013

Dec 29, 2012; San Antonio, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns defensive end Alex Okafor (80) sacks Oregon State Beavers quarterback Cody Vaz (14) during the second half of the Alamo Bowl at the Alamodome. Texas beat Oregon State 31-27. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports
Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

With the 103rd pick in the 2013 NFL draft, the Arizona Cardinals have selected former Texas defensive end Alex Okafor.

How does Okafor fit in with what the Cardinals want to do on defense?

Arizona needs a pass-rusher, and Okafor is certainly that. He played as a 4-3 defensive end in college, but he was announced as an outside linebacker when picked by the Cardinals. That means he will be learning a new position in the pros and must do so in a hurry.

It is not certain whether O’Brien Schofield will be set to begin the season at outside linebacker for Arizona, so Okafor may be forced into early action—likely in rotation with Lorenzo Alexander.

Okafor was productive his final two seasons in the Longhorns’ defense, and as a senior notched 12.5 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss. He was in the offensive backfield regularly, and that is just what the Cardinals are hoping he can provide.

For as much as the Cardinals’ pass-rush was feared at the beginning of the 2012 season—getting to opposing quarterbacks 16 times through four games—was quite soft down the stretch, notching 22 sacks over the final 12 games of the year.

The pass-rush could be helped big-time by Okafor. That is, if he can learn the outside linebacker position. There is more to being an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense than a defensive end in a 4-3.

He reminds me of former and now current teammate Sam Acho. Acho, who also played defensive end at Texas, converted to outside linebacker when he was drafted and has been a bit of a bust so far. He produced seven sacks in 10 games started as a rookie and had high expectations coming into his sophomore NFL season. But four sacks while starting all 16 games in 2012 did not get the job done.

Okafor must be brought up to speed as an outside linebacker in a hurry. Acho did not have that luxury as a rookie due to the lockout, which is perhaps why he did not supplant Joey Porter in the lineup earlier than he did.

All the tools are there for Okafor to be productive as a pass-rusher. He needs some fine-tuning in coverage skills, however, and he will get that from the team of good coaches head coach Bruce Arians has put together in Arizona. Do not be surprised if Acho becomes a mentor of sorts for the rookie, showing him the ropes and helping guide him while he cuts his teeth in the NFL.

Get on your Twitter account and follow Okafor if you have not done so already, and give him a big #Birdgang welcome.