Alex Okafor finds himself in a big spot.
He played only five snaps in 2013 before being lost for the season. He was praised for his work in offseason workouts, but then got hurt at the end of the preseason and was unable to play for the first three games. He had his season debut on Sunday against the Denver Broncos and was in for 10 snaps.
Now he finds himself as a starter.
Starting outside linebacker Matt Shaughnessy suffered a knee injury during Sunday's game and is being placed in on injured reserve-designated for return. The run-stopping linebacker will be missed.
Head coach Bruce Arians indicated that Okafor will now slide into that spot.
"Alex has got a big opportunity for himself," Arians told the media on Monday. "He's more than talented enough. He's just got stay healthy enough and play."
Arians said he "was pleased with (Okafor's) performance."
"He did good," he said. "He got some pressure on the quarterback.
The stat sheet says he was in for 10 snaps. He did not record a tackle. Pro Football Focus had him in for nine snaps and one quarterback hurry.
Seth Cox, who writes for our site, has compared Okafor to Shaughnessy, saying he has developed into more or less the same player. During training camp and the preseason, Okafor played against the run very well, but did not show much in terms of a pass rush.
If Okafor is that sort of player at minimum, that will be a huge help, as Shaughnessy is a huge reason why the Cardinals have defended the run so well since the start of last season. The defense needs a pass rush threat as well and the coaches are hopeful Okafor can bring that as well.
What expectations should we have of the second year player? He gets his big shot now. Will he step up? Can he stay healthy? Can he hold up in the running game or will there be a dropoff from Shaugnessy? Can he provide any sort of spark to the pass rush? Nothing thus far has worked. The team has only four sacks in four games and they have not gotten a sack from a linebacker yet this season.
"Next man up" has been the team's mantra this season. Can Okafor be the guy they envisioned when they drafted him in 2013?