TBO.com, The Tampa Tribune and The Tampa Times - breaking news and weather
Thursday, Jul 31, 2014
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs' Okoye prepared for his big chance

By
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 10:02 PM
TAMPA -

The NFL has a tendency to turn even the most talented and promising football players into gypsies, and few can attest to that better than Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive lineman Amobi Okoye.

A former first-round pick of the Houston Texans, Okoye has been in the league for five years, but already is playing for his third team and could be on the verge of moving to his third position.

The sudden and surprising decision by the Bucs to trade projected starting nose tackle Brian Price to the Bears for a 2013 late-round draft pick on Thursday sparked the latest move, which Okoye seems quite willing to embrace.

"I'll play anywhere that allows me to sack the quarterback,'' said Okoye, who has played under tackle and end for the Texans and Bears but has little, if any, experience playing nose tackle.

That inexperience could give teammates Roy Miller and Gary Gibson a slight edge in the competition to replace Price, but Okoye's track record has many believing he'll win out in the end.

A starter until he joined to the Bears last season, Okoye has 15 sacks during five seasons in the league, while Miller and Gibson have three each in a combined eight seasons.

Not that those pass rush numbers will be the deciding factor. The Bucs are trying to improve a run defense that ranked last in the league in 2011, so the have several factors to consider in finding Price's replacement.

"That's part of what we're trying to do here in training camp,'' first-year coach Greg Schiano said after the first camp workout Friday at One Buc Place. "We're trying to determine who fits best and where.''

The Bucs ultimately decided Price was not a fit for them on Thursday after he was re-injured during Schiano's conditioning test – 16 sprints of 110-yards each – which Price failed to finish.

The decision to move him, though, had been contemplated for at least a couple of weeks, general manager Mark Dominik said, and prepared for all offseason.

Okoye, who signed a one-year, $1.3 million contract in April, and Gibson were added to bolster the defensive tackle position in case Price went was injured or no longer with the team.

Price missed games in 2010 and 2011 because of hamstring injuries that required radical surgery to reattach the muscles to the pelvic bone.

"At some point we have to go out there and win some football games, and so part of the plan for us this offseason was to be involved in free agency and find guys like Amobi Okoye,'' Dominik said. "That's a position we focused on, knowing this day would come.''

Okye, 6-foot-2 and 292 pounds, is built for the nose tackle spot. He hopes the day has come when he can settle down with one team and start building a career that can be described as spectacular instead of solid.

Not that he minded all the moving around.

He learned much from his travels, and matured more quickly as a person and football player a result.

"I suggest that every player go through at least two or three teams, because it really does a lot for you,'' Okoye said. "I wouldn't necessarily say it humbles you, but it tests your mental state.''

What Okoye tested during the first workout Friday was his physical state. He had arthroscopic knee surgery late in the offseason to clean out debris and repair small tears.

The results, Okoye said, were encouraging. Though still not 100 percent, he was able to participate in all the assigned drills.

Price might not have been traded if Okoye were still ailing, so his health will be a big factor moving forward, which also is the direction Okoye believes his career is again headed.

"I think being a Top 10 pick, everybody expects you to be a Pro Bowl player, and when you don't make that, (there is) criticism and all that," he said. "But I think I've had a very solid career so far.

"It's kind of been like climbing a ladder. That ladder has been at Reliant Stadium and it's been at Soldier Field and now it's here. But it doesn't matter where that ladder is as long as you keep on climbing."


rcummings@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7979

Comments