While Morris is disputing Okam's claim of only weighing 355-pounds, the Buccaneers are pleased with the progress of their run-stuffing specialist so far this preseason irregardless of what the scale says.
Looking back in Buccaneers’ history, the number of 370-pound defensive tackles Tampa Bay has lined up on the field is small. Perhaps even nonexistent. The philosophy of the Buccaneers, since nearly their inception, has always been about speed. Quick penetration from the defensive line and then let the linebackers clean up; that was the general philosophy from the early days of Tom Bass all the way to Monte Kiffin and current defensive coordinator and head coach Raheem Morris.
But Frank Okam has broken the mold of thinking around One Buccaneer Place. The fourth-year defensive lineman has been one of the more pleasant surprises of training camp and has made injuries to Brian Price and Roy Miller a little more bearable. Okam understands his role, and relishes in it.
“It all starts in the middle,” Okam said. “My job is to clog up the middle, help free up others and to make plays when they come at you. I’m not making excuses for my size. It is what I’ve been given and it is my skill set, and I am trying to take advantage of it.”
“I think any nose tackle in the league understands, it's kind of like the offensive line in that you don’t get any glory. I just take pride in trying to put good things on tape, helping other guys make plays. It's kind of like [co-defensive line] coach [Keith] Millard says, ‘It takes four [players] to rush the passer.’”
Okam’s path to Tampa Bay was a bumpy one. After being taken by the Houston Texans in the fifth-round of the 2008 NFL draft, he was released midway through the 2010 season after playing in just 13 career games without recording a sack. The former Texas Longhorn spent a week with the Seattle Seahawks before being cut and signing with the Buccaneers. Okam’s career was clearly in limbo.
“I’d have to honestly say getting cut helped me,” Okam said. “Getting cut twice [last season] pretty much brought things in perspective for me. I knew I wanted to stay in this league and be the player I felt I could be. So when I got another chance I had to take advantage of it. I think the most important things are to not take any opportunity for granted and try to do your best to put things on tape that you can be proud of. Being consistent is the most important thing to me.”
Okam said most of the changes he made as part of his improvement were mental.
"I think it was the confidence," Okam said. "It was a huge difference. Coming to a place where you feel the coaches believe in you, that was a big thing for me. And then being comfortable with the other guys in the locker room.
“Maturity [is also big factor]. Going into my fourth season now I am one of the older guys at the defensive tackle position. The longer you stay in the league, the more blocks and schemes you see that you can respond to quicker that a young guy might not be able to. I think the new coaches have broadened my scope of understanding.”
Keith Millard and Grady Stretz were hired in the offseason to coach the defensive line and the players have all had rave reviews about the new duo, including Okam.
“It helps us out to know the coaches are watching you down to the last detail,” Okam said. “Even if you have a good rush and beat someone, they are still critical that you didn’t take the right approach or angle. They still call you out on that. So when you worry about the small details, the bigger things will come into focus.”
His head coach has also taken notice of the Jasper, Arkansas native.
“Okam is a space-eater, a penetrator and a problem,” Morris said Monday afternoon. “He is huge. Right before he came to camp he said he was 370 pounds. I was thinking we have to get him down [weight wise]. Then he showed up, and just looked big and square. We got him going and said, let’s just keep him right there. Whatever his weight is, he is playing at a high level.
“He is unique. Roy [Miller] has played great for us and [Okam] will definitely go in there and play for us. The unique thing about Frank is he plays nose tackle and the three-technique. When he goes out there in the three-technique he is still productive and heavy - and gives us another look.”
While Okam knows his position isn’t glamorous, he understands the importance of his job and the effect it can have on the unit.
“If I’m getting that double-team, I want to drive them back as much as possible and make sure they stay on me because we have some great pass rushers. Young guys like Crowder, Bowers, Clayborn and Michael Bennett rushing off the edge. And obviously Gerald McCoy and Brian Price, some of the quickest tackles in the league.
“My job is to keep pushing the pocket, clear those guys up and let them go be playmakers.”
Copyright © 2011 Pewter Report, PewterReport.com and Pewter Insider. All rights reserved. PewterReport.com, the official site of Pewter Report, is an independent source of news and commentary and is not affiliated with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the NFL.