Time is running out for both Gerald McCoy and Brian Price as injuries have caused both players to end their first two seasons on injured reserve. That's why the Bucs signed DT Amobi Okoye, who is looking for an opportunity in Tampa Bay to live up to his draft billing as a former first-round pick.
Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik was asked to evaluate the disappointment of team’s the 2010 draft class on Tuesday, and it was noted that defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price, who were selected with first- and second-round picks that year, have both seen their first two NFL seasons end prematurely on injured reserve. Dominik and Tampa Bay’s front office doesn’t have a true feel on either player as a result, and is unsure if they are part of the long-term picture with the Buccaneers or if injuries will continue to prevent them from reaching their potential.
“We don't have much more time, nor do the players,” Dominik said. “They have they two years remaining on their contract, except for Gerald who has three. The reality is it's disappointing that our defensive tackles have been hurt. It's extremely disappointing, and they're frustrated and disappointed as well. I still have hope, but here's only so much time left. I know we have a lot of them out there, but I'll be my harshest critic to look at that class and see what they do.”
The uncertainty surrounding McCoy and Price is exactly why Dominik signed defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, who was Houston’s first-round pick in 2007, to a one-year deal worth $2 million this offseason. Okoye sees the opportunity to come in and make an impact at the three-technique tackle and either push McCoy to greatness or push him to the bench.
“As you see I am already blending real good with the guys,” Okoye said. “I have known Gerald since last year, and when I had the opportunity and I signed here I definitely reached out to him. I am glad to be here. I had a great year with Chicago and four with Houston. I’ve had a solid career so far. It is just now about getting over and being a Pro Bowl defensive tackle that everybody and every player wants to be. So I think I have that opportunity and I know I have that opportunity here in Tampa. I am just here to win.”
Okoye has played in 78 games with 59 starts, recording 165 tackles, 15 sacks, five passes defensed, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. In 2011, Okoye recorded four sacks, 27 tackles and two tackles for loss despite starting just one game.
“I started like one game in Chicago, but I played about 50 percent [of the snaps on defense],” Okoye said, noting that he had the second-most snaps along the defensive line even though he was a reserve. “It was the second most as far as defensive tackles go. So whatever it is they ask me to do here I am going to do that plus more. So that’s the goal – to do that plus more. See wherever that goes from there. “
Okoye begins his Bucs career as a backup to McCoy, but knows that he will be heavily involved in Tampa Bay’s defensive line rotation.
“Definitely in this league and college, and even high school, in my opinion I think it is good to have that rotation,” Okoye said. “You know I mean a lot is required for a big man as a D-lineman in the movement and he might get gassed easily. So it is very good to keep that rotation going and just getting guys getting after the quarterback. Getting after the running backs and disrupting and getting in the backfield.”
Okoye was sold on landing in Tampa Bay after meeting with defensive-minded head coach Greg Schiano, who said he wants the young defensive tackle to finally live up to his first-round draft billing and become a dominant, impact player.
“It was a good, just a man-to-man conversation,” Okoye said. “It was just about life and about growing. So that’s pretty much how it went was just get here and get better.”
Okoye said that the old-school, college-style of coaching that Schiano, who spent the last 11 years at Rutgers, employs did catch him off guard on the first day of mini-camp.
“It was definitely shocking,” Okoye said. “Definitely shocking, but kind of cool. I hate to bring this up, but kind brings up a little bit of memories from [Bobby] Petrino back in college [at Louisville]. Before I signed here we spoke and he talked about that game in my senior season where they messed it up for me. [Schiano] kept on talking about how they couldn’t block me, but I was like, ‘Coach, you guys won and messed up my season. So don’t try to sugarcoat it to make me feel good.’ But I’m looking forward to it.”
The fact that Okoye is the most veteran defensive tackle on the team, yet is only 24 years old is one of the appealing aspects of him to the Buccaneers. For Okoye, the appeal is to join a team on the rise that is full of young talent and compete for a starting job.
“Win games – definitely to win games,” Okoye said. “It is a very young team and it is probably the first thing about being where I am. I am considered one of the older guys. In Houston, the last two years of my career we were kind of younger, but we still had some older guys. So now it is just about me using some of the things I have learned in the past and just helping guys out. At the same time, bettering myself to become that player I just talked about being. So I am just looking forward to that Super Bowl season.”
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