By Matthew Postins
How much does Amobi Okoye have left in the tank? Given that the Dallas Cowboys signed him to a two-year deal just before rookie mini-camp began, the Cowboys must believe he has something to offer, even though he didn’t play in the NFL in 2013.
There was a time when Okoye was considered a big-time player. That was coming out of college at Louisville. As an interior tackle with the ability to get to the quarterback, NFL teams saw him as a good fit in several defenses. Ultimately he landed in Houston where the Texans made him the No. 10 overall selection in the 2007 NFL Draft. Okoye rewarded the Texans with a rookie season in which he sacked the quarterback 5.5 times.
But he didn’t do much after that. In six seasons Okoye has proven durable but not productive. After four seasons in Houston he lost his starting gig, partly due to the Texans’ change in draft philosophy under defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. But his production as a right defensive tackle in Houston had grown inconsistent.
Okoye landed in Chicago and spent two seasons with the Bears, registering five sacks as a backup. Right now his reputation is built around unfulfilled potential.
So then why would the Cowboys take a chance on him?
A few reasons leap to mind. First, there’s that Chicago connection. Rod Marinelli, the defensive coordinator in Chicago before he came to Dallas, coached Okoye in Chicago. So, theoretically, Marinelli has a good grasp on what Okoye can do and what he can’t.
Second, there is still some upside to Okoye, if you set aside the fact that he’s considered a draft bust. He’s just 26 years old. He turns 27 next month. So youth is on his side.
Third, the Cowboys are committed to finding the right eight or nine guys for Marinelli’s defensive line rotation. Signing Okoye indicates the Cowboys are dedicated to leaving no stone unturned. The two-year contract indicates that the Cowboys believe Okoye has more than a passing chance of making the team.
So what does this guy have left? I’m not sure. There isn’t much tape of him out there on the Internet, so one must be reliant on what others who understand the game are saying.
Some scouts say he has position flex, something the Cowboys value. He’s played both the three-technique and the one-technique in a Cover 2 defense in Chicago. DallasCowboys.com’s uber scout, Bryan Broaddus, wrote earlier this week that Okoye seemed more at home at the three-technique, where the goal is to use speed and size to get upfield quick and disrupt the backfield.
Okoye has the size, at 302 pounds, to play the one-technique, which is more dedicated to run-stopping and more likely to take on two blockers. But it’s not his forte.
During his time in Chicago Marinelli used Okoye most frequently on third down and allowed him to freelance a bit to try to pressure the quarterback. At the time Okoye was backing up another new Cowboy, Henry Melton, so it wasn’t necessary for Okoye to play three downs per series. It may be that role suits Okoye the best, a situational interior pass rusher who can give you 20-30 plays per game.
Given his experience with Marinelli’s version of the Cover 2, and Marinelli’s experience with Okoye, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for Okoye to be a good fit in Dallas. The two big questions are this. First, how much rust is there to shake off after a year away from the game? Second, can he fend off several players at one of the most competitive position groups on the field for the Cowboys?
If the answer to both questions is yes, then Okoye will probably make the team. Just don’t expect him to set the world on fire.