Okoye adds intrigue to Bears' defensive line
BOURBONNAIS – A top 10 draft pick in the NFL almost always goes one of two ways.
Option 1: The player becomes a star.
Option 2: The player becomes a bust.
Newly signed Bears defensive tackle Amobi Okoye is not ready to attach a label to his career just yet. The No. 10 overall pick of the 2007 draft signed a one-year deal with the Bears after a rocky tenure with the Houston Texans, who released him this summer.
“I think I was solid in the sense that I did what was asked of me,” Okoye said. “It was just unfortunate that I wasn’t consistent in making big plays. That’s what hurt me.”
The Bears would settle for a consistent dose of good plays instead of big plays.
Okoye has a chance to earn a starting spot on the interior of the Bears’ defensive line, which suddenly has become one of the team’s deepest positions. He will compete for playing time with Anthony Adams, Matt Toeaina, Henry Melton and Stephen Paea in the Bears’ 4-3 scheme.
Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said the group offered strength and depth. He had a chance to evaluate the full group Thursday after Okoye and Adams were cleared to practice.
“On paper, the movement, all of those things look good,” Marinelli said. “You like it.
“It’s a nice blend of having some veterans in there and some youth and some new guys coming in. Our challenge is going through this camp and making sure everybody’s up to speed.”
At times last season, the interior of the Bears’ defensive line was a step behind.
Former defensive tackle Tommie Harris failed to recapture his Pro Bowl form and finished with 13 tackles in 15 games. Toeaina and Adams were good but not great, and fellow defensive tackle Marcus Harrison (3 tackles, 5 games) spent most of the season watching from the sidelines.
In February, the Bears released Harris.
In April, they drafted Paea in the second round.
In July, they re-signed Adams and offered Okoye a fresh start to fulfill his expectations.
Okoye, 24, became the youngest player drafted in the first round in NFL history when the Texans picked him at age 19. He graduated from high school at age 15 and became the youngest football player in the NCAA when he debuted for Louisville at age 16.
In the NFL, the Nigerian native’s progress stalled.
Okoye notched 138 tackles and 11 sacks in 62 games, including 58 starts. Those were decent statistics, but they fell far short of top-10 expectations from himself and Texans fans.
“I wanted to be a Pro Bowl defensive tackle by now,” said Okoye, who moved to the United States with his family when he was 12 years old. “My goal is to keep on doing that.”
Bears coach Lovie Smith said Okoye (6-2, 292) was a good fit for his defense.
“[He’s] an under-tackle that fits the profile that we use as far as our defensive lineman are concerned,” Smith said. “A lot of ability. Quickness.
“It didn’t work for him down in Houston, but Rod has liked him for a long time coming out of college. We’re excited about getting a chance to work with him.”
The excitement goes both ways.
“I always wanted to work with Coach Rod, and he wanted to work with me, too,” Okoye said. “It’s an exciting opportunity for me.”
Here is a look at the Bears’ defensive tackles heading into the second week of training camp:
Anthony Adams, 9th year
Adams, 31, never will post gaudy statistics, but he is an underrated player who loves the trenches.
Henry Melton, 3rd year
Melton (6-3, 295) could benefit from settling into one spot after rotating between end and tackle.
Amobi Okoye, 5th year
Okoye already received Tommie Harris’ No. 91. Now, Okoye will try to win Harris’ old starting job.
Stephen Paea, 1st year
Because of depth at defensive tackle, Paea can ease into the rotation as a highly touted rookie.
Matt Toeaina, 4th year
Toeaina, 26, started 10 games last season and is a reliable player who makes few mistakes.
Marcus Harrison, 4th year
Harrison (6-3, 316) might have wasted his last chance after arriving to camp overweight.
Tank Tyler, 4th year
Tyler has appeared in 43 games with Kansas City and Carolina, but he hasn’t played since 2009.
Jordan Miller, 1st year
Miller, an undrafted rookie from Southern, is gaining valuable experience during training camp.