Well we had our first pre-season game, suffered our first serious injuries, and got a look at the new look of the 2007 Arizona Cardinals in their first test of the year. While we couldn’t stay entirely healthy forever, these losses were particularly painful. Starting OLB Chike Okeafor underwent surgery to repair his torn left bicep muscle on Tuesday, sidelining him for the entire season. Starting RT Oliver Ross suffered a torn pectoral muscle, but is seeking a second opinion before taking the surgical route also. Honestly I think both of these injuries are equally damaging to the team, and I’ll tell you why.
As it stands right now, rookie OT Levi Brown has been promoted to the first team in place of Ross. Some may get really excited about this move, but I am not a big believer in starting rookies right away no matter how talented they may be. The pace of the game in the NFL is worlds away from the domination that most young players enjoy during their time in the college ranks. The game moves faster; your opponents are bigger, stronger and experienced with an incredible amount of skill at every position on the field. I am a huge fan of the Cards second year QB Matt Leinart , but I have to wonder how much better it might have been for him if he would have had a full year to learn the pro game, work with veteran Kurt Warner, and be able to avoid those shoulder injuries he suffered during his rookie campaign. You can’t rush guys to perform at a level of such a high level, and if you do you run the risk of seriously hindering that player’s development or putting them at risk for injury too early in their career. Now I don’t think Brown would have waited the entire year before becoming the starter, but he would have grown into the role at the right pace, and O-Line coach Russ Grimm would have promoted him when he felt Brown was ready. But it is what it is, Levi needs to step up and earn that big-time payday by being the big-time player the Cards have envisioned him to be.
The loss of Chike Okeafor is huge, it actually is completely devistating! Okeafor was having such a great camp and he was showing excellent athleticism in his new position. He was definately poised to lead the team in sacks for the second straight season, but injuries are the price you may sometimes pay for playing the game the way Chike does which is all out all the time! His emotion and defensive presence is a huge loss to a unit that was getting better and better with each passing day. Now, the starting job to replace him has become a two horse race between a couple of young guys with something to prove: Darryl Blackstock and Calvin Pace . Do these guys have what it takes to replace Okeafor? Not really, at least not on their own. Neither of them have the speed to be an effective pass rusher but the hope has to be that they can possibly bolster the run defense. Each player knows the score and they know what is expected of them, and while both have yet to live up to expectations in prior seasons they each have a clean slate to impress the coaches and a chance to be a big part of this team’s success. Whoever is going to fill in for Chike is going to have some very big shoes to fill!!