Earlier this week, the world changed a little for Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Alex Okafor. With two seasons remaining on his contract, the team restructured the deal — voiding it entirely in 2021 and changing the terms for the upcoming season. Okafor will have to play in a lot of games — and hit some incentives — in order to earn what he was expecting in 2020.
“I missed the last couple of games — plus the playoff run,” he acknowledged when he spoke to reporters on Saturday. “I’ve got a lot of room to make up. I’ve got to join these guys — and I’ve got to be effective once I’m out there. I’m looking forward to that. They’ve already paved the way. I’m just trying to add my little flair — my little flavor to it.”
Okafor suffered an ankle injury in late October and tore his pectoral muscle in mid-December, leading to only nine starts last season. The latter injury meant Okafor could only watch the Super Bowl run, but he managed to find a silver lining along the way.
“It was an incredible experience just watching our team fully develop — [to] become what we all knew we could become — especially defensively. I know we started off a little rough at the beginning, but I think everybody knew that we’d come along and fully develop — and we did that at the right time.”
Okafor said that the defensive turnaround — which actually began before his late-season injury — was essentially inevitable.
“Whenever you teach a scheme — whenever you install a scheme — there’s a bunch of Xs and Os; there’s a blackboard way of doing it,” he explained. “Everybody just memorizes that blackboard way of doing it. But whenever you take that next step as a defense, you learn the caveats of the defense; you learn what the defense is susceptible to [and] you learn the proper technique within this scheme.
“I think that’s what we started to do further down the line. It wasn’t just about Xs and Os — [I mean] it was about X’s and Os at the beginning, [but] as we kept going down the line, I think we all learned how to really work within the scheme. That’s how we took the next step.”
And while the talk about the changes in the NFL’s season because of the coronavirus pandemic has mostly been about its effect on younger players, Okafor has a wholly different perspective.
“For vets like me?” he asked. “We’re loving it, man. Less miles on the body. Less days in pads. Shorter days. This is excellent for me.”
But then he took a more serious tone.
“I will say [it’s] vice-versa for younger guys — rookies, undrafted guys. With no preseason games, you don’t really have games to show what you can do. I know some guys are guys that show up on game day, [but] you don’t have the opportunity to do that; you have to make all your noise here at practice — and still, that might not even be enough. So that’s an unfortunate situation for them.
“But a guy like me? I’m loving it.”