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Camp spotlight: Amobi Okoye


What a difference a year makes. When Amobi Okoye began his rookie season with the Texans in 2007, his head was spinning learning defensive packages and reacting to NFL-sized offensive linemen.

The defensive tackle made huge strides during training camp, earning a starting spot and recording four sacks in the month of September. But then Okoye hit a rookie wall. He moved slower off the ball and said his head felt clouded with plays. Okoye finished the year with 5.5 sacks and 32 tackles.

"Last year, it was a long year a long season coming in as a rookie because of all those pro days," Okoye said. "That was eliminated this year, so I just had a chance to work out, run and do things I wanted to do off the field. So that really got me geared up for camp this year.

"Once you have that year under your belt, you kind of know what to expect. Now, I just go out there and play and make plays."

{QUOTE}Making plays is exactly what Okoye plans to do this season. In fact, he is modeling is second-year NFL jump after fellow defensive lineman Mario Williams, who upped his sack total by nine and finished the season with 14 sacks in his sophomore campaign.

However, Okoye is going bigger. He wants 15 sacks and a trip to the Pro Bowl.

"Hawaii is my goal and it should be everybody's goal, and in doing that I have to get at least 15," Okoye said. "I know that's a lot for a defensive tackle, but I think it can get done. I know it can get done."

Notching 15 sacks may seem out of reach for a tackle, but Okoye is putting in the work to make it happen. Head coach Gary Kubiak said that the defensive tackle was the most improved player during OTAS. And Okoye showed up to camp in the best shape of his life, looking much quicker at the line of scrimmage.

Still, there is room for improvement. Defensive line coach Jethro Franklin would like to see Okoye get better at making moves in the creases and finishing his plays.

"From a knowledge standpoint, technique-wise, there are things that he has improved in," Franklin. "But for us to get where we need to go, it still has to be better."

"We need him to make more plays, more impact plays, and probably most importantly to rush the passer and get sacks. That's what we need."

Okoye's role as a pass-rushing defensive tackle is critical to the success of the defensive line, but the unit also must be better at stopping the run.

"Every team that can run the ball is going to win, or has a better chance of winning," Okoye said. "As soon as we stop the run, then we can get after the quarterback. Send me and Mario, everybody else - just let us loose and let us run and get the quarterback, and that's exactly what we have to do."

Williams buys into that plan and Okoye's ability to execute it.

"He has everything capable of doing everything he needs to do," Williams said. "His mentality has definitely changed, and it's changed for the better. As far as the defensive line goes, we all got to stick together."

To show their solidarity in the trenches, the defensive linemen have been calling themselves in the "Chain Gang" and singing the Sam Cooke song as jog between drills.

"We're trying to carry the team, not even just the defense, on our back," Okoye said. "We feel like we should be the group that should be delegated to do that.

"I know we have what it takes, but we have to come out and practice and get better day by day. And day by day, we have gotten better. We can at least be top five in the league."

A trip to the Pro Bowl, 15 sacks and a top-five defensive line…what a difference a year makes.

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