One name was curiously absent from the defensive stat sheet after the Cardinals upset the New England Patriots in the second week of the season.
O’Brien Schofield played 66 snaps at linebacker, but he didn’t have a tackle, a sack or a quarterback hurry. In fact, according to the stats, he did nothing that game. While he didn’t log a recordable statistic, though, numbers don’t always tell the story.
“I did everything I was supposed to do,” Schofield said. “When I went back on film I was like, ‘I can really play.’ I didn’t think. I just reacted to everything. I didn’t get frustrated. I didn’t get to the point where I was like, ‘Man, I’m not making any plays.’ I did what I had to do and did my job.
“When I saw that, that made me feel like, ‘OK, now I can play ball.’ ”
All it took were two knee surgeries and two shoulder surgeries to get there.
Schofield’s road back from a pre-draft ACL injury in 2010 was full of trials and tribulations, he said. It was bumpy more often than smooth and he had to navigate through a few detours. But seven weeks into his third season, Schofield finally feels like he’s a linebacker in the NFL.
“I’m getting real close,” said Schofield, who had two sacks Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, just the second time in his career he notched a multi-sack game. “Just from my mental preparation I feel a lot better. I feel like I’m maturing as a football player. My IQ is going up. My mindset is different as far as how I’m working in practice.”
Schofield, who was projected as a high draft pick in 2010, tore his left ACL while preparing for the Senior Bowl. The Cardinals chose him in the fourth round and in June that year, Schofield had a second surgery to clean up the knee. He didn’t make his NFL debut until Week 8 and was used primarily as a situational linebacker. Then the lockout kept Schofield away from football leading up to the 2011 offseason, and when the Cardinals started practicing again, he had to learn a new defense under new defensive coordinator Ray Horton.
Between the injuries, Horton’s hiring and the lockout, Schofield felt he never fully learned how to properly do his job.
“I wasn’t comfortable with the playbook,” Schofield said. “Last year at times, I had to think a little bit more and still play linebacker.
“It was frustrating when I felt people thought I was stupid because I wasn’t. It’s just I didn’t understand because I didn’t get the basics of my position.”
He’s past that now. The New England game was the first time his knee felt “perfectly fine” and he’s not thinking about wearing a brace, like he was as a rookie.
This past offseason, as he recovered from a surgery on each shoulder, gave Schofield the time he needed to absorb everything. He was a constant at the Cardinals’ training facility leading up to OTAs in May, studying his flash cards and dedicating himself to studying film. He doesn’t drive very much anymore, instead having his fiancée behind the wheel while Schofield watches video on his iPad.
It’s paying off.
“He seems to be a guy that has really good awareness, knowing how to use his hands, how to slip blocks,” Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “There are certain things that a coach can teach you, but sometimes awareness isn’t one of them, and he seems to have a good feel for how to use his weight along with his quickness to get tackles and guards off balance a little bit.”
Schofield’s goal during the offseason was to start, which he’s done in all six games this season. His next goal is to finish the year with double-digit sacks. He has four heading into this weekend's matchup against the Vikings.
The last two years have helped Schofield understand what it takes to survive and thrive in the NFL. He might have moved at his own pace, but Schofield is finally where he’s wants to be.
“When I understand it better, I can play,” Schofield said. “I can play so fast. I want to know every little thing, everything I’m doing wrong, I want to know so I can fix it.
“That’s what I’m doing now.”