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Adrian Wilson Helps Alex Okafor Decision

Linebacker's choice to play with torn biceps tendon included advice from former Pro Bowler

Linebacker Alex Okafor has decided to play with a torn biceps tendon.
Linebacker Alex Okafor has decided to play with a torn biceps tendon.

Alex Okafor already called his choice whether or not to play with a torn biceps tendon one of the most difficult decisions he's ever had to make. So he made sure to do research.

The linebacker had his agent talk to a couple of doctors. And Okafor himself spoke to former Cardinals linebacker Lorenzo Alexander and current Cardinals scout and Ring of Honor safety Adrian Wilson, both of whom played with the same injury.

"I've gathered a lot of stuff and I think I've made the right decision for myself," Okafor said of his choice to play with the injury instead of getting surgery.

Wilson's advice was simply to stay mentally strong.

"You go in with the thought you're going to lose power, you are going to lose some of the things you could do before the injury," Wilson said. "But the base of what you have been doing is still there. It’s not the end of the world. I just told him to out there with the right mentality.

"Legs still working, mind still working, so you can still go out there and play."

The Cardinals have a pair of starting outside linebackers in Chandler Jones and Markus Golden. But Okafor, who had been a starter the previous two seasons, has had a good camp. On a team built to make a playoff run, his contribution would be meaningful.

Okafor isn't practicing yet, but coach Bruce Arians said he will be "fine."

"It's a matter of getting the soreness out," Arians said. "Guys play with that injury all the time."

That includes Wilson, who tore his biceps tendon during the Red-White practice in Flagstaff in 2011 and famously said in saying he'd play with the injury "I can either get busy living, or get busy dying."

Wilson lived quite well with the problem. He eventually was named to the Pro Bowl that season, and also played the most defensive snaps in the entire NFL.

"Your first, second, third year, I think you deal with things because you're hurt, not because you're actually injured and you can't play," Wilson said. "It's the fine line of being hurt and injured, and whether guys can deal with it mentally.

"What injuries do to a guy's mental makeup is a huge part of what you call 'tough' guys of the NFL. If he's mentally tough enough to push through it, I don't expect him to have a down year just because of a bicep. I made all-pro and Pro Bowl when I had mine, so …"

Beyond Okafor, there are questions of depth, although Arians raved about the camp former third-round pick Kareem Martin – a college defensive end who has been transitioning to linebacker for a couple of years – is having. Arians likes that Martin has transformed his body to the position, although the Cardinals still want to see him gain strength.

Arians said 2015 fifth-round pick Shaq Riddick, currently sidelined with injury, needs to show more just to make the team.

Okafor is important, and it's notable he's been through this before. In 2013 as a rookie, Okafor tore his biceps the third game of the season in New Orleans. Then, he opted for surgery. This time, after talking with his family and his agent, the pick was to play.

"It's different in every situation," Okafor said.

Okafor is also in the last year of his contract and will be a free agent after the season.

"You just evaluate the situation and my future, and I think I made the right choice," Okafor said. "There's no feeling it out or thinking twice about it. Once you make a decision you've got to go 100 percent, you have to commit to it and that's what I'm ready to do."

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