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BJ Ojulari Ready To Do A Number On His Second NFL Season

Cardinals linebacker wearing No. 9 after ceding No. 18 to Marvin Harrison Jr.

Linebacker BJ Ojulari goes through a pass-rushing drill during Phase Two work earlier this week.
Linebacker BJ Ojulari goes through a pass-rushing drill during Phase Two work earlier this week.

When BJ Ojulari played youth football, he wore No. 9.

The Cardinals outside linebacker wore No. 58 in high school – he did double-duty as a pass rusher and an offensive tackle – but then transitioned to No. 8 when he got to LSU for college, and eventually, No. 18, a number given to the LSU player deemed to most represent what it meant to be a Tiger.

That was the number he kept when he arrived as a rookie with the Cardinals, a number he recently gave to rookie wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. as Ojulari went back to his uniform roots with 9.

"(Marvin) wore 18 in college, I wore 18 in college, and it means a lot to both of us, but we all came to an agreement to let him have 18," Ojulari said. "He's going to be a big part of our offense this year and he's a great guy.

"He approached me. He gave me a call, we chopped it up, had a good conversation. We all ended up happy. I switched to a different number. It's all good. We're all going to make plays and win games."

Ojulari shook his head when asked if there was any transaction involved. "Nah. Just an agreement between mutual parties."

"He's deserving of 18 as a number, and he'll score touchdowns and I'll get sacks," Ojulari added.

That's Ojulari's focus now, digits representing quarterback pressures more than jersey numbers.

The second-round pick in 2023 had four sacks as a rookie, a season that started slow in part because he was battling a knee issue the entire offseason and training camp, stunting his growth. Besides, the second year for a player always provides the room for the largest jump in performance.

Like Kyler Murray, Ojulari will benefit from a full offseason on the field with coaches without rehab. His communication is better, and he has become more outspoken as he grows more comfortable.

"I'm expecting to take a big leap," he said.

The Cardinals need him to do just that. There were no edge rushers signed in free agency. Xavier Thomas was drafted in the fifth round, but the improved play of Ojulari and Zaven Collins – the latter going into his second season as an outside linebacker – will be crucial.

"Every player has a specific improvement plan which can be pretty detailed whether it is schematically they have to do better or (improve) technique – and I'll keep (the details) between us – but everyone has to make strides," defensive coordinator Nick Rallis said. "Those two, they have really high ceilings. They can be really good players."

Coach Jonathan Gannon said earlier in the offseason the Cardinals liked their outside linebackers room. Collins and Ojulari are joined by Dennis Gardeck, Victor Dimukeje, Cam Thomas and Jesse Luketa as players who all had roles last season in the team's heavy rotation, and now Xavier Thomas is in the mix.

Ojulari is one the Cardinals hope can blossom into the man who leads the team in sacks, although he is cautious with his declarations.

"I just want to be the best all-around player I can be," Ojulari said. "Sacks are what get guys accolades and what gets guys paid, but it's also good to be all-around and not just one-dimensional. Switch it up. Go power, go speed, drop in coverage, so they can't just put one label on you and offenses don't know what you are doing."

Ojulari had originally committed to playing at Tennessee in high school before switching to LSU as a senior – a final prep year when he had 19 sacks while blocking on offense -- and had he been a Volunteer he was to wear No. 9.

Now he'll go back to that number in the NFL.

"I like the idea, because single-digit guys make plays, especially coming off the edge," Ojulari said. "Having that little bit of swag, little kids looking up to you, they want to be No. 9.

"But at the end of the day, your play is going to talk for you, no matter what number you're wearing."

Images of the Arizona Cardinals during phase two of the 2024 offseason workout program at the Dignity Health Training Facility

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