Linebacker O'Brien Schofield makes a statement after making a sack in Green Bay last Friday.
FLAGSTAFF – O'Brien Schofield received the talk, not just from position coach Matt Raich but also from head coach Ken Whisenhunt.
The outside linebacker's effort and his athletic ability weren't in question. His knowledge, his technique and his focus were. The learning curve isn't easy for a young player, especially one who had yet to have an NFL offseason, thanks to knee surgery as a rookie and the lockout this year.
So, like any good student in school, Schofield honed in on the basics, in one of the most basic ways possible – he started using flash cards.
Helped by teammate and middle linebacker Reggie Walker, Schofield was quizzed via the cards. On some were just a defensive call, and Schofield had to recite what his responsibility would be if the play was to his side or away from his side. Other cards represented various motions by the offense, and how the front call would change with those motions and again, what Schofield's responsibility would be.
And it worked.
Schofield was all but invisible in the preseason opener, but against the Packers in the second game, he had a sack, a forced fumble, a tackle for loss and a quarterback hit that forced an incompletion.
"You can tell, when I know what I am doing, I am able to play," Schofield said. "When I am thinking, I can't play as fast because I'm not sure – 'Man, did I do that right?' "
Schofield is far from a finished product. The fact he has not had a true offseason with the team bothers him – "It sucks," he says with a wistful smile -- and there is a significant amount on his shoulders as a pass rusher even though he is still in his infancy as an NFL linebacker.
Whisenhunt said Schofield's issues are more mental than physical. Learning a brand-new defense from new coordinator Ray Horton – after Schofield was trying to catch up to learn Bill Davis' defense last year – doesn't help.
"It has a whole new set of variables," Whisenhunt said. "Getting lined up correctly, being able to turn it loose, that's the big thing for young players. We saw a little taste of that the other night.
"Is it something he can replicate? Is it something he can do against a first-teamer? Those are all things we have to see. But it all starts with his ability to understand the defense and being able to line up right."
The coaches have looked for ways to spark Schofield beyond just a talk. Last week, starter Joey Porter took a "veteran's day off" at the night practice. Instead of Schofield moving up to the first team for the workout, rookie Sam Acho was inserted there and Schofield left on the second unit.
"I was ... yeah, that kind of (ticked) me off a little bit," Schofield said. "At the same time, I deserved to be right where I was at. Sam has been doing everything right and very well. For the coaches to see what they have, they have to move guys around. You can't win your spot in practice. In the game, I needed to show them, 'This is me, this is what you are going to get, game in, game out, day in, day out.' "
The work will continue for Schofield to make sure he keeps showing the coaches. That includes sessions with the flash cards.
"It worked," Schofield said, "so whenever you have something like that, you keep the routine going."