Cardinals defensive tackle Olsen Pierre runs through a drill during OTAs.
Olsen Pierre didn't care about previous history or the long odds.
Every game day last year, the Cardinals defensive tackle traveled to work focused and prepared like this would be his moment. And then, inevitably, the news trickled down 90 minutes before kickoff. Pierre was one of the team's seven inactive players in all 16 games last season, allowed to be on the sideline with his teammates, but in sweats, not pads.
"I went to the stadium ready," Pierre said. "Whether it was my time or it wasn't, I was ready every game."
One of the biggest surprises when the Cardinals reached cutdown day before last season's opener was Pierre's presence on the active roster. The numbers didn't look favorable, but the team went heavy on the defensive line, because exposing him to waivers meant Pierre likely would have been nabbed by another team.
While he wasn't ready to contribute in 2016, the Cardinals wanted to keep Pierre for the future. That future may be now.
Star defensive tackle Calais Campbell left for the Jaguars in free agency, opening up significant playing time on the line. Veterans like Corey Peters, Josh Mauro and Frostee Rucker are expected to get their share of snaps, while former first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche will be given every chance to succeed.
But there is always a regular rotation of players on the defensive line each game, and with a good training camp, Pierre could find himself in the mix because of a unique skill.
"He's a hell of a pass-rusher," coach Bruce Arians said. "He's up to 298 (pounds). He's got length. He might be our best inside pass-rusher right now."
After one practice this offseason, guard Mike Iupati headed over to Pierre's locker to compliment his moves. The two have been squaring off for a couple years, and Iupati is anxious to see Pierre unleashed on a more prominent stage.
"He's one of those cats, he's going to be surprising," Iupati said. "He's a phenomenal player. He's one of those guys, like a Michael Bennett-type. He's getting his stuff down. He's not only fast but he's physical. He's a force to be reckoned with. It's one of those things where you underestimate him because he's a small guy. But he's quick. I think he's a hell of a player."
Pierre was happy to make the active roster last season, but admitted it wasn't easy to watch the entire year
from the bench. He didn't sulk, choosing instead to watch the work habits and professionalism displayed by Rucker and Campbell.
"I was just learning how the NFL worked," Pierre said.
Since Pierre's best asset his speed, he fits in well with the Cardinals' attacking style. In college at the University of Miami, Pierre was asked to read and then react to an offense's play-call. The Cardinals are much more aggressive.
"We're up the field," Pierre said. "We're getting after the quarterback and the run."
The Cardinals coaching staff has said multiple times how difficult it will be to replace a player of Campbell's stature. Pierre doesn't have the same pedigree, but it's possible he becomes part of the committee tasked with weathering the blow.
That would mean a spot in the rotation, and finally his chance to show it on the field. But Pierre isn't fretting about his own journey, only how it affects the bigger picture.
"The big goal is to win championships, win games," he said. "I'll leave the individual stuff for later."