Linebackers Lorenzo Alexander (97) and Sam Acho (94) suffered season-ending injuries early last year.
Losing most of their season last year to long-term injuries was not easy for either Sam Acho or Lorenzo Alexander, but they forced themselves not to be haunted by it.
"When you are injured and not practicing and playing, it's important not to get lost," Acho said. "Don't become a ghost."
Neither one disappeared following their Week 3 bad news – Acho with a broken leg, Alexander with a dreaded Lisfranc foot problem – and now are slowly surfacing on the depth chart. With the success the Cardinals' defense had in 2013 by finishing sixth in the NFL, quickly forgotten was that Acho and Alexander were the team's starting outside linebackers up until that fateful trip to New Orleans.
Matt Shaughnessy and John Abraham stepped into the starting lineup. The Cardinals' defense was excellent. Now Acho
and Alexander have to find their way back into the plan.
Acho, fully recovered, has gotten his reps. With Abraham sitting out OTAs to conserve his 36-year-old body, Acho has run with the first unit the entire offseason. Alexander, who had been moved inside, has yet to fully engage as his Lisfranc rehab is ongoing.
Their starting jobs are likely lost (although Alexander could be in the mix for the spot vacated by the suspended Daryl Washington). Yet neither seemed fazed by the unlucky Big Easy events that seemingly cost them opportunity.
"I've been 'next man up' before," Alexander said. "When you see guys like Matt and John and what they did, you can't help but be happy for them.
"A lot of people think you'd be mad, upset, anxious, but I think, 'If this is going to take me out of the league, then something is not right and I have lost something somewhere else.' "
Alexander thinks instead of the opportunities gained by his injury. His wife is due with another child this August. Watching the games from the stands last year provided a varied perspective over what he was used to and a new way to absorb Todd Bowles' scheme. He helped teach special teams to teammates.
There was no way he was going to disappear.
Same with Acho, who like Alexander did some local television during his forced time off. Acho, constantly preaching how
people can't have a defeated mindset, had to make sure he followed his own advice.
"Injuries in football, it can be like a death in family," Acho said. "It can be devastating. You want to be around people who care about you."
The details about playing now are only that – details. Alexander is anxious to be able to play for real, unable to truly get engaged as he tries to be smart with his foot and not be "dumb tough" in the summer. He'd be able to play if it were the regular season, but it is not.
Acho too waits. With Abraham's absence, a minor injury to Shaughnessy and two fields being used in OTAs, Acho has gotten a ton of reps in the heat – and while he has been tired, he isn't about to complain about opportunities.
If in the end they aren't starting anymore and have a different role, so be it. At least they avoided being invisible.
"My thing is I am trying to win a championship," Alexander said. "If they want me to start, be a backup, play third downs, whatever. I have learned I can dominate on special teams to win a game here and there. Anyway they can use me so we can get 'Ws', that's what it is about. Starting, I have done it, but I haven't won a championship."