Fourth-round pick O'Brien Schofield is coming off a serious knee injury.
The first couple of days were the worst for O'Brien Schofield.
"I really felt my career was over," Schofield said.
The Wisconsin defensive end had fashioned a breakout season as a senior, notching 12 sacks and 24 tackles for loss and then impressed scouts more in the East-West Shrine game when he was named MVP. But then he tore up his left knee in a practice for the Senior Bowl and his life was shattered – or so he thought.
Schofield isn't worried about missing out on the NFL anymore. The Cardinals took him with their fourth round selection of the NFL draft Saturday despite the knee injury, a nod to Schofield's talent.
"We feel he's a first-round talent," general manager Rod Graves said. "We gambled a little bit but we felt it was well worth it."
The Cardinals checked the injury out a couple of times. Coach Ken Whisenhunt compared Schofield's situation with current tight end Stephen Spach, who blew out his knee in January of 2009 and returned to play most of the following season.
Schofield said he should be cleared to run in mid-May, and should be cleared for some contact at some point in training camp. There is a good chance he will start the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list, but there is little question neither Schofield or the Cards are hoping he gets on the field in 2010.
"I really plan on trying to play this year," Schofield said.
Graves said the Cards are also prepared if Schofield can't play this season.
Schofield's weight had dropped to 221 pounds when he was weighed at the combine, the result of a lack of working out just a few weeks after the injury and a lack of appetite. But he said he plans to play at 245, a comfortable weight for him without losing speed and quickness.
Schofield has played standing up and did so in the East-West game. He also sees himself with a high football IQ, so the transition from college defensive end to NFL linebacker isn't a concern.
"Honestly, I don't think learning linebacker will be hard at all," Schofield said.
Whisenhunt said even if Schofield doesn't transition right away, Schofield can at least get on the field as a situational pass rusher.
"It comes to a point that you can't ignore the grade we had on him, and you can't ignore the production," Whisenhunt said.
"When you're building your team, building your depth and your future, it's a good pick for us."
It didn't hurt that the Cards ended up with an extra draft pick before grabbing Schofield. The Cardinals' original fourth-round pick was 123rd overall, but they dealt the pick to New Orleans, swapping fourth-rounders and moving down seven spots while picking up the Saints' sixth-round pick, 201st overall.
That'll give the Cards four third-day picks, replacing the body lost Friday when they dealt their extra third-round pick in a trade with the Patriots.
Schofield embraced the Cardinals as a destination. Schofield said he knows safety Kerry Rhodes and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and loves watching Darnell Dockett.
"I feel like I am a passionate player," Schofield said. "Seeing how hard those guys work, I would love to be in a system like that."
First, he has to get back on the field.
Schofield said there was some surprise in being drafted as high as he was, but Whisenhunt said a number of teams had contacted Schofield in the 30 minutes before the Cards took him, so the interest in him was growing and he was likely going to go off the board soon anyway.
Maybe Schofield never should have worried about missing out on the NFL. Encouragement from his coaches and teammates at Wisconsin helped, but knowing NFL teams were still looking at him before and during the combine helped push positive thoughts forward and are driving him toward getting back soon.
"To see that teams were still interested in me," Schofield said, "it really got that fire back in me."