Arizona Cardinals

It hasn’t been long since Charlie Strong arrived in Austin, but he has yet to waste any time making his own mark on the Texas coaching staff.

Strong, who was officially announced as Texas’ newest head coach on Jan. 6, has already begun to piece together his staff with multiple hires made this week. The biggest of these moves came as Vance Bedford was hired as defensive coordinator last Friday.

Bedford, who is following Strong from Louisville, is Strong’s biggest tie to the state of Texas. Bedford attended UT and was a defensive back for the Longhorns in the late ‘70s into the early ‘80s, where he served as the defensive captain.

Strong and Bedford have been together since 2008, where they were both on the defensive staff at Florida. The duo led a resilient defense with the Cardinals, including a No. 1 finish in total defense in 2013. Bedford’s connection to Texas will be useful to Strong as he tries to regain the Longhorns’ recruiting prestige in-state. 

At the same time as Bedford’s hire, Strong brought linebacker coach Brian Jean-Mary to Texas from the same position at Louisville.

Also on the defensive side of the ball, Strong dismissed longtime defensive back coach Duane Akina from his position. Chris Vaughn will replace Akina, who has spent 12 years with Texas. Vaughn will coach the secondary after coming from Memphis, where he spent the past two season as the cornerbacks coach.

Nearly completing the defensive staff will be Chris Rumph, who will coach the defensive line. Rumph spent the last three seasons at Alabama, holding the same role and helped lead the Crimson Tide to back-to-back national championships in 2011 and 2012. Rumph replaces Bo Davis, who also came from Alabama before spending the last three years at Texas.

Strong has yet to finalize his offensive staff, but many positions are starting to get filled. Shawn Watson, who was Louisville’s offensive coordinator under Strong, will become the quarterbacks coach at Texas. As Louisville’s offensive play-caller, Watson coached Cardinals’ quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a potential No. 1 pick in the upcoming NFL draft.

In addition, Tommie Robinson will replace Larry Porter as the running backs coach. Robinson served the same role with the Arizona Cardinals for three seasons before spending the last year at USC.

While Strong has yet to find an offensive coordinator, Oklahoma State’s Joe Wickline will reportedly be the next offensive line coach. Wickline, who was also targeted by Texas during the coaching changes in 2011, has been known to develop athletes into NFL players and has been one of the best in doing so.

Tight ends coach Bruce Chambers appears to be the only Texas assistant to be recalled from Mack Brown’s staff. Pat Moorer, who follows Strong from Louisville, will replace former strength and condition coach Bennie Wylie, who left the program last week.

Although Strong has yet to make any of these hires official, he has already begun to make his own mark on Texas and will most likely be making that mark even bigger in the weeks to come. 

Former Longhorn quarterback Vince Young is now the likely backup quar- terback for the Packers after the team released quarterback Gra- ham Harrell on Friday evening. Young has been out of the NFL since 2011. 

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Kenny Vaccaro
New Orleans Saints
Safety 

After an impressive career in burnt orange, Kenny Vaccaro joined New Orleans in the first of the 2013 NFL Draft — the first time in franchise history the Saints drafted a safety that early. The 15th overall pick will strengthen the Saints’ defensive backfield, which was the second-worst in the league last season. The hard-hitting Vaccaro recorded 92 tackles in his final season at Texas and tallied two interceptions. He’s already created a buzz around the Saints’ organization after starting a few on-field skirmishes, most notably with veteran tight end Jimmy Graham. 

 

Marquise Goodwin
Buffalo Bills
Wide Receiver

Former Olympian and Longhorn Marquise Goodwin established himself as an impact player early on for the Bills this preseason. Goodwin, a third-round pick in 2013, returned a kickoff 107 yards for a touchdown in his first preseason game. 


Goodwin will add needed speed and quickness to the Bills’ return game. 

 

Alex Okafor
Arizona Cardinals
Outside Linebacker

The Arizona Cardinals selected Alex Okafor in third round of the 2013 NFL Draft. The defensive lineman set a number of records during his senior season, which included a 4.5 sack effort in the Valero Alamo Bowl. Okafor, who played defensive end at Texas, is listed as an outside linebacker on the Cardinals’ roster. Either way, expect Okafor to find a way to the quarterback.

 

Vince Young
Green Bay Packers
Quarterback

Young is back in the NFL after sitting out the 2012 season, after the Bills released him at the end of the preseason. The Packers released Graham Harrell on Saturday evening, making it likely that Young will be the backup to Aaron Rodgers to start the season. Although he is firmly entrenched behind Rodgers on the depth chart, Young impressed in his preseason debut, throwing for 41 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 39 yards on three carries in Friday’s 17-10 loss to Seattle. 

 

Brian Orakpo
Redskins
Outside Linebacker

Orakpo returns to the Redskins’ starting lineup in Week 1 after a torn pectoral muscle forced him out of the final 14 games of 2012. The Redskins hope that Orakpo, who has recorded 29.5 sacks in 49 career games, can return to form as a pass-rusher. If he can, it would be a huge aid to the 30th-ranked pass defense in the NFL. Now in a contract season, the 27-year-old outside linebacker is healthy and primed for a productive year in Washington.

 

Aaron Ross
Giants
Cornerback

Ross will play a significant role in the Giants secondary, especially after cornerback Jayron Hosley left Saturday’s preseason game with an ankle injury. If Hosley is unable to return for the season opener, Ross could slot as the Giants’ third cornerback behind Prince Amukamara and Corey Webster. In the pass-happy NFC East, look for Ross to see plenty of time in New York’s secondary.

Former Longhorns wide receiver Marquise Goodwin runs after the catch during the Alamo Bowl against Oregon State. Goodwin was drafted to the Buffalo Bills over the weekend with the 78th pick. 

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Three former Longhorns will boast new jerseys, new teams and new cities after being selected during the 2013 NFL Draft this past week.

Safety Kenny Vaccaro was selected in the first round of the draft as the 15th overall pick by the New Orleans Saints. Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin was picked 78th overall by the Buffalo Bills in the third round while defensive end Alex Okafor was chosen as the 103rd overall pick by the Arizona Cardinals.

First off the board for the Longhorns was Vaccaro, who had made it his goal to be the first safety chosen. Without waiting too long on Thursday at Radio City Music Hall, his wish was granted.

“This is just the beginning,” Vaccaro said. “Now I have to keep working hard to get to New Orleans and make an impact.”

Vaccaro was a strong prospect heading into the draft after leading the Longhorns in tackles in 2012. 

“I have been grinding my whole life, literally since I was four years old, for this opportunity,” Vaccaro said. “The Saints were my last visit, and I had a good feeling about it.”

Goodwin, well aware of the other talented players still up for grabs, didn’t pay much attention to the draft Friday night, during which he got the call from the Buffalo Bills.

“I was just sitting out there throwing the football with my brothers and sitting on the back of the truck talking,” Goodwin said. “I was like, ‘Dude, I don’t even think I’m going to go today. There are still receivers ranked ahead of me on the board.’ I got the call while I was on the back of the truck.”

Being chosen as a new member of an NFL team came after a whirlwind eight months for Goodwin, during which he competed at the Olympics in London and finished out his senior year of football, forgoing his last season of track to prepare for the draft. 

“[My time at Texas] really taught me patience and how to persevere through thick and thin,” Goodwin said. “I went off the board before guys that had a lot more catches and yards than I did. But I’ve got a wonderful opportunity in front of me, and I’m just going to make the most of it.”

For Goodwin, Buffalo comes with some familiar ties. Former Longhorn and current Buffalo Bills safety Aaron Williams is a close friend while men’s head track coach Bubba Thornton also played as a wide receiver for the Bills. 

Okafor said he couldn’t stop smiling after the call he received from the Arizona Cardinals.

“It’s just a blessing,” Okafor said. “No matter what team you go to, when you get that call on draft day you’re already in love with the team. Really, that is all you can ask for.”

Two other former Longhorns, defensive end Sam Acho and center Lyle Sendlein, are already on the Cardinals roster. 

For Okafor, who many analysts predicted would be chosen in the second round, the phone call that came upon his selection was a welcomed end to the waiting game.

“I expected to be called yesterday,” Okafor said on Saturday. “It was a long wait yesterday. But God has a plan for me. Today I couldn’t be any happier.”  

Alex Okafor chosen by Cardinals as 103rd overall pick

Alex Okafor is trading burnt orange for bright red. 

Okafor, a defensive end, was chosen by the Arizona Cardinals as the 103rd overall pick in the fourth round of the NFL Draft Saturday morning.

“Alex was so unselfish,” head coach Mack Brown said.  “He played anywhere we asked him to.  When we were short on the defensive line two years ago, at 260 pounds he played all year and never griped one bit. He became a great team leader.”

He follows a line of Longhorns picked by the Cardinals, including center Lyle Sendlein, defensive end Lance Wilson, offensive guard Leonard Davis and fellow defensive end Sam Acho, who was also the 103rd pick, in 2011. Acho and Sendlein are currently both on the Cardinals roster.

Okafor played four years for the Longhorns without redshirting, leading the team in sacks, quarterback pressures, forced fumbles and tackles for loss in his senior season. By the end of his collegiate career, Okafor had played in 52 games with 33 starts.  He was a two-time first team All-Big 12 choice and the 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year by CBSSports.com. 

A shining moment for Okafor came during the 2012 Alamo Bowl, during which he managed eight tackles and 4.5 sacks, effectively helping Texas set the Valero Alamo Bowl record for sacks. 

“I think his [best football] is ahead of him because he is going to get bigger and stronger,” Brown said.  “He has a lot of upside.”

Searching for promised land in Arizona

The word offense in the game of football is supposed to take up the definition of the action of attacking: gaining yards and scoring touchdowns. Well the Arizona
Cardinals displayed the alternate definition of the word; causing annoyance and resentment amongst most of those who happened to watch one of the NFL’s worst
statistically performing offenses in 2012.

Last season the Cardinals totaled the least amount of yards by an offense (4,209), recorded the second least points per game (15.6), gave up the most sacks (58), threw the most interceptions (21), and rushed for the least amount of yards a game as an offensive unit.

And they started the season 4-0.

Despite the surprising start, the team would lose 11 of its last 12 games, with an Exodus-like wandering around the Arizona desert trying to seek out a win at home where they lost five straight to close out the year.

Owner Bill Bidwill and President Michael Bidwill decided not to wander around for 40 years and fired head coach Ken Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves.

Since then, 2012 AP Coach of the Year Bruce Arians was hired away from his interim head coaching job at Indianapolis as head coach of the Cardinals and vice president of player personnel Steve Keim was promoted to general manager.

After 18 years of NFL coaching experience, Arians will enter his first full season as head coach. But instead of claiming sole command of the locker room, Arians hired 74-year-old Tom Moore to be his assistant head coach/offensive consultant.

One would think that a coach with as much experience as Arians would leap at the opportunity to take complete reign of a team after years of patience and waiting. But Arians must have realized he needed some kind of guidance.

Before the hiring of Arians, there have been seven head coaches since the Cardinals made the move from St. Louis to Pheonix in 1989. None of those coaches hired an assistant head coach going into their first year. No coach has sustained a winning record with the franchise since Don Coryell transformed the losing program into his “Cardiac Cardinals” and captured two division championships from 1974-1977. So it may be a wise decision for Arians to hire some help.

Tom Moore, who began coaching in the NFL when Coryell resigned, will have provide plenty of guidance. Moore earned two Super Bowl rings as a wide receivers
coach for the Steelers in the 70s and earned a third as offensive coordinator of the Indianapolis Colts in 2006. Let’s just say he’s seen his share of football.

With all the changes the front office has made, the Cardinals are certainly headed in a new direction.

The new direction of the Cardinals has also been displayed through the release of former starting quarterbacks Kevin Kolb and John Skelton, running back Beanie
Wells, and wide receiver Early Doucet.

But Arizona made their biggest move yet in trading three draft picks to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for Carson Palmer.

Despite throwing for over 4,000 yards last season, Palmer’s time in Oakland has been a disappointment. Picked up mid-season in 2011 to keep playoff hopes alive, the 33-year-old veteran did not give Oakland the push they needed to make it into the playoffs. Palmer would go 8-17 as a starter.

Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts, and Michael Floyd round out Palmer’s new receiving core, an upgrade from a season ago.

Though it will help to have a proven starting quarterback, the Cardinals still have a long way to go in improving the offense. With 58 sacks given up a season before, the offensive line still needs improvement. After the release of Beanie Wells, LaRod Stephens-Howling is the returning lead rusher for the team with 357 yards and four touchdowns.

With the draft upcoming, it is likely that those positions will be addressed. Offensive tackles Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher, and Lane Johnson are all top-10 prospects.
Although Joeckel most likely will be selected within the top three picks, Arizona holds the seventh and could take a shot at either Fisher or Johnson if they are
available. Running backs Montee Ball, Le’Veon Bell, or even Marcus Lattimore might be available for Arizona later in the draft to build up some talent in the backfield.

The promised land is still in the distance for the Arizona Cardinals. Though Palmer was a major acquisition in moving the franchise forward, there is still much more to be done.

Falcons' Tandem Flops Versus Weak Saints' Secondary

For many fantasy owners, this past week determined playoff seeding and even playoff spots.  In need of some breakout performances, many owners were let down by these players when they needed it most:

1) Julio Jones & Roddy White, WR, Atlanta Falcons

White and Jones, Atlanta’s fearsome wide receiver duo, were expected to have an explosive outing on Thursday against the New Orleans Saints, whose pass defense is amongst the worst in the league.  Instead, both struggled to get much of anything going, combining for a paltry six passes for 68 yards.  Although White and Jones have feasted on opposing defenses and fantasy owners for most of the season, the roles were reversed this week.

2) Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals

Over the past three weeks, Fitzgerald has hauled in a mere five passes for 65 yards, his lone catch this past week going for twenty three yards. To be fair, he can’t be blamed much for this lack of production, as the Cardinals’ rotating carousel at the quarterback position has failed to provide any kind of offensive spark and has led to eight straight losses.

3) Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets

For those who started Sanchez on Sunday against the Cardinals, I feel for you.  Marky Mark registered negative fantasy points in his latest outing, passing for 97 yards and tossing three interceptions before being benched in the first half to make way for former ‘Bama QB Greg McElroy.

Senior linebacker Emmanuel Acho takes the field at last November's UT vs. Texas Tech game.

Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: This is the third in an eight-part series about Longhorns hoping to be drafted into the NFL.

At about this time last year, former Texas linebacker Sam Acho was eagerly awaiting draft day and would be eventually chosen by The Arizona Cardinals in the fourth round.

Now, his younger brother, Emmanuel, is playing the same waiting game. But don’t feel too bad for Emmanuel. He’s gotten some help from his big brother along the way.

“He helped me understand what was going to happen, so nothing shocked me,” Acho said. “As I put it, he gave me the answers to the test before I had to take it. I was not surprised by anything.”

Acho knew how to prepare for the physical and mental examinations that teams gave him throughout this process and during the NFL Combine. Although Emmanuel partially tore his quadricep while running the 40-yard dash, he felt he did enough to stand out to the coaches.

But Emmanuel isn’t stressing about who picks him on draft day or where he will go next year.

“In talking to my brother who went through the process last year, he told me not to worry where I got picked but just to get in the door,” Acho said. “As soon as you get in the door, which is the NFL, then you worry about making a team.”

Emmanuel knows that once he is drafted, there is still a lot of work to be done. But he feels that his versatility and high football IQ will help him come draft day. He said he doesn’t know if coaches have seen him play at the middle linebacker position enough.

But they definitely know he can play outside linebacker.

“Where you get drafted is more like stars coming out of high school; it is all about pride,” Acho said. “Once you are there, everyone is on a level playing field.”

On the field, Emmanuel and his brother are very similar, but off the field they are opposite. Emmanuel hopes Arizona drafts him so he can play alongside his brother again.

“I started playing ball before Sam and then all of a sudden he got really good, I don’t know where,” Emmanuel said laughing. “He stole the spotlight as usual.”

Once Emmanuel saw his brother get drafted, he knew that the NFL was a reality for him. He saw his brother improve during his senior year, leading the team with 131 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, three sacks, one forced fumble, 18 quarterback pressures and six pass breakups.

While Emmanuel was helping the Longhorns bounce back from 2010’s 5-7 season, Sam had an outstanding rookie season for the Cardinals. He had 40 tackles, seven sacks and four forced fumbles. But Emmanuel hopes to top those numbers in his rookie season.

“Anything I do well is really as a result of him,” Emmanuel said. “He’s wishing I probably play better than him, as am I. But he had a heck of a season.”

Emmanuel’s stats speak for themselves. During his four years in burnt orange, he had 278 tackles (159 solo), 41 tackles for loss, eight sacks, seven forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and two interceptions. He helped Texas lead the Big 12 and rank sixth in the nation in rushing defense and 11th in total defense.

His teammates have been impressed with his performance and leadership over the years.

“One thing that stands out for me is that he’s been a consistent performer over the last four years,” kicker Justin Tucker said. “He racks up stats and not just those pretty stats. He’s in there making tackles and getting his nose involved on the plays.”

Beyond that, Emmanuel has been a leader for the Longhorns.

“I will say that Emmanuel has gotten a lot out of Texas,” head coach Mack Brown said. “But he has given more, and it has really been beneficial to the program.”

Emmanuel was named a finalist for the 2011 Lott IMPACT Trophy, Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award and the Wuerffel Trophy. Both Emmanuel and Sam worked with charities off the field.

“Every time I look up he is doing something different,” Brown said. “With as hard as he works here, he goes to Nigeria for two weeks every summer with doctors and nurses. On a local basis, he is always at the hospital or reading to kids in East Austin.”

Although Sam has led the way and helped Emmanuel throughout this long process, they will continue to support each other and learn from each other next year — when they are both linebackers in the NFL.

“You know it’s not a reality yet, but come April 26, 27 and 28, that’s when it will hit,” Emmanuel said.

Printed on Thursday, April 19, 2012 as: Acho following familiar path to NFL