HOUSTON (AP) — Amobi Okoye got 5½ sacks as a 20-year-old rookie in 2007.
The Houston Texans' tackle figured he'd get at least that many each season after that. Two seasons and just 2½ sacks later, Okoye realizes things don't come that easy in the NFL.
"Coming off of 5½ sacks, I thought that I got those pretty easy my rookie year and I thought well, I can get more. It's not going to be hard," he said. "So my dedication dipped down a little bit."
Coach Gary Kubiak said the difficulty of long-term success in the NFL is a lesson that players have to learn through experience. Still, he doesn't judge Okoye's performance solely on his sacks and notes that at 22 he's still the age of most rookies.
"You can be a great player and have two sacks, so you shouldn't measure yourself just on sacks," Kubiak said. "Obviously when you have a lot, you get a lot of attention from the league. He's always been able to rush the passer and I think we as coaches can help him. He's doing everything he can to get better and that's all we can ask."
Okoye has been solid since joining the team as the 10th overall pick in 2007, starting all but six games in his three seasons in Houston. He has gained a reputation as a bit of an underachiever with the Texans, perhaps because he had overachieved his entire life in an impressive path to the NFL.
Okoye was walking at seven months, began high school at 12 and college at 16. He chose to play football at Louisville instead of going to Harvard and graduated in 3½ years with a degree in psychology. When he was drafted at 19 he became the youngest player drafted in the NFL since 1967.
He bristled at the notion that he hasn't lived up to expectations and said pleasing those who think he hasn't isn't his concern. Of course, he'd like to get more sacks this season, but he's more concerned with the team's goals.
"I want to be one of the main people contributing to putting this team in the playoffs," he said.
After cruising through his rookie year, Okoye admits to struggling in year two before refocusing last season.
"At the start of last year I got back into who I am and the way I like to play," he said. "I lost the love a little bit my (second) year, I wouldn't even lie, but all that is back. I'm back to having fun and playing good and just back to enjoying it."
Though he's entering his fourth season in the NFL, he still relies on his parents for guidance and credits them with helping him rediscover his love for the game.
This year, he's also proud of a recent slim-down that has taken him from about 305 pounds to 290, the weight he was in college when he had 58 tackles and eight sacks in 2006.
"He wanted to take a look at being a little lighter and we're OK with that," Kubiak said. "He's got a job to do inside, and if he can do it at 290 instead of 305, that's fine. He's having a good offseason and some good (practices). Last year in camp he missed some time with his knee, but he looks a little bit better physically than I think he has."