FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Potential season-ending injuries to two starters have moved first-round draft pick Levi Brown into Arizona’s starting lineup and triggered a battle for the outside linebacker job.
Offensive right tackle Oliver Ross and outside linebacker Chike Okeafor were hurt in Saturday’s preseason opener at Oakland, and both might require surgery.
Ross has a torn triceps tendon and Okeafor a torn biceps tendon.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt said Monday that Brown, the No. 5 pick overall in this year’s draft, would move in to Ross’ spot, with Darryl Blackstock and Calvin Pace competing for Okeafor’s job.
“This is the NFL. One door closes, maybe, but another one opens,” Whisenhunt said before a deluge of rain and hail forced Monday’s practice indoors.
Ross and Okeafor were getting second opinions, but the prospects didn’t look good. Outside linebacker Bertrand Berry wore Okeafor’s No. 56 in practice to honor his teammate and friend.
Berry had a similar injury a year ago and doubted Okeafor could have a quick return.
“I would be real surprised if it didn’t take surgery,” Berry said. “To have that come off the bone, as they said. That’s pretty tough to let that heal naturally. Even though that’s not the best alternative you want to hear, it’s still part of the game.”
Brown, who missed the first week of training camp in a holdout, said he knew he was expected to start at some point this season.
“I knew the pressure was on,” he said, “but this is not the type of situation where you want to get the position by somebody getting hurt. I’d rather earn the position. But whether or not I got it now or later, it’s time for me to step up and go out there and do what I have to do.”
Brown played extensively, with the second team, in Saturday night’s 27-23 loss.
“We started out pretty bad from a mental error standpoint,” he said, “but as the game went on, we got a little stronger.”
Whisenhunt said Brown was strong on blocking downfield, but needs some work on his pass-blocking technique.
“That’s his first game. You expect that, especially after one week of practice,” Whisenhunt said. “In the run game, he was physical. I know there was one play where we ran a toss where he led J.J. (Arrington) out and he looked very good. Those are the kind of things that we think he does very well.”
Blackstock, a third-round draft pick out of Virginia in 2005, boasted that he was ready to win the linebacking job.
“I know I’m going to take it,” he said. “I’ve been standing there too long, man. I’m ready to play. I’m more than ready to play.”
Pace, a first-round pick in 2003, converted from defensive end to outside linebacker a year ago and appeared in all 16 games, five as a starter. An injury to Karlos Dansby cleared the way for more playing time.
“It’s a shame that it would happen to a good guy like Chike, somebody I’ve never seen with even a scratch on him. But somebody has to step up and play,” Pace said.
Blackstock is a talker, Pace is quiet.
“I’m not worried about it,” Pace said, “I’m just going to go out there and let my play speak for it. For me to sit up here and try to talk my way into the spot and make guarantees would be foolish.”