Fans are understandably unfamiliar with Earl Okine.
Even he concedes nobody knows him. He hasn’t done anything in the NFL to be remembered, but hopes to change that in 2016.
The Indianapolis Colts have switched Okine to an outside linebacker from defensive end. A team in need of pass rushers would like to see if his pocket-pressure skills can translate from the stand-up position.
And aside from Jonathan Newsome being waived and Trent Cole taking a pay cut to return, Okine’s position switch qualifies as one of the few newsworthy changes for a Colts pass rush that must improve this season.
Undrafted out of Florida in 2013, he bounced around, not making Houston’s roster, spending one month without actually playing in the Canadian Football League, getting some snaps in the Arena Football League and then the Fall Experimental Football League. He appeared in three games with one tackle for the Colts last season, but spent most of the year on the practice squad.
That the Colts kept him around means they see something in the late-developing prospect. Okine understands the importance of this season. It’s time for him to make plays or else.
“I couldn’t ask for a better chance to prove myself and turn my career around,” Okine said during last week’s offseason training activities.
“There’s no room for hesitation in this league. There’s just no room for that in my life in general. I have to make things happen. Every snap is that way, now or never. I really can’t have any off days.”
Okine, 26, has more size for a pass rusher at 6-6 and 290. Potential instead of production has always seemed to be his description. He had only one sack in his college career at Florida, and says he should have played more.
But Okine also admits there was a time when he didn’t “get it.” He didn’t work hard enough to develop his talent. He insists that isn’t the case now, that the light came on at some point and he must deliver on the promise the Colts see in him.
“I understand people have wondered who I am,” he said. “I’m a late bloomer. I developed a lot after college. I didn’t play as much as I should have in college. I didn’t work as hard. Once that light came on, it came on hard. I’ve just worked at my craft, worked on my moves. My body really started developing. I just turned into a completely different player since college.”
If Okine shows something, he can earn a backup spot behind Cole and Robert Mathis. If he doesn’t show something, he knows he could be gone.
“It’s been a pretty smooth transition,” he said of switching to outside linebacker. “I’m just using my get-off a lot more. There’s a little more space out there. I’m working a lot on my hand movements, a lot of swim moves.
“Everything has been going well. There are some nuances I have to get used to, but everything has been pretty good. I’ve been playing well.”
Mathis taught him how to change his stance so blockers can’t read what he’s going to do.
Bottom line, his future depends upon how well he can rush the passer. Some would say he’s a long shot, but he’s here and has that shot.
“I understand that apprehension,” he said. “People don’t believe anything until they see it. That’s my job to really produce. I feel like I’m athletic enough to dominate on the edge.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.