The New Orleans Saints won't be practicing with pads on and actually HITTING each other until this weekend, but a short while ago during their first official practice of Camp in helmets, shorts, and jerseys, the media on hand observing practice was treated to a special moment — and hopefully a sign of good things to come for the team's super-passionate 'Who Dat Nation' fan-base.
As reported first by NOLA.com beat writer Josh Katzenstein: 6th year veteran EDGE pass rusher / right defensive end Alex Okafor was working with the 1st-team defense to begin the first practice of Saints camp. As Katzenstein notes: it's an impressive bounce back for Okafor, who had been recovering from a torn Achilles in November of last year.
For Okafor, it's been just over 8 months ago since he ruptured his Achilles last season, in a November 19th (Week #11) contest at home in the Superdome vs. the Washington Redskins.
As noted by Sean Fazende of New Orleans FOX 8 News: Okafor split reps with rookie Marcus Davenport; and chances likely are the Saints will utilize a 50/50 split of snaps between the two players, at least for now.
Though most Sports Medicine doctors give an 11 month-to-a year prognosis for full recovery, Okafor says that Saints team doctors gave him an approximated recovery time of 8 to 10 months, a timetable that gave Okafor an accomplishment to hit.
"The ultimate goal is to come back during training camp," Okafor said to reporters recently, "and nothing has taken me off that path."
"It's a long and slow recovery," Okafor said. "Whenever you can bump one of those weeks up, that's when you know you're on track, and you're really doing well, and I've been able to do that."
Never was that more evident then at last month's abbreviated Mini-Camp (the 3rd and final day was cancelled) , where Okafor got to play his usual spot at the weak side / right defensive end position for several snaps with the 1st team defense, and generated some nice pressure on the QB.
So today's events are the truest indication yet of where Okafor's recovery is at the moment, and it means that he's likely to be being deemed "healthy" enough to see significant action in the upcoming 2018 NFL season.
And if that does indeed turn out to be the case: it could be an even further boost to the Saints defense.
Prior to the injury, Okafor was well on the way to becoming a sound Free Agent investment for the Saints; with his 43 tackles and 4.5 sacks before the injury.
But team brass made it a point that despite the unfortunate circumstances that led to the injury, the 27-year old Dallas, Texas native still remained a key piece of the Saints' plans on the defensive line this coming season, even with the addition of the highly-regarded rookie and top draft pick Marcus Davenport.
Okafor signed a two-year, $10 million deal back in late March to remain in New Orleans, and it's fairly obvious that the club had high hopes that a healthy and fully-recovered Okafor will give their improved pass rush an even bigger boost, than the one that's expected to come from players such as Cam Jordan, Sheldon Rankins, David Onyemata, and the afore-mentioned Davenport.