Sam Acho had one of those games Sunday in St. Louis: Two sacks, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery.
The rookie had to make the transition from college defensive end to pro outside linebacker, and it seems to have worked already, a pleasant development given how hard it has been so far for the Cards to get that to work over the past few years.
Acho already has five sacks in just five starts, after gimpy veteran
The head coach’s philosophy is hesitance in playing rookies or inexperienced players. Sometimes, there is no choice – as Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator, Tommy Maddox’s injury forced Ben Roethlisberger on the field, and this season,
“The natural tendency is to put them in there and just let them play, grow with them,” Whisenhunt said. “But you can’t always do that. It’s not fair to the other guys on your team who have been here and worked hard. I think as long as you’re true to guys earning it, then you will always be OK.”
Not all coaches think the same way. Dennis Green famously stuck rookies in the lineup without fear, especially in his first season. Sometimes it made sense (wide receiver
More than that, however, is the downside on the field the current coaches see with going with inexperience right away. Those clamoring for an Acho or O’Brien Schofield to play right away earlier this season were often equally frustrated with the results from young cornerbacks like Peterson and
Of the draft picks taken since Whisenhunt arrived, only Peterson, linebacker
“I guess other people or other teams have different philosophies, but being raised in the system that I was raised in, (I believe) the way you do it is what’s fair to everybody. I think it creates a sense of team that’s important, because when guys have success, you know that they’ve earned it and everybody is excited about that.”
Whisenhunt specifically said he thought Acho was helped by being brought along more slowly, even as the coaches all raved about his intelligence. Even No. 1 picks like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie,
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton, in fact, just was talking about his reticence to put more things in the defensive package if he saw mistakes being made in practice. Given the mistakes that are usually made by the inexperienced, it’s no wonder, for instance, Schofield has been slow to get reps after he admitted that even after one of his good plays (a strip-sack in Baltimore) he was lined up incorrectly.
There are arguments to be made on both sides. Whisenhunt got to where he is as coach under his thought process, though, and it’s not going to change now.
The Cards are long past the point where younger players would be playing – even if Porter had not been sidelined, Acho would have found a way on the field by now – but the cycle will begin again next year with the next draft and the next crop of rookies.
And by then, they’ll be able to learn a little something from a guy like Acho, who patiently bided his time.