O'Brien Schofield was a solid player at the University of Wisconsin, posting 17 sacks and 33 tackles for loss over the course of his college career. His pro career has been marred by injury, but when he spoke to the Atlanta media on a conference call this week, Schofield made it clear that he's thrilled to be in Atlanta playing for Dan Quinn again.
"To me, this is a very special opportunity, because Coach Quinn was one of my favorite coaches in Seattle," Schofield said. "Just the intensity, his energy, his understanding of the game, and it's all about having fun, and I think at this level of football, some guys can lose sight of that."
It's unknown what role Schofield will play in Atlanta, but he's a versatile player with experience in Quinn's defense. At this point, Schofield isn't worried about how many snaps he'll get. "Right now, I haven't really focused on what the playing time will be," Schofield said. "I'm just trying to get integrated and meet my new teammates and let them use me however they need to use me, you know? They've seen my film. They know what I'm able to do, and DQ's been there firsthand with me. I think that for me, my expectation is just to be a part of this great defense that I know that we're going to put together."
Given the way that injury has shaped Schofield's career, it's understandable that it's been a concern for some fans. Schofield explained the issue in detail. "Basically, my first year, I tore my ACL in the Senior Bowl first practice, and then I had a second surgery that June, in 2010, in which I got some of my meniscus removed, and I think that maybe...too much was removed, and through the process of my career it started wearing down, and to the point where I can possibly form arthritis or there's probably some there right now," Schofield said.
Schofield was on the verge of signing a two-year, $8 million contract with the Giants last offseason, but he failed his physical because of the lingering knee issues. "I mean, it was tough to go through, because I felt like I put my body to work on the field, just like anybody else. You know, this is my job," Schofield said. "I was working to get a payday, and unfortunately, I wasn't able to sign a big deal with New York, but everything worked out, man. I was able to go back and play with my brothers in Seattle and had a chance to compete for a second Super Bowl."
Now Schofield feels comfortable about the approach Atlanta will take to keep him at optimal health. "But where I'm at right now, just talking with the staff, they're going to do a pretty good job managing my knee, just like they did in Seattle," Schofield said. "They don't put too much on me through practice or the training camp, but really allow me to show what I can do and whatever workload that I can take on, I want to take it on."
When Dan Quinn -- or DQ, as Schofield calls him -- is the coach, playing selflessly and being versatile are emphasized. Schofield said that the bonding, the chemistry and understanding how the other players play will be the biggest factor in their success this season. It worked for Quinn's Seattle unit. "I can definitely tell you in Seattle, there was a point where everyone was trying to rack up these stats and go out and get sacks, but it wasn't until we understood that we need everyone for the pass rush -- you know, you have to rush as a unit," Schofield said.
"You have to rush in unison, and when you're able to do that, I mean, you're able to create so much pressure that it gets to the point it doesn't matter who gets the sack, you know? Because we all celebrate. We all have success when someone gets a sack," Schofield said. "So if we're able to get that mindset, and it doesn't matter who gets the sack, but it's more that we're all working together and we're all putting pressure on the quarterback, and whoever gets there, gets there. You know? And you have to be selfless like that to be on a great defense, because everyone's not going to get the big stats."
Versatility isn't just emphasized in Quinn's defense, it's required. Schofield was expected to be versatile and flexible immediately upon arriving in Seattle. "I was running two positions from the first day I got to Seattle, and it was just something that -- it was kind of difficult at first, but once I understood the scheme and the overall picture of what we were trying to accomplish, man, it became really easy," Schofield said. "And I think this year, I literally rushed -- or played every position on the d-line, from nose, to tackle, to three-technique, to end, you know? And the LEO backer, [and] played a little bit of SAM. So for me, I'm very, very familiar with this defense. I did a lot of studying, and it's really helped me."
The LEO linebacker is a pretty important part of the 4-3 under defense. Schofield, having played in that position some, shared his perspective on that role. "I think the LEO backer is basically a hybrid defensive end. You have to be pretty athletic as far as being able to play the six-technique pretty strong on the run," Schofield said. "It's a lot of times where, as in blitz packages, where you'll have to drop in coverage and do some coverage things, even in the nickel package, and also just be able to pull around in the pass rush, because the LEO in the nickel package does a lot of standing up rushing, rushing outside, rushing inside, drops in coverage. So you've got to kind of be the all-purpose football player to play that position."
Schofield hopes to help his new teammates acclimate to Dan Quinn's way of doing things. "Me, personally, I just want to be a spark on this defense. I just want to show with my work ethic, my effort on the field, and just making plays, producing," Schofield said. "You know, earn the respect of my new teammates, that I'm able to have a voice, and whatever I can do to help them learn this defense and catch onto things pretty fast, I'm going to do that."
He holds Quinn in very high esteem, and shared some interesting insight on Quinn from the perspective of having played for him. "I think if they could spend some time with DQ, from the big picture standpoint, he's a right now guy, you know? He wants to get the body of work," Schofield said. "Let's focus on right now. Let's focus on the task at hand and how good can you get today. How good can you get at your football, at your technique today, you know? And I think if we take that approach each and every day when we're out on that field, we're out in the meeting rooms, that we're working to get better."
Schofield believes in Quinn's approach because he's lived it and benefited from it. "I think that's something that, for the first time in my career, I really experienced that. Every single day, I progressed," Schofield said. "I progressed from a technique standpoint, from a football IQ, because you've got to be a smart player to play in his defense. As simple as it is, it can be difficult if you don't understand the concept of everything that's going on."
The key, Schofield believes, to improved defensive performance this season is getting players to play as one unit. "I think as far as just getting the right guys that play together, you know? It's not so much of who's the best guy, but how good can this guy play in the unit, because it's a team sport, and the way we played in Seattle, man, it was just that we trusted each guy to do his job, and he didn't have to go on and take on two things," Schofield said. "Just do your job the best you can do it, every play, every down. Just having that mentality, then you will start to see something special form."