Tampa Bay Buccaneers look at biggest DT option, 350-pound Frank Okam

Bucs defensive tackle Frank Okam pressures Kansas City quarterback Tyler Palko in the first quarter of Friday’s preseason opener.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Bucs defensive tackle Frank Okam pressures Kansas City quarterback Tyler Palko in the first quarter of Friday’s preseason opener.

TAMPA — Frank Okam does not look like any defensive tackle in Tampa Bay history.

At 6 feet 5 and pushing the needle past 350 pounds, he is the only member of the Bucs' better bigness bureau.

Warren Sapp, Anthony McFarland and even Gerald McCoy have played at a cheeseburger north or south of a relatively waifish three bills.

But Okam eclipses them all — literally — as probably the largest man in a Bucs uniform to ever bull rush a quarterback or a postgame spread.

"He's different than we've ever seen in Tampa," coach Raheem Morris said. "He's different than what we've looked at over the past couple of years with the quickness and the quick twitch. He's kind of the … I don't even know what his technique is. It's just kind of 'Get out of the way.' It works for him and I like it.

"He's 350 … maybe. He's just a big man. He doesn't get tired. He's one of those guys where you think, 'Is he out of shape?' Then you look at him and say, 'Oh, well, he just looks like a refrigerator. There's no stomach. You look at him and it's like, 'Are you just fat or just big?' He's not fat; he's just big."

Even larger than Okam's stature is the contribution he has made to the Bucs defense.

The former University of Texas star had been released by the Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks before signing with Tampa Bay in November. He started the final three games after McCoy went on injured reserve.

Okam had five tackles in his debut against Detroit, increased that total to seven in a win over Seattle and recovered a fumble in a victory at New Orleans the final week of the season.

"I think after getting released from two teams, it kind of brought everything back into perspective," Okam said Monday. "I pretty much went back to the old school, lay down your foundation, put your head down and keep working until something good happens.

"I think I started out a little hesitant at first, but in the Seattle and New Orleans game, I tried to pick it up and be what the team needs me to be and that's a big body who needs two blockers on him to free up our linebackers."

Okam has done more than that. With McCoy missing Friday's preseason opener at Kansas City with a shoulder injury and nose tackle Roy Miller leaving after the first series with a knee injury, the entire Chiefs offensive line was preoccupied with Okam.

"Did you all see Frank Okam?" McCoy asked rhetorically Monday. "Frank took like four people with him. … That means everyone else is free."

What makes Okam so unique is that not only can he bulldoze the pile, he is a ball of fast-twitch muscle fibers with quick feet that enable him to speed rush as well.

"A lot of guys sit back on me and look for power, and when they stop their feet, you've got to use your quickness to get by them," Okam said. "When you shake them up with quickness, you can come back with power. The best advantage I have now is when my speed stuff doesn't work, I can always go to power. Most guys don't have that ability.

"You can get a little envious seeing the quickness and flashiness of Gerald and you want some of that, too. But you have to be reminded what your forte, what your niche is and just focus on doing that."

Most looked at Okam's career at Texas and figured his NFL career would be better at this point. As a senior with the Longhorns in 2007, he had a career-high 52 tackles (25 solos) with five sacks and 11 stops behind the line of scrimmage. He generated 16 pressures with five pass deflections, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble.

But Okam slid to the fifth round in the 2008 NFL draft and played in only 13 games with Houston from 2008 to 2010. He was inactive during his stint in Seattle.

"I think that's the thing that keeps driving me," Okam said. "When you feel like you've kind of been at the top of your position and you know what that feels like and you come into the league and you've been at the very bottom, it humbles you.

"Now I don't take anything for granted. I don't expect anything. I think everything you get you have to earn it."

Okam has done that, big time.

Rick Stroud can be reached at stroud@sptimes.com.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers look at biggest DT option, 350-pound Frank Okam 08/16/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 16, 2011 12:25am]

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