If not for the impact Patrick Peterson has made for the Arizona Cardinals this season, Sam Acho might be the team's most talked-about rookie this year.
In a season where there hasn't been a whole lot to cheer about in Arizona, Acho is giving the Cardinals and their fans reason to have hope for the future for a defense that is now showing signs of coming together.
The linebacker from Texas, a fourth-round pick, is coming off his best game to date as a Cardinal. He had two sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in the team's 23-20 win at St. Louis last Sunday. Acho became the first rookie to record multiple sacks in a game since Karlos Dansby got two against the New York Giants in 2004.
Since moving into the starting lineup in Week 8, Acho has 20 tackles, four sacks, three forced fumbles, three tackles for loss and a fumble recovery in five starts.
"It's a testament to the coaches putting me in the right places," Acho said Wednesday after Cardinals practice.
Acho said he had a lot to learn when he arrived for his first training camp. He admitted he was overwhelmed at first. "I've never seen a playbook this big and I know my playbook at Texas was huge," Acho said.
But veteran Adrian Wilson was there to walk Acho through the playbook and go over concepts. Since then, Acho has wisely sought advice and asked questions of veterans like Joey Porter -- whom Acho replaced -- and Clark Haggans.
A defensive end in college, Acho needed time to convert to outside linebacker.
"Sam's a smart guy. He's been studying and working hard since he's been here," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "He made a lot of mistakes early, and when you do that, you have a tendency to lose your confidence. Sam wasn't thrown into the fire where he had to do it in games, so he got a chance to come along the right way. When he got his opportunity he was very confident. That's probably the best thing Sam does right now, he doesn't make mistakes."
Acho thanks his parents, Sonni and Christie, for a positive upbringing the in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He got it done in the classroom at Texas with seven appearances on the Athletic Director's Honor Roll and was part of medical missions to his parents' homeland of Nigeria even as a teenager. He also volunteered as an English language teacher.
Acho's younger brother Emmanuel is a finalist for the Ronnie Lott Trophy in college football. Sam is proud because the award stands for not just good play but exemplary service in the community and high character and high character.
"You could tell pretty quick with Sam that he was a very intelligent young man, very focused," Whisenhunt said, recalling when he met Acho's parents. "The human part of it is that people root for Sam because of who he is, because he doesn't have the ego. He'll do anything that you ask him... one those unselfsh kind of attitudes."
Acho recalls getting only limited snaps in games at the outset of the season and admitted feeling anxious about wanting to tell his coaches to put him in. But he was told to be patient and diligent, and said that paid off.
"Nothing's ever going to be handed to you, nothing's going to come easy," Acho said, remembering words of wisdom from his parents. "if you work and you have faith, then things are eventually going to be OK."
They seem to be right now.
"As long as I'm sacking somebody I'm happy," Acho said.
Teammates have found Acho to be quite a chatterbox with his questions and enthusiasm. Defensive lineman Darnell Dockett hears it often.
"The best thing for him is to stop talking back to me before I put him in a headlock and kill him," Dockett kidded. "Other than that he's going to be all right."