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Alex Okafor wants to 'be that guy' the Saints need in pass rush

NEW ORLEANS -- Alex Okafor made his presence felt during Sunday night’s New Orleans Saints practice, with at least two sacks in full-team drills.

That’s exactly what the fifth-year defensive end came here to do.

Okafor, 26, got lost in the shuffle behind standout Arizona Cardinals pass-rushers Chandler Jones and Markus Golden last year. So when he became a free agent, he chose a place where he knew his skill set was desperately needed.

“Well, that’s why I came here. I knew there’d be an opportunity to play right away. ... So, I’m doing all I can to be that guy opposite [Cameron Jordan],” said Okafor, who had eight sacks in 2014 but only 5.5 over the past two years while battling a variety of nagging injuries.

“I came from a place in Arizona where we already had two great edge-rushers, and I kind of added towards that,” Okafor said. “So, now I’m ready to come within my own and be that guy for this team.”

Okafor has been facing stiff competition from third-year pro Hau’oli Kikaha, who has made several flash plays of his own in recent days -- an impressive return after he missed all of last season with his third torn ACL.

But it looks like there might be room for both of them on the field together. Okafor (6-foot-4, 261 pounds) has been playing inside in certain pass-rush packages, with Kikaha next to him on the edge.

Coach Sean Payton said he thinks that versatility can be a plus for Okafor, who said he rushed from the inside a lot last year in Arizona.

“He got some outside rush [snaps on Sunday night], but we’ve worked him [inside] in the NASCAR or the nickel rush. He’s healthy, and I think you’re seeing some real good signs,” Payton said.

Okafor signed a “prove it” deal with the Saints -- a one-year contract worth between $2 million-$3 million. If he stays healthy, he has a chance to be the kind of bargain find for the Saints’ pass rush that they got in defensive tackle Nick Fairley last year.

Okafor said he’s eager to take the next step in Thursday’s preseason opener at the Cleveland Browns.

“I’m just excited to play within this defense, play with these guys in a live-game situation,” said Okafor, who has been best friends with Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro since their days at Texas.

“I think I’m picking things up pretty well, [but] I still got a lot to learn,” Okafor said. “I just gotta most importantly get comfortable within the defense, and I think I’m making good strides doing that.”