The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost two of their four outside linebackers to injury before halftime in Sunday's loss to Seattle. With both of those edge rushers – veteran Carl Nassib and rookie Anthony Nelson – still unavailable as practice began on Wednesday, the Buccaneers signed a pair of reinforcements. They come to the Buccaneers' roster via very different paths.
Sam Acho was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in 2011 and he played the last two of his four years there under Head Coach Bruce Arians and Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles. The Cardinals fielded a top-seven scoring defense in each of those campaigns. Acho went on to spend the next four seasons with the Chicago Bears, and in all he's played in 102 regular-season games with 57 starts, 17.0 sacks and 44 quarterback hits.
Kahzin Daniels' next regular-season game played will be his first in the NFL. He's a rookie who went undrafted out of the University of Charleston before signing with the Buccaneers in May. Though he impressed in training camp, Daniels started the regular season as a free agent again after getting waived with an injury settlement. In such cases, the player can't return to the team with which he made the settlement until a certain amount of time based on expected recovery time plus three weeks. Daniels could have signed with another team in the interim but he came back to the Bucs just days after he was first eligible to do so, signing first to the practice squad before Wednesday's promotion.
Arians is happy to have both players and expects them to contribute immediately, Acho because he's got prior experience in Bowles's defense and is a quick study and Daniels because he got a lot of training in the system over the summer.
"Sam’s one of those real high-energy, very bright guys, so he’ll pick it up real quick," he said. "He can help us on special teams where we’re missing not just two outside linebackers, but two starters on special teams. Kahz has been here, going full-speed and really improving, so he’ll help us a bunch also.
"[Daniels] had a great camp, then he got hurt, and we were really happy waiting to get him back. He’s very explosive, he’s a really good pass rusher, he’s got speed to play on [special] teams, so he’s got a good future."
Acho had been waiting for a call since he was released by the Buffalo Bills at the end of the preseason. He kept in shape by working with trainers at the University at Buffalo and as it turns out his time away from the game only lasted two months.
"The NFL – people talk about it standing for, 'Not for Long,'" said Acho. "Injuries happen, a couple of guys went down and I got the call. I feel like it's a good fit.
"It's obviously good to be back with Coach Bowles and BA, guys I played with in Arizona for my last two years there. So a lot of the stuff is familiar. It's obviously good to be back on the football field. I've been training pretty hard. So I'm in great shape and ready."
Acho played at the University of Texas, had his name called on a draft weekend and has signed multiple NFL contracts over the last eight years. He was clearly thrilled to be getting another opportunity, particularly with Arians and his coaching staff, but it's not exactly a new experience for him. Daniels, on the other hand, is a small-school prospect in the very early stages of realizing his NFL dream. Now that he's got a shot, he's going to work hard to make sure it pays off.
"It means the world," said Daniels of his promotion to the active roster. "A lot of hard work has gone into where I am and I just know that there's a lot of hard work to go. I'm not where I want to be yet, so I'm just going to keep working and continue to attack every day the same, come in ready to work every day."
Daniels wasn't a complete obscure signing by the Buccaneers in May, even if he and fellow rookie defensive end John Cominsky are the first Charleston players in the NFL in more than 50 years. Daniels gained attention for making it to the professional level despite having to overcome the loss of his sight in one eye, the result of a childhood accident. He never let that stand in the way of his on-field success – most of his teammates and coaches at Charleston were actually unaware of it until very late in his college career – and he won't now that he's taking another big step forward in his career.
"I take it and I turn it around to a positive," said Daniels. "I've never let this stop me from doing anything I wanted to do and I'm not going to let it stop me now. There's only bigger and better things to come from me and I can't wait to get out on the field and show it."
Can Acho and Daniels provide the Bucs with the immediate help they need if Nelson and or Nassib are still unavailable on Sunday? Acho thinks so.
"With Coach Bowles, you know it's like a plug-and-go," he said. "As soon as you get in, you're going to be successful."