“Was ever woman in this humor wooed?
Was ever Woman in this humor won?
I’ll have her but I will not keep her long
What, I that killed her husband and his father
To take her in a heart’s extremist hate
With curses in her mouth, tears in her eyes,
The bleeding witness of my hatred by,
Having God, her conscience, and these bars against me,
With no friends to back my suit at all,
But the plain devil, and dissembling looks?....”
It’s difficult to see Sam Acho firing up his teammates with a little pregame Shakespeare from “Richard III.” But they can certainly use him to spread that type of intelligence and memory to his defensive teammates, many of whom have never executed a 3-4 defense.
That’s the portion of a soliloquy Acho recited on the spot to a couple reporters following this past Wednesday’s Bears OTA's at Halas Hall. The son of Nigerian-born parents (his father is a pastor and psychologist and his mother a nurse), he attended the highly-regarded St. Mark’s School in Dallas, and later met his future wife during an annual humanitarian mission with his family back to Africa. She speaks Igbo, so Sam is in the process of learning that language, in addition to the English and Spanish he already knows.
“It’s helped me on the field,” Acho said of his intelligence, recognized two years ago when The Sporting News named him one of the 20 smartest athletes in all of sports. “The ability to understand a defense, understand a play, and remember it. That’s helped me on the field, so the same work ethic I have in the classroom, I take that same work ethic and skill set to the football field.”
“He’s a smart player,” Bears head coach John Fox confirms. “He’s able to grasp things and take it from the classroom out to the field well. We’ve talked about leadership. He helps some of the younger players grasp what we’re doing, and I think he’s been an excellent addition.”
He can help the veterans, too, that the Bears are trying out in their new 3-4 scheme. Outside of their first (and most expensive) signing of their offseason, Pernell McPhee, they didn’t bring in any other edge rushers through free agency, or a draft seemingly rich at that position.
“It just shows they believe in the guys they’ve got. We have a deep (outside linebackers) room – guys like Pernell McPhee, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, Jared Allen, myself, David Bass. We’ve got so many guys. It just means they believe in the guys that they’ve got.”
But Houston and Young are huge question marks, simply based on the major injuries that have so far prevented them from joining their teammates on the practice fields in Lake Forest. Enter defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who’s as respected, if not more so, than the man Acho played for in Arizona, Todd Bowles (who’s gone on to become the New York Jets’ head coach).
“Vic is the ultimate defensive coach,” says Acho. “He just loves defense, loves schemes, and he’s a great teacher. That’s what I love about him: he understands the game and how to teach it to us as players on a very basic level, where we can play at a high level.
“You just look at everywhere he’s been, and the linebackers and safeties he’s produced. It’s just fun to be a part of and see.”
The 6-foot-3, 257-pound Acho exploded on the scene in his rookie 2011 season after being the Cardinals’ fourth-round draft pick out of Texas (where he played with his younger brother Emmanuel, now a linebacker with the Eagles). He collected seven sacks in that 3-4 scheme before slipping to four in 2012. Then three games into 2013 he broke a leg and it was a long process rounding back into form. Even though the Cards elevated their linebackers coach, James Bettcher, to replace Bowles, Arizona didn’t re-sign him. Acho was left without a suitor for the first three weeks of free agency, until Fox called.
While doubt started creeping into Acho’s mind about his future, his strong faith convinced him everything happens for a reason, and Chicago is the place he’s supposed to be.
He’ll get to face his former team at Soldier Field in Week 2. By that time, he hopes to have established himself as a leader and a force in that 3-4, building on the momentum of last season’s finish. Acho’s first sacks since that broken leg came in the regular season finale, and the Cards’ playoff loss at Carolina.
“It’s always encouraging to get some sacks on the board, but it was especially encouraging to start playing well towards the end of the season. The last game and the playoff game I had some of my best games, so that’s always encouraging to play well on a big stage.”
If Acho can pressure quarterbacks like he can recite Shakespeare, the Bears might have themselves a valuable signing.