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Owa Odighizuwa showing early signs of breakout year

Posted Aug 13, 2016

Owa Odighizuwa recorded two sacks in Friday's game vs. Miami: 

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Recent Giants history is replete with players who overcame unproductive rookie seasons on their way to great careers.

Michael Strahan broke his foot and had one sack – and three tackles – in his 1993 debut season. He’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Amani Toomer totaled one catch as a rookie after he was selected on the second round of the 1996 NFL Draft. He holds the franchise record with 668 receptions.

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Eli Manning threw nine interceptions and just six touchdown passes while going 1-6 as the starter in 2004. A two-time Super Bowl winner, he is universally acclaimed as the finest quarterback in Giants history.

Although the sample size is admittedly tiny, Owa Odighizuwa demonstrated last night that he is a candidate to upgrade from frustrated rookie to big-time contributor. The reserve defensive end had 2.0 sacks, three solo tackles and three quarterback hits, and was a notable presence in the Giants’ 27-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins in their preseason opener.  
 
“My expectations were just to play at a high level and give the coaches what they want to see and have fun doing it,” Odighizuwa said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get a win, but just the fact that I was able to go out there and play fast and physical was good.

“It felt awesome just being out there playing ball, giving everything I got. It was fun.”

His rookie year was anything but fun. In 2015, Odighizuwa was a third-round draft choice from UCLA. The Giants hoped he would bolster their defensive end rotation, but Odighizuwa played in just four games and spent the last half of the season on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. His totals for the season: three tackles (which he matched last night) and no sacks.

A healthy Odighizuwa performed impressively in the spring, has had a good training camp, and was unleashed last night to offer a glimpse of what he might contribute this year.

“It was good to see him get some nice rushes in there,” coach Ben McAdoo said. “He was active, and Owa’s a guy…he just has to let it rip. He’s a talented young man, he’s a good looking sucker, and he just has to go out there and let it rip and play fast and play aggressive.”

McAdoo noted Odighizuwa has to play the run to be an all-around player. But the potential he offers as a pass-rusher is intriguing.

“Owa did great,” Olivier Vernon said after the game. “I think Owa is very talented. If he just keys in on a few things to add to his game, he’s going to be a force to reckon with.”

Vernon said Odighizuwa reminds him of … Vernon. No surprise there. The former Dolphin now starting at right end is 6-2 and 275 pounds. Odighizuwa is 6-3, 270. Neither end is blessed with tremendous size, but they are quick and strong, and can leverage their way past much larger offensive tackles.

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“In today’s game, it’s a lot of smaller guys rushing on the edge,” Vernon said. “You have to be able to use your body and height as an advantage as far as leverage. He does a great job in doing that. The sky is the limit for Owa and I just can’t wait to see how he develops and grows from this point on.”

Without the sore hammy to worry about, Odighizuwa is confident he will continue to wreak havoc up front.

“I’m a versatile guy, I’m a versatile athlete,” said, Odighizuwa, who has also lined up inside. “As a pass rusher, I believe I can move down the line and rush from different spots and put pressure on the quarterback. In this defense, that’s good for me and my skillsets and it allows me to make plays.”

Odighizuwa intends to heed McAdoo’s word and continue to “let it rip.”

“’Let it rip’ just means get after it,” he said. “Get after the quarterback, put pressure on him, play physical against the run, just put everything together. I think throughout the spring and training camp, it’s been a learning process for me putting everything together piece by piece and so now that it’s game time, they just want me to let it rip. All the practice, the workouts, my technique, just go out there and let it loose.”

After an invisible rookie season, Odighizuwa is starting to be seen and heard.