Northwestern officially started its 2016 season by kicking off training camp with a team meeting on Sunday, August 7. The team will be in Evanston for a week and then head up to Kenosha, Wisconsin, for a grueling week of workouts and practices in the summer heat, a time for the team to come together on and off the field. Kenosha will go a long way in determining who wins key position battles, who ends up where on the depth chart and much, much more. It’s the equivalent of NFL training camp, except compressed into about one week. We count down the biggest questions—two per day—facing Pat Fitzgerald’s team heading into camp.
We continue the countdown with No. 6 and a film study: Will the real Ifeadi Odenigbo please stand up?
He knows the question is coming before I even ask it.
Can Ifeadi Odenigbo be a three-down lineman?
He’s been working on answering that question with a resounding “yes” in two locations: in the weight room and in front of his new Apple TV.
“Last year I played around 248 to 252,” he told Inside NU. “Right now I’m between 262 to 265. And then I’ve been watching more film this offseason. I bought a little Apple TV and we have our iPads, so I just go home, I watch some plays, I call out the formations, just so I’m building my whole football IQ a little more. So instead of me reacting to plays, I can anticipate.”
The weight room transformation has been remarkable, but Odenigbo has made sure to put it on “the right” way: by increasing muscle mass but not losing any of the speed or athleticism that made him the most highly-rated recruit Pat Fitzgerald has ever had. So far, he feels he’s done a solid job.
“What’s nice about when you put on weight the right way, it’s gonna help me in the run game, it’s also gonna help me in the pass rush game,” he said. “I’ve always kind of been that speed rush guy, but I kind of want to switch up the game, ‘cause at times when you pass rush, it’s like a basketball game. The offensive tackle is like ‘all right he likes to do the speed rush move,’ so I’ll cross it up on him and go speed to power.”
That’s exactly what he’ll need to do to replace two of the most productive defensive ends in recent Northwestern memory—Dean Lowry and Deonte Gibson. Odenigbo has shown flashes, but he has also majorly struggled, leading to our next question: Will the real Ifeadi Odenigbo stand up? We examine both the good and the bad.
The run game
The biggest hole in Odenigbo’s game is against the run. The extra weight and strength should certainly be helpful, because he was pushed around by tackles and even some tight ends in 2015.
(NOTE: All videos via BTN2go or available on YouTube)
In this example, Odenigbo is pushed back several yards by Michigan tight end A.J. Williams. Granted, Williams is 6-foot-6 and 285 pounds, but this is exactly why the Wildcats could not hang with the Wolverines in Ann Arbor. They were dominated in the trenches. Odenigbo was 35 pounds lighter than Williams last year. Those extra 10-15 pounds will make a difference, but this is something that Odenigbo very clearly needs to improve upon.
This, however, absolutely cannot happen. Odenigbo gets pushed back by Iowa tight end George Kittle, who comes in at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, per the 2015 Hawkeyes roster. Odenigbo’s biggest advantage is his powerful arms and his outstanding quickness. But his lower body strength was clearly lacking last year. If his video in the tweet above is any indication, that should be less of an issue in 2016.
Additionally, Odenigbo needs to work on consistently maintaining his lane discipline, something that his predecessors were exceptional at. So Odenigbo picked their brains for advice. Dean Lowry, one of his closer friends, has been especially helpful.
“He’s just been telling me that, ‘just make sure you watch film, dude. It’s all about the film, man. You’re big enough and strong enough to play, literally just look at film.’”
That film will certainly show him that he has a tendency to over-pursue and thus lose his lane discipline.
In this play, Odenigbo comes down hard on the quarterback, leaving him grasping for air when Jake Rudock hands the ball off. That not one lineman blocks Odenigbo is by design; that responsibility falls on the fullback. He doesn’t really have to do much after Odenigbo dives so far inside.
In the above example, Minnesota runs the option, and Odenigbo actually fulfills his responsibility of taking the running back—that is, until he has to make the tackle. Odenigbo comes in too hot, allowing Rodney Smith to use the defensive end’s momentum against him and slip the tackle. Even though the Minnesota quarterback made the wrong read, the play results in positive yardage.
Here’s an encouraging sign from Odenigbo when it comes to maintaining lane discipline. He stays outside of the tackle on the stretch play, and even though he does not make the tackle, he forces the Josh Ferguson way wide, allowing his All-American linebacker Anthony Walker to finish the play.
If there’s one thing Ifeadi Odenigbo can do exceptionally well, it’s rush the passer. Despite rarely having played on all three downs, Odenigbo ranks eighth on Northwestern’s all-time sack list, and he should finish his career in the top five if he stays healthy. Odenigbo uses active hands and strong arms to complement his outstanding speed.
This is probably the most impressive play of Odenigbo’s season, even if he didn’t end up recording the sack. He attacks the double team aggressively, brushing off the tight end supposed to chip him with ease. He then blows up the tackle, displacing his hands to get him off balance and shoving him to the ground.
Odenigbo uses his speed here against Wisconsin, too, but it’s not speed alone. Watch where the tackles’ hands are when Odenigbo turns the corner. They’re nowhere near Odenigbo, who has swatted them down. By the time the tackle tries to regain contact, the Wildcat has blown by the Badger.
One of the interesting ways in which Mike Hankwitz has used Odenigbo is as a stand-up defensive end. It’s not a traditional way to line up as a defensive end—it’s as if he’s a linebacker playing defensive end (and he would be a linebacker in a 3-4 scheme)—but given his speed, it makes sense. And it can be very helpful for a guy with his skill set.
“That’s kind of what I want to do more of,” Odenigbo said. “That’s something that we’ve been working on, ‘cause when you’re standing up as a d-end, you have better vision. And when I’m standing versus me being in a stance, I can literally see the formations.”
Here’s where the advantage of better vision while standing up plays out on the field. He identifies the play immediately, beating the tackle inside with ease. There’s nowhere for Kevin Hogan to go on the quarterback draw.
The two-point stance also helps him as a pass rusher, as long as he times it correctly.
“The hardest thing about it in a two point stance is literally getting off,” he said. “You tend to take that false step, so it’s really hard to go and attack and be very aggressive. So it’s trying to find that balance, and I’m trying to mix it up. So I’ve been practicing quite a bit, just on the weekends getting more and more comfortable.”
In this example, Odenigbo gets a fantastic jump. Joel Stave, meet Ifeadi Odenigbo running full speed right at you.
Finally, this is a good example of Odenigbo aggressively attacking out of the two-point stance. He launches himself at the right tackle and pushes him back into Hogan’s lap. From there, it’s easy.
Watching Ifeadi Odenigbo rush the passer is a ton of fun.
Watching Ifeadi Odenigbo defend the run is not so fun. At least, it hasn’t been so far.
But he’s made sure to be the best he can possibly be when the season rolls around. Whether it’s been in the weight room or the film room, Odenigbo has been all in for his senior year, mentioning he has a renewed sense of urgency ahead of his final year in Evanston.
“At camp last year, I wasn’t in the best of shape,” he said “I started kind of slow, so that’s been my key emphasis is to make sure I’m in shape. It starts in the weight room, forming good habits, because those good habits are going to take you to the fourth quarter seeing how you perform.”