The New York Giants are excited about their starting defensive line. And after investing a significant chunk of change in re-signing Jason Pierre-Paul, signing Damon Harrison and Olivier Vernon, they had good reason to expect to be excited.
We all got to see the first returns on their investment against the Miami Dolphins, and that fearsome foursome gave us all reason to be excited. Vernon and JPP had regular "team meetings" at the quarterback on seemingly every pass play, and running against Snacks and Hankins proved to be an exercise in futility.
The starters are good.
But to paraphrase GM Jerry Reese: If you only have two good defensive ends, you're one short. Especially when it comes to Steve Spagnuolo's schemes, which work best when he can send waves of athletic pass rushers after quarterbacks from every angle. To keep everyone rested and disruptive, Spags needs at least three -- preferably four -- defensive ends who can live in opponent's backfields and terrorize QBs.
The Giants are hoping that 2015 third-round draft pick Owamagbe Odighizuwa can be that third defensive end who can rotate in to spell a starter or take the field in Spags' "Four Aces" pass rush package.
Owa has been preparing for that role for a long time, since before he enrolled in UCLA, in fact.
"I know he (Justin Tuck) is a great player who was drafted out of Notre Dame in the (third) round, and I know that I was watching him my sophomore year in high school when they were playing New England in the Super Bowl and the Giants' defensive line inspired me and made me want to be a better defensive line with Osi Umenyiora, with Justin Tuck," Odighizuwa said shortly after being drafted. "But I know Justin Tuck is a great player. He's really, really physical and that's a guy that I try to learn some things from, but I know a lot about the Giants' defensive line. I could go all day with what I know about their defensive line play."
"When I tell you that the Giants' defensive line inspired me as a player, it's no joke," he added "The way they played is really what sparked my thirst for wanting to be better as a d-lineman. I remember in college watching the year Osi Umenyiora had six sacks against the Philadelphia Eagles. I watched his highlights over and over again. I watched his drills that he did with the d-line coach who coaches guys out of Atlanta. There was a video of him on YouTube and I was watching it over and over again. I was doing every drill that he did. The list goes on and on. I was watching Michael Strahan and how he plays. I studied everything about the Giants defensive line. I studied Jason Pierre-Paul the year he went off. They know their defensive line."
Owa seems to combine traits from some of the Giant's greatest defensive ends. Strahan's heavy hands and gap-toothed smile, Osi's explosive burst -- Owa recorded a 4.62 40-yard dash and 39-inch vertical at 267 pounds -- Justin Tuck's disciplined yet relentless play, and JPPs overwhelming power.
"I think what people haven't seen is what I can really do." Owa said to Pat Traina during an off-season Q&A "I'm a guy who's built for a 4-3 defensive end. I have the measurables and the skill set," Odighizuwa said. "It's time for me to take that step every day and put it all together. I think that's what I want people to see this year, that I'm going to put it together at practice and out there on game and put out exciting football."
The Giants are counting on him to "let it rip" like McAdoo told him and play some exciting football.
His game against the Miami Dolphins in the first week of the preseason gave the Giants, and Giants' fans, a tangible reason to be excited.
Owa's production against the Dolphins was exciting enough; he logged the fifth-most snaps of any defensive player at 34, and notched a tackle and two sacks. The first was a coverage sack that showed off his hot-running motor and another that showed his ability to overwhelm offensive linemen with his athleticism. But watching the game, Odighizuwa played even better.
Owa was drafted by the Giants to play defensive end, so let's start there and look at his second sack of the evening.
Here we see Owa lined up at the right defensive end position, matched up against the Dolphins' backup left tackle. The play calls for Owa to stunt inside before rushing the passer. The tackle tries admirably to keep up, but it just wasn't going to happen.
A couple seconds later we see Owa has discarded the left tackle -- he's the guy with his back turned to the line of scrimmage next to the defensive tackle -- and Owa is accelerating to the quarterback. The play ended a second or two later with Matt Moore on his back.
Owa's combination of strength and agility were just too much for the back up left tackle to deal with. But let's see how he does against a starter.
Odigihizuwa primarily played the 5-technique -- the defensive end in a 3-4 front -- at UCLA, so converting to the defensive end in a four-man front is a bit of a project. As we just saw, he certainly has the physical tools to play the position. But the fact that he was able to play the 5-technique, a position that is generally asked to control blockers with size and power, speaks to just how strong Owa is.
That strength, and experience dealing with the interior of an offense, make him a natural candidate to move inside on pass rushing downs.
Owa is lined up at 3-technique, over the outside shoulder of the left guard, on Miami's third play of the game. He doesn't use any fancy moves, instead overwhelming the guard with his power and explosion. He immediately fires off the ball, staying low with active hands. The result is a guard put on roller skates, driven right into Ryan Tannehill's back.
This is pretty much a nightmare scenario for a QB. He doesn't have any good options downfield, the right defensive end beat his blocker, the left defensive end is beating his blocker, and the 3-technique just bulldozed the left guard. Tannehill does do a good job of getting the ball out quickly -- the receiver is immediately tackled short of the first down by Eli Apple. But he had to get the ball out immediately, Owa was about to simply discard the blocker and lay a hard (but legal) hit on Tannehill.
Now we need to see if Owa can let it rip once again and follow up a great game against the Dolphins with a strong game against the Buffalo Bills.
"'Let it rip' just means get after it," Owa said after Friday's game. "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."