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Can Romeo Okwara make the transition to 3-4 OLB?

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Olivier Vernon not the only former defensive end making that switch

NFL: New York Giants at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Romeo Okwara
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The transition of Olivier Vernon from traditional 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker drew a lot of attention this spring. Another Giant making the same switch with far less fanfare is Romeo Okwara, a backup defensive end the past two seasons. Let’s focus on Okwara today as we continue our player-by-player profiles of the Giants’ 90-man roster.

The basics

Height: 6-foot-4
Weight: 271
Position: OLB
Experience: 2

2017 season in review

You might call 2017 a missed opportunity for Okwara. With the Giants floundering and badly in need defensive end depth with Vernon fighting a high ankle sprain, Okwara went down with an injury of his own. He was placed on IR after six games with a knee injury. He was designated to return and was activated in time to practice for the final two games of the season, but did not play.

After showing some promise in 2016 as an undrafted rookie out of Notre Dame, he finished the season with just 3 tackles (1 solo) and no sacks while playing only 82 defensive snaps.

2018 outlook

As they transition from a 4-3 defense to a base 3-4, the Giants are looking for linebacker depth and giving Okwara an opportunity to show that he can provide it. That makes sense because as a 4-3 end run defense was never Okwara’s strong suit, and he seems unlikely to be able to anchor as a 5-tech end.

The question now is can he move well enough to be a standup linebacker, especially when he is forced into pass coverage?

In a pre-2016 NFL Draft scouting report, Matt Miller wrote that Okwara is “comfortable playing in an up or down position and can easily flip back and forth between a 3-4 and 4-3 alignment.” Miller, though, also called Okwara an “average athlete” and “a heavy-footed mover.”

During spring practices open to the media, Okwara did appear to get exposed when attempting to cover Giants’ running backs in space. Okwara may be able to provide the Giants a bit of pass rush from a linebacker spot, but it will be his ability to cover adequately and make plays in space that will determine whether or not he can make a successful move to linebacker.

As of now, I would guess that Okwara makes the roster as a reserve linebacker. It’s hardly a vote of confidence, but the reality is that right now the Giants don’t appear to have better alternatives on the roster.