When the New York Giants drafted Owamagbe Odighizuwa out of UCLA they were counting on his upside. Owa's floor as a player is already quite high. He comes into the league as an explosively athletic prototypical 4-3 defensive end, who was largely miscast as a 3-4 defensive end in college.
When he drafted Owa, Jerry Reese praised his upside, and plainly stated that the hope is that he can tap into that potential. The hope is that Odighizuw can become a "complete" defensive end and raise his pass rush ability to match his abilities as a run stopper.
"When you start picking guys in the third round, those are guys that have some things they have to get better at, some developmental qualities that they have to get better at, but this guy, all of his gymnastic stuff he did at the combine was really off the charts. You rarely see guys with this kind of athletic ability with respect that the gymnastic numbers show. There are a lot of things to like about him. We just think we can get a guy in the third round who's going to be a core special teams player while he's learning how to adjust to the game up here. He's a big, powerful guy. An amazing body. We're hoping to hit on this guy as a pass-rusher. He can play inside. Our coaches like that he can go inside and play. We think he'll be a matchup problem as an inside rusher as well."
Heading into his first professional preseason game, that is the plan for Owa. He has embraced every opportunity to improve throughout his first training camp.
"I say it's definitely a big deal for me. Obviously, my first NFL game. So I'm excited about it, it's going to be a great opportunity for me. I've been working as hard as I can all week to put myself in the best situation to succeed. I think it's going to be a lot of fun.
"Going against another opponent, another offensive line, just gauging how you are. It's definitely been useful for me, and like I said, taking full advantage of it and working as hard as I can to be prepared. I think it's going to be a lot of fun tomorrow," Odighizuwa siad.
The other part of what attracted the Giants to Odighizuwa is his mentality. He was a captain at UCLA, and has shown himself to be a very thoughtful player. Even before being drafted by the Giants he identified former Giants defensive ends as inspiring his game. After being drafted by the Giants he impressed reporters and fans with his knowledge of Giants' lore. Throughout the offseason and camp Owa has put that same thoughtfulness into learning both Steve Spagnuolo's defense and improving his technique.
"Honestly, the more I've been practicing, the more I've been doing the things that Coach Nunn has been teaching me and then watching film and seeing it, then actually applying it, I feel like I've been making a lot of strides in my pass rush. I really feel like I've taken a great step in the right direction. I've been getting great feedback from the coaches," Odighizuwa said. "Biggest thing that Coach Nunn has been telling me is just play to your strength, practice the things that I'm telling you to do, and figure out what works for you from there. He talked to our group the other day and said the most consistent things for any pass rusher is how fast they get off the ball and their pad level and their leverage as a pass rusher. Different moves, guys figure out their moves or what works for them getting to the quarterback. I've really taken that to heart, I've been really applying it these past couple of days against the Bengals. I feel like I'm making some great improvements."
It's a work ethic that his teammates have noticed. Veteran defensive end Robert Ayers counted Owa among several young defenders who were impressive.
"He's like clockwork almost. He's understanding the defense. Once he fine tunes his technique and understands the game and understands how to attack offenses and what they're trying to do to him with formations and things like that that dude's gonna be a monster."
Ultimately, Odighizuwa is simply looking forward to playing in his first NFL game and doing whatever he can to help his team.
"I think, honestly, wherever they let me play and line up [where he could have the most impact]. That’s kind of how I’ve been thinking about it. I know they have me on special teams, and they have me on defense playing. I really want to make an impact at both, just show my versatility, that I can do a lot of different things to help the team," Odighizuwa said.
"No, I don't think I will be [nervous]," Odighizuwa said. "At the end of the day, it's a great privilege to be playing in the NFL and being part of a team. At the end of the day, as much as you practice, you've got to really simplify the game and not make it bigger than what it is."