When — or if — the Vikings open the season against the Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sept. 13, Ifeadi Odenigbo will likely be introduced as a starter at defensive end.
But Odenigbo’s real introduction to Vikings faithful came in a 56-yard fumble return for a touchdown against the Chargers last December in Carson, Calif. Now that he’s on the radar … he could become a well-known name as he steps in following the departure of 10-year veteran Everson Griffen.
That means Odenigbo could become a three-down player after being used primarily in pass rushing situations during his first full year in the NFL in 2019.
“Watching film, I’ve seen my development from [last] preseason when I was pass rushing toward Week 14 when I started to get into a groove,” Odenigbo said Thursday during a Zoom teleconference. “My approach this year is to be more efficient.”
Vikings players are having two-hour video meetings most days with their coaches, and Odenigbo’s group is being tutored by co-defensive coordinator Andre Patterson, who has been the defensive line coach under Mike Zimmer since 2014.
“So what we try to do,” Odenigbo said, “during the Zoom meeting — good thing the cameras are off — Coach ’Dre will say things and he’ll tell me I need to do this, and I’ll kind of get into my stance when no one is able to see me, and I start visualizing, I start doing power steps … ’cause it starts with visualizing, and when you are able to visualize, you’re able to apply.”
Odenigbo, 26, was a seventh-round draft pick in 2017 and spent his rookie season on the practice squad. He was cut in 2018 and spent time on the Cleveland, Arizona and Vikings practice squads, turning down a late-season opportunity to sign with the Eagles to remain in Minnesota. He played in every game last season, getting seven sacks while playing both tackle and end.
With Griffen and nose tackle Linval Joseph gone, the Vikings likely will build the line around Pro Bowl defensive end Danielle Hunter, Odenigbo and tackles Shamar Stephen and Michael Pierce, a free-agent signing. And the early stages of that build have come with players checking in remotely and losing the chance for hands-on coaching because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Adversity comes at you different ways,” Odenigbo said. “I’ve been watching this Michael Jordan documentary and watching all the adversity he’s come through … this pandemic — yeah, we’re not together, people are using excuses, [but] this is my time to get right.”
As for stepping into Griffen’s spot, Odenigbo said, “I’m taking that approach,” adding: “I got to study him and study his mechanics, Everson, the way he goes about it, there’s no wasted movement. As a vet now, I know the technique and the fundamentals, it’s just work out the mechanics, just fine-tune the little details.
“We’re in this limbo land, and I’m working hard training, but I’m also trying to find the right time to peak. There’s no point in me peaking in June right now. If we don’t have OTAs, mid July or something, I’ll really up the conditioning, because there’s when I’ve got to get used to playing 40-50 snaps [a game].”
For now, he is enjoying watching the first-year players go through the orientation of becoming a pro, and remembering when his head was swimming in a similar situation.
“As a rookie you get in and Coach ’Dre is teaching all this pass rushing, run stance, all that stuff so it’s an overload to the brain,” he said. “You got to take it in bits and pieces; I was fortunate that Coach Patterson was patient. When I first got there I looked kind of slow or kind of hesitant because of all that information, and I became more comfortable and started feeling more confidence, it became easier.
“So the most important thing as a young guy … is just buying in. Coach is absolute, know what I mean? Coach ’Dre has an impressive résumé, he’s been doing it forever. There’s really no point of ever doubting him. … Just do what Coach ’Dre says and he’ll get you right.”