It’s no secret that the Vikings have incredible depth at defensive end and have some questions to answer at the back end of their defensive tackle rotation. They may have used the first fact to address the second — Ifeadi Odenigbo has been playing at defensive tackle since OTAs and hasn’t taken any reps at defensive end.
The move may not solely be to address one spot or clear up roster spots for the other, however. Head coach Mike Zimmer argued that the move works for Odenigbo, too.
“I feel like that’s the best position for him,” he said in a press conference on Thursday. “His quickness shows up. He’s a tough, heavy handed kid, and he probably didn’t have the juice that we need at that spot [defensive end].”
Indeed, his explosion metrics at the combine weren’t great — jumping 31.5 inches in the vertical while accelerating at 1.66 seconds in his 10-yard split is a red flag, especially at 258 pounds. His bench was very good, at 25 reps of 225 pounds, and his quickness was average for the position.
But at defensive tackle, his measurables stand out a bit more, especially at the three-technique spot, where explosion matters less than quickness. Odenigbo told me that his weight is up to 275 pounds and won’t top out beyond 280 pounds in case he needs to rotate to the edge, and if we adjust his scores for his new weight, we can see that his projected short shuttle and three-cone times (4.46 seconds and 7.35 seconds) are both fast for his position, while his adjusted vertical leap (now 30.7 inches) is about average and his projected 10-yard split (1.70 seconds) beats out most of his competition.
Physically, the Northwestern alum might fit what the Vikings need as a rotational inside lineman, but there’s a lot more to playing on the inside than checking a list of athletic boxes.
“It’s a lot quicker,” Odenigbo told Zone Coverage. “You’ve got to be on your p’s and q’s. With [defensive end], we play on the end. When they run away, it’s not as physical. So it’s being consistent and being physical. When you wake up, you’re a lot more sore than usual when playing inside. So it’s definitely a quicker pace.”
He’s not shy about his career progress, either. When asked how he thought he’s done in the NFL, he said he “struggled quite a bit” upon entering. “I think being a year under [defensive line coach Andre Patterson], just being on the practice squad for a year and going against starters like Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers, week-in, week-out… I think I improved quite a bit at defensive end.”
That improvement was something he thought he could build on directly into the offseason. “But then at OTAs I got moved to defensive tackle because we had a lot of depth at defensive end and needed more depth at defensive tackle, so that’s been quite a change.
“As a player, I think this is going to make me more valuable. Saying that ‘this kid, he can go in and go out.'”
He’s had some help along the way. He holds Coach Patterson in high esteem, which he spoke to Zone Coverage‘s Luke Inman about earlier in camp. “He’s pretty realistic. Coaches that I’ve had in the past, they didn’t really understand the game when you’re in a situation. But for him, he always has an answer. He’s an old head. He’s been coaching for a while.
“I was pretty raw in college; after being under him for about a year, I think I’ve become a pretty tremendous football player.”
Along with that direct coaching, he’s had help from the defensive line room, and new Viking Sheldon Richardson in particular.
That help has translated to a spot on the depth chart, which for now, is on the second team lined up next to Jaleel Johnson. He’s been building that chemistry with Johnson for a little bit now, and that’s been critical. “One thing about defensive tackles,” he told Zone Coverage, “you have to communicate quite a bit. Because everything’s coming at you so quickly. I’m going in with a mindset like ‘alright, where’s the running back at? Where’s the fullback at? Ok, these f—ers are coming right at me, alright, so let’s go.'”
Odenigbo was even kind enough to give us a small sample of what that would sound like, which you can listen to below:
For any player entering the NFL, adaptability is a key trait, and it’s one Odenigbo has demonstrated in full. It helps that he’s the son of Nigerian immigrants, though getting cut and then signing onto the practice squad a day later has its own stresses.
His Nigerian roots have allowed him to connect with Nigerian-born rookie Ade Aruna, and Aruna reminds Odenigbo of his father.
“His accent and his demeanor really reminds me of my dad, so that’s kind of weird actually. Just like… this is my dad, at frickin’… 22 years old. Now I understand why my dad is the way he is now. Just his reasoning, and he’s pretty intense, man.”
Odenigbo went into more detail. “It’s like ‘Yo, yo Ade, chill out, man. Have a sense of humor, man.’ And that’s what I’ve been telling my dad, too. It’s like ‘Ifeadi I don’t get this. I don’t find this funny,’ and that’s literally how Ade is… like damn, it’s really a culture thing, man. No chill, no chill whatsoever. I want to know what the definition of chill is in Nigeria.”
Even for someone as easygoing as Odenigbo, it will be a stressful couple of weeks adjusting to the new position. Look for him to play on the second defensive line unit in the Vikings upcoming preseason game against against the Denver Broncos on Aug. 11.