FRISCO, Texas – During the bye week, Osa Odighizuwa spent a little bit of his rookie contract to buy a fast car. A Porsche, to be exact. It's a fitting purchase, in a way, because the bye week was also an opportunity for the first-year defensive tackle to reflect on just how fast his development into a contributing NFL player has come about.
Odighizuwa said Monday that he's already accomplished "a lot more" than he thought he would have six games into his career.
"Especially just in terms of playing time and having a lot more opportunity to play, just having started these past six games – which I didn't even think I was going to be doing going into this season," he said.
Those opportunities came while third-year teammate Trysten Hill recovered from tearing his ACL a year ago and potential second-year starter Neville Gallimore dislocated his elbow in the preseason. Hill began practicing for the first time this season on Wednesday, while Gallimore's return is likely still a few weeks away. But whatever advantage those two promising players had over Odighizuwa coming into the year may have vanished over the past month. The rookie has proved to be a capable starting tackle in the Cowboys' defense.
An undefeated (91-0 in two seasons) state championship wrestler in high school in Oregon, Odighizuwa has the strength and leverage to be a force defending the run, but he has perhaps surprisingly been an effective part of the Cowboys' pass rush. With 2.5 sacks already, he is leading the NFL in sacks among rookie defensive tackles. It's the kind of production a team might be pleased with for a tackle selected in the first round, let alone the 75th overall pick.
To hear him tell it, it sounds like Odighizuwa's accelerated development bodes well for his future in this league. He says that athletically he knew fairly early that he was an NFL-caliber player, but that his experience playing the game has continued to allow him to learn how to get better and better.
"[I'm] just doing a lot more offseason work on my technique, a lot more self-scouting with my oldest brother, who played in the NFL," he said of his growth as a player. "And then just knowing football so that when I'm watching film, I'm not just watching film, I'm looking for certain things, formations, tendencies and things like that, which I gained from coaches over time, having three D-Line coaches in college."
It's his current defensive line coach, Aden Durde, who has unlocked the newest heights of his game. Odighizuwa and fellow third-round pick Chauncey Golston have both found success along the defensive line as rookies this season. Odighizuwa says Durde is always preaching that opportunities come in moments and success depends on honing in on them.
"He's obviously coaching technique, showing us film of that, giving us access to film and cut-ups of technique and all that stuff," Odighizuwa clarifies. "But I feel like the biggest thing is he's coaching us up. [He'll say]'This is an opportunity where you can make a play.' Just letting us know and kind of beating it into our head that we know when we have an opportunity to make the play."
If Gallimore and Hill both want a starting job when they return they may have to take it from Odighizuwa given his great play thus far, and the rookie defensive tackle is excited about the potential of them trying.
"I know they're going to be coming in hot because they've been missing the last couple weeks, and when you miss the game and get it back, you've got a little chip on your shoulder," Odighizuwa said.
As a rookie, he's already ahead of the curve, so whoever wins a position battle for a starting job, there are no losers. Except perhaps for opposing quarterbacks.
"I'm just looking forward to having [Gallimore and Hill] back, just being able to compete with them and having more depth in our D-Line room."