Every NFL offseason, fans and pundits put together their list of "needs" teams need to address for the upcoming season. What is usually not taken into account are the players already on the roster who have not gotten a legitimate chance to display their wares. One of those players for the Giants is Owa Odighizuwa.
The Giants came into this offseason needing a facelift on the defensive line. That augmentation came in the form of DE Olivier Vernon and DT Damon Harrison, the top two players available at their respective positions in free agency.
Yes, it was necessary to spend nearly $120 million on those two players. No one is arguing that. They also needed to re-sign DE Jason Pierre-Paul, who is expected to be much-improved over last season, when he played just eight games with his right hand barely functional after his fireworks mishap.
The Giants' 2015 defensive front was perhaps its worst since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. They recorded the fewest sacks (23) as a team last year since the NFL began keeping formal records in 1982.
The Giants were last against the pass, surrendering 298 yards per game. They were slightly better against the run, finishing 24th overall at 121 yards per contest. The ineptitude was something Giant fans are unaccustomed to.
The issue was not only the low level of talent they had on the line but the lack of depth behind the starters. With JPP and DT Johnathan Hankins playing a half-season each, the Giants' front was operating with one wheel in the sand. In addition, rookie lineman Owa Odighizuwa, the team's third-round draft pick, missed 12 games with hamstring and foot ailments. The Giants were counting on him to play in their DE rotation.
This year, Owa is flying under the radar, like many second year players do after a lost rookie season. The Giants have not lessened their opinion of him, however, placing him prominently in their 2016 defensive line plans. The addition of new faces and the return of JPP are not hurdles to the team's and Owa's expectations this season.
But just where and how the Giants plan on using him this season is still to be determined. His chance to start at DE was dashed when the Giants decided to retain JPP and import Vernon. Pierre-Paul played nearly 86 percent of the defensive snaps after his return, while Vernon was on the field for 81.7 percent of the snaps for Miami last year.
That puts Odighizuwa in a position to fight for playing time this season. DC Steve Spagnuolo is tearing a page out of the past to get his best players on the field. The former UCLA Bruin is not only being used as an end, he's been spotted multiple times this spring lining up in the inside at tackle and behind the line as a linebacker. You know, the way the Giants used to do with Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka back in the day.
Owa said he plans on talking with Tuck about the jackknife role, but for now he is working on becoming as useful and versatile as he possibly can.
"This spring has really been getting a better understanding of the defense, day in and day out," Odighizuwa told Jordan Raanan of NJ.com. "I'm moving around, doing different things. Sometimes I'm dropping at our 'Joker' position. Sometimes I'm rushing from that position [as a linebacker]. Sometimes I'm at defensive end. Sometimes I'm rushing from tackle. So just trying to get those nuances down and whenever I'm in those positions, understanding the details of those positions."
Owa is a forgotten player by many, which will work to his advantage. The Giants believe he can be the wild card or "joker" who will add to their growing number of defensive weapons this season.