INDIANAPOLIS – He made his NFL debut in week 8 last season, but was that really him?
The Indianapolis Colts’ 2nd-round draft pick trotted onto the Lucas Oil Stadium field against the Tennessee Titans and handled 16 of 73 defensive snaps. There was nary a tackle – solo or assist – or quarterback pressure.
Over the final 9 games, he would be on the field for roughly 25% of the snaps as part of the defensive-line rotation and be credited with six tackles, five of them solos, a shared sack with tackle DeForest Buckner that resulted in a game-sealing fumble by Jacksonville Jaguars rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
Dayo Odeyingbo was there, but wasn’t really there, if that makes any sense.
He still was feeling the effects of a torn Achilles suffered in January 2021 while training for the Senior Bowl following his final season at Vanderbilt. Instead of benefitting from an offseason of working on his craft, Odeyingbo’s rookie season consisted of months of rehabilitation.
He wasn’t on the field at training camp at Grand Park Campus in Westfield and opened the season on the physically unable to perform list. His steady progress reached the point he was cleared to play against the Titans.
But again, that really wasn’t him.
“At a certain point you’re healthy enough to play, but you don’t necessarily feel better,’’ Odeyingbo said this week. “So you may be able to run around and do everything on it, but the rest of your body is still catching up and kind of getting rid of some of the compensation you made up while you were being injured for however many months.’’
He was aware of his limitations when he played, and they were more obvious as he reviewed video.
“I see stuff that I wish I would have done or could have done at that time,’’ he said. “Physical limitations, especially with my flexibility and explosiveness. I felt like I wasn’t myself.
“There was definitely a lot of frustration early on before I could play. And even when I could play, there was frustration where I felt like I want to progress faster, especially going straight into a game I’m trying to play at my highest level but my body’s still trying to catch up to what my mind wants to do.’’
Odeyingbo saw his first live action roughly 10 months after tearing his Achilles. He still hadn’t totally come to grips with the situation.
The Colts signed veteran tackle Eric Fisher last May, four months after he tore an Achilles in the Kansas City Chiefs’ AFC Championship game win over Buffalo. His rehab allowed him to start week 2 against the Los Angeles Rams, but it’s debatable if Fisher ever regained his Pro Bowl form.
The last thing to return in the rehab process, he noted, “is that quick-twitch explosiveness.’’
That in mind, it wasn’t a surprise Odeyingbo didn’t have total trust in the damaged leg when he returned.
“I wouldn’t say I was confident in it,’’ he said. “I was ready, but I didn’t feel confidence in it. I feel like confidence comes from preparation. I felt like I hadn’t prepared coming in, whether it was preparing my body, preparing my mind in the offseason.
“I kind of got more comfortable towards the end of the year, but it was definitely a growing process coming in like mid-year with no offseason, no camp and coming in off the injury trying to figure everything out.’’
That was then.
Now, Odeyingbo has confidence in the injured leg and is confident he’ll offer a true account of himself in year 2.
“That’s what I’m planning to bring, and that’s what I’m planning to put on tape,’’ he said.
General manager Chris Ballard raved about Odeyingbo – injury and all – after selecting him with the 54th overall pick in the ’21 draft.
“This kid is a unique, unique talent,’’ he said. “We would have considered him in the first round if he hadn’t got injured, and I think a lot of teams would have.’’
In 44 games at Vanderbilt, Odeyingbo piled up 31 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, one interception and one forced fumble.
He was the athletic presence – 6-6, 286 pounds – that was a perfect fit for the Colts’ defensive line. Director of college scouting Morocco Brown gave Odeyingbo a nifty nickname: the human hurricane.
“Really long arms and really big upside as a rusher,’’ said Ballard. “He’s as disruptive of a defensive player as we saw on tape this past fall.’’
As the Colts are advancing through their offseason workout program, the defensive players are getting acclimated the coordinator Gus Bradley’s scheme.
Odeyingbo is positioned at left end – the big end spot – behind 2021 1st-round pick Kwity Paye. Yannick Ngakoue is the Leo on the right side.
Imagine a pass-rush grouping of Ngakoue, Buckner, Odeyingbo and Paye.
For that to become a reality and for Odeyingbo to do his part, he’s spent time since the end of last season working with noted pass-rush specialist Brandon Jordan and others who are more dialed in with post-Achilles injury work. He’s also been working with Robert Mathis, the Colts’ career sack leader and now a pass-rush consultant.
“We’ve been working with Rob a few weeks now, and it’s been great, just kind of soaking in information from him,’’ Odeyingbo said. “Obviously hearing everything come from him, someone who’s done it and done it at a high level . . . hearing it from him is definitely different than hearing it from a trainer or a coach.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.