A little less attention, please

As a pre-season All-SEC selection and a fixture on everyone's watch list for the NFL, Tide defensive end Antwan Odom started the season with a bulls-eye on his uniform. Week after week, teams double and even triple-team him, doing everything they can to protect their quarterback.

"It gets aggravating sometimes," Odom acknowledged. "But my philosophy is just to go out there and beat it. I don't care how they block me. They can cut me or whatever; I just go out and beat it."

Defensive Ends Coach Paul Randolph watches as opposing teams run blockers at Odom in waves. "Anytime you're being double-teamed, or people are looking for you and expecting you, you've got to work harder," Randolph said. "You're working against two guys. Antwan understands that. He's watching film to learn the scheme they'll use. He's handling it."

Last season senior linemen Jarret Johnson, Kenny King and Kindal Moorehead had to be accounted for, sparing Odom the extra attention. Facing single blockers most of the time, Odom responded with 10 quarterback sacks, second in the SEC.

When left to his own devices, Antwan Odom can terrorize opposing offenses. (UA photo)

But those three are currently playing in the NFL, and now Odom gets more than his share of attention. He commented, "It was frustrating when it first started happening, but I know they're going to do it all the time now. I've just got to go out and beat it."

"It can get frustrating, but Antwan understands that the goal is to win," Randolph said. "He's a team player. Of course he wants to make all the plays. I wouldn't want him playing for me otherwise. But he understands the scheme of the defense.

"If they're doubling him, that means other people are being singled. The linebackers are running around getting sacks, which is happening. I'm sure it's a little frustrating for Antwan, but he handles it."

Looking at it from a different point of view, the multiple blockers means Odom's reputation has gotten around. Is the extra attention flattering, or not?

"Not! Definitely not," Odom replied with a laugh. "I'd just as soon be left alone."

Other teams have smart coaches, too, and so far this season their scheming has been effective. After five games the junior end has three sacks, three pass breakups (knockdowns at the line of scrimmage) and eight quarterback pressures.

"They're always looking for him, knowing where he's at," Randolph said of opposing offensive coordinators. "You don't have to double-team all the time. If it's a three-step drop--if they're throwing the ball fast--you don't have to double-team. Just cut him, knock him down and get rid of the ball quicker.

"Other teams are doing a good job of running their offense, understanding who they're going against."

A legitimate 6-5 in height, Odom is experiencing far more than his share of cut blocks. And no, he doesn't like it one bit.

"It's kind of weird; they'll have a guy come in motion, and he'll stop right there," Odom explained. "One guy will go down, and when I go down with him the other guy will come down on my knee. I'm going to start wearing my knee brace. I can't have anybody hurting my knee. I think I'm going to start wearing both of them in the game."

Versus Arkansas Odom was temporarily sidelined with a sprained knee, due in part to cut-blocking tactics. He sat out Sunday and Tuesday's practice sessions, but expects to return on Wednesday.

As for Saturday's game versus Georgia, fans needn't worry. "I'll be out there," Odom stated flatly. "I'll definitely play this Saturday. No doubt about it."

Though double-teamed most of the time, Odom managed to get to the quarterback on this play. (Barry Fikes photo)

One of the leaders of this year's squad, Odom knows his teammates need him on the field. At one point late in Saturday's game, he lay on the trainer's table on the sideline, grimacing with pain as the doctor manipulated his sprained knee. But the very next series he was back out on the field.

"I couldn't let my team down," Odom said matter of factly. "I had to get back in there. I've got to play through the pain."

On the field it's a different matter, but later in film study Odom marvels at the innovative schemes utilized by opposing blockers to slow him down. "They're coming up with some creative ways to double-team me," he said. "If I can get past the tackle there's always a running back sitting there waiting on me. It's always something. They'll run around me and come back and cut me. It's amazing."

Randolph added, "They'll use different positions. They'll put a tight end on Odom's side. Often it's just max protecting. Put a tight end there or a running back, sometimes both running backs. You expect that. That's good coaching. If you know the other team has a star pass rusher coming off the back side, you give guys help to make sure that he doesn't injure your quarterback.

"Other teams are doing a good job scheming for Antwan. We've just got to figure out ways to get him free."

But once Odom does break through the front line of defense, he knows how to close the deal. Some pass rushers pile up QBHs (quarterback hurries) but rarely get the sack.

Not Antwan.

"He's got excellent closing ability," Randolph said. "He has extremely good speed for a guy his size. He understands that it's the finish of your pass-rush move that gets you your sacks. The best part of Antwan's pass rush is once he's defeated the blocker, he closes to the quarterback."

Odom's combination of size and speed forces opposing teams to account for him in their blocking schemes (UA photo)

Understanding the role Odom plays by occupying multiple blockers, Randolph isn't worried about his production. "I think he's doing well," Randolph explained. "He went through a dry spell with the sacks, but he just keeps working at it. Keep working on pass-rushing moves and sacks will happen. The defense needs to help him out more by getting them in third and long.

"Antwan understands the game. Pressures and quarterback knockdowns, all those will translate into sacks by the end of the season."

Still, Odom can't help occasionally longing for the good ole' days of single blockers.

"That would be nice," he said with a smile. "But right now, if they just put one guy on me, he wouldn't stand a chance, because I'm so used to two guys. I've come a long way."

PERSONAL EDITOR'S NOTE: Mike Shula isn't the only squad member caring for a new baby. Antwan and his wife welcomed their first child (Antwan Junior) this past July. "It's really great right now," Odom said, a huge smile spreading across his face. "He'll listen to you when you talk. He'll even try and talk to you."


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