If there was one UCLA player who made a tremendous jump in the eyes of NFL scouts last season, it was defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa.
Odighizuwa will get a chance to wow NFL teams some more Thursday at the NFL combine. He has already gone from little known to a player who could be drafted in the second round, maybe higher.
The rapid rise came after Odighizuwa missed the 2013 season after hip surgery. He had the presence at 6-foot-3, 270 pounds, was one of the strongest players on the team and translated those attributes to the field in 2014.
He opened the season by deflecting a pass that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Ishmael Adams against Virginia. He finished the season with three deflected passes and one sack against Kansas State in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
Odighizuwa had 55 tackles and six sacks for the season.
“There are gray areas in sacks,” UCLA defensive line coach Angus McClure said. “He was there a handful of other times. He certainly had a lot of hurries and defections.”
It is in the area of pass rushing that McClure saw the biggest jump this season. Odighizuwa was always strong against the run. “He had the ability to knock offensive linemen back,” McClure said.
What changed was, “he had a greater awareness that he didn’t necessarily have early in his career,” McClure said.
McClure said that Odighizuwa significantly improved his footwork and hand work. His effectiveness, a draft appeal, was increased when he was moved around in the defensive scheme. Odighizuwa would play inside at times and line up as a linebacker other times.
The year spent rehabilitating his hip also helped. Odighizuwa was able to absorb the cerebral aspects of his position.
"He learned schematics, studied offense personal,” McClure said. “He really got better week-to-week and played some [of the] best football last three games of the year.”