EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings defense underwent some turnover this offseason, and there could be as many as five new starters on that side of the ball.
That means a chance for others to step up in bigger roles, with Ifeadi Odenigbo near the top of that list.
With Everson Griffen voiding his contract and remaining unsigned as a free agent, the Vikings need to fill the starting spot at defensive end opposite Danielle Hunter.
If the roster stands as is, will Odenigbo be ready for the challenge of an increased role, and increased playing time?
"I'm taking that approach. Obviously, we have Danielle Hunter, who is just a freak, so I'm working hard," Odenigbo said. "We all know that Danielle is an established vet. I don't need much motivation because I see that guy go out, bust his butt every single day, never complains. Even when I'm working out, I'm thinking, 'What's Danielle doing now? Danielle is probably doing some crazy stuff and being low-key, incognito.' It's good to have guys like him, but I don't want to be a drop-off.
"We're kind of in this limbo land, so I'm working hard, training, but I'm also trying to find the right time to peak. There's no point in peaking in June right now when we're playing in August," Odenigbo added. "I've been taking it one step at a time, working on the fundamentals, details and stuff like that. If we don't have OTAs, then in the July area, that's when I'll really start upping the conditioning because I've got to get used to playing 40, 50, 60 snaps."
View the top photos of Vikings DE Ifeadi Odenigbo from the 2019 season.
Odenigbo played 368 total defensive snaps in 2019 as a situational pass rusher, but he made the most of it with a career-high 7.0 sacks.
He was used more in the final month of the season, playing at least 30 snaps in each game from Weeks 14-17. Odenigbo, who recorded three sacks in the final three games of the season, didn't hit the 30-snap mark in the first 12 games of the season.
A Vikings 2017 seventh-round draft pick, Odenigbo endured a winding road before his strong 2019 season. He was on Minnesota's practice squad for his entire rookie season, and did not make the 2018 roster out of training camp.
He spent parts of the 2018 season with Cleveland and Arizona before linking back up with the Vikings on Oct. 31 of that season. He accomplished his goal of making the roster out of training camp in 2019 and then produced his best season in a limited role.
He could now be tasked with replicating that success with the spotlight on him. But with the world in an uncertain time, Odenigbo said he's leaning on his past experiences.
"I think my early years, when I was cut a couple times and I didn't really know what was going on, you always have to adjust to adversity," Odenigbo said. "Adversity comes and hits you in different ways, and it's about how you respond. I've been watching the Michael Jordan documentary, and you see all the adversity he's come through. It's nice watching that because it's like, 'Hey man, this pandemic … we're not together, and people are making excuses, but this is my time to get right.'
"I've been watching a lot of film. These [video] meetings have been good, and I'm watching film. I've seen my development from the preseason when I was pass rushing, to Week 14 when I started to get in the groove. What I'm watching now is making sure — I had a 'breakout year' — but my approach this year is being more efficient," Odenigbo added. "This is my fourth year in the league now, so I've learned quite a bit. Now, I can really coach myself. The meetings have been kind of hard, but I've been doing my own training. Fortunately, it's not my first year, and I've been with Coach Dre for some time, so I know what to expect when we eventually report."
Odenigbo said he'll lean on Hunter's quiet leadership in this time and also recall the lessons he gleaned from Vikings Co-Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Line Coach Andre Patterson, Griffen and defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who was released in March.
"I think it just kind of clicked. Also, I was given an opportunity and I made the most of it," Odenigbo said of his 2019 season. "But obviously, having guys like Everson Griffen and Linval, who kind of set the mark and how to act like a professional. Having guys like Danielle, [too].
"My time when I was on practice squad for the first couple of years, I kind of very slowly took notes, saw how Coach Dre was coaching them, saw the preparation, and I really took mental notes," Odenigbo said. "I was fortunate enough to have a good year because I was buying in. That's the most important thing as a young guy, you have to buy in, get rid of your old ways and embrace the new ways."
That certainly paid off for in 2019 Odenigbo, whose highlight play was a 56-yard fumble return against the Chargers that was the first touchdown of his life.
Odenigbo said he's been hard at work behind the scenes to get ready for what could be an expanded role.
Even taking the literal steps of visualizing himself having success when the Vikings defensive linemen are in the middle of virtual meetings.
"What I really try to do during the meetings, it's a good thing that the cameras are off – Coach Dre will say things and tell me I need to do 'this,' I kind of get into my stance because no one's able to see me," Odenigbo said. "I start visualizing, I start doing power steps, I start working long arms.
"So it's kind of cool, the fact that nobody can see me, so when he's talking [I work on things] because it starts with visualizing," Odenigbo added. "And when you're able to visualize it, then you're able to apply it."