GREEN BAY - Chris Odom understood what it meant to be a college free agent trying to make an NFL roster last summer.
The reality was no matter how well the 6-foot-4, 262-pound defensive end played for Atlanta last preseason, there was a chance Odom was going to find himself on the outside looking in during cut-down day.
Recognizing each snap he took was an audition for the other 31 teams in the league helped soften the blow when the Falcons released Odom despite his eight tackles and a sack in the Falcons’ preseason finale against Jacksonville.
He wasn’t out of work for long. One day later, the Packers placed a waiver claim on the undrafted rookie, echoing the interest Green Bay showed in Odom throughout the pre- and post-draft process.
There was one catch coming to Green Bay, though. With one week until the regular-season opener against Seattle, Odom would need to shift from a 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker for the first time in his football career.
“It was a little hectic because I went from a 4-3 defensive end to a stand-up outside linebacker learning drops, coverages, and a whole new defense on the fly,” Odom said. “I couldn’t learn the whole defense in a week. I had to learn what plays we were going to run game-to-game. It wasn’t easy, but I stuck to it.”
Odom kept an open mind in the lead-up to the 2017 NFL Draft. An across-the-line, hand-in-the-dirt rusher at Arkansas State, Odom said NFL teams were fairly split in the pre-draft process about playing outside linebacker versus defensive end.
Looking to pick up the Packers’ defense and his altered position, Odom spent hours going over the playbook and working with associate head coach/linebackers coach Winston Moss during his first few weeks in Green Bay.
Clay Matthews and Nick Perry became the rookie’s biggest resources outside of the classroom, imparting tips and advice to help him hasten his transition.
Odom was thrown into the fire immediately. He was active in the opener against the Seahawks and made his debut on defense in Week 3, playing eight snaps against Cincinnati.
While Odom only saw action in seven games, the sampling gave the 23-year-old linebacker an idea of what it’s like to play in the NFL. With Green Bay transitioning to a new defense under Mike Pettine, Odom has had a chance this offseason to step back and learn at a balanced pace.
“I feel I have a better jumpstart on being here as far as having more time to learn new scheme, the playbook and everything,” said Odom, who finished his rookie year with seven tackles and a quarterback hit on 59 defensive snaps. “So it’s definitely going a whole lot better. Instead of learning during the season and learning week-to-week, game-to-game, now I have the offseason to have the proper time and preparation for the new defense.”
Once the players report for training camp later this month, Odom expects good competition for playing time with Vince Biegel, Kyler Fackrell, rookie Kendall Donnerson and Reggie Gilbert, who also is a converted 4-3 defensive end.
All four returning veterans had the opportunity to get familiar with Pettine’s defense this spring with Matthews (knee) and Perry (ankle) sitting out of offseason practices.
“It gives him a chance to really lock it down on the basics, and the other part of it is it’s a new defensive system to him, just like everybody else,” said Head Coach Mike McCarthy of Odom. “He’s been here a full year and he needs to take a step.”
Once last season ended, Odom spent time with his family back in Texas before training at EXOs in Dallas. He planned to follow a similar script after the Packers wrapped up minicamp.
Although the past year has been a bit of a whirlwind for Odom, he believes his education will be beneficial given the hybrid nature of Pettine’s defense.
“I know Pettine’s defense is kind of a mix of both (4-3 and 3-4),” Odom said. “I had to use terminology of also being a 4-3 defensive end with terminology of an outside linebacker since it’s kind of that hybrid type. I just had to have an open mind, so I could understand it and relate it to the defenses I just learned.”