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LB Obiozor Building On Rookie Year

Last spring during mini-camps and OTAs, as he made the transition from college defensive end to professional outside linebacker, non-drafted rookie Cyril Obiozor faced challenges from all directions. Physically, he was learning a new position at an uncomfortable weight, while mentally he was trying to absorb all of the defensive playbook.


Last spring during mini-camps and OTAs, as he made the transition from college defensive end to professional outside linebacker, non-drafted rookie Cyril Obiozor faced challenges from all directions.

Physically, he was learning the new position in his first NFL practices at a robust 270 pounds, having trained all winter believing he would be drafted as a hand-on-the-ground defensive end. Instead, his down lineman's body was in a stand-up position.

"Looking around I was like, 'I can't do it at this weight,'" Obiozor said.

Mentally, Obiozor was feeling a bit overwhelmed as well. He was doing his best with new defensive coordinator Dom Capers' thick 3-4 playbook, but it was a lot to absorb, with more responsibilities required than at his old defensive end spot.

"They put the whole thing in at once, just handed it to us," Obiozor said. "I'm like, 'Wow.' A set of plays can seem like a different language if you don't understand how it corresponds to you."

Given all that, it's a notable achievement that Obiozor is still with the Green Bay Packers in year two. But there was simply too much raw athletic ability in the former Texas A&M standout for the Packers not to at least see what might come of it, given some time.

First, Obiozor took care of the physical challenge, using the five-week break between the end of OTAs and the start of training camp to "lean up," as he put it, to 251 pounds, a much more comfortable weight for an outside linebacker.

Then, while continuing to digest the playbook in bits and pieces, Obiozor put on display his considerable athleticism, speed and strength. It wasn't unusual in training camp to see him beating offensive lineman in one-on-one pass-rushing drills or pressuring the quarterback in the backfield during 11-on-11 periods.

It was almost impossible not to notice his impact, nor, however, outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene getting in his ear after nearly every snap.

"It wasn't my abilities, it was like, 'Obi, you were supposed to hit the B gap instead of the C gap on that play,'" Obiozor said. "It was kind of difficult, and I tried to get acclimated as soon as I could. But there's so many different intricacies in the defense that you're not aware of when you have your hand on the ground and you rush all the time. I had to learn a different level of the game, and it's not easily done.

"I'm starting to realize it really is important, because in this defense, if one person doesn't do the right thing, everything else is ... botched."

It's that more thorough understanding of the defensive scheme that Obiozor hopes to bring into his second season and show the Packers he's worthy of a roster spot, from the beginning this time.

Last year he was cut at the end of training camp, re-signed to the practice squad and then eventually elevated to the active roster for the final five regular-season games and the playoffs, when he played mostly on special teams and took a few snaps on defense.

He said he felt "almost game-ready" by the end of the season to play outside linebacker, a reflection of just how far away he was when training camp began. But the progress was evident, and if he makes the kinds of strides many second-year NFL players make, he certainly has a chance to see the field in 2010.

{sportsad300}With the free-agent departure of Aaron Kampman to Jacksonville, the Packers will be looking to develop a pass rusher at outside linebacker to complement Pro Bowler Clay Matthews. Fellow second-year pro Brad Jones is the leading candidate at the moment, followed by veteran Brady Poppinga, but the competition also could include Jeremy Thompson (depending on his health as he returns from a neck injury), Obiozor and/or another acquisition or two via the draft.

In many ways, the odds are still stacked against Obiozor, but he doesn't necessarily see it that way, not with how far he's come already.

While he's working on getting stronger and more explosive during the current offseason program, he's dedicating just as much effort to film study and the mental side of the game, to prove to the coaching staff he fully grasps the playbook, and the big picture on defense.

"It's knowing where I fit in the scheme and knowing how to play the scheme," Obiozor said. "Athletically there's no problem. It's just schematically, I have to hone in."

Using his speed and athleticism to blaze down the field covering kickoffs and punts will help him make the roster as well. He recorded two special teams tackles in the six total contests he played last year, and special-teams contributions always factor into roster decisions involving young players who aren't locked in as starters.

But his goal is to be truly "game-ready" at outside linebacker in 2010, another challenge he intends to meet.

"It's about getting the trust from the coaching staff that I can execute what they tell me to execute," he said. "That's the most important factor. That's what I'm working on."

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