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Odom, coaches seek key

Antwan Odom (Bengals photo)

Posted: 4:20 a.m.

Right end Antwan Odom's dramatic push in the weight room has mirrored the drive defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and defensive line coach Jay Hayes have brought to pass rush techniques this offseason.

Before the Bengals began their voluntary on-field workouts a few weeks ago, Odom revealed how he had put on 30-plus pounds since the end of last season. In concert with strength coaches Chip Morton and Ray Oliver, Odom bulked up to 285 to strengthen the shoulder he sprained last season after several college injuries had weakened it and to shore up his game.

In showing it is a good weight, Odom put on three more pounds before Tuesday's practice despite last week's three workouts.

Even more important is the coaches saying they haven't seen any decrease in Odom's speed and/or quickness.

"He could always run. I don't think that's ever going to be a question with him. He's always going to be athletic," Hayes said. "He worked hard in the weight room. He did a better job on that end of it and it's showing. I don't think he's slowed down at all. Personally, I think it's going to benefit; help keep his shoulder intact, make him a better, stronger athlete."

Before the workouts Odom revealed he also got treatment for sleep apnea over the offseason. Instead of waking up 40 to 50 times a night, Odom says he's sleeping like a new man and it's given him a new energy. After Tuesday's practice he admitted he's a different player.

"I'm enjoying it because I like to feel like this," Odom said. "I've got a lot of confidence. I'm not worried about getting knocked off the ball as much. It's working out for the best right now."

While Odom has been finding his legs, Zimmer and Hayes have been finding everything else. With 17 sacks last year, the Bengals had their fewest since the franchise-worst 16 in 1969 and Zimmer has responded with a bevy of drills and concepts to improve the line's pass rush. One of Tuesday's highlights came after practice when Zimmer knocked away a reporter's hand in an effort to show what they've been emphasizing the past couple of months.

"A lot of it is our body and (the offensive line's) body position. When I went back and watched all of our stuff from last year," Zimmer said, "guys would rush and get punched right in the chest. And that's how you get stopped.

"If you don't allow the offensive linemen to put his hands on our chest, you have a chance to win. So when he puts his hand on me, if I knock his hand off or my hand is inside his hand, now I have a chance to get off that."

Zimmer pointed to the letters of his shirt to the top of his stomach and called it "our target area."

"This is off limits. We don't want them touching this," Zimmer said. "Part of it is that and part of it is pad level and part of it is understanding when it's a run and when it's a pass."

Or as Hayes said, "A lot of it is trying to understand what the offense is doing to them and using that against the offense. What they're doing with their hands, you have to counter with your hands."

In the month leading up to the on-field workouts, Zimmer and Hayes led mechanical pass rush drills every Tuesday and Thursday emphasizing hand placement, as well as the first step and pad level. Left end Robert Geathers called it "coaches' speed," in which more teaching was involved.

"I see them working on things so far in the four days," Zimmer said.

Despite breaking a bone in his foot in the first 40 minutes of training camp and spraining his shoulder in the middle of last season, Odom shared the team's sack lead. But it was only three after he had eight the season before in Tennessee and he has been saying all offseason he's not proud of it and needs to get better.

"I know I have to play better," said Odom, who has admitted the $30 million deal the Bengals gave him last year is motivating him to prove his worth.

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