Posted: 12:35 p.m.
Chad Ochocinco starts rolling to the Pro Bowl on Thursday. But what about Antwan Odom, the Bengals defensive end who was halfway there but had to turn around and finds himself on a treadmill with the NFL’s all-star game 11 days away?
“I wanted to finish it off and go to the Pro Bowl and not only get into the playoffs but go deep into the playoffs,” Odom said Wednesday, which turned out not to be just another day of rehab drudgery.
Paul Sparling, the Bengals trainer, and Nick Cosgray, his director of rehab, let Odom run for the first time Wednesday in what Odom says is a regimen that has him right where the team wants him as he recovers from the torn Achilles tendon that ruptured the club’s top-of-the-league pass rush.
Odom thinks he’ll be able to start in the weight room when the offseason workouts start March 29 and if he’s not ready to take the field that first week of May, he’ll be close. He’ll want to rush it, but the Bengals probably won’t with the goal to get him ready for the start of training camp so he can help a rush that produced just eight sacks in the final six games, none in the last two against the Jets.
It will be recalled that with Odom playing in the first six games before he felt like he got kicked in the leg when he planted to go upfield early in the sixth game against Houston on Oct. 18, the Bengals had twice that many sacks. And Odom had half of them with an NFL-leading eight.
That was a heck of a year for a lot of guys. The best Jets pass rusher, outside linebacker Calvin Pace, finished the season with eight. The Chargers sack leader, outside linebacker Shaun Phillips, had seven. Jason Taylor of the Dolphins and Lawrence Timmons of the Steelers, both outside backers in aggressive schemes, each had seven. DeMarcus Ware of the Cowboys, an outside linebacker Odom has been watching this postseason, had just three more with 11.
Odom had a shot at the NFL-best 17 sacks of Denver outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil and the NFC-leading 14.5 of Minnesota end Jared Allen clearly was within reach of his 6-6 wingspan. He’s been watching Allen, too, as well as the Colts bookends of Dwight Freeney (13.5) and Robert Mathis (9.5).
“I want to see what they’re going to do,” Odom said. “I know I’m just as good as any of those guys. Next year I’m going to try my best to prove it if I stay healthy. I know it’s easy to say, so you have to go out and prove it.”
Odom, 28, uses injuries and insults as motivation. As he came back from a broken foot and a shoulder sprain that dogged his first season as a Bengal in 2008, he thought about what it would be like starting a season without breaking a bone in the first hour of training camp, which is how his Bengals career started.
After getting just three sacks in the wake of signing the biggest free-agent deal in Bengals history ($30 million over five years), Odom got drilled. And he read and heard a lot of it.
“I’m going to use what people had to say about me (in ’08). They said I was a bust,” Odom said. “That motivated me. People on the outside looking in don’t really know what’s going on. Coming to a different team with a different staff, it’s pretty hard to get adjusted at first. It’s something that happens over time. I wish I had dominated right off the bat, that was my goal, but it didn’t happen.”
Bengals history is scattered with the torn Achilles. Defensive linemen John Copeland and Oliver Gibson suffered the injury about a decade ago, but techniques in surgery and rehab are better and it is no longer viewed as a “kiss of death” like it once was. Like reconstructive surgery, the patient will be better next year but he’ll be able to play this year. Still, the commitment to rehab is going to be the final answer for Odom and Reggie Kelly, the tight end that suffered a similar injury two months before.
“It’s going slow, but it's going. I can feel it getting better,” Odom said. “I see this as just a bump in the road. I’ve always come back from an injury stronger and better. It gives you a chance to do that and that’s what I’m going to do.”