Chris Odom brings his 'X-factor' to Packers defense
GREEN BAY – Back home in Texas, they still remember what it was like watching Chris Odom’s high school team. In a football hotbed, the Warriors of Arlington Martin had the area’s fiercest pass rusher. “His first two steps,” coach Bob Wager said, “were unbelievable.” Quarterbacks had no chance.
Neither did Chris Odom.
When they reminisce, Odom’s highlights don’t open the conversation. They may not enter it at all. That monster with “unbelievable” explosion off the snap? His name was Myles Garrett.
The Cleveland Browns drafted him No. 1 overall this spring.
“He was gifted early,” Odom said. “I knew that Myles was going to be great in the future, from the start. So having his competition on the other side also pushed me harder.”
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Two members of Arlington Martin’s 2012 defensive line earned jobs on 53-man rosters this month. Garrett, battling an ankle injury in Cleveland, was the player everyone expected to reach the NFL. One year younger than Odom, Garrett won the genetic lottery.
Odom was always tall. He had that going for him. The son of 13-year NFL linebacker Cliff Odom, Chris was a late bloomer. He had to take a circuitous route to the league.
Chris Odom's path to the Green Bay Packers included a detour through Atlanta, where he’ll return for Sunday night’s game against the Falcons. The Packers were interested in Odom this spring, even hosted him on a visit before the draft, but general manager Ted Thompson did not use one of his 10 picks on the outside linebacker from Arkansas State.
After seven rounds were complete, Odom signed a free-agent contract with the Falcons. He was released at the end of training camp despite leading NFL defensive linemen with 17 tackles this preseason. The Packers claimed him on waivers 24 hours later.
“We’re pumped for him,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said Wednesday. “We’re glad that we were able to kick-start him, and feature him in a way that other teams around the league got to see what he can do. Even though he’s not here, hopefully, we’ll still stay connected with him.”
Five years ago, Odom wasn’t looking at this kind of kick start. The NFL was a dream, sure. An expectation? Even he couldn’t see it.
Odom was a good high school player, not great. He played junior varsity as a sophomore. Played JV as a junior, too. It wasn’t until his senior season he cracked the varsity.
At season’s end, Odom had only one career sack. His older brother, an assistant coach on that Warriors team, refused to credit him with it.
“Because Myles and a linebacker came off the edge,” Odom remembered, “and kind of helped me take him down. He said my hand slipped off, so it didn’t really count.”
Five years later, Cliff Odom Jr. has relented. Not only did that sack against South Grand Prairie High belong to his little brother, he said. Truth is, there would have been many more without sharing the field with Garrett.
“Myles was that superior of an athlete,” Cliff Jr. said, “even in high school. Not taking anything away from Chris, just Myles got there a half second faster. Any other team in the country, he gets the sack.”
Chris Odom was not beating Myles Garrett off the edge. To get noticed by college recruiters, Odom knew, he couldn’t rely on sacks. “I had to do something else spectacular,” he said. So he started chasing down running backs from across the field with the same ferocity pass rushers reserve for quarterbacks.
After his senior season, Odom had only one scholarship offer. He spent four seasons at Arkansas State, the first three as a backup. When he got his chance to start, Odom didn’t disappoint.
There was no Myles Garrett on the other side of the defensive line — he was wreaking havoc on the SEC at Texas A&M — so Odom had more opportunities to show what he could do as a pass rusher. He had 12½ sacks last season as a senior. Of his 53 tackles, 17½ were for lost yardage.
“Coming out of Arkansas State,” Quinn said, “we saw a pass rusher. He was one of those guys who was a ‘tweener-size guy. So he could play in a 3-4 front, he could play in a 4-3 front. We were really impressed just from the get-go on his pass-rush ability.”
The Falcons didn’t hide Odom this preseason from the rest of the NFL. He played 161 snaps in four exhibitions, finishing with a pair of sacks and one batted pass. Eight tackles and one sack came in his finale against Jacksonville. It was the type of performance that secures a roster spot somewhere, if not his current team.
Quinn said he was hopeful the Falcons could “develop him” as a rusher, code for placing him on the practice squad. Before they could, the Packers saw enough film to claim him. Expecting to be on the Falcons practice squad, Odom said he watched the clock on that Sunday afternoon after cut-down day.
Five minutes before the waiver deadline, Odom’s agent called with even better news.
He was heading to Green Bay.
So this is his unlikely chance at the NFL. Odom knows he may only get one. Security is elusive for undrafted players. LaDarius Gunter led Packers corners in snaps last season. He was released this week.
“I think what separates Chris,” Wager said, “is his willingness to stick with it. He’s a tremendous example of persistence. I think that’s the X-factor that’s allowed him to be in the position he’s in right now. He just refuses to quit.
“Any way you look at it — going into the senior year of high school, senior year of college, the role that he’s in right now — by all accounts he’s a long-shot guy. Yet here he is still standing. And I think that talent in itself separates him from the vast majority.”