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Efe Obada: Offseason anxiety, Ron Rivera, signing a new contract and the 3-4 defense

"I'm somebody that gets real anxious when I don't do things. The offseason for me is the worst time"

Efe Obada spent time on the Dallas Cowboys, Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons practice squads before signing with the Carolina Panthers in 2017
Image: Efe Obada spent time on the Dallas Cowboys, Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons practice squads before signing with the Carolina Panthers in 2017

Efe Obada's hands dwarf his paper coffee cup as he gently places it onto the adjacent cabinet, squeezing it beside another object with a slight nudge while mulling over his answer.

Were he to have this conversation in a year's time, what would he want his stats sheet to look like? A question, admittedly, asked more in hope than in expectation of specifics.

Rarely do professional athletes waive the hereditary caution that often rejects the disclosure of personal goals, but the Carolina Panthers defensive end shows no restraint when quizzed on his targets in 2020.

"Let's put it on paper so I'm accountable," Obada told Sky Sports.

"Minimum I want 10 sacks and in terms of tackles roughly around 30 plus. I really want to set the bar high so put that on paper. You have to set goals and actually plan towards them and make steps towards them.

Efe Obada tackles Latavius Murray in the Panthers' clash with the New Orleans Saints
Image: Obada tackles Latavius Murray in the Panthers' clash with the New Orleans Saints

"I'm somebody that gets real anxious when I don't do things," jokes Obada, with a chuckle reflective of the statement's underlying truth.

"The offseason for me is the worst time, I'm used to routine, I'm used to structure.

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"When I have no structure and no timetable honestly I get a bit depressed and a bit down like I'm wasting. I'm very excited this year."

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There is an urgency and a yearning to get back in action that makes it easy to see why the 27-year-old has made such a lasting impression in Carolina.

Obada built on his 10 appearances in 2018 by featuring in a career-high 16 games last season, serving as a valuable rotational option on defense and special teams.

The NFL International Player Pathway product, an honorary captain for the Panthers' game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, was recently rewarded for his efforts with a new one-year contract.

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Nigerian-born Obada moved to the United Kingdom at the age of 10 before playing for the London Warriors and then earning a spot on the Dallas Cowboys squad having been recommended by Warriors defensive coordinator Aden Durde.

He went on to spend time with the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons, eventually signing for the Panthers in 2017 and securing a spot on the 53-man roster a year later ahead of the 2018 season.

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"It means that I'm on track," Obada said of his extension. "I've done enough and shown enough that the team believes that I'm valued and that they need me.

"At the same time I know that I still have to earn it and earn getting out there on the field, it's not just a given.

"You signing a contract doesn't mean you're automatically on the field but at the same time it's a bit of fire in me going into this year that I need to come back stronger, bigger, faster and just better. It's a lot of things that comes with signing a contract."

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While pleased with his increased involvement, which totalled 24 tackles and one pass defense, the former security guard does not shy from critiquing his zero sacks on the year.

With that, though, came improvement against the run and welcomed experience of honing his craft in multiple positions amid what became a gruelling season for the 5-11 Panthers.

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"We didn't get the result we wanted as a team but there's individual growth and for me one of the milestones was being able to play every single game as opposed to last year when I had very limited snaps," he continued.

"It just shows the growth and the belief the team has in me so I was very happy.

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"I was very disappointed with the amount of sacks I got this year but there was still some growth in areas," he added. "Previously I was getting after the quarterback but my run play was lacking, this year my run play got better.

"I was just trying to become a more well-rounded player, I was able to play outside, I was able to play inside, I was able to play nose [tackle], I played special teams, I was just trying to show the team and the league my versatility as a player and my growth. It does takes time."

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One challenge that confronted Obada and the Panthers defense as a unit last season was the conversion to a 3-4 base defense, which consists of three defensive linemen and four linebackers as opposed to a 4-3 base that flips the alignment.

The 3-4 setup demands that defensive ends possess the speed and agility to pressure quarterbacks, but also the strength to take on offensive lineman at the aid of their run-stuffing inside linebackers.

A testing year on defense saw the Panthers allow the fourth-most rushing yards per game in the NFL at 143.5, nevertheless Obada credits the switch as another key lesson in his development.

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He explained: "I had to gain weight and I had to maintain it, usually my playing weight previously was 250 and this year I was playing at 275 so there was more weight to carry and I had to play the double team.

"The speed of the game was quicker inside as well, but it expanded my knowledge because I'm playing different positions and having to learn different roles so it was definitely for my benefit.

"You have to learn different techniques, as opposed to being on the edge you can isolate yourself and now you're kind of playing two people. Hand level has to definitely be taken into consideration. It's just a different scheme, and offensive lineman attack that different."

NFL offseason key dates

When? What?
February 24 - March 2 NFL Scouting Combine
February 25 First day for teams to designate Franchise or Transition Players
March 10 Deadline for clubs to designate Franchise or Transition Players
March 18 2020 league year and free agency period begin
April 6 Clubs with new head coaches (Panthers) may begin offseason workout programs
April 17 Deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets
April 23-25 2020 NFL Draft
July 15 Deadline for any designated Franchise Player to sign a multi-year contract extension
Mid-July Teams may open training camp for rookies seven days before the permissible reporting date for veterans
September 5 Teams must reduce rosters to 53 players.

Head coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Eric Washington naturally assisted Obada in the adjustment having been major influences on his career so far.

He now faces something of a transition period after the duo, who both joined the Panthers in 2011, were succeeded by Matt Rhule and Phil Snow, respectively, last month.

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"He [Rivera] had a huge impact and was definitely someone that I can learn from," said Obada. "Very defensive minded, led by example and how to carry yourself as a professional and a public figure, how to be a family man.

"He obviously had his wife there and his boys there. He carried himself the right way and you learn from that, as a young man you want to know how to mould yourself into the kind of man you want to be. He's somebody that helped me.

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"Eric Washington is an amazing coach, he believes in work ethic, he believes in a lot of the things I believe in. He has a 'G to X' mentality, get to the X, get to the quarterback.

"Some of his philosophies he's taught me will definitely stick with me. They're going to be my foundation that I carry on from regardless of whether he's there or not. I wish him nothing but success in his next chapter as well."

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Obada's attitude is underlined by his commitment to special teams production, which he himself accepts warrants less attention than a sack on defense might.

He played 134 snaps (28.15 per cent) on special teams last season, working under coordinator Chase Blackburn, who was retained by Rhule upon his appointment.

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"Chase Blackburn is an amazing guy, he's an ex player so knows how to coach players because he's been in that situation," said Obada.

"I do enjoy playing special teams, but honestly I'm there to do whatever the team needs me to do in order for us to win, whether it's contributing on special teams or defense.

"There's a lot of glory on defense but special teams is a momentum changer, a position changer and if I can contribute I'll do that."

With some personal momentum out of 2019 and a new-look coaching staff to impress, Obada has the opportunity to mount another pursuit of more snaps heading into 2020.

Sky Sports NFL will keep you updated with all the news and offseason storylines, including the Scouting Combine, Free Agency and the NFL Draft. Follow us @SkySportsNFL and at

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