Obum Gwacham looks to play a big part for Saints defense in 2016
If there is one player on defense that Saints fans need to be paying close attention to, it is sophomore defensive end Obum Gwacham.
Gwacham was a sixth-round pick out of Oregon State by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2015 NFL Draft who did not survive final cuts. Seattle was likely hoping they could stash Gwacham on the practice squad, but his upside made him too good to pass through waivers where the Saints scooped him up.
The 6-foot-5, 246-pound defensive end was about as raw as they come – not surprising when considering he had played wide receiver for the Beavers in Corvallis until his senior season.
Despite being so inexperienced, Gwacham’s athleticism and explosiveness carried him to 28 tackles, four sacks, and one forced fumble in his senior season – enough production to place him on NFL radars.
He looked very good at the NFL Combine, putting up a 4.72 second forty-yard dash and a 10’1” broad jump. It was his length that really stood out as his arms measured 34 3/8 inches. That gives him a length advantage over many offensive linemen in the league
Barry Hirstius of Big Easy Believer did an excellent in-depth bio on Gwacham in April.
He represents the perfect kind of low-risk/high-reward prospect that the Saints should bring in as a developmental player. Long gone should be the days of using high draft picks on athletes like Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Martez Wilson, and Charles Brown.
Even after being cast off by Seattle – a team that prides itself on drafting and developing raw athletes – Gwacham found a home in New Orleans.
Early in his rookie season, he began to cut his teeth on special teams by demonstrating the kind of work ethic coaches like to see from their end-of-roster players.
Eventually, he worked his way into defensive snaps. After appearing in just one game through the first half of the season, Gwacham appeared in the last eight to end the season. Over this stretch, he played 89 snaps where he earned his two and a half sacks.
He flashed against Washington and Tampa Bay. It was in those two games, coaches and fans got to see what kind of player Gwacham might become with more experience.
You have probably seen this Vine a hundred times, but it does not get old.
When the Saints wrapped up free agency and the 2016 Draft without bringing in an edge rusher, many were left scratching their heads about what would become of the position. This was the first indication that coaches and staff were going to search in-house for their impact edge players.
Hau’oli Kikaha and Obum Gwacham were at the top of that search list.
Finding a replacement for Hau’oli Kikaha has been discussed ad nauseum here and elsewhere in the Saints sphere, and of course Gwacham was always a candidate to receive more snaps as he entered into his sophomore season. But based on the way the roster and depth chart was being sorted out, Kikaha might not have been the presumptive starter many thought he would be on the defensive line. That player might have been Gwacham all along.
He was being hyped by coaches and members of the media all during the offseason. His bulk up was noted early in the process – right now his weight is somewhere between 260 and 270 pounds. The Saints are making it clear that they have bigger plans for Gwacham than might have been seen at first.
They do not see him merely as a situational pass-rusher, no, they are molding him into an every-down player on the defensive line at a position of great need.
Assistant defensive line coach Brian Young shared this about Gwacham with Joel Erickson of The New Orleans Advocate in June:
"“The biggest thing for him right now is getting him out of that mindset of a receiver,” Saints pass rush coach Brian Young said. “He’s got to get into that mindset of, he’s 260 pounds right now, he’s a lot stronger, he’s really taken hold of trying to play base technique for us. Where last year, when he first got here, it was all pass rush, and let’s go out there and win with quickness.“Now, we’re trying to teach him to get a power aspect to his game, and he’s doing well with it right now.”"
Gwacham and Kikaha appeared to be the ones in real competition for the starting job over guys like Kasim Edebali and Davis Tull.
In OTAs, Gwacham began receiving reps with the first-team defense, rotating with Kikaha before his injury – proof that he was a player on the rise. Gwacham told Christopher Dabe of nola.com in June that “’Hau’ and I were really pushing ourselves since we first came in here.”
Now in training camp, Gwacham is receiving the lion’s share of snaps with the first-team. A trend that everyone would like to see continue.
The Saints have been searching for a long-term complimentary defensive end for Cameron Jordan since 2012. Junior Galette was that player for a couple of seasons, but we all know how that ended up.
Now that the Saints are stocked with more young, hungry talent on their defensive line than they have had in years, fans and coaches alike are holding their breath that the defense can take a step forward. If Obum Gwacham’s explosive first step is any indication of what is to come, then the young squad might turn some heads so fast that people get whiplash.