- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 1, 2019

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — All the Washington Redskins had to do was keep Kyle Allen and the Carolina Panthers out of the end zone for one more play, and the win would be theirs. Sure enough, Nos. 50 and 54 were there to contain Carolina’s last-ditch effort.

Before Sunday, most Redskins fans didn’t know who even wore No. 50 or No. 54. By game’s end, it was fitting that linebackers Chris Odom and Nate Orchard, neither of whom were on the 53-man roster five days ago, teamed up to secure the win.

On fourth and goal, Allen danced and scrambled to his right, where Odom soon greeted him. Allen turned the wrong way and kept running, only for Odom to eventually catch both a piece of the football and Allen’s foot to force a sack-fumble. Orchard was nearby to dive on the ball.

So who even are these guys?

Odom, who played in the Alliance of American Football last spring, was promoted from the practice squad on Saturday. Orchard was signed last Wednesday, right before Thanksgiving. Both found themselves thrust into the Redskins’ 29-21 win over Carolina on Sunday with the defense missing its top three outside linebackers.

“You gotta be prepared at all times, you know?” Orchard said. “I’ve been home. But it feels good to get back to playing ball. I get to do what I love, and so why not prepare like it’s your opportunity?”

Odom finished with two sacks and the forced fumble. Orchard had one sack plus another quarterback hit, a fumble recovery and a vital tackle-for-loss on second and goal of the Panthers’ final drive.

The Redskins entered the game already down one starting linebacker. Ryan Kerrigan missed the first game of his nine-year NFL career with a concussion he suffered last week, snapping his 139-game ironman streak.

But the depth got thinner during the game. Montez Sweat, the first-round draft pick who also had a great game with 1.5 sacks, left in the second half with a quad injury and didn’t return, though he said he’ll be fine going forward. Then, Ryan Anderson was ejected for a helmet-to-helmet hit that knocked the Panthers’ Greg Olsen out with a likely concussion.

That left Odom and Orchard to bookend the linebacker group for the remainder of the game. Odom hadn’t seen an NFL field since 2017, when he played seven games for Green Bay; his two sacks Sunday were the first two of his career. Orchard had brief stays with Buffalo and Kansas City last year after spending his first three seasons with the Cleveland Browns.

Here they were, making the kinds of plays the defense has generally lacked this season. That irony wasn’t lost on interim coach Bill Callahan.

“We had contributions from two guys that weren’t even here last week,” Callahan said with a laugh. “One was on the practice squad and the other fella was on the street, Nate Orchard … So it was good to see them come in and give us some production with Ryan Kerrigan being out.”

“That’s big, to be able to come in, haven’t been here this long and to be able to execute our defense,” added inside linebacker Jon Bostic. “And when your number is called upon — which probably got called on more than (Odom) was expecting. But obviously, we know he can play. They didn’t bring him in because he couldn’t play.”

Odom spent the week still working on the practice squad, helping his Redskins teammates prepare for Carolina’s defense, but he also knew there was a good chance he’d be promoted to the 53-man roster with Kerrigan fighting the effects of his concussion. That gave him a sort of double-duty: Help his teammates prepare while he prepared himself.

In the fourth quarter, Allen scrambled for a 17-yard touchdown to get the Panthers back in striking distance. Odom remembered that as he lined up for the Panthers’ final play on offense, and told himself a simple two words: Contain him.

“Because I knew that last drive, he rolled out to our defensive right, offensive left, and he scored. I didn’t want to let that happen again,” Odom said. “And honestly, if it wasn’t for our back end locking down that coverage, I would’ve never got there because he rolled to his left, rolled back to my side, and was trying to find a window.”

Sweat and Anderson should be back in the rotation next week when the Redskins visit the Packers. Perhaps Kerrigan will return, too. But for one game — really, one half of one game — two players nobody had heard of kept the outside linebacker position stable for Washington and kept their own career dreams alive in the process.

“It’s what I’ve been wanting. It’s what I’ve been working for,” Odom said. “And just when the opportunity finally came, I was ready. I finally got my chance. Just make it all count.”

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