Tip Sheet: Rest assured, Odom excels

Bengals DE Antwan Odom, who had only three sacks in 2008, has seven in three games this season. Scott Boehm/Getty Images

Coming off his five-sack game against the Green Bay Packers in Week 2, Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Antwan Odom chose the term "dream" to assess his tour de force outing.

Now that Odom literally can dream again, without being abruptly roused from his sleep multiple times a night, the description might be appropriate.

Much has been made of Odom's 30-pound weight gain in the offseason, bulking up to 280 pounds, to explain his 2009 pass-rush spree. But Odom, who Thursday was named AFC defensive player of the month and who already has seven sacks after registering only 15½ in his previous five seasons combined, cites the offseason treatment he received for sleep apnea as the primary reason for his sudden ability to harass quarterbacks regularly.

Apnea is a dangerous condition in which breathing is suspended, generally while sleeping, and which frequently stirs a person awake. People who weigh 300-plus pounds often suffer from the disorder. By Odom's count, the apnea would cause him to awaken 30 to 40 times a night and would limit his sleep to perhaps 30 minutes at a time. Odom, 28, was treated by a sleep specialist in the offseason -- at one point during rehabilitation, he was forced to stay awake for two straight days -- and has experienced spectacular results.

"I'm so much fresher now, and have so much more energy, I can't help but think that has something to do with [the sack total]," Odom, who also leads Cincinnati defensive linemen in tackles (16), told ESPN.com earlier this week. "Before, I was always tired. Now I can sleep the whole night, wake up refreshed, and feel like I'm ready to go to work and get after people. It's been, excuse the pun, like night and day."

Because of Odom's weight gain, teammates good-naturedly teased him this summer about using steroids, but he denied doing anything illegal to add the extra 30 pounds. Certainly the treatment for apnea has helped make him a different player from a year ago.

"He's playing up to what we thought we were getting when he first came here [in 2008]," said Bengals defensive line coach Jay Hayes.

A second-round draft pick of the Tennessee Titans in 2004, Odom never collected more than eight sacks in a season (2007), and posted only three sacks in 2008, his first year in Cincinnati after signing a six-year, $29.5 million contract with the Bengals as an unrestricted free agent. He also had to deal with a broken foot and a shoulder injury last season.

The offseason weight gain hasn't hurt Odom, nor has his acclimation to a pass-rush system that relies on more than upfield speed. It also helps that coordinator Mike Zimmer often moves him inside to tackle on third down, a position where Odom's quickness provides him with an obvious edge over most of the league's guards.

"But the extra rest I get from being able to sleep all the way through the night … really can't be [underestimated]," said Odom, who suffered from apnea most of his adult life before seeking treatment. "It's been a major thing for me."

Only twice in his previous 64 appearances before this season had Odom experienced a multiple-sack game. He has become such a sack threat now, however, that teams are giving their left tackle extra help in dealing with him. On Sunday, the Steelers rolled their protection toward Odom, helping out left tackle Max Starks, and often used a back or a tight end to chip the Cincinnati end.

The result has benefited the entire Cincinnati defense, which is tied for the league lead with 10 sacks. Of course, the Bengals could use a complementary rusher, given that Odom is the only defender with more than one sack. Still, this is a team that posted only 17 sacks in 2008, tied for the second fewest in the league.

That Odom is no longer a sleepless giant has plenty to do with that.

Len Pasquarelli, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.