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Saints defensive end Obum Gwacham works in agility drills during a Saints 2016 training camp practice in August 2016 in White Sulphur Springs, WVa.

Advocate Staff Photo by PATRICK DENNIS

Any chance Obum Gwacham had to take a big step forward in his second season in the NFL disappeared with one punt.

Gwacham, the former Oregon State receiver turned defensive end, had been hoping he'd get a chance for more playing time after recording 2½ sacks in 97 snaps as a rookie.

Those plans changed in the Monday night matchup against Atlanta, the first time the Saints activated Gwacham last season.

"I got stepped on, and then I pulled back, there was a crunching sound," Gwacham said. "I couldn't run off of it; I couldn't really walk."

Gwacham suffered a severely sprained ankle, an injury bad enough that the Saints placed him on injured reserve two days later. 

Ending up on injured reserve is always frustrating.

But Gwacham started talking to other players who have suffered season-ending injuries and came away convinced that he could get better even though he wouldn't be taking game snaps.

"You've got to learn how to bounce back from it and become a better you coming off of it,' Gwacham said. "Become stronger, become smarter, become a student of the game, because I had a chance to really watch guys on film. I can still learn, even if I'm not playing."

Gwacham went through every workout he could, stayed in every meeting and started preparing for a third season that could be make or break for the third-year player, who was acquired off waivers as a rookie after being a sixth-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks.

Adding Alex Okafor in free agency, bringing back Hau'oli Kikaha and drafting Trey Hendrickson and Al-Quadin Muhammad has given the Saints a surplus of young pass rushers with potential. 

The physical tools have always been there. Gwacham, whose receiver skills enabled him to run the 40-yard dash in 4.72 seconds and post a broad jump of 10 feet, 1 inch, has gotten much bigger, packing 25 pounds onto his 6-foot-5 frame to increase his weight to 265.

But Gwacham was understandably raw as a pass rusher, and the transformation must now begin to come to fruition at the NFL level. New defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen appears to be a perfect fit, focused on the little things Gwacham must master to complete the evolution.

"Going from receiver to defensive end, it's a big change, so if you have somebody that simplifies things and says, if you focus on this one thing and everything will take care of itself, it makes the game a lot easier," Gwacham said.

If Gwacham's going to make his move, the time is now, three full years after Oregon State first took a look at their big, rangy wide receiver and decided to move him to defensive end.

"Everything is a lot more natural now," Gwacham said. "Having Coach (Ryan) Nielsen right now is perfect. The guy is all about technique, and I've definitely noticed a huge difference in my game already."

Gwacham will get his chance to prove how far he's come when the race for pass rushing roles begins in earnest at the start of training camp.

Follow Joel A. Erickson on Twitter, @JoelAErickson.