The Giants Guys

Giants new defensive alignment reliant on strong LB play

If you ask longtime New York Giants fans to identify with some of their favorite players, they’ll likely cite a player from one position: linebacker. Lawrence Taylor, Harry Carson, Carl Banks, Brian Kelley, Brad Van Pelt, Jesse Armstead and, for some, Sam Huff come to mind.

But since Jerry Reese took hold of the reins as general manager in 2007, the linebacker position had been largely ignored. Believing the game was being played in front of — and behind — the linebackers, they only used one high draft choice (a second-rounder on notorious bust Clint Sintim in 2009) on a linebacker and tried to fill the needs thru late-round picks and free agents.

Now that Dave Gettleman is the general manager and new defensive coordinator James Bettcher has installed his base 3-4 scheme, linebackers are back in vogue in East Rutherford. They are hoping the unit becomes the strength of the defense.

Here are the faces of the Giants’ new linebacker unit:

Olivier Vernon, SAM

Vernon moves to the outside linebacker spot after spending most of his first six NFL seasons as a defensive end with his hand in the dirt. Vernon has better-than-average pass-rushing skills and is perennially one of the top players in the NFL when it comes to quarterback pressures.

The Giants, unfortunately, need more from Vernon than just generating pressure. They need him to get home and hit the quarterback more frequently.

As an outside linebacker, Vernon will begin his route to the passer from a standing up position and have a running start on offensive linemen and tight ends that have been tangling him up at the line of scrimmage. The Giants are hoping that he works better in space than he did in the trenches.

“OV, we know is a dynamic guy,” said Bettcher. “A guy that can rush from different angles, a guy that you can move around and put in different matchups. And he’s embraced everything that we’ve done to this point. I’ve loved working with him and I think he’s making some great progress, not just in this scheme, but I think as I’ve looked at him as a player, he’s sharpening his tools right now.”

Alec Ogletree, SILB

Gettleman and Bettcher want to bring physicality back to the defense, and when the Los Angeles Rams made this tackling machine available in the offseason, the Giants lept at the opportunity.

Ogletree has been one of the most productive inside linebackers in football since being selected by the Rams with the 30th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Ogletree brings not only production, but leadership to the Giants’ defense and will wear the headset this year, calling the defensive signals. He is also in line (along with safety Landon Collins) for the captain bars on the defense.

“Alex has done an outstanding job,” Bettcher said at minicamp. “He’s growing into the leadership role of this defense. And you know, that always happens over time, especially when you’re putting a new system in because everyone’s really worried about their wheelhouse, their box, their responsibility and all that other stuff comes when we get to training camp and we start playing for real.”

Ogletree can play both the run and the pass, and the Giants are looking forward to plopping him in the middle of their defense for the foreseeable future.

B.J. Goodson, WILB

Reese made a solid choice back in 2016 when he used a fourth-round draft pick on Goodson, who was Clemson’s top tackler.

After playing predominantly on special teams as a rookie in 2016, Goodson was handed the job as the Giants’ starting middle linebacker in 2017. He opened the season with an 18-tackle performance against the Cowboys, but injuries to his shin and ankle limited him to just seven games.

Still, his performance and efficiency did not escape the eyes of the folks at Pro Football Focus, who ranked him third in combined tackling efficiency among NFL inside linebackers (fifth in running game efficiency and fourth against the pass).

Tackling efficiency is measured by the number of attempted tackles per missed tackle. Goodson was third (26) behind Jacksonville’s Paul Posluszny (28) and Seattle’s Bobby Wagner (44.3).

Goodson will relinquish the play-calling duties this season to Ogletree, but doesn’t mind the competition or the company.

“It’s like having another MIKE in the game. It’s a difference and it makes it take a little bit of pressure off,” said Goodson. “I don’t want to give away too much. But, it’s fun. I’m looking forward to us as a unit playing fast, playing hard, just being hard-nosed and being about that Giant culture.”

Lorenzo Carter, WLB

Carter did not fulfill his potential at Georgia, which is why he fell to the third round of the draft. That doesn’t detract from the reality that he is still a stud in waiting.

He showed some flashes as a senior again and that’s what the Giants believe they could be getting. The knock on Carter is that at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, he’s too “long and lanky” to play defensive end and not aggressive enough to be an effective linebacker.

The Giants are betting that he can develop into both. They like his pass-rushing ability and believe Carter will fit nicely into Bettcher’s new scheme.

Gettleman likes not only what Carter adds to the defense, but to special teams as well:

“Lorenzo is an edge pass rusher, he’s a solid run player, he’s big, he can run – he has been a very good special teams player at Georgia and he’s going to give us flexibility. He’s going to be an outside player obviously and he’ll give us pass rush in addition to like I said, he’s a pretty darn good run player and he has really good special teams ability,” Gettleman said.

“He’s a dog, first off,” said another former Georgia alum, Alec Ogletree. “We breed them like that, you know? But no, he’s come to work really hard and he’s done an excellent job for us so far.”

Other players in the mix

On the outside, the Giants have converted former defensive ends Avery Moss and Romeo Okwara into outside linebackers. That doesn’t mean that they will only play there. They could still line up at defensive end on occasion. Same goes for Kerry Wynn and free agent Kareem Martin.

Another player who could make the club on the outside is undrafted free agent Tae Davis, but he’s likely a candidate for the practice squad.

On the inside, there’s Mark Herzlich, Calvin Munson and Ray Ray Armstrong. Thurston Armbrister was also signed off the Detroit Lions’ practice squad.

Training camp will sort out who will make the final roster and who will back up who. But with the defensive ends and the outside linebackers seemingly interchangeable, it’s wide open after Vernon.




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