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2018 Position Preview: Inside Linebackers

The Giants acquired a new quarterback this offseason. He just happens to play defense. 

After five seasons with the Rams, linebacker Alec Ogletree was traded to the Giants in exchange for draft picks. Upon the move, general manager Dave Gettleman said the Rams' two-time captain "gives us our defensive quarterback" and a "quality three-down MIKE linebacker."

Ogletree, who had eight tackles and a forced fumble when the Rams defeated the Giants this past November en route to his former team's first postseason appearance in 13 years, is now at the heart of a defense that in 2017 finished 31st in yards allowed (373.2 a game) and tied for 27th in points allowed (24.3 per game). But things have changed. Incoming head coach Pat Shurmur hired former Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher to the same post with the Giants, who transitioned from a 4-3 to 3-4 scheme. 

As a former linebackers coach, Bettcher expects a lot from the group. The outside linebackers get most of the attention because they are the ones usually rushing the quarterback, but the inside backers make their mark in the run game and patrolling the field sideline to sideline. 

"He's definitely a linebackers coach, for sure," Ogletree said. "That's what he started as. So, for us, he definitely puts it on us to lead the group, and we put it on ourselves as well to be that leader and be that dominant voice out there and get everybody ready and set to run the plays. We definitely take that responsibility."

That is where we continue our 2018 summer position series. With training camp set to open in two weeks, today looks at the inside linebackers. They are coached by Bill McGovern, who is entering his third season as the Giants' linebackers coach after spending three seasons as the Philadelphia Eagles' outside linebackers coach. He previously coached for 15 years in two stops at Boston College.

McGovern is assisted by Rob Leonard, who has also worked on previous Giants staffs. Leonard joined the Giants in 2013 as a defensive assistant. In 2017, he was the team's assistant defensive line coach. Before joining the Giants, Leonard spent three seasons as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, North Carolina State University.

ALEC OGLETREE: Ogletree was a second-team All-Pro in 2016 and was again productive in the Rams' breakout season in 2017. For the fourth time in five years, he led the team in tackles and had 2.0 sacks and an interception he returned 41 yards for a touchdown. Ogletree will again have the benefit of playing behind a premier defensive tackle. After teaming up with three-time All-Pro Aaron Donald with the Rams, he now has Damon Harrison, a 2016 All-Pro selection, clearing the way in front of him. 

"It'll be a lot cleaner," Ogletree said. "He can hold a double team, or split them if he can make the play, for sure. But I'm looking forward to playing with everyone that's in the locker room, for sure. So, for me, it's just taking it day by day and like I said, learning each player and how they play, and he's definitely one of the players that I'm excited to play behind, for sure."

B.J. GOODSON: Sam, Will and Mike have a new friend this season. His name is Mo. But you can just call him B.J. for now. Bettcher brought his 3-4 scheme to the Giants, a changeup from the 2016 fourth-round draft pick's 4-3 days with four linemen and three linebackers. Now the strongside, weakside and middle linebackers have another man on the inside, known as Mo. Goodson is looking to play the part after his promising sophomore season was plagued by injuries, limiting him to just seven starts in seven games. The Giants charged him with making the calls on defense last year, a strong vote of approval for a young player. But now he comes back to a new head coach, a new defensive coordinator and a new "defensive quarterback" in Ogletree. 

"It's like having another MIKE in the game," Goodson said. "It's a difference and it makes it take a little bit of pressure off."

MARK HERZLICH: After re-signing in March, Herzlich enters his eighth NFL season, all of which have been played with the Giants. He spent the entire 2017 season on injured reserve after suffering a stinger in training camp. Despite not playing all season, Herzlich was the Giants' 2017 nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award in recognition of outstanding community service. Originally making the team as an undrafted rookie in 2011, the year the Giants won their most recent Super Bowl, Herzlich has played in 88 regular-season games with 17 starts. He has 49 tackles and two fumble recoveries on special teams. This spring, Herzlich and the linebackers made a noticeable number of plays in coverage during OTAs and minicamp. It was a good sign for the veteran as well as the group.

CALVIN MUNSON: Another former undrafted free agent, Munson made his way onto the Giants roster as a rookie last year and went on to play in 14 games with five starts – four at middle linebacker and one on the weakside. He finished fifth on the team with 60 tackles and was one of four Giants with at least 2.0 sacks. 

THURSTON ARMBRISTER: Armbrister comes to the Giants with 30 games of playing experience, 16 with Jacksonville in 2015 (three starts) and 14 with Detroit in 2016 (two starts in addition to one postseason appearance). However, he did not appear in a game last season, spending time on and off the Lions' active roster and practice squad. Gettleman is known for finding diamonds in the rough, and Armbrister is trying to prove he is one of them. Armbrister made a handful of plays this spring, including a tipped pass that led to a Darian Thompson interception. He later got his own pick after tipping a ball to himself. 

TAE DAVIS: One of 11 undrafted rookies signed together in May, the 6-foot-1, 224-pound Davis played safety at Tennessee-Chattanooga until his senior season, when he shifted to outside linebacker. He played in 49 games with 10 starts and recorded 119 tackles (72 solo) with 1.0 sack, five stops behind the line of scrimmage, seven quarterback pressures, two forced fumbles, and three deflected passes. In 2017, Davis started all nine games in which he played. Despite missing two games with an injury, he led the team with 74 tackles (42 solo) including 1.0 sack, five stops for losses of 12 yards, and six pressures.