The arrival of James Bettcher's 3-4 defense to the Giants means fans are going to have to think of the outside linebacker position a lot differently. They are no longer players that will play off the ball and be asked to cover a lot (though they will cover sometimes). This group is going to be primarily asked to rush the quarterback in the pass game and set the edge in the run game. Let's call them "edge" players
In the standard base formation with three down linemen and four linebackers, these "edge" players will play from a stand-up position. In sub-package, when the Giants go to a more standard four man defensive line, this group will turn into defensive ends and be pure pass rushers. When they are asked to cover, it will predominantly be in base defense.
Bill McGovern is one of the few returning coaches on the Giants staff, once again coaching the linebackers. Prior to his last two seasons with the Giants, he coached the outside linebackers in Philadelphia. He will be responsible for teaching this group, many of which have not been asked to do much work in coverage before, to operate in space.
The unique part of this arrangement, is that this group will also be coached by defensive line coach Gary Emmanuel on the days the team practices their sub-packages and third down defense. On those days the outside linebackers will be in meetings with the defensive linemen since they will be playing with their hand in the dirt.
This is one of the most important position in James Bettcher's defense that's counted on to make plays, especially pressuring the opposing quarterback.
Olivier Vernon: Vernon is entering his third season with the Giants after signing as a free agent in the 2016 offseason. He had 8.5 sacks in 2016, and followed that up with a 6.5 sack year in 2017 despite battling through an ankle injury that forced him to miss four games and limited him in others. He will be looked upon to fill the Chandler Jones role in Bettcher's defense as the team's most dangerous edge rusher. Chandler totaled 28 sacks in his two seasons playing under Bettcher in Arizona, including 17 last year.
Vernon, who will turn 28 in October, has always been known as a good run defender. He played standing up at times during his career with the Dolphins so his transition should be relatively smooth to the new scheme. His job should remain the same: go get the quarterback. The Giants will need him to do just that if they want to consistently affect opposing quarterbacks.
Practice Notes: Vernon looked healthy self during the spring, showing a dynamic first step and the speed to bend the corner. He was lined up primarily over Nate Solder and it will be fun to see them do battle in pads during training camp.
Kareem Martin: Martin was a free agent arrival this past offseason, following his defensive coordinator from Arizona to New York. Martin was originally a third round pick of the Cardinals (84th overall) in 2014 and started 14 games over four seasons, including 10 last year. He totaled 4.5 sacks and 51 tackles in those four seasons as a stand-up linebacker and as both an interior and edge rusher as a down lineman.
Practice Notes: Martin is built more like a pass rusher than he is a traditional outside linebacker. During OTA's and minicamp he was the starting left outside linebacker in base defense and went into a three point stance to rush the passer in sub packages with the first team.
Romeo Okwara: Okwara played defensive end for the Giants the past two seasons after being signed as an undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame in 2016, tallying 28 tackles and one sack in 22 games. Never asked to play linebacker in the pros, Okwara did work from a standing position in his collegiate and high school years. He will do that again this year. Okwara missed 10 games last year with a knee injury that is now healed and 100%.
Practice Notes: Okwara was very active in practice during spring workouts. He was in the backfield often and showed the ability to get to the quarterback with a quick first step from a three point stance and standing up. It will be important for him to show the same in preseason games if he wants a role on the team next year.
Lorenzo Carter: The Giants 3rd round pick out of Georgia, Carter did a little bit of everything in college but will be asked to do a lot more rushing of the quarterback for the Giants. An athletic freak at the combine, including a 4.5 40 yard dash, 36 inch vertical jump and 130 inch broad jump, Carter has the physical ability to do whatever you ask of him on the football field. At 6'5 and 250 pounds with 34 inch arms, he has the type of speed and length you are looking for from an edge player. He had 14 sacks in four years at Georgia as a traditional 4-3 outside linebacker.
Practice Notes: Carter found himself with the second group more often than not during the spring and showed the type of athleticism he did in college and at the combine. He is tall and lithe, and has the body type you want from an edge rusher. As he continues into camp he needs to continue to work on his technique to become a better technical rusher. When he was asked to cover it came naturally to him thanks to his experience in coverage.
Jordan Williams: Very similarly sized to Romeo Okwara at 6'4 and 272 pounds, Williams went undrafted before being signed by the Jets. Let go before the season started, he joined the Miami Dolphins practice squad and played one game for them in 2015. He was released from the Dolphins practice squad in September of 2016 before being signed by the Giants to their practice squad in December of 2016. He played one game for the Giants in 2017 recording two tackles.
Practice Notes: Williams was with the second and third teams through the spring, and also took some snaps as a more traditional defensive lineman. He will be fighting for a roster spot throughout the summer.
Ray-Ray Armstrong: After going undrafted in 2013, Armstrong was signed by the Rams and stuck with them until halfway through the 2014 season, playing in 20 games. He signed with the Raiders, where he played in 11 games and started three before getting released and signing with the San Francisco 49ers. He played with the 49ers from 2015-2017 where he started 5 games and played in 12 before getting released and signing with the Giants on November 27th. Armstrong played in five games for the Giants last year, and started one, forcing a fumble and making 10 tackles.
Practice Notes: Armstrong moved around on the defense over the course of spring workouts, and I noticed him playing more of an inside linebacker, off the ball position, than I saw him as an edge rusher. He got his hand on the ball some in coverage and was very vocal during practice.
Avery Moss: The Giants 5th round pick in 2017 out of Youngstown State, Moss will get to play the position many people believe he fits most naturally at this season: 3-4 OLB. At 6'3 and 265 pounds he has the body type for the position and showed the pass rush potential in college to thrive there. Unfortunately for Moss, he missed time on the field in the spring rehabbing an injury. He'll try to hit the ground running in camp and make an impression on the team.