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What We Heard: Darren Waller is 'a unicorn player'


With their Week 1 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys exactly 40 days away, the Giants put on the pads for the first time at training camp.

Before players took the field on Tuesday, defensive linemen Leonard Williams and Rakeem Nunez-Roches, along with tight end Daniel Bellinger and offensive lineman Ben Bredeson, spoke to the media over Zoom.

Here is what we heard on Tuesday:

Darren Waller is 'a unicorn player'

Tight end Darren Waller has impressed just about everyone he has come across at 1925 Giants Drive since arriving in a trade back in March. Count fellow tight end Daniel Bellinger among that group.

"I got a chance to really connect with him last year at Tight End U, so I was already kind of aware of his very unique abilities," Bellinger said. "Just being able to actually talk and see how he views things off the field, I think is the biggest eye opener for me. He's a very smart guy. He helps myself and helps the whole offense just with different things that he can do. Obviously, we see it on film all the time and what he did in Las Vegas but being able to just pick his brain off the field, I think is what makes him the most unique…

"He's a unicorn player. Watching him be able to do what he does, even at his age, it's amazing. Definitely a lot of 'wow' moments with Darren."

After being selected in the fourth-round (No. 112 overall) of last year's draft, Bellinger registered 30 receptions for 268 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie while adding a two-yard rushing score. One of the big storylines of the offseason program was the muscle Bellinger added, which was very noticeable during OTAs. Now heading into his second NFL season, Bellinger believes Waller's presence will benefit all of the team's pass-catchers.

"What Darren does opens up for everybody, not just in the tight end room, but in the receiving room and it opens up everything all together," the second-year tight end said. "So, I wouldn't say I think about the targets or the passes or whatever that is. I think of it as just what's going to help the team the best, what's going to put us in the best position to win. I think Darren does a great job for us and for myself."

Bredeson aims to be versatile; Schmitz fits right in

Over the last two seasons, Ben Bredeson has played 19 games with nine starts for the Giants, almost all of which have come at left guard. However, he did see limited snaps at center last season, and has again spent some time snapping the ball at training camp this summer. Having the ability to line up at numerous positions across the O-line has always been something the veteran lineman has strived for.

"That's always been a goal of mine to be able to be versatile and play multiple positions," Bredeson told the media Tuesday. "That's something that I've always worked on and it's what I've been doing since I came into the league."

Bredeson's primary competition for the starting center position is rookie John Michael Schmitz, a second-round selection.

"John Michael's fitting right in," said the veteran. "He's a great guy. Culturally, he's fit right in with us. He hasn't skipped a beat, and he's coming along really well."

Defensive front wants to be 'the engine of the team'

Throughout the offseason, the Giants' defensive line was praised by members of the media for being one of the top units in the NFL, and it starts with Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams. The two form one of the most-talented interior defensive lineman duos in the entire league, and when joined by Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari on the edge, it's easy to see how big of an impact the defensive front could have this season. According to Leonard Williams, that's the way the defensive line likes it.

"That's something that we go into practice saying, that's something that we go into every meeting saying and that's something that the D-line takes pride in," said Williams. "We always talk about being the engine of the defense and the engine of the team. I think that's something that our team prides ourselves in, winning up front on both sides of the ball."

The Giants defense ranked fifth in the league in both third down defense (35.1 percent) and red zone defense (49.2 percent) last season.

Catch up on all the action from training camp at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.

Nunez-Roches 'has great energy'

The Giants' defense ranked 27th in rushing yards and 31st in yards per attempt last season, which played a large role in the team's approach to free agency. Linebacker Bobby Okereke was signed to anchor the middle of the defense, while defensive linemen Rakeem Nunez-Roches and A'Shawn Robinson were added to help bolster the depth in the middle of the D-line. The additions of all three veterans should provide the run defense with a significant boost.

"I feel like there is a great thing here that's able to stop the run," Nunez-Roches said about what he's seen from the D-line so far this summer. "There are other things that we have to fine tune. Just understanding where your neighbors are at. Not forming the same ground, just being disciplined. Not peaking too soon, just staying there and trusting that your guy will float to the ball, and you don't have to do anybody else's job."

Nunez-Roches came to the Giants with the reputation as a run stopper. He was part of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2020 Super Bowl Championship team, where he started all four playoff games. While his participation in the start of training camp has been limited due to an auto accident last week, Nunez-Roches' is back and his presence is already being felt by his teammates.

"He's just a great guy to bring into this building and to bring it to the defense," Williams said. "He has great energy, and so far, he's been playing the run really well. I think he's going to be a great addition on the D-line."

Ojulari has a 'natural feel for the game'

One of the big pieces missing from the defense last season was Azeez Ojulari. The outside linebacker dealt with injuries throughout the year and was only able to get on the field for seven regular season games. However, the 23-year-old made an impact when he was out there, registering 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in his limited action.

"Azeez is a great player to have on the team," the veteran defensive lineman told the media. "He's a great player to have on the field. It's unfortunate when guys ever go through injuries and stuff like that. When he was on the field, he was very productive. I think having him out there is always a great thing. I think he's focusing a lot on taking care of himself and taking care of his body to make sure that he is out there as much as he can be."

Ojulari's 5.5 sacks came one year after he set a new official franchise rookie record with eight sacks in 2021. A healthy Ojulari could translate into a dangerous defensive front for the Giants, something Williams is excited to see.

"I think he has a natural feel for the game and natural feel for pass rushing," Williams said about the third-year outside linebacker. "I think it's smooth the way he pass rushes. It doesn't seem like he has to try too hard. I think it's great to have all four of us, and even the more additions that we added to the team, just healthy on the field when we're called upon. We're trying to create more bond between us all this year and work together."



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