EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Alec Ogletree led the Giants and all NFL linebackers with five interceptions in 2018. He was the only player in the league to score twice on interception returns and is the only linebacker in Giants history to score two touchdowns on interceptions in a season.
But those impressive statistics hardly satisfied Ogletree. Since the season ended, he has been unable to shake the nagging feeling that he wanted and could have had more picks and more scores.
"Greedy is always good," Ogletree said today. "You don't get many opportunities to get the ball on defense. You have to be ready to seize those opportunities that you get. I feel like I could have had more for sure. I think I could've had at least seven or eight.
"Honestly, I've watched guys all through the league, and they have like five or six interceptions, and I'm like, 'Why can't I get those?' Sometimes it's just being in the right position at the right time. When the ball is in the air, you have to be aggressive and go get the ball. I was able to get a couple of tips my way and catch the ones that hit my hands. I'm definitely happy for the ones I did get last year. I just hope to improve on it this year."
Ogletree has always been a consistently productive player. He was with the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams' leading tackler four times in his five seasons with the team, missing only in 2015 when an ankle injury limited him to four games. He likely would have been the team leader in his Giants debut season had he not missed three games due to injury. He finished second with 91 tackles (58 solo).
Perhaps more importantly, he added the big-play element to his game, intercepting two passes vs. Chicago, one against Houston, Tampa Bay and Washington, and scoring touchdowns against the Buccaneers and Bears.
"It means everything," Ogletree said of his newfound propensity for picks. "It's all about the ball. It's kind of one of the things that coach (Pat Shurmur) brought up today. It's about the ball. If you ever get your hands on the ball, at any point as a defensive or offensive player, it's a good thing. For us as a defense, like I said, those opportunities don't come around a lot. You have to take advantage of those."
Ogletree's five interceptions were one more than he had in his first five seasons combined, no surprise for an inside backer who built his reputation as a formidable run-stopper.
Despite his takeaway ability, the Giants' pass defense finished 23rd in the NFL last year, allowing 252.8 yards a game. The unit will have numerous changes this year, but defensive coordinator James Bettcher said Ogletree's removal will not be one of them. Bettcher not only admired his captain's production, but his work ethic.
"Absolutely, I think he'll be on the field in nickel," Bettcher said. "Every day he is working to get better. That's why some of the vets that we have, I really love them, I do. You see Jackrabbit (Janoris Jenkins) when we're in a walkthrough period in a great stance with his eyes right. You see Tree in a great stance with his eyes right. Those are the little pieces, that even when you're a veteran player, when you know there are things you have to work at and improve at, not only make yourself better, but all of the guys and the young guys around you that are watching how you're doing what you're doing. That makes a difference to those guys.
"I think Tree would probably take offense if we called him old, so I wouldn't say that he's an 'old player,' but he is a veteran. I've been lucky, I've been around some unbelievably talented players, but I have never coached any player that is without a deficiency of some sort. Whether you say it's a deficiency, or whether you say it's something the guy has got to get better at, I've never been around one of those. There are things that Tree has to get better at, and there are things that all of the other 10 guys he's going to be playing with have to get better at. The thing that makes him unique is that he identifies it. When I see him work, he works at it."
Just as Eli Manning and the offensive players expect more production in their second season in Pat Shurmur's system, the defensive players expect to take a similar step forward in Year 2 under Bettcher.
"It's definitely the same," Ogletree said. "It's just football in general. When you bring new people in, it kind of takes a minute to get everybody to gel together. When Coach (Sean) McVay went to L.A., they went from worst to first, which doesn't happen too often in this league. Most of the time, you're going to take some bumps and bruises the first year. But the second year, guys are more comfortable in the system. They understand what the coaches are asking for them to do and get better at. The more you do something, the better you should get at it. With it being the second year in the defense, and some of the guys on offense, too, everybody has more of a comfort level of playing and being in the defense and offense."
Ogletree is confident he will be one of the primary beneficiaries of that familiarity.
"I know I can offer a lot more than what I did last year," he said. "This year is big for me, just because I'm putting it on myself to improve on what I did last year. We kind of started slow as a defense last year. Then toward the end, we had our ups and downs. Some games were good, some games were bad. I thought I made a few leaps in the defense towards the end of the year.
"It's about being more consistent, doing the little things, and making sure if you see something, you're looking at the right things and stuff like that. Also just dropping into coverage, making sure you have the right leverage, right vision, what you're supposed to look at, playing the run, using your hands. Stuff like that. Every year, if you're not improving in this league, you're just getting worse. I try to remind myself of that. Just try to improve on something that's in your game that you can get better at."
That is Ogletree's first mission for the 2019 season.
*The Giants players are off tomorrow. When they return to work Monday, they will begin practicing in the morning. Their workouts the first two weeks of training camp began in mid-afternoon.
The Giants open their four-game preseason schedule Thursday night vs. the Jets.
"In terms of what we're trying to get done, we'll still work on all of the situational football," Shurmur said. "There will still be padded practices. But with the games on the horizon each week, we'll take the pads off as you get near game (day) to get the guys that are playing ready to go."
*Rookie cornerback Corey Ballentine continues to impress. The sixth-round draft choice from Washburn University came up with his third interception of training camp when he picked off a Daniel Jones pass in the end zone intended for Alonzo Russell.
*The Giants signed defensive end/outside linebacker Terrence Fede and were awarded linebacker Joey Alfieri off waivers. To make room on the 90-man roster, they placed linebacker Mark McLaurin (foot) on injured reserve and waived/injured defensive end Alex Jenkins (calf).
Alfieri, 6-3 and 239 pounds, was waived yesterday by the Philadelphia Eagles, who signed him as a rookie free agent on May 9.
Fede, 6-4 and 270 pounds, played in 51 games for the Miami Dolphins from 2014-17. He was credited with 50 tackles (30 solo) and 1.0 sack in his rookie season. In 2017, Fede played in all 16 games and had 10 tackles (seven solo). Last year, he signed as a free agent with the Buffalo Bills, but he was released prior to the season.
Fede, 27, played at Marist College from 2009-13. He had 31.0 career sacks, including 13.0 in his final season. When Miami selected Fede in the seventh round in 2014, he became the first player in school history chosen in the NFL Draft.
In four years at Stanford, Alfieri played in 50 games and was credited with 165 tackles (89 solo), including 26.5 tackles for loss and 14.0 sacks. He also intercepted two passes and forced and recovered two fumbles. As a senior in 2018, Alfieri played in 10 games and finished with 37 tackles (21 solo), 5.5 for loss and 3.5 sacks.