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2024 Spring Practices

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'Fitball' vs. Football: Giants defense looks to strike a balance


Some defenses play football. Others opt for fitball. The good ones find the right balance.

"You can play fitball and everybody is in their A-gap, B-gap, setting their arm and playing fundamentally sound defense," linebacker Bobby Okereke said on the first day of the offseason workout program. "And you can play football, where everybody is playing physical and violent and coming downhill."

Okereke concluded, "It's a dance obviously. It takes both."

The Giants are in the early stages of installing a new system under defensive coordinator Shane Bowen, who said he doesn't want "so much scheme we can't focus on our style of play."

The former Titans coordinator has a new dancing partner in Okereke, and the two of them will forge one of the most important relationships on any team. Voted a team captain in his first season with the Giants, Okereke is the primary candidate to retain the green dot on his helmet as a conduit for Bowen on the field.

"[We're] developing that rapport with each other, with the new coaches, him with us as players," Okereke said. "Just constantly talking to him, talking to him about the way I see the game, him talking to me about the way he sees the game. If I'm fortunate enough to wear the green dot again this year, I'll be consistently communicating with him, figure out how he likes to call the game and understand his mind so I can predict some calls he might make. I think that's the emphasis more than anything this OTAs period, just everybody gelling together as a team."

Okereke's reputation, meanwhile, preceded his return to the building this week.

"The thing I'm most encouraged by right now is everything I've been hearing about the leadership," Bowen said about Okereke during an episode of “On the Drive with Shaun O’Hara” on "That's something that is huge at that position, having the green dot, making the calls, more so than even the great play that he's going to put on the field and has put on the field. But leadership is number one for me right now. Love the skillset. Love the length. He can navigate the box. I think he's going to be really good in some of the things we're going to ask him to do that maybe he wasn't doing quite as much before. All those things, we're going to make sure we're maximizing all these guys – not just Bobby but hopefully putting those guys in position where they can find success and they're best utilized."

Bowen did just that in Tennessee.

During his three seasons as coordinator, the Titans surrendered the fewest rushing yards in the NFL (89.7 yards per game) and a league-low 3.70 yards per carry. They also allowed just 106 touchdowns from scrimmage, the seventh-fewest in the NFL.

The Giants will try to replicate that success and more with Bowen at the helm. But will it look like what he did in Tennessee under former coach Mike Vrabel?

"I think we're kind of working through that right now as a staff," Bowen said. "Just what we want it to look like. We have an idea. There's going to be some things that we did in Tennessee over the years that I feel strongly in schematically-wise, and then just really getting a feel for these players as we go with what my comfort level, with what they are able to handle, how much we are putting on them. The last thing I want to do is have so much scheme we can't focus on our style of play, the technique, the fundamentals and paralyzing ourselves before the snap. I want to make sure that when that center has his hand on the ball, we are lined up. We've got our cleats in the ground and we are ready to roll and attack and play ball and we are not overthinking out there."

Bowen added, "If you go back and look at my time in Tennessee, it's been a lot of front pressure, right. Like the front four, being coordinated with their rush lanes, working together, finding ways to affect the quarterback and then being able to use that to be multiple on the back end, where you're not delegating a piece up front. But we have done the gamut. We have brought four; we have brought five; we have brought six. We've done some of the zone pressure stuff, overload stuff. So we have it all."

No matter how many players they bring on any given play, the Giants will look to be consistent in their style.

"I think we have potential to be a very physical, very violent, and very fast defensive front," Okereke said. "[Brian] Burns up front, Kayvon [Thibodeaux] building off an incredible year two, Dexter [Lawrence] being the beast he is, me, Micah McFadden coming into his own in year three, it's a very talented front. Just going to keep competing, working hard, developing each other, developing that relationship within the unit. And I think it'll be a great result for us."

Players have returned to the Quest Diagnostics Training Center for the offseason workout program.


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