Wink Martindale doesn't believe there is a ceiling for Kayvon Thibodeaux, but the defensive coordinator wants to see how high he can go.
"First of all, I love the kid himself," Martindale said about last year's fifth overall draft choice on the “Giants Huddle: Front Office Edition” podcast. "I said earlier he has no ceiling, and I believe that because he can do whatever he puts his mind to. We talked about last year after the season was over with, I said, 'I think you need to get stronger in your legs and your core.' That was his focus this year in the offseason, and you're going to see that keep developing. He's going to get better and better every game that he plays here."
Physical tools are far from the only thing that impresses Martindale, who has coached players like Ray Lewis, C.J. Mosley, Elvis Dumervil, Champ Bailey, and Brian Dawkins. Football intelligence is another key opponent.
"Unbelievable," Martindale said of Thibodeaux's IQ. "He's an old soul guy who has a lot of aspirations and dreams, and he's going to chase them. And that's good for the Giants."
That's also good for fellow outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari, who had 5.5 sacks despite playing in just seven games last season due to leg injuries. An improved Thibodeaux will help a healthy Ojulari, and vice versa.
"I think that it's going to be good for both of them, first of all, because there's not just one way where you can slide the protections," said Martindale, who recently received the 2023 Paul "Dr. Z" Zimmerman Award, which the Pro Football Writers of America presented for lifetime achievement as an NFL assistant coach. "You can see that [Azeez] is taking care of his body. To me, he looks bigger than what he did last year, and I'm excited to see him get going as well."
While the Giants have more balance on the edges, they also enter 2023 with help on the back end.
The Giants drafted Maryland cornerback Deonte Banks with the No. 24 overall pick this past April, trading up to do so as they made their first of seven selections in the class. Martindale was famously caught on live television giving a celebratory bear hug to general manager Joe Schoen as the pick was announced.
"He was obviously super excited, and it's something for his defense that's very important – having two good corners," Schoen said recently on another episode of the podcast. "So with Tae Banks and Adoree' [Jackson], I think the defense has taken a little bit more shape in terms of what he wants it to look like. But Tae Banks was one of his favorite players in the draft, and when we were able to get him, he was obviously very excited. My back is still a little bit of sore from that bear hug he gave me."
The pain was a small price to pay.
"I just think he's everything you want in a corner," Martindale said. "Starting off with he's tough and he can tackle. He likes to play press coverage, and he likes to be on the island out there. He loves the challenge of it. You can see he's that way here. A very humble kid from Baltimore, and matter of fact, I went down to a football camp that Jameel McClain put on. Jameel played here and played for us in Baltimore as well. He was at that camp as a camper when he was a freshman in high school, and it was pretty cool."
Schoen mentioned multiple times early in the offseason that he had a better idea of the players Martindale wanted after they worked together for a season. The Banks pick was one instance of that coming to fruition.
"I'm excited about where we're at defensively with the roster," Martindale said. "I was just talking to Joe about that earlier. It's come a long way in one year, and I'm looking forward to getting back in training camp and getting things going."
The development is already underway as the Giants opened up organized team activities (OTAs) this week.
"I think that the biggest thing is strip their game completely down," Martindale said of developing Banks. "I think he's got the best secondary coach in the league with Jerome Henderson, and he does a great job with that. I'm talking about starting from stance, initial footwork, start techniques, and fundamentals. He's done a nice job of just jumping in there. Right now, they don't have any bad habits when you start that way – and I'm sure you'll see some – but the thing I like about him is just his energy and how he wants to compete."
Banks was also part of the offseason plan to help close the talent gap, especially in the NFC East, where the Giants will see Jalen Hurts' dual-threat ability for the foreseeable future. Likewise, the Eagles will keep seeing the arm and legs of Daniel Jones, who also signed a long-term deal.
Martindale and the rest of his fellow NFL defensive coordinators have to keep up with trying to defend quarterbacks like them.
"If you don't have a growth mentality as a coach, you're not going to be coaching much longer," Martindale said. "You look at college tape when you're doing all the draft breakdowns of all the guys and see the different things of how defenses are playing the offenses with the mobile quarterbacks. You also look at plays. If they're successful plays, they'll show up on Sunday because the offensive coordinators in this league are too good, and they're always looking for something to steal. College football is four years ahead of what we'll see offensively in the NFL just because of that and because of the mobile quarterbacks. You're going to see more and more of it, the RPOs, the options, the sprint-outs, all the different things, and we're going to have our hands full with that. But I think we've got enough guys that are up to the challenge."
View photos of the first organized team practice activity (OTA) at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.