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5 things we learned (9/15): Coordinators speak


Preparation for Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers continued on Tuesday.

Offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale and special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey each spoke to the media before practice. Coach Brian Daboll also had a brief chat with the media before the session, while several players spoke from the locker room after practice.

Here are five things we learned today.

1. Wink calls for fans to be loud Sunday

The Giants went on the road and picked up a comeback win in the season opener. Now, they return to MetLife Stadium for the home opener with a chance to start the year 2-0 for the first time since 2016 and just the second time since 2010. When speaking to the media Thursday, Wink Martindale made it very clear that he hopes and expects Giants fans to bring the noise on Sunday, especially when the Big Blue defense is on the field.

"I know we're talking about changing the culture and changing the culture defensively," the defensive coordinator said. "This is one of the biggest changes you'll see is this week to bring back great defense in this facility; and I've only lived here for a short period of time, but I know New Yorkers are loud. We need to be loud in that stadium. They have to go on silent count. If you want to be part of changing this culture here with the Giants, be loud and have that place rocking where people don't want to come to our stadium. We'll take care of the rest, and we'll give you something to be loud about. But just be loud. I can't wait to see it…

"I hope it's loud and having a great time. That's what I hope it is. That's what I expect the crowd to be like. I know this place loves defense, so we'll do our part. You guys do yours. That's the way I look at it, and it'll be fun. It should be when you come to the stadium."

Veteran wide receiver Sterling Shepard, the longest-tenured player on the team, echoed this sentiment.

"The crowd, I expect they're going to be, loud and pretty upbeat because obviously, we won last week," said Shepard. "We're trying to establish a winning culture at home so, guys are pretty amped up about it and I'm sure the fans will be too."

2. Ward 'sets the pace'

With Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari missing last week's game, Jihad Ward and Oshane Ximines started in their place and both had strong performances. Ward finished with six tackles (five solo) and had a team-high 76.9 run defense grade from Pro Football Focus. The veteran outside linebacker did a tremendous job setting the edge against Titans running back Derrick Henry, something his defensive coordinator praised Thursday.

"First of all, Jihad Ward was defensive player of the game," said Martindale. "I mean, and that was unanimous. So, he's a physical, tough guy that is the character of what you're looking for as a defensive player. He sets the pace, especially in the run game on setting the edges, and he took it personal that game, and that's what has made him who he is. And wherever I'm at, I hope I have Jihad Ward with me."

Meanwhile, Ximines led the way with an elite 86.0 overall grade against the Titans last week. Ximines registered two total pressures, which helped him pick up an 80.6 pass rush grade, and had a batted ball. He finished with six total tackles (three solo) and two quarterback hits, and received a 76.6 run defense and 74.2 tackling grade. Ximines' overall grade ranked 10th among all edge defenders, while his pass rush grade ranked eighth. Martindale has been impressed with the young outside linebacker dating back to spring workouts.

"Ox, as I call him, has done nothing but worked hard and kept earning trust and kept earning more and more playing time throughout the spring all the way through training camp and the preseason," Martindale said. "And I think he did a great job for us in there. He's making plays and doing things the right way, and that's why he's where he's at."

3. James 'did a really nice job' as PR

Coming out of the summer, wide receiver Richie James was named the team's No. 1 punt returner. James played well in this role during the season opener. He returned five punts for 62 yards, good for an average of 12.4 yards per return, and had a long of 22 yards. James earned a 71.0 PFF grade on his punt returns, which was the second-highest mark in the NFL and only 0.2 behind Atlanta's Avery Williams for the best in the league.

James' performance impressed special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey, who praised his punt returner on Thursday.

"Richie did a great job," McGaughey said. "He did a good job of fielding the ball and making some plays out in space. It's good to see that unit come together. I think we have potentially the makings of a really good punt returning unit and obviously it starts with the guy with the ball in his hands. But he did a really nice job. There's a couple of things that I wish he did better, but he did a good job."

View photos from practice as the New York Giants gear up for the home opener against the Carolina Panthers.

4. Belton ready for NFL debut

Rookie safety Dane Belton was a full participant in practice Thursday, marking the second straight day in which he's been a full-go. Coach Brian Daboll told reporters on Wednesday that he expects Belton to make his NFL debut this Sunday, and the 21-year-old told the media that he's had his sights set on Week 2 for a while.

"Right when I got hurt, they told me a timeline, six to eight (weeks), so I did everything I could to come back in six," said Belton. "Exactly six weeks and a day was the first game so, that was my mentality. Just getting back up to strength with my shoulder and my collarbone. It got to the week before, I was like five and a half, I got a CT-scan and they were like, 'You look good, but we might keep you out of this first game just to be safe.' Once they told me that, I knew week two was a possibility, so my thought was just toward that week."

Belton was one of the defensive standouts toward the start of training camp. He registered an interception during team drills in early August, a play which led to him suffering a clavicle injury that kept him on the sideline for a while. But now feeling good to go, Belton is ready to do whatever the coaches ask of him Sunday, and Martindale is excited to have him back.

"I think he's physical," the defensive coordinator said. "I think he's fast. I think he knows the system. We just got to knock the rust off of him. So, we'll see how he feels when he's out there, and we'll just slowly build with him."

5. Kayvon update and more

For the second consecutive day, rookie outside linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux was limited with a knee injury that has kept him out since the second preseason game against the Bengals. Although the No. 5 overall pick would not commit to making his NFL debut this Sunday at MetLife Stadium, he told the media Thursday his knee is improving.

"It feels a lot better," the rookie OLB said. "I've just been making really good gains every day. Just continuing to kind of bring back those reps, a different kind of motion and getting comfortable back in my position…

"We've been making great gains. Ultimately it will come to how I feel come Friday and Saturday. Everything has been going well and yeah, I'm optimistic about it."

DB Nick McCloud (hamstring), CB Aaron Robinson (appendicitis) and WR Wan'Dale Robinson did not participate in practice for the second consecutive day. Joining them on the sideline Thursday was offensive lineman Devery Hamilton, who was not on the injury report Wednesday.

In addition to Thibodeaux, C Jon Feliciano (lower leg), OLB Azeez Ojulari (calf), and S Jason Pinnock (shoulder) were all limited again on Thursday. WR Kadarius Toney (hamstring) was the only other addition to the injury report, as he was a limited participant.

View rare photos of the history between the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers.