One of the biggest acquisitions on the defensive side of the ball this offseason did not come in the form of a player. Rather, it was the addition of a defensive coordinator.
Wink Martindale led a Baltimore Ravens defense that ranked in the top three in the NFL in points allowed in three of his four seasons as their DC. The unit never finished lower than eighth against the run or the pass, and allowed the fewest rushing yards in the league last year.
Martindale is known for his pressure-heavy schemes, a philosophy that the Giants' defensive linemen seem to be thoroughly enjoying.
"There have been a lot of defenses, a lot of defensive coordinators I've played for in my career, but this has definitely been one of the more fun ones," Leonard Williams told the Giants Huddle podcast. "Playing with Wink and this type of system, guys are just flying around. You kind of have to know more than just one position because at any moment, you can be blitzing from a different position on the field. It makes it fun."
"We just have so many guys that can play every position pretty much, and that's exciting," Dexter Lawrence added. "You're not just categorizing us as one thing. I can be playing linebacker, or I can be playing end. Anything really."
Martindale met with the Giants media for the first time during OTAs last month, where he said he wanted his unit to dictate to opposing offenses, rather than the other way around.
Several of his defensive linemen echoed this same sentiment on the podcast.
"Usually, a defense is reacting to what the offense is giving us. We're playing such an aggressive, attack [style] that the offense has to change to what we're doing. It makes it really fun," Williams said.
"It's great because it's hard for an offense to really be sure of what we're doing," stated newcomer Justin Ellis, who spent the past three seasons with Martindale in Baltimore. "You just never know what we're doing each week. Some things look like something it's not. But it's just a great defense to be in. I love Coach Wink and how aggressive it is."
Ellis is not the only former Raven to sign with the Giants this offseason.
Jihad Ward spent the 2019-20 seasons in Baltimore and knows what's necessary for Martindale's defense to succeed.
"Great communication," Ward explained. "Great communication, buying in and trust. We have to trust the process with this. This scheme and this defense has been real successful. All you have to do is just trust the process. Back when I was in Baltimore, everybody was just trusting it. I believe we have a group of guys that can trust the process and a brotherhood, as well. This defense is great. All I can say is pressure breaks pipes."
With Martindale's defense sending blitzes from all over the field, it's sometimes difficult for opposing offenses to be able to recognize where the pass rush is coming from. This, along with the extra players going after the quarterback, often leads to a lot of one-on-one opportunities, something Azeez Ojulari cannot wait to exploit.
"Definitely love having the opportunity to have a one-on-one against an O-lineman or anyone, a tight end, whoever it is," said the second-year pass rusher. "Definitely take advantage of those opportunities because you don't really get that many like that. Just basically one-on-one, like just go, you have the chance to beat your man. That's definitely going to be big for us, for sure."
When Ojulari, who set an unofficial franchise rookie record with eight sacks last year, gets set to rush the passer this season, he will have a new teammate lining up opposite him on the defensive line.
The Giants selected Kayvon Thibodeaux with the No. 5 overall pick in this year's draft. A little under two months later, Ojulari is encouraged by what he has seen from the rookie.
"The way he plays, how explosive he is and how he works out there, I just like the way he's working," he exclaimed. "Seeing him out there when he was out there earlier, he's just a great worker. We push each other. You just feed off his energy. We're juiced up and ready to go. We make each other better...
"He's working hard every day. Every day since he's been here, he's working. He's putting it in… He's full to the wall effort out there. When he's healthy, he's on the go. He's ready to go. He's ready to do extra. He's ready to learn. He's ready to put it all out there on the line. I like what I've seen so far."
"He's a hell of a player," Ward added about Thibodeaux. "I like him. I can't wait until we go out there and get it at training camp, and go out there this season. He's a great piece in our defense. We needed him. I can't wait to see him play on the field."
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Here are more excerpts from the episode:
"Sometimes, so called 'aggressive defenses', they're aggressive when it's a good time to be aggressive. Whereas right now, it seems like Wink likes to be aggressive no matter what the situation is. That's where it's a little bit different. He's a little more of a gambler and willing to take those big shots when it counts." – Leonard Williams on the scheme
"I saw the growth in myself throughout the season. I just got better. I continued to get better as the season went on. I just kept seeing growth, and the game started to slow down for me as I kept playing each one." – Azeez Ojulari on his rookie year performance
"It's built for anybody and everybody to make a play. My mom could come off the couch and make a play… It's just exciting to play in. You're seeing pressures from everywhere. Somebody's going to be open, somebody's going to make a play, and that's really exciting. It's bringing a lot of joy to us." – Dexter Lawrence on the Martindale system
"Everybody's selfless. That's the key to winning. It takes a village to do whatever. It takes a village to stop the run, it takes a village to rush the passer. As long as everyone is willing to work together, I think we'll be just fine." – Justin Ellis on teamwork
"We're coming hard. We're coming aggressive. We're going to get to the quarterback. We're going to make big plays, make giant plays. We can't wait to get out there this season and show you and play for you. It's going to win games." – Ojulari on the pass rush
"You're going to see a lot of me everywhere. A lot of edge, a lot of inside, from nose to 3-technique to SAM linebacker, outside linebacker, I'm everywhere. I know I'm going to be dominant in every position. That's what you're going to see, you're going to see me all over the place. I'm not just an edge rusher. I'm the most versatile guy. That's what you're going to see." – Jihad Ward on his personal expectations
"I'm loving it, man. It's a lot of moving parts. You never know how we're going to come at you. It's good to see and I'm excited to play in it." – Oshane Ximines on the defensive scheme
"Evan's good. He's a good player for sure. We're both still out there learning, learning from each other, pushing each other every day getting better. I just know every time I get to go against him, I get better every rep because he's going to give it to you. Strong hands, he's a big guy. It's been going good going against him." – Ojulari on Evan Neal
"It's a great scheme for my body style. I love playing the nose position, interior positions. Like I said, it's a great, aggressive defense. You can play a high level, great effort. That's really what it's all about- great effort and high energy." – Ellis on re-joining Martindale
"Pressure breaks pipes. It doesn't matter where we're coming from, we're going to get you. They can slide to whatever side they want, we're still going to come after you." – Ward on Martindale's pressure-heavy defense
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