The pass rush-needy New York Giants signed Markus Golden to a one-year contract in March, hoping he could return to something like his 2016 form, when he hd 12.5 sacks for the Arizona Cardinals. That, of course, was prior to a serious knee injury derailed him for much of the past two seasons.
Despite getting just 2.5 sacks and 11 quarterback hits in 11 games last season, the 28-year-old Golden always believed his dominant pass-rushing form was within reach.
This is what he told me during the offseason:
“I’m not a guy to make excuses at all, but I got injured. Last year I was kind of playing and trying to get back caught up and getting my legs under me. That’s what happened, but at the end of the day, I’m still believing in myself,” he said. “I know the work that I put in and I know that I’m not going to stop working hard. That’s all I’m going to do -- keep grinding, keep working hard, and I feel like God is going to bless me and good things are going to happen.”
In six games, Golden has a team-leading 5.0 sacks. He also has 11 quarterback hits. He has gotten pressure on 18 of 150 pass rush attempts per Pro Football Focus, an 8.3 pass rush productivity score that leads the Giants and is 17th among qualifying edge rushers.
“I think he is really close to being that same guy,” said defensive coordinator James Bettcher, who was Golden’s coordinator in Arizona. “He is out here working to try and get better and he’s felt better and better with his health. I think that was obviously the first thing. Markus and I talked at the beginning of the year and the goal wasn’t to get back to that guy, it was to be better than that guy.
“I think if you have gotten to know Markus, you’ve gotten to see how he works, how he plays the game. I think if there is anybody that’s going to come off of an injury like he had and be able to become a better player, it’s this guy. He loves the game, he works tirelessly. A lot of the plays that he makes are just second-effort plays, are just beyond skills, talent. It’s just mindset and purpose. That’s one of the reasons I have always loved him.”
Bettcher still recalls a play Golden made as a rookie in 2015, chasing down a screen from the opposite side of the field to prevent a touchdown.
“I see that play and you see him work in practice and that’s just his identity, that’s who he is,” Bettcher said.
Golden is also becoming a favorite of head coach Pat Shurmur.
“He’s one of my favorite guys in a lot of ways because he’s so into it, he plays hard,” Shurmur said. “I think he’s very disruptive. We’re starting to see, well we sort of saw it, but I think people who don’t know Markus are starting to see what he did a couple of years ago when he had a lot of impact sacking the quarterback.
“He’s doing a good job, he’s playing hard, and he’s a really valuable member of our team.”
Comparing 2016 Golden to 2019 Golden is not really something he wants to do, though Golden admits “I’m getting there.
“It’s hard for me to be like, ‘this is where I’m at, where I’m going to be.’ I’ll let you do that and judge that,” Golden said. “I’m just here to work every day and at the end of the season I can go over everything and then be able to scout myself and judge myself like I do at the end of every year.”
Asked about his performance to date, Golden wouldn’t even grudgingly admit to being happy with what he’s done.
“I don’t judge it that quick. I’m really an end of the year type of guy,” he said. “I’m excited, and I’m motivated to keep it going. Yes, I am motivated to keep it going. But pleased? No not at all.”
The Giants, though, are obviously pleased with what they have been getting from him.