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Kayvon Thibodeaux is “linebacker in a lab” for Giants DC Wink Martindale

Outside linebackers coach Drew Wilkins talks about Thibodeaux, Azeez Ojulari, more

NFL: New York Giants Rookie Minicamp
Kayvon Thibodeaux
John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

If there is anyone on the New York Giants coaching staff who knows defensive coordinator Wink Martindale well, it is outside linebackers coach Dean Wilkins. The 34-year-old Wilkins worked with Martindale as part of the Baltimore Ravens coaching staff for the past decade.

It was interesting on Thursday to hear Martindale reference Wilkins’ judgment when asked about the selection of edge defender Kayvon Thibodeaux at No. 5.

“He was Drew’s No. 1 guy, Drew Wilkins, the outside linebacker coach, and he was my number one guy coming out of the process,” Martindale said.

So, why was Thibodeaux No. 1 on Wilkins’ list of edge defenders? Well, because he’s perfect for Martindale.

“He was just such a great fit for us and Wink’s defense. If Wink were to just create an outside linebacker in a lab this would be Kayvon Thibodeaux,” Wilkins said. “He’s got all the skillsets that we look for. He can be a dominant edge setter, explosive, violent, relentless pass rusher and then everything else you see that’s required in the package. Really all those things combined it’s just such a good fit for us.”

Wilkins downplayed outside concerns about Thibodeaux’s off the field interests.

“The brand I saw was a hard-working, humble, dominant football player. That was the brand that we all recognized here at the Giants that would fit us,” Wilkins said. “With that, he’s got a great personality – a magnetic personality, like a lot of our guys. Jihad Ward’s the same way. We’ve got a lot of big personalities in our outside linebacker room. We want that. We want you to bring your whole self into that meeting room, and it’s fun watching all those guys blend together. They’re all working for a common goal with different types of personalities.”

Wilkins also talked about Martindale’s scheme and a couple of the other players the Giants have at the outside linebacker position.

Martindale’s defensive scheme

Martindale, of course, is an ultra-aggressive defensive play-caller. One thing we will all get used to hearing him say is “pressure breaks pipes,” and he is creative in how he goes about trying to break the offense.

That means he needs players who can do multiple things.

“The thing that we want to do on defense is we want to be unpredictable. So we need guys that have a lot of different skillsets that we can line up really anywhere and take advantage of mismatches, take advantage of one week to the next being unpredictable,” Wilkins said.

“This isn’t a guy you can put in a box. This is a guy that can play anywhere across the front and we’ll isolate those one-on-one matches whether it be pass rush, run defense, coverage. Find out where those matchups are, and that’s what Wink does at a really high level.”

Azeez Ojulari

After a successful rookie season with 8.0 sacks, the 2021 second-round pick showed up to the Giants’ offseason program looking like a cartoon character — in a good way. He added 10 pounds of muscle, and when you see him walking around in a long-sleeve shirt those newly-developed muscles practically pop out of that shirt.

“Any time you add lean muscle mass like that it just makes you a bigger, stronger, better football player,” Wilkins said. “Right now he’s moving around really well. He put on the right type of weight. If I looked like that I don’t know if I’d ever wear a shirt.”

Wilkins praised Ojulari’s work thus far.

“I’m really excited working with him. He’s just such an A plus personality, he works so hard in the classroom, in the weight room and then out here you see him flying around to the football,” Wilkins said. “The thing with him, loved him watching him when we got here in February watching him on tape, you recognize this is a guy that had an exciting, big year in Year 1, right. But then he comes in and he looks like the Incredible Hulk coming in and you recognize that this is a guy that put in work from the time that great season ended until he came back here.

“It’s a really great player to work with. Just the little things in his pass rush. His footwork, his handwork, his get off. These are things he’s really buying into right now, the little details of it that can take his game to the next level.”

Jihad Ward

The 28-year-old journeyman played part of 2019 and all of 2020 for Wilkins and the Ravens. The Giants added him as a depth piece this offseason.

So, what is Ward all about?

“He’s the Broadstreet Bully for us. From Philadelphia, he’s the guy you put out there, we were with him in Baltimore, he’s going to beat up whoever’s on him on that edge. He’s gonna knock it back … he’s a game wrecker out there, then he can kick inside on third down and be a versatile inside rusher,” Wilkins said.

“That versatility, and just the spirit that he brings. He’s just a player that plays at such a high energy level he sets that pace for the rest of the room and the rest of the defense.”