Let’s look at the depth chart and where things stand on defense for the New York Giants as they head toward completion of their second week of training camp.
Defensive line (9)
Starters: Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams
Backups: Ryder Anderson, Jalyn Holmes, D.J. Davidson, Chris Hinton, David Moa, Nick Williams, Justin Ellis
I am listing only Lawrence and Williams as starters here because, no matter what the package the Giants are in these two are the defensive linemen who will be the mainstays.
Lawrence and Williams have been a handful for the offensive line thus far. Both are, obviously, accomplished players — Williams moreso than Lawrence. Still, there has been curiosity about how both players would take to the teachings of highly successful, long-time defensive line coach Andre Patterson. So far, both are thriving. Lawrence, by the way, is playing a considerable amount of nose tackle when the Giants are in three-down linemen sets.
Another interesting development is that Jalyn Holmes, who spent last season with the New Orleans Saints, has been getting considerable first-team reps at defensive end in those three-down packages. A four-year veteran, Holmes spent three seasons playing for Patterson with the Minnesota Vikings.
There really is little to report on the other players, though Davidson, a fifth-round pick, has flashed on a couple of running plays.
Inside linebacker (7)
Starters: Blake Martinez, Tae Crowder
Backups: Darrian Beavers, Cam Brown, Austin Calitro, Carter Coughlin, Micah McFadden
Blake Martinez is steadily working his way back from the torn ACL that ended his 2021 season. He has worked throughout training camp, but not on an every-down basis.
“I think for me it’s just listening to the trainers. They will slowly ramp me up as we go,” Martinez said. “Being cautious with it, and then we will talk back and forth after each practice to see if I can add some stuff in as we keep moving through training camp.”
Not being on the field every play might be something he, and Giants fans, have to get used to. Martinez is no longer the Giants’ defensive signal-caller — that job now belongs to safety Xavier McKinney. Perhaps that change is also an indication that Martinez will not be an every-down player in 2022.
Tae Crowder is still the starter opposite Martinez. Crowder, it would appear, is going to maintain that position until someone like Darrian Beavers or Micah McFadden takes it away from him.
Speaking of Beavers and McFadden, it is the sixth-round pick (Beavers) who has flashed more often in the early going than the fifth-round pick (McFadden).
Starters: Kayvon Thibodeaux, Azeez Ojulari (NFI list)
Backups: Quincy Roche, Elerson Smith, Jihad Ward, Oshane Ximines, Niko Lalos
Things are interesting on the edge, especially in the competition for roster spots. Ojulari (hamstring) is still not practicing, and it is clear right now that the third edge is veteran Jihad Ward.
After that, the competition for roster spots is becoming one of the more entertaining of camp.
Elerson Smith, fourth-round pick a season ago, is having an excellent training camp. He has been making a noticeable impact as a pass rusher.
There might be a battle developing for a roster spot between Ximines and Roche. Ximines has been getting some first-team work, and has flashed a few times as a pass rusher. I know Evan Neal is struggling to handle him. Roche has had a relatively quiet camp after a productive rookie year under the previous regime.
Both players have been guilty of jumping offside a number of times. Perhaps the player who stops making those noticeable and costly mistakes will gain an upper hand.
Thibodeaux, the No. 5 overall pick, has not been dominant. He has been diligent. Thibodeaux has worked quietly every day, and he has been a handful at times for blockers. If sacks were a training camp stat, he likely wouldn’t have many. He probably, though, would lead the team in holding penalties drawn.
Starters: Adoree’ Jackson, Aaron Robinson, Darnay Holmes
Backups: Khalil Dorsey, Darren Evans, Zyon Gilbert, Michael Jacquet, Rodarius Williams, Cor’Dale Flott, Gavin Heslop
Ever since the Giants were forced to move on from James Bradberry due to their salary cap crunch, there has been concern about the team’s cornerback position. The more I see of the starting group of Jackson, Robinson and Holmes, the more I think the Giants could be OK at cornerback if those three remain healthy.
Jackson, the veteran of the cornerback group and the de facto No. 1 cornerback, has had a good camp. The biggest thing separating Jackson from being considered one of the league’s better cornerbacks is the fact that he has only three interceptions in 59 regular-season games. He has a couple already in training camp, a good sign. He knows he has to create more turnovers.
“I can’t even explain that. I’m just glad I at least got three. I am fortunate enough to have that,” Jackson said. “I want to get more but, when opportunities come your way and they present themselves I just have to make the most of them. That’s where it lies, just the opportunities. If I have my hands on the ball, I just make that thing come down with it. I have to do a better job at that, and we’ll do a better job at that.
Holmes, in his third season, has been a camp star. He has three interceptions and a fourth fumble as he goes about locking down the slot cornerback job.
Jackson has known him since Holmes was in high school and calls him “a good genuine dude.”
“Goes out there and sticks to the script, no matter what may happen his faith never waivers. He just goes out there and competes man. I can respect that. I just appreciate him a lot, the way he works and comes in every day,” Jackson said. “He is out there doing his thing.”
The biggest question entering the season is whether Robinson, a second-year player who played in only nine games last season following core muscle surgery, can handle a starting outside cornerback role.
Thus far, Robinson has held up just fine. He is athletic, competitive, and aggressive.
“I have been liking A-Rob since I met him. I know when I came and signed here, then we drafted him, I just looked up his highlight tapes,” Jackson siad. “I liked what I had seen from him and been liking him ever since. He works hard, he’s a guy that just goes out there and does what he has to do. I just appreciate A-Rob and his competitiveness.”
The issue for the Giants is depth behind those three. The Giants drafted Cor’Dale Flott in Round 3, and he will end up on the 53-man roster. Who else ends up on the season-opening roster is anybody’s guess.
Starters: Xavier McKinney, Julian Love
Backups: Dane Belton, Andrew Adams, Yusuf Corker, Trenton Thompson, Jarrod Wilson, Nate Meadors
Xavier McKinney is now firmly the leader of the Giants’ defense. It is McKinney, the third-year safety, who will be calling the defensive signals this year rather than Martinez.
“I talked to Wink (Martindale) and it’s not something that’s new to me. I’ve done it before – I did it at ‘Bama. It’s not something that’s surprising or it’s not something that’s too hard,” McKinney said. “It’s different when you’ve got grown men in the huddle and you’re trying to get the call to everybody. Obviously being on the back end of it, you might have to run 30 yards and run back to get the play to everybody. It’s not too unusual to me.”
If he isn’t considered the defense’s best player already, it is entirely possible he will be at season’s end.
Love is getting his first opportunity to start after three seasons as the secondary’s Mr. Fix-It, the guy who was always used to plug whatever leak popped up.
The mystery at this point is who will be the backups. With Belton out until some point in the regular season, newly-resigned Andrew Adams figures to play a key role. Jarrod Wilson and the newest Giant, Nate Meadors, have experience. Undrafted free agents Yusuf Corker and Trenton Thompson offer possibilities.