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Wink Martindale: LB Jaylon Smith could help the Giants, and soon

Giants’ defensive coordinator also talks about the need for improved run defense

The New York Giants let veteran inside linebacker Blake Martinez go right before the 2022 NFL season began. They did that despite losing rookie sixth-round pick Darrian Beavers, who seemed like his potential heir at the MIKE linebacker spot, to a torn ACL.

The Giants have mixed and matched at inside linebacker during the first three games. Tae Crowder has played 177 snaps (94.65 percent), but the second inside linebacker spot has been in flux. Austin Calitro has played 64 snaps (33.16 percent), Micah McFadden has played 48 snaps (25.67 percent) and the Giants have often aligned with an extra defensive back and only one true inside linebacker.

Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said on Thursday that Jaylon Smith, the veteran inside linebacker signed to the practice squad last week, could fit into that picture sooner rather than later.

“Sure,” Martindale said when asked if could be on the field Sunday against the Chicago Bears. “We’re going to play the best guy that we think is going to be available for us on Sunday.”

Smith, a 2016 second-round pick by the Dallas Cowboys, played four game for the Giants at the end of last season. He was not re-signed in the offseason and was out of the league until the Giants added him to their practice squad.

Martindale said the 245-pound Smith can “run and hit, tackle.”

“He’s a little bit bigger than some of the guys we’ve had besides Tae,” Martindale said. “So as long as they can run, because you know what I’ve already told you there, if you have a slow Mike, you have a slow defense. I think that we’ll eventually at some time feed him in there.”

Here a few other takeaways from Martindale’s Thursday media availability.

Honoring Aaron Judge

The veteran defensive coordinator opened his press conference by saying it was “awesome” to watch Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees tie Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 home runs on Wednesday night.

About the run defense

The Giants have given up 146 and 176 yards rushing the past two weeks. The Carolina Panthers (23 attempts, 146 yards) averaged 6.3 yards per rush in Week 2. The Dallas Cowboys (30 attempts, 176 yards) averaged 5.9 yards per rush in Week 3.

Martindale said it is “little things” that are hurting the run defense.

“I wish I could just answer it with one answer, but there’s little things here and there that one guy sees it different. The whole time we talk about having a growth mindset defensively. It’s little things,” he said. “Because it’s still a new package and everybody’s out there, there’s different guys that have been playing in different spots that they’re learning new things that somebody else who was playing it before already knew what was happening and what to look for. So, it’s just one of those things that we know that we’re going to appreciate and respect the process of building this defense and we’re going to have some good results.”

The Bears come to MetLife Stadium on Sunday with a ground-and-pound offense. The Bears have completed only 23 of 45 passing attempts through three games, averaging just 78.3 yards passing per game. Conversely, Chicago is second in the league in rushing. The Bears have a three-headed rushing attack of Khalil Herbert (33 carries, 240 yards, 7.3 yards per carry), David Montgomery (35 carries, 159 yards, 4.5 yards per carry and quarterback Justin Fields (27 carries, 95 yards, 3.5 yards per carry).

The Bears are second in the league to the Cleveland Browns with five runs of 20 or more yards.

“They’re running the football, trying to control the clock and playing good defense. The biggest thing is, I don’t want to say you take away the runs, but you better limit the big runs, the explosive runs,” Martindale said. “So, that’s what we’re going to be focused on because there was a lot of runs Monday night where the guys were falling forward for four and five yards. We’ve got to get better knock back up front and play as a unit, all 11, and make sure we start moving piles backward that way.”

Martindale said the Bears remind him of the Baltimore Ravens, where he formerly worked as defensive coordinator, when quarterback Lamar Jackson first came into the NFL.

“When we were back at Baltimore and Lamar just first came into it, if y’all remember, it was similar type offense that challenges you in a different way,” Martindale said. “Like I said, it’s just complementary football that they’re believing in. That’s their winning formula right now.”

Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari

The two edge defenders made their debuts on Monday night, and Martindale said there is “nowhere to go but up with those two.”

Ojulari drew two holding penalties, and Martindale said that was an indication to him that the second-year player was “doing things right.” He said Thibodeaux is “going to continue to get better.”

When it was mentioned to Martindale that Thibodeaux has a fair amount of “swagger” to him, the defensive coordinator had an interesting response:

“So do I.

“I think Kayvon’s Kayvon. I think that that’s one of the reasons why I love him is because he’s a confident young man, has some ambition to him and has goals and he’s going to go after them. I’d take 11 of guys like that. You better stay humble in this game, period, win or lose because that’s the way this league is. As soon as you lose your humility, it will come up and slap you right upside the head, the league will. So, I don’t know. We didn’t have that conversation, so I don’t know. He doesn’t seem like he’s walking around with his lip out. I’m just expecting great things from him.”