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Micah McFadden ‘definitely leading’ Giants’ competition for starting ILB spot

Second-year player says rookie season ‘wasn’t up to my standard’

NFL: AUG 01 New York Giants Training Camp
Micah McFadden (41)
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Micah McFadden hated New York Giants’ post-game film sessions a season ago. A rookie linebacker at the time, he knew what he was about to see. He did not want to look at it.

“I’m going to be honest. A lot of times I didn’t want to go back and watch the film. Before even watching it I knew how I played,” McFadden said on Tuesday after practice. “It’s a feel thing. When you’re out on the field you can tell how you’re doing every play.

“I think I did some things that were good last year, but for the most part I just don’t think it was up to my standard in how I wanted to play.”

The 2022 season was an up and down one for the Giants’ fifth-round pick out of Indiana. He played in all 17 games, with seven starts.

McFadden began the season getting at least a handful of snaps each week on defense. Then, from Weeks 5-7 he played only four snaps. The second half of the season he played regularly, but was replaced by Jarrad Davis in the Giants’ two playoff games and was inactive.

McFadden finished with 59 tackles (36 solo), six tackles for loss and a pair of quarterback hits. He had only a 38.7 Pro Football Focus grade, though, including an awful 30.0 in coverage, allowing 20 completions in 23 targets and earning a 119.6 passer rating against.

“I think Year 1 was good,” McFadden said. “It was definitely a big learning experience for me. Got put in a lot of difficult situations, but I think having that experience calms me down a little bit knowing that I played a year. Obviously it wasn’t up to my standard or the team’s standard, but now I get to come back, whole new opportunity, same defense obviously. Learned a lot last year.”

Flash forward to Friday night against the Detroit Lions in the Giants’ preseason opener. McFadden started, played 14 snaps, and earned an elite 90.5 PFF grade. He had a pressure, a tackle for a run stop and gave up one reception for just 6 yards.

McFadden did not need to watch the tape to know he had played well.

“I knew exactly what it was,” McFadden said. “Right after I finished my reps on the field I knew I felt better, I felt calmer, my feet felt good, my hands felt good, my eyes were where they needed to be on every rep.

“Just want to keep building off that and keep getting better.”

Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale certainly noticed. On Tuesday, Martindale said — unsolicited — that McFadden was “definitely leading” the competition with fellow second-year player Darrian Beavers for the starting job next to Bobby Okereke.

“I thought Micah played really well in the game. He did a lot of good things,” Martindale said. “I think that this is truly Beavers’ rookie year because of the ACL, and he’s missed so many practices that Micah’s got a year under his belt. It’s a good competition and Micah is definitely leading right now.”

McFadden, who said he dropped five pounds from 235 to 230 during the offseason, was happy to hear Martindale’s remarks when they were relayed to him, but he knows the starting job hasn’t been won.

“Always take a compliment with a grain of salt, and take it day-by-day,” McFadden said. “It’s the middle of camp. Just trying to get better every day. Show him that I’m improving on all the fundamentals and techniques that they want to see. But, yeah, it’s good to hear.”

What has been the key to McFadden’s improved play?

“Probably just my eyes, just seeing things a little faster, reacting better. I’d say eyes and feet,” McFadden said. “I don’t feel out of whack, I don’t feel I’m hopping around all the time. Kinda felt that a lot last year, and put me out of position on certain plays.

“I think those two things have helped a lot.”

McFadden credited Okereke, a veteran linebacker the Giants signed in free agency to anchor that position.

“Bobby O talked to me. It’s like calm mind, calm feet,” McFadden said. “When you’re not trying to do too much or overthink, if you just do your job your feet will be fine and you just play football from there.”

McFadden admitted that his mind was so cluttered a year ago with figuring out his job on any given play that the chatter of pre-snap defensive communication was “white noise” that he couldn’t process.

That has changed.

“You play better when you play free,” McFadden said. “You know the defense, you know what your job is. Now instinctively and go play ball.”

This summer, McFadden has been playing ball well.