The New York Giants want, and need, third-year edge defender Azeez Ojulari on the field in 2023.
He and Kayvon Thibodeaux formed a dynamic duo during the 2022 season. While Thibodeaux showed signs of growing into a well-rounded defender, Ojulari’s speed off the edge was a definite problem for opposing offensive tackles. There were times last year when we could see shades of Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora in the pair.
Not only does Ojulari have Osi-like speed off the edge, he has a similar knack for making impact plays. He racked up 5.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 3 tackles for a loss, and 7 QB hits in just 7 games last year.
Ojulari has massive potential when he’s on the field, but the player himself isn’t concerned with putting up lofty sack numbers, so much as doing whatever he can to help the team as a whole.
“Man, I’m just trying to do what I can for the team or whatever I can, no matter what it is, to just help the team win,” Ojulari said on Friday. “However, I can be productive for the team, I’m just trying to do the best I can.
“I don’t even try to look at the numbers. At the end of the day, I just want to win and help my team be the best. When I’m out there on the field, (I) just try to be the best I can. Whatever it is, just make plays happen, just try, whatever it is, to help the team win, man, and the defense get better.
However Ojulari contributes, the Giants will be happy to have him on the field after an injury-plagued 2022 season. Last year he suffered — and then aggravated — a calf injury early in the year, then suffered ankle and quad injuries late in the year. All told, he only played 7 games last year, and was limited for the final games of the season.
But now he’s back on the field and has hopefully put those injury concerns behind him. Ojulari noted that he’s at the same playing weight as last year and doesn’t believe that hydration was a contributing factor to his injuries. However, he has added yoga to his training regimen in the hopes of cutting down on potential injury.
“Really just more stretching,” he said. “More stretching incorporated some yoga into my routine, and those were the main two things that I really added.
“I talked to some people around, teammates and stuff, but for me, I just wanted better for myself. I just want to do whatever I can to help myself and my team.”
There’s scant evidence that yoga helps reduce injuries (and studies showing that static stretching has no effect on injury rate). However, a recent study does suggest that practicing yoga could lead to reduced perception of fatigue. Mental fatigue can be a factor in injury, as a tired mind could let technique slip and put the body in situations that can lead to injury.
Hopefully a more limber Ojulari will be able to stay on the field for the Giants.
“It’s very exciting to be out here and practice with my teammates and just be available for my team. Just out there working hard every day, just trying to get better,” he said.
“Everything happened for a reason, but it sucked” he said, summing up 2022 and his outlook for 2023. “It’s in the past now and I’m focused on this year and put that behind me and (I’m) ready to go this year, for sure.”