Earlier this month, New York Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher said he didn’t exactly know what kind of defense he might end up having, though he did have a vision of an aggressive and multiple defense.
Several weeks later and after two voluntary minicamp practices, the men who will execute Bettcher’s defense are starting to get a feel for what they need to do and, more importantly that swagger they need to have.
“I think what we have here will work great with this defense,” said outside linebacker Kareem Martin, who like teammate Josh Mauro, played for Bettcher when they were in Arizona.
“We’ve got guys like (defensive tackle Damon Harrison) and (safety Landon Collins). Those guys are phenomenal players and they can fit this scheme,” praised Martin. “We’re attacking, and those two guys have the ability to do that. So, I think they’ll be really successful in this scheme.”
Martin enjoyed a bit of a breakout in Bettcher’s pressure-happy offense last season, which led the league in blitz percentage for the second consecutive year. Starting a career-high 10 games, Martin set another personal high mark with 23 tackles.
Another player who is hoping to enjoy a similar type of breakout year in terms of production is Olivier Vernon. Previously a defensive end in the Giants’ old 4-3 scheme, Vernon has been working with the outside linebackers, where he’s expected to fill the strong-side role in the 3-4 base.
“I just know that it’s a whole different defense and whatever the game plan is, whatever we’ve got in the playbook, I’m just going to follow what it is,” said Vernon, who has racked up 15 sacks in two seasons as a Giant.
Bettcher, who in his introductory press conference to the media, hinted that he hoped to use Vernon in a similar capacity to that of Chandler Jones, whom he coached in Arizona. Jones last year led the league with 17 sacks, setting a new Cardinals franchise record.
But Vernon bristled just a bit when comparisons were brought up, reminding people that he and Jones are two different players who just happen to be filling the same role in the defense.
“He had a great season last year,” Vernon said of Jones. “He was doing what he had to do, they had a great defense and right now, we’re just trying to get everything down pat, chemistry as well. And we’ll see from there.”
Martin, who is serving as an unofficial “coach” on the defense given his familiarity with Bettcher’s system and language, praised his new teammate for making a rapid and quick transition from the traditional 4-3 defensive end role.
“He’s a fast learner, he’s been picking things up,” Martin said of Vernon. “We’ve talked once we got into phase one a couple weeks ago. And since we’ve been on the field, I’ve been talking with him if he had questions, or things like that.”
Linebacker Alec Ogletree, who will be the quarterback of the defense, is another key component who likes what he’s seen so far from the defensive scheme.
“It’s going to be a good defense. We’ve got a lot of talent here and I’m definitely happy to be here,” Ogletree said. “Coach Bettcher has been one of the top defenses in the league the past few years and hopefully we can bring that here.”
Ogletree is most looking forward to working with his new teammate B.J. Goodson, who will be entering his third year. Goodson enjoyed a breakout game in last year’s regular season debut, picking up a league-high 18 tackles in the Giants’ opener against the Dallas Cowboys. However, he dealt with injuries for the rest of the season, and eventually ended up, like many before him, on injured reserve.
Ogletree said he sees promise in Goodson and thinks he will be just as much a key piece to the puzzle as anyone.
“He’s going to be a great linebacker in this league,” Ogletree said. “You can tell he loves (football), he definitely has the attributes and the physical part of it and now it’s just about doing a little bit more mental and he’s taking the steps day-by-day just like the rest of us and he’s going to be a great linebacker for sure in this league.”