The Giants are betting big on an inside linebacker to fix their defense, for a change

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — New Giants inside linebacker Alec Ogletree talked about taking his time and “adjusting my game” to teammates in the first day of mandatory camp on Tuesday morning. No Alec. Wrong message. No one wants to hear or see that.

How about you turning it up and making the Giants catch up to your tempo and physicality? How about them adjusting to you?

That sounds right.

Because this Giants defense, in the midst of a required overhaul after a pitiful 3-13 season a year ago, needs a jolt. New defensive coordinator James Bettcher, in from Arizona, plans to awaken it with an aggressive, get-after-the-ball 3-4 scheme.

The curious part about that is the “4.” Though personnel will vary, the “4” means playing with four linebackers. That’s stunning considering where the Giants have been at that position in recent years – nowhere, awful. A bunch of guys. Some flashed, most fizzled.

The Giants have not featured an All-Pro linebacker since Jessie Armstead in 1997. They have not produced a pro-bowl linebacker since Antonio Peirce in 2006.

When you think Giants Hall of Famer linebackers Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson and Sam Huff and the great tradition of Giants linebackers, this franchises’ fall in dominant linebacker play is striking. The Giants in recent decades moved to an all-in investment in the defensive line. They determined that is where games would be won. The philosophy helped them win two Super Bowls but over the long haul proved inconsistent and too defensively imbalanced.

Back to Ogletree.

The Giants invested fourth- and sixth-round 2018 draft picks in a trade with the Los Angeles Rams to nab Ogletree. He is 26, entering his sixth NFL season and was a Rams 2013 first-round draft pick from Georgia. Olgetree is a sideline to sideline terror. He’s tough enough to fortify the middle, too.

He is not a complementary player.

He is not simply a piece of the puzzle. The Giants need him to be a defensive rock at linebacker. So, just give him the mic.

Actually, they already have, the Giants say.


“I have the mic,” Olgetree said of the fact that he will wear the in-game communication device that connects him to Bettcher. Olgetree will make the on-field calls and make sure the defense is aligned correctly.

It’s a big job for a big-time player.

“I was shocked,” Olgetree said of the Rams trading him. “I think it’s their loss. It happened. Can’t look back.”

The Rams went all-in on bolstering their cornerback play, adding Aquib Talib and Marcus Peters. Their new, elite cornerbacks are the anchors of their new defense. That helped to make Olgetree expendable.

NFL teams knew Olgetree was available. One general manager from the Rams NFC West peers told me that he studied Olegtree’s tape from last season and kept looking for reasons to invest in him. But he said he saw Olgetree not finish as many plays as he had in previous seasons and decided to pass.

Olgetree was asked about this.

“First time I’ve heard that,” he said. “Every team looks at players and sees different things. I’ve learned the linebacker position here has been something they’ve been trying to address for awhile. I feel pretty confident I can be the type of guy that makes a difference.”

In order to do that, he must lead.

Olgetree will start inside along with linebacker B.J. Goodson. The outside features Olivier Vernon and Kareem Martin. The Giants depth includes Ray-Ray Armstrong, Romeo Okwara and Kerry Wynn. Rookie Lorenzo Carter has a chance to make an immediate impact.

Olgetree, however, must be the hammer.

“From the very first OTAs when me and B.J. got into that scuffle, that group has had some fight in it,” rookie offensive guard Will Hernandez said. “I think we have what linebackers should be, heated, ready to fill that demanding position of getting into the box and dropping out into coverage. Everybody is noticing that group.”

And aware of Ogletree.

“He and the entire group looks locked in,” cornerback Curtis Riley said. “Everybody knows what this defense needs to do. I like the communication. It’s good.”

The Giants say that Vernon has “bought in”. They need him to let loose. They hope Goodson stays healthy. They believe Martin, a Bettcher favorite in from Arizona, too, can step forward.

Damon “Snacks” Harrison is one of the most dominant defensive tackles in the NFL.

Safety Landon Collins has shown he is elite.

But the Giants need Alec Olgetree to anchor the middle, be the heart of it. They need dominant linebacker play once again to do anything special with this defense.

“I’ll put that on myself,” Olgetree said. “I’m not afraid of that.”

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