This off-season, the New York Giants didn’t just enhance their defense by acquiring a phenomenal football player; they also added an individual with outstanding character, leadership skills, and a strong cultural foundation to their locker room. Bobby Okereke, a former linebacker for the Indianapolis Colts, is set to join the Giants on a four-year contract worth $40 million. His success so far can be attributed to various influences.
It’s noteworthy that Okereke’s character is deeply rooted in tradition and a strong Nigerian identity, which played a crucial role in shaping his persona during his formative years.
During an exclusive interview with Empire Sports Media, Okereke elaborated on the significance of his cultural upbringing and what he will bring to a renowned organization like the Giants.
“Nigerian heritage and culture growing up really just grounded me. My parents, we talked about the three P’s, literally since the day I was born: preparation, perseverance and persistence…”
“Really just understanding that you’re gonna face adversity along any endeavor you’re trying to go through. So if you prepare as hard as you can and then you decide to persevere and persist through any obstacle, that’s really just a recipe for success. So I try to keep that near and dear to me and my heart.”
Bringing Athleticism to an Aggressive Giants Defense:
With Wink Martindale at the helm of the defense, the Giants aspire to be a swift and assertive unit. The linebacker position, which has been a point of vulnerability over the past few seasons, is expected to benefit greatly from Okereke’s exceptional speed and agility.
“It’s a process throughout this OTA period, through training camp, just figuring out what plays best mesh for our team and how we can compliment each other. But he knows my skillset. You know, I’m athletic, I can blitz well, I can cover well. So really just a guy who can compliment my teammates.”
In the 2022 season, Okereke amassed 151 combined tackles, which included 99 solo tackles, six tackles for a loss, five passes defended, and two forced fumbles. However, the 26-year-old’s expertise is not limited to being an outstanding run-stopper; he is also highly proficient in coverage. Last season, out of the 93 times he was targeted, he conceded only two touchdowns while making four pass breakups. The Colts relied heavily on him in coverage, so the Giants are confident they have a skilled player in this area.
Okereke attributes his success to his quickness across the field and his ability to counter the run effectively. He also emphasized his intellectual acuity and collaborative skills within a team context.
“Yeah, I’m a fast, physical, sidelined-to-sidelined linebacker. I’m great in man coverage. I’m great in zone coverage. And I really excel at stopping the run. I’m disciplined. I’m smart. I’m a team player.”
Becoming a Part of the Blitz:
What contributes to the thrill of the Giants’ defense is their audacious blitz packages and their propensity to inundate enemy offensive lines with numerous players. Okereke recorded a personal best of 15 total pressures in 2021 while with the Colts. However, under Martindale’s defensive strategy, he should anticipate a more significant role as a blitzer.
The Stanford alumnus embraces the shift in attitude and tenacity inherent in Martindale’s squad, proposing that an attacking defense could yield greater advantages than a cautious one.
“We have the mentality pressure breaks pipes.”
“You wanna have as much as you can have an attacking-style defense, the better. You wanna play aggressively. You wanna put the pressure on offenses and make them make quick decisions. So that’ll definitely be an added part of my game, but zone coverage and man coverage is a great part of my game too. So if guys are blitzing and I’m in coverage or if I’m blitzing guys are in coverage, you know, it’s gonna work well.”
Deciding to Join the New York Giants:
Transitioning to a new team and traversing the free agency landscape can be a daunting experience for players. Having faced the Giants in Week 17 of the 2022 season, Bobby had a direct chance to observe the team’s development in progress.
Despite the apparent talent deficit on the roster, their advancement to the post-season and the significant progress they made is undeniably indicative of exceptional coaching.
“I think, like you said, the stars kind of aligned for me, especially playing the Giants in Week 17 — and then beating us obviously seeing them go on to make the playoffs, when playing well. Just seeing what the state of the franchise is.”
The Brian Daboll effect:
A major attraction for free agents is the Giants’ head coach, Brian Daboll, who is not only highly respected as a talent evaluator within the NFL but also as an outstanding mentor.
Daboll has laid the groundwork for what appears to be a promising future in East Rutherford. In the end, the team significantly exceeded expectations in 2022, owing to an exceptional coaching staff and unmatched leadership.
During the free agency process, Okereke mentioned the abundant praise he had heard about Daboll, which made his decision straightforward once he was presented with a reasonable offer.
“Everybody’s telling me Dabes is an amazing coach. My buddies who played in Buffalo and everyone throughout the league, everybody’s like, you’re gonna love Dabes. “
While the Giants boast an exceptional head coach, Okereke acknowledges that his defensive coordinator is among the finest in football and has been for the past decade. Having led an intensely aggressive and successful Baltimore defense from 2018 to 2021, it’s no secret that preparing to face Martindale’s unit is one of the most formidable tasks in the NFL.
“Wink, I mean, he’s one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL. “
Last year, the Giants’ defense made significant strides, but a deficiency of talent somewhat constrained them. Schoen transformed their run-stopping unit this off-season, introducing their latest linebacker and numerous stalwarts in the trenches. After conceding 144.2 rushing yards per game, ranking them 27th in the NFL, a major improvement is anticipated in 2023.
Okereke is eager to perform, backed by one of the league’s most formidable defensive lines. Comprising Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, Kayvon Thibodeaux, and Azeez Ojulari, the potential is limitless. Incorporating a dominant linebacker and an outstanding cornerback in Deonte Banks via their first-round pick, the Giants’ defense is set to project an entirely new identity in the future.
“I got a great front office, great coaching staff, great teammates, who’ve had a lot of success. Obviously, the defensive line I’m gonna be playing in front of is stellar. Yeah, it was kind of a perfect storm. They gave me a great offer, and being here in New York City, it was just a beautiful, beautiful situation.”