Giants’ star linebacker praises new defensive coordinator’s ‘fun’ system

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As Shane Bowen will take over the reigns as New York Giants defensive coordinator in 2024, many players on the defensive unit have already noticed a major difference during OTAs and mandatory minicamp.

One of those players that has enjoyed the new system is linebacker Bobby Okereke, who had a career season in his first year with the Giants in 2023. He spoke to reporters this week about the changes Bowen has brought to the defensive scheme so far in minicamp.

“It’s fun,” Okereke said to reporters (h/t “I get to play a little bit more coverage. The way Shane calls it we’re going to be multiple. We’ll be able to combat the offensive strengths, so we’ll have a good mix of everything.”

Unlike last season, Okereke will get to play to his strengths in pass coverage under Shane Bowen

Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Shane Bowen (New York Giants candidate)
Credit: Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK

Last season, a significant portion of Okereke’s usage came in pass rush, which was a different style of play than the dynamic linebacker was used to playing, though he still thrived in that role. He was sent on a blitz a career-high 69 times and recorded 2.5 sacks and nine pressures as well.

Meanwhile, in pass coverage, he was targeted just 42 times, the lowest since his rookie year in 2019 when he was targeted 35 times. In 2023, he allowed 81% of those 42 targets to be caught, which was the worst mark of his career.

However, the lack of available targets in pass coverage likely contributed to the higher completion rate. Under Wink Martindale’s system, the Giants focused heavily on quarterback pressures and blitzes, which left little coverage in the secondary when opposing players got past the blitz. The Giants ranked 27th in total yards allowed last season with 6,149 and were 28th in first downs given up with 352, according to Pro Football Reference.

While with the Indianapolis Colts in 2022, Okereke was primarily used in pass coverage and allowed a career-best completion rate of 70.7% on his 82 targets. Okereke highlighted the more versatile defensive game plan that Bowen has set up for the Giants in comparison to Martindale’s blitz-heavy strategy during his time as New York’s defensive coordinator, which allows him to play more to his strengths.

“Coming from Wink’s system where we’re blitzing 40-50% of time and playing zero coverage, a little less aggressive from that standpoint,” Okereke said to reporters. “From a run point we’ll be aggressive, and obviously based on the down and distance situation, we’ll play aggressive, too.”

Bobby Okereke sees great potential in the Giants’ defense for the 2024 season

New York Giants linebacker Bobby Okereke (58) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field
Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

With the massive change in play style on the defensive side of the ball, the Giants hope that they will deliver much better results in all facets. Okereke sees a vision with this group that could be one of the stronger units in the NFL this upcoming season.

“I think we can be as good as we want to be,” Okereke said to reporters. “We have very talented pieces and we’re just working every day to get better.”

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