Day 7, 2022:
“At this point last year, we were still ‘What is this blitz?’ or ‘What is this situation he’s trying to teach?’ ’’ outside linebacker Oshane Ximines said.
Day 7, 2023:
“This year, all right, we already know what we’re doing so we can focus on other things, other adjustments,’’ Ximines told The Post. “It’s like going into Calculus 2. At this point last year, we were just trying to get our feet under us and figure out the defense, now we’re taking that next step to implement it.’’
Calculus 2? Did Ximines really once take Calculus 2?
“Heck no,’’ he said, smiling. “Let’s go Algebra 2, we all took that.’’
Class was again in session Thursday, when the Giants hit the field for another training camp session. For Wink Martindale, the grizzled defensive coordinator, that meant orchestrating a unit that has added reinforcements and must be significantly better in Year 2 than it was in Martindale’s debut season with the Giants.
The Giants now know Martindale and he now knows his players. Familiarity must breed contempt for opposing offenses.
“You’re able to have fun, you’re with some familiar faces, the guys that you’ve seen before,’’ cornerback Adoree’ Jackson said. “You’re able to communicate a little bit better, you can be more personable, you know each other. You built respect over the year so now you’re out there, he knows what he’s looking for and you know what you’re looking for.’’
Wink is Wink, which means he is colorful. He said he played a ton of golf this offseason and also was taught by his wife how to play pickleball, which he called “a new and exciting sport.’’ The lessons were also sobering to the now 60-year old Martindale.
“I found out that I don’t have brakes anymore,’’ he said. “If you want to go run for a ball, watch out if you’re standing in the way.’’
As a caller of defenses, Martindale rarely has his foot on the brake, and the second time around is the right time to let loose with this unit. He was handed a group in 2022 that had inadequate depth along the defensive line, stopgap players at inside linebacker and operated at least one starting-caliber cornerback short every time out.
Those needs were addressed, one by one. Veteran defensive tackles A’Shawn Robinson and Rakeem Nunez-Roches were signed in free agency to stop the run behind starters Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams. Bobby Okereke was given a four-year deal worth $40 million to bring his tackle-machine qualities from the Colts and insert them in the middle of the Giants’ defense. Deonte Banks was selected in the first round of the draft to start at a perimeter cornerback spot.
These need to be more than cosmetic upgrades. There was much that Martindale’s crew struggled with during the first year together. The run defense was bad (144.2 yards a game, 27th in the league) and the total of six interceptions matched the Raiders at the bottom of the turnover pile. It was more about the pressure packages Martindale unleashed than individual heroics that the Giants were 13th in sacks with 41. What the Giants excelled at were third-down conversion defense (37.5 percent, fifth-best in the league) and limiting touchdowns in the red zone (52.7 percent, 10th in the league).
Martindale is wont to praise his players but he did not sugarcoat the performance of the defense in his first year with the Giants when he assessed all this with his players.
“It’s not the standard, we got to be better,’’ Ximines said. “We did some good things but it’s not close to what we can do.’’
It was a first year filled with encouraging signs but lacking in enough production.
“We know them better and they know us better, and it’s a 50/50 thing,’’ Martindale said. “You can visualize what guys can do. We did that last year and it was fine, it worked out well for us but we also know there’s a lot of improving that we need to do because if you’re not changing in this league, you won’t be in this league very long. You’ll like irrelevancy even less. Thank you, I learned that word this summer.’’
Martindale needs Williams to stay healthy after he missed the first five games of his eight-year career as he dealt with a neck injury. Martindale needs Azeez Ojulari to play in more than the seven games he did last season, as Ojulari has proven he can accumulate sacks from everywhere except the sideline. Martindale needs a few unexpected lifts from unforeseen contributors. Perhaps that means the flash rookie corner Tre Hawkins is showing this summer is the real thing and second-year Darrian Beavers coming off ACL surgery is an answer alongside Okereke.
Martindale certainly made an impression in Year 1. Now it’s time for him to turn up the heat.