With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center.



2023 YEAR IN REVIEW: After the unexpected 2022 New York Giants playoff season, the general impression was that Wink Martindale had held together an undermanned and injury-riddled defense with duct tape. Despite the playoff appearance, there were major talent issues at all three levels of the defense. The team finished 25th in yards allowed and 18th in points allowed.

Thus, entering the 2023 offseason, the Giants made a strong effort to improve the resources at Wink’s disposal. The first two moves in free agency were to sign Rakeem Nunez-Roches to a 3-year, $12 million deal and Bobby Okereke to a 4-year, $40 million deal. The Giants re-signed Wink’s pet Jihad Ward and also signed A’Shawn Robinson right before the draft. Four of the team’s seven draft picks were spent on defense, including Deonte Banks in the 1st round. Perhaps most significantly, the team gave Dexter Lawrence a 4-year, $90 million contract extension.

The additions of Okereke, Nunez-Roches, and Robinson were primarily geared towards shoring up a run defense that had finished 27th in the NFL. Middle linebacker had been a glaring weak spot, as was depth on the defensive line behind studs Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams.

Needless to say, the outcome was disappointing. The defense actually fell to 27th in yards allowed and 26th in points allowed. Only three teams gave up more rushing yards. And unlike 2022, there were no injury excuses on the defensive side of the ball where the team remained relatively healthy. While the defense created a league-high number of turnovers, most of these came when the season was already over and distracted many from the defense’s overall failures.

Right before the trade deadline, the team stood at 2-6 and capitulated by sending cornerstone defensive lineman Leonard Williams to Seattle for 2nd and 5th round picks.

Overall, the defense never equaled the sum of its parts. The defensive rankings strongly suggested that the defensive line was bad against the run. Individually, the opposite was true. Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams, A’Shawn Robinson, and Rakeem Nunez-Roches were all stout run defenders. So too were the young pups behind them such as D.J. Davidson and Jordon Riley.

Despite being limited for much of the second half of the season with a hamstring injury that he suffered in Week 11, Dexter Lawrence remained the team’s best defensive player and one of the best at his position in 2023. Lawrence started 16 games, missing one game due to the injury, and finished the season with 53 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, a team-high 21 quarterback hits, and two pass defenses. And for the second season in a row, Lawrence earned second-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl recognition.

Unlike in 2022, Leonard Williams remained healthy. In the eight games he played for the Giants, he finished with 21 tackles and 1.5 sacks. He was even more productive for Seattle, with another 41 tackles and four sacks.

A’Shawn Robinson, who was coming off a torn meniscus, began training camp on the PUP List and took some time to round back into form. However, by the second half of the season, Robinson proved to still be a top-notch run defender. His presence and strong play was needed when Williams was traded. Robinson played in all 17 games, with 13 starts, and finished the season with 62 tackles (most on defensive line), six tackles for a loss, one quarterback hit, and two pass defenses. He played 46 percent of defensive snaps.

Nunez-Roches played in 16 games, with four starts, missing one game due to a knee injury. He finished the season with 26 tackles, one tackle for a loss, 0.5 sacks, one quarterback hit, and one pass defense. He played 44 percent of defensive snaps.

D.J. Davidson missed the bulk of his rookie season in 2022 after tearing an ACL in Week 5. The injury caused him to begin training camp on the PUP List. Inactive for two games, Davidson did play in the other 15 contests with two starts. He finished the season with 13 tackles, one tackle for a loss, 0.5 sacks, one quarterback hit, and two pass defenses. He played in 24 percent of defensive snaps.

Jordon Riley, an unknown 7th-round draft pick, impressed in the summer and made the 53-man roster. Despite being inactive nine of the first ten games, Riley began to earn playing time in the second-half of the season. He played in eight games, receiving 26 percent of the snaps on those contests.

The Giants signed Timmy Horne to the 53-man roster in late December 2023 from the Practice Squad of the Atlanta Falcons. He played in Week 16 before being inactive for the last two games.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: A’Shawn Robinson signed a 3-year, $22.5 million contract with the Panthers in March. The Giants replaced him by signing Jordan Phillips from the Buffalo Bills to a 1-year, $1.8 million deal. Practice squader Ryder Anderson was also re-signed. The Giants did not address the position in the draft, but signed rookie free agents Casey Rogers and Elijah Chatman after the draft.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: At a macro level, the primary story line will be the replacement of Wink Martindale with Shane Bowen as defensive coordinator. Unusually, virtually the rest of the entire defensive staff remained intact with the exception of the outside linebackers coach (Charlie Bullen) and a defensive assistant who followed Bowen from Tennessee (Zak Kuhr). The defensive line is still led by Andre Patterson, who is considered one of the game’s best coaches, and assistant defensive line coach Bryan Cox. The Cowboys tried to nab Patterson in the offseason.

For the first time, Bowen will operate as defensive coordinator without being under the shadow of Mike Vrabel. It will be interesting to see how much, if any, he adjusts from the schemes used in Tennessee. In a nutshell, the Titans were good against the run, blitzed less, and played more zone coverage. Like most of the NFL, the style was more bend-but-don’t-break with the defense stiffening in the red zone. In recent years, Vrabel and Bowen also had to adapt to significant losses on the defensive side of the ball due to injuries. How will Bowen, who probably wasn’t New York’s first or second choice as new defensive coordinator, do without Vrabel? That’s the million dollar question.

At the micro level, Leonard Williams and A’Shawn Robinson were significant losses. No help came from the draft. The team appears to be counting 31-year old Jordan Phillips and the young pups previously on the roster, such as D.J. Davidson, Jordon Riley, and possibly even Ryder Anderson. Bowen says his base is a 3-4. However, as with Wink, it remains to be seen how often the team will actually employ three defensive linemen on the field at the same time. The Titans ran a ton of nickel and dime coverages.

The defensive line centerpiece remains Dexter Lawrence. He is the most important player on defense, and perhaps the entire team. When he is off of the field, the entire complexion of the defense changes. Ideally, the Giants want a 3-technique, penetrator lined up next to him for additional pass rush. This is especially true now since Bowen readily admits he relies on four pass rushers to generate most of the heat on the quarterback. While Phillips has flashed pass rush ability throughout his career, most of the DLs currently on the roster appear to be more nose tackle types. The main story line here will be who wins that starting job next to Lawrence? The aging vet, one of returning young players, or could one of the rookie free agents surprise?

ON THE BUBBLE: There are currently only nine defensive linemen on the roster. The Giants could carry as few as five and as many as seven on the final 53-man roster. The sweet spot is probably six. The only sure things at this point are Dexter Lawrence and probably Rakeem Nunez-Roches.

FROM THE COACHES: Brian Daboll on Shane Bowen: “I think Shane has done a really good job with all the guys on the defensive staff. It has been a good, collaborative effort. There’s good communication. They’re just trying to look to get better collectively and then each unit. So he’s done a really good job in that leadership role and happy we have him.”

Brian Daboll on better coordination up front: “You go back and say okay, what did we do the year before? Is that really what we should have done? Should we make some changes?… Should we do some more stuff with the outside linebackers and defensive tackles and work together like Charlie (Bullen) and Dre (Andre Patterson) do?”

Defensive Coordinator Shane Bowen on his defensive front: “We’re going to have some front variation depending on the down and situation.”

Andre Patterson on how the DC change has affected him: “It really hasn’t been a lot of change for me because (Bowen’s) system is very similar to what I’ve done in previous years. Just the verbiage… No change (with technique). I do what I do… That’s been good for my guys because they get a chance to continue to get better at their craft.”

Andre Patterson Dexter Lawrence: “I want his game to continue to grow. He still has a lot of areas of his game where he can still get better and improve… That’s the thing I stay on top of him about… to get him to understand that he has to continue to add different elements to his game if he wants to be as great as he wants to be.”

Andre Patterson on Jordon Riley, D.J. Davidson, and Ryder Anderson: “I can see that they have matured a lot. This is Jordon’s second year with me, but D.J.’s and Ryder”s third year with me. You can see they are comfortable with the drills, comfortable with the technique. And now it’s time for them to take their game to a different level. I’m excited to see what all three of those guys can do when we get to the point where we are playing real football… I have a lot of confidence in all three of those guys. I think all three of those guys have a chance to be good players for us.”

FINAL THOUGHTS: For years, there has much discussion about the failures of New York Giants general managers, head coaches, offensive coordinators, and offensive line coaches with an emphasis on the offensive side of the ball, particularly at quarterback and on the offensive line. However, outside of two stints by Steve Spagnuolo, the Giants have had a bad run of defensive coordinators. Johnnie Lynn, Tim Lewis, Bill Sheridan, Perry Fewell, James Bettcher, Patrick Graham, and Wink Martindale were all found wanting. The Giants need another John Fox or Spagnuolo to make the New York defensive consistently respectable again. There have been way too many years with the Giants being a bottom-10 or even bottom-5 defense. You can’t win like that. The long delay on hiring a defensive coordinator suggests the Giants’ primary defensive coordinator targets were Dennard Wilson, now ironically the DC of the Titans, or Bobby Babich, ironically now DC of the Bills. Will Bowen be the next Spags or the next Bettcher? At this point, the Giants would probably take the next Graham, without the 2-minute defense collapses. (They do incidentally play a similar style of defense).

The Achilles’ heel of this defense for years has been run defense. While Wink’s defenses in Baltimore were top notch against run, they were dreadful in New York. The Vrabel/Bowen run defense in Tennessee was good (13th in 2023, 1st in 2022, 2nd in 2021). Will that translate to New York? Interestingly, the outside edge rushers have been working with not only Charlie Bullen, but also Andre Patterson this spring. It appears the Giants believe that one of the reason why the sum of the parts did not add up was the inability of the three different units to work in sync with each other. That’s also an indirect indictment of Wink not having his butt boy Drew Wilkins work more closely with Patterson.

Regardless, want to win the NFC East? Stop the run.

In an ideal world with more draft picks, Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll surely wanted to add another defensive lineman in the first or second round. But like the offensive side of the ball, the line was ignored in the draft. And while much attention has been focused on the loss of Saquon Barkley and, to a lesser extent, Xavier McKinney in free agency, the guy who the team may truly regret not retaining is A’Shawn Robinson. Instead, the Giants went cheap with Jordan Phillips. How big a drop-off will there be? Can D.J. Davidson, Jordon Riley, or Ryder Anderson become legitimate NFL starters? Or does Rakeem Nunez-Roches become an even more important cog this season?

There are also three long-shots who should not be completely discounted. Timmy Horne was not drafted in 2022, but he has already played in 21 games with five starts. He has some talent. Like Riley, his teammate in Oregon, Casey Rogers has the tools to become a better pro than college player if he takes to the coaching of Patterson and Cox. A very good athlete, Rogers has the ability to be the penetrator the team needs. Lastly, Elijah Chatman’s size suggests he has no chance, but he is incredibly quick and is a baller.

Overall, this unit appears one stud 3-technique defensive tackle short. That will have to wait until the 2025 NFL Draft.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Dexter Lawrence, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Jordan Phillips, Jordon Riley, D.J. Davidson, Ryder Anderson