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: As discussed in detail in the Defensive Line Review, the New York Giants defense underperformed expectations in 2023, finishing 27th in yards allowed and 26th in points allowed. It also finished 29th against the run. Brian Daboll and Wink Martindale dramatically parted ways in early January.

In Wink’s 3-4 system, the base defense employed two outside linebackers (edge) and two inside linebackers. The headliners were primary free agent target Bobby Okereke and 2022 top draft pick Kayvon Thibodeaux. It was hoped that Azeez Ojulari would finally stay healthy and provide a consistent pass rush opposite of Thibodeaux. Meanwhile, there was an open battle for the other starter at inside linebacker.


In his second season, Thibodeaux markedly improved in 2023. He started all 17 games and was credited with 50 tackles, 12 tackles for losses (tied for team high), 11.5 sacks (team high), 16 quarterback hits, four pass defenses, three forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. He played 87 percent of all defensive snaps. Mixed in with that very good productivity, however, there were a handful of games where Thibodeaux was invisible, sparking the ire of fans.

Ojulari missed Weeks 2 and 3 with a hamstring injury that likely nagged him in other games, and then missed a month on IR (Weeks 6-9) with an ankle injury. In the 11 games he did play, with seven starts, his impact was minimal with 16 tackles, three tackles for losses, 2.5 sacks, seven quarterback hits, and one fumble recovery. Ojulari teased with the flashy plays, but the game-to-game, play-to-play consistency and physicality, especially in run defense, were missing.

In his second season with the Giants, Jihad Ward remained a solid but unspectacular player whose value came more from reliability and veteran presence in the locker room. Ward played in all 17 games with nine starts, finishing with just 24 tackles, five tackles for losses, a career-high five sacks, nine quarterback hits, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. He played in 59 percent of all defensive snaps.

The Giants acquired Boogie Basham by trade in late August 2023 from the Buffalo Bills. Despite the low investment cost, Basham did not work out for the Giants. He played in 13 games with no starts, and was made inactive for four consecutive weeks in the second half of the season. Basham finished with just 11 tackles and no impact plays despite playing in 23 percent of defensive snaps.

The Giants signed Benton Whitley off of the Practice Squad of the Minnesota Vikings in November 2023. He played in three games for the Giants before being ruled inactive in the last three contests, receiving just a handful of defensive snaps.

Tomon Fox spent the year on the team’s Practice Squad although he was a standard elevation for one late-season game where he played 19 defensive snaps and had one tackle.


Okereke was outstanding addition to a team that has been starved for quality inside linebacker play for years. Okereke not only started all 17 games, but he played every defensive snap (1,128 in all). He was credited with a team-high 149 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks, six quarterback hits, a team-high four forced fumbles, two interceptions, and 10 pass defenses.

In his second season, McFadden won the starting inside linebacker spot opposite of Bobby Okereke. McFadden played in 16 games with 14 starts, missing Week 5 with an ankle injury. He finished the season with 101 tackles (third highest on the team), 12 tackles for losses (tied for first), one sack, six quarterback hits, four fumble recoveries (team high), one interception, and five pass defenses. On the downside, he was also credited with a team-high 22 missed tackles.

The Giants traded for Isaiah Simmons in late August 2023 from the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for a 7th-round pick. While the former high draft pick did not press for a starting position, he did serve as a valuable role player on defense. Simmons played in all 17 games with four starts, accruing 50 tackles, two tackles for losses, one sack, one quarterback hit, one interception that he returned for a touchdown, and three pass defenses. He was sent on the blitz 54 times, which was fifth highest on the team. Simmons also played in half of the special teams snaps and was credited with six special teams tackles (tied for fourth on the team).

After spending all of his rookie season in 2022 on Injured Reserve with a torn ACL that he suffered in the preseason, Darrian Beavers spent most of his second season with the Giants on the Practice Squad. Beavers was signed to the 53-man roster in late December and played in the last two games of the year, exclusively on special teams.

Despite playing in all 17 games, Carter Coughlin only played two snaps on defense. But he led the team with nine special teams tackles.

Cam Brown played in 16 games but did not play a snap on defense. He was credited with eight special teams tackles (second highest on the team).

Undrafted rookie free agent Dyontae Johnson spent the entire season on the team’s Practice Squad.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: Closely tied to Wink Martindale, it was no surprise that Jihad Ward departed in free agency, signing with the Vikings. Cam Brown also left, signing with the Dolphins. The Giants re-signed Isaiah Simmons, Carter Coughlin, Benton Whitley, Tomon Fox, and Dyontae Johnson.

The Giants signed ILB Matthew Adams from the Browns in free agency, drafted ILB Darius Muasau in the 6th round, and signed rookie free agent OLB Ovie Oghoufo. However, the biggest move the team made in the offseason was to trade for Pro Bowl OLB Brian Burns.

Also of note, the Giants have a new outside linebackers coach, Charlie Bullen, who held the same position with the Cardinals in 2020-2022 and was the Pass Rush Coordinator at Illinois under Bret Bielema (former Giants outside linebackers coach under Joe Judge).

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: The main story is the addition of Brian Burns and the overall impact he will have on the entire defense. Burns is regarded as just a notch below the very best pass rushers in the NFL. In his five seasons with Carolina, registered 59 tackles for losses, 46 sacks, 95 quarterback hits, 13 pass defenses, eight forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. He has also been voted to the Pro Bowl twice (2021 and 2022). His presence should also make life easier for both Kayvon Thibodeaux and Dexter Lawrence as pass rushers.

Gap integrity issues and missed tackles were two primary sore spots and why the Giants were bottom tier in run defense in 2023.

With a new defensive coordinator in town, it’s not a given that Micah McFadden will remain the starter. He has to shore up his tackling (18 percent missed tackle percentage). It appears Isaiah Simmons will continue to serve as a situational, hybrid “money” linebacker. Others competing with McFadden include Adams, Beavers, Muasau, and even Coughlin, who was receiving second-team snaps on defense this spring.

Outside, depth is an issue. Perennial tease Ojulari is still capable of game-altering plays if he can stay on the field. He is entering the final year of his rookie deal. The rest of the depth chart does not inspire confidence unless someone like Basham, Fox, Whitley, or Oghoufo surprise.

ON THE BUBBLE: There are currently 15 linebackers on the 91-man roster. The Giants are likely to carry eight, maybe nine. Barring injury, Okereke, Thibodeaux, and Burns are locks. It is also likely that Ojulari, McFadden, and Simmons will make it. Everyone else is really fighting for a job.

FROM THE COACHES AND PLAYERS: Brian Daboll on DL Coach Andre Patterson and OLB Charlie Bullen working together: “I think (Patterson) and Chuck (Bullen) do a good job, they work together. There’s four-man rush patterns, games, things like that – they do a good job of working together.”

Brian Daboll on Brian Burns: “First, I would say he’s a great teammate, practices the way you want a pro to practice. Particularly a player of his type caliber. I think he’s done a good job with the outside linebackers and his room of being a good mentor. He leads by example, but he also will speak up if he needs to speak up. He’s been a really good addition to our football team up to this point. Glad we have him. Whether it’s on defense, whether it’s talking to guys on offense, the offensive line about certain things, good person and a good player… You just see him interact with players. You see how he handles himself on the practice field, with the group that’s with. He talks a lot to Kayvon, he has some experience, he’s still a young player too, but a true pro.”

Charlie Bullen on Defensive Coordinator Shane Bowen: “He wants the way that we play, the manner in which we play, the style in which we play to be a certain way. And he wants it to be attacking. For any defensive coach, that’s all you can ask for. He believes it. He preaches it. And it trickles down to the position coaches.”

Charlie Bullen on where Kayvon Thibodeaux needs to improve: “Consistency. Leaning how to be a pro and understanding all that goes with it. How to be a great pass rusher.”

Kayvon Thibodeaux on playing with Brian Burns: “We’re chasing greatness every day. He knows a lot of things. He been in the league a lot longer than I have. He got a lot of game, a lot of gems that’s going to help my game. Continue to get with him on and off the field and continue to grow… We’re going to be laser focused. We’re talking about what we’re bringing to each other, bringing to the team, that upbeat tempo, that competitive spirit, just continuing to battle. Regardless of who is on the other side, we’re going to try to have a party at the quarterback.”

Kayvon Thibodeaux on Charlie Bullen: “My coach, Charlie, he’s been cooking. I’m really happy to have him. I thank God I have him, to be honest. He’s been very instrumental in the short period we’ve been together.”

Kayvon Thibodeaux on increased coordination with the defensive line: “I think last year the interior and the edge weren’t cohesive. Now it’s going to start to work like clockwork.”

FINAL THOUGHTS: Sy’56 and I highlighted how the lack of another legitimate pass rusher was hurting the defense last year, particularly after the team traded away Leonard Williams. Opposing offenses really only had to worry about Dexter Lawrence and Kayvon Thibodeaux. The addition of Brian Burns completely changes the formula. Now there are three legit pass rushers who can wreck a play. Bowen will rely on Burns, Thibodeaux, Lawrence, and a to-be-determined fourth player to generate the bulk of the pass rush. Ideally, the Giants want another interior pass-rushing defensive linemen to team with Lawrence, but that will have to be addressed next offseason.

To get teams into more obvious pass rush situations where the defense can pin its ears back, the defense must get better against the run. This has been a problem for the Giants for years. Their last five run defense rankings have been 29th, 27th, 25th, 10th, 20th. You can’t be truly competitive in the NFC East if you can’t stop the run. As I talked about in my Defensive Line Review, the run defense in 2023 never equaled the sum of its parts. The reporters noticing Patterson working with the edge players and Kayvon admitting the defense wasn’t “cohesive” tells us the Giants know they had a problem, and it wasn’t just personnel.

Big picture, the Giants look like they have four studs up front in Lawrence, Burns, Thibodeaux, and Okereke. The two big question marks are the other interior lineman and the second inside linebacker. Both will be fascinating situations to watch. Depth is also a concern. You can’t count on Azeez Ojulari, but you can’t write him off either. Perhaps Ojulari being relegated to situational role player will help him stay healthy and focused. But in the short term they need him because there isn’t much behind Burns and Thibodeaux.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Brian Burns, Kayvon Thibodeaux, Bobby Okereke, Micah McFadden, Azeez Ojulari, Isaiah Simmons, Darius Muasau, Boogie Basham (with the Giants actively checking the waiver wire for an upgrade over Basham)