By Michael Stewart/@golferbad
Introduction: This is part 4 of 5 in a series showcasing my top 5 positional battles once training camp begins. In this article, we will look at the inside linebacker position; which was ignored under the direction of former GM Jerry Reese. Current GM Dave Gettleman and Head Coach Joe Judge understand the importance of having mobile playmakers at the linebacker position; especially on the interior; which is why Gettleman signed free agent tackling machine Blake Martinez. The Giants will play in a variety of defensive schemes; which could employ the 3-4 more often; which require another interior linebacker to play alongside Martinez. The million dollar question is: who will that be? Let’s take a look at the candidates for that other inside linebacker spot:
- David Mayo: Mayo was added early on in 2019 and once rookie Ryan Connelly sustained an ACL injury, Mayo became the starter. Mayo performed well for the Giants with 82 tackles in 13 starts. The Giants rewarded Mayo with a 3 year deal at $8.4M. One would expect that Mayo is the front runner to play alongside Blake Martinez and it’s his job to lose. However; he will have stiff competition from the other candidates. Mayo is more of a two-down ILB and more productive against the run and I would expect that DC Patrick Graham will have a rotational system in place with his group of inside linebackers based on the game situation.
- Ryan Connelly: Connelly played the first 4 games and started two for the Giants in his rookie season and made an immediate impression with 19 tackles, one sack and two interceptions. Not too bad for a 5th round pick in the 2019 draft. Connelly is a very mobile ILB with outstanding instincts and a nose for the ball. DC Patrick Graham could implement a three-headed monster at the inside linebacker position to keep the players fresh. Regardless; this is one position battle to keep an eye on.
- Tae Crowder: Crowder was selected by the Giants in the 7th round of the 2020 draft and the Giants really like his intensity. Unless he plays well above expectations, Crowder best chance of making the roster is through special teams and you can bet Head Coach will have the Giants special team being in the top tier in the NFL. Crowder is extremely active and his the perfect demeanor to excel in special teams.
- TJ Brunson: Brunson was also drafted in the 7th round of the 2020 draft and has basically many of the same attributes as Crowder has on the field. It’s not a reach that Brunson could make the final cuts along with Crowder, it will all depend on if Joe Judge sees value in them on special teams.
- Josiah Tauaefa: Tauaefa was a UDFA in 2019 and made an impression with his high energy and special teams play in pre-season games. Tauaefa was a solid performer at UTSA with 255 tackles in just 32 games and he spent some time on the practice squad as well for the Giants. In order for Tauaefa to hold off Crowder and Brunson, he simply needs to outplay them in nearly every facet or could either go back to the practice squad or get released.
Final Thoughts: The Giants organization has had a very hard time finding production at the inside linebacker position for several years now and the reason for that was mostly the reluctance of former GM Jerry Reese to invest at this position early in the draft and also through free agency. GM Dave Gettleman has finally placed an importance on this position; which is vital in order to have a successful 3-4 defense.