Linebacker Bobby Okereke
Q: Early in this free agent process, was this a team you had a feeling you might wind up in? And if you don't mind, can you talk about the skillset that you're going to bring to this linebacker room?
A: 100 percent. This was a team I had my eye on. There was a lot of mutual interest. When things lined up, just worked with my agent. I told him once we had the right deal, I was ready to pull the trigger. So, this honestly is the perfect situation for me. Skillset-wise, you're getting a fast, physical linebacker. Very smart, very intelligent. Has good ball skills and is sideline to sideline. I love to run and hit, and I'm just a team-first guy. I don't have a big ego – a humble guy. I just want to win games.
Q: You touched on it, but did you have other offers, and you chose the Giants? Or what was the process like on Monday?
A: I had other offers. We were just working on the best offer and the best situation. This was unique because it was a great offer and a great team fit. Obviously, this defense is just really good. I got two great guys playing in front of me (Dexter Lawrence II and Leonard Williams). Two good guys on the edge (Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari). Really, the entire defense is doing well. This offense is playing really well and playing really well towards this past year, end of the season. So, just excited to be part of the rise.
Q: I know you've been a Giant for like 24 hours, but what do you know about (defensive coordinator) Wink's (Martindale) defense? And how different is it from what you probably played in the past?
A: A lot of blitzing, that's probably the main difference. But just the same fast, physical style. Run a lot of man coverage. A decent amount of 'Cover 3'. But Wink knows, I told him, I'll play Mike (linebacker), I'll play Will (linebacker). Just wherever the team needs me so we can be the most successful.
Q: There are some stats out there from Next Generation that you were the most targeted linebacker and allowed negative two receptions under expected, which whatever you believe, seems pretty good. Tell me about your past coverage – not everybody's a three-down linebacker nowadays. How much pride do you take in that, and what does it take to be good as a pass coverage linebacker against these athletic tight ends and running backs nowadays?
A: A lot. My first two years starting, my second and third in the league, I played a lot of Mike linebacker and a lot of zone coverage, so that's just understanding concepts really – now the offense is trying to attack you if they're running shallow, how does it overcome behind you or if someone sits or something's coming back. So, understanding the offensive scheme. And then last year, I played a lot of Will linebacker. I was tasked with being in man coverage a lot versus tight ends and running backs. I won a majority, if not most, of my one-on-one battles. I've got great length. I've got great speed. I've got great athleticism. And I think just my mental processing helps me be a very good zone coverage linebacker. So, I'm just excited about the opportunity.
Q: I don't know if you already heard, maybe I'm breaking some news, but (former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver) Parris Campbell is joining you there.
A: Yeah, I saw the news. I'm excited. You're getting a fast, physical guy. And you're getting a great leader. He's got a great personality. He's competitive. Parris is just an all-around great guy.
Q: Why was he so much different last year than his first three years you were teammates with him? It just seems like his numbers blew up last year.
A: He's always had elite speed. I noticed that from day one OTAs. Guys got to come into the league and figure out their bodies. He's faced a lot of adversity with injuries, but that's only made him more resilient. You saw in his first year of full-time production, he was very successful. So, he's just looking forward to capitalizing and growing on that.
Q: I wanted to ask about Week 17. You had a really good game against the Giants. What was going through your head in that game? And now that you're part of this team, kind of reflecting on that a little bit.
A: Everything just kind of came together that game honestly. Obviously, I kind of knew how well the Giants were playing at that time of the year. Playing against (running back) Saquon (Barkley) and (quarterback) Daniel Jones, I knew the challenge I had. Had a really good week of preparation and coming into the game, just the feel and the atmosphere in the stadium, now it's a blessing that I get to be a part of it. But I was just amped up, playing really well. And I got in a groove that game, obviously 17 tackles. Had the forced fumble, a couple of TFLs (tackles for loss). I just felt very free playing. So, it was exciting. And for that to be my best game of the year, for this to come full circle, and for me to be a New York Giant in this moment, it's just really surreal. I'm very grateful.
Q: Have you talked with Daniel and Saquon since now being on their team?
A: No, I haven't. After the game, I dapped up Daniel and just told him 'Great game.' Obviously, he's competitive. I'm a competitive guy. I'm excited to lead with him throughout the year.
Q: Coach Martindale has often talked about how this is a positionlessdefense. Can you just talk about the challenges of adapting to a positionless defense and how you plan to mold your skillset to what they do?
A: It takes you thinking of yourself as an individual player to the whole scheme and what the defense is just trying to get done. So, when you really just understand the fundamentals, the coaching points that the coach has for you, just the different coverages and where you fit, you're just a puzzle piece. It's kind of 'plug and play.' You can play anywhere. Whether you're a safety or linebacker, you're blitzing off the edge. I think you just have an understanding of everybody's job and what the defense is trying to get done. And then you're just playing fast and playing with trust in your teammates.
Q: Within this defense, are there things that maybe this defense will ask you to do that maybe you haven't really done a whole lot of prior to this point?
A: Yeah, I'm going to blitz a lot more, which I'm excited about. I've had a lot of blitz sack-fumbles. I had a really good one, I want to say a year or two ago, against the Titans. I love playing fast, and physical. And I think that's why Coach Martindale blitzes so much, so players can play free. There's not a lot of thinking, and that's what you want to eliminate. You want to eliminate thinking and just have fast decision-making.
Q: You mentioned the Week 17 games. I've got to ask you. I know that red jersey is going on Daniel (Jones) in the summer, but do you expect any guy to kind of give you some fun trash talk in terms of what happened that day with the personal foul? Or has the front office and the coach's kind of joked with you about that a little bit?
A: A little. There will probably be some fun trash talk. But me and Daniel dapped it up after the game. I told him it wasn't intentional. He's a competitive guy. I'm a competitive guy. He's trying to run, and I'm trying to stop him from running. Obviously, not intentionally trying to hit him in the head or anything. But we dapped it up and cleared the air. We should be good. Red jersey – he's safe. I'm hands-off.
Q: People talk about tackles, and I think the perception of tackles through the years has changed just because we've analyzed them so much. How important is it to you to kind of look at a tackle and say, 'Well, this one limited yardage versus this one is down the field'? Do you take pride in the idea of being able to be a player who makes plays around the line of scrimmage rather than getting 10 tackles, but it happens to be at the end of an 11-yard run?
A: 100 percent. You want TFLs, you want tackles at the line of scrimmage. But when you're playing zone, obviously, you're giving up space in front of you. And you want to have great fundamentals, great processing and great quickness so that right when the guy catches it, it's catch, tackle. You don't want the guy catching it and falling forward for like four or five yards. A lot of that's fundamentals. A lot of that's technique. And really just tenacity and just intensity with the way you play. So, I think we'll just figure all that out in training camp, OTAs, going into the season.
Q: Just listening to you, I'm guessing you had some other opportunities and the Giants came out on top. Can you kind of walk us through some other opportunities, why this one was the best one for you?
A: I worked with my agent, there were a couple of teams that were interested throughout the whole process. And I told my agent from day one, 'I want to play in New York City.' New York City's been one of my favorite cities, growing up, my whole life. And this franchise is on the rise. I was very fortunate to play behind (Colts defensive linemen) DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart. Very elite defensive tackles, and to be able to replicate that, if not improve on that here with Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams, it's just a very fortunate opportunity for me as a linebacker. I'm excited. I'm excited for the opportunity. I'm excited to meet the leaders of this team. I'm excited to be part of this defense and franchise.
Q: Wink's a character. I know you've already met him and talked to him, but as a player, do you get fired up meeting a guy like that who coaches the way he does and also really seems to interact with players on a very real basis?
A: 100 percent. He's very real. He's a straight shooter. But Wink's a cool guy. I just figured that out in the first couple of minutes I got to hang out with him. I'm just excited. I got his number. I'll be talking to him throughout this whole process, OTAs. I'm just looking forward to building strong relationships here in this building so we can build as a team.
Q: Sometimes these questions are unfair for young guys like you because I'm much older, and many of us who cover the team are so much older but do you have an inkling in terms of the history of the Giants and the importance of the linebacker position and the fact that Giants fans have been saying for a long time, 'Get us our next great Giants linebacker,'?
A: 100 percent. Lawrence Taylor is an all-time great. And then I've got to shout out my Stanford buddy, (former Giants linebacker) Blake Martinez. He came here and signed a big contract. Played well. Played well to start. And now, he's making a lot of money selling Pokémon cards. And he's going to have a successful career going on and on. So, he's a guy I look up to. I'm just excited to be a part of this franchise. And just want people to understand what they're getting out of me. You're getting a smart guy, a humble guy. And you're getting a sideline-to-sideline, fast, physical linebacker. So, I'm ready to rock.
Q: I know you talked about Daniel Jones already, but are you looking forward to being teammates with a quarterback who's willing to throw a shoulder or a forearm at a linebacker?
A: 100 percent. The crazy thing about that is obviously when a quarterback's running, you think he might slide. But during that game, you could feel just his drive to win. He's running into the end zone. He's barreling into me. He's doing everything he can to help his team win. So, I've got a lot of respect for the guy. And I'm fired up to be teammates with him.
Q: You've been asked about blitzing more a little bit, but I'm just curious why you think that hasn't been a big part of your game up to this point.
A: I think the coverage has been such an asset of mine. Coaches have always felt that if they blitz in front of me, I'm a guy who can scrape over the top and clean things up. Or if I'm the sole guy in coverage, I'm going to hold up. So, I'm just excited for the opportunity.