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Will rookies Azeez Ojulari, Quincy Roche become Giants' next great pass rushers?

Derek Carr #4 of the Las Vegas Raiders

Derek Carr #4 of the Las Vegas Raiders looks to pass while defended by Azeez Ojulari #51 and Quincy Roche #95 of the Giants during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium on November 7, 2021. Credit: Getty Images/Sarah Stier

Time seems to have run out on Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines.

They used to be the young edge rushers the Giants hoped would develop into the next generation of quarterback crushers, carrying on a tradition that traces itself back decades from Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora to Michael Strahan and Lawrence Taylor.

They never lived up to that potential, though. And now, there is a new group that will try to fulfill the destiny they leave vacant.

Carter and Ximines do not have a sack between them this season, and with Carter out the past two weeks because of an ankle injury and Ximines a healthy scratch in Sunday’s game against the Raiders (less than a week after his offsides penalty negated an interception and played a key role in costing the Giants a win in Kansas City), they may be bystanders for the rest of the year as a younger group pushes them aside.

Rookies Azeez Ojulari and Quincy Roche have started at the outside linebacker spots the past two weeks and third-year pro Trent Harris has been coming from the practice squad as their backup.

"Those young guys are really coming around and developing," Joe Judge said this week.

Safety Xavier McKinney was more direct.

"I think they’ve been playing their [butts] off," he said of the pass rushers who helped him grab two interceptions and NFC Defensive Player of the Week against the Raiders. "They come to practice each and every day, they’re in meetings locked in. I know they’re going to go out there and play hard each and every time. I’m not surprised when they make plays."

Together that group has posted 6.5 of the team’s 19 sacks. Ojulari has already tied the franchise rookie record with 5.5 of them and Roche’s career first on Sunday came when his strip of Derek Carr sealed the Giants’ victory. Eventually another rookie, Elerson Smith, may join their rotation.

In some ways they have grown more in a half a season than Carter and Ximines have in their four and three, respectively.

"When you start talking about the pass rushers on the edge, you look at guys throughout the league and it takes these young guys a little while to get caught up," Judge said. "There’s a big difference between playing against the tackles and the protections in the NFL versus college. Every one of those tackles, they’re big, they’re long, they’re more athletic. They play with better anticipation."

The key to answering that as a player, Judge said, is adding moves and changing things up.

That also seems to be the key to answering the pass rush question as a team. They’ve added players and they’re in the process of changing things up.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Giants are back to their old ways of tormenting offenses with wave after wave of defensive pressures. It’s still very much a weakness for the team. Even on Sunday, a game that was iced with a sack, the Giants had just two other hits on Carr. They have had to be creative and find ways to impact the pocket, either with blitzing or other gimmicks. Some of that has left them exposed in other areas.

Now, though, there seems to be a chance that this new group of edge rushers will be able to accomplish what their immediate predecessors were unable to, and find its place in the lineage of Giants defenses.

It’s still too early to declare that Ojulari, Roche, Harris and Elerson will.

But it certainly feels too late for Carter and Ximines to do it.

New York Sports