In what could be a lost season for the Giants, they have made at least one important find this season.
They’ve found their middle linebacker in Bobby Okereke.
He ranks ninth in the league with 113 tackles. The next Giant on the list is Xavier McKinney with 86.
Signed by the Giants in free agency from the Colts, Okereke has been every bit the middle linebacker that Wink Martindale had hoped for.
Okereke, who played at Stanford, said it is a “fun” defense to be a part of.
“I think Wink does a good job of kind of handing me the keys and letting me lead through my leadership, letting me lead through my play,” Okereke said. “I kind of work hand in hand, or side by side with him, whether it’s during the week or even in game. [We talk about] what calls we’re seeing, what scheme the offense is running, what are our checks and balances that can be, so it’s been a lot of fun and I think Wink’s done a really good job of promoting my growth.”
In the game against the Commanders on Nov. 19, Okereke played through a partial rib fracture and a dislocated pinkie. His 14 tackles led the Giants. Okereke views playing hurt as a part of the job description.
Martindale is fond of saying that if you have a slow middle linebacker, you have a slow defense. Okereke plays fast and he is durable. And he’s played every snap so far this season.
He very well may be the Giants’ best free-agency signing since Antrel Rolle. Like Rolle, Okereke is regularly available to media at his locker. Also like Rolle, he clearly takes every aspect of leadership seriously.
Rolle retired in November 2016. It was about time they uncover another free-agency gem.
As Rolle did in his time with the Giants, Okereke is counted on to help other players find their way. He has done so, according to Martindale, particularly with second-year linebacker Micah McFadden.
“Micah’s got more confidence and I think Bobby has a lot to do with Micah’s development,” Martindale said.
This hasn’t been the season Okereke expected.
It would take an incredible five-game finish for the Giants to make the playoffs.
“Obviously with the five games ahead, and me being a leader on this team, with such a young team, just trying to keep my focus forward and keep it narrow, keep a narrow focus,” Okereke said. “I’m just focused on these last five games, we have this opportunity ahead of us and like I said, the playoff picture is closer and closer.”
He clearly still believes.
“If we do what we need to do in these next couple games,” he said, “I think we’ll be happy with where we end.”
Okereke knows on Monday night that he and the defense will have to contend with Jordan Love, who outplayed Patrick Mahomes last week.
Love threw for 267 yards and three touchdowns as the Packers pulled the upset.
Okereke said he spent his bye week mostly watching football, so he got an early start on making an appraisal of Love.
“He just looks really poised and they have a dynamic offense,” Okereke said. “Jordan does a good job of getting the ball down the field and [they have] efficiency in that offense.”
How ever this season ends, it sounds like Okereke has found a home.
“Every opportunity that I can to be out there with my guys, I’m going to take advantage of it,” Okereke said. “I just love this team. I love this defense.”