Dexter Lawrence II, Giants 97 during the New York Giants...

Dexter Lawrence II, Giants 97 during the New York Giants OTA in East Rutherford, NJ, Thursday, May 23, 2024 Credit: Ed Murray

Dexter Lawrence listened to the names of the locker-room leaders who recently have left the Giants.

Saquon Barkley. Xavier McKinney. Sterling Shepard.

Lawrence interjected, “Leonard Williams.” For him, that one continues to sting.

As the Giants’ most dominant player, Lawrence recognizes that he needs to do more. Going into his sixth NFL season, he has established himself as one of the best defensive tackles in the game. Now he’s challenging himself to embrace the opportunity to lead and inspire.

In a recent conversation with Giants defensive line coach Andre Patterson, Lawrence said as much.

“I talked to [Patterson] and I think I’ve been building toward this type of leadership each and every year,” he said. “I’m embracing it, honestly. I’m [trying to bring] guys along, and we’re grinding [in offseason workouts].”

The Giants have a new defensive coordinator in Shane Bowen, formerly of the Titans. Patterson also is branching out, working with the outside linebackers this spring alongside position coach Charlie Bullen.

“I do have a little history of helping [prominent pass rushers], so it’s been good,” Patterson said. “It’s been good for me to visit with those guys and let them see how I think it should be done. Guys that I’ve had in the past that weren’t high draft picks became Pro Bowl players as rushers in this league, so it’s been good to spend some time with them.”

Lawrence said mistakes are made when learning a new scheme. “But it’s been good, it’s been promising,” he added. “The guys are all working hard. We’re getting there, we’re building.”

Among the players whom Patterson has coached are John Randle, Chris Doleman, Danielle Hunter and Linval Joseph. For Lawrence, the trust with Patterson came easily.

“Obviously, my career kind of took off when he got here,” he said of Patterson joining the Giants’ coaching staff in early 2022. “He’s still being himself, coaching me hard even [amid the] accolades and things like that. We keep getting better.”

Under Bowen, the defensive scheme represents a change from the blitz-heavy packages favored by former defensive coordinator Wink Martindale. How the players adapt to the scheme, obviously, will be a key to the season.

The Giants had only 34 sacks last season. Only the Cardinals, Bears and Panthers had fewer.

Kayvon Thibodeaux, for one, said he has been encouraged.

“I think it’s great that I don’t have to think,” he said.

The Giants’ defense includes outside linebacker Brian Burns, whom the Giants acquired in a trade with the Panthers this offseason. The combination of Lawrence, Thibodeaux and Burns could be intriguing. If they truly jell, the results could be game-changing.

Asked what he has learned in a short time about Lawrence’s ability to dominate, Burns answered the question with a question: “Have you seen him?”

He added: “He has a God-given ability of strength and athleticism. For a guy that big to move that fast, that agile, it’s truly a gift. Something I didn’t know before I got here, he’s very clever.”

Clever?

“From a football standpoint, his IQ is second to none as far as the D-linemen I’ve played with,” Burns said. “I think he definitely knows ball, knows how to rush, knows how to get to the quarterback, and knows how to work together. There are certain things he [has already] told me I definitely wasn’t [aware of]. Yeah, he’s helping me as well.”

Lawrence was particularly happy with the trade for Burns because the two were teammates in the Army All-American Game, a prestigious high school All-Star contest.

“We got a little history,” Burns said. “I love Dex’s game. He’s obviously been bringing some good knowledge to the room.”

What can they do together?

“No telling,” Lawrence said. “We just need to keep feeding off each other and keep growing together.”

Thibodeaux’s dream is a bit bigger than that.

“I think we get paid a lot of money and we want to be the greatest,” he said. “This is New York.”

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