New York Giants linebacker Azeez Ojulari (51) during the second...

New York Giants linebacker Azeez Ojulari (51) during the second half of the Dallas Cowboys at the NY Giants on Sunday September 10, 2023. Credit: Lee S. Weissman/Lee S. Weissman

Wink Martindale wants his defense to have more urgency beginning on Monday night when the Seahawks visit MetLife Stadium.

“Don’t like where we’re at,” Martindale said Friday. “We got to start faster as a defense but I like where we are going.”

Martindale said he has faith in his players and is particularly pleased that outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari is set to return against Seattle. He has referred to Ojulari as the “most natural pass rusher” on the Giants, and called him that again Friday in a conversation with Newsday.

When that compliment was conveyed to Ojulari, he smiled. Maybe his presence can help spark a Giants' defense that has given up 28.3 points per game through the first three weeks of the season.

“I’m feeling good,” Ojulari said. “I’m ready to come back and help my team. Whatever I can do in a positive way to give us some extra [boost] in stopping the run, setting the edge, affecting the quarterback and putting our team in position to win, I’m ready to do it.”

Ojulari hasn't played since Week 1 after injuring his hamstring in practice following the season opener against the Cowboys.

Not only did he miss being on the field with his team in Arizona, he missed being on the same field as his brother, BJ, who is a rookie linebacker for the Cardinals. The Ojulari family was well-represented in Glendale, hoping to see both brothers play.

“That was tough for my whole family,” Azeez said. “But now I’m ready. I’m ready to get back out there and just try to help my team to win this game and ready to attack.”

Martindale believes Ojulari could help lift the entire defense.  

That is Ojulari’s goal.

“I’m just blessed,” he said. “I’m out here trying to work hard and get better every day. I’m trying to use my talents to push myself every day in practice.”

Ojulari said he's been honing his craft by taking parts of what he sees from watching Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence and Kayvon Thibodeaux work at theirs.

On Monday night, those four players should be on the field together.

Perhaps Thibodeaux will be most affected — and buoyed — by the return of Ojulari.

Regarding Thibodeaux’s quiet start to the season, Martindale said: “He gets turned loose as many times as we need to turn him loose... We are a defense that keeps offenses guessing.”

Martindale mentioned that if players are frustrated, they haven’t shared it with him.

Martindale went on to relate a story from 2019, when he was the Ravens defensive coordinator. He told his Baltimore defense, “We control the narrative.”  

The Ravens went on to win 12 straight games.

Martindale said he delivered the same message to the Giants' defense on Friday.

Certainly, there is room for improvement.

Linebacker Bobby Okereke told reporters that Martindale had his players do a tackling circuit drill on Thursday in part because the Giants had their worst tackling day of the season against the 49ers.  

Martindale has also emphasized cutting down on penalties.

“What it comes down to is, they are professional athletes and they’ve got to have that mindset of taking the right angle, stepping toes on toes and making tackles,” he said. “Like I said, the San Francisco game was the biggest game where that came out [and didn’t tackle well]. And then all of the sudden there is a wildfire that we can’t tackle.  

“Come out Monday night, chart them.”

With that statement, Martindale was likely challenging his players, at least as much as their critics.

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