The Giants have only one edge rusher on their roster who has already shown he can produce in the NFL. He is the only player on the team who has ever recorded double-digit sacks in a single season, and the outside linebacker has nearly twice as many career quarterback takedowns as the rest of his position group combined.
“I know what I can do,” Markus Golden said on Saturday. “I know what I’ve done before.”
Yet Golden enters this 2019 season with what feels like more to prove than anyone else on the defense.
Maybe that’s because the height of his career (to this point) was so long ago and so far away that it barely registers as a current resume. In 2016 Golden recorded 12.5 sacks for the Arizona Cardinals and seemed like he was about to become a breakout player in a league where pass-rushers are at a premium and for a team whose defense attacked like a Doberman.
But early in the 2017 season he tore his ACL. When he came back in 2018 he was still recovering from that injury and also learning a new scheme and a new position. He started 11 games for the Cardinals and had 2.5 sacks.
This offseason he was a free agent on the open market hoping to find a team that would take a chance on him. He did find one in the Giants, who signed him to a one-year, incentive-heavy contract. The ultimate prove-it deal.
Only Golden said he does not feel like he has to do that.
“When you say ‘prove-it,’ I look at that as a person who hasn’t done anything in the league yet, hasn’t made plays and hasn’t shown he can do it,” Golden said. “I’ve done that. I did double-digit sacks. I had big games and big moments. I did all of that… I wouldn’t say I’m proving myself. I would say getting back out there and getting back started up and getting back to where I was.”
He’s reunited with James Bettcher here with the Giants, the defensive coordinator under whom he saw his most success with the Cardinals. He’s in a more comfortable role in a 3-4 scheme and he certainly understands Bettcher’s playbook and concepts. And he seems to be returning to his athletic form from his knee surgery, now two years in his rear-view mirror.
Outside linebackers coach Mike Dawson said he’s been impressed by Golden’s quickness and change-of-direction in pass-rushing drills.
“It’s been feeling good,” Golden said of his training camp, which has seen him used sparingly while the Giants manage his reps to get him ready for the regular season.
Good enough to regain the form from 2016? That’s still to be seen. Or, put another way, proven.
“I think Markus has approached every year as a prove-it for himself,” Bettcher said. “That’s the kind of player that we have here with him. He’s a guy that loves to work and absolutely loves football. When you’re coming off a knee injury, you need a year to be able to get back to the type of player you are capable of being, and he’s at that point now. You see a guy that is laughing and smiling, and having fun playing the game again.”
And sacking quarterbacks again? Golden didn’t want to put any number on his expectations for sacks in 2019, but the Giants definitely need him to produce. They were next-to-last in sacks a year ago, traded away their leader in sacks (Olivier Vernon), and are relying on young, relatively inexperienced players such as Lorenzo Carter and rookie Oshane Ximines. Golden is the only been-there, done-that player they have coming off the edge, and even he said it feels like a very long time since he’s been successful at it.
“I’m the type of guy who moves on kind of quick so to me it seems even longer ago,” he said of the 2016 breakthrough. “I move on quick and focus on my next goal. Yeah, it happened. It’s motivation. It’s always good to be able to go back and watch film of yourself and all of that. But at the same time it’s all about what you’re gonna do the next year and what you’re gonna do when the time comes. The number one thing is I believe in myself, I believe in the work I put in, so when the time comes I’ll be ready to go out there and do my job.”