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Tae Crowder ready to take the call as Giants' leader on defense

Tae Crowder #48 of the New York Giants

Tae Crowder #48 of the New York Giants reacts against the Atlanta Falcons at MetLife Stadium on Sept 26, 2021 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Credit: Mike Stobe

When Blake Martinez went down with a knee injury last Sunday, Tae Crowder had to change hats.

Literally.

While medical staffers and other teammates made a direct line for the defensive captain who, face down on the turf, would later be diagnosed with a season-ending torn ACL, Crowder was headed all the way across the field in the other direction toward the Giants’ sideline. It wasn’t that the linebacker was running away from the situation. Just the opposite.

He had to find his other helmet. The one with the green dot on the back. The one that picks up the calls from defensive coordinator Patrick Graham over the radio inserted between the padding.

As soon as he put that on, it was no longer Blake Martinez’s defense. It was Tae Crowder’s.

"We always talk about it before the game who the next man up will be," Crowder said.

At that moment, it was him.

On Sunday against the Saints, it might be once again. Crowder is one of the players the Giants will be tapping to help replace Martinez for their first full game without their defensive captain and on-field orchestrator. When he is on the field he will likely be running the huddle and making the calls like Martinez did, trying to make tackles and cover like Martinez would have.

"We have no reservations with Tae wearing the green dot," Graham said. "He’s a good communicator."

It will take more than one player to replace Martinez, especially with Crowder popping up on the injury report late in the week with a hamstring injury that left him listed as questionable to play. While Joe Judge downplayed any concerns about Crowder’s availability, suggesting the ominousness-sounding status was purely procedural, Crowder is clearly dealing with something.

That could mean bringing a safety like Jabrill Peppers or Julian Love down to play what will look like a linebacker role. It will likely mean more snaps for fellow linebackers Reggie Ragland, Carter Coughlin and Justin Hilliard. It could mean having fellow captain Logan Ryan call the schemes in the huddle from time to time.

They’ll all have to chip in.

"I can’t replace Blake," Ryan said. "No one can."

No one, singular. Plurally, they have their best chance.

At times, though, the job will fall most directly on Crowder. He’s already made a swift ascent in the NFL, climbing from Mr. Irrelevant as the last man selected in the 2020 draft to a starter and Martinez’s wingman for the first few games of this season. Now he’ll find himself in the position of directing the defense from the start of the game, not in a triage situation.

"I thought he played well," Judge said of Crowder’s performance against the Falcons, which included a team-high 11 tackles. "I thought he showed some physicality, some real aggressiveness with how he played, so I was really pleased with what Tae did."

"We’ve got to trust everyone who’s out there and I trust Tae a lot," Ryan said. "To step up [last week], have his best game in his NFL career so far, in the midst of getting the green dot in the middle of the game? Opportunities, man. That’s what happens in the NFL."

Crowder said he isn’t thinking at all about his NFL path. Those things are in the past. He’s focusing on his future. He’s thinking about Sunday.

"I think it's the same as always, just prepare, keep preparing, and just come to work each day of practice," he said. "Just do what I’ve been doing, do what the coaches are telling me. Just come out and work hard and just keep going."

Only this week, with a new hat on.

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