Third-year linebacker Azeez Ojulari will attempt to turn around what, so far, has been a second straight injury-marred season. After spending the past four games on injured reserve with an ankle injury, Ojulari will return to the Giants defensive line after being activated from IR today.
After an impressive rookie year that saw Ojulari lead the team in sacks, the former second-round pick only saw seven contests in his sophomore season. Even in extremely limited time, the Georgia-product was able to rack up 5.5 sacks. Injuries kept Ojulari from blossoming during his second season in New York, but the talent level was clearly still there for one of the team’s top pass rushers.
This year, before his IR stint, though, Ojulari had been held sackless. Granted, he’s only seen action in three games this year, and in two of those games he saw only 55 percent of the team’s snaps or fewer, he’s had the least-effective season of his career thus far. He’ll attempt to turn that narrative around starting this week.
The Giants also announced their two standard gameday elevations from the practice squad today. With regular kicker Graham Gano still on IR, New York will once again rely on practice squad kicker Randy Bullock. Bullock was called up for last week’s game but wasn’t asked to attempt an extra point, let alone a field goal.
Lastly, the team’s second gameday practice squad elevation will be used on tight end Tyree Jackson. The converted college quarterback has a few career catches from his time in Philadelphia but has yet to appear in a game for the division-rival Giants.
This move opens Ojulari’s 21-day window to be activated from injured reserve. It sounds like it shouldn’t take long for the linebacker to land back on the 53-man roster; coach Brian Daboll told reporters that Ojulari could be back as soon as this weekend.
Ojulari suffered an ankle injury in mid-October that landed him on injured reserve. Before suffering that injury, the third-year defender saw time in three games (all starts), collecting two tackles while appearing in about half of his team’s defensive snaps. He missed two games earlier in the season while dealing with a hamstring issue.
This is the second-straight injury-marred season for the former second-round pick. Ojulari was limited to only seven games in 2022 thanks in part to a calf injury, but the linebacker still managed to finish the season with 5.5 sacks.
Ojulari lived up to his second-round billing during his rookie campaign. The Georgia product finished that 2021 season with 49 tackles, eight sacks, and 13 QB hits.
The Giants’ offense has dealt with a slew of injuries to start the season, but the team’s defense will be without a starter for the time being as well. Edge rusher Azeez Ojulariwas placed on injured reserve Saturday.
As a result of the move, he will be sidelined for at least the next four weeks. Ojulari’s absence will leave the Giants without a starter in the pass-rush department, and his ankle injury will add to the list of ailments which have forced him to miss time in his young NFL career. The 23-year-old was limited to seven contests in 2022, and he missed a pair of games in September of this season.
Ojulari found himself in and out of the lineup with a calf issue in his second campaign, one which carried signficant expectations given his success as a rookie. The former second-rounder led New York with eight sacks in 2021, but that total fell to 5.5 as he missed considerable time last year. Ojulari has been held without a sack, quarterback hit or tackle for loss this season while seeing the field for 95 snaps across three contests.
Still, his absence will be felt on a Giants defense which has mustered only five sacks to date. Four of those have come from fellow edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux, who has shown signs of growth after a relatively quiet rookie campaign last season. The former fifth overall pick will be counted on to anchor the Giants’ pass rush to an even larger degree with Ojulari shut down for a month or more. Bringing the latter back will require using one of New York’s eight IR activations available throughout the season.
Ojulari’s starting spot will likely go to either Jihad Wardor Boogie Bashammoving forward. The former has been with the Giants since last season, one in which he provided 43 tackles and three sacks. The latter, meanwhile, was dealt away by the Bills ahead of roster cutdowns to mark an end to his underwhelming Buffalo tenure (4.5 sacks in 23 games). As the Giants look for answers along the offensive line and prepare for at least one game without quarterback Daniel Jones, the team will now need to make an adjustment to the starting lineup on the edge.
September 21st, 2023 at 8:00pm CST by Adam La Rose
SEPTEMBER 21: While previous reports indicated the contrary, Barkley confirmed tonight that he did indeed suffer a high ankle sprain, per Thursday Night Football’s Taylor Rooks (h/t Pat Leonard of New York Daily News).
The running back admitted that his injury isn’t as serious as it could have been, and he said that his absence from tonight’s game was more due to pain tolerance. Barkley also pointed out that New York’s next game is in 11 days, so he’ll have some extra time to get right before Week 4. While Barkley wouldn’t guarantee only a one-game absence, it certainly sounds like he’s leaving that door open.
SEPTEMBER 20: Although Brian Daboll stopped short of ruling out Barkley earlier this week, the Giants have done so Wednesday. Barkley will at least miss one 49ers game, but Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com confirms the sixth-year veteran is not battling a high ankle sprain. That stands to shorten his time away.
The Giants will also be without Andrew Thomas for a second straight game, and left guard Ben Bredeson‘s concussion will keep him out of Big Blue’s Thursday-night tilt. Outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari will also be down for the Giants.
SEPTEMBER 18: Saquon Barkleywas sidelined for the final offensive play of the Giants’ Week 2 comeback victory, and it was feared after the game he would be dealing with a serious ankle injury. The worst-case scenario has been avoided, but he is nevertheless set to miss time.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that an MRI revealed an “ordinary” ankle sprain for the Pro Bowl back. As a result, Barkley is expected to miss roughly three weeks. At a minimum, that will keep him sidelined for the team’s upcoming Thursday night contest against the 49ers.
Barkley played all but one snap in New York’s surprise win against the Cardinals, proving his importance to the team’s offense. Given his heavy workload, replacing him will be a tall order for the Giants as they look to rebound from the struggles suffered in the first six quarters of their season. That task will fall to Matt Breida, Gary Brightwelland Eric Gray.
After initially representing the team’s higher priority with respect to a long-term extension, Barkley saw quarterback Daniel Jonesink a four-year, $160MM pact in March. That allowed the Giants to use the franchise tag on the former No. 2 pick, though extension talks continued through to the deadline for players hit with the one-year tender. No deal materialized, with Barkley turning down offers which increased in AAV at the expense of guarantees.
In the end, a training camp holdout was avoided with the parties agreeing to a small incentive package which allows Barkley’s 2023 compensation to max out at $11MM. Individual statistical performances, along with team success, is required for his earnings to reach the maximum value, though, so any missed time is signficant from a financial outlook.
With Barkley unavailable for the time being, the Giants’ ground game will look much different. He leads the team in rushing yards with 114, putting him slightly ahead of Jones. Breida and Brightwell have combined for 19 yards on four carries, but an increased role for at least one of them will be necessary moving forward. An IR stint for Barkley is unlikely given his recovery timeline, but New York will no doubt proceed with caution with the 26-year-old given his status as an offensive focal point.
The Giants are in the midst of a bit of a midseason slump during a crucial four-game stretch of division games. They are activating pass rusher Azeez Ojulari and safety Tony Jeffersonfrom injured reserve in hopes that they’ll be able to turn things around after losing three of their last four, according to Giants senior writer Michael Elsen.
New York will certainly be glad to see Ojulari return to the field to assist with an aspect of the game they’ve struggled with so far this season: sack production. Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has been able to produce some form of pass rush, much like he did during his time with the Ravens, by getting creative and sending blitzers from every part of the field. While this has resulted in 12 different players contributing to the team’s sack total, the Giants haven’t gotten consistent results out of any one player, besides defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence. Lawrence leads the team with five sacks and is the only one of those 12 players with more than two.
Ojulari not only will get to the quarterback, as he showed he could during his rookie season when he led the team with eight sacks, but his presence should help the other defensive lineman provide more of a natural pass rush. With offensive linemen focused on Ojulari, Lawrence, Leonard Williams, and this year’s No. 5 overall pick, Kayvon Thibodeaux, should be freed up with some one-on-one matchups.
Jefferson is a depth piece in the Giants secondary. After two standard gameday elevations, Jefferson was signed to the team’s active roster for their London game against the Packers. Jefferson unfortunately suffered a foot injury in the game and was promptly placed on IR. With starting safety Xavier McKinney ruled out for the fourth-straight game, Jefferson provides a solid option alongside Dane Belton to start opposite the team’s other starting safety, Julian Love.
New York also made an exchange at the tight end position in today’s transactions. The Giants signed veteran tight end Nick Vannett to the active roster from the practice squad, waiving tight end Tanner Hudson to make room. With fourth-round rookie, and expected starter, Daniel Bellinger missing the last four games with an eye injury, the Giants have recently turned to recent addition Lawrence Cager who converted from wide receiver this past offseason. The team is expecting to finally get Bellinger back but will have Cager and Vannett available for backup.
Lastly, New York has promoted defensive tackle Vernon Butler and defensive back Zyon Gilbert as standard gameday elevations from the practice squad for tomorrow’s matchup with the Commanders. If Gilbert enters the game for Big Blue tomorrow, it would be the NFL debut for the undrafted rookie out of Florida Atlantic.
The Giants were one of the surprise stories of the NFL during the early portion of the season, but the team has become increasingly hampered by injuries on both sides of the ball lately. New York will soon be receiving reinforcements, however, as the team has designated three players for return from IR.
Left guard Ben Bredesonis among the trio, something which will soon give the Giants another starting option up front. The former fourth-rounder was not projected to be a first-teamer to begin the campaign, but an injury to Shane Lemieuxchanged those plans. Bredeson played in a rotation with rookie Joshua Ezeuduthrough the first two games of the season, but then operated as a full-time starter before landing on IR last month. His return may not need to be rushed, given the fact that Lemieux has since been activated.
Edge rusher Azeez Ojularicould provide the Giants with depth at the position if he is able to remain healthy. The 2021 second-rounder impressed as a rookie with a team-leading eight sacks, but has hardly played this year. Ojulari spent time on the NFI list in the summer due to a calf injury, but was not placed on IR right away with the team hoping he could suit up at some point in September. That was the case, as the Georgia product played in Weeks 3 and 4, but a reaggravation of the previous ailment has kept him sidelined ever since. If he can regain his form from last season and serve as a bookend to rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux, New York’s pass rush could receive a considerable boost.
Lastly, veteran safety Tony Jefferson‘s practice window has been opened. The 30-year-old has only played three games in 2022, after following Giants defensive coordinator Don Martindale from Baltimore to the Big Apple. The Giants are dealing with starter Xavier McKinney currently on the shelf due to an ATV accident earlier this month. That could leave defensive snaps available for Jefferson upon his return, especially if the team opts to use more three-safety packages amidst their injuries at cornerback.
Each player now has a three-week time period within which they must be activated to be eligible to play again in 2022. If all three are brought back, the Giants will have used up each of their remaining activations for the season, but they will also have at least rotational contributors in place for the stretch run.
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport (on Twitter), Golladay suffered a sprained MCL during Sunday’s win over the Bears. It sounds like this would be a temporary absence for the veteran wideout, although the Giants won’t have any extra time following their trip across the Atlantic. Despite earning his first start of the season on Sunday, Golladay still isn’t a major factor in the Giants’ offense. Through four appearances, he’s hauled in two catches on six targets.
Toney has been dealing with a hamstring injury that’s forced him to miss the past two games. There was some optimism that he could return this weekend after he was a limited participant on Wednesday, but he didn’t practice today.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked,” offensive coordinator Mike Kafka said today (via ESPN’s Jordan Raanan). “He’s practiced hard when he’s practicing. It’s unfortunate, but he’s one of those guys that does everything we asked and is working his tail off in the training room and in the meeting rooms. He does a great job with that.”
There is some good news on the injury front. Per Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com, Daniel Jones is “trending in the right direction” for this weekend. The QB has been a limited participant this week while nursing an ankle injury, but he made the flight to London and is expected to give it a go. With backup Tyrod Taylor likely sidelined with a concussion, the Giants will probably promote Davis Webb from their practice squad for some extra depth.
A year ago, Thibodeaux was viewed as a possible No. 1 overall pick. The Oregon pass rusher’s stock dipped slightly during the pre-draft period, leading to rumors he could endure a bit of a draft-night fall. The Giants prevented that from happening, selecting him with the first of their two first-round choices. The Thibodeaux-Ojulari pairing will be, investment-wise, easily the team’s top edge-rushing duo since Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon.
After trading JPP in 2018 and Vernon in 2019, the Giants took an unusually minimalistic approach at this premium position. The team passed on using premium draft capital on the spot in 2019 or 2020, despite an apparent glaring need, and saw its edge production suffer during Markus Golden‘s abbreviated 2020 slate (before an in-season trade sent him back to Arizona). Ojulari, however, made an impact as a rookie second-rounder last season, registering eight sacks. Ojulari, who missed time with a calf injury, will now team with one of the highest-profile defensive investments in Giants history.
Thibodeaux, who will not turn 22 until December, posted 19 sacks in three Ducks seasons. Attitude- and work ethic-based concerns led to the slight draft drop, below edges Travon Walker and Aidan Hutchinson. The 6-foot-5 outside linebacker will have a chance to prove himself as a pro beginning in a nationally televised spot. The Giants had used former third-round pick Oshane Ximines and ex-Don Martindale Ravens charge Jihad Ward as their edge starters over the first two weeks.
It sounds like Azeez Ojulari will make his season debut on Monday night. The Giants linebacker told reporters that he’ll play against the Cowboys, per Paul Schwartz of the New York Post (on Twitter).
The 2021 second-round pick injured his calf during a practice in late August. The team avoided placing him on injured reserve with the hope that he’d return within the first four games. It sounds like the gamble worked out, as Ojulari will have ultimately missed only a pair of games.
Ojulari had a productive rookie season in New York, finishing with 49 tackles, eight sacks, and 13 QB hits. Pro Football Focus graded him as a below-average edge defender, but despite an especially low pass-rushing score, he still managed to put up solid numbers for a rookie.
The 22-year-old won’t be the only pass rusher aiming to take the field this weekend. Kayvon Thibodeaux is hoping to make his NFL debut on Monday after nursing a knee injury suffered during the preseason.
“Thibs and Azeez, they’re getting close,” coach Brian Daboll told reporters (via Michael Eisen of the team’s website). “They’re going to take some team reps today. I think they took a little bit last week, but they’re going to take more this week. They’re getting close, so we’ll see with them. I’d say they’re still day-to-day even though they’re on the close side.”