Pat Leonard: Joe Schoen’s offseason emphasis may help Wink Martindale unleash Giants defense

·5 min read

The most exciting part of Deonte Banks’ first-round selection isn’t just that the Giants got a talented player at a premium position of need.

It’s the possibilities that Banks’ presence at outside corner and Joe Schoen’s free agent signings may open up for Wink Martindale’s Giants defense on Brian Daboll’s team.

The Baltimore Ravens ranked in the top three of the NFL’s scoring defenses for three straight seasons from 2018-2020 with Martindale as their coordinator.

Martindale has never seen a pressure scheme he didn’t like, but his ideal game plan is predicated on having capable man corners to trust in isolation when he sends the house.

“They send a lot of pressure and put man behind it,” Banks said Friday at his introductory press conference in East Rutherford, recalling Ravens games he watched growing up in Baltimore.

Those years, Martindale trusted the likes of Brandon Carr, Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters to lock down in coverage. Those players became household names as the Ravens rolled to a 35-13 record and three straight playoff appearances.

Last season, though, in year one of the Giants’ rebuild, the secondary was a patchwork exercise.

The club cut top corner James Bradberry before the season, leaving Adoree Jackson as their No. 1 and a host of other contributors that included veteran rental Fabian Moreau, slot Darnay Holmes and rookie Cordale Flott.

Backups and late additions like veteran Nick McCloud stepped up to help, but the result of the Giants’ roster was that Martindale had to play more zone, conceal more coverages or send more selective pressures to protect his back end.

The defense’s early-season work still helped pace a 6-1 start and finished 17th in scoring defenses league-wide, an improvement on the previous season’s 23rd ranking.

But co-owner John Mara entered the offseason off a blowout loss in Philadelphia frustrated by the defense’s “inability to stop the run.”

“It just seemed like it was 2nd and 2 all the time, and it’s pretty hard to live that way,” Mara said at the NFL owners’ meetings in March. “And if you can start to constantly stop the run, then you can unleash the pass rushers.”

And for the Giants to unleash the pass rushers, they need corners to cover and buy them time – especially on Martindale’s frequently unleashed blitzes.

So Schoen signed Colts inside linebacker Bobby Okereke to a four-year, $40 million contract in free agency and re-signed middle linebacker Jarrad Davis (one year, $1 million). And he added defensive tackles Rakeem Nunez-Roches (three years, $12 million) from the Bucs and A’Shawn Robinson (one year, up to $8 million) from the Rams.

The Giants also were interested in Buccaneers free agent corner Jamel Dean, though, and he re-signed in Tampa Bay, taking the biggest body and most physical corner in this year’s free agent class off the board.

Schoen’s next major move at corner, then, was to find a young top talent in the draft with the traits to fit into Martindale’s defense immediately. That’s what he got in Banks.

“I try to be aggressive, and I try to use my superpower, which is my physicality,” Banks said at Friday’s press conference at the Giants facility, with his family and two friends in tow.

He’s got a chip on his shoulder, too.

He said “I feel like I beat the odds” by making it to the NFL from Edgewood High School in Maryland, a program he said many coaches haven’t heard of.

He cited wide receiver Tavon Austin, a 2013 Rams first-round pick who came out of Baltimore’s Dunbar high school, as a sports hero of his because he “put the city on the map for us.”

He said he likes to trash talk “a little bit” on the field and “people don’t really talk to me much” back.

When he heard all the names of the NFC East’s top wide receivers listed, from the Eagles’ A.J. Brown to the Cowboys’ CeeDee Lamb, Banks said it only makes him think one thing:

“I think of competing, competing and competing,” he said.

It does appear there could be an acclimation period given the 22-year-old’s naivete. He seemed in awe of this spring’s tour around the country during the pre-draft process, simply because he hasn’t traveled much.

“I never been to maybe Las Vegas,” he said. “I barely been to New York before. I’ve been to Chicago. I can get city to city just from playing football. I never really traveled before, and I just kind of went on tour [for] like three weeks. And I really enjoyed it.”

And while Schoen and Daboll refused to put any expectations on Banks to be a starter on Thursday night, the reality is he’s going to have to be a day-one starter who helps the Giants shut down some of those big-name receivers for this pick to be worth it.

“It’s something I have to get to first. I’ve got to get my foot in the door first,” he said.

That said, Banks indicated he is not distracted by the bright lights and big city. When asked about what he’s looking forward to doing or seeing in New York, he said: “I’m here to play football.”

Good answer. He may also be here to help unlock Martindale’s in year two.