Jaylon Smith proved to the Giants in four games last season “that I can still play at a high level,” the linebacker said Thursday. Now the Giants are going to ask him to do it again.
Smith, 27, a rangy and experienced inside linebacker, is expected to make his season debut Sunday against the Chicago Bears, and his primary task is to fill a void at the center of coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale’s defense.
“Every time I step on that field, I wanna play and I wanna ball,” Smith said with a smile. “I’m thankful to be here, being able to run it back in the Big Apple. And I’m here earlier, too.”
Smith made 19 tackles in four games with the Giants at the end of last season with a sack and a pass defended. That included seven tackles, including one for a loss, and a sack against these Bears in Week 17.
The Giants’ new regime didn’t retain Smith as a free agent in the spring. But promising seventh-round pick Darrian Beavers tore his left ACL in the preseason. And the team’s plans to limit Blake Martinez’s role led to a sudden late-summer release.
That left Tae Crowder, Austin Calitro and rookie Micah McFadden atop the depth chart, which isn’t getting it done.
Smith, a former Cowboys second-round pick from Notre Dame, signed to the practice squad last week and watched the Giants’ Monday night loss to his former Dallas team from the sideline.
But now he is expected to play a significant role in trying to stop the bleeding in the Giants’ run defense against Chicago.
Martindale said Thursday that “we’re still in the process of finding the right fits for who’s going to play inside.”
The defensive coordinator said “I want guys who can run and hit and tackle” at inside backer. “We need to tackle better,” he said. “We had too many missed tackles.”
“If you have a slow Mike [middle linebacker], you have a slow defense,” Martindale added.
The Giants are missing defensive lineman Leonard Williams (sprained right MCL) for a second straight game, too. They’ve allowed seven yards per carry to opponents since Williams got hurt in Week 2.
And Chicago’s offense barely passes the ball at all. Excluding their Week 1 game against the 49ers in a downpour, the Bears have run the ball 67 times (or 70% of the time) compared to only 28 throws the past two weeks.
Running back David Montgomery is injured and out Sunday, but leading rusher Khalil Herbert is averaging 7.3 yards per carry (33 for 240) with three touchdowns. And quarterback Justin Fields has scampered for 95 yards and a TD of his own.
The whole defense will need to play better. An enthusiastic Smith hopes to be a part of that.
“People know me and what I bring to the table,” he said. “But none of that really matters. It’s all about what you do now. That’s the mindset I have. And I’m thankful to be here.”
WHY NO T.J.?
It would help the Giants’ defense to have more veterans like safety Tony Jefferson on the field, especially coming off a loss when Martindale’s defense couldn’t tackle and had 10 men on the field for an Ezekiel Elliott touchdown.
Jefferson is assignment sound and made a game-saving tackle on Christian McCaffrey in the fourth quarter of the Giants’ narrow Week 2 win over Carolina. Unfortunately, he is expected to be inactive for a second straight game.
“Tony Jefferson, when he played, was very good for our defense,” defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson said Friday. “He did a great job for us going in and functioning in our dime package. Anytime you take [out] a veteran player who’s played a lot, you lose something. You do. Because he’s got so much experience, he’s seen so much, he’s poised. So you lose a lot. But the other guys in there, we expect to play at the same level he plays at.”
Jefferson was elevated from the practice squad the first two weeks of the season. The team can only elevate him one more time before having to sign him to the active roster.
GIANTS INJURY REPORT
OUT: DL Leonard Williams (sprained right MCL), WR Wan’Dale Robinson (knee), WR Kadarius Toney (hamstring), CB Cor’Dale Flott (calf), CB Nick McCloud (hamstring)
BEARS INJURY REPORT
OUT: RB David Montgomery (ankle/knee), DB Dane Cruikshank (hamstring), DB Jaylon Johnson (quad).
QUESTIONABLE: DL Robert Quinn (illness), K Cairo Santos (personal), LB Matt Adams (hamstring), TE Ryan Griffin (Achilles), WR Velus Jones Jr. (hamstring), LB Sterling Weatherford (ankle).