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Bobbly Okereke takes on ‘position-less’ role in Giants’ defense

Bobbly Okereke takes on ‘position-less’ role in Giants’ defense

As conversations happened all around him in the Giants locker room, Bobby Okereke sat on a stool, his attention glued to an iPad screen showing film.

The middle linebacker is the new quarterback of the Giants’ defense, taking over the defensive headset — marked by a green dot on his helmet — and signal-calling duties that safeties Xavier McKinney and Julian Love (now with the Seahawks) shared last season.

Okereke rarely broke focus at his locker this week, except to call a teammate over to share an insight.

“I just see it as a vocal responsibility for me on the field,” said Okereke, who was quick to praise McKinney for taking charge of the secondary and Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams for doing the same up front. “I’ll be communicating with those guys, making sure it’s a well-oiled machine.”

Okereke signed a four-year, $40 million free-agent contract with the most guaranteed money ($21.8 million) that the Giants ever have given to a linebacker to end the revolving door of starters they had last season.

It’s only human nature to want to live up to his contract and immediately win over new teammates and fans with his play, but Okereke isn’t thinking that way.

“There’s a lot of excitement from that standpoint and I want to show the hard work I’ve been putting in,” Okereke told The Post. “But, for me, when you start worrying about other people’s opinions of you, that’s really a lot of distractions.

Bobby Okereke (58) signed a four-year deal with the Giants in March worth $40 million.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“All those are other thoughts — while important — are not going to determine the outcome of the game. What’s going to determine the outcome is how I prepare and how I play, so I’ll focus on that.”

Coordinator Wink Martindale likes to describe his as a “position-less defense” because blitzes come from all angles and responsibilities can vary greatly from snap to snap. It creates headaches for opposing offenses, but what about for the co-captain in charge of making sure the alignment is correct?

“It reinforces communication throughout everybody, because I could be playing on the line one time or I could be dropping back the next,” Okereke said. “Everybody knows what everybody else is doing, because you could be the one in that position at any time.

“Wink just has so much wisdom that he can add a coaching point or reminder on the sideline, or in that time before the play.”

Okereke and outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari hit it off quickly after they first met last season while paired up as online gaming teammates during an NFL promotion. Their bond as teammates has grown through their families’ shared Nigerian roots.

“It’s like he’s my actual brother,” Ojulari said. “Our communication is A1. The speed, the quickness, the smarts, he can lead us in the right way — he’s got it all.”

Okereke is the first linebacker chosen by Martindale to wear the headset since C.J. Mosley with the Ravens in 2018. It won’t be a new responsibility — Okereke was the signal-caller for the Colts whenever Shaq Leonard was sidelined — but it is new to have someone else with experience (McKinney) on the field at the same time.

Bobby Okereke, then an Indianapolis Colt, tries to tackle Giants quarterback Daniel Jones in a game at MetLife Stadium on January 1, 2023.
Bobby Okereke, then an Indianapolis Colt, tries to tackle Giants quarterback Daniel Jones in a game at MetLife Stadium on January 1, 2023.
Getty Images

All the hype around Darren Waller, Parris Campbell and the other additions made to bolster the offense, as well as the integration of two rookie cornerbacks, has left Okereke flying under the radar as the new piece to the defense. He totaled 283 tackles in his two full years as a starter.

“Bobby has been a good addition for us,” head coach Brian Daboll said. “Throughout camp, he’s shown good leadership. He’s had a really good camp. Excited to watch him play.”

Years of Cowboys tight ends — whether Jason Witten, Dalton Schultz or Blake Jarwin — killing the Giants could stop now … and not just because Jake Ferguson is Dallas’ new starter.

Okereke allowed minus-2.3 receptions over expected as the most-targeted linebacker in the league (78) last season, per NextGenStats. He ranked seventh among linebackers with at least 60 targets by allowing just 5.7 yards per catch in 2021-22.

“[Fans] are going to see a high-energy player running sideline-to-sideline,” Okereke said. “The Cowboys still feature their tight ends in the pass game. It’s a good offense that’s going to challenge us in a lot of ways.”

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