Bobby Okereke won’t repeat the same mistake in practice against Daniel Jones that he made the last time they shared a field.
Okereke was penalized for unnecessary roughness and set off a skirmish between the Giants and Colts on New Year’s Day when he lowered his shoulder into Jones’ helmet and went flying over top of the sliding quarterback.
Seventy-four days later, Okereke, who signed with the Giants as a free agent this week, joked about how Jones will be protected now by his non-contact practice jersey.
“Red jersey: he’s safe,” Okereke said Thursday afternoon. “I’m hands-off.”
But players have long memories. So, will there be any bad blood lingering?
“There will probably be some fun trash talk,” Okereke said, “but me and Daniel dapped it up after the game. I told him it wasn’t intentional. He’s a competitive guy. I’m a competitive guy. He’s trying to run, and I’m trying to stop him from running. Obviously, not intentionally trying to hit him in the head or anything.
“We cleared the air. We should be good. I’m excited to lead with him throughout the year.”
Okereke left the Colts to sign a four-year, $40 million contract ($22 million guaranteed) and become a pillar for the Giants, with experience starting at middle linebacker (2020-21) and weakside linebacker (2022).
He is well-regarded for his sideline-to-sideline range, closing speed and physicality, all of which added up to 151 tackles last season.
“I love to run and hit, and I’m just a team-first guy,” Okereke said. “I don’t have a big ego. I just want to win games.”
Okereke quickly identified his best chance to accomplish that goal.
“There were a couple of teams that were interested throughout the whole process,” he said. “This was unique because it was a great offer and a great team fit. And I told my agent from Day 1, ‘I want to play in New York City.’ New York City’s been one of my favorite cities my whole life. This franchise is on the rise.”
Part of the lure was a chance to play behind All-Pro defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence and his former Pro Bowl running mate Leonard Williams — replicating Okereke’s formula for success teaming with DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart in Indianapolis — and next to premium draft picks Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari.
Okereke is one of the best coverage linebackers in the league, which is crucial for a blitz-heavy defense like the one Giants coordinator Wink Martindale runs.
“My first two years starting, I played a lot of zone coverage, so that’s just understanding concepts,” Okereke said. “And then last year … I was tasked with being in man coverage a lot versus tight ends and running backs. I won a majority, if not most, of my one-on-one battles. Coaches have always felt that if they blitz in front of me, I’m a guy who can scrape over the top and clean things up. Or if I’m the sole guy in coverage, I’m going to hold up.”
Okereke, who has two career sacks and four quarterback hits, teased a part of his skill set not often seen.
“I’m going to blitz a lot more, which I’m excited about,” Okereke said. “I love playing fast, and physical. And I think that’s why Coach Martindale blitzes so much, so players can play free. You want to eliminate thinking and just have fast decision-making.”
Okereke shouted out the Giants’ linebacker tradition, from Lawrence Taylor to Blake Martinez, who preceded Okereke at Stanford and was the Giants’ top middle linebacker in 2020 and in 2021 before a knee injury.
Okereke might have earned his chance to join the club with his 17 tackles on New Year’s Day against Jones and the Giants.
“For that to be my best game of the year, for this to come full circle, and for me to be a New York Giant in this moment,” he said, “it’s just really surreal. I’m very grateful.”