The Giants added a number of defensive players to their roster this offseason through free agency and the draft, and that should help change the fortunes of the unit in 2016.
But something else was missing from that 2015 defense that allowed it to flounder near the bottom in most statistical rankings. Not only were they shorthanded in talent at several positions, they also clearly lacked leadership.
J.T. Thomas is hoping to change that.
The second-year Giants linebacker who was a key part of last offseason’s additions is emerging as one of the more vocal players in the group, and others have noticed. Several newcomers have been asked in the past month or so who they find themselves and others gravitating toward for the intangibles, and Thomas’ name has somewhat surprisingly been mentioned with regularity.
Surprisingly, because his is not a well-known name and because his first season with the Giants was abbreviated. Thomas played in only 12 games with 11 starts because of an ankle injury, and even when he did play, he was usually the first linebacker off the field when sub-packages were employed. He finished the season on injured reserve with 44 tackles.
“That was a frustrating point in my career and a frustrating point in the season for us dropping a few ballgames,” Thomas said of the late-season slide.
It also prevented him from developing as a leader, a role he felt he was blossoming into as the season went on.
“Being limited due to injuries during the season, I kind of took a back seat,” he said. “Now it’s about being able to continue to be that leader that I’ve always been.”
Thomas said he is one of the more vocal players on the defense.
“That’s something that’s always been a part of who I am,” he said. “I say what needs to be said, I do what needs to be done.”
He’s also trying to lead by example this offseason.
“It’s more about me doing everything possible to make sure that we have a season that we need to,” he said. “Preparation, coming to work every day, and being consistent how we go about the task at hand. For us it’s about getting better as a unit, as a team, and maximizing our potential.”
And for Thomas, it’s about being on the field to solidify his place in the team’s hierarchy of leadership.
“It’s a lot easier when you are that guy on the field and they’re hearing your name called, they tend to listen a little bit more,” he said. “But it’s even more special when you can be the guy who doesn’t have to be on the field and can continue to have an impact on the game. Those are the things I try to give our team from top to bottom whether I’m on the field or not.
“But I expect to be very much a part of what we do on the field as well.”