Azeez Ojulari fuels Giants pass rush with breakout game vs. Panthers: 'You're trying to get to the quarterback every week'

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Azeez Ojulari chases Taylor Heinicke cropped 9/16/2021
Azeez Ojulari chases Taylor Heinicke cropped 9/16/2021

Giants head coach Joe Judge told reporters on Monday's conference call that the game was slowing down for rookie linebacker Azeez Ojulari. The 2021 NFL Draft's No. 50 overall pick, a second-round selection out of Georgia, agreed with that sentiment.

"Just trying to get better every week, as I continue to play this game, getting used to it and adjusting to the game speed and everything," Ojulari said, following Judge as the first player up in the availability. "It's just kind of slowing down for me and getting better by the week, so I would agree with him."

The 6-foot-3, 240-pounder has been a bright spot on New York's defense. He put together the best performance of his early career with Sunday's 25-3 Week 7 win over the Carolina Panthers at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., totaling a single-game personal-best five tackles (three for loss) and 2 1/2 sacks (four quarterback hits).

"I'm blessed to go out there and compete, and make those big plays out there," Ojulari said. "At the end of the day, I was just happy to get the win. So get back in the win column, just happy to get the win for the team and just continue to just go from every day and just keep going. So it was just a great day and just happy to get the win."

Through seven games (four starts), Ojulari has tallied 21 tackles (five for loss), 5 1/2 sacks (seven quarterback hits) and one forced fumble. After recording a sack in each of the Giants' first three games, Ojulari went cold for the next three weeks but found a way through against Carolina (3-4).

"It was encouraging to see him play well, but this guy has been playing hard the entire time," Judge said. "There's not going to be any one button you push to say, 'This is the reason why it happened.' I always come back to pressure on the quarterback and sacks and the results on the production up front always ties into the other guys doing their jobs as well.

"When the coverage is playing well, the front gets to eat. When they're rushing the passer effectively, the coverage is helped right there, too. Thought we saw great complementary football on the defensive side of the ball (Sunday) with both aspects, the front and the secondary really playing together and all of them making plays with it -- interceptions, pass breakups, good breaks for tackles for very short gains, rushes on the passer."

In 27 games at Georgia from 2018-20, Ojulari racked up 71 tackles (19 1/2 for loss), 14 sacks, three pass deflections and five forced fumbles (one recovery). Ojulari was a four-star recruit out of Marietta (Ga.) High, rated the industry-generated 247Sports Composite's No. 144 national prospect and No. 10 weak-side defensive end in 2018.

"This guy has been working very hard," Judge said. "I think he's doing a lot of things that -- a lot of times, the edge players as rookies, it's a real big transition because it's very different from college and the talent level is extremely different from college. He's been productive early in his career really just by playing within his own strengths and skillset. I think (defensive coordinator Patrick Graham) and (defensive line coach Sean Spencer) and those guys are doing a really good job using this guy to what he does well, letting him go out there and just play fast.

"I saw some things (Sunday) -- in terms of instinctually showing up, rushing up the field, countering back, getting to the quarterback, putting pressure on him. He didn't do anything that really got him outside the realm of the defense yesterday and allowed him to play fast and controlled. I was very, very proud of how he worked last week to put himself in position."

He has given the Giants (2-5) a pass-rush boost through his first seven games. Ojulari and New York look for another win next week on Monday Night Football, an 8:15 p.m. matchup with the Chiefs (3-4) at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.

"You're trying to get to the quarterback every week, you know?" Ojulari said. "I mean, you've got to do whatever you've got to do to get there. Within the scheme, whatever it is, you've just got to play your best, give it your all when you're out there.

"That's what I'm just going to continue to try to do every single time I step on the field and just play my role, do what I've got to do to help the team succeed."