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Micah McFadden Talks Growth in Second Season at Linebacker

Linebacker Micah McFadden is quietly having a solid sophomore campaign for the New York Giants. Here's why.

About the only positive to come from New York Giants linebacker Micah McFadden's rookie season last year is that he was the lone member of the 2022 drat class not to miss time due to injury.

That alone was a good thing, as when the Giants struggled at inside linebacker, McFadden got a chance to make a case for one of the two jobs. He played 435 defensive snaps as a rookie, generating six pressures, two sacks, 19 stops, and a 120.5 coverage rating.

Unfortunately, it wasn't a smooth transition for the fifth-rounder out of Indiana. McFadden's initial game lacked enough physicality and mobility, and his agility in space left something to be desired.

But the scrappy McFadden didn't give up. He produced two positive games: a nine-tackle effort in Week 13 and an eight-tackle effort in Week 16, and when called upon to blitz, he did well in that area.

Despite showing some growth, the coaches decided not to activate the rookie in the two playoff games. But McFadden took the good with the bad and vowed to keep at it, knowing that as the game slowed down for him, the plays he wasn't making would soon come.

"It was a learning experience," McFadden told Giants Country. "I felt like last year, I was getting my feet wet in the defense. I felt comfortable as it went on, but I think I was still more focused on trying to do my job instead of just kind of playing free and fast within the boundaries of the defense."

With a year under his belt and an opportunity to fully dive into the playbook, McFadden took advantage of the season-ending injury to veteran Jarrad Davis, a player the Giants brass had desperately wanted last year from the Lions practice squad, and emerged as the surprise starter ahead of fellow draft classmate Darrian Beavers.

"He’s a good, young player. I’m happy we drafted him, and he's earning what he's getting," head coach Brian Daboll said of McFadden. "He’s been productive. He's got a nose for the football, can play sideline-to-sideline, makes some productive tackles. He's developed the way you hope young players develop."

With veteran Bobby Okereke signed as a free agent in the off-season, McFadden has delivered some of the best linebacker play this franchise has seen in several years.

"Yeah, coming back this year, I've felt a lot more comfortable," McFadden said. "I kind of have a complete understanding of the defense. Obviously, there will always be mistakes, but I feel like I can play free this year and am more focused on making plays as a linebacker instead of trying to do my job within the defense."

One of the changes in how defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has deployed McFadden is that he's having the young linebacker blitz a bit more. In 2022, McFadden blitzed just 24 times; this season, he's blitzed 34 times.

Blitzing, McFadden said, has helped his overall game speed up.

"I did a lot of that in college," he said. "You feel comfortable doing it here too, and it just kind of, it kind of helps you play fast when you can blitz early and maybe make a play in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage and then, you know, carry that through the rest of the game." 

Playing alongside Okereke has also been a big help to McFadden's growth.

"Oh wow, so much," McFadden said when asked what Okereke's presence has done for him. "He's always given me little pointers and tips to think about throughout the week. Now, it's fine-tuning our communication, making sure we're always talking so we're always on the same page. 

"And when he's understanding what I'm thinking, what I have in the play, and I'm understanding where he's at. We can just play out of each other and play fast."

Okereke is four years older than the 23-year-old McFadden and has taken to the role of "older brother" quite well when it comes to being one of McFadden's biggest supporters.  

"I'm always giving him crap to talk more," Okereke said with a grin before turning serious. "He's feeding me cues throughout the game, and I'm feeding him cues, and we just feed off each other."

Okereke added that McFadden has all the traits one could want in a linebacker. 

"He just plays a lot of confidence, a lot of poise. Athletically, he's very quick. And he's very decisive," he said. "You probably saw in the Jets game--(Nick) Bawdem is a good fullback, and (McFadden) stuck him in the backfield and made the play. So he's a very physical athlete and has a nose for the ball, whether it's forcing fumbles, getting tackles at the line of scrimmage, or getting picks. He's just an all-around football player."

Besides playing Batman to McFadden's Robin, the veteran linebacker has doled out some sage advice that McFadden said has been a big help in progressing his game.

"He always just tells me, just calm down because I get like, really excited on the field, and like sometimes when I get excited, my feet go crazy, or I start like, jumping around," McFadden said sheepishly. 

"He'll just be like, 'Hey, just calm down. Just calm down out there. Let's talk about it. You know, I'm gonna tell you where to be. You're gonna tell me where you're at.' So you know, that's important to hear sometimes because sometimes you might think you're being relaxed and you're not.

"But when you're truly calm, you're set, know exactly what to be, and are patient with your footwork, that helps you play fast."

For McFadden's progress and growth, he admits he's far from being a finished product. And while he is constantly looking to improve his game in every way, there is one area in which he'd like to take a big step forward: the passing game.

"I think I've gotten a lot better at it, but that also comes with communication and knowing where to be," he said. "But yeah, I think in the pass game, working backward and getting in coverage. Not always man, but also zone because you're working with different people, you have to know where they are."