Who is Niko Lalos?
That’s the question so many Giants fans asked when the name first popped up as being associated with the team back in the spring after the Giants signed the undrafted rookie out of Dartmouth to its training camp roster.
There will likely be a lot written about Lalos if he finds his way back on the Giants roster this week should Kyler Fackrell can't play Sunday.
Last week against the Bengals, Lalos saw an unexpected increase in his defensive snaps after Fackrell had to leave the game early with a calf injury.
All Lalos did in his nine-snap NFL debut was intercept a pass, draw a holding penalty, and set up a Logan Ryan forced fumble and recovery of Bengals tight end Drew Sample by tugging at Sample’s arm to lessen his grip on the ball.
"He's a guy that just shows constant improvement every day," head coach Joe Judge said after Sunday's game. "He's worked hard on the special teams and made some improvements there. So we talked this week about who we liked in certain roles, and his name came up.
"Obviously, he was a guy that coaches felt confident in, so we put him up for the game. He was able to go in and compete for us and make some plays. To be honest with you, we were not surprised he was around the ball. We see that every day in practice."
Lalos is a former college defensive end who lately has been seeing work at outside linebacker—eight of his nine defensive snaps came at left outside linebacker.
“He's a pretty engaging guy," said Giants senior defensive assistant and outside linebackers coach Bret Bielema. "I think go back to the first time I saw his film and, you know, you got a guy that's running around on the field, doing some things at a different level that you use to evaluate and he just was a guy who made a lot of plays,” Bielema said.
“He’s a very analytical guy. When you're dealing with guys like him, you better make sure you tell them what you want right. The first time, because you're going to do it that way every time.”
Lalos initially began his NFL stint in the Giants' defensive line room since that was where he played at Dartmouth. In three seasons for Big Green, Lalos appeared in 24 games, recording 59 tackles, 17.5 tackles for a loss, 11 sacks, one interception, and nine passes defensed.
About a month ago, Giants defensive line coach Sean Spencer, having seen something in Lalos that made him think the youngster might flourish as an outside linebacker, suggested that he and Bielema both coach Lalos to help him expand his skillset.
Lalos didn’t disappoint. Bielema marveled over how every week, Lalos, despite splitting time between the defensive line and outside linebackers room, would send back a weekly test that Bielema described as “as good as anybody in my room,” adding, “He dotted every ‘I’ and crossed every ‘T.’”
Because Lalos, as a member of the practice squad and scout team, is so involved in the practices—he fills various roles on both offense and defense—he’s not exactly a wallflower in the Giants locker room. His poise and calmness to his responsibilities are particularly impressive, given how young he is.
“I don't think much rattles, Niko,” said Bielema. “From LeBron James tweets to interceptions, he kind of just handles everything and stride. I don't think there's going to be any moment that gets too big. I wasn't surprised to see him be around a play.”
Bielema praised Lalos for his athletic ability, particularly on the interception. “There are very few guys would be able to turn flip and then make the athletic play that he made,” Bielema said. “I know he picked off a couple of balls in college, so he's been around ball skills. He's a skilled athlete.”
And a smart one, according to Bielema.
“It's really a true compliment to Niko that he can handle that much volume because there are not a lot of people that would be able to do that,” Bielema said. “But he learns conceptually very well. He doesn't memorize what a 3-technique or a 5-technique does. He understands the bigger picture, and I think that's really helped them to adapt and adjust.”
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