Six years in the NFL has taught Markus Golden that what happens in one game has no bearing on what might occur the next time a team takes the field.
In the first quarter of this season, Golden became a part-time player. He was on the field for just seven defensive snaps in the Giants’ loss to the Rams in Los Angeles on Oct. 4 and 67 in the first four games. In 2019, he led the Giants with 10.0 sacks and was third with 917 defensive snaps.
But instead of pouting, complaining or revealing even a hint of anger, Golden simply went about his business.
“Not frustrated at all,” Golden said today of his early season workload. “I’ve been in the league for a while, so I know some weeks you can get a lot of plays, other weeks you can’t get lot of plays. My focus every week is the same no matter what. Whether I’m starting, whether I’m backing up, it’s go hard in practice, learn the game plan and prepare like I’m starting. I don’t allow that stuff to get me frustrated. I just try to focus and take it one day at a time and be ready when my name is called.”
It’s been called. Last week in Dallas, Golden played 57 snaps when Lorenzo Carter left the game after just 10 plays because of a torn Achilles tendon. Carter joined fellow starter Oshane Ximines, who is on injured reserve with a shoulder injury (and will be eligible to return in two weeks).
The absence of Carter and Ximines, who are in their third and second seasons, respectively, has created opportunities for the more seasoned duo of Kyler Fackrell, a five-year pro, and Golden. The two veterans are expected to get the majority of playing time when the Giants host the Washington Football Team Sunday in MetLife Stadium.
Each made contributions against the Cowboys. Fackrell earned his first career interception and touchdown when he picked off a Dak Prescott pass and returned it 46 yards for the Giants’ first defensive score of the season. Golden had three tackles, including a sack he shared with rookie Darnay Holmes.
Since Golden re-signed with the Giants on Aug. 4, he and Fackrell, who joined the team in March, have become close.
“(They) sit by each other in their remote learning centers in our meeting rooms the way we’re set up,” said outside linebackers coach/senior advisor Bret Bielema. “Those two are kind of over there together. They have a rapport on the field. As veterans who were new to this scheme that was a little bit different, they both talked through that and worked through it. I think it’s been a nice balancing act between those two and I think to find them out on the field for 50-plus plays together, which has really happened for nobody this far into the season, we really hadn’t had two guys playing together for the majority of the game in any of our games to this point. They survived and advanced. Did enough things to make us competitive, but we didn’t get a W and weren’t able to close that thing out. Those two working with whoever else is in the lineup on Sunday will be a big part of our success moving forward.”
Fackrell had 10.5 sacks for the Green Bay Packers two years ago, but just 1.0 in 2019, when he played about 200 fewer snaps. This year, he is the only Giants player with both a sack and an interception.
“He has pass rush value as well as pass drop skillset,” Bielema said. “I think the part that’s fun to work with him is he’s really an analyzer – he really takes deep thought into what he’s saying, what he’s doing.”
Not many coaches refer to a player as an “analyzer.” What does that mean to Fackrell?
“I like to have a clear picture of what I need to do within the defense,” Fackrell said. “I feel like that is what allows me to feel confident and to feel free. Once I know what I need to do or what my responsibility is, then there are different ways that I can fulfill that responsibility. Definitely, I would agree a lot to where I want to know and need to know the details and the reasons for how the defense is supposed to be played to be able to feel confident and kind of step out when I need to and still be able to do my responsibility.”
Golden also spends long hours studying the upcoming opponent.
“Nobody is more focused, he does a lot of note-taking, he has a lot of great individual questions for me,” Bielema said.
But early in the season, Golden was limited to sporadic appearances on the field despite his work in the classroom.
“We’re very clear explaining to our players really on a weekly basis what their role in the game is, what the game plan may call for and what they have to be ready for,” Judge said. “There hasn’t been much talking necessary to get Markus going. He works hard every day. This guy is a tremendous team guy. He’s come in with a positive attitude on a daily basis. He does whatever we ask him to.”
Last year, Golden was the first Giants linebacker with double-digit sacks since Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor in 1990.
“I try not to take stuff personally,” Golden said. “I’ve been like that for a long time. Don’t take it personally. Come in, work hard every day, no matter what. Make sure that I’m being the same person no matter what, and that’s what I focus on the most. Make sure I’m being myself. If I’m worried about other stuff and not working as hard as I can because of other stuff that’s going on, then I’m not being myself. At the end of the day, I want to be able to come here and be as best of a teammate as I can be for my teammates and do whatever I can do to help this team win. That’s just how I am and that’s just how I’ll always be.”
With Golden taking on a larger role, the Giants appreciate that now more than ever.
*With Fackrell and Golden seeing more time and the absence of Carter and Ximines, rookies Cam Brown and Carter Coughlin are the backups at outside linebacker. Neither has taken a defensive snap this season.
“With rookies and the whole process of how these guys mature, the first step you really see is when they start their study habits and you can see that,” Graham said. “They’re asking different questions, most of their contribution is on special teams. You can see the transition there. I think part of it is they learn from some of the veterans, which is a good thing. We have a good group of veterans here that help those guys out. The second part of it that’s a little subtle, but you can see it when they start taking care of their bodies. They understand the importance of the commodity of their body, that’s how they make their money. It takes a while for those rookies to understand because they were better than (everyone) the whole time. In high school, they were better than (everyone). In college, they were better than (everyone). Now it’s like, ‘oh no, this guy is just as good as me or more talented. How can I make sure my body is performing at its peak performance on Sunday? How do I get my body right?’ Whether it’s the nutrition, whether it’s the extra stuff in the weight room, whether it’s the extra conditioning out there.
“In terms of the football part of it, the thing that stands out for me is … the aggressiveness on special teams. Cam stands out to me in terms of kickoff. We talk about it all the time, kickoff, punt coverage, that’s really the first play of a defensive possession. The contribution there, I’ve seen him split double teams making a tackle. You know that tackle counts for defense, alright thanks, you just saved us a first down. That’s a big part of it, so I’m happy with those guys and how they are out there competing.”