Elerson Smith understands you may not know his deal.
why should you
Why would Giants fans have his name at the top of their list of players to watch for the upcoming season?
“I’m going to make sure I take advantage of every opportunity I have in front of me,” Smith told The Post late in the off-season training regimen. “Now whether people remember my name or not, that’s not going to help us win games. I will try to take care of the opportunity that presents itself to me.”
The opportunity Smith faces is… somewhat nebulous. The small-school outside linebacker came onto the field so late last season, in his rookie year, that it was tempting to forget he was still there. He’s done so little in his scarce tenure that it was reasonable to assume his shelf life could run out once a brand new coaching regime invaded, with the front office making him a fourth-round pick in the 2021 draft by General Manager Joe was replaced by Schoen and other new hiring managers. Smith, tall and lean, was a holdover and pretty much everyone who stood up for him a year ago is no longer with the Giants.
The 23-year-old pass rusher has a second chance to make a first impression, this time with a new defensive coordinator, Wink Martindale, and a new position coach, Drew Wilkins, as well as a new head coach, Brian Daboll. He’s ready to go, believing he won’t remain anonymous forever.
“For me, it was just getting clarity on what their standards are and working from there,” Smith said.
That needs no clarification: If Martindale has any inkling that Smith can play a role in a much more aggressive defense, he’ll find a place for him. Azeez Ojulari, after leading the team in 2021 with eight sacks, returns for the No. 2 year. The Giants drafted Kayvon Thibodeaux No. 5 overall in the 2022 draft. If they are healthy, they will be the beginning outside linebackers. Smith is part of a young mix of players that includes Oshane Ximines and Quincy Roche waiting in the wings.
Smith did what he had to do in Northern Iowa — dominated at a lower level of competition with 22 sacks, 32.5 tackles for loss, 16 quarterback hits and six forced fumbles in 38 games. A serious hamstring strain knocked him out of his first NFL training camp, landing him on injured reserve and dropping him way behind. Smith didn’t make his Giants debut until Week 9, restricted to special teams. He eventually amassed 103 snaps on defense — 60 as a pass rusher — and had four rushes and two quarterback hits for six total presses. His first quarterback hit in a loss to the Eagles forced Jalen Hurts to a throwaway.
Smith was given a lot of work that spring and late in the schedule of organized team activities, working with the starters in place of the paused Thibodeaux, Smith put pressure on Tyrod Taylor to blow up a play.
Smith is increasingly looking for the role. He arrived a year ago and resembled a small forward more than an NFL linebacker, with around 245-250 pounds stretched across his lanky 6-foot-6 frame. A year into the NFL grind, he weighs up to 260 pounds, though he’s still fit.
“I’m just tall, stretch it out a little so you can’t really see it,” Smith said of his extra weight.
Martindale loves his linebackers, especially those with length. This should go well with what Smith is offering.
“I always say there’s a good place for a little person,” Martindale said. “It’s behind a big, long person in this league because you know it all helps. It helps you tackle in the open field and helps separate blocks and it helps get to the 50/50 ball. The length plays a big role in this.”
It didn’t take Smith long to recognize what he called “the various philosophical approaches” with this new line of defense. Former defensive coordinator Patrick Graham was more concerned with picking his spots. Martindale enforces the problem. As Smith sees what’s in store for him and the other full-backs in Martindale’s system, he sees plenty of opportunity.
“He does a good job of scheming aggressive rushes, and it impacts quarterbacks a lot, which is every outside linebacker’s dream,” Smith said. “I think I definitely have a place here, but that starts with understanding the process of work that it takes to be a good NFL player, and that’s my goal to come here, to contribute and win games. I certainly feel like I belong here.”