Wink Martindale earning Giants’ trust with ‘keep it real’ aura

For 10 years, Wink Martindale implored each and every one of his players to play like a Raven.

Now, Brian Daboll’s first defensive coordinator will be bringing a new mantra: Play like a Giant.

“‘Play like a Giant’ to me is just play hard every snap for this city,’ cause it’s the best city in the world,” Martindale told The Post. “That’s what’s exciting about it.”

From the time he was a rookie until he signed a five-year, $85 million free-agent deal with the Jets in 2019, CJ Mosley learned what it meant to play like a Raven. He’d be the first to tell the Giants players they are lucky to have him.

“I’d just tell ’em he’s a real guy, he’s a real coach,” Mosley told The Post. “If you need anything, he can definitely help you and have open arms.”

What they see is what they get with Martindale. It is the centerpiece of his motivational genius.

“We used to have keep-it-real meetings,” Mosley said, “and he’d just keep it real with you. At the end of the day that’s what you want, to tell you the truth and want to get the best out of you.”

New York Giants defensive tackle Justin “Jelly” Ellis played the past three years for Martindale.

“My biggest motivation from him is the truth,” Ellis told The Post. “He’s gonna try to put me in the best position to win.”

Don "Wink" Martindale speaks at Giants OTA's Thursday.
Don “Wink” Martindale speaks at Giants OTAs Thursday.
Noah K. Murray-NY Post

And Martindale won’t stop trying to blitz the hell out of complacency.

“He never wants you to be OK with your accomplishment, there’s always more that you can do. He’s always gonna push you,” Mosley said.

Mosley characterized Martindale as calm, but that doesn’t preclude a storm when a fog rolls in for one of his players.

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“I would say that would be his biggest pet peeve, somebody that repeats mistakes,” Mosley said.

Martindale aims to dictate to the opposing offense, but he won’t remind anyone of Robert Saleh when he was 49ers defensive coordinator. “He’s very like cool-tempered,” Ellis said.

I asked Mosley what Martindale is like in the meeting room: “I would say energetic,” he said. “Sometimes he’d tell a joke. He gets big on knowing the history of your team, knowing the players that came before you that made the team what it is. He would ask players or the rookies to look up those players and see who they were, see what they did to sit in the same seat that we were sitting in. That’s the kind of guy he is, you want to make sure you’re having fun doing your work, but understand why you’re here, and the things that you could do while you’re here.”

Wink Martindale’s players have appreciated his honesty throughout his career.

Ellis: “He’ll start off with a joke, make the room easy, and then we go from there.”

The affection between player and former coach is evident when Mosley is asked to describe Martindale’s leadership style.

“I would say smooth,” Mosley said. “I think he’ll appreciate that. He has this little walk sometimes, his cool walk. He’s a smooth man, for sure.”

And a no-nonsense, no-excuses man. Mosley vividly recalls a moment from his rookie season.

“We played against Miami in Miami,” he said. “It was nice and hot too. I had broken my wrist earlier in that season, so I was playing with the big cast. It was a veteran guy that was kicking my butt the whole game, he was giving me hell, and I was making tackles with a bad wrist. I’m a rookie, so I’m doing all the special teams and all that on defense.”

And when he came to the sideline, here is what Martindale said to him:

“Welcome to the league.”

Martindale: “I did say that to him, and I walked away ’cause I knew he was hurting, I was just hoping that he went back in the game. And Daryl Smith, the veteran [linebacker] who was with him, I said, ‘You got him?’ He said, ‘Yeah I got him,’ and he went over there and he talked to him — ‘Hey, you gotta go back out there, this is what we get paid for.’ He played his tail off.”

I asked Martindale what message he was trying to deliver to Mosley.

“That you gotta play through injuries,” he said.

Wink Martindale
Wink Martindale
Noah K. Murray-NY Post

Mosley was a first-round draft pick out of Alabama when one of the first lessons that Martindale taught him was that the NFL is a business.

“I would say a mentor, that would be the first impression,” Mosley said. “One of the first things he told me to do is get the phone number of the head coach, and the GM. … Everything that you do is gonna be up to you.”

The Ravens players trusted Martindale, who as linebackers coach had coached Hall of Famer Ray Lewis in his farewell Super Bowl season.

“I suspect that that linebacker corps is gonna be a very close group, very tight-knitted,” Mosley said.

Mosley personified what he describes as the Wink Martindale football player: “Aggressive, nasty, fast and smart,” Mosley said.

Martindale: “I love that guy. He’s a great football player. He’s got length, he’s got speed, he’s got knowledge, he’s got instincts, he’s got it all. He’s one of the best linebackers in the NFL.”

When Martindale and John Harbaugh parted ways, Mosley was certain that his old defensive coordinator would land on his feet.

“I knew he was gonna get a job somewhere else pretty quick,” Mosley said.

Mosley and Martindale have stayed in touch.

“My five years in Baltimore, a lot of things that I know now in the NFL is definitely because of him,” Mosley said.

Make them play like Giants, Wink.


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