(Getty Images/Nick Laham)
Due to the majority of the personnel changes coming on the defensive side of the ball, TGI begins its camp position-by-position breakdown with the three units on defense.
Considering he’s at least one of the best, if not the best ever defensive player in Giants history, there’s no mistaking that the Giants are going to miss Michael Strahan – and likely in a big way. But they can’t afford to look back any more at all of the Hall-of-Fame statistics Strahan posted during the past 15 years. And yes, he was still playing at a very high level down the stretch last season, but he’s gone. Just like that. And Steve Spagnuolo and his troops are left to pick up the pieces. Now, of course, the Giants defense isn’t going to fall to pieces sans Strahan, but the unit is certainly going to need better play from those remaining, not to mention someone to step up and lead the defense, as Strahan so adeptly did for the past decade-plus.
Who will fill the void?
Justin Tuck takes over at left defensive end and it’s going to be exciting watching him develop and blossom into an NFL star. But life is going to be a lot tougher on Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and newcomer Renaldo Wynn without Strahan around. Not to diminish anyone’s accomplishments from the past few years, but it sure was a lot easier to play defense when you knew the other side’s major focus was on number 92. Now all bets are off. These Giants defensive ends are going to have to battle through potentially tougher blocking assignments from day one. But perhaps the biggest area in which Big Blue will miss Strahan will be in the locker room and on the sideline. Some guys are just natural-born leaders, and Strahan was most definitely one of them. Among the D-line, at least, a lot of those leadership responsibilities will now fall to Umenyiora, who at least has two Pro Bowl nods to back up anything he says to his mates. There’s no single person that can replace Strahan; nor is it realistic to think they can even do it by committee. The goal of the Giants DEs this year is simple: try to keep things as close to normal – aka 2007 – as possible.
Can Super hero save the day?
One of the indelible images from Super Bowl XLII is rookie Jay Alford busting right through the middle of the Pats O-line and absolutely crushing Tom Brady on second down in the waning monents. While Brady came far too close for comfort on a pair of desperation heaves, Alford’s huge sack basically sealed New York’s improbable Super Bowl victory. With a year under his belt, Alford is looking to break through and grab one of the starting DT spots. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the duo of Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield, but if Alford is buoyed by his solid play down the stretch and continues to improve, that can only help the interior defense. So can the fact that Wynn can also play some tackle, if need be.
Will they be better in ’08?
In a word: no. Not with Strahan no longer lacing up the cleats. But don’t be surprised at all if these guys come real close to putting up the solid numbers and level of play they did last season. The starting four is solid, with the potential to be very good, and the depth seems to be pretty impressive at this point as well. Give GM Jerry Reese credit for yet another underrated signing. Adding Wynn shortly before Strahan retired could turn out to be yet another coup for Reese, who’s basically had a year-and-a-half of coups since taking over.
Strength of unit: This is going to sound funny since Michael Strahan just retired, but the starting DE tandem of Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck is exactly what is going to make this line tick.
Weakness of unit: No matter how you slice it, the overall play of the D-line is going to suffer minus the future Hall-of-Famer.
Key additions: Renaldo Wynn. Adding a veteran with more than 200 career tackles was certainly a wise move.
Key losses: Perhaps you heard that Michael Strahan retired?
Darkhorses: Robert Henderson, Wallace Gilberry. Two rookies, one drafted late (Henderson), one not at all, will be looking to steal the final DL roster spot this summer.
On the spot: Osi Umenyiora. He’s next. With Strahan gone, all eyes – from teammates, media and fans – will be focused fairly or not on Umenyiora to pick up the slack.
Big shoes to fill: Through no fault of their own the Giants essentially traded a guy with 141.5 career sacks for one with 25 (Wynn).
Due for off year? During the last four seasons, Osi Umenyiora has posted seven, 14.5, six (while missing five games due to injury) and 13 sacks. The Giants are sure hoping the alternating sack success streak ceases.