However, this year the Giants might be as close as possible. They took an already potent group of defensive linemen and added two stud free agents, not to mention the return to health of a two-time Pro Bowler. The question here is not whether or not the Giants have eight linemen good enough to fill out the roster. It’s whether or not the usual eight DL roster spots will be enough to keep all the talent that Reese and Co. have assembled. There’s no dou bt that come early September some of the toughest roster decisions are going to involve what to do on the D-line.
Who’s headed to the bench?
There are a few certainties along the defensive line. Health-willing, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck will certainly start at defensive end. Mathias Kiwanuka will provide the valuable DL depth that was so sorely missing last year. However, it’s going to be significantly more interesting on the inside, at least as far as the starting duo goes. It’s safe to say that at least one of last year’s starters – Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield – will not remain in that capacity. The Giants gave Chris Canty an awful lot of money ($42 million); i.e. he’s going to be in the starting lineup. Rocky Bernard is capable of manning a starting spot as well. While Robbins and Cofield have been forced to take it easy this offseason due to knee surgeries, they better both be on their best behavior during training camp. Some rumors even have Robbins as a possibility to be jettisoned during final cuts. While we’re not advocating that move, we do believe it wouldn’t be the least20bit surprising to see Robbins (or more likely, Cofield) lose a starting spot.
How much better will Osi be?
Yeah, we know he’s already put up six sacks in a single game. We’re well aware that he’s already been named to two Pro Bowls. But after watching and listening to Osi Umenyiora this offseason, it’s hard not to get even more excited about the potential damage he can do this season. Due to the knee injury that cost him all of last season, Umenyiora was forced to work on his leg strength, which, admittedly, was never much of a priority in the past. That will only serve to improve his stamina and ability to drive through blockers. There’s no way of knowing what kind of extra sack numbers the new and improved Osi is capable of, but you can bet he’ll be back in Hawaii when all is said and done in 2009.
Will they be better in ’09?
Absolutely, positively and definitely. The D-line strength and depth was the main reason they were able to bring home the title in 2007. However, it was also one of the primary factors in last year’s huge disappointment. The fact that Tuck and Kiwi got worn down because they were already missing Michael Strahan and Umenyiora is what severely crippled the defense’s pass rush. With all hands on deck this season, there’s no reason to believe the Giants front four – or three or five, depending on how new defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan calls it – won’t return to the forefront of the game’s best units. Sheridan will be able to mix and match, rotate and roll a whole host of talented guys. It really could turn out to be an embarrassment of riches for the Giants. But all the credit for that goes to Reese (and Accorsi before him) for so aptly prioritizing what makes a defense tick. So, opposing offensive coordinators, just whom, exactly, are you planning to double team? Tuck? Osi? Kiwi? Canty? Yeah, good luck with that.