Heck, you can even ask Tom Brady. On the flip side, last year’s defensive disaster could mostly be credited to a lack of pressure up front. Opposing signal-callers had all day to pick apart the second and third tiers of the New York defense.
Everyone involved these days is in total agreement that must change as the Giants embark on rebounding and saving a little face in 2010. The major questions revolve around just how – and with whom – the Giants can get back on track along the defensive line. Let’s now take a look at a few of the most pressing.
Who are the four best?
With new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell publicly stating that he’s not a big believer in rotating his defensive linemen, unlike pretty much all of his recent predecessors, it’s imperative that the Giants settle on their four best D-linemen right from the get-go. Some of the choices are obvious – like Justin Tuck, for instance. You can pen him in as the starting left defensive end as heavily as you’d like. He’ll be there for sure. On the other side, there shouldn’t be a doubt that Osi Umenyiora regains his starting spot. They didn’t look to trade him and they don’t want to trade him. He’s a two-time Pro Bowler and, as much as he’s improved and certainly is starting-caliber, Mathias Kiwanuka is going to have to settle for coming off the bench. It gets trickier when you move inside. You can bet that your two starters are going to come from this group of three players – Barry Cofield, Chris Canty and Jay Alford. But it remains to be seen. Alford got some first-team reps during the recent minicamp and is believed to be a guy on which the team is extremely high. It looked like the sky was the limit when he got injured during last preseason. Figure he’ll get a chance and take advantage of it and nail down one of the starting spots. Chris Canty had a very disappointing 2009 campaign and only he really knows how much was injury-related and how much was ineffectiveness. But he sure is making an awful lot of money to be coming off the bench on a DL that doesn’t rotate. As long as he stays healthy, figure Canty to be the other starter. That leaves Barry Cofield as the odd man out. Sure he started during the Super Bowl season and ever since, but the Giants are really looking to improve at most spots on defense and, as a result, it looks like Cofield could be on the outside looking in. This will be an interesting position to watch during camp for sure.
How is Osi’s mindset?
It says here that Osi Umenyiora will be just fine. He might be a little more sensitive and aware of what’s being said and written about him than the average player. But he’s also much more gifted and talented than the average player. With a new coordinator and a new focus on the game, you can expect a big year from Umenyiora. He’s fully healthy and he’s ready to put all the controversy behind him. Just don’t bring Bill Sheridan back around.
What to expect from the draft picks?
We’ve already discussed all the talent and ability the Giants have up front, yet they still opted to draft defensive linemen with their top two draft picks. While Jason Pierre-Paul is still raw and learning, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Linval Joseph getting some serious snaps early on this season. JPP will likely come in as a situational pass rusher his rookie campaign, but Joseph could be even more of a factor, especially if the guys above him are not getting the job done.
Strength of unit: These guys certainly have the skins on the wall, most having contributed mightily to the Super Bowl victory three years backs. When they’re healthy and firing on all cylinders this DL can pass rush with the best of them.
Weakness of unit: The weakness really is that you’re only as good as your last game. And the last game for most of these guys was an utter and complete embarrassment. They’ve got to be able to bring the pressure from all angles while also shoring up the run defense up the gut.
Key additions: The Giants brass is very, very excited about the potential of their top two draft choices. Jason Pierre-Paul has freakish athletic abilities and a good motor to boot. And Linval Joseph is in about as good shape as you could hope for a 328-pounder.
Key losses: About as underrated a player as the Giants have ever had, Fred Robbins will surely be missed. He was a key member of this DL for six years and was often looked to by the younger players. We agree that it was time for him to move on (Robbins rejoined former DC Steve Spagnuolo in St. Louis), but it’s going to be tough to replace his 25 sacks.
Darkhorse: Dave Tollefson, which we mean only in a starting sense. Every time he’s gotten into games he’s proven he can handle himself.
On the spot: Rocky Bernard. He’s kind of become the forgotten man at DT after some pretty solid years in Seattle.
7 – Division I games started by first-round pick Jason Pierre-Paul
10.125 – Average number of sacks for Osi Umenyiora during his last four seasons