The New York Giants’ 2016 season ended in bitter disappointment, losing to the Green Bay Packers, 38-13, in the NFC Wild Card round after an 11-5 finish in the regular season. The offense had ground to a halt late in the year but their defense kept them competitive. But in that game, the defense could not contain Aaron Rodgers and Co. and the missed opportunity is still resonating in their minds.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, speaking at the team’s rookie minicamp on Friday, believes his troops will use that experience to come out and be one of the league’s top units again this season.
“Any time you lose a pass rusher of JPP’s quality, I think it makes a big difference,” Spagnuolo said, referring to the sports hernia that shelved DE Jason Pierre-Paul for the team’s last five games. “But prior to that, I forget what game – I think we had won four or five games after that. I thought that the guys really came on. Look, if you lose one of your best players, then everyone else needs to step up. I thought that our guys did that. In that game, against that quarterback, yeah, we could have used him. But I thought that the guys out there were fighting their butts off and we hung in there for a while and none of us liked the way it ended, but that just gives us something to be hungry for.”
His defense will be different and hopefully improved. JPP is back and healthy and along with Olivier Vernon, forms one of the top DE tandems in the NFL. They are joined by All-Pro DT Damon “Snacks” Harrison and a group of young players on the defensive line, most notably second round pick Dalvin Tomlinson and fifth rounder Avery Moss.
The Giants are hoping that Tomlinson can replace the reps left behind free agent departee Johnathan Hankins (Indianapolis).
“We are missing a couple guys,” Spagnuolo said when asked about the defensive line. “But what we feel good about are a number of things. When you go back three years ago and it was new to everybody. A year ago, when we did this thing, there were a lot of new faces, so it was still new and now the biggest thing to me is the continuity of the coaching staff is huge. Then like you said, there are a lot of guys that we have worked with before. So look, does that mean that you automatically go out there and play again? I don’t think so. We have a lot of work to do.”
Tomlinson will be rotated on the interior of the line with Jay Bromley, in his fourth season out of Syracuse, and Robert Thomas, a free agent the Giants picked up last season who played for a bit down in Carolina.
“There are a bunch of guys that are going to work together,” Spags said. “Jay (Bromley), Robert Thomas and Tomlinson will fill in there and then some other young guys coming in. Then somebody is going to line up there next to Snacks. Between now and the time that we play Dallas, we will figure it out. But we are excited about Dalvin. All the things that you read and heard and I know that Jerry and Ben addressed it. He was a very impressive young man at the combine. He has a great story, like you said, and I think that he is a pretty good football player.”
Moss, who began his college career at Nebraska before ending up at Youngstown State, is a pass rushing defensive end according to GM Jerry Reese but Spagnuolo did not rule out shifting Moss around if he was up to the task.
“He is a pretty explosive guy,” said Spagnuolo. “I think that Jerry talked about that. When you watch him on tape…I don’t know if anyone knows Hugh Douglas from down in Philadelphia and he was the first guy that was just thick and powerful from (the waist) down. Avery is not quite as thick as that, but I thought of him when I watched Avery on tape and he has played that 4-3 defensive end position, which we do a lot of. We still play some under where they have to move down and he looks comfortable doing it, so hopefully put him in the mix with the other guys that we have — Kerry (Wynn), Owa (Odighizuwa) and Romeo (Okwara) — and hopefully he will come up with some good ones.”
The middle linebacker job is up for grabs again this summer but it is all but understood that the Giants are hoping B.J. Goodson, a 2016 fourth-round pick out of Clemson, can win the spot.
“We have a bunch of guys. Look, it is early,” said Spags. “We have got out here in phase two with some walkthroughs. B.J., Keenan (Robinson) those guys are doing a good job and Mark (Herzlich) plays a bunch of different positions, so we will see how it shakes out. I don’t know who will get the first crack. Everybody is going to get reps. In practice, some days you will probably see B.J. out there first, some days you will see Keenan out there first, you might see Mark and a bunch of other guys. The same thing really happened last year if you think about it.”
The secondary is basically unchanged. For the first time in Reese’s 11-year tenure, the Giants did not select any corners or safeties. The club has three top corners in Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Eli Apple but Spagnuolo has to be concerned about the scarcity of depth.
“We can always use more,” said Spagnuolo. “You can never have enough corners. But we have some guys like (Donte Deayon), but he was on IR so he didn’t play a lot in practice, so he comes back. In the secondary, it is good to get a couple guys back. Darian Thompson, I know he is not a corner, but there will be some guys there. (Valentino) Blake is here who is new, so you get some guys out there, let them compete and see how it all unwinds.”
The safety situation is also a question mark. Sure, Landon Collins has developed into one of the game’s best but the spot next to him is wide open again. Last year, Darian Thompson won the free safety job in camp but then broke a bone in his foot and was never heard from again. With both Nat Berhe and Mykkele Thompson out for the season, the Giants leaned on Andrew Adams, a UDFA out of UConn, who had an up and down rookie campaign.
“I think that at that particular position, I think the guys realize that they have to come in and somebody has to surface,” said Spags. “Whoever that is will start at the beginning and like every year, you need probably more than three. Nowadays, you probably need four, so we will see how it plays out”.
Some names to keep an eye on this summer are DT Jarron Jones, a big bodied DT out of Notre Dame, San Diego State LB Curtis Munson and Jadar Johnson, a sizeable safety out of Clemson.