General manager Jerry Reese put a lot of team owner John Mara’s resources into improving the New York Giants defense over the years, adding cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple to the secondary, defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison and defensive end Olivier Vernon to the defensive line, and saw safety Landon Collins ascend to arguably becoming the best at his position in the entire league.
There’s as much talent on the defensive side of the ball as the star-studded offense, but any success Big Blue has this season in stopping opponents naturally starts up front. The defensive line features accomplished veterans such as ends Pierre-Paul and Vernon, and tackle Harrison.
Rookie Dalvin Tomlinson, a second-round pick from the University of Alabama, also figures to play a prominent role. Whether he starts alongside “Snacks” has yet to be decided, but for the former Crimson Tide star, he feels he’s making gains on the depth chart.
“I feel I can grab that [starting] spot, because that’s one of those spots you have to be physical every single play,” Tomlinson reasoned.
Linebacker and defensive captain Jonathan Casillas has been impressed with how fast the new guys are picking up defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s system, and how rejuvenated and hungry the returning veterans have been.
Casillas noted that hunger began right after the Giants were thrashed in Green Bay, 38-13, in Wild Card action. He said this defense has a great blend of new and old. And he also predicts big years from his bookend pass rushers, but added that his linebacker corps must also help.
“Our linebackers gotta really step up this year, [and] play better than we’ve ever played since I’ve been here. Those guys [Pierre-Paul and co.] are feared around the league, and we’re just trying to play up to their tempo,” said Casillas who was adamant at the type of success the front line will have, particularly the ends. “O.V. [Vernon] is healthy this year. He had a wrist [injury] he was dealing with, last year. He was literally playing with one hand, last year. Now, he’s gonna have two hands the whole year. And JPP [Pierre-Paul] has one-and-a-half hands [but] he knows how to use it fully now, so he’s good. He’ll tell you about it, too, [that] he can do pull-ups and all that.”
When asked for a sleeper name, Casillas touted a former undrafted player as one to watch.
“Don’t sleep on Romeo [Okwara],” Casillas said about the second-year player from Notre Dame. “There’s always three great pass rushers for the Giants — Justin Tuck, Michael Strahan, and Osi [Umenyiora].”
Add to the fact that Spagnuolo has bestowed more trust to his defense with yet another season under his tutelage, and the Giants seem poised to have an even better statistical season than last year’s.
“Spags, I think he’s let his guard down a little bit. He’s let us, as players, kind of dictate to him in what we like to do and what we’re comfortable with,” Casillas said, noting that trust from the coach has allowed the defense to play free.
Today was Day 4 of training camp for the Giants, and it was the first in full pads. If the offensive line holds up, it’s already a given the offense will shine. And if that happens, it’s safe to bet the defensive side of the ball will be up to the task of matching such excellence, as well – making the Giants one of the more well-balanced and feared teams in the National Football League.