“These games make me get a feel for what I’m doing and how I’m going to set myself up for success,” Pierre-Paul said today. “I think I’m doing pretty good in practice, so what I do in practice I carry into the game, but at a much higher level. I feel good, so my mind’s been cleared and I’m ready to go for the 2014 season.”
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JPP had four tackles (three solo) and a quarterback hit Saturday night, when the Giants defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, 20-16. The performance elicited praise yesterday from Tom Coughlin.
“I felt good,” Pierre-Paul said. “I still have to get better. I’ve got a lot of improvement to do. Otherwise, I feel good. Running to the ball, I wasn’t tired, especially on that long (46-yard) screen. I had chased him down. I wasn’t going to catch him but… I feel good, though. I wasn’t tired. That was a long run for me, so I wasn’t tired at all.
“The game situations are different (from practice). … We have so many reps we’re going to do and it’s all timed and stuff. In the game, in a situation like that screen that broke out, you’ve got to run and we don’t get that in practice. We’re trained to run to the ball every time. As a defensive lineman, you try to turn and run to the ball every time. You don’t know what’s going to happen in a game situation. You just have to be ready for it. I feel like, as the preseason goes along, we’re going to be okay. Especially me, I’m going to be okay.”
The last two years, JPP has seemingly been running to get back to the player he was in 2011, when he finished fourth in the NFL with 16.5 sacks and was selected to his first Pro Bowl. He was widely considered one of the NFL’s rising stars. That opinion remained intact the following year, when he returned to the Pro Bowl despite finishing with 10 fewer sacks.
Last season, Pierre-Paul’s name was omitted from conversations about the league’s best defensive ends. When the season started, he was not at full strength because of offseason back surgery. He missed the last five games with a shoulder injury and ended the season with only 2.0 sacks.
But the Giants’ players and coaches believe the dominant JPP will return this season.
“I think he, over the last like 365 days, has done so much on his own that all he needs now is just to go out and have that first big game,” said Mathias Kiwanuka, the starting end on the other side of the line. “I honestly believe that. I can encourage him as much as I can, because I see the talent. I tell him all the time that he can be a $100 million man. He has that capability and he has that kind of potential and he’s young and he’s strong. Once he gets rolling, he’s unstoppable. When he goes out and has that first big game, hopefully it’s Week 1 of the regular season, I think you’ll just see the sacks start to pile up and his confidence will go through the roof and he’ll be good.”
“I’m back now,” he said, “so the only thing that can stop me from being me is me…from being a better player. I went out there with my teammates, running. I’m happy, so I’m good.”
Despite the challenges he faced the last two years, Pierre-Paul never stopped enjoying the game.
“The fun has always been in football for me,” he said. “It never left. Being injured, nobody wants to be injured. It comes with the game; you never know when you’re going to be injured. You have to fight through it. You go out there and play. If you can’t, you can’t.”
This year, JPP most definitely can. And he’s confident opponents will wish he couldn’t
“I’m trying to be better than that 2011-2012 year,” he said. “Each year is a year for you to get better, so that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Better is good. But how much better?
“A lot,” Pierre-Paul said. “Every day is a learning process, still learning the game even more and more. You never can stop learning.”
So does he have a sacks number in mind?
“Nope,” he said. “Unlimited.”
The Giants will take it.