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Steve Spagnuolo updates defensive newcomers

Posted Jul 25, 2017

Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo discusses the outlook of the Giants' defense:

The 2016 Giants defense allowed its fewest points since 2002, but that won’t help it in 2017.

That ship has sailed.

After months of offseason workouts, OTAs, minicamps and roster reconstruction through the draft and free agency, it’s time to embark on a new season, which starts Thursday when the players report to training camp.

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“Like most people in this league, you try to lay a foundation,” defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. “There were some new pieces, so I think guys getting used to each other is important. Now, we were fortunate that we have a lot of the same guys back and then just making sure we flush out last year -- because you can’t go backwards – and put our eyeballs on the goals we have going forward, which are to be better than we were.”

By and large, the same crew returns for the Giants on defense. The notable exceptions are defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, who signed with the Colts as a free agent, and middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, who was not re-signed.

Plans are in place to plug the holes.

“We’ve got the luxury of having a number of guys at the D-tackle spot,” Spagnuolo said. “Obviously, Dalvin [Tomlinson] we brought in and we drafted him for a reason, but Robert Thomas had a heck of a spring. Jay Bromley did [too]. We got [Corbin Bryant] late. So all of those guys will be in the mix. You never play with two big guys; you’re always rolling them through.”

At middle linebacker, the Giants have turned to B.J. Goodson, who played only 13 defensive snaps last season as a rookie fourth-round draft choice.

“B.J. will kick this thing off and be there and we’ll let him roll with it,” said Spagnuolo, who had Giants great Antonio Pierce around as a coaching intern for a few weeks in the offseason to mentor Goodson. “Assuming that the other 10 guys can function well around him and he can get them to function well, we’ll stick with it until something else changes. But I’ll tell you what, I thought B.J. did a nice job in the spring in kind of running with that thing.”

Goodson will benefit from playing behind one of the best defensive lines in the league.

With All-Pro Damon Harrison on the inside and Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon on the outside, the Giants have some versatility to fill out the rotation. That includes strongside linebacker Devon Kennard, who can also play on the line like he did at times during his college career at USC.

“D.K., that guy goes out there and plays SAM linebacker in base, and he basically is on the third or sub situation a defensive end and a guy we can move around and put him in different positions,” Spagnuolo said. “The more we can do that, I think the more productive we can be as a defense, certainly on third down and passing downs.”

The Giants also added Devin Taylor, a 6-foot-7 defensive end who played the previous four seasons in Detroit, at the end of May, a month into the offseason program. Taylor is the tallest player on the team.

“It’s hard to jump in in the middle of training camp, middle of the season, middle of the offseason, because the rest of us are on step four, five and six, and they’ve got to pick up,” Spagnuolo said. “But I thought Devin did a nice job, and if he can continue to do that, that’ll be a big plus for us.”

Last, but certainly not least, one of the most intriguing competitions in training camp will be for cornerback depth. Behind the talented trio of Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Eli Apple, the Giants have decisions to make for a backup role that only continues to gain in importance in today’s NFL.

“Mike Hunter jumped out; I thought he had a heck of a spring,” Spagnuolo said. “[Valentino] Blake got here and was new. He was a little slow early because it was taking a while to get used to the scheme and the volume of the scheme. Double D [Donte Deayon], our little man, gets in and out of there at nickel. He got dinged a little. He’s got to find a way to stay healthy. But that’s going to be an ongoing competition – and it should be. The fourth and fifth corner in this league now are really, really important.”

Let the games begin.