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Training Camp Preview Report: Giants Defense

Posted Jul 27, 2016

Giants.com previews the defense ahead of 2016 Training Camp:  

By now, every Giants fan is very familiar with the problems the defense had last season. They were near the bottom of the league in most statistical categories, including yards allowed, points allowed, passing yards allowed, sacks and third down defense.

It’s up to defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and his new arrivals on defense to turn things around in 2016. The Giants re-signed Jason Pierre-Paul, welcome back Johnathan Hankins and Owa Odighizuwa from injury, and added Olivier Vernon, Damon “Snacks” Harrison and Janoris Jenkins in free agency.

“Well, that makes us all feel comfortable,” Spagnuolo said. “If you’re going to build a defense, you build from inside out. You certainly build the front first, then take care of the edges and corners. I think Jerry’s done a great job giving us those weapons that we can use. It’s not about 11 of the best players out there, it’s about 11 guys who play together the best, and hopefully we can find those 11. We’re excited about the additions, I’m excited about seeing them in some thud, live type contact in the preseason games, and see exactly what we have and shave down the volume of the install and what we have defensively.”

>> COMPETITIONS TO WATCH

In addition to the free agent moves, the Giants also brought in some reinforcements in the draft. With the 10th pick in the draft, the Giants selected cornerback Eli Apple from Ohio State. In the third round, they selected safety Darian Thompson out of Boise State, who already earned first team reps in the spring. B.J. Goodson, a middle linebacker from Clemson, was picked in the fourth round. 

Spagnuolo wants his rookies and the rest of his defense to hit the ground running in the summer.

“We’re going to try and pick up where we left off,” he said. “What we don’t want to do is go backwards. So we’re challenging them a little bit to take their notebooks with them. They have their own spiral notebooks with their notes in them and be ready to go with those first base and sub-packages that we use right from the beginning. Hopefully if they do that when we come back, we’ll be that much further ahead.”

Two specific areas the Giants need to improve that will help all other aspects of the defense are pressuring opposing quarterbacks and playing better on third down.

Olivier Vernon had 7.5 sacks last year for the Dolphins, but according to Pro Football Focus, he led 4-3 defensive ends with 30 quarterback hits and was second with 41 quarterback hurries. His 81 total quarterback pressures were second best in the league among 4-3 defensive ends.

Ideally, the Giants would like to get pressure by rushing only four players and counting on guys like Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul to win their one-on-one matchups. But if that doesn’t work, even though it carries risks, there are ways to manufacture a pass rush.

“The guys that are hard to do it against are the quarterbacks that have the last say and they shut things down. Eli is one of those,” Spagnuolo explained. “Then that gets a bit more challenging, but we’re going to put pressure on quarterbacks both ways. Manufacturing, overloading, and challenging them to get the protection right. Then sometimes just letting our guys go one-on-one, which makes it easier on the corners if you went on one-on-one up front. That’s the hope, and I’m excited and anxious to see what we have coming up.”

An improved pass rush is one way to help the defense on third down. The team has focused on that aspect of the defense in practice.

“Ben has installed a lot of periods where there are third-downs,” Spagnuolo said. “And when we do that as a staff, the players have to be in-tune to what they need to get a first-down, play it accordingly. If it needs to be tighter, make it tighter, if it’s a little bit looser, it’s looser. That’s a thorn in my side and personally as the guy who is supposed to get this thing right. But we have got to and we will be better in third down for a lot of reasons: players, schemes, second year, gathering guys around, maybe a little prayer. But we have to be better on third down.”

Besides the pass rush, with the addition of Jenkins and Apple at corner, the expectation is that the coverage outside will be tighter. The Giants hope safety Landon Collins improves in his second year and one of their young safeties grabs the other starting job.

At linebacker, Kennard is entering his third season, which he hopes will be injury free. Veterans Jasper Brinkley, Kelvin Sheppard, J.T. Thomas, Keenan Robinson, Jonathan Casillas, Mark Herzlich and rookie BJ Goodson will compete for starting jobs as well.  

Even though Spagnuolo has worked with his players a lot during the offseason program, he won’t be able to get a real feel for his defense until they put the pads on and play in some preseason games this summer.

“We know a little bit more about what they know mentally and how fast they can pick it up,” he said. “There are some guys that’ll be vocal, guys that’ll think fast on their feet. But the real part of defensive football is the physical part. We don’t have the full answers to that. We know something about the guys we had in years past, but I’ll be anxious to see some of the young guys and even how some of the old guys gel together, because we have to be physical, we’ve got to be able to stop the run and do those things that come with being a good defense, and the only way to do that is to get out here and practice and do it with real football.”

The real football starts in a couple of days, and the Giants can’t wait to see their new-look defense up close and personal.