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D-line one step ahead in learning new system


Dalvin Tomlinson is so old that he was recruited by Joe Judge at Alabama and played for defensive coordinator Patrick Graham during Graham's first stint with the Giants. Tomlinson is 26 years old.

If you needed another reminder how much the roster has turned over in recent years, consider that the defensive lineman holds the Giants' longest active starting streak, having done so in all 48 games since he was drafted in the second round in 2017. Wide receiver Sterling Shepard (53 games) is the longest-tenured player on offense now that Eli Manning is retired, and kicker Aldrick Rosas (48) holds the honor on special teams while long snapper Zak DeOssie remains a free agent.

Indeed, these are the New York Giants.

Graham, who also serves as assistant head coach under Judge, spent the 2016 and 2017 seasons as the Giants' defensive line coach. As a rookie in 2017, Tomlinson became the team's first rookie defensive lineman to start 16 games since Barry Cofield in 2006. In the process, Tomlinson made the Pro Football Writers All-Rookie Team.

Now they look to rekindle past successes with each other.

"He's a great coach, super high energy," Tomlinson said of Graham. "He coaches you to the fullest because he wants the full potential brought out of you. Back then, the way he coached the D-line, you could just tell he was going to be a D-coordinator soon."

Tomlinson added, "There are similarities in pretty much every defense that we run. It's a change compared to different defenses we have run in the past. I feel like it's a great defense. I love the coach and I love the schematics we have put in so far."

Graham joined the Giants with 11 years of NFL coaching experience with four teams, including time on the Patriots staff with Judge. He has coached in the playoffs in eight of those seasons and has been part of teams that have won seven division titles, two conference championships and one Super Bowl (XLIX). Most recently, he served as the Miami Dolphins' defensive coordinator in 2019.

"We'll be a team that's multiple by game plan and how we have to match up and attack the opponent," Judge said Tuesday. "The elements of the defense, you can really look through and what it will closely resemble will really be the other stops that Patrick has been along his way that I have been there as well. The New England system, some of the Houston system, the Tennessee system, the Miami system. Those families of defense will be the biggest influences that go into ours. Of course, ours will be mostly dictated by the players we have in the games."

Before winning three Super Bowls in New England, Judge won two national championships as a special teams assistant with the Crimson Tide. During his final year, he helped recruit Tomlinson, one of the top high school seniors in the state of Georgia in 2011.

Judge used to joke that he was going to play the 6-foot-3, 318-pound Tomlinson on kickoff coverage.

"It's just crazy how small the world is," Tomlinson said. "He's a great guy and so is the whole coaching staff. … Just make sure you are ready to work every day. Bring your A game and make sure everyone around you is ready to work. That's all you can do, come to work and do your best."

Building chemistry can be a challenge in a virtual format, but the defensive line has a jump start because most of the people in the "room" have already played together.

"I feel like it gives us an advantage in learning the system more easily because we know how each other learns things and picks up things on a day-to-day basis. … As a front, we want to help across the board, no matter what part of the game it is. We're all trying to build our brotherhood even stronger than it was before. Just continuing to improve as a unit so we can feed off each other."

That familiarity includes Leonard Williams, who signed his franchise tag last month.

"I love Leonard, he is a great guy," Tomlinson said. "I feel like we clicked off the field for the most part because we both love animated video games. We became instant best friends I guess you could say. I love playing beside him, he is a great guy, he brings great energy. We have great chemistry. I'm looking forward to playing with him this upcoming season."

While the players have remained intact, their position coach has changed. The group is now led by Sean Spencer, who held the same position at Penn State from 2014-19, and added the duties of defensive run game coordinator the last four years, as well as serving the past two seasons as associate head coach.

Spencer has been a collegiate defensive line coach for 20 years. Under him, the Nittany Lions' line was traditionally one of the nation's best. In 2019, Penn State had 45 sacks, which was the seventh-highest total in the country. The previous year, they led the nation with 47 and they were also No. 1 in 2015 with 50. Penn State posted five consecutive 40-sack seasons from 2015-19.

"Super high energy guy," Tomlinson said of Spencer. "He always has energy no matter what time of the day it is. I'm looking forward to doing some of his drills when we get back to practice."

Whenever that may be.

View photos of the Giants' active roster as it currently stands.


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