EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants' trade of Jason Pierre-Paul to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on March 22 left a lingering question about who would provide their pass rush this season. JPP led the team in 2017 with 8.5 sacks. The players remaining on the roster after the trade totaled 12.0 sacks, led by Olivier Vernon's 6.5.
In the offseason, the Giants added a pass-rusher in the draft in linebacker Lorenzo Carter, the third-round selection from Georgia, plus five-year pro Kareem Martin, and 10-year veteran Connor Barwin, who signed on the opening day of training camp. Kerry Wynn, Romeo Okwara, and Avery Moss could potentially harass quarterbacks from the outside, while tackles Damon Harrison, Dalvin Tomlinson and rookie B.J. Hill can provide an inside push.
Defensive coordinator James Bettcher, who has brought a 3-4 scheme to the Giants, said today he is pleased with the group's progress.
"I think it's a group of guys that are really working their craft," Bettcher said. "I think to be a really good pass rusher in this league, see I've been so lucky – I've been around some of the best in the last decade, from Dwight (Freeney), to John Abraham, to Chandler (Jones), to Markus (Golden), Robert Mathis, and now O.V. (Vernon) – I've been lucky. I've learned more from them than they've learned from me. And just one of the things I've learned is each guy is different and each guy's toolbox of a rusher is different, and it doesn't need to be a huge repertoire of moves and all those things.
"We've just really tried to talk to each guy individually and focus on, hey, what's the two things you're trying to work, and keep them on track on working on those things. To answer your question, I love the direction it's heading. We still have work to do, we still have another two to three weeks of really good work to find out who our best guys are going to be, whether it's four guys rushing or guys rushing from different angles in those one-on-ones. We've got to identify that. I don't want to be too quick to identify who those four guys are, because I want them to grow.
Bettcher didn't hesitate when asked if any of the young players have stood out.
"Lorenzo's really had a couple of good practices and as in any rookie," Bettcher said. "The challenge is to stack them – it's not to have one day in flash, it's to have two days and, okay, let's go correct what we've got to correct, then as a young guy, do we see when you go to the field, do we see those corrections happen and do we see it continue to get better? So we're looking for a third day in a row from him. He's had some on and off days, he's had two pretty good days in a row, and we're looking for a third good day today."
Behind the front seven, Bettcher is trying to identify a starting free safety and nickel corner, as well as key reserves.
"I love the competition that's going on," he said. "I think there's great competition going on a lot of places, but two positions being the safety spot and outside at corner being the third corner, maybe even the starting nickel, and that could be a safety nickel, that could be a corner nickel, so however that works out. I think there's just great competition at it. Not worried, not excited, just staying level with that – the same thing as we talk about the rushers. We're in a process mode right now. We're in each and every day, we're trying to get better. We're not judging, we're just looking at, hey, how much individual improvement are you making versus the next guy? And at the end of the day, we'll sort those things out."
Landon Collins is secure as the strong safety, but it's anyone's guess who will start next to him. Last week, a different free safety lined up next to him in four consecutive practices. In order, they were Darian Thompson, Curtis Riley, Andrew Adams and Michael Thomas.
"I'd say there's four guys that are in that role right now," Bettcher said. "There's none that's separated themselves. We're just going to keep letting the process work and there's always something you'll appreciate about competition. Those guys are all in, and they're helping each other and they're helping grow. And that's kind of leads to the collective of this defense as these guys are trying to take care of each other, encourage each other, push each other, and those individual competitions within position groups, if we have that mindset, it leads to the group and these next three weeks, there's going to be a lot to be determined at that position as well as some other places."
Some quick hits from Bettcher:
*On Collins: "Landon has embraced anything we've thrown at him. You've probably seen by now he's been in the box a little bit, he's been up high a little bit, he's been down low and outside a little bit, he's been on the line of scrimmage, coming from the line of scrimmage at times, so he's really embraced those things and he's detailed each of those places."
*On Hill, the rookie third-round draft choice from North Carolina State: "He's been really physical at the point. I think one thing he really does well for a young guy is plays well with his hands at the line of scrimmage, and I think some of the guys you get coming in, their hands aren't well enough but they're not fast enough or they're not strong enough to be able to handle the blockers that they have to play against in this league, and he's done well with that."
*On his high-octane coaching style: "I can't ask my guys to bring energy if I'm not. It's the same thing with our position coaches that are doing such a great job. We've got such a great group of coaches that coach (Pat) Shurmur has assembled here on the defense, each of the positions. I can't ask them to bring energy if I'm not going to bring it. I learned a long time ago what you emphasize is what you get, and that seems so elementary but it's the truth. And we're just going to emphasize the details, emphasize the energy and physicality it takes to play this game, and if it's not good enough, we're going to be honest about it in the room, talking to ourselves, and if it is great, we're going to recognize that as well."
*The Giants terminated the contract of cornerback Teddy Williams, who missed four practices last week for personal reasons.