EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** A reporter suggested to Steve Spagnuolo today that one of his players "has got a ways to go," and the Giants' defensive coordinator's response was right off page one of the NFL coaches' manual.
"We all do," Spagnuolo said, "myself included."
Almost three weeks into training camp and with one preseason game completed, the defense is a work in progress under Spagnuolo, who is beginning his second stint as the team's coordinator. On Saturday, the Giants will host the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Spagnuolo expects more from his unit than he saw in the 23-10 loss in Cincinnati on Friday. He saw some of the hustle and physicality he craves, but not as frequently as he prefers.
"I saw more of it in the practices against Cincinnati, to be honest with you," Spagnuolo said. "I'm not really sure in the game. I think if you were to ask every one of our guys to a man, we would've thought that we would have played more physical and faster. We're all trying to put our finger on that, and I think everybody has to look in the mirror first. But that is the goal. I think you can make up for a lot of mistakes if you do that, we all know that. That's the goal, that's been a goal right from the beginning."
Some of the players have talked about not playing as fast as they would have liked. Because it was the first time the players had a chance to impress Tom Coughlin and Spagnuolo in a game, it's not unreasonable to think that would not be an issue.
"You know what I attribute that to?" Spagnuolo said. "And we talked about it. I think they were thinking too much because they wanted to be right, and it's the first game, and there's a lot of youth on our side of the ball. I think it was more that. Look, we focused a lot on that and we're talking about it now. I'm hoping in this next go-around that it will be 'think fast and just go.' That's what the defensive game is all about. I told them, don't worry about making mistakes. Maybe I didn't say that enough going into the game. If you're a guy and you want to make the football team, and they're always being corrected for an error, they want to be perfect. We're going to chase perfection, but we're going to rely on relentless. That's what we're going to try to do."
The first unit surrendered two scores during its short stint. On the Bengals' first possession, they drove 52 yards in six plays, the last a three-yard touchdown pass from Andy Dalton to Mohamed Sanu. Cincinnati's next possession began at its own 43-yard line after the Giants missed a 53-yard field goal attempt. The Bengals traveled just 29 yards before Tom Obarski's 46-yard field goal made it 10-0.
"I'll be honest, like I told the guys, I didn't think we started out like we should have," Spagnuolo said. "That was a little disappointing. We talked about that the other day. Cincinnati came out and jumped us pretty quick, I thought got us on our heels a little bit. I think the guys felt that, too.
"The first touchdown, I'm going to take the onus on that one. We didn't game plan against Cincinnati. Had we been game planning, we would have played that bunch route they had a little bit differently. The way we were playing it made it real challenging for our guys. So we certainly could have played that better, that wasn't the players' fault, it was just that particular play. We shouldn't have let them down that close, but that particular play was really on the coaches, my fault."
Spagnuolo expounded on several other defensive-related subjects:
On rookie safety Landon Collins being sidelined with a knee injury:*
"The biggest concern is all the time he's missing," Spagnuolo said. "He is staying in tune, he was standing by me most of yesterday as the calls went in. He gave me the feedback, he's trying to stand behind there in the walkthroughs. That's about all he can do right now until he can get healthy. It's just one of those things that set you back. I don't know where we are with game time and all of that, as far as these preseason games. But that's valuable, valuable experience for any rookie, but especially a safety who we're depending on to make calls and changes and adjustments, so it'll be a challenge."
How Collins' progress was before he was hurt early in the Cincinnati game:*
"He was progressing like you would hope when you take a guy as high as we did (the first selection in the second round of the NFL Draft), and with the expectation that he would fit in there," Spagnuolo said. "I'd prefer not to slot rookies right in there as starters; you make them earn it. But it was obvious here that Landon is ahead of the game. Playing at Alabama, I think, helps. He had come leaps and bounds in the verbal part of it, the mental part of it, handling the volume. I think some of the guys were starting to get confidence in him. It still has a ways to go, and then when you lose this amount of time, I think that sets him back a little bit. So he's going to have to come back in and play catch up. Hopefully he can do that, and get everybody back on the same page."
On middle linebacker Jon Beason's learning curve in the new defense:*
"I think anytime it's new language, new system - but look, I love Jon Beason," Spagnuolo said. "We do individual stuff, him and I get a lot. He's a football player, he loves the game. When you're passionate about football and want to do the right thing, that's what comes out. I think he said to me, it might've been in the walk-through here, he was moving the trash cans around that we use and getting them perfect. I said, 'You wanted to get those right?' He goes, 'Yeah.' He goes, 'I'm like that, I want it to be perfect.' He goes, 'It's a blessing and a curse.' And it is, we all know that. Sometimes you can try to be too perfect. But I love working with him. I watched him out here yesterday, and coming off a game, having a day off, and everybody being sore, it's a little sluggish. I felt we were sluggish yesterday, but you watch Jon Beason, and he was flying around like a rookie. And good for him. I pointed that out in the meeting, and all the other guys need to follow suit. I love working with him."
On what he sees from his defensive ends:*
"I think they're all kind of clumped together," Spagnuolo said. "When I say that, I think we have some guys that will play relentless football. I was kind of impressed with some of the things that the guys did up front. Now, there are some tweaks and some mental errors that we have to get ironed out, and I think they'll do that. A lot of those guys are ready, set, go. That's not a bad quality in a defensive end, to do that."
On how he plans to use second-year linebacker Devon Kennard:*
"In a lot of places right now," Spagnuolo said. "He's a good football player. He looks like they're supposed to look. He's versatile in that he can play off the ball as a linebacker, in my opinion. He plays up on the line as what we call a SAM linebacker. And sometimes we put him down there to rush. That means we've got a pretty good football player. So keep him healthy, don't overload him. And yet he wants more and more. So I think those are all good qualities."
On third-year defensive end Damontre Moore.*
"I love Damontre," Spagnuolo said. "I love guys that like to have fun, I really do. Look, he pulled me aside in the walk-through because we had put one or two little wrinkles in, and he wanted to make sure he had it exactly right. This is what I'm hearing and this is what I'm doing. So he's passionate, he wants to do well. We're looking for him to do good things. We'll fit him in there where we can, and fit him in the right spots."
Giants players and coaches meet the media before Training Camp practice