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Defense adjusts to roster moves with the focus on Redskins

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants this week traded two of his starters, but defensive coordinator James Bettcher emphatically said today he will not tolerate a decline in effort or production from anyone on his unit.

“We’re going to keep running to it, our guys are going to keep playing hard,” Bettcher said in the wake of the departures of cornerback Eli Apple and defensive tackle Damon Harrison. “I think coach (Pat) Shurmur said it the best, that if anyone is talking about us tanking on defense, that’s just a disrespect to everyone that’s working the process, that’s on the field practicing, that’s in the room watching tape and getting ready.”

Bettcher said the team’s leadership will help keep everyone focused on the primary goal, which is defeating the Washington Redskins at home Sunday in the Giants’ final game before the bye.

“I love that we have vets in our locker room,” Bettcher said. “I love that we have guys of high character on our defense that no matter what the challenge is – whether the challenge is 1-6 and finding a way to get a win, or if this team were a five-win team and we were trying to not be complacent. I think there’s high character in the room and that’s important.”

While appreciative of their contributions, Bettcher understands the decision to send Apple to New Orleans and Harrison to Detroit.

“Those are organizational decisions, and personally, I came here to be a New York Football Giant,” Bettcher said. “This is a special organization, it’s a special place to work, and it’s a special place to play football. Trades happen in-season, they happen in the offseason, they happen various times throughout the course of the year, and under no circumstances are any of our players or any of our coaches ever going to run from anything.”

The Giants have several cornerbacks and linemen who will take the reps that were formally Apple’s and Harrison’s. In the secondary, the candidates include B.W. Webb, Antonio Hamilton, Grant Haley, Mike Jordan and Sean Chandler. Up front, Dalvin Tomlinson will slide over and take Harrison’s spot at nose tackle, and B.J. Hill, Kerry Wynn, Josh Mauro, Mario Edwards, Jr. and John Jenkins could all move up the line.

“(I) learned this message from a wise coach I worked for, and he said the next man up, let’s go,” Bettcher said. “It’s an opportunity for those guys to get exposure and get a chance to play, and play more snaps. It might mean five more snaps for one guy, it might mean 20 more snaps for another guy, it might mean a starting role for a couple guys. But there’s no hesitation in my mind, there’s no concern about those kinds of moves when all I know is everything that we’re trying to do is in the best interest of the Giants and the best interest of us today as we sit here coming out of walk-thru trying to find a way to get a win this week versus a really good opponent.”

Harrison is widely considered one of the NFL’s best run-stopping tackles, so all eyes will be on Tomlinson to match his production. He is well-qualified to do so. Since the Giants selected him out of Alabama on the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Tomlinson has started all 23 games. With Harrison’s departure, that is the team’s longest active starting streak.

Tomlinson has 21 tackles this season, but his real value is in occupying blockers and giving the team’s linebackers more opportunities to make plays.

“The thing with Dalvin is, he’s an extremely heavy-handed striker, a guy that can punch and separate, a guy that has the ability to displace blockers, and he’s going to get his great fair share of snaps,” Bettcher said. “But the truth is, there’s going to be a great rotation in that room. I think we’ve kind of done that to this point. Snacks (Harrison) had played similar, around 50 percent of the snaps to this point. You might ask me why, and at the end of the day, you have to have a great rotation in the (defensive) line room. This is a long season, we played a span of where there was three games in a matter of a pretty quick turnaround, but at the end of the day, if you’re going to be good in your front, you have to have a rotation with some of those core guys. Dalvin will be a huge part of that rotation, as he has been, and some other guys in the room are going to get some shots.

“Mauro, Kerry, Mario – all those guys are going to get snaps. You’re going to see them all up there. We just got to the point in (Arizona), we had a nose and we were right and left with our defensive linemen. I think as much motion and shifting and some of that stuff you get in the NFL right now, that’s really the direction you want to be, is have a guy that can play right and a guy that plays left.”

Bettcher, who was the Arizona Cardinals’ defensive coordinator for three seasons before joining the Giants, was asked what attributes he seeks in a nose tackle, and whether Tomlinson brings something different to the positon than Harrison did.  

“A guy that has power that can knock the point back, that can hold the point of your defense inside such a middle of the defense spot,” Bettcher said. “I think what you find is the better you are at some positions, the more people try to – I don’t want to use the word expose – attack you in different ways.

“When you have a guy like Dalvin or even a guy like Snacks in the middle, you might get more perimeter runs, some runs that are going sideways to the sideline and stretched, and maybe downhill stuff, and I think Dalvin is going to do a great job in there and I’m excited to watch him play inside and continue to get better. The great thing about him, he still has a lot of football ahead of him in his career and he has a lot of room to grow and become a better player. I love his work ethic. I like how he works in individuals. When you’re here and watching individuals, just watch how well he works. He’s a pro, he’s working on getting better, and he’s very conscious of the things he needs to get better at.”

On Sunday, he’ll have the opportunity to display his skills against an NFC East rival.

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