EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** A year ago, the offensive players reported for the start of the Giants offseason conditioning program wondering what new coordinator Ben McAdoo had in store for them. Now it's the defensive players who are waiting to have their questions answered. The program began today in the Quest Diagnostics Training Center, where most of the defenders met Steve Spagnuolo for the first time.
Spagnuolo this offseason replaced Perry Fewell as the Giants' defensive coordinator, a position Spagnuolo held in 2007-08.
"It's very exciting," cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. "If you know anything about Spags and what he has done in this league, you know his defenses get after it. He's already gone to the Super Bowl with this team. You are excited to play for him and get back to playing that type of defense."
"I was always a fan of his from afar," linebacker Jon Beason said. "Now having the opportunity to play for him is something I really look forward to it. I did have a conversation with Antonio Pierce and Jonathan Vilma (linebackers who played for Spagnuolo) and they all had good things to say about him. I am looking forward to it and just trying to do my part and make sure I live up to the hype."
Jameel McClain is one of the few Giants familiar with Spagnuolo. He played the last of his six seasons with the Baltimore Ravens in 2013, when Spagnuolo was a senior defensive assistant under John Harbaugh.
"Everyone on the defense is going to find out about Spags," McClain said. "There isn't really anything I have to tell them. He is a smart man. He is an honest man. He is a fair man. That is everything that every player wants all together. That is all they need to know about him. The rest of that is that they just go out there and play and we will be great.
"I think everybody will love Spags, not just people on the team, but fans. They already know about Spags. They know what he brings to the game. Everybody will buy in and we will have a great defense off of what he brings to the game, too."
In 2007, Spagnuolo's first season with the Giants, the defense yielded an average of 305 yards a game, a 37.4-yard improvement over the previous season. They also led the NFL with 53 sacks. In the four-game postseason, the Giants allowed an average of just 16.3 points per game. In the Super Bowl XLII victory over New England, Spagnuolo's schemes and adjustments held the 18-0 Patriots – who had averaged a league-high 36.8 points a game in the regular season - to 14 points.
In 2008, the Giants' defense continued to improve, giving up only 292.0 yards a game. That defense was ranked ninth against the run (95.8 yards a game) and eighth vs. the pass (196.2) and allowed 294 points, 57 fewer than the previous season.
Spagnuolo didn't mention any of those statistics when he met with his players for the first time today.
Photos of Interim Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's two stints with the Giants
"It was great meeting the new coaches (including secondary/cornerbacks coach Tim Walton) and learning about the tradition of the Giants," cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "(They talked about) getting back to the pillars starting with the Maras and the Tisches and the players who went before us - the Jessie Armsteads, the Tom Landrys, the LT's. All of that has been really educating.
"Learning a new defense is definitely a challenge. It is like learning a whole new language every year if that is happening. It is definitely a challenge, but it is a good challenge for all of us."
Beason said he was excited after speaking with Pierce, the Giants' middle linebacker during Spagnuolo's first tenure here.
"He said, 'You are going to be able to run, which you love,'" Beason said. "He is going to coach you hard. He is very detailed and he is very in the trenches with his guys. He loves what he does. Anytime you have a coach that is passionate about what he does and he loves the game, you want to play hard for him. I am on board. That is what I want to do."
Beason, who played in just four games last season before undergoing foot surgery, has progressed physically but is eager to see how he responds in the offseason workouts.
"The problem with training is it is hard to simulate pushing into another man or making a tackle," Beason said. "That is the toughest part about trying to get ready to gauge where you are physically. But in terms of training, I have had an outstanding offseason. I am in great shape. I am running around and changing directions. Everything feels good. I am just being smart and continuing to focus on those little muscles and not do too much and a lot is based on recovering. You hit it a little bit, recover and see how it feels the next day. I was rehabbing every day back home. I was training every day. I was able to double up some days. It has been a process, but it's been a good one. I feel good about where we are today. Obviously, we start preparing to win a championship now, but the season starts in September."
- Amukamara played in eight games before missing the rest of the season with a torn right biceps.
"I would say I am about 90 percent," Amukamara said. "I have been doing everything. I have been doing the lifts. I have been coming in for treatments, so I should be good."
- Running back Rashad Jennings, on the difference between his first and second offseason programs with the Giants:
"It is a night and day difference," he said. "(I am) not coming in and trying to figure out names and where the bathroom is and the little things that take some thought and energy. It is all about football and executing and making plays. I think (offensive coordinator Ben) McAdoo hit it on the head, saying, 'Last year we installed a system, and this year we are molding ours.' It is full speed ahead. The only thing on our minds is doing what we need to do to get into the Super Bowl."