EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** Jerry Reese doesn't know if or when Jason Pierre-Paul is going to return to the field, but he is confident the Giants' defense will improve this season whether the two-time Pro Bowl defensive end suits up or not.
"I think we'll be really good defensively," Reese said today. "I think we're going to surprise people. I think we have five defensive ends that we feel like can play and play at a high level at that position. I do think our defense is going to be a better unit than it was last year. I'm excited to see them out there playing."
Reese, entering his ninth season as the Giants' general manager, held his annual training camp news conference at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center. He was mostly reticent about two of the team's most newsworthy issues, the status of Pierre-Paul, who was injured in a July 4 fireworks accident, and the contract of quarterback Eli Manning, which expires after the 2015 season.
Reese began his meeting with reporters by answering a question on JPP and making it crystal clear that was all he was going to say on the subject.
"I don't have anything really to report about that situation," Reese said. "I am going to say this, I wish Jason nothing but the best. This is a traumatic situation. It was an accident. Plenty of people have opinions about it. My heart goes out to him. For a young man to have a traumatic event like that in his life is life-changing for him. I hope and pray for the best for him, that's what I can say about that. Other than that, I'm not going to say anything else about what Jason's situation is, except I hope for the best and hopefully he's healing mentally and physically and that he can be back to himself as soon as possible. That's all I'm going to say about the Jason situation."
That didn't deter a reporter from asking a follow-up question.
"I'm not going to say anything else about the Jason situation," Reese said. "There's plenty of people (who) already talked about it, and everybody's got an opinion about it. You can still form your own opinion about it, but that's my opinion about it."
Without Pierre-Paul, the Giants have eight defensive ends on their roster, most notably Robert Ayers, George Selvie, Damontre Moore, Kerry Wynn and this year's third-round draft choice, Owamagbe Odighizuwa. None of them has exhibited the star power of JPP, but that doesn't preclude them from being vital, productive and successful players.
"It's a great opportunity for us, that's what the National Football League is about," Reese said. "When you have an injury, somebody can step out of the shadows and do something great. It's a great opportunity for some more guys at that position to step out of the shadows and do that. There are some guys that have been around for a while. Damontre Moore is a guy that sticks out in my mind, Kerry Wynn. We've got some other guys, we drafted Owa. There's some more guys at that position that we like and think can help shore up that position for us."
The quarterback position, of course, is ably manned by Manning, who is entering his 12th season as the starter. Reese doesn't publicly discuss contract negotiations, and he wasn't about to make an exception about Manning.
"I'm not going to talk about a contract," he said. "Eli is here and he's working hard like the rest of the players. He's excited about the offense. It's his second year in this offense and he's got some healthy guys around him again. Our offensive line, we worked on that some. We think the sky is the limit. I think Eli should have a big year."
Reese is equally bullish on the entire team. The Giants have missed the playoffs each of the last three seasons and were 6-10 last year. At his camp-opening news conference, Giants president John Mara said, "it's time to put a stop to it. I do think we have enough talent here to have a team that can be in the playoffs and we can contend for a championship. That's what I still believe and that's what my expectations are."
If Reese is feeling the pressure from the three-year streak and ownership's hopes, he hides it well.
"We always have high expectations here, and that will never change," Reese said. "We always have high expectations and we expect our coaches to perform high, John Mara expects me to perform high. We expect our coaches to perform high, we expect our players to perform high. Our expectation is always high here. Again, we want to go out there and compete for the division and get a chance to get in the tournament.
"The pressure is always there, the pressure is always the same. It's the National Football League - every year is a different year, regardless if you win or you don't make the playoffs. It's a pressure-fueled profession and it's a high-performance business and we relish the challenge. … Every year is a win-or-else season in the National Football League, that never changes, either."
Reese discussed several other subjects at his news conference:
- On seeing wide receivers Victor Cruz and Odell Beckham Jr., who rehabbed injuries that kept them out of spring drills, on the practice field together.
"I'm just happy to see Victor out there," Reese said. "It's a long way back, he had a big injury (torn patellar tendon in his right knee). I still don't think he's 100 percent back but I think he's close. We'll continue to take him slow. To see those two guys out there together, it's exciting for us and exciting for our fans. We think they can be a good tandem out there together."
- On the state of the offensive line without left tackle Will Beatty, who tore a pectoral muscle in May:
"We're going to get Will Beatty back at some point, hopefully maybe in October," Reese said. "I'm not sure what exactly the timeline is. He's working hard trying to get back. We drafted Ereck Flowers, obviously. He's working hard out there at left tackle. We've got a couple young veterans that we've drafted lately and a couple older guys that we have in our offensive line. There's some guys behind them as well competing for some positions. I think we'll have enough to get us through and play well up front."
- On how important a healthy Jon Beason at middle linebacker is to the defense:
"Beason, it's a big year for him," Reese said. "I hope he can stay healthy. If he can stay healthy, I think he gives us a lot of pop in there. He gives us that leadership that you want out of that middle linebacker position. So far, so good. He's been running around and playing with a high motor, he's a high-motor player. If he can stay healthy, that will be tremendous for us."
- On his feelings about the current roster:
"I like our roster," Reese said. "I think it's a good roster and, obviously, the proof is in the pudding. We've got to get out there and prove it. Like I said earlier, it's a high-performance business and you've got to go out there and perform. I think our players are hungry, they're excited about the season, the expectation is high and I think they're up for the challenge."