EAST RUTHERFORD - Jason Pierre-Paul is a splendid athlete, but that doesn't make him immune to conditioning issues on the football field.
The Giants' first-round draft choice didn't miss a rep in Saturday's minicamp practices but fought through a back issue that both he and Coach Tom Coughlin said was conditioning-related.
"It was a back problem, that's it - a back problem," said Pierre-Paul, the defensive end from South Florida the Giants secured with the 15th selection in the draft. "Actually it's conditioning, you know what I mean. Nothing I couldn't handle.
"My back just starting hurting, my lower back. It's just a conditioning thing. It did that at South Florida, too, and I got used to it."
Coughlin didn't seem too worried about his prized recruit.
"He is going through the conditioning aspect of this," said Coughlin, who moved the afternoon practice indoors to escape the noise from a music festival in the Meadowlands parking lots. "I think he is suffering a little, but he hung in there.
"I just think he is – like a lot of them - suffering a little bit because it is hotter than it has been. They had two (practices) yesterday and they had a time to cramp up and get sore and then come back in this morning and have to do it again. I wish he was running around like perhaps I had thought that he would be. But he learns; he learns every time he gets out there."
Pierre-Paul was briefly treated on the field by one of the team's trainers. Despite the sore back, he has made a favorable first impression in this camp. He has exceptionally long arms, quickness at the snap and explosiveness. Pierre-Paul has lined up at both left and right defensive end and has no preference. "I like playing both, really," he said.
In response to a question, Pierre-Paul emphasized an issue stemming from "conditioning" does not mean he is out of shape.
"I'm not out of shape," he said. "I feel like I'm in good shape right now. The fact that I was out there bending down and stuff, it wasn't because I was out of shape. I kept telling coach that, 'I'm not out of shape right now.' I feel like I'm in great shape, but my back was just killing me.
"I finished practice, even though it was hurting me or whatever. I finished it, but it wasn't anything I couldn't handle. It's just the fact that when I try to get down in my three-point stance, it hurts. It's like a pinch, but I do it anyway. When I stand up, it's gone. When I get back down, it hurts."
Just because it hurts in May doesn't mean it will still be sore in August or September. The good news from Pierre-Paul is that he has never had a problem with his back in a game.
"Right after conditioning and stuff it goes away," he said. "(It's) just a training camp thing."
*Defensive tackle Linval Joseph, the second round selection from East Carolina, is an uncommonly strong 318-pounder. He said his strength comes from long hours lifting weights.
"I sleep in the weight room," Joseph said. "I guess strength is a big part (of his success). If you're strong, then you can hit in certain places. You can finish practice, and finish the game because you're strong."
The Giants believe Joseph will develop into a dominant inside player.
"He is a big load that can run, he is athletic," Coughlin said. "He has a good attitude. He was struggling a little bit yesterday afternoon as well. But he fought his way through that and seemed to do well this morning and had enough energy to be able to talk up to the other guys when they looked like they were dragging."
*Perhaps no draft choice has a more clear-cut opportunity than fourth-round selection Phillip Dillard of Nebraska. Dillard is a middle linebacker, a position where the Giants have not identified a presumptive starter since the release of Antonio Pierce.
"All you heard during the draft was that they needed inside linebackers," Dillard said. "It's a great opportunity. I'm trying to make the best of it. I have this playbook, and I have to make sure I learn everything and get down the terminology, and earn the respect of the veterans."
Dillard will presumably battle Jonathan Goff, Gerris Wilkinson and Bryan Kehl for the starting job. Coughlin was asked what traits he prefers in a middle linebacker.
"Solid football player who is smart enough to help us get lined up," Coughlin said. "Can especially (contribute) on first and second down. Has got leadership tools, will earn the right to be a leader and perhaps be an individual that doesn't mind telling other people when they are not in position properly; so a lot of those things. But I think the first thing that has to happen is that the young player has to get his own game in line before he can talk to anybody else."
Dillard is apparently off to a good start. Asked if any of the rookies on defense has stepped up as a leader this weekend, Pierre-Paul quickly answered, "the linebacker, Dillard."
*Mitch Petrus, the guard chosen on the fifth round, played fullback in high school and again in 2006 as a sophomore at Arkansas. If the Giants were in a pinch, or needed a big body in a short yardage or goal line situation, would he welcome a return to the backfield?
"I sure would," Petrus said. "If they need it, and if the situation calls for it, I could definitely do it. I used to play fullback, and that'd be a great opportunity as well."
Coughlin is more concerned with Petrus' development on the offensive line.
"He's strong, he can anchor in there," Coughlin said. "He is powerful. He can block those big three techniques (defensive tackles) that we see all of the time in this division. He can pull."
*Sixth round draft choice Adrian Tracy is making the conversion from playing defensive end at William & Mary to outside linebacker with the Giants.
"He is athletic; tries hard," Coughlin said. "We have seen him do it (play linebacker) in an all-star game, so I think he can do it. It is going to take a little bit. There are a lot of things to take place when you are out there in space. He doesn't have his hand on the ground like he has played most of his life."
Tracy said he played linebacker as a freshman in high school (Potomac Falls in Virginia) and in the Texas vs. the Nation college All-Star Game.
"It's fairly new to me," he said. "I'm making the transition. I'm learning. I'm getting more comfortable with my stance. I'm not in a rush to put my hand in the dirt, but wherever they need me, I will play. Right now, I'm trying the SAM linebacker spot out and seeing how that works. Hopefully, I can transition in and contribute to the team."