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Surrounded by vets, B.J. Goodson called upon to lead defense


B.J. Goodson will start at middle linebacker for the Giants when the season kicks off Sunday in Dallas:

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It is possible that no other NFL defense is constructed quite like that of the Giants.

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When they open their season tomorrow night in Dallas, the Giants could have eight defensive starters who have played at least 32 career games, all but one who have started at least that many. That group includes Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who has started 114 of 138 regular-season games, Janoris Jenkins (73 of 75), Jason Pierre-Paul (69 of 95) and Damon Harrison (64 of 69).

But B.J. Goodson, who as the middle linebacker plays perhaps the unit's most important position, will enter this prime-time clash of division rivals with…zero starts. And not one member of the roster or coaching staff is worried about it.

"I feel confident going into this game with B.J. as our middle linebacker," Pierre-Paul said this week. "He's gotten to a point where he can call the defense and be comfortable with us. He gives a call and it's clear for us, which is good."

"We are very confident in B.J that he can handle the role," coach Ben McAdoo said.

Not every young player can step into the huddle of a veteran defense and immediately call signals and have the respect of his more experienced teammates. But Goodson did it, seemingly without one setback.

"I think it's a credit to B.J., showing his maturity, that he's assuming some of a leadership role," linebackers coach Bill McGovern said. "But it's also a credit to the rest of the guys in the huddle. We've got a bunch of really good guys in the huddle, other leaders out there, too. It hasn't been just B.J. doing everything. Yes, he's making the calls, setting the defense, stuff like that, but there's other guys out there that are helping him mature and helping him take control of the defense."

Goodson appreciates all the support.

"I always say, them being comfortable with me calling and leading the defense was the biggest thing for me," Goodson said. "Those guys feeling that way makes me feel a whole lot better with calling the defense, and it makes it a lot easier for myself.

"Any great defense in any sport, there has to be great communication. So talking to those guys, those guys responding and talking to me, it makes everything a lot easier."

Goodson joined the Giants as a fourth-round draft choice from Clemson in 2016. As a rookie, he played in 15 games, including six in which he was a substitute linebacker. He had two tackles, plus seven on special teams. But the Giants had enough confidence in Goodson that they did not re-sign Kelvin Sheppard and plugged the second-year pro into the middle of the defense when spring drills began.

Godson has done nothing but confirm for McAdoo, the defensive coaches, and the players that it was the correct decision.

"I'm really pleased with what he's done," defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. "It's not just what he's doing on the field and controlling, like they all do. I watch the little things on the side and how he relates to his teammates and how he has really taken upon the extra added responsibility of being the leader of that group. Now, there are some leaders in there – J.C. (Jonathan Casillas) and Snacks (Damon Harrison). But he takes control of the huddle, and I think he is gaining a tremendous amount of respect from his teammates throughout this whole offseason."

"He moves around like a football player," McAdoo said. "I talked to him (this week), and I told him that he looks like he was born for the position. But, most importantly, he has earned it. First, second and third down, he's out there. He takes ownership of the defense, and I'm excited to watch him play on Sunday."

Goodson is focusing on his assignments while ensuring that he will enjoy his first NFL start.

"I keep life very simple," he said. "Just taking it a day at a time. Preparing and just having fun, man. A lot of guys get caught up in the moment and forget to have fun. I never doubted (I would be in this position)," he said. "I've always prepared as a starter, so it's something that I've always felt it coming."

"It doesn't matter what you are, as long as you're doing it with confidence," McGovern said. "B.J. is practicing and working hard and doing it all with confidence. It shows up out there. He's vocal. He makes decisions and gets us lined up and lets us go play."

*Mike Sullivan was the Giants' wide receivers coach the first six years of Eli Manning's career. He was Manning's position coach in 2010-11 and again in 2015, and is beginning his second season as the team's offensive coordinator. No member of the Giants' staff has worked with Manning longer, or in more capacities, than Sullivan, who was asked this week how Manning has changed. But it's not Manning's differences over the years that stand out to Sullivan.

"I think what has been the same is his work ethic, his professionalism, his consistency, his ability to remain calm, cool and collected, regardless," Sullivan said. "It has been said time and again. Whether he throws a touchdown pass or an interception, his reaction is the same. I think what I have seen in him recently within this system, this new system - it's a different system than when I was his quarterback coach back in 2010-2011 - is really embrace and become more comfortable, have an ownership with it. Different people have come into our system, and his willingness to go the extra mile and give us some one-on-one time and one-on-one meetings with some of the new players, there is just a great deal of confidence in him now. He still has all of those things, positive characteristics, that I remember seeing in him when I was his quarterbacks coach. But I just see an overall level of confidence and comfort I guess I should say with this system."

*Offensive line coach Mike Solari, on the state of his unit:

"The key thing with this offensive line, we truly believe is all five (starters) are ascending," Solari said. "That's the most important thing. Weston (Richburg) brings the leadership, as well as John Jerry and Justin Pugh. They bring leadership every day. They bring leadership in the sense of the classroom. Just before the meetings, when they are there, they are ready to roll and they show how to be a pro. They have done a great job in the sense when I say those three men, their experience. But all five of them, the most important thing is that they all work as one, and that is what we are really pushing, and that's what we are excited about in the sense of seeing we are ready to go now against Dallas. They've been working together, and it's going to be exciting to see them ascend as a group this year."

*Casillas, on what he expects in the Dallas game:

"We respect them, "he said, "and we know that we're going to go down to Dallas and it's always going to be a fight, a war, a battle, every time."

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