Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher breaks down his expectations for the unit in 2018 :
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Inquiring minds want to know about the scheme that new defensive coordinator James Bettcher has brought to the Giants. But Bettcher is more interested in how well the players execute that scheme.
"It's about playing relentless," Bettcher said today. "The game is about playing hard, the game is about playing physical, and the game is about playing smart. Those are things that our guys are going to do whether we're bringing five, bringing six, bringing four, dropping eight, whatever we're doing, whatever the field position is, down and distance, all that stuff. The thing our fans are going to see, you're going to see a defense that is going to run around, play hard, play fast, play smart, play physical, and that's what playing defense is about."
Pat Shurmur's assistant coaches met the local media for the first time today, and Bettcher kicked off the 90-minute session at the podium set up in the field house at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center. He came to the Giants after a successful five-year stint with the Arizona Cardinals, including the last three as defensive coordinator.
In those three years, the Cards' defense was consistently among the NFL's best in yardage allowed, ranking fifth in 2015 (321.7), second in 2016 (305.2) and sixth in 2017 (310.9). Arizona was also one of the league's most effective run-stopping units each season, finishing, respectively, sixth (91.3), ninth (94.9), and sixth again (89.6). In 2016, Bettcher's defense led the NFL with 48 sacks. Last season, the Cards took down opposing quarterbacks 37 times, including an NFL-leading 17.0 sacks by Chandler Jones.
"I've been really fortunate and blessed that I've worked around some really, really good football coaches, and had a chance to learn from those guys," Bettcher said, "And I've been around some really good football players. I had a chance to learn from those players as well, and hanging your hat on scheme, you don't win that way. You hang your hat on the things that mean the most and those things are, again, being relentless, playing hard, playing smart and playing physical in the game."
Bettcher used a predominately 3-4 scheme in Arizona. But as Shurmur has pointed out, he deploys a four-man front throughout a game. Bettcher made it clear he is not wedded to any one – or two or three – alignments.
He will begin to get a clearer picture of what he has on Monday, when the Giants begin their voluntary offseason conditioning program.
"I think each and every down we might look different on defense," Bettcher said. "But I can't tell you today who we're going to be on defense, and really what we're going to look like, until we get through training camp, until we get into meetings, until we actually get on the field, until we don't just play some basketball on grass in the offseason program. Until we get to training camp and we have helmets and pads on and we're striking and separating and playing off of blocks and what we're really going to look like. But there are certainly some 3-4 principles, if that's a term we want to use. There are certainly some 4-3 principles, if that's a term you want to use. At the end of the day, it's about playing hard with a relentless mindset, playing fast, playing physical and being a smart football team."
The Giants' defensive personnel has changed radically since the 2017 season finale. Jason Pierre-Paul, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Devon Kennard, and Ross Cockrell are among the players who no longer wear Giants blue.
The new defensive players include linebackers Alec Ogletree and Kareem Martin, lineman Josh Mauro, and defensive backs Michael Thomas, B.W. Webb, Curtis Riley, and Teddy Williams.
Ogletree arrived in a trade with the Rams, with whom he spent five years. He led the team in tackles in each of his four full seasons.
"I saw him up close and personal in Arizona during our time there," Bettcher said. "Did him when he came out in the draft and we always thought he was a smart player, we always thought he was a guy you could see during a course of a game that was leading other players on the field. They had a bunch of talent on that defense, and for you to be a guy that is leading a defense that's that talented says something about you and your character. You watch his play and I'm not just talking about his ability to make tackles or run down things on the sideline, I'm talking about his play, his mindset, his physicality at which he plays the game, how hard and passionate he plays the game. Those were some of the first things that jumped off the charts for me when we had a chance to get him here. Certainly excited about him as a leader and a guy that is going to bring a ton of energy to our room."
Martin and Mauro both played for Bettcher in Arizona.
"They love to play football and they play it the right way, both of those guys," Bettcher said. "They play hard, they play fast, they play smart and physical, and that was the number one thing. Number two is certainly knowing the scheme, having some awareness, Josh being in the D-line room, that's certainly going to be something for those guys. Then Kareem in the linebacker room in giving the guys someone (who can answer), 'Hey, what is this?'"
Bettcher was also asked about some of the defensive holdovers:
*On safety Landon Collins:
"I see with Landon, a guy who is very versatile in what he can do," Bettcher said. "You might see a snap where he's down covering a tight end in the box, you might see a snap where he's in the half field playing deep, or in the middle of the field playing deep or you might see snaps where he's blitzing off the edge. I think that's the versatility a guy like him lends. As you look and study defenses across the league and you talk to offensive guys about what gives them trouble, it's players that have that versatility."
*On why Olivier Vernon, who has played defensive end for five seasons, has the potential to play outside linebacker:
"His versatility, his ability to rush from different angles," Bettcher said. "We've all seen him drop in space and flip his hips and do some of those things. If you went and looked at our tape in Arizona and you saw Chandler Jones, we didn't make our money in Arizona on defense with Chandler Jones dropping and playing in space a bunch. It's things that you do as great changeups, things that you do to allow you to attack offenses in different ways, and I think that's how he'll fit in."
*On cornerback Eli Apple:
"Very talented player," Bettcher said. "I did him when he was coming out in the draft, really liked his skill set. He's a guy who can play man, who can press, who can play zone defense in space, who can break on the ball. Very excited next week to get him here and get to work and have a chance to work with these guys this offseason."