The Giants’ four-man pass rush has been the backbone of the defense since head coach Tom Coughlin took the reins 10 years ago, but with Osi Umenyiora’s defection to Atlanta, Jason Pierre-Paul’s back ailments and Justin Tuck’s supposed decline, Big Blue’s bite appears to be waning.
But according to defensive line coach Robert Nunn, that’s more conjecture than reality. Nunn says his defensive line unit is as deep and capable than any time he’s led them during his four years here, and doesn’t foresee a drop-off in production.
“It has to be proven when the pads come on, but yes I do,” Nunn said when asked if he thinks the depth is still there. “We’ve got some young guys that have got to show up. They look good when we’re running around out there with no pads on [and] you still see things that make you excited. [Defensive ends] Damontre [Moore] and Adrian Tracy are excited. Adrian has had a great offseason. Obviously he’s a good special teams player, but he’s got to produce both in the run game and the pass game when he gets out there and has his opportunities.”
The Giants’ pass rush can’t be much worse, as the defense is coming off a paltry output in sacks (33). Tuck has totaled just nine sacks in the past two seasons, Kiwanuka only tallied four while alternating between strongside linebacker and the defensive line and Pierre-Paul is coming off a disappointing 6 1/2-sack campaign — though coaches and teammates think that was due to his back issues.
The Giants will need younger vets, and even the rookie Moore, to step up and fill holes. Tracy only had one sack last season, so he can only improve, said Nunn. The coach then said that he believes Moore specifically is up to the task, as the third-round selection has had an “outstanding” offseason under his watch.
Moore came out of Texas A&M mainly as a pass-rush specialist, following a ballyhooed career at College Station, Texas, which is the likely reason his draft stock fell to a level where scouts feel the Giants got a steal. The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder has great leverage and speed coming off the edge, so if he can duplicate his college production, the Giants may not miss Umenyiora’s pass-rushing skill set.
“[The praise] makes me happy, but at the same time I try not to get too caught up in it,” Moore said. “At the end of the day, I’m just trying to go out there and help the team. And if that means making a big contribution or just to give the starting offense a good look [on scout team], I’m just trying to do that to the best of my abilities. Wherever they put me, I’m just going to go out there and do my job.”
The Giants didn’t do a great job last season stopping the run, ranking No. 25, and while stopping the run isn’t Moore’s forte, the rookie said he’ll try his best to be a dual-threat defensive end.
“I want to be well-rounded and expand my arsenal so I’m not considered a one-trick pony. That’s all I’ve been labeled as, so I’m just trying to go out there and prove a lot of people wrong,” Moore said. “But if you have that one good trick up your sleeve [it’s not a bad thing]. I feel like I have to work on [run defense], just like anything else at this level, but I feel like I’m all right. There’s always room for improvement.”
Nunn believes in his front-four rotation and said the poor showing against the run last season wasn’t because they weren’t good enough, but rather because the players got away from their fundamentals.
“We missed tackles, [and that] was one thing we looked at. The thing that we can control as a far as the D-Line is missed tackles. We had too many missed tackles as a group,” Nunn said. “We didn’t feel like we played with the edge that got us where we have gotten to [in past seasons]. We’ve got to get back to playing with that edge and playing with that nastiness and when the pads come on, that’s got to show up. ... It can’t be just talk. We got to go out there when the pads come on in the preseason games, that’s where we’ve got to make our improvements. Everybody looks good in their underwear right now. Things change once the pads go on.”
The Giants are likely to don their full gear in Tuesday’s session, so it’ll be the first time the coaching staff gets a long look to see who was a shorts and T-shirt All Star and who can really play when the helmets are strapped on.
Moore said he actually enjoyed the pads-free time, but not because he doesn’t like hitting.
“I feel like you can make a whole lot more progress without the pads because you’re not focused mainly on hitting but instead focused on techniques and assignments. And once you get that down, then the pads can go on and you can show your aggression,” Moore said. “But I am looking forward to [hitting]. Been so since the season ended last year.”
Big Blue notes ...
» Wideout Hakeem Nicks returned to practice on Monday, a day after not finishing Sunday’s session due to a groin strain. He was held out of team drills for precautionary reasons. Quarterback Eli Manning said he’s not too worried about Nicks, as long as he’s taking the precautionary steps to being 100 percent again.
“Hakeem is just being smart. He is coming off some injuries,” Manning said. “He is going to want to take it slow. ... We have some time and it is early on. We want to make sure he goes at his pace to keep him healthy for the year.”
» Moore has been too fast for his own good at times, as coaches have actually tried to slow down his motor.
“I rather him [Nunn] say slow down than speed up,” Moore said. “It was one of the big things I kept hearing [during OTAs] so I try to make a weakness into a strength and go hard out there every play and give it my all.”
» Nunn said Moore has been a model of “coachability,” as his pupil is soaking up every lesson taught. Moore agreed that whatever coaches and vets like “Tuck and Kiwi [Mathias Kiwanuka] say,” he’s doing.
“All I know is when they say ‘go hard and get the quarterback’ I work my butt off and do it to the best of my abilities every single day. … I’m pleased but I try not to focus on [the praise],” Moore said. “I don’t do too much judging [of his own play]. Whatever coaches say, that’s what it is. If they say I’m doing good, then I’m doing good. And if they say I’m doing bad, then I’m doing bad. I just go out there and learn from everything they’re telling me and then try and do it again.”
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8 for live updates from training camp.