The Giants may be in transition on the offensive side of the ball but the one constant heading into this season will be their vaunted defense.
They added even more firepower yesterday with the re-signing of versatile safety Deon Grant. The 10-year veteran played in every game last season and was one-third of the venerable three-headed safety rotation that also featured Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips. Many times defensive coordinator Perry Fewell played all three at the same time to great success. It made for an uncomfortable situation for opposing offenses, because all three are equally as good at ball-hawking as they are at stopping the run.
Grant was welcomed back with open arms and immediately stepped back on the practice field in the afternoon session, mixing in with the second unit. No matter his role, Grant said it’s “just good to be home” and is ready to get back to work.
“In the back of my mind, I knew I would be back here. This is where I wanted to be,” said Grant. “There were a lot of situations that I turned down. I was glad that I was still on the [free agency] board and the Giants gave me that phone call.”
Rolle, who started ahead of Grant last season, said he lobbied hard for his friend’s return and said Grant’s presence makes an already deep Giants defense that much scarier.
“I’ve been pushing for him to come back. I think he’s a key asset to the defensive team and made a number of plays for us last year at the safety position. It would be a blessing to have him back on the field with us,” Rolle said, adding he’s looking forward to seeing what new wrinkles Fewell has for them this season. “It [three safety defense] was his mastermind of an idea. We were just the ones who went out there and executed. It involved a lot of communication, practice and study time … it’s good to have such a smart leader back.”
The re-signing of Grant, Rolle said, will not just help the secondary but the entire defense.
“He’s a definite leader, on and off the field, and knows exactly what it takes to win games around here,” Rolle said. “He’s a very, very smart player. He wouldn’t only help the defensive backs [but] he’ll help the defensive line, the linebackers, anyone.”
Head coach Tom Coughlin said bringing back Grant had nothing to do with poor play from the rest of the safeties — most notably rookie Tyler Sash — but was simply a way to improve an already strong defense.
“Tyler is probably one of the guys who’s doing pretty well [but] it’s just a matter of the quality [of available guys out there],” Coughlin said. “We need to get out in front of what the next moves are elsewhere in order to be able to have a player that we think we’re probably going to need down the road.”
More than anything else, Coughlin said, Grant’s veteran leadership and familiarity with Fewell’s system made too much sense for them to not bring back the vet.
“He’s a veteran safety who’s always been a guy that you can rely on for knowing everybody’s assignments and being able to really understand the game,” Coughlin said. “He’s very smart. He’s played a long time. He’s just a good, solid football player that we know will help us back there.”
Although the offense looks a little different to Grant, he said he’s confident everyone will be on the same page come Sept. 11 and added that in the meantime the defense can certainly pick up the slack. Being around the league for so many years has hardened him to change but added that’s part of the business side of football and guys just have to adjust, Grant said.
“Seeing people leave is a part of this business and a lot of the guys know that. This is my fourth team,” Grant said. “There have been some additions [but] that’s a part of football. And in the NFL sometimes you may see them and sometimes you may not, so you just have to make the best out of it while you are here.”
Big Blue notes
» Deon Grant has kept a keen eye on the happenings in Philadelphia and hinted he almost flew to the coop, too. Alas, he said he couldn’t stomach being just another cog on the “dream team” and said it’s more fun trying to knock them off: “I felt like I started something here last year and we didn’t finish it. And with all the things going on in Philly right now, that is the team I like to face. We are definitely going to make it a competitive situation and we are going to be ready. I am a competitive guy, so with them and all the additions that they made, I wanted to be on the other side of the ball going against that.”
» Yesterday was as spirited a practice as any all camp. It is no coincidence that the level of intensity picked up once the chatty Osi Umenyiora returned. The nine-year vet has been giving an earful to new starting left tackle Will Beatty. But in a pleasant surprise, the third-year lineman has been giving it back to Umenyiora — and then some. Coughlin said Beatty’s ratcheted intensity is a welcomed sight: “It usually comes from the other one. Osi usually gets them going. It’s been very competitive. It’s been healthy. It’s been real good. They’ve been doing that since Will got here as a rookie. Probably someday Osi’s going to take credit for Beatty [emergence] … But just to work against 90 [Pierre-Paul] and 72 [Osi], just to be over on that left side looking at those guys every day, you better bring your ‘A’ game to practice.”
The usually reserved Beatty has had his way with Umenyiora in team drills the past two days and has reveled in dishing out some verbal jabbing in the process: “I let him know after practice, you didn’t get this close. He knows I know he’s going to have something else against me … I’m just glad to have Osi back.Just to have that pass rusher to go against and to know the competition that we’re facing this year.It makes me feel a lot better knowing that I have not only JPP [Jason Pierre-Paul] but Osi to go against. It’s just fun for me. I know I’m going out to practice and I get the best that the NFL has to offer.”
Beatty added that having to go against the contrasting styles every day in will only enhance his game: “Osi’s a premier pass rusher, so just knowing that I’m going against him in practice is great. If I can withstand my own against him, I can withstand my own against anyone else … and having JPP just progressing during this season makes me feel good that I practice against him.
Not known as a talker during his days at UConn, Beatty said it’s only done good-naturedly and said he just likes to target the loquacious Umenyiora because he always takes the bait: “I like to pick my guys.I like to pick on Osi just because it’s fun and I know that we’ll get riled up in practice. But it’s no badmouthing or anything like that. It’s just fun and games.We’re going at it, let’s have a good practice, let’s see who comes out on top this practice.”
Follow Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8 for live updates throughout each Giants practice.