The Giants have wrapped up their first week of training camp, and while there’s a certain star defensive end missing from the fold, the team must carry on, with hopes of building towards finally ending their playoff drought.
While Jason Pierre-Paul continues to be on the mend – and as far away from their facilities as possible – there’s still plenty of question marks abound regarding Big Blue’s reworked defense.
General manager Jerry Reese is responsible for patching up any holes, and when asked if he thinks the defense can sustain sans their one true defensive star, he declined to even acknowledge the elephant in the room – only to reason that he “hopes and prays for the best … and that’s all I’ll about that.”
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Since the recovering Pierre-Paul hasn’t made himself available for public comments, and Reese remains mum, his teammates have been willing to speak about the impact his absence causes – and the ways they’ll have to fill that void until (if?) he arrives.
“It’s been tough [that] we’re without our cornerstone guy,” said cornerback Prince Amukamara, noting it’d be like the offense missing its leader. “It’s almost similar to going into camp without [quarterback] Eli [Manning]. It’s definitely tough … but there’s not much you can do besides support him and just wait for his homecoming.”
No one knows for sure when that reunion is, but for the time being the defense will have to gel without Pierre-Paul, and execute head coach Tom Coughlin’s mantra of “next man up.”
Pierre-Paul may be the team’s preeminent pass rusher, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any other talented quarterback harassers on the roster.
Second-year linebacker Devon Kennard has the raw tools to offset Pierre-Paul’s absence, as he flashed greatness in the little time he was in the lineup last season. Kennard, a fifth-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, played in 12 games with six starts. He had 43 tackles, 4 ½ sacks, and two forced fumbles. He also added 23 defensive stops, which was good for sixth on the team despite only playing in 338 snaps. And his impact would’ve been greater had he not missed several weeks early in the season with a hamstring injury, and sat out the season finale with a toe injury.
The Giants have high hopes for the former USC Trojan, regardless if Pierre-Paul is in the lineup. And Kennard noted he has them, too.
“Obviously nobody gets more opportunities to rush the passer than defensive ends, but there is definitely times where we are going to pressure with our linebackers,” said Kennard. “I think they will give me the opportunities where I can do that … I think it is something that I am sure I can do throughout camp and throughout the season. I think he [new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo] is doing a good job of taking advantage of everybody.”
The games that Kennard did play last season, he showed pass-rushing ability, toughness, and instincts that Giants fans hadn’t seen from that position in a long time.
While Spagnuolo isn’t known for blitzing, preferring to rely on a devastating rotation of defensive linemen to cause havoc, his hand may be forced while Pierre-Paul mends. Should the combination of Cullen Jenkins, Robert Ayers Jr., George Selvie, Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Damontre Moore, and Kerry Wynn not suffice, Spagnuolo will be pressed to get creative and turn loose his linebackers.
Kennard is hopeful that Pierre-Paul returns sooner rather than later, but is excited about the prospect of earning a larger role and picking up the slack.
“There are different blitzes he can use, and different things we can do out of our coverages and stuff, so to that degree it is exciting and a little more complex [than what Spagnuolo is known],” said Kennard, adding he’s confident he’ll be a playmaker, regardless of who else is lining up with him. “I feel I’m a little more comfortable and settled [than his rookie season] … I understand what to expect and I’m having a lot more fun out here and being able to really understand the defense, [and] pick things up, and trying to get better every day.”
The Giants can only hope that Pierre-Paul continues to mend – and sign his franchise-tag tender – so Kennard can have a running mate to create havoc on opposing offenses.
Big Blue notes:
Reese not only refused to talk about anything Pierre-Paul related, but anything related to Manning’s contract situation as well: “I’m not going to talk about a contract. Eli is here and he’s working hard like the rest of the players. He’s excited about the offense. It’s his second year in this offense and he’s got some healthy guys around him again. Our offensive line, we worked on that some. We think the sky is the limit. I think Eli should have a big year … But I’m not talking about the contract, he’s under contract.”