Monday marked the opening of the Giants’ voluntary offseason conditioning program, sans a very important key figure, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.
The Pro Bowler and the team’s unquestioned best defensive player was a no-show, as his services aren’t yet mandatory – especially while his representatives hash out a long-term deal.
Pierre-Paul was slapped with the franchise tag, meaning he’s not obligated to attend any voluntary team activities. While most players dread the franchise tag, due to not getting any long-term security, Pierre-Paul is still set to earn $14.8 million on the one-year tender, should the two sides not reach an agreement.
The Giants are mum on Pierre-Paul’s status, though, as they have their own worries at the present time – fixing a defense that was dreadful at times last season. The 2015-16 campaign will mark the second-consecutive season in which Big Blue will need to acclimate itself to a new system. A year ago, the offensive players reported for the start of the offseason conditioning program with a new system in tow when Ben McAdoo was pegged to succeed Kevin Gilbride. This year, it’s the defense undergoing an overhaul, as Steve Spagnuolo returns to the franchise he won a Super Bowl with following the 2007 season.
All but Pierre-Paul have met with Spagnuolo, who replaced Perry Fewell as the Giants’ defensive coordinator – the same position he held in 2007-08.
And while no one within the facilities made a big deal about Pierre-Paul’s absence, to a man, they were interested in talking up Spagnuolo and his new-look defense.
“It’s very exciting. If you know anything about Spags and what he has done in this league, you know his defenses gets after it,” said cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. “He’s already gone to the Super Bowl with this team. You are excited to play for him and get back to playing that type of defense.”
Linebacker Jon Beason, who was dealing with his own off-season issues, following a shortened campaign last season due to a foot injury, said he’s looking forward to playing for Spagnuolo.
“I was always a fan of his from afar, so now having the opportunity to play for him is something I really look forward to it,” said Beason, who admitted he reached out to former Spagnuolo defenders to get an early feel of what the coach expects from his defense. “I did have a conversation with Antonio Pierce and Jonathan Vilma, and they all had good things to say about him. I am looking forward to it and just trying to do my part and make sure I live up to the hype.”
Beason also discussed what he expects from a defense that was largely ineffective, last season. He noted that losing former captain Antrel Rolle to free agency, the linebacker’s own physical recovery – not to mention the rehabbing of cornerback Prince Amukamara’s torn right biceps -- and the Pierre-Paul contract issues will put the defense at an immediate disadvantage.
But in the end, Beason is confident that none of the current issues will affect the defense, long-term.
“You know, last year is last year. People want to talk about chemistry, and [see] if we’ll regain that, because from top to bottom we are different. Obviously [with] a new coordinator, who everyone has to adapt to, you hope a light bulb goes off and we start playing all in unison. Things will be different, because we have to start all over again,” said Beason. “But we can’t worry about hitting that reset button. You just have to buy into a system and say whatever my coach asks me to do, that is what I am going to do. I think if we do that, we will be on the same page and we will get guys at one time doing one thing right as opposed to 11 guys doing something different at one time … the rest will take care of itself.”
Big Blue notes:
-In 2007, Spagnuolo’s first season with the Giants, the defense yielded an average of 305 yards a game, a 37.4-yard improvement over the previous season. They also led the NFL with 53 sacks. In the four-game postseason, the Giants allowed an average of just 16.3 points per game. In the Super BowlXLII victory over the then 18-0 New England Patriots, Spagnuolo’s schemes and adjustments held the Patriots – who had averaged a league-high 36.8 points a game in the regular season -- to just 14 points.
-The following season featured a Giants’ defense that yielded only 292 yards a game. That defense was ranked ninth against the run (95.8 yards a game) and eighth against the pass (196.2), and allowed 294 points, 57 fewer than the previous season.
-Beason on the current leadership void left by Rolle’s departure and Pierre-Paul’s absence: “You harp on leadership and it is important. But I think leadership boils down to want-to. People follow the guy who is really there for a purpose and a reason. If that reason is to be productive and win football games at all costs, then guys tend to follow you … I am challenging guys to lead by being on time, staying late, studying, trying to be blameless, do their job at a high level, and be consistent at it. That is the leader that I am looking to follow.”
-Amukamara said Spagnuolo’s opening speech to the defense had an old-school feel to it: “It was great meeting the new coaches (including secondary/cornerbacks coach Tim Walton) and learning about the tradition of the Giants. They talked about getting back to the pillars, starting with [team owners] the Maras and the Tisches, and then the players who went before us - the Jessie Armsteads, the Tom Landrys, the LT’s [Lawrence Taylor]. All of that has been really educating.”