The Giants may be shorthanded due to the absence of star defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, but they are making do with what they have – and so far this summer it’s been good enough to impress their coaches and opponents alike.
Exhibit A is their joint practices with the Cincinnati Bengals, as the defensive line in particular was able to cause some havoc against Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. And while there wasn’t any contact allowed on the quarterbacks, Dalton was “sacked” many times during 11-on-11 team drills.
A majority of the two joint practices featured the Bengals’ esteemed offensive line being pushed back into Dalton’s lap – and the accompanying irate screaming from Cincinnati’s fiery offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.
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The aggressive nature of Big Blue’s new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, and the consternation in Jackson’s voice was music to the Giants defenders’ ears.
“I liked it a lot. These [joint practices] were good for us. And I like our defense because it’s very diverse and you can attack the offense in a lot of different ways,” said defensive end Robert Ayers Jr., who is currently starting in Pierre-Paul’s place. “Coach is an aggressive man. He wants us attacking, being relentless, and getting after the ball -- trying to cause turnovers. He wants us to do damage on the way to the ball carrier, cause havoc, and to really inflict a lot of pain. … It’s not a cookie-cutter defense. I like it.”
Most of the 11-on-11 drills began with the defensive being disruptive, as Dalton found himself wrapped up or the whistle being blown a moment before an actual sack could be registered. If not for those force field-like red jerseys, Bengals quarterbacks would’ve found themselves on the turf.
But during Friday night’s preseason matchup, the hitting will be live, which means it’ll be open season on Cincinnati signal callers. Ayers noted that going against Cincinnati’s stout offensive line – and beating them at times – should bode well for Big Blue in the actual game.
“I think it helped us understand how they’re going to attack us. This week gave us the opportunity to see something different [so], when we go out there Friday, it won’t be the first time seeing the power scheme or their two tight end sets,” said Ayers. “They’re really tough. They’ve got one of the better left tackles in [Andrew] Whitworth, and they do a lot of things well on offense. But we held our own. We competed, and we challenged them. We got after it … I’ve been proud of the young guys -- very proud of [defensive end] Damontre [Moore]. I was very proud of [defensive end] Jay Bromley and [defensive tackle] Carlif [Taylor], and [rookie defensive end] Owa [Odighizuwa]. Those guys were really impressive. It’s a good sign for this unit. We got a long ways to go, but I’m excited about it.”
Veteran defensive end George Selvie also endorses how well the defensive line has looked this week. Selvie, a former Cowboy who was originally drafted by Spagnuolo when he was the head coach in St. Louis, said his current coordinator’s philosophy is basically the same aggressive brand that was taught to him when on the Rams.
He added that it’s just now that everyone is catching up to speed and beginning to take on the identity of his coach.
“I’ve been in this system before, when Spags drafted me in St. Louis. I remembered it well,” Selvie said. “It’s a great system and now the other guys are finding out about it now and fitting in. This system is great because you’ve got a lot of pressures coming. The defensive linemen are out there moving around, so it’s going to be a fast moving defense.”
Sans Pierre-Paul, the Giants have had to fill a big void. And while no one on the defensive line has the star-power – and credentials -- that their Pro Bowl defensive end has, Ayers said he thinks there’s enough developing talent to weather the storm, and to even boost the unit when he returns.
“It’s very inspiring to see guys picking it up the way they have. Look at a guy like Owa. Once he fine tunes his technique and understands the game and how to attack offenses … dude is going to be a monster,” Ayers said, including other up-and-comers. “Damontre Moore, he’s brought it. Jay Bromley is doing really good. I think it’s good to see those guys really getting after it and gaining that confidence through hard work, and through understanding the defense, and their technique. They continue to listen to [defensive line] Coach [Robert] Nunn. It’s a very good feeling to see everybody getting better and working hard.”
Friday night, the Big Blue pass rush will finally get to show what they’ve learned – and will actually be allowed to collect hits on Dalton and the rest of the quarterbacks.