Now that the Giants are in the enviable role of title defenders, head coach Tom Coughlin said there’s no room for complacency, as everyone stands room for improvement.
“The message right now is ‘improvement,’” Coughlin said. “Improve on a daily basis, recognize the mission and understand how important this little phase [minicamps] is right here. … There is some work that has to be accomplished in the offseason.”
One guy who’s put in the work this offseason and hasn’t rested on his laurels is Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. The third-year phenom is coming off a 2011-12 campaign in which tallied 16.5 sacks, which was the fourth-highest total in both the NFL and in Giants’ history. He was also a two-time NFC Defensive Player of the Week, the Defensive Player of the Month in December and a first-team All-Pro. Yet despite those accolades, Pierre-Paul believes he’s just scratching the surface and will undoubtedly have a better 2012-13 — a scary thought for opposing offenses.
“In my mind, I have to get better,” said Pierre-Paul, who had 12 more sacks last season than he did as a rookie in 2010. “Each year I get better. That’s just who I am. Each year I get better and I can’t do anything less. I’m not talking about getting more sacks, but just being that player on the team that your team can depend on you. That’s what I’m talking about getting better.”
As wonderful as Pierre-Paul’s sack total was last year, he thinks that’s just telling half the story of being an impact player. Pierre-Paul said that pressures, batted balls and the ability to be around the ball — no matter how far downfield that may be — are also important ways to gauge a player’s success.
“It doesn’t matter about the sacks. You can be triple-teamed, double-teamed and guys won’t leave you alone,” said Pierre-Paul. “With [mobile Eagles quarterback] Michael Vick, no one would leave the pocket wide open or a defensive tackle would never leave a big hole open for Vick because they respect him [and] he’ll take off with the ball. But as a defensive player, if you have four guys on you, two guys chip you the whole game, that’s taking stress off the whole line, so somebody’s got to get free. … And that’s why you can get fewer sacks and be one of the great players, too. If they’re paying more attention to me, someone’s free on the line. We have a great line; someone should get there.”
Taking on double-teams will certainly be more frequent for Pierre-Paul and he said he’s ready for more attention. No more sneaking around and going relatively unknown — on and off the field. He added that as much attention he’s gotten from fans off the field, that’ll increase ten-fold on the field as opponents will have a full season’s worth of clips to scout.
Such diligence from opposing scouts may cut into his production, stats-wise, but all Pierre-Paul is concerned with is winning and defending the title. He said if his numbers go down, but the team is winning, that’s fine with him. He said he needs to improve as an all-around threat and not just a sack-master and is anxious in doing so.
“They can see what I do on the field, but you know, my thing is, I’m not that great player yet. I know I can be better than I am now,” Pierre-Paul said. “There’s more guys out there that can do better things than me and are all-around players. I want to be an all-around player that my teammates can depend on. And I won’t let them down. … I’ve got to be a better player. I can’t just be one of those guys that gets lost second time around.”
Big Blue notes
»It’ll be pretty hard to top Pierre-Paul’s 2011-12 season, as he was the statistical leader in most every category. He had at least a half-sack in 12 of the Giants’ 16 regular season games, including five two-sack games. He knocked down six passes, forced two fumbles and blocked a potential game-tying field goal in the waning moments in a victory in Dallas that helped the team surge into the playoffs. His exploits earned him a fourth-place finish in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year voting (Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs won the award). He was the first Giant to finish that high since former defensive end Michael Strahan won it in 2001.
One way Pierre-Paul said he can improve is more film study. The Florida native said he doesn’t even plan on leaving the team’s TIMEX facilities once the final minicamp ends on Thursday, just so he can get a head start on the upcoming season: “After this minicamp, I’m going to go ahead and study the games from last year. I’m going to look at every game — highlights and lowlights. I’m looking for what I did wrong last year, what I can get better at and how things can progress in what I do. That’s the thing I look for when I watch the tape — how offensive tackles blocked me, play me [so] it can make me a better player. I want to see what I can do quicker, what I can do better.”
»Quarterback Eli Manning is also in the pursuit of improving despite a career season last year. Manning said he, too, can improve on a season that vaulted him into elite status: “I can cut down on the interceptions. Our third-down conversions were low on passing situations, so those are some key areas [of improvement]. I’ve got to make better decisions and find a way to stay on the field and don’t turn the ball over.”
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8 for news from Big Blue all offseason. He will be at minicamp all week.