Giants Defensive Line Shaping Up As Dominant Unit
The NFL season is four weeks away, so FanHouse is at Giants training camp for Stop 5 and Mile 996 of Dan Graziano's five-camp, 1,100-mile road trip.
ALBANY, N.Y. -- There is professional pride and there is the truth, and there are times when the former must step aside for the latter. That's what's happening here at Giants training camp, where the defensive line is throwing a twice-daily party in 11-on-11 team drills. They bat and intercept throws. They crash through holes. They live in the backfield. They mix up formations as if the base 4-3 has become too easy and no longer holds their interest.
"Yeah, I think the offense is a little bit slower than the defense right now," running back Brandon Jacobs said, chin up but resigned to the facts. "We're going to get it down, but our defense is playing very well. Our defensive front is getting a lot of penetration, and they're running to the ball as well as I've ever seen since I've been here."
One of the most intimidating aspects of the Giants' D-line is its depth. The return of Osi Umenyiora, who missed the 2008 season following knee surgery, to pair with Justin Tuck at defensive end is the most obvious reason to expect big things. But these guys are coming in waves. Mathias Kiwanuka. Dave Tollefson. Guys like Jeremy Clark and Jay Alford way down the depth chart at the interior line spots, are earning praise from the coaching staff in this camp.
"We've got a lot of sharks in one tank on our D-line," defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. "With all the competition we have in our room, I think everyone's playing their best."
They're also keeping score. Defensive line coach Mike Waufle keeps a daily chart of all of his linemen, awarding them points for things they do well in practice -- tackles, interceptions, forced fumbles, runs to the ball, etc. In meetings, when he hands out notes and film printouts, the chart is on the back of each player's packet. The player with the most points on a given day is that day's "PD Leader." (PD, somehow, stands for "production.")
"Every day, when he hands out those sheets, the first thing everybody does is turn it over and look on the back to see who the PD leader is," Tuck said. "And every day, you look at it and everybody's almost equal."
Waufle admits that some playing-time issues could result from that. Kiwanuka, for instance, has expressed some displeasure at not being listed as a starter. But the way the Giants' coaching staff looks at it, their ability to mix up formations in different situations means everybody's going to get their share of time.
"I'm just trying to sell it as we're all working together, all one family," Waufle said. "The New York Giants have been effective because they play together as a team. You've really got to adopt an unselfish attitude if you want to be successful."
In the meantime, the competition for playing time has created havoc at the offense's expense in these practices and has led to some creativity. A minor stir was created the other day when Tuck and Umenyiora lined up on the same side of the line together in a formation that appeared to feature five down linemen, one linebacker and five defensive backs.
"I don't know what goes through the offense's head when they see that, but I know what goes through mine," Tuck said. "That the offensive line is in trouble."
Oh, they're swaggering around the SUNY Albany campus, the Giants defensive linemen. They feel good about themselves, and each practice is reinforcing it.
"Our confidence is so high right now," Tuck said. "I've never seen as much depth as we have on the line. It seems like the 2s are just as competent as the 1s. Just so many people pushing each other...it's scary, man."
Four weeks until the start of the regular season, and it looks as if the Giants have identified what the strength of their team will be. Considering it was the defensive front and the pass rush that made the difference against Tom Brady and the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, they'll take it.