Since the team drafted Lawrence Taylor in 1981, the New York Giants have been a football franchise renowned for its stingy, hard-hitting, no-nonsense defense. That all changed last year when New York’s defense was one of the most exposed units in all of football and led to the demise of a team that started with a 5-0 record.
During the 2009 season, the Giants gave up the third most points per game in the NFL, including five games in which they allowed their opponent to score more than 40 points. Teams were scoring all different ways against the Giants, whether via the big play, or a long, disheartening drive.
Realizing that the defense was in desperate need of a makeover, GM Jerry Reese and Head Coach Tom Coughlin decided to relieve last year’s Defensive Coordinator Bill Sheridan of his duties and hire former Bills interim Head Coach Perry Fewell as the new DC. Fewell, who dictates an aggressive, cover 2 style defense, will be a welcome replacement when compared to the tentative and indecisive Sheridan.
In addition to their leadership change, the Giants also made some personnel moves to reinvigorate the defense. Former Cardinals’ safety Antrel Rolle agreed to a contract that made him the highest paid safety in league history. The former cornerback brings a “ball-hawking” style to the safety position that was lacking last year after Kenny Phillips was lost to season-ending knee surgery. Safety Deion Grant, a veteran of ten NFL seasons, was also brought in to provide depth in case Phillips won’t be ready to begin the season. At the very least, Grant will be a reliable back-up, given that he hasn’t missed a game in nine seasons, the fifth longest streak among active players.
During the 2010 NFL Draft, it was no surprise that the Giants focused most of their attention on the defensive side of the ball. They drafted talented, yet raw defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul with their first pick. Most fans and analysts believe that the team wanted to fill the vacancy left by released middle linebacker Antonio Pierce with former Alabama MLB Rolando McClain. However, when the Raiders nabbed McClain with the 8th overall pick the Giants did what they always do when “Plan A” fails: look for a pass rusher. They then took monstrous defensive tackle Linval Joseph with their second round pick, the now injured Chad Jones with their third round pick, and Nebraska linebacker Philip Dillard with their fourth round pick.
All offseason, Giants fans have wondered who was going to be the team’s middle linebacker. As most fans of football know, the middle linebacker is often the vocal leader of the team’s defense. Until last week, the job was seemingly an open competition between third year player Jonathon Goff and the rookie Dillard. However, on July 24th, the Giants surprised everyone by signing former pro-bowler Keith Bullock to play MLB. Bullock has over 1,000 tackles in ten NFL seasons, all with the Titans. Although he is coming off a serious knee injury, the 33 year old Suffern native is excited about the opportunity to play for his hometown team. There are concerns that Bullock, who spent most of his career as an outside linebacker will be overwhelmed by the responsibility of playing in the middle. Obviously, there are also concerns that the veteran is washed up, especially with a surgically repaired knee.
Now let’s break the 2010 Giants defense down, unit by unit.
Nothing seemed to go right in 2009 for the defensive line. Former pro-bowler Osi Umenyiora, who was coming off a knee injury, was downright miserable. As if it wasn’t disappointing enough that he failed to record ten sacks, Umenyiora also compiled the lowest tackle total since his rookie year. He was eventually replaced as a starter by Mathias Kiwanuka, who wasn’t all that much better. Justin Tuck, a team leader since Michael Strahan’s retirement , had a down year, mostly because of a lingering shoulder injury caused by a cheap shot from Flozell Adams. The defensive tackles were awful as well. Newly acquired Rocky Bernard and Chris Canty were invisible for most of the season, Fred Robbins was always banged up, and Barry Cofield performed barely above average.
This season, the Giants believe that a healthy Justin Tuck will make all the difference. Like Strahan was, Tuck is a DE who plays the run as well as he plays the pass. I fully expect Tuck to return to his 2007-2008 form when he had over 60 tackles and ten sacks. Kiwanuka now has a year of starting under his belt, and that is very important because it seems as though Umenyiora is still not going to be 100%. Reports indicate that Osi has a hip ailment which doesn’t need to be repaired immediately, but could require surgery next offseason. This probably means that Umenyiora will be used exclusively on passing downs, which is where he is most effective anyway. In case Osi is not healthy, the Giants may look to Pierre-Paul for a pass rush on 3rd downs. As far as the tackles go, fans of big blue can only hope that Cofield, Canty, and Bernard have bounce-back years. If they struggle in camp, expect the rookie Joseph and the recovered Jay Alford to compete for serious playing time. The departure of Fred Robbins to St.Louis will open up the competition.
In 2010, the Giant linebackers will be comprised of a mix of veterans and young players trying to find their way. Personally, I think Bullock is the perfect man to be a one or two season stop-gap for the Giants. His speed is not what it once was and his lateral movement has probably decreased. This is why now is the perfect time for Bullock to play in the middle. Keep in mind, this is a former 4-3 OLB, not a pass rushing 3-4 OLB. He is a tackling machine, and he is excited about being the go-to veteran leader on the defense. Bullock himself claims that he has experience playing in the middle for Tennessee in nickel packages anyway. On the weak side of Bullock is Michael Boley, who is always injured, but is extremely active and noticeable when playing. The favorite to play alongside the two veterans is second year player Clint Sintim. Sintim was a pass-rushing, 3-4 linebacker at Virginia who the Giants are very high on. They believe that he can play the 4-3, and still bring his explosiveness. Gerris Wilkinson and Bryan Kehl will be called upon incase a slip-up occurs. Chase Blackburn is a versatile, veteran back-up who can play all three positions.
Last season, the Giants defensive backs were rightfully the scapegoats. The safety play was downright brutal and that led to exposure in all facets of the passing defense. The additions of Rolle and Grant will be significant. A starting safety duo of Rolle and a healthy Phillips will have Tony Romo and Donovan McNabb losing sleep at night. More than likely though, it will be Rolle and Grant starting the season, with Phillips attempting to get healthy for a playoff run. The below average Michael Johnson will push the more accomplished safeties in camp.
As far as the corners go, Corey Webster is without a doubt the team’s No. 1. He has become consistent in his play and is always a threat to pick one off. Terrell Thomas and Aaron Ross will compete in camp for the other starting job. Thomas should be the favorite considering how well he played in his second season last year, his first as a starter. Ross, a once promising player, has been plagued by injury. The Giants are not confident in his man-to-man coverage, but this problem could be relinquished by the cover 2 scheme Fewell brings to the table. Bruce Johnson played well last year in limited time as a rookie.
About the Author
Written by Chris Ippolito
Grew up in Holmdel, NJ. Studied at Marist College. Worked as personal intern for hockey analyst and writer Stan Fischler of MSG network. Interned at MSG network for school credit during Fall of 2008. Worked as play by play broadcaster for the Danbury Westerners of the NECBL in summer of 2007. Passionate about baseball, football, basketball, and hockey. I mostly follow New York teams, but I pay attention to what goes on outside the tri-state area very closely. I feel as though I write so that people can both relate to and understand what they are reading. I am honest, but I also try and look at issues from different perspectives. I will do my best to both inform and entertain while contributing to this website.