Giants defense looking to build off excellent season
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has every right to be optimistic about the upcoming season.
His unit carried the team to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth in Ben McAdoo’s first season as head coach, and there is star power in the starting unit.
There are four All-Pros returning in Landon Collins at safety, Damon Harrison at tackle, Janoris Jenkins at cornerback and Olivier Vernon at end, while end Jason Pierre-Paul showed his old form just a year after injuring his hand in a fireworks accident.
Still, Spagnuolo is being cautious looking at the season. It’s not surprising. He is a detailed-orientated coach who is never satisfied with just success.
With the loss of tackle Johnathan Hankins to the Colts in free agency, the decision to give second-year player B.J. Goodson the job at middle linebacker and having to decide between Darian Thompson and Andrew Adams at the other safety spot, there are things to be worked out.
“To me, you can only find out so much in practice and in training camp,” Spagnuolo said Friday after practice.
“Then the next level is the preseason games, but we’re not really going to know until we get to the regular season. The first quarter of the regular season, to me, is figuring out who you are and what you are, and where everybody fits: coaches, players, everybody.”
The defense played well in the preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers last Friday.
The starters did not allow a first down on the first two series and backup Valentino Blake intercepted a pass by Pittsburgh rookie Josh Dobbs on the third series.
A little more than three weeks into training camp, Spagnuolo said the players are a little leg weary, which to be expected.
The competition for the open spots is going well.
Fourth-year pro Jay Bromley has gotten the edge in the fight to replace Hankins, but second-round draft pick Dalvin Tomlinson has impressed the coaches.
“I think Dalvin made a big jump from last week to this week,” Spagnuolo said. “He’s played a little bit more violent, I think he’s getting a little more comfortable with the guys he’s playing with. I’m really encouraged by him. Jay has been a steady Eddie, He knows the defense. We’ve always talked about him working on his footwork and he’s been doing that.”
Goodson is a hitter who has done an excellent job calling the plays.
“I love the look in his eye,” Spagnuolo said. “Believe it or not, the other day, I said something to him maybe a little harsh and he responded just as harsh.
“Now, I like that in a ‘Mike’ linebacker. Antonio (Pierce) and I were talking about it, and there weren’t many moments like that with AP and I, but I like that when there’s a little fire in the ‘Mike’ linebacker.”
Thompson, who missed most of his rookie year with a foot injury, has the edge at safety on Adams, the free agent who started 10 games last season.
“We have the same personalities,” Spagnuolo said of his defense. “They seem to be enjoying it a little more this time. I think we started enjoying it toward the end of last year, too.
“The concern to me is depth. It’s getting the guys behind the starting group ready to go and linebacker group has been revolving. I love the way these guys interact. They’re a fun group.”
Cornerback Eli Apple felt things went well in the 20-12 loss to the Steelers.
“I think we did as well as we could have with the stuff that we were presented with, the plays and all of that were kind of vanilla,” he said. “But it was just about running fast and hitting hard and making all the necessary checks and stuff and I think we did that.”
The Giants will get back into action on Monday night at Cleveland.