Despite not being under contract, franchise tagged defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is learning Steve Spagnuolo’s defense through some classroom work and through communication with Defensive Line Coach Rob Nunn. In one of the rare interviews Tom Coughlin permits with assistant coaches, Nunn said he’s met with Pierre-Paul on seven or eight different occasions during the off season and the defensive end is familiarizing himself with the new defensive scheme.
There are wrinkles that can only be learned on the field, but Nunn knows that training camp will provide the five year veteran defensive end with plenty of time to absorb them. The coaching staff, including prodigal defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, appreciate the effort that Pierre-Paul has made to come in despite not technically having a contract, and therefore being under no obligation to do so. It shows his commitment to the Giants organization and his teammates.
Spagnuolo, who has not seen Pierre-Paul on the field live, has reviewed all the film available on him, and was asked to compare him to the Giants defensive ends he coached in his first stint with the team. Hall of Fame enshrinee Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, and Osi Umenyiora are a tough act to follow, but Spagnuolo sees Pierre-Paul as a “Pretty Elite” as a pass rusher. Despite the majority of his 12.5 sacks coming in just 5 games games last season, Spagnuolo says you could see his talent in the form of pressures and hits in the others.
Cautioning that Pierre-Paul will be behind the other defensive linemen when he does sign his franchise tender and report to the team, Spagnuolo does not seem worried about his picking up the defense and contributing, referring to him as a “Natural 4-3 defensive end.” Spagnuolo expects Pierre-Paul to thrive in his defense.
Among the players who are benefitting from Pierre-Paul’s absence is George Selvie, the free agent acquired from the Cowboys, who has been practicing with the first team. He was on the sidelines today as the team warmed up for the second day of mini camp, but has looked good during the off season program. Veteran Cullen Jenkins, who has played defensive tackle for most of his career, appears to have been switched to defensive end. A strong pass rusher, Jenkins will be competing for snaps with Damontre Moore, Robert Ayers, and rookie Owa Odighizuwa.
Among the defensive tackles, Nunn pointed out that Markus Kuhn has quietly has a strong off season. Jay Bromley, the 2014 third round pick, is still struggling, and may not make the leap forward in his second season that has been anticipated. Free agent acquisition Kenrick Ellis, the former New York Jets backup, has impressed coaches in the early going, and is pushing hard for the starting spot next to Johnathan Hankins, who was the Giants’ second best defensive lineman, behind Pierre-Paul, last season.
Spagnuolo’s system is highly dependent on a strong pass rush generated from the defensive line. That formula keyed the Giants victory in Super Bowl 42, and had the team on track to repeat in 2008 before Plaxico Burress derail it with his infamous self-inflicted gunshot wound to the leg. Pierre-Paul will be a cornerstone to recapturing this defensive success in 2015, and his off season visits to the Quest Diagnostic Training Center will give him a leg up when his contract situation is finally resolved.