The New York Giants were 28th in the NFL last season against the run, allowing 129.1 yards per game and 4.6 yards per rushing attempt. The vast personnel changes they have made at linebacker and defensive tackle this offseason were undertaken with the goal of improving in that department.
One of the players they are counting on to help them against the run is rookie Johnathan Hankins, the 6-foot-3, 325-pound defensive tackle they selected in the second round (49th overall) in the 2013 NFL Draft.
"Run-stopping is my specialty," Hankins told me during a brief chat at mini-camp in June. "I feel like we'll do a much better job this year with me learning more and continuing to make progress I feel like we'll be able to do that.
"We've definitely got to stop the run so we can hold that quarterback in the pocket. That's what I do best."
In his prospect profile of Hankins, BBV's Jesse Bartolis said Hankins "has very good agility and athleticism for a man his size. NFL.com said Hankins has "a rare combination of size, strength and foot quickness for a defensive lineman to be a force against both the run and the pass."
Hankins had only five quarterback sacks in his three seasons at Ohio State, but says "I feel like I'm a better pass rusher than what people think. I'm going to continue to work on that and get better."
In his post-draft press conference with Giants beat writers, Hankins expressed confidence in his ability.
"I feel like being the way I am, 325 pounds. You don't really see too many big guys running from sideline to sideline making plays. I feel like I'm probably one of the best and I feel like I'm the best so I'm going to keep working hard to help the team be good," Hankins said.
Hankins will likely open the season as one of the rotational defensive tackles behind starters Linval Joseph and Cullen Jenkins. Hankins has been compared to veteran Giants' defensive lineman Shaun Rogers, and says he has been "Just listening to him (Rogers) and the other guys and taking as much information as I can."
"I'm just trying to hold as much information as I can and go out there and compete," Hankins said. "Just learning the plays, the techniques, the gaps, responsibilities, stuff like that. I'm coming along well with the playbook and executing what I have to do."