Defense was far from the New York Giants' biggest problem in 2013. The was a disaster, while the defense was at least adequate. Thus, the focus this offseason has been fixing that "broken" offense. While all the scrutiny has been on that side of the ball, however, several questions have popped up on the defensive side.
The latest question came about, of course, due to the foot injury that will sideline middle linebacker Jon Beason at least through preseason and potentially into the early part of the regular season. Let's look at some of those defensive question marks.
The Beason Bummer
There were already questions about Beason, and as always the Giants' linebackers, before Beason got hurt. Did the Giants overpay when they gave Beason a three-year, $16 million contract with $6.8 million guaranteed? Can Beason be any better in pass coverage this season than he was in 2013, when he was terrible? Now, there is a bigger and more important question. How do the Giants replace his leadership and run defense if he isn't in the lineup to start the season? You can also add what if the foot injury lingers and limits him throughout the season?
Maybe Jameel McClain slides to the middle temporarily. Maybe Mark Herzlich fills in. Maybe rookie Devon Kennard succeeds where too many other young Giants linebackers have failed.
Here is something else to think about. Without Beason the Giants are now dangerously thin at linebacker. What happens if they sustain another injury at this position? Right now I don't think we know the answer.
The Safety Situation
This looked like a position of strength not so long ago. Now? It still might be, but that is less certain.
Can Stevie Brown hold up physically after missing the 2013 season with a torn ACL? Can Brown be the same type of play-maker he was in 2012, when he was second in the league with eight interceptions? Can Quintin Demps step up? Demps, entering his seventh season, played more snaps in 2013 than he ever had. If the Giants need him to step in for Brown or Antrel Rolle, will he be up to the task? Can second-year man Cooper Taylor emerge as a viable option? What will the Giants get from rookie Nat Berhe?
The Giants' safeties don't have to be spectacular play-makers, although that would be nice. They do need to be solid as the team's last line of defense.
Is Big Hank Ready To Roll?
The Giants let talented 25-year-old defensive tackle Linval Joseph leave via free agency, believing that 2013 second-round pick Johnathan Hankins was ready to step in and be a run-stopping force in the middle of their defense. They are probably right, but they had also better be right. Cullen Jenkins is 33 and run defense has never been his forte. Mike Patterson is 30 and wore down as the 2013 season unfolded. Jay Bromley is an untested third-round pick. Markus Kuhn is, well, Markus Kuhn.
Hankins was outstanding in limited duty as a rookie (+9.5 vs. the run in 113 run-defense snaps) and the Giants need the 6-foot-2, 320-pound Hankins to come up big in 2014.
Justin Tuck Lite?
The Giants chose to let Justin Tuck go and replaced him with the younger, cheaper, similarly skilled but less productive to this point in his career Robert Ayers. Can Ayers do justice to Tuck's No. 91, which he will be wearing this season? If he plays the way he did last season for the Denver Broncos when he had 5.5 sacks and a +8.1 Pro Football Focus grade (+11.1 vs. the run) the answer will be yes.
The larger question, of course, is can Ayers, Jason Pierre-Paul, Damontre Moore and Mathias Kiwanuka generate the devastating edge pass rush Giants' defenses have been known for over the years? Even with Tuck having a resurgent 11-sack campaign in 2013 that consistent edge rush wasn't there.
The Giants vastly upgraded their cornerback position with the additions of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond, and potentially that could help make the defense much improved in 2014. Enough questions have popped up, however, that there has to be some uncertainty entering the season.