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For New York Giants defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan, no learning curve allowed

I have said before that one of the intriguing things about this season for the New York Giants will be judging the performance of their coordinators. This may be particularly true in the case of defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan. He has no track record for us to lean on, and his unit has the talent to be among the league's best.

Paul Schwartz of The New York Post hits the nail on the head when it comes to expectations for Sheridan and his defense.

There can be no easing into anything, no prolonged period of adjustment. No 35 points allowed in Sheridan's debut as defensive coordinator, no 80 points given up in his first two games.

Those were the sad results his predecessor, Steve Spagnuolo, now head coach of the Rams, experienced to start the 2007 season -- a double dose of ineptitude that had everyone (but Spagnuolo) thinking bad thoughts before the ship was righted and set sail to Super Bowl glory.

That was a different time, different defense. The hand Sheridan -- the linebackers coach the past four years -- has been dealt is stacked, chock full of aces capable of stopping the run and dropping the quarterback.

Eli Manning and his young receivers will slog through some early growing pains, and they'd better be able to lean on great support from a beastly defense that should rank in the top five in every category and could lead the NFL in sacks.

It is a sentiment I agree wholeheartedly with. If this group stays healthy and still does not become a dominant force that helps push the Giants deep into the playoffs the blame will fall squarely on the shoulders of the rookie defensive coordinator.

In all honesty, I believe Sheridan will do just fine. The Giants are loaded with talented defenders, especially players who love to rush the passer. Provided Sheridan does not commit the cardinal sin of reigning them in, which I don't expect him to, the Giants defense should be terrific.

Anyway, here are five questions I think Sheridan will have to answer this season for the Giants defense to be the dominant, championship-caliber group many think it could be.

  1. How well can he massage egos? Sheridan has already has a short-lived blowup with Osi Umenyiora, and Umenyiora has made it plain he wants to be on the field as much as possible. How will Sheridan handle Osi and Mathias Kiwanuka, who is the third defensive end, wants to start and won't be happy if he is watching more than playing. Oh, and there are four starting-caliber defensive tackles to keep happy, too. A nice problem, but still one that bears watching.
  2. Antonio Pierce. This should really read 'what does he do if Antonio Pierce does not play well?' AP is the emotional leader of the Giants' defense, and in many ways the coach on the field. But, Pierce did not play well at the end of last season. Was he just distracted by the whole mess with you know who, or is he really slipping as he enters his 9th season. If he is slipping, what does Sheridan do about it?
  3. In-game adjustments. Can Sheridan make quick changes on the fly when his original plan isn't working? Only time will tell on this one.
  4. The cornerback puzzle. Corey Webster is entrenched at one corner. Between Aaron Ross, Kevin Dockery and Terrell Thomas which one will emerge to solidify the other side? I think all three will play a significant amount, so this one might not be a question at all.
  5. Can he remember to stay aggressive? One of the things I admired about Steve Spagnuolo was that he almost always stayed aggressive in his calls. Even when the Giants were ahead late and many defensive coordinators would be in the God-awful prevent defense, Spags would generally stay with four rushers and his blitz packages. Sheridan is a more cerebral personality, and I am hoping he remembers the Spagnuolo philosophy that being aggressive is always better than being passive.