I enjoy Lombardi's perspective on many things because he is a former NFL personnel director. He comes at his job at the NFP, and his opinions, the way a general manager or scouting director would. Not with the outsider's eye of a columnist, but of someone who has been paid to make those judgments.
Lombardi had some strong opinions about the Giants. We discussed why the Giants have struggled to develop impact linebackers, the long-time organizational philosophy, Osi Umenyiora, and more.
What follows are Lombardi's thoughts on many of the topics we discussed.
Since linebacker seems to be on everyone's mind this off-season, that is where we began. Here is Lombardi's take on why the Giants have struggled to find impact players at the position.
"The Giants have always been a size, speed grading system going back to when George Young took over, and that system hasn't changed. They believe in the grading system, they believe in finding players that fit the mold and I think they're correct in how they do it," Lombardi said.
"I think there is a little bit of a difficulty specifically when you have that kind of team to be effective on third down in terms of being explosively quick as opposed to being '40' fast. I think that's the challenge that awaits the Giants. They have to work around it and they've gotta make sure that they find guys that can fit both requirements -- what it takes to win on third down in the NFL and what it takes to win in their own system."
Lombardi said Michael Boley, signed as a free agent a season ago, is exactly the type of linebacker the Giants covet.
"Boley fits their requirement. He's exactly what they want, he's a fast linebacker with size. He's gotta be able to stay healthy and stay on the field to be effective on third down, not in terms of attacking the pocket, but in terms of covering.
I asked Lombardi if he was surprised the Giants waited until the fourth round of the NFL Draft to address middle linebacker, selecting Nebraska's Phillip Dillard. He said he was not.
"The Giants are about trying to find players that fit their system, and sometimes guys don't always fit what you want to do," Lombardi said. "You can't force a round peg into a square hole. You've gotta make the best of whatever's provided to you.
"I think the Giants understand that they have to get better with some of the players they currently have on their team, not necessarily look for somebody in the draft that's gonna be magical."
We all know how badly the Giants defense was shredded last season -- statistically the second-worst defensive season in Giants' franchise history. We can talk all we want about the changes at linebacker and the additions at safety, but for Lombardi the success or failure of the Giants defense rests right where it has the past several seasons -- the defensive line.
"Everything the Giants do is going to be predicated on their ability to rush the passer and to not have to be involved in a lot of man-to-man defense. Where they can rush four and still get pressure and play zone behind it, that's when you're an effective football team," Lombardi said.
"That's how they won a Super Bowl three years ago. They could rush four and they didn't have to worry about coverage because the ball was coming out quick.
"The Giants have to get better play out of their defensive front. They didn't get it last year, the strength of their team really let 'em down."
Discussion of the defensive line, of course, led us to a couple of other natural topics.
First, the use of the first two picks in the April draft on defensive linemen, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul of South Florida in the first round and defensive tackle Linval Joseph of East Carolina in the second round.
"Philosophically the school that I was trained in is more familiar with what the Giants do. So when they do what they do I always tend to like it because it's part of my training. You never go wrong picking a defensive lineman in the first round, especially if you have defensive linemen," Lombardi said.
"I don't ever buy into the theory that if you're strong in an area fill some other area. I think when you're strong you keep strengthening your strength."
Clearly, Lombardi believes in the Giants' mantra that you can never have enough pass rushers.
"All teams talk about it, but few teams actually implement that plan, so they're always defensive linemen short," Lombardi said. "You win the defensive front you can win the game."
Of course, we then had to discuss Umenyiora. Lombardi was blunt in his assessment of Osi -- and he asked for the one thing I have been asking for throughout the off-season. That is for Umenyiora to own up to his poor play of 2009.
"Osi has to play better. I think it starts with him, I think he has to accept the fact that he didn't play well. Denver's game plan last year [Thanksgiving night] was to run the ball right at him, 31 times in the game ... he didn't make a tackle, he didn't do anything," Lombardi said.
"That's what people had chosen to do against Osi and he has to understand that he now has a target on his chest. His play last year was reflective of the team's overall play, and I think the Giants challenge in their defensive line room is that everybody has to stop trying to become Michael Strahan and start becoming who they are and become the best players they can be."
Lombardi said not to read anything into co-owner John Mara saying "we better be" recently when asked if the 2010 Giants would be better than 2009s 8-8 version.
"That comment is not different than any other team in the NFL. There's expectations, specifically in New York. The Giants are never about a rebuilding process, they're about a reloading process," Lombardi said.
"For them not to make the playoffs is disappointing, so obviously the bitter taste in his mouth is reflective upon that last year. I'm sure he expects to get there, and I'm sure Tom Coughlin and Jerry Reese understand the expectations of the ownership."
Lombardi also had praise for Reese, and he made an interesting observation about the Giants knowing exactly what they are as an organization.
"I think what Jerry's done is tremendous in terms of following the formula that George Young laid and Ernie Accorsi kept moving forward. That's the Giants," Lombardi said. "You have to understand that the Giants are about an organization, they're not about an individual and I think that whoever runs the Giants will always adhere to the foundation that's been laid.
"Obviously every year is a different year. You're a great evaluator when you win, you're a bad evaluator when you lose. I think consistency with the Giants has always been what is most important, and I think he's been very consistent."
Finally, I had to ask Lombardi for his assessment of the NFC East. Here are his thoughts.
- Redskins: "Have done a really nice job of closing the gap, but if the Giants defensive line dominates they should dominate the Redskins because that offensive line is the weakest part of their team."
- Eagles: "I don't think the Eagles will be as easy a target as people might suspect because they lost McNabb. They're a very good football team who is gonna be good with Kevin Kolb at quarterback."
- Cowboys: "Right now would appear to be the front-runners, but anything can happen."
"It's a really competitive four teams," Lombardi said. "The Giants if their defensive line is healthy and comes back and plays are as good as any team in there."
In the end, Lombardi said he believes the 2010 Giants will be a playoff team.
"I believe the offense and defensive lines redeem and I think the Giants have veterans in their lines and I think they'll play better," he said.