During mini-camp, linebacker Spencer Paysinger hinted in a conversation with me that the New York Giants' defense might look a bit different in 2013.
"This year we’ve done a lot of things to put players in the right positions," Paysinger said. "The coaches did a really good job in the offseason looking at where we could improve in terms of schemes, in terms of personnel."
Paysinger, of course, would not divulge any secrets. During training camp the past few weeks, however, we have seen what Paysinger was alluding to.
- We have seen the Giants flip-flopping defensive ends in their 4-3 set based on the strong side and weak side of the offensive formation.
- We have seen big defensive tackles Cullen Jenkins and Johnathan Hankins stationed at defensive end in some sets.
- We have even seen some 3-4 alignments with defensive ends Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka, Adrian Tracy and others occasionally standing up.
- We have occasionally seen linemen dropping into coverage with pass rushers coming from other places.
There were so many different personnel alignments shown during Tuesday's practice that reporters attending the workout were having a tough time keeping track. An exasperated Tom Rock of Newsday tweeted at one point "I think they're just messing with us."
It seems like what the Giants hope to do is mess with opposing offenses, leaving them guessing as to what is coming, or -- more precisely -- who is coming, and from where.
"We’ll be very multiple. Personnel wise, we have guys that fit a 4-3. We have guys that fit a lot of different defensive combinations and so I’m going to build a defense based on our personnel," defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said Tuesday.
"We’re experimenting. We don’t actually know if we’re as versatile as we can be, so we’ll find out in some of these preseason games, but we’d like to think we’re more versatile."
How much of what the Giants are experimenting with now will translate and be used during the regular season remains to be seen. After finishing 31st in the league in yardage surrendered last season, however, the willingness to try some different things has to be taken as a positive sign.
Fewell admitted during mini-camp that the offseason was a time of "self-evaluation" for him.
"It’s always an opportunity to look and try to get better in what you do professionally and personally. There’s no time to cry over spilled milk. I’ve just tried to make sure that I get myself together and make sure that we get a good plan for our defensive football team," Fewell said. "I always have something to prove. I think we as a football team have something to prove. That’s why we love this game. Football is a challenge."
Some of the variation in schemes might be a response to the read-option and pistol offenses becoming more prevalent around the league.
Some of it might be simply because the Giants had no choice but to do something different. They couldn't stop the run consistently in 2012, meaning they couldn't put themselves in position to turn loose their pass rush. Even when they could, they didn't get to quarterbacks often enough, surrendering too many big plays.
"The league is very sophisticated," head coach Tom Coughlin said Tuesday. "The more you can do it, the better off you are."
The biggest key for the Giants' defense might ultimately be how quickly they can get Jason Pierre-Paul and Antrel Rolle back in the lineup. Regardless of who is playing, though, the willingness to be flexible seems like a step in the right direction for a defense that, plainly, was not good enough a season ago.
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