Since the 1950s, every championship era of New York Giants football has included, if not been defined by, a group of iconic defensive linemen.
In the ‘50s, it was Hall of Famer Andy Robustelli, along with Jim Katcavage, Roosevelt Grier and Dick Modzelewski. The Bill Parcells era defense is remembered for its great linebackers, but they were fronted by defensive ends Leonard Marshall and George Martin, along with nose tackle Jim Burt. The Tom Coughlin era championship teams featured Hall of Famer Michael Strahan, along with Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul.
As we enter the Ben McAdoo era then, one of the questions we must ask is have the Giants, after a massive free-agent spending spree, put together their next group of iconic defensive linemen?
It is, perhaps, unfair to ask that question of Olivier Vernon, Damon “Snacks” Harrison, Johnathan Hankins and Pierre-Paul, since they have yet to play a snap together. That, however, is where the bar has been set by a franchise that, when it has won, has always featured punishing defense.
The quartet spent the spring playing down expectations. Here is a quote from Hankins that summarizes the attitude.
“Sometimes I don’t even like thinking about it or talking about it because I don’t want to jinx anything, but like everyone says, it looks good on paper, but we need to see what we do on the field.”
Well, here at Big Blue View our job is to think about it, talk about it, write about it and let you express your opinion about it. So, as we continue our position previews in advance of the beginning of 2016 training camp, let’s focus on the revamped, defensive line.
Can this newly-formed group at least help the Giants regain some of their dignity? That, really, is task No. 1 for the Giants as a whole after a trio of awful seasons that led co-owner John Mara to say when Tom Coughlin stepped down as coach that “ we've lost some credibility as an organization.”
The Big Four
The Giants were embarrassed on defense a year ago. Last in the league in yards allowed; 30th in sacks; Last in passing yards allowed per game and 29th in passing yards allowed per play; 31st in first downs allowed per game; Last in third-down percentage; 30th in points allowed per game.
A defensive line that was devoid of dynamic play-makers was largely to blame, and the Giants spent massively to fix that.
Bringing back Pierre-Paul on a one-year, $10 million “prove it” deal was the first domino. No one truly knows what kind of player Pierre-Paul, with his permanently damaged right hand, can be. The Giants and Pierre-Paul are in uncharted territory. The hope, of course, is that after showing while wearing a club last season that he could still create pressure he will now actually be able to do that AND finish plays.
Vernon will be the bookend for JPP, and the Giants paid an extraordinary, unprecedented price in the hopes that the dominant stretch of games he had at the end of the 2015 season for the Miami Dolphins was the beginning of a stretch of greatness. The Giants are paying $85 million ($52 million guaranteed) for his promise, not his past.
Damon Harrison has one job as a Giant, and that is to put an end to the days of the middle of the Giants’ defensive line getting pushed around on running plays. They have gambled $46.25 million over five years ($24 million guaranteed) that he can be the same dominant force for them as a 4-3 nose tackle that he was as a 3-4 nose for the New York Jets. (Harrison profile)
Hankins, who will slide over from the nose to the 3-tech next to Harrison, told reporters that the 6-foot-4, 350-pound Harrison is “probably the best at playing the run in the league.”
A quality defensive tackle himself, Hankins is in the final year of his rookie contract. A big year for him will likely equal a big pay day.
Who’s behind them?
The two recent Giants’ championship teams featured the ability to employ extra defensive ends as pass rushers, a tactic dubbed the “NASCAR” package during Steve Spagnuolo’s first tenure as defensive coordinator. The Giants are hoping second-year defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa gives them that ability in 2016. After a rough rookie season that saw his playing time limited by injuries, the Giants still hope he is a star of the future at defensive end.
Also at defensive end, the Giants have the solid, albeit unspectacular Kerry Wynn, an excellent rotational player. At defensive tackle, they are still waiting and hoping for third-year man Jay Bromley to justify his 2014 third-round selection.
Unless the Giants have tired of waiting for Bromley, these three figure to make the 53-man roster.
Competing for roster spots
Holdover defensive tackles Montori Hughes and Louis Nix III will compete for backup spots with undrafted free agents Greg Milhouse (Campbell) and Marvin Lewis (Kentucky).
Hughes, who also has NFL experience with the Indianapolis Colts, played in seven games for the Giants last season but sat out the spring with an undisclosed injury. Nix, formerly of the Houston Texans, spent time on the practice squad.
At defensive end, a group of undrafted free agents including Romeo Okwara (Notre Dame), Ishaq Williams (Notre Dame) and Mike Rose (N.C. State) are hoping to impress. Former Atlanta Falcon Stansley Maponga is also part of the equation.