Much has been made of the New York Giants offseason spending spree. Did they spend too much? Did they sign the wrong players? But regardless of the opinions, for the first time in recent memory Jerry Reese had the money to spend, and a dire need to spend it.
Thanks to a variety of reasons, the Giants’ once-feared defensive line had eroded into a shell of itself. Jason Pierre-Paul, Robert Ayers, Owamagbe Odighizuwa, and Johnathan Hankins all missed significant time thanks to injuries, and it showed in the team’s dismal defense.
So the Giants signed Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison, and re-signed JPP. For the first part of the 2015 season, Hankins was the lone bright spot on the defensive line, now they surrounded 2013 second round pick with talent. Not only have the Giants increased the talent of their line as a whole, but they are allowing Hankins to use his uncommon skill set.
The trick, of course, is to get the renovated defensive line, and defense as a whole, on the same page.
"Yeah, we are learning each day about ourselves." Hankins said about getting used to all the new faces. "We brought in OV, we brought in Snacks and Jenkins, so we have a lot of new guys with the addition of Eli (Apple) and a few more guys, so everyone is just learning from each other and learning the defense as best as we can. We are taking it a day at a time."
With the infusion of talent and the returning members of the defense in their second year of Spagnuolo’s scheme, Spags is more free to dial-in his schemes than he was in 2015. But to do that, they need to get the new members of the defense on the same page first.
"I feel like right now the installs are taking their time with it," said Hankins when asked how the new defensive additions are settling in. "They are not trying to overwhelm the young safeties or the young kids that are tying to learn the playbook too fast. They are doing a good job in maintaining everybody and keeping us healthy and practicing pretty good."
And getting the veterans on the same page is going to be one of the most important parts of rebuilding the defense and getting the most out of the Giants’ talent and scheme.
"Yeah, getting everyone fine-tuned and getting everyone on the same page." Hankins said "I have been here, so I pretty much know the defensive schemes and everything that coach Spags expects, but it is just getting guys like Snacks and OV more comfortable with the scheme."
But it is getting ‘Snacks’ Harrison to play defensive tackle next to him that seems to have brought the biggest smile to Hankins’ face. Not did Hankins welcome him with open arms, but he is doing what he can to learn from his new line-mate.
"Ways to stop the run, his leadership in the D-line room is huge." Hankins said of Harrison "He has been a help for everyone in the room and just the way he goes out there and listening to the way he talks and speaks gets you going for practice and focused on the day."
Adding in players like Snacks and Vernon, the Giants have dramatically improved the Giants’ defensive front.
Or at least they hope they have.
"Yeah, it feels good with Snacks and OV." Hankins said about the potential of the Giants’ defensive line "Sometimes I try not to think about it too much or even talk about it because I don’t want to jinx myself. On paper we look really good and the past few days we have been together, we have been doing pretty good against the offense. If we continue to build on that, I feel like we can be one of the best defensive lines."
And in a contract year, Hankins has another reason to be thankful for Snacks’ arrival. In 2014 he was quietly one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. Not only was he among the best in the league in stopping the run, he was also a dangerous pass rusher and notched 7 sacks. With Harrison taking over the duties at nose tackle, "little guy" Hankins moves over to the more disruption-oriented 3-technique.
"I like it," Hankins said when asked how he likes the move "I really like it because you get more one on ones and it is a little bit more of a two-way go when you are getting ready to pass rush. Now having Snacks in there, he will keep that center and guard in place, so it will give me an opportunity to get a pass rush in."
A pass rush from Hankins, who in addition to being big, though this 320 pounds is small compared to Harrison, and strong is also almost absurdly quick. It allowed Ohio State to play him all over their defensive front — every position but defensive end in a four-man front — not just the nose tackle he looks like. Spags obviously hopes to cash in on that blend of size, strength, quickness, and agility to overwhelm interior offensive linemen and rejuvenate the Giants’ pass rush.
For Hankins, a return to his 2014 form could be the key to being both the first defensive tackle the Giants have drafted and extended since Keith Hamilton (for reference, Hankins wasn’t quite one month old when Hamilton was drafted by the Giants).
So, what is Hankins looking for in 2016? He’s keeping his expectations low. "Right now I am aiming for one a game." He said "If I can get one a game, it will total up pretty good."