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Giants vs. Jaguars: Giants DC James Bettcher excited to watch his young players

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James Bettcher talks about roster turnover, rookies, and what the defense needs to do to beat the Jags

NFL: New York Giants-Training Camp NorthJersey.com-USA TODAY NETWORK

The New York Giants will finally unveil their new-look defense when they take the field against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

New defensive coordinator James Bettcher spoke to the media Thursday afternoon, his first opportunity to do so in the 2018 regular season. Bettcher laid down a quick overview of what the defense needs to accomplish to win Sunday.

“We’ve got a great opponent this week, a team that can run the football, as we all know – 141-ish yards a game a year ago, a team that will max protect and take some shots down the field. They’re going to get (Blake Bortles) on the perimeter with some boots and some movement passes,” Bettcher said. “Then, the thing we’ve got to do a great job of is the screen game. We’ve got to be aware of when the screens are coming, whether it’s first (down), second down, third down, and be aware of some of the set-ups for some of those things. With the receiver (Marquis Lee) out, it’s going to be – whether it’s (Dede Westbrook), (Donte Moncrief), whoever it is that’s their guy that they’re going to try to hit down the field, those are the guys that we’re going to have to be aware of and just adjust during the first part of the game.”

But containing the Jaguars’ offense isn’t the only challenge Bettcher and his defense faces this weekend.

On the roster turnover

After going 3-13 in 2017, it was expected that there would be more than the normal amount of roster change in the 2018 offseason for the Giants. What wasn’t expected was how extensive the Giants’ roster makeover would be, or how long it would last. The team made a league-leading six waiver wire claims after final cuts, and added veterans as late as Tuesday with the signing of LB Nate Stupar. All told, the team has changed 15 percent of its roster — after initially setting their 53-man roster this past Saturday. Six of those players are on the defensive side.

Bettcher runs a very aggressive defense which relies on a variety of formations and disguises to keep allow it to bring pressure without being exploited by the offense. Perhaps the biggest question facing the defense heading in to Week 1 is how the Giants will integrate all the new players.

“One of the things is we’ve got some great ownership in the room,” Bettcher said, “We’ve got some guys that are really taking a hold of what we’ve been trying to do over the last five-six months as a defense. We’ve really tried to teach it as concepts, so the guys that are here understand the concepts, then you just feed those guys as they come in pieces and they learn on the way.”

“I love what we’re doing about just searching and finding and working guys through,” he added. “I’m excited about some of the guys that have come in, and I’m excited to work with anybody we bring in, because all we’re going to ask them to is to get their hand on the pylon and go to work.”

On free safety Curtis Riley

That process of working players through and finding contributors started well before this week. It was assumed that Darian Thompson or Andrew Adams would take a starting role next to Landon Collins. Instead, Curtis Riley made the switch from cornerback to safety upon signing with the Giants and seized the starting job when Thompson went down with an injury in the spring. He never let that job go, and now neither Adams nor Thompson are on the team.

“Curtis really from the beginning has been playing pretty well for a guy that doesn’t have a lot of time on the job at the position,” Bettcher said. “Obviously an outside guy converted inside, I think when you go look at little things like how much time he’s spending on his iPad watching tape, how engaged he is in meetings and the conversation he’s having in the classroom, then when you go out and watch the tape and he’s running around, some of the plays he’s made, obviously missed a little time with the injury, but has come off of that and really picked up where he left off. He’s a guy that his arrow is really up and I’ll be excited to watch him play this Sunday.”

On Lorenzo Carter and B.J. Hill

The other notable part of the Giants’ defensive roster turnover has been the rise of DT B.J. Hill and EDGE Lorenzo Carter to play significant roles on the defense.

Carter was rumored to be a favorite of Bettcher’s throughout the draft process. He possesses a rare blend of length and athleticism that compares to players like Danielle Hunter, Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack, and Leonard Floyd. The issue for Carter isn’t his athletic ability, but rather his ability to harness it and put it to use.

“(Lorenzo) is a guy that, the longer it goes with him, I think the thing I see the most is the faster he plays,” Bettcher said. “He’s starting to really understand what we’re doing and what we’re asking of him, number one, then two, just as a rusher, he’s really learning how to rush. To me, as young players in this league, that’s a year-long process that might be into year two with a lot of guys.”

Hill surprised by quickly taking one of the starting spots on the Giants’ three-man defensive line, along with Dalvin Tomlinson and Damon Harrison. Hill was largely overshadowed by Bradley Chubb and the athleticism of Kentavius Street coming out of North Carolina State. But despite largely playing nose tackle or the 1-technique for NC State, Hill is plenty athletic himself, with impressive movement skills for a 6-foot-3, 315-pound lineman.

“He’s just a guy that came in, he’s probably one of the most professional rookies I’ve ever been around,” Bettcher said. “When he came in the building, he was business and he understood how we needed to work, a guy that takes care of his body – he’s just really ahead of his age in terms of years in the league.”

Hill and Carter could play key roles on Sunday.

“They’re going to play very meaningful snaps in this game, play a lot of snaps in this game, and I’ll be excited to watch some of these young guys fly around and play,” Bettcher said.