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Giants’ 90-man roster: What the Giants hope to get from Dexter Lawrence

They want him to be more than just a run defender

NFL: New York Giants-Rookie Minicamp
Dexter Lawrence
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Other than the speculation about when or if the New York Giants would select a quarterback of the future in the 2019 NFL Draft, which they did by selecting Daniel Jones No. 6 overall, all we heard about was how desperately the Giants needed to add pass rushers and offensive linemen.

Thus, many were surprised when the Giants took monstrous run-stuffing defensive Dexter Lawrence rather than a pass rusher like Montez Sweat or an offensive tackle like Andre Dillard with the 17th overall pick.

If you know Dave Gettleman and his love for big, powerful players, though, the selection of the 6-foot-4, 342-pound Lawrence was entirely too predictable.

So, what were the Giants thinking when they selected Lawrence and how do they plan to use the big man? Let’s try to answer those questions as we continue profiling the 90 players the Giants will bring to training camp.

The basics

Height: 6-foot-4
Weight: 342
Age: 21
Position: DL
Experience: 0

How he got here

Lawrence was in the middle of Clemson’s ‘Power Ranger’ defensive line. He had 10 sacks ad 18 tackles for loss in three seasons.

Here are some of the various features we have written about Lawrence to date:

Those focused purely on adding pass rush to the Giants’ defense were likely surprised by the Lawrence selection. Gettleman’s history, though, should have offered a clue that Lawrence was his type of player.

His first two picks as GM of the Carolina Panthers in 2013 were defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. In 2014, he selected defensive end Kony Ealy in Round 2 and guard Trai Turner in Round 3. In 2016, defensive tackle Vernon Butler went to the Panthers in Round 1.

Last season with the Giants, after taking Saquon Barkley No. 2 overall he went big with Will Hernandez, B.J. Hill, Lorenzo Carter and R.J. McIntosh.

Gettleman always says “big men allow you to compete,” and selecting Lawrence falls in line with that.

It also appears to fall in line with what defensive coordinator James Bettcher wants in his three-man front. He wants players who can slide up and down the line and be competent at the nose, the 3-tech and the 4- or 5-tech. With Lawrence, Hill and Dalvin Tomlinson as the starters. he has that. McIntosh also offers some of that flexibility.

2019 outlook

Let’s start here. Lawrence has already moved into the starting lineup, and it appears he will line up as an end in their base 3-4.

There are two central questions. Can he rush the passer? Why are the Giants using him at end rather that at nose tackle? Let’s examine both.

Can Lawrence rush the passer?

This may sound overly simple, but we won’t know until we know whether or not Lawrence can rush the passer effectively at the NFL level.

Lawrence had 6.5 sacks as a freshman at Clemson, but only 3.5 the past two seasons. There may have been a legitimate reason for the drop off in productivity, though. Lawrence said he played at “45 to 50 percent” in 2017 and he said, while healthy in 2018, what he could and could not do because of his foot still weighed on his mind.

“I feel like my sophomore year, I was battling an injury playing on one leg kind of deal,” Lawrence told Giants media the night he was drafted. “My junior season, I got my confidence back a lot more the second half of the season. The first half of the season, I was kind of timid on it a little bit, but I’ve gotten over that hump.”

The Giants don’t need Lawrence to come flying off the edge in pass rush. They need him to push the pocket and be athletic enough to get off blocks and make plays once a quarterback begins to move around.

“Defensive tackles can affect the pass rush if they get consistent inside push. How many times have you guys watched a game, and the ends come screaming off the corner, and the quarterback steps up, and there’s nobody there,” Gettleman said when he drafted Lawrence. “You get inside pass rush, those ends come screaming off the corner, they’re going to affect it, and if the guy is getting push, the quarterback is going to step up and Dexter will give him a kiss.”

Lawrence believes he is “underrated” as a pass rusher.

“It’s kind of on me to prove myself, right, because I know who I am and to prove others wrong,” Lawrence said. “I’ve always been able to collapse the pocket, now I’m focused on escaping blocks or finishing the plays and things like that.”

Why are the Giants using Lawrence at defensive end?

At first blush, you think a 342-pound man needs to play the 0 or 1 technique right in front of the center. A recent ‘Fanpost’ here at BBV seemed incredulous to the idea that the Giants would do anything but that. It’s well-written and well-meaning, but not really correct.

First, let’s understand the defense the Giants are playing. It is a base 3-4, generally morphing into a four-down linemen set in pass-oriented sub packages. The “defensive ends” are not what you think of in the 4-3 the Giants had played for decades before Bettcher arrived as defensive coordinator.

The “ends” won’t be asked to set the edge or come flying around the corner. They won’t be asked to be Osi Umenyiora, Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck or Jason Pierre-Paul.

In a base 3-4, the trio of hand in the dirt guys are really all defensive tackles. Coach Pat Shurmur said at draft time that the Giants have a 1-tech (nose), 3-tech and 5-tech. Lawrence has referred to himself as generally playing the 4-tech, or perhaps the 4i.

What is all that defensive line technique gobbledygook? I know not everyone has that committed to memory, and truth be told images help me and I can’t always recognize what technique a guy playing in live action.

Here is an image from an old Summer School post that should help:

What the Giants have done with Lawrence, Hill and Tomlinson is create a heavy, flexible interior where all three of the guys who should play the majority of snaps have the ability to play each of the interior techniques, as well as being able to play as 4-3 defensive tackles in sub packages.

But, why Lawrence at the 4- or 5-tech instead of Tomlinson? Remember, one of the reasons the Giants traded Damon Harrison was to allow Tomlinson to play the 1-tech, which they believe is his natural and best position. Tomlinson had only four sacks in four collegiate seasons and has only one in two NFL seasons. Pass rush is not his thing.

The Giants believe that Lawrence, despite being 25 pounds heavier, moves better than Tomlinson and can be more effective than Tomlinson when playing over a guard or tackle rather than a center. It’s important to remember that the Giants didn’t simply decide to move Lawrence to the 4- or 5-tech on a whim. Gettleman always says you have to have a plan for the guys you draft, you have to know how you want to use them. With that in mind, you have to believe the way they are using Lawrence is what they drafted him for.

If Lawrence ends up as only a two-down player who has to come off the field on passing down it will be hard to see using the 17th pick on him as being justifiable. If he becomes a three-down player who can, as the Giants believe, impact the pass rush that’s a different story.

Back to Summer School

This seems like an appropriate time to discuss exactly what type of front the Giants are playing, and what the down linemen are asked to do.

As a guest on the ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast on Monday, John Schmeelk reminded us that not only are the Giants playing a 3-4, they are not playing the Bill Parcells’ 3-4. That scheme asked down linemen to cover two gaps and just eat up space so that linebackers had a free run. Bettcher’s system, the more modern version of the 3-4, is a one-gapping scheme where the down linemen are tasked with penetrating a single gap in the offensive line and causing disruption.

Chris explained the differences in the aforementioned Summer School post a few years ago. They are worth touching on:

2-gap 3-4

In the 2-gap 3-4, each of the defensive linemen is responsible for two “gaps”, designated by the letters between the offensive linemen. In the 4-3 defense, only the nose tackle is responsible for two gaps, and even then that depends on the defensive call.

Because of their different responsibilities, the defensive linemen in a 2-gap 3-4 defense tend to be much bigger and stronger than in the 4-3 or even 1-gap 3-4 defense. A 2-gapping defensive lineman has to be powerful enough to take on a double-team at any time, or control an offensive lineman with one hand and make a tackle with the other. What the 2-gap 3-4 lacks in opportunities for the defensive line, it more than makes up for with the linebackers. This is the defense that allowed [Bill] Parcells to fully unleash Lawrence Taylor upon the NFL, forever changing the way the game is played.

1-gap 3-4

As the name suggests, the 1-gap 3-4 defense sees the majority of the defensive front attacking a single gap. This version of the defense, made popular by Bum Phillips, is a much more aggressive version of the 3-4, sending the defensive linemen into the backfield as opposed to just holding blocks.