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Can Giants re-made defensive line provide enough impact?

Pass rush, depth are concerns with this position group

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

Almost as much as he has talked about the need to fix the offensive line, New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman has expressed his desire to build a solid, deep rotation of defensive linemen?

After two offseasons of changing the personnel to fit the base 3-4 scheme employed by defensive coordinator James Bettcher, how close is Gettleman to having the type of defensive line he desires?

Let’s take a look at that line as we continue position-by-position previews in advance of training camp.

Projected Depth Chart

Starters: Dexter Lawrence, Dalvin Tomlinson, B.J. Hill
Roster lock: R.J. McIntosh
The rest: Freedom Akinmoladun, Jake Ceresna, Alex Jenkins, John Jenkins, Olsen Pierre, Chris Slayton

Plenty of beef

Eyebrows were raised when the Giants selected Lawrence at No. 17 rather than a pass rusher like Montez Sweat or an offensive lineman like tackle Andre Dillard. Considering that one of Gettleman’s core beliefs is “big men allow you to compete” and that he has consistently talked about adding to the defensive front, grabbing the 342-pound Lawrence really profiles as a classic Gettleman pick.

Despite the increasing offensive reliance on the pass, Gettleman maintains his belief that good defense has to begin with solid run defense. Lawrence, Dalvin Tomlinson and B.J. Hill — all run-stuffing collegiate nose tackles — should provide a good front line in that department.

The question with this group will be pass rush. Tomlinson won’t provide much. He has one sack in two seasons and had zero quarterback hits a year ago. Hill had 5.5 sacks as a rookie after coming into the league with questions about his ability to rush the passer. Year 2 will help tell us whether that pass rush performance was a mirage, or whether Hill can really be part of an effective pass rush.

The real question will be whether or not the Giants are right in their belief that Lawrence, probably playing end in the 3-4 base and kicking inside in sub packages, can effectively push the pocket inside and be athletic enough to get off blocks and make plays when antsy quarterbacks start to move around.

The second course

Gettleman and Pat Shurmur both brought up the idea that the Giants would have won more games last season had they been able to make fourth-quarter stops. The GM has also pointed out that defenses that are unable to get those late stops are usually ones without enough interior line depth.

Heading into 2019, the Giants have revamped the players who will be expected to offer relief to the starters. Kerry Wynn, Josh Mauro and Mario Edwards are gone. Second-year man R.J. McIntosh, seventh-round pick Chris Slayton and free-agent acquisition Olsen Pierre are the players most likely to be tasked with providing that relief.

McIntosh is still a mystery after missing most of last season due to an undisclosed illness. Pierre had 5.5 sacks playing for James Bettcher in 2017, his best NFL season. Slayton is primarily a run defender.

The outlook

The view here is that the starting trio will be fine, and that Lawrence will show some promise in the pass rush department. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if statistically no one in this group puts up huge numbers.

My worry is about the depth that Gettleman has been trying to create. We don’t know what McIntosh is. Slayton is a seventh-round pick. Pierre missed the entire spring and with only one good year on his resume it’s hard to know what to expect, though John Venerable of SB Nation’s Revenge of the Birds told the ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast that Pierre should do well back in Bettcher’s defense.

John Jenkins was a Giant most of last season, but hardly played. It’s hard to expect any of the other defensive linemen on the 90-man roster to make the 53.