Jason Pierre-Paul has all the talent he needs to be the next great New York Giants pass rusher. After showing a lot of promise as a rookie in 2010, Pierre-Paul burst into stardom with a 16.5-sack 2011 campaign and become a key player in New York's Super Bowl run.
With expectations raised in 2012, Pierre-Paul's performance reflected that of the Giants as a whole. He struggled with the increased attention that opposing offensive lines were giving him and finished with just 6.5 sacks.
Which Pierre-Paul is the real Pierre-Paul? The elite defensive end from 2011 or the player who could be contained more easily in 2012? Giants fans have had to wait to find out, because Pierre-Paul has been sidelined for the first two weeks of training camp due to offseason back surgery. It's up to the player himself to decide when it is right to return to action.
"It's not really the doctor's decision," said Pierre-Paul when asked about when he can start practicing. "I say it's not the doctor's decision anymore because it's basically on me. It all depends on my recovery and how my back feels and if I can go out there and practice with the team but I'm going to have to get a couple practices in before, if, I decide to come back before the first game."
The fact that Pierre-Paul is such a target for other teams to focus on makes him hesitant to return to the field.
"I already know I'm going to be taking on two guys, double team, triple team, said Pierre-Paul. "I'm not in a rush to come back and put myself in that position."
While it's not encouraging that Pierre-Paul isn't rushing to return to the field, it's a positive sign that New York's top defensive player is taking his health so seriously. The Giants are one team that knows that an NFL season is long and that being strong in December matters just as much as winning games in September.
Pierre-Paul's own evaluation seems to clash with general manager Jerry Reese's assertion that the defensive end could be ready to play in Week 1, but it's what Pierre-Paul is feeling that really matters.
"I'm getting better every day, and it's basically up to me," admitted Pierre-Paul. "When I feel comfortable going out there and taking on blocks and ready to run like the wind again, that's when I'll be out there. But right now, I'm just taking it day by day and taking it easy."
Some athletes wouldn't be happy with their general manager putting pressure on them to return to the field by a certain date, but Pierre-Paul is taking Reese's words in stride and isn't too worried about when he might be on the field. He's just focused on getting back to full health.
"Not at all," said Pierre-Paul when asked if Reese's comments bothered him. "At the end of the day, you know that your coaches and general manager and head coach want you out there, to help the team out, but, it's all on me. I'm focused on coming back 100 percent not being like 85 percent. And I know I'm going to be a big factor of the defense, so I'd rather come back 100 percent and that's it."
Pierre-Paul's strategy makes sense when one remembers how poorly the Giants were playing at the end of last season. If a player isn't feeling great at the start of the season (whenever that may be), how is he going to be feeling in December, when the Giants are likely to be battling for a playoff spot again?
Every player wants to be on the field for the start of the regular season, but it's PierrePaul's faith in his teammates that allows him to take his time with his recovery.
"No, that's not important to me at all," said Pierre-Paul about returning in Week 1.
"I already know that the D-Line that we have here is going to go out and get the job done. And I'm very confident that Kiwi, Tuck, all them get the job done and that's all it takes. They don't really need me out there right now and I'm just going to focus on my recovery. Everything will be all right."
Even you don't agree with Pierre-Paul about the state of the defensive line without him, it's hard to argue that a full healthy player isn't in the best long-term interest of the Giants.