The 2013 NFL season is probably one that Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul would like to forget. While battling back and shoulder injuries, the former first round draft pick set career lows in games played (11) and sacks (2.0) during a year in which his team finished out of the playoffs at 7-9.
Some fans might feel that Pierre-Paul has to prove that his future holds more of the player that dazzled with 16.5 sacks in 2011 and less of the one that struggled over the past two seasons. The four-year veteran isn't worried about the past, though.
"I think I have a job to do," said Pierre-Paul. "It's not showing people what player I can be. I know what player I am and what I bring to the team. I just have to go out there and we have to make the playoffs and try to get back to the Super Bowl."
That task is going to be tough to accomplish in 2014 without the presence of former Giants co-captain Justin Tuck. General manager Jerry Reese wanted to bring Tuck back on a team-friendly contract, but he opted to sign with the Oakland Raiders instead. With Tuck out of town, Pierre-Paul and Mathias Kiwanuka are going to be counted on to lead the Giants' pass rush.
"I think most of the D-line is going to look up, we still have Kiwi here, too," said Pierre-Paul, "Most of the D-line is going to look up to me and Kiwi. We've got young guys in there, guys from other teams and we've been here the longest, so they have to follow us. We've got to lead."
Considering that the two veteran defensive ends are coming off subpar seasons, there's a lot of uncertainty on the defensive line heading into the 2014 season. Second year player Damontre Moore and free agent acquisition Robert Ayers are good pieces, but head coach Tom Coughlin probably doesn't want to have to count on them too much.
That's why it's so important that Pierre-Paul is over the injury problems that have kept him from repeating his 2011 success.
"I'm rehabbing both (shoulder and back)," he said. "I mean, everything's fine but I'm still continuing to rehab no matter what."
If Pierre-Paul is fully healthy coming into the season, it could be like the Giants adding a Pro Bowl pass rusher to their defense. That might seem far-fetched after seeing Pierre-Paul struggle for so long, but he's confident that a return to form is imminent.
"I'm going to go out there and play the game like I was 21 again. This whole offseason I've just been training and thinking that I want to get back on the football field. It's coming."