The Giants added a lot of talent to their secondary this offseason, but not as much attention was paid to the defensive line, which lost Justin Tuck and Linval Joseph to free agency. When it comes to rushing the passer, New York is depending a lot on Jason Pierre-Paul to stay healthy and return to his 2011 form. In that year, he helped the Giants win a Super Bowl with 16.5 sacks during the regular season.
In the two seasons since 2011, Pierre-Paul has just 8.5 sacks in 27 games played.
“I feel like my normal self,” said Pierre-Paul about his health. “I’m running around, getting to the quarterback, stopping the run. I’m awesome. I’m at 110 percent really. I’m not really worrying about the back or shoulder, nothing. All is good.”
It seems that every player nowadays comes into training camp in the best shape of his life, but Pierre-Paul insists that it’s been over a year since he’s felt this good physically.
“I’d say at the end of the 2012 season,” said Pierre-Paul about the last time he was fully healthy. “I came here for minicamp and I felt terrible and then that’s when I had to go get surgery. That was a long time. But now I’m back and ready to go.”
Even if Pierre-Paul can return to being the player the Giants need him to be, there’s still the issue of filling the leadership void left by Tuck. The defensive end played with the Giants for nine seasons and the team lost a major playmaker as well as some intangible value when he left for Oakland.
Pierre-Paul knows he has to step up not only as a football player, but as a leader on defense this season.
“Tuck’s always been the talker,” he said. “When we’re doing something wrong he’ll come to us, which I am too. If I see a person doing something wrong and I can help him out, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Fortunately, Pierre-Paul isn’t the only player with leadership capabilities on defense, there are other veteran holdovers who can mesh with the new acquisitions and create a solid unit.
“Tuck’s gone, he’s a big part of the defense and was a leader but he’s gone so now people have to step up,” noted Pierre-Paul. “Me too. Antrel [Rolle], [Jon] Beason and then you have Kiwi (Mathias Kiwanuka) on the other side. I think Kiwi is going to be a big factor this year and I truly believe that.”
If Kiwanuka and Pierre-Paul both bounce back from what was a very rough campaign for the pair in 2014, it would be a big boost to the Giants’ pass rush.
A healthy Pierre-Paul can also help out the offensive line, as the pass rusher’s friendly rivalry whith offensive tackle Will Beatty has the potential to take both players to new heights.
“Oh, I’m looking forward to dominating Will Beatty, to kill him,” said Pierre-Paul. “Don’t get me wrong, Will Beatty is a terrific guy, on the field he’s a great guy. He’s one of the best tackles we’ve got and he’s hurt right now. Well he’s not hurt but he’s rehabbing still. I think he’s doing a great job. I’ve been going against him lately and I’m pretty sure he’s out there, probably not at his best. I’m not going to lie, he’s been giving me a fight and I love that about him because the more I fight with him, the more he fights with me, the better I get.”
The two players helping each other is good for the Giants, because they need to be much stronger on both the offensive and defensive fronts in order to compete for the playoffs this season.