- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul says he weighs 275 pounds (down from last year) and feels no residual effects of the back and shoulder problems that limited him to 11 games and only two sacks in 2013. Still just 25 years old and entering the final year of his contract, Pierre-Paul says he's eager to get the 2014 season started.
"I feel great. Nothing's bothering me," Pierre-Paul said after Thursday's practice. "My main goal is go come out here, play football and show everybody I've still got it."
The extent to which a Pierre-Paul recovery matters to the Giants cannot be overstated. Other than quarterback Eli Manning, he is the most important player on the roster as the Giants work to return to playoff-contending form after missing the playoffs in four of the last five years and finishing 7-9 last year. More than anyone else on the Giants, Pierre-Paul has shown an ability to elevate his game to an absolutely elite level. And if he performs the way he did in 2011, or in the early part of 2012 before his back problems began, Pierre-Paul has the ability to elevate the entire defense.
He knows this. He also knows he's now the second-longest-tenured Giants defensive lineman behind Mathias Kiwanuka. Free agency claimed defensive end Justin Tuck, who was Pierre-Paul's lockermate and mentor, and defensive tackle Linval Joseph. Pierre-Paul is playing off those departures in a part-of-the-game way and saying he believes the new guys who were brought in (Robert Ayers, most prominently) are players who can help the Giants win.
But there's no player on the defense who's more capable of helping the Giants win than Pierre-Paul when he's at his best. The fact that he has just three sacks since Halloween of 2012 is a big part of the reason the Giants haven't been as consistent on defense as they need to be.
Pierre-Paul has to lead by doing what he, in 2011, did as well as anyone in the NFL -- get to and sack the opposing quarterback. He showed in a critical late-season game in Dallas that year an ability to win a game more or less by himself on defense. A 2010 first-round pick, he has demonstrated the ability to be a dominating performer. And the Giants believe he can and will do that again. Their hope is that he has a huge year and they sign him to a huge contract extension once it's over.
But they hoped similar things with first-round picks like Kenny Phillips two years ago and Hakeem Nicks last year, and neither one of those guys delivered. This is a huge year for Pierre-Paul, and not just because the Giants need him if they want to contend for the postseason. It's a huge year as concerns his future with the team.
11hBy Dan Graziano