New York Giants: Jason Pierre-Paul

Giants Camp Report: Day 7

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
7:30
PM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New York Giants training camp:
  • Unfortunately, the news of the day was injuries, headlined by running back David Wilson's neck burner. The Giants sent Wilson to New York and the Hospital for Special Surgery for a full battery of tests because they want to be as careful as possible with his neck as he's coming off spinal fusion surgery and only last week was cleared for full practice. It's possible this turns out just to be a low-level scare, but it's important to take every possible precaution given the recent history with Wilson and his neck. By comparison, the nagging hamstring troubles that kept Odell Beckham Jr., Rueben Randle, Xavier Grimble and Trindon Holliday sidelined seem like minor issues.
  • Interesting practice for Larry Donnell, who's still No. 1 on the team's tight end depth chart and possibly in the coaches' hearts. He fumbled a ball near the goal line after one catch, but then got back up and made a leaping, one-handed touchdown grab in the back right corner of the end zone on the next play. All of the tight ends (except the injured Grimble) are getting lots of run, and they're all getting their share of first-team reps. There are a lot of formations the Giants are using in practice in which two tight ends are on the field at the same time, and they're lined up all over the place. They really need one or two guys to step forward from this group.
  • Jerrel Jernigan dropped three punts that my "NFL Insiders" colleague Field Yates and I counted during punt-return drills. That's not good, and with Beckham and Holliday unable to return punts we're seeing a lot of David Wilson (before he had to leave), Victor Cruz (who's not going to do it in games) and Charles James on the punt return unit. Maybe that's a way for James to sneak onto the roster, who knows? It was good to see Field, regardless.
  • Humorous highlights included a halfback pass from Peyton Hillis to Donnell that, shockingly, fell incomplete and a Trumaine McBride interception of Curtis Painter that he ran back for a touchdown with fellow corners Prince Amukamara and Walter Thurmond rushing off the sidelines and accompanying him home. I also thought it was funny that Jason Pierre-Paul joined in the defensive backs' post-practice huddle but left because their motivational chants are growing too complicated. Pierre-Paul continues to look fantastic in practice, by the way.
  • And I haven't been charting each and every rep, but it seemed to me that John Jerry got more time at first-team right guard Tuesday than he has been. Brandon Mosley's still the main guy there, and certainly has an opportunity to hold off Jerry and claim the spot for his own. But they do like Jerry and want to give him a look as his surgically repaired knee allows.
  • The Giants are off Wednesday and return to practice Thursday.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- See now, this is what I'm talking about. The New York Giants just handed out a depth chart here in the media room. And while the nice gentleman who handed it out kept saying, "Officially unofficial," and while it's only July 24, I see no reason why we can't pick through it and overreact to what's on it, do you?

No? I didn't think so. Good. Let's go.

[+] EnlargeAdrien Robinson
Jim O'Connor/USA TODAY SportsAdrien Robinson is buried on the Giants' initial training camp depth chart.
First thing that jumps out is that Larry Donnell is listed as the starting tight end. That's not as surprising as the fact that Adrien Robinson is listed as the No. 5 tight end, behind Donnell, Daniel Fells, Xavier Grimble and Kellen Davis. That seems like a message from the coaching staff about Robinson's progress, and it's somewhat shocking considering that Robinson and Donnell have been the guys most mentioned when the organization has talked about expecting its young tight ends to step up.

The thing to remember, of course, is that the only place Robinson has ever been an effective pass-catching tight end is in Jerry Reese's imagination. Robinson caught a total of 29 passes in four years of college football at Cincinnati and didn't catch one in either of his first two NFL seasons. He's a blocking tight end, if anything, but Reese drafted him thinking he had the physical gifts to become a good NFL tight end. It's still possible he turns out to be correct, but to this point there's no evidence to support it.

The Giants' starting tight end job remains wide, wide, wide open and could conceivably still go to someone who's not yet on the team. But it's stunning to see Robinson listed all the way at the back of the depth chart when there was an assumption that he could get the first crack at it.

Elsewhere on this gilded document:

Giants' projected roster

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
11:00
AM ET
Projecting the New York Giants' 53-man roster before training camp begins:

QUARTERBACKS (2)
The Giants didn't like carrying three quarterbacks last year. They did so because they drafted Nassib as a fourth-round project with the thought that he wouldn't be active for any games as a rookie. But this year, they've come out and said that Nassib needs to win the No. 2 job. He worked as the clear No. 2 ahead of Curtis Painter in OTAs and minicamp, and I think he'd have to fall flat on his face in order to lose the job. If Manning goes down, the Giants are cooked anyway, whether it's Painter or Nassib behind him. So they might as well keep developing the kid unless he's totally incompetent.

RUNNING BACKS (4)

Five running backs feels like a lot, so Hillis or 2013 seventh-rounder Michael Cox had to go. It's possible the Giants carry five and Williams could start out as this year's Nassib -- a fourth-rounder who's inactive for at least a little while as he gets his feet wet in the NFL with an eye toward a contribution further down the road. This list also assumes Wilson is cleared for contact by the neck exam he has scheduled for July 21, which is no sure thing. If he isn't, then Cox or Kendall Gaskins could find his way onto the team.

FULLBACK (1)

It's a camp battle between Hynoski and John Conner, but the Giants won't keep both. My hunch is that Hynoski has shown enough ability to produce with the ball in his hands that he'll get the edge in Ben McAdoo's new offense ahead of Conner as long as he's healthy.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)

Holliday is likely to make the team as a return man, though it's possible he could get squeezed out if the team decides Beckham, Quintin Demps and either Randle or Jernigan are enough to handle those responsibilities. The Giants signed Holliday before they drafted Beckham, after all.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

In spite of the lack of quality experienced options, McAdoo's offense does appear to want to use the tight end a lot. Some Giants fans are hoping an outside name or two can replace some of the ones on this list, but as of now, this is what they have, and they'll hope something decent comes of it. They are eager to see what Robinson can do if he can ever keep himself healthy, and they love what Donnell showed them last year on special teams and think he deserves the reward of an opportunity here. Daniel Fells or Xavier Grimble could beat out Davis for that third spot without too much trouble.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

There are injury and health concerns with Beatty, Jerry and possibly Snee that could knock a name or two off this list with an IR or PUP designation. The Giants signed Brown and Jerry as veteran backups. They like Mosley's upside, and he could have the edge over someone like Eric Herman or James Brewer.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9)

I thought about undrafted Kelcy Quarles for one of the defensive tackle spots, and I guess it's possible he could beat out someone like Patterson in camp. But everyone else on here seems like a lock.

LINEBACKERS (6)

If Beason's foot injury isn't healed in time to allow him to start the season, someone like Terrell Manning or Dan Fox could sneak on here. More likely, the Giants would go with five linebackers while waiting for Beason and add someone on the defensive line or in the secondary.

CORNERBACKS (5)

It helps the numbers that Jayron Hosley will be suspended for the first four games of the regular season for a drug violation. If he does make the team, the Giants will have to clear a spot for him in Week 5. This group could also swell if the Giants decide they need to keep sixth-round pick Bennett Jackson and/or Charles James for special teams. It's going to be tough to make the Giants' roster as a corner this summer.

SAFETIES (5)

It's going to be tricky to get fifth-round pick Berhe on this roster, but the Giants like him enough to make room at the expense of someone like Brewer on the offensive line or Charles James at cornerback.

SPECIALISTS (3)

Special-teams coach Tom Quinn said there was a kicker competition between Brown and Brandon McManus, so flip a coin on that one. The other two spots here are in stone barring injury.

Camp preview: New York Giants

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
AM ET
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NFL Nation's Dan Graziano examines the three biggest issues facing the New York Giants heading into training camp.

The new offense: All eyes are on new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo and a Giants offense that's likely to look much different from the one quarterback Eli Manning ran for his first 10 years in the NFL. The fact that Manning was able to bounce back from his ankle surgery and participate in organized team activities and minicamp was a huge help to the learning process, but it's still an extensive and complex process that could conceivably linger into the season. Pay particular attention to the running game, whose concepts seem to be more complex than what the Giants are installing in the passing game. David Wilson said last month that the new offense gives the running backs the ability to "create and dictate" plays, but obviously a lot of that is going to depend on the ability of the offensive line to get the play blocked. There are a lot of questions to be answered on the offense: Who will the starting center be? Who will play tight end? Will Chris Snee be able to hold up at right guard? Can Will Beatty recover in time to start the season? Do the Giants have enough at wide receiver? Is Wilson healthy enough to be a factor in the run game? But central to everything is the ability of the players on the field to smoothly integrate themselves into a new system -- and to do so in time for the start of the regular season.

The defensive line. The Giants let 2013 sack leader Justin Tuck and top defensive tackle Linval Joseph go in free agency. They believe that Jason Pierre-Paul is healthy for the first time since October of 2012 and can dominate from the defensive end position the way he did in 2011. And they believe that young defensive tackles Johnathan Hankins and Markus Kuhn are ready to take the next developmental steps needed to absorb Joseph's workload and stuff up the middle against opposing run games. But they'll need Mathias Kiwanuka, Damontre Moore or Robert Ayers to emerge as a reasonable pass-rush threat on the other side to keep offenses' attention away from Pierre-Paul. And without injured middle linebacker Jon Beason around for camp and possibly the start of the season to get and keep things organized in the front seven, it would help if someone from the defensive line group could fill at least part of the vast leadership void created by Tuck's departure.

Team chemistry. The Giants don't go away for training camp anymore. They have camp right at the same East Rutherford, N.J., practice facility where they do their work during the regular season. They'll stay in a hotel as if they were away for camp, and they'll spend long days together in meeting rooms, on the field and in the cafeteria. But one of the big stories of this Giants season is the ability of the coaching staff to integrate a group of new players into the team culture and find leaders to replace guys like Tuck, Terrell Thomas, Kevin Boothe and David Diehl, who are no longer around to serve as locker room pillars. The Giants are counting on the ability of venerable head coach Tom Coughlin and his staff to do that, and they believe Beason and Antrel Rolle have emerged in recent years as big-time leaders on and off the field. But the vibe in the locker room is going to be different with so many new faces in place and so many familiar ones gone. It will be fascinating to see how that all comes together, and whether one offseason and one training camp is enough to make it all work.
Two weeks ago, we took a position-by-position look at the Giants' offense heading into training camp. We'll do the same for the defense this week, one position group per day. Today's edition looks at the defensive line.

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
AP Photo/Evan PinkusThe Giants need Jason Pierre-Paul to become a star again on the defensive line.
Projected starters: DE Jason Pierre-Paul, DE Mathias Kiwanuka, DT Cullen Jenkins, DT Johnathan Hankins

Projected backups: DE Robert Ayers, DE Damontre Moore, DT Mike Patterson, DT Markus Kuhn, DT Jay Bromley

Others competing for roster spots: DE Kendrick Adams, DE Emmanuel Dieke, DE Jordan Stanton, DE Kerry Wynn, DT Everett Dawkins, DT Kelcy Quarles

Pierre-Paul is the key to the defense, no matter how much money the Giants spent on cornerback this offseason. He's the one pass-rusher they have who they've seen perform at an elite level, and with Justin Tuck gone off to Oakland, the pass rush will depend on Pierre-Paul's ability to stay healthy and perform the way he did in 2011 and early 2012. If that doesn't happen, they have major issues trying to fill in for him and make up for that production with underwhelming or questionable options.

Kiwanuka's penciled in atop the depth chart at the other DE spot, though he could be surpassed by Ayers or even Moore. Ayers has proven something as a run-stopping defensive end in Denver, though he's never piled up sacks. Moore is a second-year player with a lot of athletic ability and a very high motor who needs to progress in terms of learning the defense and playing with discipline. He's a helper on special teams, where he likes to block kicks and punts, and if he can develop enough to be used as either as a starter or a situational pass-rusher, that'd be a fun thing for the Giants' defense. Kiwanuka is best off as a rotational player, and ideally Ayers or Moore would show enough to allow them to continue to use him that way.

Jenkins is the sure-thing starter at defensive tackle right now, and the hope is that second-year man Hankins is ready to take over Linval Joseph's starting spot with Joseph now in Minnesota. They also like Kuhn's upside, and they'll give him a look in camp, while Patterson was a strong contributor as a backup and rotational guy last season. The goal is to have at least four defensive tackles they can rotate in and out, though they're likely to keep at least five on the roster while Bromley, this year's third-round pick, develops. Of the "others," Quarles is the most interesting to watch as an undrafted free agent out of South Carolina.
Jason Pierre-Paul continually proclaims himself fully healthy for the first time in nearly two years and says he's ready to do incredible things at defensive end for the New York Giants this year. Their hope and belief is that he's right, and as long as he is they'll stick him at right defensive end and assign him the task of whipping left tackles and making life miserable for quarterbacks.

But what about the other defensive end spot? The one Justin Tuck used to play? Tuck is an Oakland Raider now, and the competition for the starting spot opposite Pierre-Paul is wide open. The candidates are veteran Mathias Kiwanuka, free-agent signee Robert Ayers and 2013 third-round pick Damontre Moore.

If the goal is to find the most dynamic pass-rusher possible on that side, Moore is the guy they'd like to see step forward and claim it. To this point, it does not sound as though they're assuming he will.

"I think preseason games will be the measuring stick," defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said last week. "We think he's made a lot of progress from where he was a year ago. He's grown a lot, and if he takes that next step in the next month on his own, progressing even more, then when he comes back in the fall we'll have another measuring stick of where we need to go with him.'

Translation: Moore is still a developmental guy, and if he develops quickly enough to help out the pass rush this year, great. If he doesn't, the Giants have other options while he wreaks havoc on special teams and learns the defensive playbook. Last year, the Giants didn't trust Moore to stay onsides or know the plays, because he was a rookie who was set back by a training camp injury. This year, they'll look for more education and development, and play him more as he shows he can handle it.

Meantime, Kiwanuka and Ayers are both decent run-stopping defensive ends who aren't going to strike fear in the hearts of quarterbacks but can fill the role if deployed strategically. Ayers was a first-round pick of the Denver Broncos in 2009 and has never had more than 5.5 sacks in a season. The good news is that season was last season, and it's possible he's a pass-rusher on the rise. They know what they have in Kiwanuka, who's been in their program for eight years and will do anything they need. High floor, low ceiling -- not a guy who's going to hurt you, but not a guy who's going to do what a healthy and driven Pierre-Paul can do as a pass-rusher.

So that's a training camp battle to watch -- that run-stopping defensive end position. The Giants hope they have enough talent there that something great will emerge from the group.
You used the #nygmail hashtag on Twitter this week, and I thank you for it.

@DanGrazianoESPN: Let's assume, for the sake of this discussion, that middle linebacker Jon Beason does not make it back from his foot injury to play for the New York Giants in Week 1 in Detroit. If that is the case (as seems likely), then Jameel McClain is the front-runner to start at middle linebacker.

At this point, the starters on the outside would be Spencer Paysinger and Jacquian Williams, but rookie fifth-rounder Devon Kennard impressed coaches in the spring program and could be in the mix to start on the strong side. What's interesting to me is that linebackers coach Eric Hermann had a lot to say Thursday about the improvement Williams has shown as a weakside linebacker in the Giants' base defense. They already love him on the weak side in their nickel package due to his speed and coverage ability. But if they like him there in the base as well, Williams might be ahead of Paysinger to start there even once Beason returns and McClain moves back to the strong side. So to answer your question, I'd expect to see McClain in the middle, Williams on the weak side and either Paysinger or, if he has a big camp, Kennard on the strong side in Week 1.

@DanGrazianoESPN: No. I mean, obviously the short answer is no at this point, because Ryan Nassib, who didn't play at all as a rookie (by design) is still a work in progress.

Giants coaches like his progress. Quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf on Thursday praised Nassib's intelligence and his ability to pick up the new system but said he's still got to work on his accuracy and his timing. Which is understandable, given that he's still a young quarterback who's never played in the league. It's clear they view him as the No. 2 right now behind Eli Manning -- or that they're at least giving him every chance to beat out Curtis Painter for that spot in camp. But no, if Manning got hurt, at this point the Giants would not have honest confidence in Nassib or anyone else who might replace him.

Manning costs the Giants 17 percent of their salary cap. He's the player around whom their team is built. If they don't have him, they simply won't be a remotely competitive team. Even if Nassib comes quickly in camp and becomes a viable No. 2, there's no chance that, in 2014, he offers anything close to what Manning offers as a starting NFL quarterback. All the Giants want from Nassib is continued growth and development, and their hope is that he's a decent backup/emergency option this year and maybe more down the road.

@DanGrazianoESPN: I agree that the Giants' defensive line is questionable behind the starters, and that there's a chance it could be a bad defensive line. They desperately need Jason Pierre-Paul to stay healthy and dominate from the defensive end position, because honestly they're not going to get much pass rush from the other side at this point. Mathias Kiwanuka and Robert Ayers are what they are, and they're not the kinds of defensive ends who are going to whip tackles regularly and pile up sacks. And Damontre Moore is still developing.

On the inside, you mention Cullen Jenkins, and I agree he's key because he's the one guy in there who's not a question mark. Coaches were raving this week about the development defensive tackles Johnathan Hankins and Markus Kuhn have shown, and if so then that's a positive thing for them and for the Giants. But there's no way to know until they can practice in pads and play against other teams what they really have in there. To me, the Giants are hoping a lot of people -- namely, Hankins, Kuhn, Moore, Ayers and Kiwanuka -- outperform anything they've yet shown in the league in order to make them strong on the defensive line. It's not nuts to think one or two of them will, but... all of them?

@DanGrazianoESPN: The first-team offensive line in minicamp was, left to right: Charles Brown, Geoff Schwartz, J.D. Walton, Brandon Mosley, Justin Pugh. Which, no, is not good. They believe Chris Snee could play right guard if he had to right now, but he's working his way back from elbow and hip surgeries and they're taking it slowly with him. And they're also hoping Will Beatty is healthy enough to play left tackle in training camp ahead of Brown, who was signed as a backup. Rookie Weston Richburg is in a straight-up competition with Walton for the starting center spot. So it's possible that by Week 1 it's Beatty/Schwartz/Richburg/Snee/Pugh, which would look a lot better than what they ran out there this week. But as of now, that's your starting five.

Mosley's an interesting case. They like him and think his development has been hurt by injuries. But the fact that Snee and John Jerry (knee surgery) haven't been able to get on the field helped Mosley get a lot of first-team reps this spring. And that can only help him if they need to turn to him to play a starting role in camp, in the preseason or in the season.

Thanks for all of your questions. Enjoy the first weekend of summer. 

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A year ago at this time, Jason Pierre-Paul was not on the field for New York Giants minicamp. He was in California, beginning a back-surgery rehab that would limit him throughout a disappointing 2013 season. Fully healed from that and from the shoulder injury that showed up halfway through the season on top of it, Pierre-Paul is feeling fantastic and rarin' to go.

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsNew York Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul says he's ready to put a disappointing 2013 season behind him and rebound with a "crazy" 2014.
"When your body's fresh, you can put all of that behind you and pretend it never happened," the Giants' defensive end said after minicamp practice Wednesday. "I've got something to prove this year. I want to shut a lot of people up. I know what I bring to the table. I know what I can do. It's going to be crazy."

Pierre-Paul has collected a total of two quarterback sacks in the Giants' last 23 games dating back to the middle of the 2012 season. That's a far cry from the 16.5 he turned in during the 2011 regular season en route to a Super Bowl title. But now that he's healthy, he says, "the sky's the limit" for what he can do. Which is a good thing for the Giants, because however much money they spend on cornerbacks this offseason, Pierre-Paul is still the most important defensive piece they have.

The organization that has lived by the idea that "you can't have too many pass-rushers" operated this offseason as though it didn't think it could have too many cornerbacks. The Giants said goodbye to 2013 sack leader Justin Tuck and defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who were their two best defensive linemen last year. The only replacement they signed was former Broncos first-round pick Robert Ayers, who's known as a strong run defender from the defensive end position. They spent big money on free-agent cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and also signed Walter Thurmond, Zack Bowman and Trumaine McBride to go along with incumbent starter Prince Amukamara at that position.

Now, cornerback looks like a strength of the roster, but the front seven looks a bit thinned-out. The Giants are basically counting on 2013 draft picks Johnathan Hankins and Damontre Moore to make big steps forward in 2014 to help fill the holes created by the departures of Joseph and Tuck. If not, they're going to test the old theory about how a strong pass rush helps the secondary more than a strong secondary helps the pass rush.

"We all work as one," Pierre-Paul said. "But they've been doing a great job, because we've been getting to the quarterback in practice."

That can work for a time, I think. And there are plenty of people out there who will point to the Seattle Seahawks having won the most recent Super Bowl with a strong secondary. But first of all, this group has a long way to go before it can claim it belongs in the same discussion as the one Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas are running out there in the Pacific Northwest. And second of all, too many people overlook the fact that Seattle's 2013 defense relied heavily on a strong and deep rotation of defensive linemen that wore out opposing offensive lines late in games.

For that reason, the Giants absolutely must play big and strong up front on defense. It starts with Pierre-Paul, who's the one player in their defensive front we've seen perform at a truly elite NFL level. But they will need to be able to rely on a rotation of Hankins, Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson, Markus Kuhn and maybe rookie Jay Bromley at defensive tackle. And they'll need to get contributions from some combination of Moore, Ayers and Mathias Kiwanuka at defensive end on the side opposite Pierre-Paul. If they don't -- if they get pushed around physically on the defensive line and can't force the action by invading opponents' backfields -- then quarterbacks are going to find open receivers against them downfield, no matter how good their corners are.

Pierre-Paul's bravado is fun in June, but it needs to turn into production -- for him and for his defensive linemates -- come September and October. That's the way they've always won with defense around here, and it's foolish to think the formula has changed.

Twitter mailbag: OTA thoughts

June, 7, 2014
Jun 7
11:14
AM ET
You asked. You used the #nygmail hashtag on Twitter. I scrolled. I answer.
 
Interesting exercise by Pro Football Focus, ranking all 32 NFL rosters Insider in order. It's an Insider post, so you have to pay to read it, but for our purposes here I can tell you that the New York Giants' roster came in at No. 19 in the NFL and No. 3 in the NFC East, behind the No. 5 overall Eagles and right behind the No. 18 overall Cowboys.

Along with the rankings are color-coded charts that rate each team's starters. Of the 22 starters they project for the Giants, only 10 rated above average and only three -- fullback John Conner, guard Geoff Schwartz and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie -- rated "high quality." None rated in the blue "Elite" category. Hence, this part of the evaluation:
There aren't many glaring holes on the Giants' roster anymore, but their problem is more the absence of real difference-makers. Rashad Jennings showed he was a "capable" runner a year ago in Oakland, but he's little more than that, and the receiving corps now expects Victor Cruz to lead the way rather than complement a true No. 1 receiver.

I think it's fair. There's something of a "who-scares-you?" element to the Giants as currently constructed. The Giants think Jennings can be more than just "capable," but neither they nor we know that for sure yet. Quarterback Eli Manning and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul are players who have performed at elite levels in the past, and if they can elevate their games this year they could certainly improve the color-coded rankings on the high end. But given the way the past two seasons have gone for them, it's impossible to rank them as high-end performers right now without seeing them do it again.

You're welcome to like the Giants' roster better than Pro Football Focus does. They are just one set of opinions, after all. But as we've been discussing here for months, the Giants ended 2013 with a long way to go to build their roster back up to championship-contender level. Even with all of the work they've done to improve this offseason, they still have plenty more they could do.
The weekend fruits of your #nygmail hashtag labor:
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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."

Pierre-Paul
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.

"I don't feel any pressure at all," Pierre-Paul insisted. "There's still Kiwi here, [Cullen Jenkins], [Mike Patterson], and we've got to be the leaders of this defense."

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.
Oh yes. It's a two-mailbag holiday weekend here on ESPN.com. Thanks for using the #nygmail hashtag well enough to earn me an extra day off. I owe you guys. I'll save you some ribs. 

Giants depth chart: Defense

May, 16, 2014
May 16
1:00
PM ET
A look at the New York Giants' depth chart on the defensive side of the ball following free agency and the draft.

Right defensive end
Jason Pierre-Paul
Damontre Moore

Pierre-Paul
Entirely possible, of course, that Moore could play his way into a starting spot on the other side. The Giants' defensive end situation is in flux after Pierre-Paul, whom they hope is finally fully healthy after a couple of injury-plagued seasons.

Left defensive end
Mathias Kiwanuka
Robert Ayers

Wide open here, but these are the two run-stopping defensive ends who likely will vie for the difficult task of replacing Justin Tuck on the side opposite Pierre-Paul.

Right defensive tackle
Cullen Jenkins
Mike Patterson
Jay Bromley

It will be interesting to see whether Bromley, whose 10 sacks from an interior line position last year at Syracuse caught the Giants' attention, can force his way into the defensive tackle rotation as a rookie.

Left defensive tackle
Johnathan Hankins
Markus Kuhn
Jay Bromley

The Giants are counting on Hankins being able to take on a larger role in his second year after they let 25-year-old mainstay Linval Joseph leave via free agency.

Beason
Middle linebacker
Jon Beason
Mark Herzlich
Devon Kennard

Beason was re-signed to play this position and to help run the defense as the player who makes the calls and sets the alignment in the front seven. Fifth-round pick Kennard's future, to the extent that he has one, could be here or on the strong side. He'd have to be a special teams ace, though, to push Herzlich out at this point.

Weakside linebacker
Jacquian Williams
Spencer Paysinger
Spencer Adkins

Williams or Paysinger could be the starter here, and they also could split snaps as situations and opponents dictate.

Strongside linebacker
Jameel McClain
Kendrick Adams
Devon Kennard

The Giants also can use Paysinger on this side if need be. But this is the role for which they signed former Ravens starter McClain.

Rodgers-Cromartie
Left cornerback
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
Walter Thurmond
Trumaine McBride
Zack Bowman

Coach Tom Coughlin has said Rodgers-Cromartie will cover the opposing team's best wide receiver each week. Thurmond is likely to play the slot corner position primarily but can play outside if need be.

Right cornerback
Prince Amukamara
Walter Thurmond
Charles James
Bennett Jackson

It's a big year for Amukamara, whose 2015 option was picked up but still isn't guaranteed. Thurmond is on a one-year deal and could end up replacing him if he outplays him.

Slot cornerback
Walter Thurmond
Jayron Hosley

Thurmond
Thurmond is the top slot corner in the league, and if Rodgers-Cromartie and Amukamara can lock things down on the outside, he'll give the Giants a major matchup advantage in the middle of the field.

Strong safety
Antrel Rolle
Stevie Brown
Cooper Taylor
Quintin Demps

Free safety
Stevie Brown
Will Hill
Nat Berhe

Hill is the starter if his appeal of his latest drug suspension succeeds. If it doesn't, he could be cut outright. Brown can play either safety spot and was slated to be a starter last year before he tore his ACL in the preseason. The Giants may have to bring him along slowly because of the injury, and if he has a setback and Hill is suspended, they could find themselves thin here.
Jerry ReesePat Lovell/USA TODAY SportsOf the 39 players drafted during GM Jerry Reese's first five drafts, only eight remain on the roster.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There are New York Giants fans reading this who aren't sure how to feel about this year's draft but assume it'll be all right because they trust GM Jerry Reese as a good drafter.

They shouldn't. Because the evidence says he's not.

Reese's reputation as a good operator of the draft rests on two things -- his very good debut draft as Giants GM in 2007, and the fact that the Giants have won two Super Bowls during his seven seasons in the position. But that shouldn't be enough, really. The 2007 draft was seven years ago now, and he hasn't had a good draft since. And the Super Bowl is used far too often to excuse other sins. It's one game (or two, in this case). If Mario Manningham's pinkie toe is on the sideline when he makes that catch, or if Rob Gronkowski's end-zone lunge starts a half-second sooner that night in Indianapolis, would it then be OK to criticize the Giants' recent draft record? If the answer is yes, then it should be OK to do so anyway. Credit the people who run the Giants for the Super Bowl titles, but it's also on them that their team has missed the playoffs four of the past five years.

I don't think Reese is a bad GM. His in-season work last year to patch holes with guys such as Jon Beason and Brandon Jacobs kept the Giants from being historically awful. He was active and smart in free agency this spring, wisely identifying his roster as one that needed widespread repair. Victor Cruz as an undrafted free-agent find is on his résumé, too. But when it comes to the draft, a deeper look reveals a troubling lack of clothes on this particular emperor.

Discount, just for our purposes here, the 2012 and 2013 drafts, which are still too recent to evaluate. (Though it's tough to feel real excited about the David Wilson/Rueben Randle/Jayron Hosley start in 2012 so far). Look at Reese's first five drafts -- 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. He selected a total of 39 players and only eight are on the current roster. One of those eight, Manningham, left for two years and came back. Four of the eight came from the 2011 draft, so only four of the 31 players he took in his first four drafts are on the team at the moment, and only three have been on it all along.

[+] EnlargeHakeem Nicks
Al Bello/Getty ImagesHakeem Nicks is the latest former Giants first-rounder who didn't sign a second contract with the team.
Of all the players Reese has drafted for the Giants, exactly three -- Ahmad Bradshaw, Will Beatty and Zak DeOssie -- signed second long-term contracts with the team after their rookie deals. Reese's first three first-rounders -- Aaron Ross, Kenny Phillips and Hakeem Nicks -- all signed elsewhere when they hit free agency. Linval Joseph, the second-round pick in 2010, also was not re-signed. These were fine picks who produced for the Giants, but you can't say you're building through the draft when you're not retaining those types of guys. Even in a league where the average player's career lasts less than four years, consistent failure to retain your top picks beyond that time frame is evidence that you're doing something wrong.

Who's Reese's best pick? After Bradshaw, the 2007 seventh-round steal who helped deliver one Super Bowl as a rookie and another as a veteran, it's probably 2010 first-rounder Jason Pierre-Paul. They don't make the 2011 playoffs, let alone win that year's Super Bowl, without Pierre-Paul. But 2011 was Pierre-Paul's only good year so far. He's a near-permanent resident of the weekly injury report and he has a total of two sacks in the Giants' past 23 games. He could become the fourth to join that list of second-contract guys, but so far he hasn't. And if he limps around and fails to produce this year, he becomes a contract-year question mark just like Phillips and Nicks were. Best pick? The most consistently reliable long-term contributor Reese has taken is DeOssie, the fourth-round mainstay long-snapper.

There's miss after miss at key spots in early and middle rounds, and Giants fans know their names: Clint Sintim, Ramses Barden, Phillip Dillard, Marvin Austin, James Brewer. Since Bradshaw in 2007, there are no late-round gems who've surprised and become major contributors. Some of it is because of injury. Some can be blamed on those charged with player development. But this is a results business, and for whatever reason -- too many risks, too much trust in poor evaluations, whatever -- Reese hasn't delivered the kinds of draft results that help build strong organizations.

The Giants have drafted as poorly over the past half-decade as any team in the league. The results showed up last year in a hollowed-out roster that had to overachieve to get to 7-9 and required Reese to sign more free agents than anyone else this offseason in order to fill its many holes. This past weekend, Reese delivered a tepid draft. The Giants are excited about the dynamic Odell Beckham Jr., their first-round pick. And they like the center, Weston Richburg, they got in the second round. But the rest of the draft was safe and dull, devoted to finding what Reese calls "clean" players. Every pick after the second round looks like a player who's just about at his ceiling and can make an immediate contribution as a backup and/or special-teamer, but almost all of them were reaches and very few look likely to blossom into future stars.

Maybe that's for the best. The Giants needed to draft differently this year than they have in recent years, because they've been absolutely terrible at it. They needed to pull a George Costanza and start doing everything the opposite of the way they usually do it, because it never seems to work out. Reese's reputation as a shrewd drafter isn't deserved, and good for him if he realized he needed to change things up. It's time to stop assuming all is well here just because of the four trophies in the lobby. It's time for the Giants to start thinking about what they can do to build their roster back up and put themselves back in a position to even have a shot at winning a fifth.

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