Report card analysis: Defensive line

February, 24, 2012
2/24/12
9:00
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I recently gave my report card for the Giants 2011 season position-by-position. But because there was only so much space to discuss each position, I wanted to go more in-depth on each position and spin it forward to next season.

Today we look at the defensive line. On Monday: Linebackers.

DEFENSIVE LINE
Grade: A

It was a roller coaster-like season for the defensive line last season.

Osi Umenyiora opened camp refusing to practice over his contract, temporarily was allowed to seek a trade before coming back for three practices only to opt for surgery on his knee. But this might’ve been the biggest blessing in disguise for the Giants. While Umenyiora was missed, his absence allowed Jason Pierre-Paul to get valuable first-team reps in camp and the second-year stud took off, emerging into a superstar with 16.5 sacks.

He carried the defense on occasions during the season and, of course, even found time to block a field goal to help save the Giants’ season in Dallas.

The season was a battle for Justin Tuck, who suffered a stinger in the preseason and wasn’t himself until late in the season. Tuck battled through injuries and personal grief with the death of relatives throughout the season. But he finished the season strong with 5.5 sacks in his last six games, culminating with a two sacks in the Super Bowl.

After his turbulent start to the season, Umenyiora returned after missing the first three games and was sensational early on. But a high ankle sprain cost him four games later in the season and the Giants struggled without their speedy pass rusher.

But like Tuck, Umenyiora came on strong when the Giants needed him most at the end -- he had 5.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in his last five games -- and the pass rush came to life during the Giants’ final six-game winning streak.

Coinciding with this was the solid play of Chris Canty, Linval Joseph and Rocky Bernard inside. All three plugged the inside and even provided an added dimension to the pass rush.

The Giants’ depth at pass rusher is pretty much unmatched. Mathias Kiwanuka got more comfortable with his hybrid linebacker-defensive end role as the season progressed. And Dave Tollefson was another one of Reese’s underrated offseason moves. Re-signing Tollefson, who is popular in the locker room, was big and the veteran provided incredible depth at pass rusher.

The future, though, remains a bit hazy on the defensive line. Umenyiora still wants a raise and is under contract for this season at just under $4 million. He also still views himself as a starter and JPP is now the starting right defensive end. Tollefson, Bernard and DT Jimmy Kennedy are free agents.

The Giants will have second-round pick Marvin Austin returning after missing all of his rookie season due to injury but Austin still hasn’t played any football now since the 2009 season.

The Giants also have young developmental players like defensive end Justin Trattou and DT Dwayne Hendricks.

Draft-wise, do not discount Jerry Reese from taking another defensive lineman. He will always subscribe to the best player available theory and this year should be no different since the Giants are Super Bowl champs.

Tell us what your assessment is of the Giants defensive line and what you think the Giants should do this offseason below.
Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.
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