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Sunday, May 2, 2010
Giants wrap up their rookie minicamp

By Ohm Youngmisuk
ESPNNewYork.com

First impressions can mean everything.

And they can mean nothing at all.

Take this weekend's Giants rookie minicamp, where everybody was out to impress.

Perry Fewell
New Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell made his debut at the rookie minicamp as well.

If first impressions mean everything, what are we to make of first-round pick Jason Pierre-Paul?

Pierre-Paul arrived at minicamp with enormous expectations after being the 15th overall pick. Not only that, but the defensive end was also a luxury selection when the Giants needed a middle linebacker.

There's pressure on Pierre-Paul to justify the choice. Instead of dominating with his raw athletic ability -- which was highly unlikely considering these were his first few practices as a pro -- the 6-foot-5 defensive end and his long arms were well documented by reporters not for shedding offensive linemen but rather for resting his hands on his hips or on his helmet repeatedly as he struggled with a lower back injury all day Saturday.

Pierre-Paul could be seen doubled over because of a back condition that he said bothers him only when he starts practicing after a long layoff. Suddenly his conditioning came into question, fueling more doubt among those who criticized the Giants' selection of the talented but raw South Florida defensive end who had just one year of major college football under his belt at USF after spending two seasons playing at junior colleges.

"Just back problems," said Pierre-Paul, who still battled and completed both practices in pain while joking that he knew reporters were watching his every move. "It did that at South Florida, too; I got used to it. Just getting back into football once you have been out for a long time, that is what it does. I kept telling Coach I'm not out of shape. I feel like I'm in good shape right now. The fact that I was out there bending down and stuff, that wasn't out of shape. It was just that my back was killing me. A training-camp thing."

It's often a mistake to judge players by their first few days of practice, especially when trying to determine how good a rookie will be. The raw Pierre-Paul, who is polite and humble, needs to be critiqued after four years, not four practices.

While Pierre-Paul felt pain whenever he got down in a three-point stance Saturday, second-round pick Linval Joseph looked pretty good coming out of his stance. The 6-foot-4, 319-pound defensive tackle from East Carolina impressed with his size, agility and strength. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell even mentioned Joseph as a reason why the Giants can return to being a physical defense again next season.

Fewell also made quite a debut at the rookie minicamp. The new defensive coordinator was fiery, enthusiastic and everything that old defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan wasn't last season. Fewell coaches with lots of emotion, and he's impressed both veterans and rookies with his energy. His voice was heard above all others during the weekend.

"Oh, that is just normal," Fewell said of his constant screaming and encouraging. "It'll get better."

One rookie looking to make a lasting impression on Fewell is fourth-round pick Phillip Dillard. The Nebraska middle linebacker hopes to replace Antonio Pierce as the Giants' starting MLB, and he made a favorable impression in his first few days. Pierre-Paul said Dillard had already taken charge and stepped up as a leader among the rookies.

"He seems to be doing well," head coach Tom Coughlin said of his new middle linebacker. "He flashes. He seems to be enjoying himself, is flying around; he is in good shape."

Third-round pick Chad Jones left Coughlin with a different impression. Coughlin said in no uncertain terms that the 6-foot-2 safety needs to lose weight. Jones weighs 225 pounds and needs to get down to 218.

Jones and Pierre-Paul have the luxury of time on their side, with so much invested in them as high draft picks.

Tim Brown doesn't have that advantage. The wide receiver out of Rutgers went undrafted, and first impressions probably had a lot to do with that. At 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, Brown is smaller than some high school point guards, let alone supersized NFL wide receivers.

Giants rookie punter Matt Dodge, who is a ripped 6-foot-1 and 224 pounds, is better built to play wide receiver. Yet the smallest player in rookie camp made the biggest impression, as Coughlin singled him out for his impressive showing.

"I've been small all my life," Brown said. "People have doubted me all my life, and I overcame it."

First impressions can mean everything. And they can mean nothing at all, especially at Giants rookie minicamp.

Ohm Youngmisuk covers the Giants for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.