EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Jason Pierre-Paul showed flashes of potential late last season, and again in the New York Giants' preseason opener this year, outworking Pro Bowl left tackle Jordan Gross to sack Panthers quarterback Jimmy Clausen twice.
In that Carolina game, Pierre-Paul also pressured Clausen, forcing an ill-advised throw that was intercepted and taken back 56 yards for a touchdown by linebacker Michael Boley.
Veteran defensive tackle Chris Canty, however, cautions against using the word "potential" when talking about Pierre-Paul, who finds himself as the team's starting right defensive end while Osi Umenyiora recovers from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.
"Having potential," Canty said, "just means you haven't done anything yet. Be careful with your use of that word."
Canty, for one, would prefer the word "athletic" when describing Pierre-Paul, 22, who was selected in the first round of the 2010 draft.
"To be a guy that big and athletic is amazing," Canty said of his 6-foot-5, 278-pound teammate. "You won't find too many guys that are his size walking around that can move like he can. It's unbelievable. But I knew that as soon as he got here."
Reserve defensive end Dave Tollefson opted to use "explosive" to describe Pierre-Paul.
"He kind of reminds me of a young puppy," Tollefson said. "You always see puppies that have big feet, big paws and he's just filling in. It's exciting.
"He's such a good kid, too. With a guy in my situation and a first-round pick coming in, it would be easy for him not to give me the time of day. But he's super respectful, always wanting input on his game. He's a good kid."
His potential, athleticism and explosiveness were reasons the Giants were so high on Pierre-Paul, drafting him 15th overall last year despite having needs at other positions. Of course, the franchise has always been keen on having a wealth of specialists who can rush the passer, which made Pierre-Paul the optimal fit.
The Giants -- who host Chicago on Monday night on ESPN -- brought Pierre-Paul along slowly last season, allowing him to experience the growing pains that come along with making the transition from college to the professional ranks. Now Pierre-Paul is thrust into the starter's role much sooner than expected.
"I just have to do what I have to do," said Pierre-Paul, who had 30 tackles, 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles for Tom Coughlin's team last season. "Coach came up to me and let me know Osi was going to be out, so I need to step up."
Stepping up means being able to wreak havoc up front, making plays for himself and his teammates. It means being able to beat an All-Pro like Gross if Justin Tuck is double-teamed. It means somehow replacing the production of Umenyiora, a two-time Pro Bowl end considered to be one of the premiere pass-rushers in the NFL.
"The expectations are gonna be high," Pierre-Paul said. "You've just gotta play to your full ability."
"I think he welcomes the challenge and he feels confident in his ability," Tuck said. "The more he plays, the better he is going to get, so honestly this could be a win-win for us. Depending on how his knee acts, we know what [Osi] can do. We believe in what JPP can do, so the more he gets out there with the [starters] and goes against teams we are about to face in this preseason, he will get more confident in his ability. It will benefit us more."
If Pierre-Paul performs like a Pro Bowler in Umenyiora's absence, the Giants might find themselves with a controversy on their hands.
Pierre-Paul, however, is going to leave that up to the coaching staff.
"It doesn't matter to me to start," Pierre-Paul said. "Whatever happens, when I get in the game, I'm gonna do what I can do, and that's play great football."
Mike Mazzeo is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.