The defensive line was supposed to be a strength of the New York Giants last season, but the team struggled in their pass rush as injuries and a dip in form contributed to a down year for the unit.
Now under new defensive line coach Gary Emanuel, the Giants are hoping to bounce back with some new names and contributors.
Not just new names on the line, as one star will be missing. A trade several weeks ago to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers means that the Giants will be without Jason Pierre-Paul, certainly making this a year of transition for the Giants.
Emanuel has plenty of pieces to work with at the Giants, even as the line and entire defense goes through a much-needed youth movement. While JPP, an anchor of this team since being drafted in 2010, is gone, there is still plenty of talent on the two-deep. Olivier Vernon returns on one side as does defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison, a player who truly should have (again) been in the Pro Bowl but continues to get snubbed.
Harrison, according to Emanuel, is a building block for this unit. The Giants defensive line coach heaped some heady praise on his interior defensive lineman.
“Obviously Snacks is one of the better players in the league, not only on the team,” Emanuel said. “So, we anticipate him doing a great job there and in the defensive line area, whether it’s over the center, over the guard as the three-technique or playing nose guard, it really doesn’t make any difference.”
The big transition for the Giants, however, will be a switch in the defensive alignment. Emanuel and defensive coordinator James Bettcher are in the process of revamping this unit to play the 3-4.
It might not be a big issue for the defensive front, but there are changes in responsibility and gap assignments that will still take time to transition this team.
“Well, the biggest challenge is probably the guys themselves because when I was with the Colts, the biggest part was with (Dwight) Freeney and (Robert) Mathis,” Emanuel said.
“All their whole careers, they were going forward chasing the quarterback and now you’re asking them to drop back in coverage from time-to-time and do their jobs here, so that’s the biggest challenge of those guys and learning and being more involved in coverages than what they were,” he continued.
“Usually the front guys are just involved in going forward, attacking the line of scrimmage, playing in man,” Emanuel observed. “And now they have to drop back, now they might have to pick up some combination routes, whether it’s one or two, chasing number one, they’re chasing number two whether he’s dropping to the seam or dropping to the flat. That is the biggest challenge for them.”
Emanuel is also familiar with the tri-state area, as he served as the Rutgers defensive line coach from 2008-09 under then-head coach Greg Schiano.