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Minicamp report: Giants believe defense coming together

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — When the spring OTAs began, New York Giants coaches were holding their collective breath, hoping the new system being implemented by defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo would start coming together.

After 10 OTAs, the process is indeed starting to happen, even without defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, the team’s franchise player who is skipping the minicamp, and other key components such as linebacker Devon Kennard (hamstring), safety Nat Berhe (calf) and defensive ends Damontre Moore (shoulder) and Owa Odighizuwa (knee).

“They have had a whole lot thrown at them and they have done decently with it,” head coach Tom Coughlin said. “They didn’t work as good as at the end of last week and that is probably why you saw better here today.”

Among the highlights by the defense were three interceptions, including one by cornerback Prince Amukamara during the team’s two-minute drill.

Even the linebackers, whom Chris Wesseling of NFL.com named as the NFL’s worst unit, came up big, stringing out wide runs, forcing receivers inside to meet the cavalry and creating havoc in the offensive backfield.

“It’s coming along,” inside linebacker Jon Beason said. “Ten OTAs under our belt, first day of minicamp, I would say today was our best day collectively in terms of execution, making plays, playing with a sense of urgency, playing fast, finishing plays; today was a good day.”

Of course, the Giants’ defense is still a long way from being a finished product, given that the team is facing fielding two inexperienced starters at safety this season.

So far this spring, the Giants have been running rookie Landon Collins and third-year man Cooper Taylor at safety. Both of those players have yet to start an NFL game.

“Right now, it is a challenge,” Spagnuolo said of the safety position.

“It is a challenge for our patience and our trust in them. Every day it gets better, I can tell you that. I do think every day, there is a trust gained there from linebackers to corners and back to the safeties.”

Spagnuolo praised the rest of the defense for allowing the safeties to grow into their roles and work through the issues now rather than give into the temptation to pitch in and hold their hands.

With that said, Spagnuolo added, “We have a long ways to go in my opinion.”

Before the Giants took the field for their first practice of the minicamp, safeties coach David Merritt said Collins was going to be put to the test as far as covering the tight end.

He was put to the test all right, but he had some trouble in coverage, allowing veteran Daniel Fells to catch a touchdown pass up the seam early in the team drills.

“The rookie pitfalls that they all fall into, which is thinking you can come in here and that you know it all,” Merritt said of Collins. “Then you find out you don’t know much of anything, and he has a situation now that he feels the pressure. He has to make the calls and get everyone lined up, and he talked a good game as far as what he had to do at Alabama.

“Now when you are trying to line up grown men who have wives and children at home and they need that call from you, it is a little different than lining up a freshman. The call has to be right. Right now, he is slow to go, which was expected, but he has to pick it up quickly for us to be successful.”

Beason, who is serving as the quarterback of the defense, praised both Collins and Taylor for making progress in doing their part regarding lining up the defense.

“The hardest thing as a linebacker is you bridge that gap. You get the front lined up first and then we’re part of the pass defense on the back end,” Beason said.

“When you don’t have the veteran guys behind you, you’re relying on verbiage because you can’t turn around. Between Coop and Landon Collins, they’re doing an outstanding job. I’m really impressed with both of them; they’re making the calls, they’re being loud, definitive about it and it’s making my job a whole lot easier.”

What about the trust factor, especially when the pads go on and the days inch closer to the start of the season?

“Obviously, we’re still some time away from that point, but it starts with looking good in shorts, and they look great,” Beason said.

“Obviously, we’ll go through camp and the preseason and hopefully those guys will continue to impress and earn a starting job.”

–All throughout the spring, New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin has been consistent in his optimism regarding defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul’s attendance at the team’s three-day mandatory minicamp this week.

Unfortunately for Coughlin, Pierre-Paul, the Giants’ franchise player who has yet to sign his tender, did not show up for the start of the camp.

The good news, though, is that Pierre-Paul has visited the facility to meet with the coaches at random times this offseason and that the defensive end has received some of the material that’s currently being taught to his teammates who have been at the facility on a consistent basis.

The bad news is that defensive line coach Robert Nunn has had to limit what information he sends to Pierre-Paul.

“He’s got a lot of stuff. He has certain things on his iPad, but I limit what I give him because if he’s not here and not taking it from the classroom out there, it gets more confusing than it helps,” Nunn said.

To say Pierre-Paul’s decision to skip the minicamp is causing panic among the coaching staff would be overstating things. However, the defensive coaches are obviously concerned with the valuable classroom time and practice reps that Pierre-Paul is missing.

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who has also had contact with Pierre-Paul, shared Nunn’s opinion that the sixth-year defensive end is going to have some catching up to do when he eventually does come into camp.

“He’s going to be behind because there’s a lot we’re doing right now,” Spagnuolo said. “It’s a new system and the terminology is different, so hopefully he’ll be able to catch on and get up to speed real quick.”

Spagnuolo was asked if Pierre-Paul’s situation compares to that of what the team experienced with defensive end Michael Strahan in 2007.

That year, remember, was Spagnuolo’s first with the team, and while Strahan had been present for the offseason work, he skipped the entire training camp that summer while contemplating retirement.

“My fried Michael wasn’t here for most of that and he was an initial part of the whole thing,” Spagnuolo said, adding that he views Pierre-Paul as an elite defensive end. “It took a little while for (Strahan) to get going.”

For the time being, both Spagnuolo and Nunn say they can’t concern themselves with players who are not on the field or in the classroom and are focused on trying as a coaching staff to narrow down what the players do best as individuals and as personnel groups.

“We need to go from here to here,” Spagnuolo said as he brought his arms closer together to suggest the need to pare down the playbook.

Still, would they like to have their best pass rusher on the field as they go through that process?

“Without a doubt,” Nunn said.

–Left tackle Will Beatty, who is almost one month into his estimated five-to-six month recovery from pectoral surgery, made his first appearance before the media since suffering his injury.

Beatty, who described his injury as a “freak accident,” is hoping to be back on the field again at some point this season, perhaps even before his projected six-month timetable.

In the meantime, he will probably spend all of training camp on the PUP list, where he will likely remain to start the season.

“I mean they haven’t said anything to how they are going to do that,” Beatty admitted, adding, “It is more of I have the opportunity to come back and they are letting me know that early, so it’s like, ‘Don’t sit around and don’t mope around; you have got to get back on your horse and we have got to get back not only as fast as possible but also healthy enough and strong so you can be a factor in the game.'”

Of course, there could be complications for Beatty when he is physically ready to return, and that comes in the form of rookie Ereck Flowers, whom the team drafted ninth overall with an eye toward becoming the future left tackle.

Should Flowers grow into the role, it would probably be difficult for the coaching staff to remove the rookie once Beatty is ready to return.

Beatty admitted that is a concern.

“I am more, ‘How can I be here and not get lost in the crowd or get put on the back burner?'” he said.

“I was talking to the doctor; he was like, ‘We could have surgery, it is something that can be 100 percent when you recover,’ so that is my goal and that is my mentality, to get back out there and to still prove to myself that I can still do this.”

To make sure he doesn’t get caught up in the wash, Beatty said the only thing he can do is build on what he started last season so that when his number is called, he’s ready to pick up where he left off.

“If I focus on that, the uncertainties of the game, you are just rolling dice,” he said. “The things I know are that the doctors said I can come back 100 percent, so that means I can come back, and I can build on (last year).

“I can use this diagnosis as a positive to get back and work hard to make sure that I am still in that position and when my time is called, to get out there on the field I can perform and still do that.

“I’m used to competing and that is why I am here and why I am a part of this team and why I love being here.”

–Receivers Odell Beckham Jr. (hamstring) and Victor Cruz (knee), tight end Larry Donnell (tendinitis), safety Nat Berhe (calf) and linebacker Devon Kennard (hamstring) were all spotted working with trainers.

Donnell, Berhe, Beckham and Kennard all expect to be ready to go for the start of training camp.


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