EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Six months after general manager Jerry Reese revamped the Giants’ defense with the draft and free agency, coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is finally going to get a chance to play with his new toy.
With Olivier Vernon, Damon “Snacks” Harrison, Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, Kelvin Sheppard, Keenan Robinson, Darian Thompson and Leon Hall added to the roster, the Giants are no longer the NFL’s worst defense.
Just how good they are going to be remains to be seen, but the talent is there, and the Dallas Cowboys are going to be the first test on Sunday.
“I like the way the guys have come together,” Spagnuolo said Thursday. “I just think the feel; I don’t know what you call it, the chemistry, the way they are jelling on the field…”
It’s all there for Spagnuolo, something he did not have last season when the Giants (6-10) lost six games either late in the fourth quarter or in overtime.
The players can see the potential, too.
“He is not only waiting to let this group go, Dallas has been something I have been hearing since the moment I got here,” said Harrison, who also signed as a free agent.
“It’s a pretty big game for the team. It’s a rivalry and we want to win it. I think Spags is excited. The guy has energy every single time you see him. He’s probably in the hallway now just doing flips. That’s what you get in the meeting room when he is talking about Dallas.”
The defensive line is imposing with Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul at the ends and Harrison and Johnathan Hankins at the tackles. It can pressure opposing quarterbacks and stop the run.
The secondary also was improved. Jenkins also was signed as a free agent and fellow cornerback Eli Apple was drafted in the first round. Add in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Hall (another free agent) and the Giants are deep at cornerbacks.
Safety Landon Collins is back after an outstanding rookie season and Thompson, the third-round pick, is fighting Nat Berhe for the other starting safety job.
Free agents Sheppard and Robinson give New York depth at the linebacker spots, joining Devon Kennard, Jonathan Casillas and J.T. Thomas.
“We’re light years ahead of where we were last year defensively, and I hope it shows this Sunday,” Casillas said.
Vernon, who signed an $85 million contract, gives the Giants one of the league’s top pass rushers. He had 7½ sacks and 36 quarterback hits with the Miami Dolphins last season and he looked impressive in the preseason.
Harrison and Hankins are the run stuffers in the middle and JPP can create havoc, even with his fireworks-mangled right hand.
“Let’s just wait until Sunday,” Vernon said when asked how good the defense could be. “I know if I were a fan I would just be anticipating Sunday.”
Dallas will be a test for the defense. It has one of the league’s top offensive lines, talented receivers in wide out Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten and promising running backs in rookie Ezekiel Elliott and Alfred Morris. The question mark is rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, who is replacing the injured Tony Romo.
Prescott was outstanding in the preseason, but he now must perform when it counts, against a defense which will try to confuse him.
Spagnuolo said the Giants have been talking to their scouts and players about Prescott. Collins played for Alabama against Prescott and Mississippi State.
However, the job is to defend against the Dallas offense.
“With this team that we are playing, it’s not all about bringing people,” Spagnuolo said. “If we don’t stop them from running the football, first, we’ll never get to that other stuff. I know people are talking about confuse the rookie quarterback.
“Well the confusion in a rookie quarterback is more when you can get him behind schedule. If they are ahead of schedule and all he has to do is hand it off and play action passes, there isn’t anything we can do to confuse that.”
NOTES: Dwayne Harris was treated for heat exhaustion after practice. … Thompson, who returned to practice this week after hurting his shoulder in the second preseason game, believes he is ready to play in the opener. … Casillas (ribs) and Thompson were limited at practice for the second straight day.
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