EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Steve Spagnuolo wasn’t given the easiest job in returning to the New York Giants for a second stint as defensive coordinator.
“Spags”, as he is known to his players, was taking over a defense that finished among the NFL’s worst and some things just haven’t worked out his way as the Giants prepare for the season opener against the Cowboys in Dallas on Sunday night.
Two-time Pro Bowler Jason Pierre-Paul was hurt in a fireworks accident July 4 and he is not ready to play, and there is no timetable for his return.
The safety position was inexperienced heading into training camp with Antrel Rolle signing with Chicago, and injuries sidelined several players and forced the team to bring in castoff veteran Brandon Meriweather and Craig Dahl. Second-round draft pick Landon Collins is the one sure starter.
And to make things worse, middle linebacker Jon Beason sprained a knee in the preseason. He missed practice on Thursday and his status for the season opener is uncertain, although he says his plan is to play.
That’s what Spagnuolo faces going into Dallas to face Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and an offensive line that is among the best in football.
“Hopefully, we’ll jell quicker rather than slower,” Spagnuolo said Thursday. “We’re going to have to live through some growing pains. I think that is going to happen.”
It certainly happened in Spagnuolo’s first stint as coordinator in 2007. The Giants gave up 80 points in losing their first two games, including 45 in a season-opening loss to Dallas. They turned it around, made the playoffs and won the Super Bowl, with the defense leading the way.
The players like Spagnuolo’s defense. It’s aggressive and gets after the opposing quarterback using man pressure and zone pressure.
“We just want to go out there and show what we are all about,” second-year linebacker Devon Kennard said. “I know there (are) doubter(s). That’s fine. Last year I remember everyone doubted Dallas’ defense and look at what they did. I’m not saying we’re Dallas’ defense, but we think we have a talented group.”
Veteran cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie expects to have some butterflies on Sunday night.
“It’s a new season and so much is going through your mind,” he said. “You’re excited to play. You are nervous to play. It’s a new system. You have new guys. I think you are more excited than anything so you just have to go out there and hit somebody and calm down.”
Spagnuolo also needs some other things to happen. His defensive tackles have to hold to point of attack and stop the run, and someone on the line has to win the one-on-one battles to pressure Romo when he is forced to throw .
While the whole defensive package isn’t ready for the season opener, Spagnuolo said there is enough to win without there being too much to confuse his own players. He has told his players to stick to their fundamentals.
“The important thing in the first game is the in-game adjustments, who makes them better or who is able to have answers to whatever they are doing,” he said.
Beason said he did not practice on Thursday because he was a little sore after a hard workout on Wednesday.
“Trust me, I don’t want to miss Dallas, Sunday Night Football, the opener. So for me personally, it means everything,” he said.
If Beason can’t go, the Giants have a problem. Uani Unga has never played in an NFL game. Veteran Jasper Brinkley joined the team this week and veteran Mark Herzlich has never panned out when asked to be a starter.
The guess is the Giants might use a sub package that might not feature a middle linebacker.
“We have other plans if things don’t go the way we want them,” Spagnuolo said. “That’s part of playing in the game. You have to adjust on the run.”
Collins is certainly looking forward to his first NFL regular season game and being tested by Romo.
“I’m a rookie, but if he comes toward my way he ain’t going to be happy,” Collins said.
It will be interesting to see how it turns out for Spags and his defense.
NOTES: Receiver Victor Cruz did not practice again because of a calf injury and his chances of playing look slim. … Rookie linebacker Owa Odighizuwa also didn’t practice because of a sore foot. … Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo refused to say whether Geoff Schwartz or John Jerry will start at right guard.
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