Over the past two seasons, New York Giants fans have relished Steve Spagnuolo's successful blitz packages and utilization of his personnel.
Now, with Spagnuolo taking over as the head coach in St. Louis, former linebacker coach Bill Sheridan is in, and the Giants have gotten him some new players to work with.
The talent is still there in the front four, and it could be stronger than ever with the return of Umenyiora and additions of Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard. However, there is some uncertainty behind the defensive line. There is one linebacker position up for grabs, and the secondary lacks experience; though, it isn't much different from last year's squad that ranked eighth in passing yards allowed per game.
The extra year could only make them better.
Corey Webster is the most experienced secondary player, entering his fifth season. He has developed into a solid starting cornerback over the past two seasons under Spagnuolo. After struggling each of his first two years when it seemed like he couldn't cover any receiver, last year his experience and maturity were evident. He shut down receivers week after week and tied for an NFL-best 27 deflected passes.
Opposite of Webster, Aaron Ross will once again be the starter and expectations are high. Ross has shown signs of becoming the playmaking corner the Giants were expecting with the 20th pick in the 2007 draft, but he still struggles with stopping the big play at times. Having two years under his belt should help, and he very well could surpass three interceptions this season.
Kevin Dockery and second-year man Terrell Thomas are the likely nickel and dime backs. Like Ross, Dockery has struggled, but the expectations aren't as high for him. He has proven to be a solid corner at times and should continue to improve in nickel and dime situations.
Thomas had a quiet rookie season, but performed very well. He recorded 45 tackles, five deflections, one interception and one forced fumble in 12 games. He should have another successful season playing behind Webster and Ross.
Michael Johnson and Kenny Phillips return and look to share some time with offseason acquisition C.C. Brown. Like Thomas, Phillips too had a quiet but solid rookie season. Last year's first-round pick finished the year with 67 tackles, six deflections and one interception.
Johnson has performed for Big Blue ever since being taken in the seventh round of the 2007 draft. He finished 2008 with 72 tackles, two interceptions and one sack while splitting time with Phillips and former Giants safety James Butler. Both Johnson and Phillips should continue to improve and help maintain the Giants defense for years to come.
The linebacking corps returns with Antonio Pierce leading the way at the middle linebacker position. His tackles have decreased each of the past three seasons, but his overall play has remained solid. And as far as the outside linebacker positions go, recently acquired Michael Boley is a lock for one of them. The other position is open competition.
Danny Clark would make sense here as he started 15 games at the position last season recording 70 tackles and two forced fumbles. However, rookie linebacker Clint Sintim could challenge Clark as the season progresses. Sintim finished his four years at Virginia with 246 tackles, 26 sacks (9 his junior year and 10 this past season) and three forced fumbles.
However things work out for the Giants starting lineup, expect them to once again be among the top of the league in sacks and overall defense by the end of the season.