The 2011 New York Giants defense has the potential to finish at—or near—the bottom of most defensive measures and may be one of the worst that the Giants have ever fielded. How can this team finish in the top five in 2012?
The Defensive Ends
In 2012, the Giants will feature the top pair of defensive ends in football, Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul. Tuck, a former All-Pro, should be healthy (it is an odd numbered year) and Pierre-Paul will be coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance.
Unmentioned is Osi Umenyiora, as I fully expect a hold out or a trade request given that he is on the last year of his deal. Should Umenyiora stay and remain a positive influence in the locker room, the depth is that much improved.
The Defensive Tackles
A rotation featuring starters Chris Canty, Linval Joseph and bench players Marvin Austin, Rocky Bernard and Jimmy Kennedy should continue to chew up three defenders, allowing the elite defensive ends to wreak havoc on the edges. Austin, if healthy, should be knocking on the door to start and pushing Canty to improve. I also expect that the Giants will spend another pick in the first four rounds on a defensive tackle.
Still without a signature playmaker, the Giants will instead focus on the continued improvements and recoveries of those on the team. Mathias Kiwanuka is the only starter that should be guaranteed. His jack of all trades skills allows defensive coordinate Perry Fewell the ability to play some intriguing alignments. Michael Boley has provided consistent, if not spectacular play from the other side. If an upgrade is available, the Giants may make a move in that direction.
The key to the Giants 2012 plans rests with the middle linebacker. Can Mark Herzlich, now two years removed from cancer, continue his climb and be the impact player that many still believe he can be? Can Jonathan Goff show enough after recovering from a torn ACL to be effective?
Depth should be improved, as the rookies (Paysinger, Williams and Jones) should be a year smarter. At the very least, the savings on depth could go a long ways to paying for improvements elsewhere in the organization.
Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle are the starters and there is really no reason to change them. Rolle has been a bit of a bust as a free agent in terms of his overall play, but he has provided leadership. I am not sure how much of this has been on Rolle, or if it's how the Giants have used him. The three safety look that Fewell has used for much of the last two years is certainly unconventional.
Depth at this position should be improved over the offseason via free agency, the possible return of 2010 draft pick Chad Jones and a potential late round pick in 2012.
This is where the Giants should see immediate gains. Corey Webster and Prince Amukamara are currently penciled in as the starting duo. I fully expect that the Giants will re-sign Terrell Thomas, coming off a torn ACL. Thomas was developing into a solid starting CB. I also expect that the Giants will be more physical with receivers at the line than what we have seen in years past. It needs to happen.
I fully expect that the Giants will not bring back Aaron Ross and Deon Grant. Ross in particular has disappointed. I don't think he has the same speed as when he first entered the league.
Depth would still be an issue, but that is true of every team in the league. The 2012 draft, free agent wire and the return of several of the injured DBs (Coe and Johnson) should at least offer a competitive training camp.
The Defensive Coordinator
Perry Fewell has done a good, but not great job as defensive coordinator. Part of it is the hand that he was dealt. The bottom line is that there are still too many communication breakdowns and players out of position. Fewell's chances for a head coaching job are entirely based on how the Giants perform in 2012.
The Giants front office is not one to make rash decisions. Should the Giants make the playoffs, I expect that both coach Tom Coughlin and Perry Fewell will return for 2012. Perhaps a change of one or more of the position coaches (secondary and linebacker) will improve the communication and accelerate the learning of the younger players.