The New York Giants is built upon one thing -- rushing the passer. And that defense depends largely upon its stable of sack-happy defensive ends to get that job done. As we continue our position-by-position series of previews leading up to training camp at UAlbany, let's examine where the Giants are at defensive end heading into 2012.
The Giants still have Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora -- as good a threesome of defensive ends as any in the league. They have Mathias Kiwanuka, who was drafted as a defensive end, is now a starting outside linebacker but often rushes from a defensive line spot in passing situations. They no longer have Dave Tollefson, who signed with the Oakland Raiders as a free agent.
Pierre-Paul, entering his third season in the NFL, has not only supplanted Umenyiora as the starting right defensive end but has surpassed Umenyiora and Tuck as the unquestioned star of this group. Pierre-Paul was named an All-Pro in 2011 after registering 16.5 sacks (4th in the league) and 66 tackles. He blocked a field goal against the Dallas Cowboys that won the Giants a game and kept their playoff hopes alive. Pierre-Paul had a +30.3 rating from Pro Football Focus. The 23-year-old is considered to be a player who, despite last season's lofty accomplishments, is only scratching the surface of his potential.
Beset by a variety of injuries in 2011, Tuck's production dropped from 11.5 sacks in 2010 to just five last season. The seven-year veteran and two-time Pro Bowler rebounded to play well in the postseason. His production should rebound in 2012 if he can stay healthy.
For a time this offseason there were questions about whether or not Umenyiora would be a Giant in 2012. There was chatter around the NFL Draft that Umenyiora could be moved due to his long-running feud with the team over his contract. He wasn't. Umenyiora and the Giants eventually agreed to a re-structured deal that will pay him more money this season and allow him to test free agency if he chooses before the 2013 season. He played only nine games last season, but had nine sacks and two forced fumbles. The 30-year-old Umenyiora is still a tremendous force rushing off the edge, even if he is no longer an every-down player for New York.
Tollefson provided the Giants with excellent depth the past few seasons. With the injuries to Tuck and Umenyiora a season ago, Tollefson played 512 snaps and had career-highs in sacks with five and tackle with 19. In its annual Almanac, Football Outsiders insists that Tollefson's departure causes the Giants "a huge depth problem."
Youngsters Justin Trattou and Adrian Tracy, who were each on the practice squad a season ago, are the most likely candidates to fill Tollefson's role.