Injuries could force the New York Giants' defense to look a little bit different in the weeks that follow this week's bye. Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins strained his right calf in Sunday's loss in Dallas. Middle linebacker Jon Beason might need surgery to repair the toe injury that's been limiting him since June. And injuries at cornerback could lead the Giants to bring back the three-safety look they used on their way to their most recent Super Bowl title three seasons ago.
"The game plan last week was to have Stevie Brown in the game with the three-safety package versus certain personnel groupings," safeties coach Dave Merritt said Tuesday. "That worked out for us, because Stevie went in and did his job and did what we asked him to do. The fact that we used to play the three-safety package a ton back in the day was because of the fact that we had three veterans who were able to play. I'm talking about Kenny Phillips, Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant. Right now, we feel like we've tested the waters and we have the same right now in our camp here."
The plan coming into this year was to play three cornerbacks most of the time. The team signed Walter Thurmond to play the nickel spot, but he suffered a season-ending injury in September, and Trumaine McBride, who took over, suffered his own season-ending injury in Week 6. So they are down to their third-string nickel cornerback, Jayron Hosley, and they don't seem comfortable leaning on him to the extent that they leaned on Thurmond or McBride.
Brown entered the season as a starting safety, but he lost his job in Week 4 after a poor start to the season and was replaced by Quintin Demps. Coaches have been pleased with the work Brown has put in since the demotion, and they believe there are situations in which it's better to have him, Demps and Rolle on the field at the same time than it is to have three cornerbacks. This arrangement could force Rolle into the nickel spot, a position he has said in the past he's willing to play but prefers not to, but Merritt said they are comfortable with Brown in there as well.
On the defensive line, Jenkins' absence for at least a few weeks leaves the Giants thin at defensive tackle. But they have had success playing defensive ends Robert Ayers and Mathias Kiwanuka at interior positions in pass-rush situations this season, and they might decide to do that more going forward to augment the defensive tackle rotation. Rookie defensive tackle Jay Bromley likely will be elevated to the active roster in Jenkins' absence, but there's also a chance second-year defensive end Damontre Moore could get more looks on the outside when Ayers and/or Kiwanuka move inside.
"Damontre needs to continue to improve and stay focused on what we're doing on first and second down," defensive line coach Robert Nunn said. "He can do it. He's a lighter body, not ideal, but he can play it. He has to stay focused and continue to improve in that area, and he will get more at-bats. He's going to get more opportunities on third down, so he just has to keep coming along and improve on first and second down. If he does that, then he's going to get those opportunities in pass-rush situations."
Moore has shown exciting ability in pass-rush situations and on special teams. But he has yet to earn the complete trust of the coaching staff as a player who can stop the run (and avoid jumping offsides).
No trust issues at linebacker, though. When Beason missed time early in the season, Jameel McClain filled in for him in the middle. At the time, rookie Devon Kennard was hurt, so Mark Herzlich replaced McClain on the strong side. This time, if Beason is out a while, Kennard could be the one who sees more playing time.
"Now that he's healthy, he's contributing on special teams, and last week was able to go in the game and do some good things," linebackers coach Jim Herrmann said of Kennard. "It was good to see him get out and get some game experience, because that is invaluable for a young linebacker. The other guys love him. He's got a great personality, and he wants to be great. I think we'll see some really good things out of him."