Giants need athleticism on defense

It's been four months since the New York Giants suffered what ultimately proved to be the backbreaking defeat of the 2010 season, to the Philadelphia Eagles on Dec. 19.

And yet, the wounds from an all-time crusher like that remain fresh. As the Giants enter the 2011 draft, they likely will not forget how one defensive stop, perhaps one tackle on Michael Vick and certainly one special teams play made late in the fourth quarter of that debacle could have changed the complexion of last season.

The Giants aren't that far from where they want to be. They possess a defense close enough to being a Super Bowl contender, and Jerry Reese doesn't have to do much tinkering.

The Giants' general manager simply needs to add a little more athleticism and speed to his defense and special teams in this draft.

On defense, the Giants have plenty of big bodies up front, and the defensive line is stacked with so much talent that one Giant recently wondered how Tom Coughlin and his staff will keep everyone happy with enough playing time.

Sure, it might be hard for Reese to turn down the temptation of taking another talented defensive end or defensive tackle with his first-round pick. And no one will argue with Reese's history of finding great defensive line talent.

But he's assembled a vaunted front line that will terrorize quarterbacks again this season even if the Giants are unable to bring back valuable defensive tackle Barry Cofield, who will be either a restricted or unrestricted free agent and wants a multiyear contract. Last year's first- and second-round picks -- defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and defensive tackle Linval Joseph -- should see a bit more playing time this season.

So that allows Reese to concentrate on strengthening his next two levels of defense by finding a linebacker and adding to the secondary.

We've seen what Perry Fewell can do with last year's group. Let's see what the defensive coordinator can do with an athletic linebacker and one more speedy corner or safety.

Last season, Fewell felt more comfortable playing two linebackers and three safeties. He might do some of that again this season, but another linebacker allows him more flexibility. Fewell often wondered what he could have done with his Swiss Army defensive end -- Mathias Kiwanuka -- for an entire season had a neck injury not sidelined the defense's most versatile player.

Fewell liked to use him at linebacker as well.

While the Giants hope to re-sign Kiwanuka, Reese hopefully can find another linebacker in the second round or later since there aren't any stud linebackers expected to be around at 19, where the Giants draft in the first round.

Michael Boley is still an athletic linebacker who can cover tight ends and rush the passer. And Jonathan Goff did a solid job at middle linebacker and should continue to improve. But the Giants need an impact linebacker or at the very least a third linebacker since Keith Bulluck will be a free agent.

At corner, the Giants have a solid duo in Corey Webster and Terrell Thomas with Aaron Ross as the third corner. But they don't have much depth, and they can use more speed and another talented cover man.

That's why Justin Tuck says he will talk to cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha -- the jewel of this year's free agent class -- once free agency begins. Tuck knows the Giants aren't that far from being where they need to be after winning 10 games, and adding a star lockdown cornerback would make the defense lethal.

But even without Asomugha, who might be too expensive, the Giants can get off to a fast start with just a few slight upgrades.

If the lockout threatens training camp or more, teams that need to incorporate new coordinators or new systems will be at a disadvantage -- something the Giants don't have to deal with.

With the coaching staff and system intact, Reese can add a few more bodies and hope for a few more wins.

On special teams, the Giants should be able to improve a unit that was disastrous at times last season by drafting more players like a linebacker and a safety who can add depth and play special teams. But really, adding athletes would help. Look at how Pierre-Paul was able to create havoc on special teams with his raw athleticism and length.

The return game should get a boost from Domenik Hixon's return, but it never hurts to find a dynamic player in the draft who can return on special teams as well.

Reese and Coughlin likely will bring in a veteran punter for camp, but they are going to give punter Matt Dodge every shot to keep his job. And they are set at kicker with Lawrence Tynes.

If all goes well, the Giants should bring back as many players from last year as possible while adding one or two more pieces in the draft and free agency to bolster the defense and special teams.

That would be the first step toward erasing the pain of last year's loss to the Eagles and finding a way to stop Vick and DeSean Jackson, which would greatly help the Giants' chances of winning the NFC East.