It may be a case of early-week coaching mind games, but New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin on Monday left open the possibility that injured defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul could make his 2015 debut as early as Sunday in Tampa Bay.
"Everybody words it a little bit differently," Coughlin said on a conference call. "But if he practices and if he continues to advance the way he has over the last few days, then that would be a decision that we would be confident in making."
It's an extreme long shot.
Pierre-Paul practiced with the team on Wednesday and Thursday for the first time since December, when the Giants had a different defensive coordinator and he hadn't been through a traumatic and damaging fireworks accident. Pierre-Paul sat out the Giants' offseason program because of dissatisfaction over the team's decision to make him its franchise player rather than sign him long-term. Then the fireworks accident July 4 cost him his right index finger and did extensive damage to the rest of his right hand. He went several weeks without the use of his hand during a time of year when he would normally have been working out in preparation for the season, and it wasn't until last week that Giants team doctors cleared him to return to the practice field.
Before Coughlin said Monday that Pierre-Paul had a chance to return, he spent a great deal of time talking about what JPP would have to show the team before it would clear him to play. It was a long list.
"We'll increase everything [this week]," Coughlin said. "We'll increase the number of snaps. We've had a couple of sessions with him in pads when others were not on the field. We'll have two good practices with him. We'll push the envelope with him to test the conditioning. Just the advancement of the player and the continuation of developing his conditioning in the uniform. And then the ability to deliver a blow, to accept a blow, to have his hand placement be exactly where it has to be. And then of course the opportunity to regain his timing as he becomes a threat in the passing game."
As much help as the Giants' pass rush needs, it's important to remember that the team doesn't want to rush a player onto the field before he's ready. And whatever Pierre-Paul has been doing to work out, there's no guarantee it has him in football shape. Increasing his practice workload too quickly could also increase the possibility of Pierre-Paul injuring himself, which would force him to miss time with an unrelated injury.
Coughlin's comments Monday essentially amount to his opening the door for Pierre-Paul to be a special enough case to beat the original timetable while also reminding everyone there is still a long way to go before the Giants will put him in game.
The way Pierre-Paul's contract is structured, he gets $1.5 million guaranteed, but the rest is incentives. And the active-roster bonuses and playing-time bonuses don't start kicking in until Week 10. He could conceivably get a head start on his sack incentives, but he'd be more or less playing for free this weekend in Tampa, which is another reason to think the team is likely to wait.
It behooves Coughlin and the Giants to leave the Buccaneers wondering all week whether they'll see Pierre-Paul on Sunday. There are a lot of reasons to doubt they will face him, chief among them being that he might not be ready to play. But as of six days before the game, the Giants weren't ready to publicly rule him out.