Steve Spagnuolo pushes Giants' defense down memory lane with pop quizzes

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Each member of the New York Giants' defense has a pebbled red, 80-page, 8-by-11 spiral notebook in which they have been scribbling notes about players who played before they were born. There is extra homework this offseason if you play defense for the Giants, and those who don't take it seriously could find themselves in a difficult position at any time during one of coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's meetings.

"Jackson!" Spagnuolo might holler, out of the blue, "Sam Huff! What college?"

Bennett Jackson, a second-year defensive back, can correctly answer "West Virginia" without checking his notebook. Because he has studied.

"Oh, I'm in there every night, doing my research," Jackson said. "I think, for the most part, everybody's on it."

This is a new initiative this offseason from Spagnuolo, who's back for a second turn as the Giants' defensive coordinator. One of the things he decided to do is instill in the current defensive players an appreciation for the history and tradition of the Giants' defenses of the past. So he adorned the meeting room walls with pictures of Huff, Lawrence Taylor, Michael Strahan, Andy Robustelli, Tom Landry, Emlen Tunnell, Harry Carson and Jessie Armstead, and he instructed his current players to go online and learn everything they can learn about them.

"I like the way Spags goes about it," Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara said in a phone interview Friday. "He's not trying to make you look dumb or get your teammates to clown on you. He's just trying to keep you on your toes and keep you accountable, because that's what he expects out of us.

"He'll do the same thing with the playbook, like, 'Prince, where are you supposed to be in this coverage?' and expect you to have the answer. And I like it, because the point is, this is easy, this is a classroom, but when you're out there under pressure in a game situation, you want to be able to react right away to things."

There is, however, also a sense of letting the current players know they're a part of something larger. The names of those in the Giants' ring of honor adorn their locker room walls, but that doesn't mean everyone knows or appreciates the accomplishments of guys like Huff and Tunnell and Robustelli, who played in bygone eras. Taylor might be the greatest player in Giants history, and he retired in 1993 -- the year before Giants second-round pick Landon Collins was born.

"Most of us weren't alive," second-year defensive end Jordan Stanton said. "But learning about these guys and finding out what they went through, who their coaches were, it's a lot of fun. We've got to live up to the past. We've got big shoes to fill here. We have to pride ourselves as a defense on filling those shoes. There are people watching us who expect us to fill their shoes."

Stanton flipped to the page in his notebook in which he wrote down the story of the day Huff left training camp in 1956, having decided to quit, and assistant coach Vince Lombardi followed him to the airport to talk him out of it. That's the fun part for these guys -- Spagnuolo has instructed them to find out what they can about that group of eight players, and sometimes the pop-quiz question will just be, "Emlen Tunnell! Tell me something interesting about him."

"It's fascinating to learn it all," Amukamara said. "I didn't know Tom Landry invented the 4-3 defense. I didn't know Emlen Tunnell was the first African-American Giants player. So you really do get a feeling of what came before you and how significant it all is."

Spanguolo has spent time showing his players old film of the great players of the Giants' past. When the rookies arrived for minicamp Thursday night, they were shown a film and given their notebooks and told to research these guys and come back with interesting facts, just as the veterans did weeks ago when the offseason program began.

"It's up to us now," fifth-round safety Mykkele Thompson said. "Go on the Internet and find out whatever we can. We have homework."

"The tradition. The passion. The Giant tradition," coach Tom Coughlin said. "The great defenses that have been played here in the past. The idea that we have to get back to that."

The message is being delivered at every level, and the players seem to grasp the reasons behind it.

"It's got everybody's attention, for sure," Stanton said. "I'm really enjoying it, and I think all of the guys are getting a lot out of it. There's a lot there to appreciate and to learn from, and it can really help."