EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants middle linebacker Jon Beason is a year removed from the foot injury that cost him basically all of the 2014 season. He hasn't played a full 16 games since 2010. For those reasons, the Giants are taking it slowly with Beason this spring, limiting his practice work in an effort to maximize his chances of playing as many games as possible once those games start to count.
"It's basically a non-issue," Beason said after Monday's OTA practice. "I'm only limited based on the time of year."
In the meantime, Beason said, the time spent learning Steve Spagnuolo's defense has him thinking back to his school days.
"It makes you feel young again," Beason said. "You're sitting there in meetings and obviously you have to pay attention so you can take it all home with you and get ready for the next install. It's exciting."
Which is a big part of the plan for the Giants' defense this year, and a big reason why Beason matters.
Remember the story from rookie minicamp about how Spanguolo, who's back for a second tour of duty as Giants defensive coordinator, has been challenging his players to learn about the history of the Giants' defense? It's a good idea. Spagnuolo is wise to lean on the Giants' star-studded defensive history, as it is among the more potentially effective motivational tools available to him. And there's a real chance that this year's Giants defense is going to need to be quite highly motivated in order to succeed.
Yes, it is only June, and many surprises both positive and negative await the Giants and every other team between now and September. But on paper, at this point, a Giants defense that ranked 29th in the league last year looks as though it could be grossly outmanned in 2015. And if that's the case, its coaches and leaders need to make sure the emotion and the intensity get and stay as high as possible to help overcome the personnel deficiencies.
As of right now, the starting safeties would be Cooper Taylor and rookie Landon Collins. The pass rush after Jason Pierre-Paul is loaded with question marks. Pierre-Paul himself hasn't been to a practice yet, though that is his right and the Giants aren't worried about getting him up to speed, but if he were to get hurt, the defensive line would suddenly look like a major weakness. They're not as deep at cornerback as they were this time last year, and the linebacker group, as usual, scares no one.
You are welcome, as a fan, to hope as much as you'd like. Especially in June. But an impartial look at the Giants roster reveals a defense that's going to have to play way over its head in order to succeed. Spagnuolo likely knows this and is trying to do what he can to make that happen. Sowing seeds for that in April, May and June can absolutely have an effect in September and beyond.
But Beason's a part of this as well. He was the one whose arrival jump-started a lackluster Giants defense in 2013. He was the one who took over the on-field general role and calmed everyone down. He was the one who encouraged teammates to go to then-coordinator Perry Fewell with their ideas about how to simplify things, and who helped convince Fewell to listen.
Beason's a fine player when healthy, but those intangibles are a big part of the reason the Giants re-signed him after 2013. He understands his role as on-field and locker room leader. He's spoken to Antonio Pierce, the former Giants middle who was part of the 2007-08 defense that helped beat the unbeaten Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, about the importance of the middle linebacker in Spagnuolo's scheme. (Pierce, now an ESPN NFL analyst, was in East Rutherford last Thursday to address the defense as part of Spagnuolo's ongoing history lessons.) And he's already talking up the idea that this defense, with the return of himself, Prince Amukamara, Robert Ayers and Trumaine McBride from injury, could be better than it was last year.
"I think we're a lot healthier, and that's the important part," Beason said.
It's one of the most important parts. But improved health isn't likely all the Giants' defense needs to take a big leap in 2015. It will need to get and keep the energy and intensity as high as possible. And that's why Beason matters.