EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Jason Pierre-Paul was ready for the question. Started answering it before it reached its end. After New York Giants OTA practice on Monday, someone asked Pierre-Paul what he was doing this year for Fourth of July.
"I'll be gone," he said. "I won't even be in the United States. Where I'm going, they don't even celebrate the Fourth of July."
Pierre-Paul declined to say where he'd be going. But it's hard to blame the guy for wanting a clean break with the holiday that changed his life last summer. July 4 will be the one-year anniversary of the fireworks accident that cost Pierre-Paul his right index finger and severely damaged the rest of his right hand. As has been the case since his midseason return from the accident, he's not hiding from it.
"It'll be a year," he said. "I've overcome a lot of things in my life, and that's something I overcame and put behind me. It hasn't even been a year. It seems like longer."
Of course, this time last year, Pierre-Paul was not at Giants offseason practices. Even before the fireworks accident, he was opting out of the voluntary portion of the offseason and missing the June minicamp because he had not signed his franchise player tender and was still hoping for a long-term contract. As a result, even if he'd returned whole, he'd have been behind in learning and practicing defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's defense. This year, he has been present since the start of the offseason program.
"He's able to hit the weight room and he's able to go out and practice the fundamentals, so he's ahead of the game that way," Giants coach Ben McAdoo said. "You can tell he's definitely improved his fundamentals. He's always been a very disruptive player, and we expect that to continue."
Pierre-Paul has lined up predominantly on the left side of the defensive line during OTAs, which makes sense given that he can play there with his uninjured left hand on the ground and since they spent so much on free-agent defensive end Olivier Vernon to play right defensive end. Giants right tackle Marshall Newhouse, who lines up against Pierre-Paul in practice, raved about how good he looked on the field.
"He has bulked back up and you can see he's getting more accustomed to using the hand in the state that it is in," Newhouse said. "He's still quick, still long-limbed, just still a really instinctive defensive end and I feel like he's making me better," Newhouse said. "I hope I'm making him better."
The main thing that's likely to make Pierre-Paul better this year is that he won't have to play with that heavy club wrap on his right arm. Pierre-Paul said the surgery he had on his hand immediately after the season will allow him to play with a four-fingered glove on his hand instead of the club, and he believes the club was a big reason he wasn't more productive as a pass-rusher when he returned last year.
"Playing with a closed fist, you're not going to be able to do anything like that," Pierre-Paul said.
Pierre-Paul agreed with McAdoo's assessment that being at practice this time of year will benefit him, his understanding and his performance in Spagnuolo's defense. He seems completely at ease and comfortable with his new defensive line teammates. He is in shape, and in a positive frame of mind, and appears ready to live up to the Giants' hopes that he plays like his old self again.
"I will never be completely back to normal," he said. "But I'm doing everything they ask me to do."