EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants' offseason spending spree shifted the brunt of the pressure from the embattled general manager to the embattled defensive coordinator.
Steve Spagnuolo, it's your turn to come through.
Spagnuolo presided over the league’s 32nd-ranked defense last season. You can't get any worse. With over $200 million of new toys at Spagnuolo's disposal, that can’t happen again. His defensive must improve.
Naturally it should with the additions of defensive end Olivier Vernon, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, defensive tackle Damon Harrison, first- and third-round picks for the secondary and a much healthier Jason Pierre-Paul. None of those players was on the active roster at the start of last season and they should account for five of the 11 starters this year.
The Giants defense has more talent than last year’s unit, which began the season with defensive end George Selvie, defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, middle linebacker Uani Unga and safety Brandon Meriweather either starting or playing significant roles. None of the four is currently on an NFL roster.
The challenge that Spagnuolo now faces is that he needs to bring it all together rather quickly. Even the Giants aren’t sure how long it will take. The offense may have to carry the load, especially early this season.
“Like I said before, we're going to go through a little bit of growing pains,” coach Ben McAdoo said. “We see it, we know that, we're going to work through that and stick together. We feel that when we come out the other end of it, we have a chance to be a pretty good defense.”
Ideally, the Giants would’ve preferred building their defense and roster organically. But several years of failed draft picks set the franchise back. Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and linebacker Devon Kennard are the Giants’ only projected defensive starters from the 2011-14 drafts.
So general manager Jerry Reese had to turn to free agency to rebuild the league’s worst defense. The Giants could easily have four players signed during free agency starting on defense come Week 1 in Dallas.
It’s going to take time to bring them all together.
“That is true. You have to be careful with that,” Spagnuolo warned. “There are names and this game, defensively, it has to gel. There has to be a chemistry. You don’t just plug a guy in there. It doesn’t work that way.
“I wish it did. It would be a heck of a lot easier during the season when you got guys hurt. We need reps. We need time together. We need communication. Hopefully we’ll get better.”
There is some time. Just not that much. The Giants' opener is a little more than five weeks and four preseason games away.
Will they be ready to reach their full potential by then? Spagnuolo was cautiously optimistic.
“I’m not going to take a stab at that. I hope [we're ready by Week 1]," he said. "We have to win ... when do we play Dallas? September what? We have to win that game. We’re going to do everything we can as a group of players and coaches to be ready to face whatever we have to face.”
Spagnuolo said he’s still trying to find the 11 best players to form a complete unit. So rather than tweaking and adding wrinkles, he's still at the discovery phase.
This is the situation the Giants face. They're building from the ground up despite being in the second year of the defense. Spagnuolo returned to the Giants last offseason.
If they were a team returning 8-10 starters, it might be different. They'd have a different approach. But the Giants have only four projected starters who were on the field with the team Week 1 in Dallas last year. Around them, it's a completely different collection of skill sets and personalities.
Bringing them together will be a process. The clock is ticking on Spagnuolo.