Fewell assembling new-look defense

The Giants’ defense is going to look different next season. Perry Fewell is taking over as defensive coordinator and he has new philosophies about how he wants his defense to play. Last year, New York struggled a great deal in coverage from the linebacker and safety positions. Injuries are much to blame at safety, but at linebacker, they lacked speed and playmaking ability. In turn, starting middle linebacker Antonio Pierce was let go and surely there will be a premium on improving at this position through the draft.

In essence, Fewell will play a version of the Tampa 2. In this defense, it is imperative that the entire defense is able to cover a lot of ground. This is true in coverage and in pursuit of the ball carrier in the run game. Fewell wants a lot of bodies around the football. He wants playmakers. He wants speed. All of this was lacking a year ago.

Antrel Rolle was signed to a big-money deal to be one of the Giants’ starting safeties. Rolle entered the league as a first-round cornerback and when compared to other safeties, he covers a lot of ground. Kenny Phillips is coming off a major injury, but if right, he certainly is not the typical in-the-box strong safety. In fact, if both of these University of Miami alumni are in peak physical condition, few teams in the league will be able to match the overall athletic ability that New York will feature at the safety position. That is a far cry from what the Giants played with at safety in 2009.

The same probably can be said for the middle linebacker spot. Pierce is gone and is clearly too slow to flourish in Fewell’s scheme. Many have pigeon-holed Alabama’s Rolando McClain in as the Giants’ first-round selection, but I tend to think that Missouri’s Sean Weatherspoon will be the more attractive option in the middle of Round 1. The reason is simple: Weatherspoon runs better than McClain. He can get to the football quicker on the perimeter and will be more adept at covering the deep middle of the field in coverage.

Another very interesting player in this scheme is second-year LB Clint Sintim, who is poised to become the starter. A 3-4 outside linebacker in college, he brings size and upfield pass rush to the position. He also could put his hand on the ground if needed. But he brings a skill set to the table that Fewell did not have at his disposal last year, although the Bills did draft Aaron Maybin in the first round last season to play this role. Maybin’s rookie year was a wash, but Sintim could be a breakout player if used properly.

The biggest problem with this defensive philosophy is in some cases, size and physicality at the point of attack is compromised for speed. Last year, Tampa Bay was the only team that was gashed for more yards per rushing attempt than the Fewell-led Bills defense, but this Giants’ defensive line is more talented than the one Fewell dealt with in 2009. Still, this defensive tackle rotation could really use a wide-bodied nose tackle type to utilize on early downs and to better free up a run-and-hit middle linebacker. If the Giants chose Dan Williams from Tennessee in Round 1 to fill this need, I would have no problem with that, but there are a few players who fit this bill who could be had for a second-round selection like North Carolina’s Cam Thomas.

But, last year, only the Jets allowed fewer average yards per attempt in the passing game and only the Packers intercepted more passes than Buffalo. Meanwhile the Giants only intercepted 13 passes all season and were among the worst defenses in passing yards against per attempt. Getting to the ball with many tacklers very abruptly and putting more emphasis on turning their opponent over is sure to come with Fewell manning the defensive controls. While the Cover-2 is his base scheme, he isn’t static in his play calling and does have a good feel for mixing in different looks and blitzes.

Also, last year the Bills had too many yards allowed from penalties. Does that come down to coaching or just being undermanned in terms of personnel? The answer is probably a little bit of both and it is something to keep an eye on with Fewell’s latest assignment.

Giants’ fans should be in store for some major changes on defense. For the most part, and if the right players are acquired in the draft, I see that as a good thing.