Giants defensive end Robert Ayers Jr. speaks to the media...

Giants defensive end Robert Ayers Jr. speaks to the media during training camp at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center in East Rutherford, N.J., on Friday, July 31, 2015. Credit: Brad Penner

Given the fact that no one seems to know when -- or if -- Jason Pierre-Paul will return to the Giants, you'd think fellow defensive end Robert Ayers would feel added pressure to make up for the injured pass rusher's absence.

And if you made such an assumption, you would be wrong.

"No more pressure at all," Ayers said Monday before practice. "My expectations were higher than what anyone else might think, so I want to be the guy regardless. That's the mindset I take every year on every team in every season that I've ever played."

Welcome inside the head of the player who might very well turn out to be the team's most important contributor on defense. With the severity of Pierre-Paul's injuries remaining unclear after a July 4 fireworks accident that reportedly resulted in severe burns and the amputation of his right index finger, Ayers is poised to become the dominant force along the defensive line.

A 2009 first-round pick with the Broncos, he had some impressive moments for the Giants last year before going down with a season-ending pectoral injury in early December.

"Since [Pierre-Paul] has been gone, my expectations haven't risen and haven't dropped, because that's the attitude I have," said Ayers, who had five sacks in 12 games last season. "I wish he was out there because it would definitely help this team win, but I definitely have high expectations for myself."

Ayers wears No. 91, just as Justin Tuck did. The former Giants defensive end helped them to Super Bowl wins after the 2007 and 2011 seasons, and Ayers shows some of the same all-around play as Tuck, considered an excellent run-pass defender. But Ayers patterns himself after another former Giants left end.

Growing up in Jersey City, Ayers and his family were die-hard Giants fans. Ayers considered Michael Strahan the gold standard at his position. It was a special moment for Ayers to meet the Hall of Fame defensive end a few months ago when Strahan paid a visit to his former team.

"I asked if he could autograph my hat," Ayers said. "It's still in my locker. He was a role model of mine. So when I met Strahan, I was in awe because it was my first time meeting someone I idolized."

Ayers, who will turn 30 Sept. 6, isn't at Strahan's level and probably never will be, but he's a tenacious player who can be a viable force. He doesn't have Pierre-Paul's raw athletic talent but can be a capable player, even if he hasn't been a double-digit sack specialist.

"Sometimes you might not have the numbers, but you can still have an impact on the game," said Ayers, who has 17 sacks in six seasons. "The media and the fans get caught up in numbers, but there's more to the game than just sacks. If I can look back and say I was disruptive and I helped my team win, then I'll give that up for the numbers."

The coaches have noticed Ayers take on a bigger role.

"Robert's played well. He's been a real good soldier," Tom Coughlin said. "He's been a good teammate. He's helped guys and talked to them in the meeting rooms and out here. He's worked hard, so I see nothing but good things out of him."

It would be easier for Ayers to increase his production with Pierre-Paul back on the right side, but there's no telling when he might return. The Giants will use Damontre Moore in Pierre-Paul's spot, and former Cowboy George Selvie also will figure into the rotation.

Ayers certainly misses Pierre-Paul in a football sense, but this is about much more than the sport.

"I just want him to know we support him," said Ayers, who communicates with Pierre-Paul mostly through text messages. "It's just more of the support system that I want to let him know that I'm here for him . . . As players, we have a bond. We're outside the business part of it. I support him."

Anything else he tells his injured teammate?

"Wish you the best," he said, "and can't wait to get you back."


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