Michael Strahan looked in on his old team Thursday and didn’t just like what he saw on the practice field. He loved it.
The Hall of Fame defensive end-turned-television megastar showed up at practice after his “Good Morning America” gig and got a firsthand glimpse of a defense that got a $200 million-plus makeover in the offseason with the addition of free agents Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison and Janoris Jenkins, as well as first-round cornerback Eli Apple and a couple other new additions.
“They’re gonna be great,” Strahan told Newsday as he made a quick appearance in the locker room after practice. “They brought in a lot of young guys who are on the way up, not older guys who have a year or so left. These guys have long careers ahead. So I think they’re going to play and play well, and they’ll be an asset. I’m happy they’re here.”
It reminds Strahan of what it used to be around here, when he played alongside Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora and Jessie Armstead before that. Strahan was always the star of whatever defense he played for during his spectacular career with the Giants from 1993-2007. And while there may not be a player of his caliber on this year’s defense, the collective ability impresses him.
And that goes for the offensive side of the ball, too, where Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz and others lead what should be a formidable offense.
“I’m watching them in practice, and guys are so freaking talented in all aspects of the game — offensively, defensively and everything,” Strahan said. “Now it’s just a matter of putting it all together and closing out games. It wasn’t like that last year.”
Last year, the Giants were plenty good on offense, as Manning enjoyed a second straight productive season under offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, who ascended to head coach in the offseason. But the defense was a dumpster fire, with the Giants finishing dead last in yards allowed and setting an NFL record for most passing yards allowed. The most damning stat of all: They blew five leads in the final two minutes.
“It’s not like last year, when they didn’t have these guys and didn’t have the opportunity to win four or five games at the end,” said Strahan, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014. “Now, they have these guys, and I think we definitely expect them to close it out.”
How good can the Giants be this year? As good as they want to be — up to and including winning a championship. Just like Strahan did in his final NFL season in 2007, when the Giants won the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1990 season.
“Yeah, why not?” he said. “Who thought we were [championship material] when we went? Nobody.”
Vernon’s eyes lit up when he heard about Strahan’s optimism about this year’s team.
“It’s nice to hear that,” Vernon said. “He’s a legend. But we still have to do it one game at a time.”
Is he anxious to see what the retooled defense looks like?
“Honestly, I’m anxious to see what this overall team has,” Vernon said.
Outside linebacker Jonathan Casillas agrees with Strahan’s assessment of how much better this year’s defense can be, although he’s not talking Super Bowl just yet. But he is impressed with the makeover that general manager Jerry Reese orchestrated.
“On the back end we did a good job,” Casillas said. “Jerry Reese did a good job in bringing the guys here that we needed. Drafting Eli [Apple], bringing in [Jenkins], Snacks [Harrison], Olivier Vernon. Bringing in the two linebackers [Keenan Robinson and Kelvin Sheppard]. Doing a great job. I feel like we’re light years ahead of where we were last year defensively, and I hope it shows this Sunday.”
The defense will have a good opportunity to show just how good it is against the Cowboys in Dallas. Look for plenty of blitz-heavy schemes to try and fool rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, and the run defense, anchored by Harrison and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, has a huge challenge against rookie tailback Ezekiel Elliott.
Strahan think the Giants are plenty good enough to win on Sunday . . . and beyond. Like, Feb. 5 in Houston beyond.