The Giants' locker room has been buzzing for almost two weeks about the possibility of Jason Pierre-Paul getting back on the field, and expectations are high. Stratospherically high. And probably unrealistically high, too.
"A guy who has been through so much, I only expect him to come out and have 20 sacks, something like that,'' wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said Thursday. "I'm just expecting so much from him, because I know where his mindset is at.''
Considering Pierre-Paul has never had more than 161/2 sacks in a season, that's asking a lot. Especially for a player in his unprecedented situation as he attempts to come back from a July 4 fireworks accident in which his right index finger and parts of his thumb and middle finger were amputated.
But with the Giants desperately seeking a pass rusher, the narrative of Pierre-Paul as savior is unavoidable. It's also unfair, if you ask defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
"Look, it's hard to take that much time off and be at the level you think he can play,'' said Spagnuolo, who is coming off a 52-49 loss to the Saints in which his defense surrendered seven touchdown passes. "To think he's just going to go out there and be the JPP that everybody hopes and wants, I don't know if that's fair. We'll see.''
Barring a setback, Pierre-Paul will make his 2015 debut Sunday against the Bucs. He has made an extraordinary recovery, considering the extent of his injuries. And he looked terrific in practice, flashing that wondrous athletic ability that separates him from most players.
Spagnuolo is the first to notice. "I just got done watching the tape in there, and I remember one play, when the ball is snapped, he's off the ball pretty good,'' he said. "That one stuck out. He looks impressive.''
But . . .
"There's a long way to go,'' said Spagnuolo, who has had limited interaction with Pierre-Paul. He didn't sign his franchise tender until last week, couldn't participate in offseason training, missed the preseason and didn't play in the first eight games.
Except for an occasional phone call, Spagnuolo had no meaningful time with Pierre-Paul. So it's understandable that he needs to be convinced more than those who are familiar with his athleticism and raw ability.
Pierre-Paul doesn't seem to have any misgivings about his return. "Even when it happened, never thought I won't be back playing football,'' he said. "When the doctors said I can play football, 'OK, let's go.' ''
But even he isn't sure what to expect. "I can't say I'm going to go out there and get sacks. I don't know,'' he said. "All I know is I can try my hardest and promise I'll fight for it.''
Spagnuolo won't add to the pressure by expecting his return alone to salvage the defense.
"I think that's a lot to ask of him,'' he said. "Look, defensive football is 11 guys, not one guy. I wouldn't put that on a guy. I think he'll put it on himself. He's a prideful guy. Let's get him to the point where we can get him active and ready to go.''
It will be wait and see, and Spagnuolo will have to get a feel for what Pierre-Paul can and can't do before figuring out how much to play him.
"There's going to be an adjustment period,'' Spagnuolo said. "Maybe we have to live with some growing pains in hopes that when it's all said and done, it makes a big difference.''
At least Pierre-Paul is in a position to make a difference.
"The look in his eye, I can tell he's ready to go,'' Spagnuolo said. "Why would he not be? He's been away from something he loves, and he's getting to play again. He's anxious. I think we're all anxious.''
That Pierre-Paul will be on the field at all is remarkable. But better temper the expectations of how quickly he will get back to what he once was.
If it happens at all.