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Giants defense's wake-up call: Be sure to rise early

Blake Martinez of the Giants stops Jalen Reagor

Blake Martinez of the Giants stops Jalen Reagor of the Eagles during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium on Nov. 15, 2020. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Giants learned a lot of things about themselves in their joint practices against the Browns and Patriots this summer. The one lesson that sticks most with the defense is the importance of starting fast.

In each of those workouts the Giants were dominated on the first day but came back to be much more competitive the second. They are taking that experience with them into Sunday’s opener against the Broncos.

"As negative as it could have been that day it was a positive thing for us taking it and knowing that we don’t want that to happen continuously throughout the season," linebacker Blake Martinez said of the Patriots practice that irked him in particular. "We have such high expectations for ourselves. We want to be game-wreckers and do things that allow our offense to play that much easier during the game."

That may be the key to any success the Giants have early on. They open against two strong defenses in Denver and Washington and their offense is admittedly a work-in-progress after spending most of the preseason with key players on the sideline. The Giants’ defense, meanwhile, returns most of its pieces from last year, has improved in areas where they were lacking, and has the potential to be among the league’s best units. It may be asked to carry the team in the first few weeks of the season.

To do that, they can’t afford to hit the snooze button anymore.

"We know that we set the tempo for a lot of things," defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence said of his side of the ball. "We want to be on the field first to start fast, to set that tempo. Just get out there and have everybody feed off of us."

Notes & quotes: RB Saquon Barkley was limited in Thursday’s practice, but the glowing reviews of his return to the field were at full strength. "[I have] a lot of confidence in him as a player and I think he's done a great job to get himself back healthy and 100%," offensive coordinator Jason Garrett said. WR Sterling Shepard said it is great to see Barkley back doing "Saquon-type things" on the field. And Martinez, who faces Barkley in practices, said he has "looked good going against me" and "his quads look ginormous, and that’s my [barometer] on making sure he is good to go." The Giants will issue their injury report with game day designations on Friday, the team’s first concrete answer to the question of whether Barkley will be available in the opener … TE Evan Engram (calf) did not practice for the second straight day, a strong indication he will not play Sunday … Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur told reporters in Denver that when he was hired as head coach of the Giants he tried to hire Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator. The move was blocked by the Bears. Shurmur also wanted to hire Kevin Stefanski as offensive coordinator, a move blocked by the Vikings. Both Fangio (Broncos) and Stefanski (Browns) are now head coaches.

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