Steve Spagnuolo does not know how good or bad his defense will be this season. It’s only three weeks into the preseason, they’ve been on the field against an opponent only for a handful of snaps, and there are plenty of concerns that need to be addressed.
The linebacker position, he said, is “revolving.” The inability to stop long passes needs to be improved over last year. The Giants still have competition at defensive tackle and need to figure out depth issues at defensive end and cornerback.
But it’s what Spagnuolo sees off the field that gives him the most hope for the upcoming season.
“I love the way these guys interact,” the defensive coordinator said. “Around each other, they’re a fun group.”
That might not count for much in the NFL, but the Giants hope it’s a harbinger. Chemistry cannot be coached or drilled into players. It must happen organically. And the Giants seem to have it.
Whether it is throwing dance parties in the locker room, gathering for a surprise dinner for Eli Apple’s birthday last week or just hanging out on the field during practice, the Giants’ defense seems to be a tight mesh of outgoing personae. They work hard, but they also know how to relax. And they relax together.
A good part of the reason for that esprit de corps comes from the success the group had last year and the fact that almost every significant piece to that group has returned.
“The group from a character standpoint is very much the same, in my opinion,” Spag nuolo said. “They have the same personalities. I think they seem to be enjoying it a little bit more this time. I think we started enjoying it toward the end of last year, too.”
That, not insignificantly, is when they started to play well. Well enough to drive the Giants to the playoffs. The Giants allowed a little more than 14 points per game in the final seven regular-season games.
Spagnuolo said it will take time for all of the pieces on this year’s team to come together, even though so many are returning. “The first quarter of the regular season, to me, is figuring out who you are and what you are and where everybody fits,” he said. “Coaches, players, everybody. It’s going to be an ongoing thing.”
Given the head start the team has in that regard, though, it’s not unreasonable to believe the jelling will happen sooner. It’s why many of the players believe that this year’s defense will be better than last year’s.
“You always want to get better. You don’t want to stay the same,” Jason Pierre-Paul said. “I think this is going to be a great defense.”
Of course, the mood of the players and that bubbly personality will be a lot different if the Cowboys light them up in the opener. Or if the Giants are 0-2 and facing a must-win situation in Philadelphia in Week 3.
“It’d be a lot more fun if we’re winning games,” Spag nuolo said of the social fabric of his group. “This business is always fun if you win.”
Sometimes it’s also the other way. Winning begets fun, but fun can beget winning, too.
The Giants hope that’s the case and that their preseason party atmosphere can hang around for the entire season.