The question everyone has for James Bettcher, the Giants’ new defensive coordinator, is the one he can’t yet answer.
“I have no clue,” he said bluntly and proudly on Wednesday when asked to define the type of system he will bring to the team.
Furthermore, he said in his first time speaking publicly since landing the job in January, it doesn’t really matter.
“Hanging your hat on scheme, you don’t win that way,” he said. “You hang your hat on the things that mean the most.”
Those, he said, are being relentless, playing hard, playing smart, and playing physical.
“Those are things that our guys are going to do whether we’re bringing five, bringing six, bringing four, dropping eight, whatever we’re doing and whatever the field position is,” he said. “The thing our fans are going to see is a defense that is going to run around and play hard and play fast and play smart and play physical. That’s what playing defense is all about.”
So there will be some downs when the Giants will line up and use 4-3 principles. There will be others where they will employ 3-4 tenets. It’ll be a hybrid, that’s for sure. How much of any one element exists will depend largely on the players themselves. It will be a natural evolution, rather than a forced metamorphosis.
“Really, what you do in the offseason is you start to determine who you are,” Bettcher said. “We’re going to get to work on Day 1, we’re going to stack a great meeting on Monday, we’re going to do some installation of the scheme, and we’re going to start to build our foundation for who we’re going to be as a defense. As we get through OTAs we’ll be a little closer to determining who we are. As we get through training camp, by the end of training camp, we’ll know who we are as a defense and what that looks like, whether it’s a five or six-man pressure team or whether it’s a four-man rush team playing coverage. Whatever those things look like, that’s what we need to be.”
In terms of base defense, at least heading into the offseason program which begins on Monday, the Giants will be a 3-4. That will mean subtle changes for some players, drastic ones for others. Olivier Vernon, who has played defensive end for the past two years, will likely see the biggest alteration in his job description. He’ll move from the defensive line room to the linebackers room and will play more from a two-point stance than with his hand on the turf.
Bettcher noted that a number of traditional 4-3 defensive ends — he named Chandler Jones, Marcus Golden, John Abraham and Dwight Freeney — have found success in this system (whatever that system turns out to be). Will Vernon be asked to drop into coverage? Yes. Will he have to do it often?
“We didn’t make our money in Arizona with Chandler Jones dropping and playing in space a bunch,” Bettcher said. “It’s things that you do as great changeups, things that you do to allow you to attack offenses in a different ways, and I think that’s how (Vernon) will fit in here.”
Ultimately, Bettcher said, that fit for Vernon and the others on the field will be determined not by the coaching staff but by the players.
“I love it when you start from scratch, and that’s really what we’ve done,” he said. “We’ve taken some of the things we’ve done in Arizona, and we’ve thrown it in the pot and went through it day by day and piece by piece and started to build some of the structure of what we would like to do here. . . . The work gets done when our guys get on the field and we see what we do the best. That’s when we determine what’s next or what’s going to be best for us as a defense as we build it.”