ALBANY - Things have gone so far so fast, it's hard for even Jason Pierre-Paul to wrap his 81-inch arm-span around the idea of where he was a year ago.
On Aug. 6, 2009, he had not even participated in a Division I football practice in his life. He'd never been to a preseason camp at any level. He was actually at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas milling around with the football players there, waiting for either the start of classes and football season or the all-clear from the University of South Florida that he would be able to join the team there.
And now? Well, he's a first-round draft pick in training camp with the Giants, having just signed a five-year contract that could be worth $20 million and will pay him a guaranteed $11 million. He's catching the eyes of the staff and trying to absorb as much information as he can. He thinks of himself as a sponge. "You just soak it in, and when you're ready to release it, you just squeeze it and release it," he said. "That's what I am."
The Giants aren't so much interested in his being a sponge now. They're more concerned with what this raw athlete can do once they teach him how to play football. Pierre-Paul thinks he has an idea about that.
"Once I get coached, it's going to be on," he said. "It ain't going to be a pretty sight to see [for offenses], put it like that."
Getting him coached is both easy and hard. There is so much to teach him, but unlike some other players who enter the league after long, successful college careers, there is nothing that has to be deprogrammed out of him. He has no bad habits. He will not be stubborn about changing techniques.
But it is a Square One beginning. The Giants had to spend time teaching him the proper way to get into a three-point stance because it was different from the way he did it in college. Back then, his athleticism could overcome technical flaws. Here, he needs to have the proper methods to go with his madness.
That's coming along. The players have been giving him a bit of a hard time because he spends so much time hectoring defensive line coach Robert Nunn. But whenever he has a question, he stops by and asks it.
Pierre-Paul has been running with the second unit for most of training camp, but he has taken some first-team snaps. Last night, he was lined up in a two-minute defense that had him and Mathias Kiwanuka inside at tackle with Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora outside at defensive ends.
Because of the crowd at defensive end, though, his early contributions likely will be on special teams. It's that area that Tom Coughlin brings up each time he asked about the rookie. Coughlin loves his athleticism on punt teams and thinks he can take advantage of his natural dimensions. "His arms are all the way to the road over there," he said stretching out toward a street about 100 yards away.
Pierre-Paul may not have that much of a wingspan, but the Giants hope he can soar just the same. Considering how far he has come in just one year, with very little coaching or instruction at any point in his brief five years of playing organized football, it's not difficult to imagine where he could end up. Even if it's hard to comprehend how he got here.
"It hasn't hit me yet,'' he said of his journey, "but it's going to hit me. When that first game starts, it's going to hit me.''