The Giants' defense was ranked 31st in the NFL last season, but Justin Tuck believes they can do better.
About 30 spots better.
"The ceiling is the No. 1 defense," Tuck said Thursday. "That has to be the ceiling. That has to be your thought process. I don't think anybody in that defensive meeting room can allow themselves to think that we can't do that."
That's a pretty high bar to set, and it comes in a week in which Jets coach Rex Ryan also boasted that his defense will be a top- five unit before backtracking from it a bit. Tuck, too, took a breather and a step backward from any statements that the Giants will find themselves atop the rankings when the regular season ends in December. But then he went right back to it.
"Will we do it? I don't know. Probably not," he said. "But it's a possibility. We have the talent to do it. I feel very confident in our coaching staff and our scheme. Those defenses that get in the top five are defenses that play together, 11 guys as one, and they don't really care who makes the play or who gets the sack or who gets the interception. It's all about the team effort. And that's where we have to get to."
One of the keys to that will be getting healthy and then staying that way. Jason Pierre-Paul has missed all of training camp on the physically unable to perform list. Antrel Rolle is coming off a sprained ankle. Corey Webster has not practiced in two weeks. Rookie Damontre Moore has missed two weeks as well. And no one is certain what Terrell Thomas will be able to provide.
"I just know that we need these guys back and we need to stay healthy, and that starts with myself because I've had little nicks and things of that nature," Tuck said, noting his back and hamstring issues, the latter of which has not stopped him from practicing this week. "If we're able to do that, then I'm very happy with what we could be as a football team."
Tuck added, "I'm looking at some of the guys that we picked up, some of the new faces that we got in the draft and free agency. We have a chance to do something special this year. I'm excited about it."
There were times last year when the Giants looked like a premier defense. They held the 49ers to three points in a rout in San Francisco, limited the Packers to 10 and ground the Saints into the turf of MetLife Stadium in a 52-27 victory. But allowing a total of 67 points in back-to-back games against the Falcons and Ravens sealed the season as a failure.
Tuck said he's seen enough from this year's team to believe that won't happen again. Even he admits that it's early, too. "I think we've had a good camp, but the ceiling for this team is way higher than just having a good camp," he said. "It's got to be."