Howie Long is a Hall of Fame defensive end with a son, Chris Long, who is an active defensive end with the Patriots. He knows a bit about the challenges of playing the position.
So, naturally, the Fox analyst has been curious about the career path of Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who last season came back from a disfiguring right hand injury and this season hopes to return to his pre-injury level of play.
“It’s not like, if you are Jason Pierre-Paul or the Giants, you can reference something that’s happened in the past and try to model the comeback through that,” Long said Wednesday on a conference call previewing the season on Fox, which will telecast the Giants-Cowboys opener Sunday.) “It was a major, major, major injury.”
Last year Long noted JPP’s “inability to grab or jerk offensive linemen, particularly in pass protection, which is such a big part of what he does. It limited his ability in tackling. It becomes more of a challenge because you can’t wrap up.”
From what he has read and seen this preseason, Long said, “[Pierre-Paul] seems to be a lot more comfortable, and a lot further along. I think the Giants have spent a boatload of money on defense. I’m anxious to see what he does and what [Oliver] Vernon does and what they do with that defense.
“[Coordinator] Steve Spagnuolo is back, and last year the cupboard was bare and they loaded up and I think they’re poised to make a run, particularly on defense.”
Long said that while he never experienced an injury such as Pierre-Paul’s during his playing days, he did have to play through severe challenges.
“I’ve played in spurts, in stretches of games, where your hand’s shattered or your shoulder’s separated and you lose the function of that part of your body,” he said. “My litmus test is always ‘Can I run, and can I defend myself?’ If I can do those two things I think I have a shot to play.
“That being said, you’re going to have limitations. He showed a great deal of mental toughness, and all the grief that he caught coming back, I thought he did a remarkable job, I really did.
“I thought he handled it extremely well. He leaned on guys like [fellow Fox analyst] Michael Strahan, somebody who he played with and felt comfortable with and had his best interests at heart.”