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Steve Spagnuolo wants these Giants to embrace franchise's tradition of defensive excellence

Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is seen during

Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is seen during Giants rookie minicamp at the team's training facility in East Rutherford, N.J. on May 8, 2015. Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

It's not just the playbook that the Giants have been studying since the start of offseason workouts last month. It's the history book too.

In an effort to enlighten the players to (and perhaps inspire them with) the heralded past of the Giants and their ferocious defenses of yore, Tom Coughlin and the coaching staff have been spending time digging through the video vault to put together presentations on some of the more ferocious players and dominating units that have represented the franchise.

One of those men, as it happens, stands in front of them almost every day.

Steve Spagnuolo, the Giants' defensive coordinator, has his own place in the legacy that he and the other coaches have been trying to indoctrinate this new generation of players with. He was the coordinator in 2007 when the Giants won a Super Bowl and in 2008 when they were the best team in the NFL's regular season.

But for all of the looking back, all of the reflection, Spagnuolo wants to make it clear that he is not a time traveler. He's just a coach.

"This isn't an on-and-off switch and, boom, all of a sudden we're back to 2007 and we pick up where we left off," Spagnuolo said Saturday in his first media availability since he was hired to replace Perry Fewell in January. "Look, I'm not a magician. No coach is a magician. Things aren't going to happen like they might have happened in a different time. But hopefully something exciting will happen. At least that's the goal."

Even as they look forward, though, it seems impossible for the Giants not to be looking back. Especially with Spagnuolo's return. Asked for his definition of Giants football, Spagnuolo gazed out across the parking lots toward MetLife Stadium and seemed to be focusing on what used to stand there.

"As you ask that, in my mind I'm going through what we've been watching," Spagnuolo said of the old clips that he's been feeding the players. "The Harry Carsons, the Lawrence Taylors and the George Martins. I'm seeing all of them . . . I can just remember watching Giants football in Giants Stadium. Look, everybody gets infatuated with offense but I remember the linebackers and the d-linemen. The Spider Lockharts. That play that Jason Sehorn made against us in Philadelphia (when he was coaching there), that interception, those things are what resonate. It's relentless. It's attacking."

It can be again.

"We just felt like when you understand the tradition of defensive football here with the Giants, you embrace it," he said. "When you embrace something, you have a little pride in it. If you have a little pride in something, like your family, you tend to protect it."

There are no defensive players left on the team from Spanguolo's first stint with the Giants, so he is starting over. "At the top of the list is the bottom of the foundation," he said.

There are certainly challenges ahead. The Giants do not have the same kind of all-star defensive line they had during the reign of Spags I. They have holes in the secondary at the all-important slot cornerback position and lack experience at safety. They are absent many winning players; Jason Pierre-Paul is the only remaining starter on the unit from the 2011 Super Bowl team.

But that foundation Spagnuolo wants is being built on a history that few NFL franchises can conjure.

In one of the clips shown to the players, Hall of Famer Michael Strahan spoke about when he first arrived with the Giants.

"[He said they took pride in living up to the New York Giants' defensive tradition," Spagnuolo said. "I thought that just spoke volumes. That's a lot to live up to. So if we can shoot for that and get close to that, I think we'll be all right."

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