The Giants' defense suffered a big blow last season when DT Johnathan Hankins was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle in the team's Week 9 victory over the Buccanneers in Tampa Bay. It was the only game he and the returning DE Jason Pierre-Paul would play alongside each other last year.
This summer, Big Hank, as Hankins is known, will have the benefit of opening the season lined up with not only JPP but with two other stars - DT Damon Harrison, known as Snacks, and DE Olivier Vernon, who is called "OV" by his teammates.
"It feels good with Snacks and OV. Sometimes I try not to think about it too much or even talk about it because I don't want to jinx myself," Hankins told reporters when asked how good the Giants' front four can be this season. "On paper we look really good and the past few days we have been together, we have been doing pretty good against the offense. If we continue to build on that, I feel like we can be one of the best defensive lines."
Hankins said he is fully recovered from the pec issue and ready to resume where he left off last year. The Giants are expected to get pressure on the outside with JPP and Vernon, but they would love to see Hankins return to his 2014 form -- when he recorded seven sacks from the DT position.
"Right now I am aiming for one a game. If I can get one a game, it will total up pretty good," Hankins said.
He will certainly benefit from playing next to Harrison, the former Jet who has developed into one of the game's top interior defensive linemen. Hankins, who weighs 325 pounds, is being called the little guy in the middle compared to fellow DTs Harrison and Montori Hughes, who both tip the scales at over 350 pounds.
Hankins has been embraced by the amiable Harrison this spring and summer and intends to learn much from him.
"Ways to stop the run, his leadership in the D-line room is huge," Hankins said of Snacks. "He has been a help for everyone in the room and just the way he goes out there and listening to the way he talks and speaks gets you going for practice and focused on the day."
The Giants are employing a "3 technique" on the defensive line under new D-line coach Patrick Graham. The alignment is designed to have the DTs line up on the outside shoulder of the guard and use their quickness to avoid double teams and get into the opposing backfield and disrupt the play.
"I like it, I really like it because you get more one-on-ones and it is a little bit more of a two-way go when you are getting ready to pass rush," Hankins said. "Now having Snacks in there, he will keep that center and guard in place, so it will give me an opportunity to get a pass rush in."
And that is what the Giants hope their defensive line can be this season -- a group that not only wins the play, but can dominate entire games. With a healthy Hankins and a star such as Harrison, they just might be on their way.