New York Giants GM Jerry Reese rebuilt the team's defense at an enormous expense through free agency and the draft. This Sunday, the Giants will unveil it to the rest of the NFL in its season opener against the Cowboys in Dallas.
Defensive coordinator Stave Spagnuolo will get a chance to redeem himself after overseeing one of the worst defenses in the Giants' nine-decade history last year. On Thursday, he was asked if he felt like a kid in a candy store.
"If I am, I am looking for more candy," Spagnuolo said. "The more candy, the better, right? You are always looking for more. No, look it, I really like the way the guys have come together. I just think the feel, I don't know what you call it, the chemistry, the way they are kind of gelling a little bit on the field. I was just in there in the back end meeting where we were doing all the pass plays and just even in the meeting, the talk, the communication has been really good. Kelvin Sheppard has been great in the middle, Landon (Collins) is another year into it, so he is talking more. Everybody, go back to when they were 22 years old and they were thrown into a situation where everybody was older than them and it was all new, you tend not to say very much, but these guys are kind of coming into their own and it is helping."
While the Giants acquired Olivier Vernon for the defensive line and Janoris Jenkins in the secondary, Spagnuolo pointed to Damon Harrison, the massive defensive tackle the Giants lured away from the Jets in free agency, as someone already coming into his own.
"Damon is going to be important everywhere we go. That is why he is here," Spgnuolo said. "That is why we got him. I watched him out there today, he is a leader. We are hoping he demands double teams. I am hoping people can't block him one on one. That is what he is here for and he is that kind of player. We just have to get him out there and let these guys go."
Spagnuolo also said Sheppard, whom the Giants acquired via free agency, would wear the defensive headset, indicating he would start at linebacker.
"He'll have one in," Spagnuolo said. "Whoever we can get in there as the backup MIKE, we haven't decided that yet, but it will be Shepp."
The Giants face the challenge of the unknown this Sunday. A trip to Dallas usually means a matchup with Tony Romo, but with Romo out several weeks, Big Blue has to face rookie QB Dak Prescott and first-round pick Ezekiel Elliott, the star running back out of Ohio State.
"It is not easy. It is not easy to do. We are trying to dig for all kinds of information," Spagnuolo said. "We have talked to Marc Ross and our college scouts about what they had on Prescott out of college. Obviously the film in preseason. Landon Collins faced him in the SEC, some of those guys we have talked to, but it is just little bits and pieces of information."
Elliott was a bit of a surprise pick at No. 4 overall, and the Cowboys want to get their bang for the buck out him. He reportedly had conditioning issues and was lightly used in the preseason, but will be ready for the Giants' new front four come Sunday.
"To me, you put the tape on and watch a running back like that, I know he didn't have a lot of plays, but we watched some Ohio State tape," Spgnuolo said of Elliott. "We know what we are dealing with there. That is a quality running back. You see him in the Seattle game, the way he ran. He is a tough, physical guy that can get to the edge and can take the corner and run by people. We know what we are dealing with that way."
The Cowboys also signed former Redskins RB Alfred Morris, who has a 4.29 YPC over eight games vs. the Giants. Spagnuolo is smart enough to not look past him.
"Morris is a good quality back, too, an inside guy, but we faced him before and he can find an edge," he said. "You watch them, look at them on paper, watch the film, this is a good offense."
The Giants will be showcasing their top rookies as well. On offense, WR Sterling Shepard will debut across the field from Odell Beckham Jr. and the club's top pick, CB Eli Apple, will see reps on defense. Spagnuolo was asked if he would try to keep Apple away from Cowboys top wideout Dez Bryant.
"Maybe you do, maybe you don't. Even when you try to do that, Dallas is smart enough, they'll move Dez around. Eli at some point is going to have to step up and make those plays," Spagnuolo said. "It felt to me that maybe even New England and the Jets did try to find 28, or I guess 24 now. That's what you have to deal with as a rookie corner. They're going to try. I'm sure if they can get it done somehow, some way, they'll get it done this week."