The New York Giants' defense is going to have an extremely different look this season. The final defensive staple linked to their Super Bowl past was removed Thursday with the trade of Jason Pierre-Paul to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Giants’ longest-tenured projected defensive starter is now Landon Collins, the 24-year-old Pro Bowl safety. It feels like just yesterday that the team was trading up in the 2015 draft to select Collins out of the University of Alabama with the first pick of the second round.
In this busy offseason, already Pierre-Paul has been traded, defensive captain Jonathan Casillas is not expected to return as a free agent and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was a salary-cap casualty. The defense under new general manager Dave Gettleman and coach Pat Shurmur is in the midst of a much-needed mini-facelift, with more likely to come.
Part of the overhaul is a scheme change. The Giants are no longer running the attacking 4-3 defense of Steve Spagnuolo. Under new coordinator James Bettcher, they’re expected to employ some sort of 3-4 base defense that also will include 4-3 concepts.
Still, it was hard to imagine Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon as the outside linebacker combination given that both are every-down pass rushers. And the Giants had never approached Pierre-Paul or Vernon about playing as a 3-4 defensive end.
It now appears as if Vernon and recently signed Kareem Martin will start as the Giants’ outside linebackers. Martin is familiar with Bettcher’s attacking defense from their time together in Arizona. He could help ease the defense's transition. Martin is one of two former Cardinals who might slip directly into starting roles.
With these new faces, a different scheme and no Pierre-Paul, the Giants' defense won’t look anything like the unit that finished 31st in the NFL last season.
Here’s a projection of the Giants’ new-look front seven:
Mauro was signed to fill the five-technique spot to do the dirty work on the defensive line. He is a fit in Bettcher’s defense after spending time with him in Arizona. Tomlinson also has experience playing inside and outside in Nick Saban’s multiple scheme at Alabama.
Nose tackle: Damon Harrison
He’s already had success earlier in his career playing nose tackle in Rex Ryan’s 3-4 defense with the Jets. Harrison is a dominant run-stuffer in any scheme.
Reserve: Robert Thomas
Outside linebackers: Olivier Vernon and Kareem Martin
There was a thought that Vernon would be best as an outside linebacker when he entered the league. Martin can be used as the run-stuffer and occasionally in coverage. Vernon can serve as the every-down pass-rusher.
This would seem to be an ideal combo. Their skill sets complement each other's, with Ogletree the speedy sideline-to-sideline linebacker and Goodson the big-hitting run-stuffer.