No matter where you turn in the NFL these days you are bound to find a disciple of Bill Belichick or Bill Parcells. This season, the Giants have a coach fresh off the Belichick coaching tree in defensive line coach Patrick Graham, who comes to East Rutherford after seven seasons in Foxboro.
Graham coached the Pats' defensive line the past two seasons and the linebackers for three years prior to that. He is new, but to his advantage, so is much of the Giants' defensive front.
Free agents Damon Harrison and Olivier Vernon join veterans Jason Pierre-Paul and Johnathan Hankins as the starters on the D-line, which could end up being one of the league's best. Graham, a chip off the Belichick block, isn't making many bold statements about the group as of yet.
"Well, I'm new coaching them, so we're all meshing together, getting the feel for one another," Graham told reporters on Friday. "I think the combination of building fundamentals and building some chemistry together, that's what training camp is for. Those guys are working hard at it and our goal in our room is to improve at it every day and so far so good as just seeing improvement. A little improvement, big improvement, as long as we're improving every day, that'll get us going towards our goal."
The biggest gain the Giants might realize is the return of JPP, who is no longer playing with the club on his right hand. Pierre-Paul is expected to make a larger impact this season with the benefit of a full offseason and training camp after undergoing offseason surgery to improve the grip of the injured hand.
"I'm seeing a good football player that I've seen for the past six years he has been in the league doing well there," Graham said of JPP. "There's times I've been in competitive situations against him on other teams and he's just a good football player and he's out there working and this guy is hungry to play some football and I like what's happening with him and the group right now."
JPP is expected to yield the RDE spot to Vernon and line up against right tackles as the LDE setting up an advantage for the Giants. Graham would not commit to any of his plans, something he learned from his old boss.
"I'm not going to get into the strategy and how we strategize in terms of getting ready for games, but guys are going to play all over the place," he said. "Guys are going to be inside, outside whatever it may be, so we're going to do what's best for the defense to beat that opponent that week, so I don't know, I can't get specific about that. All 11 guys out there feel they're working together and we're looking to take advantage of mismatches when we can."
Of those 11 guys Graham spoke about, the Giants are very high on two DEs, Owa Odighizuwa and Kerry Wynn, who has looked stellar in camp thus far. The line has talent and depth this summer, a tidbit Graham alluded to several times on Friday.
"There are other guys in the room and we're trying to work hard and be the best we can be. That's always up to the player. I have to do my job as a coach to prepare them and technique, but aside from that, the sky is the limit for those guys. Whether you're talking about Kerry, talking about Stan, Owa, JPP, OV, Dee, Hankins, all those guys are working for that."
Odighizuwa, the club's third-round pick in last year's NFL Draft, is seen as ascending player after being limited to just four games last year due to injuries. Graham sees Owa as a "jack of all trades", a player who can play not just all over the line, but also all over the defense.
"He has tools, he's a skilled athlete, that's why he's here in the league," said Graham. "He's got ability to play the run, rush the passer, smart enough to be able to handle different positions, position flex, so a lot of guys in that room, we have a good group, but he definitely has that skill set and that mentality where he can handle multiple."
Wynn made the club as a UDFA out of Richmond in 2014 and has shown flashes in his first two seasons in Blue. He is now expected to handle more responsibility in his third season and by all accounts, is ready to do so. Graham sees Wynn as a developing player who may be a very effective player in a backup role.
"He's developed but he's been successful in this league rushing the passer for the beginning part of camp, but I've seen him grow as a pass rusher in terms of understanding what he's getting and what he's looking for and he's continuing to develop. Right now in training camp that's where you develop the fundamentals so he's working on that now so hopefully he keeps improving."
Behind Harrison and Hankins in the middle are Jay Bromley, Louis Nix, Montori Hughes, rookie Greg Milhouse and free agents Davon Coleman and Jermelle Cudjo. They are all in the mix for roster spots, but only four will likely make the final cut.
"Those guys are all competing, nothing is set in stone, we haven't played the game yet," said Graham. "I've seen a guy (Nix) working hard to be the best player he can be on his footwork. He's studying hard and has been in the classroom and asks some good questions. I can honestly say that I've seen improvement from the first day of training camp. That's what I've asked him to do."
The bottom line is the Giants appear to be well-stocked with capable players this season and the defensive line, if they stay healthy, will go a long way to turning the club's fortunes around.
Graham brings a resume of professionalism and success to the line and they, like the rest of the team, will be working hard and staying focused at the task at hand. Just like you would expect from a Belichick disciple.