All offseason, Jason Pierre-Paul has answered the same question over and over and over again.
How close is he to returning to JPP circa 2011? The one that terrorized quarterbacks, was a force against the run and simply over-powered offensive tackles on his way into the backfield?
Does he feel he’s there? Is he back to the player who some once felt had limitless potential? Heck, can he even be that player again?
The answer is no. Pierre-Paul isn’t the ‘JPP of 2011.’ In fact, he doesn’t want to be, either.
What does the former All-Pro want?
“To be better,” Pierre-Paul said.
Better? Is there a better? Just three short years ago, Pierre-Paul recorded 16.5 sacks in his second NFL season. He was ferocious and fearless, making quarterbacks’ Sunday afternoons a nightmare. ‘Up’ from there would be teetering on a record-breaking year? A record that a recently inducted Hall of Famer set wearing Pierre-Paul’s same jersey.
Is that in clear sight?
“Yeah,” Pierre-Paul said, “Maybe.”
Whether it’s 2011 Pierre-Paul, or a new-and-improved JPP, either will be welcome on the Giants’ defensive line this year. The old, familiar faces who had once terrorized quarterbacks are gone. Michael Strahan is a talk show host. Osi Umenyiora is in Atlanta. Justin Tuck in Oakland.
From the team that defeated the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI, just Pierre-Paul and Mathias Kiwanuka remain across the defensive line.
Actually, in recent memory, the Pierre-Paul who took the field at Lucas Oil Stadium in February 2012 hasn’t been seen much since. In New York’s championship run, Pierre-Paul recorded 104 tackles, 17 sacks and two forced fumbles in the regular and postseason.
In the 27 games since? Pierre-Paul has managed just 93 tackles, 8.5 sacks and one forced fumble while dealing with a string of nagging injuries.
“Being injured, nobody wants to be injured,” Pierre-Paul said. “It comes with the game; you never know when you’re going to be injured. You have to fight through it. You go out there and play. If you can’t, you can’t.”
Thus far in training camp, Pierre-Paul’s been healthy and as a result his play has been eerily reminiscent of just a few short years ago. Not only has his game made an apparent return, but so too has his talk.
Pierre-Paul is provoking opponents during his few snaps during the preseason, teasing teammates and, the way defensive coordinator Perry Fewell sees it, having “fun” again.
“I’ve seen a much better attitude. I’ve seen the old JPP,” Fewell said. “His attitude is good. His work ethic has been very good. He’ll continue to develop and I’m sure he’ll re-gain his form.”
Versus the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Giants’ preseason home opener, Pierre-Paul was as active as he’d been in a long time. He tracked down a receiver on an end around, put in a full-force sprint on Dri Archer following a screen and put a huge hit on quarterback Bruce Gradkowski.
He looks, by all counts, like he’s back and if he is, is that limitless potential back? Wanting to be better than the 16.5 sacks in 2011, is there a number in JPP’s mind that he’d like to reach?
“Nope,” Pierre-Paul said. “Unlimited.”