With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Defensive Tackles
2014 YEAR IN REVIEW: Although the brightest spot on the New York Giants defense in 2014 was the emergency of defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, the unit was an overall disappointment. The defensive ends, linebackers, and defensive backs all share a significant portion of the blame for the team’s 30th-ranked run defense (dead last in terms of yards-per-carry allowed), but the defensive tackles were obviously a big part of that failure too. Cullen Jenkins was bothered by a nagging calf issue and was barely noticeable. Mike Patterson and Markus Kuhn were easily blocked and rarely made any plays. Jay Bromley saw more action down the stretch, but his rookie season was a wash.
ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants decided not to re-sign Mike Patterson in free agency. Kenrick Ellis (1-Year, $1.475 million) was signed from the Jets and the Giants signed rookie free agent tryout Carlif Taylor after the rookie mini-camp.
TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: Barring injury and any unforeseen setbacks, Johnathan Hankins is expected to start at one tackle position and excel. The big question is who will be the primary starter at the other tackle position? The main candidates are Jenkins, Ellis, Kuhn, and Bromley. 2014 practice squader Dominique Hamilton and rookie free agent Carlif Taylor are long shots.
Whomever starts, the obvious goal is dramatically upgrade the middle of the defense, especially against the run. Ellis comes to the Giants with a reputation as a good run defender. After Ellis was signed, Tom Coughlin said, “Ellis is a big human. The young man on our practice squad, Hamilton, is a big human, so I am looking forward to seeing what they can do, too… We realized that big dominating guy in the middle is a good starting point for the D-Line.”
“Right now I’m just trying to work my butt off to prove I’m qualified to call myself a Giant,’’ Ellis said. “It’s gonna be a beautiful thing.”
Jenkins is looking to bounce back from the calf injury. He is also helped by his positional flexibility as the Giants will play him at defensive end as well. “I’m appreciative of another chance to play another year, go out there and try to prove myself again and that I’m not too old while helping the team get back on track to its winning ways,” said Jenkins.
Both Kuhn and Bromley have worked hard this offseason. It’s interesting to note when General Manager Jerry Reese was asked last month who three lesser known players to watch were, Bromley was one of those mentioned.
“I don’t want to give the coaches a reason to take me off the field,” said Bromley. “I don’t want to give nobody an out. There should be no excuse why I don’t play…If your goal isn’t to start, you’re not aiming high enough. If you’re not aiming to start, you’re aiming for second place and I’m not aiming for second place…I strived to not purposely be seen, but work hard enough to the point where you can’t miss me.”
But to earn more playing time and potentially start, Bromley will have to improve his run defense. Kuhn was starting with the first team alongside Hankins during OTAs and the mini-camp. He has bulked up to around 320 pounds.
“The big guys set the tone,” said Kuhn “We have to push back the offensive line. We have to set the new line of scrimmage. Being stronger, being bigger will help with that. (The added weight) feels really good. I’ve been running real well, my conditioning is on par, my body fat is pretty much as low as it has ever been.”
ON THE BUBBLE: The Giants will keep four or five defensive tackles. The only real lock is Hankins. That said, it would be difficult to see the Giants parting ways with 2014 3rd-round pick Bromley after just one season. So Jenkins, Ellis, Kuhn, Hamilton, and Taylor are probably competing for two or three spots.
FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Robert Nunn on Cullen Jenkins: “I think he can help us in a lot of different (ways), it all depends. We are letting him work more at (defensive) end (during spring workouts) for one reason, because of numbers, but I can see him doing some more work for us out there. At his age and stage in his career, we have to take care of him and move him around a little bit. I have been very impressed with him at this point. He got the calf last year and was off to a good start but he never was the same after the calf injury. He has come in here healthy, good frame of mind and we have moved him around a little bit. We will try to take care of him during training camp and get ready to go.”
Nunn on Jay Bromley and Kenrick Ellis: “Jay Bromley has got to continue to improve with technique, Kenrick Ellis has got to continue to improve and I think they have made the effort to do that and we have to continue that.”
Nunn on Markus Kuhn and who will earn playing time: “(Kuhn) has got to continue to do what he is doing. He has given us some quality reps last year and I have been very impressed with him during the OTAs. The thing he has got to do is produce when we get in pads and that is the same way with Jay (Bromley), Kenrick (Ellis) and that group right there. When we get in pads and, like I said earlier, when the live bullets start being fired, production is going to tell us a lot about who is going to be playing and how the rotation is going to work…(Kuhn) needs to increase his production but we all need to do that. He is a steady hand and a very good leader in the classroom, very good leader in our room. He is a quality guy and he has got it in front of him this year, this will be a big year for him.”
Nunn on Johnathan Hankins: “He really surprised a lot of people with his pass rush. Everybody thought that he was a run stopper coming out but those sacks were legit. He had some legit numbers and a lot of quarterback hits and pressures, came up big in some key situations and I really like where Hank is. He has got to continue to improve with technique. That is where his big improvement has got to be going into training camp but I think that it is a very good situation. He has got a chance to be a solid player for a very long time in this league…I think that people underestimate him as a pass rusher. He wasn’t a great pass rusher coming out but he has really worked on a few things that have really made him effective. When they left him one on one the guy took advantage of it. When those guards have to block him one on one, he is powerful and deceivingly quick. He has got better speed and quickness than what people thing he does.”
PREDICTIONS: Barring injury, Hankins may press for a Pro Bowl spot this year. Obviously, the Giants will rotate their tackles, but the most interesting battle will be to see who starts alongside Hankins. Most fans have discounted Kuhn, but the coaches seem to like him. Reese has talked up Bromley. Ellis comes to the Giants with the reputation as the big run stuffer, which the team seems to need. Jenkins may be at the end of his career, but he’s the type of veteran who is tough to cut.
My guess is that Jenkins starts the season, but Ellis and Bromley both start pushing for serious playing time. The coaches may like Kuhn, but he has to do more to justify snaps and perhaps even making the team.
FINAL DEPTH CHART: Barring injury, Hankins, Jenkins, Bromley, and Ellis. I think the Giants would prefer to keep Kuhn too, but there is a numbers issue at defensive end and I can’t see the Giants carrying more than 10 defensive linemen. If Jenkins shows that he is fading, he could be the odd man out.