Giants trend-setters on D-line

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady scrambles under pressure from Giants defensive tackle Linval Joseph...

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady scrambles under pressure from Giants defensive tackle Linval Joseph during Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind., Feb. 5, 2012. (JEFF HAYNES/Reuters)

JOHN KRYK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:56 AM ET

INDIANAPOLIS - Most NFL teams would trade defensive lines with the world champion Giants in a New York minute.

The Giants won Super Bowl XLVI as much because of their deep, fast, powerful defensive front as anything Eli Manning and his spectacular trio of wideouts did.

A rotation of seven tackles and ends busted up opposing offences throughout New York's second Super Bowl run in four years.

And here's the thing. Five of the seven were acquired by the Giants through the draft, and only two in the first round — namely, Jason Pierre-Paul (taken 15th overall in 2010) and Mathias Kiwanuka (32nd in 2006). The Giants grabbed the others in the second round (Osi Umenyiora and Linval Joseph), third (Justin Tuck), fourth (Chris Canty, via Dallas) and seventh (Dave Tollefson, via Green Bay) over the past nine years.

In other words, a team can indeed build a great DL through smart scouting, smart drafting and subsequent good coaching.

Which brings us to this year's NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. On Monday and Tuesday, defenders finally take the field for speed, agility and position drills.

Experts seem to agree that while there's a thin crop of defensive ends this year, there could be five to seven defensive tackles taken in the first round alone -- and many more thereafter.

All are being vetted, inspected, grilled and researched here by scouts, coaches and other reps of NFL teams with Giant-sized aspirations for their defensive lines.

What's New York's secret, anyway? GM Jerry Reese actually addressed that topic on the weekend.

"Well, I think everybody has the same characteristics that they want in pass rushers," Reese said. "You want guys who are big, and long, and fast and powerful. You want everything, as a personnel guy. But if the guy is big and he has long arms, that helps with pass rushers. And (you want) speed off the edge, and power up the middle."

Oh, is that all. But Reese did elaborate on the Giants' mindset as far as the specific type of defensive linemen they covet.

"We like pass rushers ... we like guys who are versatile players, who can play all over the front because we mix our fronts up a lot. So we do look for that. We look for guys that can play over the nose, a three-technique (lining up between the offensive guard and tackle), a five-technique (lining up across from the offensive tackle), or out on the edge."

There are piles of flamed-out NFL defensive ends and tackles taken in the first few rounds over the past decade. Drafting them is often a crapshoot. The Buffalo Bills have a pile of carcasses as deep as any team's, thanks very much.

The best of this year's defensive-line prospects met with reporters over the weekend. Somebody seems to have already told them that teams around the league crave versatile linemen, who can both stop the run and get that all-important pressure on those pesky quarterbacks taking over the league.

Draft expert Mike Mayock's top DT, Michael Brockers of LSU, said he's more comfortable at three-technique or even five-technique than nose tackle -- "nose is for bigger dudes."

But, hey, Brockers was quick to add, "I can play that if you want me to play that."

And Dontari Poe of Memphis, the third-ranked DT by Mike Mayock, said you can put him just about anywhere on the line and he'll make plays.

"I'm used to playing nose tackle and the three-technique, and I've played some five-technique," Poe said.

As for pass-rushing defensive ends, Whitney Mercilus of Illinois might be the most dynamic, what with a whopping 16 sacks last season. But he really hadn't done much in his college career before that. Every prospect has an asterisk, and that's a big one for Mercilus.

"I think it's a negative label," he said of the one-year-wonder tag, "because once you have (demonstrated great ability), you have it. Once you're able to produce like that and you put it all together ... you're able to repeat that success."

One NFL team desperate for an improved pass rush is going to bank on Mercilus being right. So will a lot of other NFL clubs, with a lot of other defensive linemen, on all three days of the draft in April.

john.kryk@sunmedia.ca

@JohnKryk

blogs.canoe.ca/KrykSlants


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