Last offseason, as Giants coach Tom Coughlin did not hesitate to tell reporters during the NFL's annual meetings in March, Jason Pierre-Paul came to camp out of shape. This year, he might not practice with his team at all before the regular season begins.
Pierre-Paul was scheduled to undergo back surgery on Tuesday morning, per multiple reports, and the Giants are just hoping to have their starting defensive end return to the field in time for a Week 1 showdown with Dallas.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that Pierre-Paul's surgery was to be performed by Dr. Robert Watkins, the same surgeon who will work on Patriots' tight end Rob Gronkowski in the coming weeks. Like with Gronkowski, Pierre-Paul's situation appears to be relatively minor (at least, as minor as back surgeries can get for professional athletes). But also like Gronkowski, this latest setback for Pierre-Paul is not a new issue -- he reportedly needed multiple epidural injections to make it through a full 16-game season in 2012, as he dealt with a sore back all year.
Pierre-Paul's ailing back no doubt played a role in his statistical drop-off, from 16.5 sacks in 2011 to 6.5 in '12. And it may have been part of the reason that Pierre-Paul "was big when he came to camp" last summer, as Coughlin said, according to the New York Post's Bart Hubbuch.
“He didn’t play as well as the year before,” Coughlin said glumly before shrugging his shoulders when asked why he thought Pierre-Paul plummeted from 16.5 sacks during the Giants’ 2011 Super Bowl run to 6.5 sacks last season.
“There’s not a lot of body fat [with Pierre-Paul], yes, but still ...” Coughlin said, the frustration obvious in his voice.
It's perhaps fair to wonder, then, why Pierre-Paul waited until now to have this surgery, if he was in pain throughout 2012. Surely, he hoped to avoid this scenario, but the delay could cost him early-season reps and will put his conditioning to the test.
The Giants are counting on Pierre-Paul to return to his elite level of play again in 2013, though his expected absence through camp and the preseason could open the door a bit for rookie Damontre Moore. New York made Moore a third-round pick in this year's draft, after losing longtime end Osi Umenyiora in free agency to Atlanta. Moore plummeted on draft weekend, after once being thought of as a top-10 pick. His work ethic came into question leading up to and during the combine, but he did record 12.5 sacks for Texas A&M last season.
Mathias Kiwanuka, with 30 career sacks, likely would be first up should the Giants need a starting end opposite Justin Tuck come the regular season. The 30-year-old Kiwanuka has started 61 games for the Giants in his career, including 15 in 2011. Plan A, however, remains a Tuck/Pierre-Paul pairing on the starting line, with Kiwanuka and Moore rotating in as pass-rushing specialists. There's still a very realistic chance that setup comes to fruition for the start of the regular season, too, even if Pierre-Paul's status is now much more in doubt.