Rushing the passer would figure to be a key component to the Giants' DNA as an organization. But the heritage set by iconic sack artists like Lawrence Taylor and, more recently, Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, and Jason Pierre-Paul has faded in recent years.
The Giants have finished 22nd, 30th, and 29th in sacks the past three years, respectively. Their 83 total sacks in that span are the fewest they've tallied in a three-year stretch since sacks became an official statistic in 1982.
However, sacks aren't the be-all-end-all result for defensive success. The Giants will depend on their outside linebackers to set the edge in 2020, and even if they aren't bringing down opposing quarterbacks as often as fans would like, they can still play a disruptive and physical brand of defense.
Giants senior defensive assistant and outside linebackers coach Bret Bielema is one of the men tasked with kickstarting the Giants' stagnant pass rush.
For Bielema, getting the Giants outside linebackers to play to their potential begins by instilling the right mentality that he calls "OLBDNA"--outside linebacker DNA.
"I think as a group we always talk about OLBDNA; what we are and what we represent," Bielema said during a video conference call with reporters on Friday.
"DNA is something that is in you that describes who you are, and it’s built every day. As an outside linebacker group, we try to do things to establish who we are to the outside world."
Bielema echoed general manager Dave Gettleman's past sentiments about the group lacking a "blue goose," but added that the group has shown the desire to get better as a whole.
"There aren’t any true all-stars, just guys who show up to work every day," Bielema said. "They have a blue-collar mentality. They represent the New York Giant blue really well."
The Giants haven't had a "blue goose" pass rusher since trading away defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul in 2018.
They've since tried to replace some of that firepower through homegrown products like Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines, drafted in 2017 and 2019. While both have shown flashes in their shot NFL careers, they also have a lot of room to grow.
In the meantime, the plan is to depend on balanced contributions from players that, in addition to Carter and Ximines, will include veterans Markus Golden and Kyler Fackrell, and rookie draft picks Carter Coughlin and Cam Brown, have collectively demonstrated pass-rushing ability.
Golden represents the closest thing the unit has to an elite pass rusher as the team's leader in sacks last year with 10. Fackrell is coming off a one-sack season in 2019 but recorded 10.5 sacks just one year earlier in 2018.
Carter and Ximines tied for second on the team in sacks last season with 4.5 each.
With defensive coordinator Patrick Graham planning a multiple defense in which each player will have multiple roles--in the case of the pass rushers, some might be asked to lineup inside in certain packages and outside in others--Graham is hoping to generate a pass rush by making it harder for opposing offenses to figure out where it's coming from.
While the unit's collective pass rush experience will undoubtedly come into play, Graham's defense will reveal just how well-rounded the Giants' outside linebackers are. It will also reveal how well Bielema has prepared them to fill their respective roles.
All four returning veteran players will surely have opportunities to build on their sack numbers in 2020, but Bielema is emphasizing overall awareness and the ability to adapt to different situations.
"We have three things that we hold tangible, the process that makes up that DNA to be consistent," Bielema explained. "We’re playing on the edge, so you have to have great edge awareness. Then football IQ and situational football always have to be big.
"If I have a group of guys that maintain those three things, we have a chance to be successful and hopefully give Pat a tool as a coordinator."
Brown, this year's sixth-round pick, and Coughlin, the first of the four seventh-round picks this year, will also be key players in the objective.
According to their respective college coaches, Brown and Coughlin also possess many qualities that Bielema associates with OLBDNA.
In exclusive interviews with Giants Country, Penn State linebackers coach Brent Pry and Minnesota linebackers coach Joe Rossi praised their respective former student-athletes for their versatility, toughness, and ability to play larger than their undersized frame as among their best traits.
Neither one brings elite pass-rush measurables to the NFL, but with the basis for that OLB DNA in place, it will be interesting to see how they develop as NFL rookies under Bielema's tutelage.
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