Because of its massive turnover from the 2019 season, which included the locker room and the coaching staff, not much was expected of the New York Giants last year, especially not from the defense.
But if 2020 taught us any kind of lesson, it's don't sleep on defensive coordinator Patrick Graham and his band of hungry young players who together turned out to be one of the most pleasant surprises to emerge from the Giants 2020 season last year.
That defense finished 12th league-wide overall, 10th against the run, 17th against the pass, and tied for 12th in sacks (40).
This year, the Giants defense's focus is squarely on improving all those rankings, perhaps eyeing finishing in the top 10 or even top five league-wide.
And if the players seem very confident of taking that next step, it's because they have a very good reason.
"Within the second year of any scheme, you definitely get more familiarized with it and you can play that much faster," said safety Jabrill Peppers.
"You understand the guys next to you jobs that much more to play to your leverage and know when you can take chances and when you can’t."
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Not surprisingly, the Giants defense seemed to be a lot more cohesive in flying around to the ball during Wednesday's first practice of training camp, with safety Julian Love and cornerback Adoree' Jackson leading the list of standouts with their play-making prowess during the two-hour practice.
"We all love playing under Pat Graham and we love how smart he is and what he brings to the game," said defensive lineman Leonard Williams, who enjoyed a career year last season in Graham's system.
"He doesn’t put everybody in the same position, he knows what type of tools he has, what type of guys he has, and he puts his players in the best ability to play the best that they can. I think that makes players’ confidence rise and the more confident you are, the better you play."
Both Peppers and Williams declined to make predictions, but the twinkle in their respective eyes suggested that they're looking to make sure Year 2 of the Graham defense is even better than Year 1.
"Our goal is to come out here and get better each and every day," Peppers said. "You can’t look too far ahead, you can’t look in the past. We’re out here getting better, getting in condition, going through our football motions and training so we can be at our top level when the season comes."
"I think we have a very high-talented team," Williams said when asked if the Giants were of a playoff-caliber. " I don’t want to make predictions. It just starts today. We have to come out here and compete. I think we did a good job of that today and we have to just build on that tomorrow. Hopefully we’ll see where we end up."
"We’re a competitive bunch," Peppers added. "It’s the first day, it felt good to get out there, run around, compete with the offense a little bit, but you know we still have a long way to go. This was definitely a great start."