Last year, with Strahan retired, Umenyiora missing the entire season with a knee injury, Tuck slowed by a lower leg injury and defensive tackles Barry Cofield and Fred Robbins playing on bum knees, the Giants' pass rush ran out of gas when they needed it most. They had just 12 sacks in their final eight regular-season games and never got within a $10 cab ride of Donovan McNabb in their 23-11 January playoff loss to the Eagles at the Meadowlands.
In fact, the Giants failed to register a sack in any of their three meetings with the Eagles last year. Had none in a 36-31 win at the Linc in Week 10, none in a 20-14 Week 14 loss at Giants Stadium, and none in the playoff defeat.
"We just wore down," said Tuck. "Osi got hurt right out of the gate, then other guys got banged up and we just weren't getting there [to the quarterback] like we were the year before or even earlier in the year."
Determined not to let that happen again, Giants general manager Jerry Reese went out and added more defensive line depth, signing end Chris Canty (Cowboys) and pass-rushing tackle Rocky Bernard (Seahawks).
Neither Canty nor Bernard played Monday night. Both have been sidelined most of training camp with hamstring injuries. Neither did Robbins, who is recovering from microfracture surgery. But all three are expected to be ready to go when the Giants open the season againt Washington on Sept. 13.
With Umenyiora, Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka and Canty rotating outside and Cofield, Bernard, Robbins and Jay Alford rotating inside, the Giants will have one of the deepest - and best - defensive lines in the league.
Before getting hurt last year, Umenyiora had 33 1/2 sacks the previous three seasons. Tuck has 22 sacks the last 2 years. Kiwanuka had eight sacks last season. Robbins has 16 1/2 sacks the last 3 years. Bernard has 29 sacks in seven seasons. That's a lot of guys with experience at getting heat on the quarterback.
"We're going to definitely try to have the pass rushers rushing as much as we possibly can," said the Giants' new defensive coordinator, Bill Sheridan, who replaced Steve Spagnuolo, who left to take the Rams' head coaching job. "Because that is our strength, and we recognize that. And everybody knows that."
If everybody stays healthy, Sheridan likely will use an eight- or even nine-man rotation, much like the Eagles did last season under Jim Johnson.
"On paper, it looks great," said Umenyiora. "But everybody has to go out there and get it done. We still haven't all practiced together. Not one time yet in camp. I'm going to wait until everybody practices and plays good before I make an assessment."
Umenyiora appears to have made a complete recovery from his ACL tear. He said his explosiveness, hand placement and strength all are where they need to be. It looked it Monday night when he blew by Gross.
"I think I'm where I was at this point last year [before the injury]," he said.
Umenyiora's return is a big boost to the Giants' pass rush.
"He's a great talent," Tuck said. "The biggest reason we got worn down in the second half last year was because we didn't have that extra guy that he presents. It's fun having him back.
"He gives us that three-headed monster again like we had with me, Strahan and Osi during our Super Bowl run. Now it's me, Kiwi [Kiwanuka] and him. Hopefully we can continue to grow and lead this football team to another championship.''
If there is one matchup that could determine who wins the NFC East title this season, it's the Giants' defensive line vs. the Eagles' offensive line. Considering all of the injuries the Eagles have suffered up front this summer and the fact that their projected starting five probably won't get a chance to practice much, if at all, together before their Sept. 13 season-opener at Carolina, it's a good thing they don't have to deal with the Giants' pass rush for a while. The first meeting between the two teams isn't until Nov. 1, at the Linc. The Giants Stadium rematch is Dec. 13.
While Sheridan will rotate players up front, Tuck, who finished with 12 sacks last season, still will be on the field a lot. He'll line up at left end on first and second down and then slide inside to tackle in the Giants' nickel package.
"I don't want to come off the field," Tuck said with a smile. "I've already told [defensive line coach Mike] Waufle, he can be screaming 'Justin, Justin' all he wants. I'm going to turn my back."
Tuck admitted it's going to be a challenge for Sheridan and Waufle to keep everybody up front happy.
"I guess we're pushing the envelope," he said. "I mean, we've got nine, maybe even 10 or 11 who can play on this defensive line. We've got to find ways to get all these guys on the football field. The only thing we're asking from the people that occupy our defensive line is to be unselfish and try to work that rotation. Because we've got it on film that it really works. That was evident by what me, Osi and Strahan were able to do in '07."
Kiwanuka replaced Umenyiora last year at right end. Now, Kiwanuka, who is good enough to start for almost any other team in the league, is technically a backup, though he'll play almost as many snaps as Umenyiora.
"Our goal here is to win a championship," Kiwanuka said. "This is just going to help us get there. It's going to be a huge advantage [rotating so many players up front]. You're talking about [having] a fresh pass rush late in the game. You'll be going against a guy who's been in there for every snap usually. If you can put a guy out there who's got the talent and the ability and fresh legs on top of that, it's a great boost for your team."
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