EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — When the New York Giants look at defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul these days, they no longer see a freakish athlete who has the ability to show flashes of brilliance on the football field.
With a year under his belt, the first-round pick in 2010 is suddenly playing with a sense of confidence that makes coaches and teammates believe that he will be a major contributor this season.
The 22-year-old also is one of the people benefiting from the team’s contract dispute with veteran Osi Umenyiora. Pierre-Paul is getting the majority of reps with the first team while Umenyiora sits around and waits for a resolution to his situation.
“I am getting the chance to go out here and prove to the coaches what I can do,” Pierre-Paul said. “Like I said, it’s up to them what they want me to do, start or not. I am looking forward to it.”
Defensive line coach Robert Nunn gets a little smile on his face talking about Pierre-Paul, who had 31 tackles, 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two recoveries in 16 games last season
“There’s no question. This kid is talented,” Nunn said. “He’s a very unique player. I’ve been around the league 12 years and I have not coached one that he compares to. He’s kind of his own guy – how strong he is and how talented and how much range he has. We’ve got a long way to go to get the technique that he needs to have to reach that potential.”
I can’t say anything else about him. He’s always wanting to do what you ask him to. If he continues to do that, things are going to work out for him.”
What most people don’t realize is that the 6-foot-5 Pierre-Paul has been playing football for roughly six years. He didn’t start playing until his senior year in high school when a leg injury hurt his basketball career. He played a couple of seasons at community colleges and two years at South Florida before turning pro.
Fellow defensive end Justin Tuck was quick to agree Pierre-Paul is a raw talent, but one is showing a lot more confidence this season.
“You get the feeling that he knows what he is doing,” Tuck said Wednesday. “He is more confident having that year under his belt. It seems he has a swagger about himself on the football field, knowing what is expected of him and going about doing it.”
Veteran offensive lineman David Diehl can see Pierre-Paul using his technique more just his athleticism.
“You can see him starting to have backup plans,” Diehl said. “When you come in as a rookie there is so much stuff thrown at you. Now you are starting the see the technique coming through, the games, and being able to do different moves. As a rookie you are so focused on your job. This is exciting to see.”
Pierre-Paul also has become more instinctive on the field.
“I am playing faster. I know all the plays. I know the play calling,” he said. “Everything is faster now. I am even helping out the rookies this year and telling them what to do. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a little twitchy in some areas but if I do (need help) I’ll go to Tuck, or Osi or (Mathias) Kiwanuka and they tell me what to do.”
Pierre-Paul has been playing mostly on the right side of the Giants’ defensive line, but he says he can play either side. He adds he still has a lot to learn, with an emphasis on a lot.
“I am not even at the stage where I feel like I am on point and ready for everything,” Pierre-Paul said. “I am still hesitating a bit.”
The one area Pierre-Paul wants to improve is his play against the run, noting anyone can rush the quarterback. There aren’t many who can get sacks and stop the run.
The 270-pound Pierre-Paul wants to bulk up and become one of those players.
“You’ve got to give it all you got,” he said. “You don’t allow yourself to be pushed. You push them. That’s it.”
NOTES: A day after talking to the Giants about staying, receiver Steve Smith became the latest free agent to sign with the Eagles. Smith had 107 catches two years ago and 48 last year before a major knee injury sidelined him for the final three games of the season. …PK Lawrence Tynes was 5-for-5 on field goal attempts. …WR Devin Thomas (pinky), DT Marvin Austin (hip flexor) and OT James Brewer (bruised leg) returned to practice. Missing practice were Umenyiora (knee), TE Travis Beckum (hamstring), LB Clint Sintim (knee), C Jim Cordle (knee), WR Sam Giguere (groin), CB Joe Burnett (hamstring), S Brian Jackson (back).