EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Comparisons to Jevon Kearse, nicknamed “The Freak,” were frequent when the New York Giants drafted Jason Pierre-Paul last year.
Now, the second-year defensive end is playing a lot like Kearse, and he’s doing it off his natural ability more than anything.
Pierre-Paul has 12 1/2 sacks among his 61 tackles, and comes off his most impactful performance. He was so dangerous against Dallas last Sunday night that the Cowboys took to double-teaming him on nearly every play, yet Pierre-Paul had eight tackles, a forced fumble, two sacks — one for a safety — and, for good measure, blocked a final-seconds field goal that could have tied the game.
“He is just such a great athlete,” fellow defensive lineman Dave Tollefson said Wednesday. “He runs well, he is strong and he does all these things better than what he thinks he does. He plays hard, which is a big part of it. He is willing to do some things that some other guys are not, as far as going down to D-tackle, whatever you need him to do, he is willing to do it.”
And he’s doing it so well that such established Giants as Jason Tuck and Osi Umenyiora no longer are the focal points of opposing teams. Now, it’s get JPP blocked or you’re in deep trouble.
His role is even more important because New York (7-6) has struggled in the secondary, leaving opposing receivers so wide open it seems they must be invisible to the defenders. That makes a strong pass rush essential, and Pierre-Paul has spearheaded it.
“He’s a very talented guy,” coach Tom Coughlin said. “He loves what he’s doing. He loves playing. You’re very, very happy to see the advancement and there’s a lot more football to be played.
“He sure brings energy. He brings all of those things: He brings positiveness, he brings solid, solid play. He brings an attitude. He loves the game.”
Even if he doesn’t entirely understand the game yet.
Pierre-Paul came late to football and played only one season of major college ball, at South Florida, after attending junior college. He barely watched games while growing up, leaving the room when his brother turned on NFL telecasts. Nor has he studied NFL history: Pierre-Paul knows the name Lawrence Taylor, but few details of the Hall of Fame linebacker’s career with the Giants.
Pierre-Paul might begin studying up on Taylor if he keeps making headlines.
He’s not completely raw, though, and he’s certainly come a long way from when the only valid parallels with former All-Pro DE Kearse were the innate skills.
“It comes from the heart,” Pierre-Paul said. “If I do something, I do it full speed.
“This year, I know all the calls and I’m not thinking as much. Last year, it was on and off, I was a little slow on that, so they allowed me to play slower. My pass rush is better, run defense is better. Everything is coming to mind quicker.
“You know, in high school and junior college and college and all, I learned more and more. This is my second year here and I am getting it.”
He’s getting it well enough that on Dan Bailey’s 47-yard field goal attempt to tie the game for Dallas, Pierre-Paul made an adjustment. Coughlin called a timeout to ice Bailey, and at that point Pierre-Paul decided to rush through a different gap. He got his hand on the kick, and the Giants were division leaders.
“He is an explosive kid. He’s tough,” defensive tackle Rocky Bernard said. “You don’t see many guys with his body, strength and quickness. He has it all, man.
“I don’t know if he realizes how good he is yet. When he does realize it, hmmmmm. Pheww.”
One thing Pierre-Paul does recognize is how far he still has to go — even if he has a shot at going to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl after the season.
“I haven’t arrived yet,” he said. “I’m learning and taking baby steps. When I am at my potential, I’ll see where I am.
“The sky is the limit.”