Commentary

Pierre-Paul's progress gets accelerated

With Mathias Kiwanuka out for the year, Giants rookie to assume expanded role on D

Updated: November 3, 2010, 10:35 AM ET
By Ohm Youngmisuk | ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- During his bye week, Jason Pierre-Paul attended a family reunion in Tallahassee.

He enjoyed being around friends, family and the warm Florida weather. When he finally headed back to chilly New Jersey, Pierre-Paul boarded his flight still wearing shorts.

"Then the captain announced it is going to be 50 degrees," Pierre-Paul said, practically shaking his head.

Consider it a rookie mistake. Pierre-Paul still has a lot to learn in his first year in the NFL but he is adjusting and will have the opportunity to play a significant role in the Giants' defense as the second half of the season approaches.

With Mathias Kiwanuka out for the year with a bulging disk in his neck, Pierre-Paul will see his workload increase on defense. So far, Pierre-Paul has seen some action on defense but mostly has made his presence felt on special teams. Head coach Tom Coughlin has repeatedly praised the 6-foot-5, 270-pound defensive end for often drawing double coverage on special teams.

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
AP Photo/Michael ConroyJason Pierre-Paul will get a crash course in defense now that Mathias Kiwanuka will miss the remainder of the season.

"He's getting better all the time," Coughlin said. "He made some good progress last week. He did rush the passer and you saw the big arms in his attempt to get to the quarterback. Although the Dallas game was not his best special teams game, it was probably one of his better games at defensive end."

When the Giants selected Pierre-Paul 15th in the 2010 NFL draft, general manager Jerry Reese took some heat for taking yet another defensive end and passing on a middle linebacker. With Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Kiwanuka and Dave Tollefson already at defensive end, the Giants were loaded.

Also, Pierre-Paul was considerably raw after playing just one season of major college football at South Florida before turning pro after his junior year. He played at College of the Canyons in California and Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College, and had only one full season of high school football prior to that. He was the very definition of a project. He was a luxury when the Giants needed a linebacker to replace Antonio Pierce.

Pierre-Paul, though, has proven to be the right pick. In Perry Fewell's defense, Pierre-Paul is a nice chess piece that can be moved around from defensive tackle to defensive end. The rookie, who oozes athleticism, also sometimes stands up and rushes from the linebacker position. So far he has nine tackles and no sacks this season but he has come close to getting to a quarterback on a few occasions.

With Kiwanuka gone for the season, Pierre-Paul has a chance to make a greater impact in his first season. The confident rookie says he can do what the versatile Kiwanuka did, which was play both defensive end and linebacker.

"Now that Kiwi is out, that is more pressure on me," Pierre-Paul said. "But I am going to do good. No problem."

Coughlin doesn't want to lessen Pierre-Paul's load on special teams. But the rookie is surely going to see more snaps on defense. He said he saw about 30 snaps on defense last week against Dallas.

"We want to get him more involved and he will become more involved," Fewell said. "It just depends on how much more he can handle and execute. He's making a significant contribution on special teams. That's a lot for a young man that's a rookie that's coming in and doing that and then we're asking him to do things other than just put his hand in the dirt and rush the passer. So the more he can take on and execute, the more we'll give him. It's up to him."

Like a rookie quarterback, Pierre-Paul has learned a great deal watching starters like Tuck and Umenyiora play from the sideline instead of being thrown into the mix from the start.

"Now I am actually focused," Pierre-Paul said of how comfortable he feels now as opposed to the start of the season. "The game was fast when I got here but it kind of slowed down."

What hasn't slowed down is how much he says he gets fined from teammates as part of his rookie hazing. Life as a first-round pick can be expensive.

Pierre-Paul said veterans will fine him for everything from "talking ridiculous" to his eyes getting heavy in meetings to missing a call during games.

"That fine thing is ridiculous," the rookie said with a smile. "I don't know where it goes. They try to get me. I tell them I'm broke. I can't do it. It's cool. They are just having fun."

Pierre-Paul certainly has money to spare after signing a five-year deal worth $20 million with more than $11 million guaranteed.

With Kiwanuka out, Pierre-Paul can start to prove that he is worth every penny.

HAPPY RETURN

When Will Blackmon agreed to an injury settlement with the Green Bay Packers in September, the punt returner was hoping to be reunited with an old college roommate and good friend.

[+] EnlargeWill Blackmon
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireFormer Green Bay Packer Will Blackmon takes Kiwanuka's spot on Big Blue's roster.

Blackmon and Kiwanuka were roommates at Boston College. So when the Giants worked Blackmon out last week, he and Kiwanuka went to dinner Wednesday night.

The next day, Kiwanuka was placed on injured reserve with a herniated disk in his neck and Blackmon was signed to take his roster spot to spark the Giants' struggling special teams.

Blackmon said he had no idea he was going to replace Kiwanuka on the roster. But he is thrilled to start anew with the Giants after five seasons with the Packers.

"He and I are really close," Blackmon said. "He came to my wedding. I was excited to come here and play with him. Little did I know I was the one replacing him. I don't know if he knew. I didn't know."

The Giants had their eyes on Blackmon ever since he parted ways with the Packers on Sept. 5. Blackmon just wanted to wait until his surgically repaired knee was healthy enough for him to contribute. He tore his ACL on Oct. 5 last season and now feels he is back to his old form more than a year later.

"I had a huge setback in terms of why I got released," said Blackmon, who averaged 21.1 yards on kickoffs and 11 yards on punt returns with three touchdowns as a Packer. "I didn't reinjure anything but I lost a lot of strength in my quad. My knee did most of my running so I had some flare-ups and episodes but ever since I started training [in southern California], I hadn't had any swelling, no pain, not anything. That is why I was able to come out here."

Blackmon will likely replace Darius Reynaud, who has averaged 18.4 yards per kick return and 5.9 yards per punt return this season. Blackmon fielded punts in practice on Monday.

Ohm Youngmisuk covers the Giants for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.
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