- Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPN Staff Writer
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When Jerry Reese selected Jason Pierre-Paul with the 15th overall pick in April's NFL draft, the New York Giants' general manager drew some criticism for not taking a middle linebacker and instead opting for a project at a position at which the team was already well-stocked.
When the Giants used five of their seven draft picks on defensive players and took just one offensive lineman, some wondered whether Reese should have upgraded the offensive line more.
Now into early December, Pierre-Paul looks like a future star and a deep offensive line has kept Eli Manning sack-free despite injuries to three starters.
Injuries have decimated the Giants, but Tom Coughlin's team is still fighting for the NFC East crown and a playoff spot. And the Giants can thank Reese, who seemingly has made all the right moves this season.
Starting with his selection of Pierre-Paul to his steadfast insistence on sticking with the linebackers and offensive linemen he already had on the roster to his signings of safeties Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant, Reese has provided Coughlin's staff with enough pieces to win each week no matter who limps out with an injury.
Depth was a major reason the Giants collapsed last season and finished 8-8. This season, depth is a major reason the Giants are 8-4 and still in the playoff discussion.
"It is just the way it happens sometimes," Reese said Sunday after the Giants dismantled the Redskins 31-7. "You expect it to happen every year; you think you find the right guys to stand in a gap and help you out. Sometimes it doesn't happen that way. It didn't happen last year. And that is disappointing that we couldn't find the right guys to help us out."
Reese drafted with defensive depth in mind, selecting Pierre-Paul, defensive tackle Linval Joseph, safety Chad Jones and linebacker Phillip Dillard with his first four picks. Pierre-Paul was the riskiest pick, considering he had only one season of major college football under his belt. He was the very definition of project, loaded with immense raw potential.
The Giants could have taken a middle linebacker to replace Antonio Pierce. Instead, Reese went with Pierre-Paul, who is getting better as the season progresses. He has four sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in the past two games.
Pierre-Paul is starting to shine with more playing time after Mathias Kiwanuka was lost for the season with a herniated disk in his neck.
As for the linebackers, Jonathan Goff, Michael Boley and Keith Bulluck -- who was signed by Reese just before the start of training camp -- have done the job. The defensive line has been the strength of the defense when things are going well. Reese stuck with Osi Umenyiora through all the offseason drama, and the defensive end has responded with nine sacks and eight forced fumbles.
Reese was banking that his two big signings from a year ago, defensive tackles Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard, would contribute this season, and they have. A healthy Justin Tuck also has been terrific and has stepped up as a team leader.
And Reese's trio of safeties -- Kenny Phillips, Rolle and Grant -- have been a major weapon in defensive coordinator Perry Fewell's arsenal.
But Reese's best work might be found on the offensive side of the ball, where injuries have crushed Manning's protection and wide receivers.
Reese signed Shawn Andrews near the end of camp to bolster the offensive line, and the former Pro Bowl guard made three starts at left tackle due to injuries before his surgically repaired back flared up. Andrews joined David Diehl, Shaun O'Hara and Adam Koets as offensive linemen who started this season before going down with injuries.
With so many key components out, the Giants' offensive line has still somehow thrived. Not only has it not given up a sack the past two games, but Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw have rushed for a combined 336 yards with William Beatty and Kevin Boothe starting on the left side. A month ago, both Beatty and Boothe weren't even active, as Beatty was recovering from foot surgery after the first game and Boothe was coming off the physically unable to perform list with a pectoral injury.
Reese credited offensive line coach Pat Flaherty with the line's steady play.
"I can't remember how many combinations he has had," Reese said of the Giants using five starting offensive line combinations. "That is the reason we didn't put [Beatty] on IR. Where are you going to find a left tackle in November? You are not going to find one."
And when Reese needed to find wide receivers in November after Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden were injured, the general manager unearthed former Buccaneer Michael Clayton, signed Derek Hagan off his couch in California and claimed Devin Thomas off waivers from Carolina.
Thomas had two big special teams tackles and blocked a punt against the Redskins, who drafted him in the second round in 2008.
"We just got lucky," Reese said of Thomas, whom the Giants were eying in that draft as well. "Carolina had some injuries I think at safety, and he was the last guy there. We were just fortunate that he popped up on the wire and we pounced on it."
After losing two straight a few weeks ago, the Giants needed to stay afloat with so many injuries. They've done just that, and now reinforcements appear to be on the way.
Diehl says he is playing this week against Minnesota. Smith is nearing a return, Andrews' back is improving and Nicks will run this week.
However, that won't stop Reese from looking for the next healthy body to add to the Giants' roster and what could be a postseason run.
"The guys on our back end of our roster, they are always looking over their shoulder all the time," Reese said. "Because they know we are always trying to improve our roster whenever we can."