Historically, the New York Giants are a team that prides itself on defense. The walls of Quest Diagnostics Training Center greet visitors with images of the most fearsome defenders in team history, exploits of Super Bowls past won by strong defensive performances.
To that end, the team’s new defensive mastermind, armed with a new scheme, is looking to be both a leader and an interior decorator, plastering the walls with new memories.
Defensive coordinator James Bettcher was introduced to the New York media on Wednesday, looking to restore the Giants’ defense to its former glory. From his opening statements, Bettcher’s respect and admiration for the organization was apparent, as he brings over his trademark 3-4 set that became notorious for its blitzing in his previous stop in Arizona.
“I get goose bumps standing here talking to you right now about having the chance to work for this franchise and this organization,” Bettcher said. “(We have the) best ownership in the National Football League, great general manager, a head coach that I have so much respect for and who is going to get us going in the right direction.”
Bettcher oversaw the Cardinals’ defense for the past three seasons. His units became notorious for the blitz, as they led the league in blitz percentage over that span.
The Giants witnessed his defensive prowess in the penultimate game of the 2017 season, when Bettcher’s Cardinals shutout the Giants in a 23-0 walloping that forced the Giants into three turnovers, one of which became a fumbled returned for a touchdown, and limited them to 12 first downs.
“The game is about playing hard, the game is about playing physical and the game is about playing smart,” Bettcher said.
“Those are things that our guys are going to do whether we’re bringing five, bringing six, bringing four, dropping eight, whatever we’re doing, whatever the field position is, down and distance, all that stuff. The thing our fans are going to see, you’re going to see a defense that is going to run around, play hard, play fast, play smart, play physical and that’s what playing defense is about.”
After a 2016 season that saw the defense bail out relative offensive ineptitude en route to a playoff berth, the Giants’ defense, despite some strong names, fell victim to last season’s 3-13 cesspool. Armed with his new scheme, Bettcher immediately committed to reestablishing the Giants’ fearsome defensive reputation.
To do so, Bettcher will demand accountability from all parties, including himself.
“It’s about what the players believe and what I mean by that is I can talk until I’m blue in the face about playing hard, playing fast, playing smart, playing physical,” he said.
“But in our room, the accountability our players hold to each other, that’s what will determine whether we play hard, whether we play smart or whether we play physical. That was something that was really exciting about coming here, is the core group of players we have here and guys that you’ve seen on tape running around, striking people, playing hard and playing smart.”
Though the long-tenured Jason Pierre-Paul departed in a trade, Bettcher still has the tools to work with, many of whom will adjust to the 3-4 scheme. Previously a force behind the production of defensive studs like Chandler Jones and Marcus Golden, Bettcher couldn’t contain his excitement when asked about the potential of working with Olivier Vernon as an outside linebacker.
“(I’ve had) guys that have had a ton of success, guys that have been double-digit sack guys in this system. (Vernon’s) versatility, his ability to rush from different angles, we’ve all seen him drop in space and flip his hips and do some of those things,” Bettcher said of Vernon’s prior success. “It’s things that you do as great change-ups, things that you do to allow you to attack offenses in different ways, and I think that’s how he’ll fit in.”
Despite the promise and potential of change his formation brings, Bettcher said that the success and talents of his returning stars doesn’t force a full-on overhaul in the defensive culture.
(Defensive tackle Damon Harrison) up front (is) a guy that can play off of blocks, can occupy space, can command double teams, can change, really the line scrimmage. He’s going to do those same kind of things in this scheme, that’s not going to change for him,” Bettcher said as an example.
He later explained his plans for All-Pro safety Landon Collins, teasing a versatile defender that would be just as likely to nab a sack as an interception.
“We had some guys in Arizona, Tyvon Branch and before Tyvon we had Tony Jefferson, who played strong safety for us who could play both high, could play down in the box, could cover tight ends, could blitz off the edge. That’s what I see with Landon, a guy who is very versatile in what he can do,” he explained
“You might see a snap where he’s down covering a tight end in the box, you might see a snap where he’s in the half field playing deep or in the middle of the field playing deep or you might see snaps where he’s blitzing off the edge.”
Bettcher also explained the importance of bringing in old friends from Arizona, namely lineback Kareem Martin and defensive lineman Josh Mauro, both of whom he described as players who “love to play football and they play it the right way.”
He also expressed excitement to coach incoming linebacker Alec Ogletree, whom the Cardinals saw twice a year in the NFC West.
“You watch his play and I’m not just talking about his ability to make tackles or run down things on the sideline, I’m talking about his play, his mindset, his physicality at which he plays the game, how hard and passionate he plays the game,” Bettcher said.
“Those were some of the first things that jumped off the charts for me when we had a chance to get him here. (I’m) certainly excited about him as a leader and a guy that is going to bring a ton of energy to our room.”
Bettcher concluded his first statements with praise for embattled cornerback Eli Apple, stressing the third-year defender’s versatility despite a brutal sophomore year that concluded with a suspension.
“Very talented player. I did him when he was coming out in the draft, really liked his skill set. He’s a guy who can play man, who can press, who can play zone defense in space, who can break on the ball and very excited next week to get him here and get to work and have a chance to work with these guys this offseason,” Bettcher said.
While Bettcher waxed on enthusiastically about getting to work in designing the Giants defense, he made it clear that this wasn’t going to be a one-man show.
“This isn’t going to be James Bettcher’s defense. This is going to be our players’ defense, this is going to be these assistant coaches’ defense, this is going to be our defense. As we sit through and go through putting it together as a staff, we’ve had some great conversations and great pieces have been added from other guys in the room, so that’s what I love about it: when you kind of start from scratch and that’s really what we’ve done.”