You know the names: Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka, Osi Umenyiora. Those are the three heavy hitters. Behind them are 2010 first round draft pick Jason Pierre-Paul as well as fifth year player Dave Tollefson.
Justin Tuck is pretty firmly entrenched in his starting spot. He has spent his 5 seasons racking up accolades and injuries. A first team All Pro and Pro Bowler, as well as a Pro Bowl alternate last season, Tuck is a force to be reckoned with. It figures to reason that his job is relatively safe. Also, in certain pass rushing situations Tuck can be moved inside to accommodate an extra DE coming in on the end.
Opposite Tuck is the real race here, and it boils down to two players: Kiwanuka vs. Umenyiora. Umenyiora is a 2 time Pro Bowler, an All-Pro selection once, and holds the record for most sacks in a game for the team. Kiwanuka can’t match that level of pedigree. But there’s something else Kiwanuka can’t match: controversy. It’s been well-documented- the battles with Spagnola, the threatening to retire if he didn’t start this season. On the flip side, Kiwanuka has been an admirable teammate, switching between linebacker and defensive end based on injuries and team needs. Early in camp it seems that Kiwanuka has the lead, and it’s very possible this could lead to clubhouse problems. Remember, when the Giants drafted Jason Pierre-Paul many viewed it as a sign they were tired with the tremendously talented but troubled Umenyiora.
That being said, with Tuck moving inside on select pass rushing downs, that could present all three being on the field at the same time, and you would be hard pressed to find three better pass rushers on the field at the same time. There’s also the possibility Tuck could move inside to make room not for Osi but for JPP to unleash his athleticism. Pierre-Paul might be the most interesting player in this group- old school scouts love his combine stats and physical gifts, new school scouts and number gurus project him as an immediate bust. The benefit for the Giants is that, more than any other position, there is tremendous depth at defensive end, so he can expect to only play in pass rushing situations at first, maximizing his strengths and allowing him to slowly grow into the NFL. In a few extreme circumstances during training camp, the Giants actually employed all four defensive ends to rush the passer. The thought of those four getting upfield with a full head of steam has to excite any Giants fan.
The favorites for the ends are Tuck and Kiwanuka, with Umenyiora rotating in consistently. Whether Umenyiora accepts this role remains to be seen, and his reluctance could force Pierre-Paul into immediate duty, something of a worst case scenario.