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Good thing the Giants still print names on the backs of uniforms.
Otherwise, how would anyone recognize who is rushing the passer?
Just as the Giants begin Sunday a late-season stretch against a multitude of dual-threat quarterbacks, they are turning to Jabaal Sheard, Trent Harris and rookies Carter Coughlin, Cam Brown and Niko Lalos at outside linebacker. None of those five played a defensive snap in Week 1: Sheard and Harris were free agents, Brown was inactive, Lalos was on the practice squad and Coughlin was on special teams.
“All the guys we have right here have given us a variety of weapons,” coach Joe Judge said. “We’ve been able to make some in-season pickups and Cam and Carter are really coming around. We’ve found different ways of using other parts of our personnel to complement and be used on the edge in different packages.”
Sheard, 31, went from watching Week 1 games on his couch with his children to a last-minute strip-sack to clinch victory last week against the Cincinnati Bengals. He is the only outside linebacker older than 25.
“I don’t feel old at all,” Sheard said. “I just feel like I’m spreading knowledge. I love the energy here. Everyone is hungry, looking for answers, asking questions. It’s been fun.”
The Giants began the season with Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines, Kyler Fackrell and Markus Golden as their top four edge rushers. It was an intriguing combination of two recent third-round picks coming into their own and two veterans signed to one-year contracts on a mission to prove past seasons with double-digit sacks were no fluke.
None of those four will be in uniform for at least the next three games because Carter (Achilles) and Ximines (shoulder) underwent season-ending surgeries, Fackrell (calf) is on injured reserve and Golden was traded.
Sheard has 52.5 career sacks and has seen almost everything. But this level of attrition?
“In my 10 years, I can’t quite say I have,” Sheard said, “but in football we know it’s always about the next man up and being ready for your opportunity.”
The Giants signed Harris to the practice squad on Oct. 14. Three days later, Harris was elevated to the active roster. Three days later, Sheard was signed off the Jacksonville Jaguars practice squad. Three days later, Golden was gone.
It’s a wonder defensive coordinator Patrick Graham and outside linebackers coach Bret Bielema kept names straight, let alone schemes.
“A group that’s really piecemealed a lot of different guys together to make the unit every week,” Bielema said.
Sixteen different players have a hand in the Giants’ 27 sacks — good enough to rank No. 11 in the league. The new top five at outside linebacker combine for 2.5, which is fewer than Fackrell’s three.
The Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson is the first of three quarterbacks in the Giants’ final five games who will make undisciplined pass-rushers dive at empty turf. Arizona’s Kyler Murray and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson follow.
“You have to play with great control and space, and be able to tackle these guys. That’s a lot easier said than done,” Judge said. “The biggest mistake you see is when Russell gets outside the pocket, people panic and they run forward trying to tackle him.
“All of a sudden, he has a free runner going down the field. He’s not going to miss an open man. You can’t blink. You can’t think any play is a play off. That doesn’t exist with these guys.”
The Giants could put a “spy” on Wilson.
“You try to teach disciplined pass rush,” Graham said. “What you’re looking for [in a spy] is somebody who can tackle, somebody that has the speed to stay with him. He has to have some savviness about him, too.”
Wilson has seen plenty of spies. He hasn’t seen most of the Giants’ edge rushers. Few have.
Remember, that’s Sheard in No. 91, not Justin Tuck.
“When I got here, that was the biggest pressure,” Sheard said. “You’re giving me this number — one of the greats that was here with the Giants. I’m honored to wear the number. I’m just going to make the best out of it. Rock out as a G-man.”