Defensive end Dave Tollefson’s offseason move from the Giants to the Oakland Raiders went practically unnoticed, but it actually created a significant opportunity for a handful of young defensive ends.
With the Giants continuously rotating their defensive lineman, Tollefson had a career-high five sacks in 2011 to go with two forced fumbles and one recovery.
Justin Trattou was his logical replacement coming into the season, but the second-year end hurt his ankle at the beginning of camp and was ultimately waived/injured. That gave former strongside linebacker Adrian Tracy a chance to become the team’s fourth defensive end behind Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, and he started strongly.
Tracy had a sack in the first preseason game but suffered a hamstring injury in the second preseason game and was unable to play in the third.
Despite the dwindling numbers at the position, however, there’s still reason for optimism. Undrafted rookie Matt Broha had a sack in each of the first two preseason games and followed that with a two-tackle performance against the Chicago Bears on Friday. Fellow undrafted free agent Adewale Ojomo has been equally effective, with a sack in each of the Giants’ three preseason games. Coach Tom Coughlin described both of them as "good-effort players" who have shown "flashes of talent."
“I’m just trying to make the best of my opportunities,” Broha told CBSSports.com. “They’re giving me a lot of shots. I’m just trying to make the best of it. There are some things I need to clean up, but for the most part I just try and do what they teach me and do it on the field.”
Broha registered 16.5 sacks over his final two seasons at Louisiana Tech, but since the WAC is a wide-open, pass-happy conference, NFL teams didn’t have a lot of tape of him against the run.
“I obviously can,” Broha said of defending the run. “I’ve showed it in the preseason. I feel good about it and I get better each week at it.”
Broha said he’s been fortunate enough to work with defensive line coach Robert Nunn, who helps him set goals each week; but there’s another added benefit of playing with the Giants, and that’s learning from the team’s elite pass rushers.
“Yeah, these are some real good guys, just watching them on film,” Ojomo said. “They give you little tips to pretty much have the edge on everybody else because this is one of the best defensive lines in the NFL.”
"You hear the banter go back and forth, and you can't help but want to be excited about maybe having a part of that, and he's done a nice job with it," Coughlin said of Ojomo learning pass-rush techniques from the veterans.
Ojomo said Tuck and Umenyiora have helped him refine his technique while teaching when and when not to be aggressive. It’s tough to say whether the added tutelage will help Broha, Ojomo and South Florida product Craig Marshall. The injuries at defensive tackle and cornerback could force the Giants to carry fewer defensive ends and that means all three could be a victim of the numbers game.
In spite of the odds, Broha said it’s been easy to focus on playing because he knows he’s giving other NFL teams a chance to see what he’s capable of.
“You can’t think about other people,” Broha said. “I mean you kind of have to think about yourself in that situation. You just try to make the best of the opportunities they give you and it’s a numbers game, but you’re being evaluated by all the other teams in the NFL so whatever film you put out there is going to be out there. I’m just trying to make the most of it.”
Broha, Ojomo, Marshall and possibly Tracy, if he can return, will see plenty of time when the Giants host the New England Patriots in their final preseason game on Wednesday.