Waufle, Tuck excited about ever-improving Giants defense
Justin Tuck has the power. He makes the New York Giants’ defense as lethal as ever, and keeps Mike Waufle a very happy man.
Tuck and Waufle took time recently to talk about the upcoming season, which unofficially got under way this past week with the beginning of offseason workouts.
“It’s the same every year, you’re just happy to be back at the stadium and working with the guys,”?Tuck said. “I don’t know if you necessarily miss all the football, but you like to see the guys. The offseason went pretty quickly, but I’m excited about it.”
Despite starting 11-1 and ending up with the best record in the NFC, the Giants’ season ended prematurely, with a 23-11 home loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the divisional round of the playoffs, one year after a surprising Super Bowl XLII title.
However, the Giants’ defense still resembled what made it successful the year before — relentless rushing of the quarterback.
Waufle, a Hornell native, is entering his sixth season as the Giants’ defensive line coach and Tuck had 10 sacks in 2007 as a backup, then started at defensive end following the retirement of Michael Strahan and got to the quarterback 12 times, earning a Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection.
“Justin had been playing as a reserve, but he has an awful lot of experience because he backed up Osi Umenyiora and Michael Strahan and played both end positions and played some inside at defensive tackle,”?Waufle said. “He’s been doing that ever since he came to the Giants, so I’ve always considered him a starter.”
Tuck also said as a youngster he earned an unsual nickname — “He-Man.”
“It came about because I loved watching the cartoon and I would basically just run through the yard saying, ‘I?have the power,’ and it kind of caught on,”?Tuck said.
After leading the?NFL?with 52 sacks in 2007, the Giants slipped to 42 in 2008 — sixth in the NFL — but lost Osi Umenyiora, who led the team in that department the year before with 13.
“Obviously, we’re both pretty good at what we do,”?Tuck said. “He’s been to multiple Pro Bowls, so he’s going to be a threat on that side and now it frees up everybody else.”
Bringing back a hopefully healthy Umenyiora and the addition of former Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Chris Canty through free agency, shows the Giants are looking to make their biggest strength all the more formidable in 2009.
“I think the biggest thing for us is, it adds depth,”?Tuck said. “It’s going to give us an opportunity to be rested more.”
Mathias Kiwanuka has moved from defensive end to linebacker and back to defensive line since being drafted in 2006, but Waufle expects him to finally settle in as a member of the Giants’ deep line.
“That’s where he’s at home and he loves playing there and wants to be in our unit and our meeting rooms,”?Waufle said. “He’s going to play a lot. He’s just like a starter for me. We’re just fortunate we have a lot of good players that can be starters and I will say that all the time.”
The Giants also added linebacker Michael Boley from the Atlanta Falcons and defensive tackle Rocky Bernard to go along with Canty within the first three days of the free agency period.
“That was a great weekend,”?Waufle said. “Right now, I don’t think I’ll even get a draft choice because we’ve got so many guys on the D-line.
“It’s going to make us a lot stronger,”?added Waufle. “They just replaced Renaldo Wynn and Jerome McDougle. These guys are a little bit younger and a little more healthy.”
Another big change for the Giants’ defense is the loss of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who took over the head coaching position with the St. Louis Rams, and linebackers coach Bill Sheridan moving up to take his place.
“I?had an opportunity to be with Bill for the last four years with the Giants and I was with him when he was with Notre Dame, too, so we’ll be able to play well and he’s a good football mind,”?Tuck said.
Waufle, thought to be one of the favorites to land the defensive coordinator position, is more than happy to stay where he is for now.
“I?wasn’t interested in it,”?Waufle said of the temporarily vacant defensive coordinator position for the Giants. “I didn’t go for it. Some people thought that I did. I love the defensive line. I can’t pull myself away from that position. It’s going to be good for us because it’s going to be a lot of the same defense.”
While Waufle has not ruled out the desire to one day be a head coach, the 54-year-old coach just loves being in charge of the defensive line.
“You know, I can retire in five years,”?Waufle said. “I would much rather be a head coach than a coordinator because coordinators are like being in PlayStation.
“It’s in the back of my mind (being a head coach), but right now, it’s the defensive line and I?really enjoy what I’m doing and that’s why I’m doing what I do.”
Tuck played at Notre Dame, which has gone only 10-15 the last two seasons under head coach Charlie Weis, but he sees the light at the end of the tunnel.
“We had a rough year this year and last year, but the played a lot of freshmen and now we’ve got more veteran guys on the team,”?Tuck said.
A couple of experiences late in the 2007 season had to do with bad weather, as the Giants visited Orchard Park to play the Bills two days before Christmas, winning 38-21 in a driving rain and snow storm, then about a month later in a deep freeze at Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC?Championship game, which they won, 23-20, in overtime.
“I’ll probably say Green Bay (was worse) because it was so cold,”?Tuck said. “At least we had some sunshine in Buffalo ... for a little while.”
As for Waufle, he said he returns to the area often and visits the many relative he still has here. His wife, Kathy, is from Howard and her brother still lives there. Waufle spoke at an alumni banquet last summer and served as Grand Marshal of the 2008 St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Hornell.
Waufle also said he keeps up with the Hornell High School sports scene, especially the football team.
“When I get a chance, I’ll come in and speak to the team,”?Waufle said. “I know (head coach and athletic director)?Gene Mastin well.”