Veteran DE Michael Strahan has been rejuvenated this year by the enthusiasm of his younger teammates
The New York Giants' defense ranked 23rd in the NFL in sacks in 2006, tallying 32 on the season. In 2007, a revitalized New York pass rush led the league in that same category with 53, a full six sacks more than the next team on the list.
The reason for such a dramatic turnaround? If you ask defensive end Michael Strahan, the resident veteran and emotional leader on the Giants, it's simple.
"I reached into my bag of tricks and actually taught the other guys how to do it," Strahan said.
All joking aside, the always-smiling Strahan has brought a renewed energy to the Giants after an offseason in which he contemplated retiring, and his rejuvenated attitude seems to have spread to his fellow defensive linemen. The result is that the Giants have developed the most fearsome pass rush in the league.
The single-season sack record-holder and No. 5-ranked all-time sack-master is the voice and the spirit of not only the Giants' defensive line but arguably the entire team. After a disappointing 2006 season in which injuries limited him to only nine games and a sack total (three) that was the lowest since his rookie season in 1993, Strahan has returned with a vengeance. This year, he fell just one shy of posting his seventh career double-digit sack season.
Strahan's nine sacks actually place him third on the Giants behind Osi Umenyiora (13) and Justin Tuck (10), but Strahan isn't upset over that fact. In fact, he credits the group's unity and competitiveness as the main reason they've been so successful in 2007.
"I think that last year, I was injured, Osi was injured a lot, Tuck was injured, so we had guys that really felt like they had a lot to prove coming back this year," Strahan said. "Guys worked extremely hard in the offseason and we just challenge each other. One guy gets a sack, and everybody is happy for them, but we're upset because we're not the one that made the play and we want to make another play bigger than theirs. It keeps us all very hungry, it keeps us all very aggressive, and we don't want the quarterback to get too comfortable."
You might expect Strahan, as a 15-year veteran, to be the outspoken leader driving the younger linemen to excel on the practice field and each Sunday. Actually, he says, it's been the other way around – the younger players have instilled a new energy in the 36-year-old.
"I think it's just [being around] everybody," said Strahan. "I love Osi; Osi's like my little brother…but it's just being around everybody," Strahan said. "I think we have a great defensive line, period. All the guys we have in the D-line room and as a team as a whole, motivate me and make me feel good. I try to run around, and heck, I probably run around more and give them more energy than most people would probably expect, because I enjoy it and I have fun.
"To me, football is definitely a business, but at this point in my career, I have to enjoy every day to even get out there. Ultimately we're all learning a little something from each other in that regard, but those guys definitely give me energy to come out and play and try to play my best and never disappoint them."
Interesting, that a certain Hall of Famer would be trying not to disappoint his younger teammates, but Strahan is not the type to relish some sort of overbearing leadership role. In fact, he spread the credit around even more when asked what the reason was behind the defensive line's improved play.
"It's been a few years [of learning] for most of the guys like Tuck, Osi and all those guys, [so] now we basically just get out there and play," Strahan said. "During practice, we'll talk about certain things and watch film and discuss certain things, but all of us really know all the different moves, all the different things that we're good at, what to use in the game. I think our coach, Mike Wauffle, has done a great job of individually helping each guy realize what they probably will be best at and how to be successful with it, and how to practice it. We just don't get out there to be passive; he makes us work hard at it. Mike Wauffle has done a great job, and I can't take much credit for that. He's done a great job with us."
It remains to be seen if this will be Strahan's last go-round, but one thing is for sure – he'd love to cap off an amazing career with an extended playoff run, and perhaps even the first Super Bowl title of his career. It all starts with a first-round matchup against the Bucs.