EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Jason Pierre-Paul dropped into coverage during Saturday’s full-padded practice and a gift awaited.
The ball had come free from New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning‘s hand, squirting into the flat where Pierre-Paul stood alone. He scooped the ball and raced toward the end zone.
The impressive part wasn’t that Pierre-Paul scored. It was that he corralled the ball in one clean swoop, without missing a beat, despite playing with a deformed right hand that is now covered simply by a glove. Pierre-Paul played last season with a club on the right hand.
“What do you think?” Pierre-Paul said when asked how the hand was holding up under full contact. “I’m out there running and banging people.”
Pierre-Paul insists there has been no special maintenance at training camp this summer. He has been unaffected by the contact, which included four practices in the past five days with pads.
“My hand feels like my left hand,” Pierre-Paul said, “just missing a couple fingers.”
Pierre-Paul had his right index finger amputated following a Fourth of July weekend fireworks accident last summer. He also lost parts of at least two other fingers, and needed another surgery as recently as earlier this year.
It affected his play last season. Pierre-Paul admittedly had trouble grabbing and tackling with the club, but he has been steadfast it won’t be a problem this year.
Pierre-Paul had one sack in eight games last year. The Giants are expecting significant improvement.
“Jason looks like a beast out here. His motor is running hot,” general manager Jerry Reese said last week. “You are talking about a guy that looks like he is on a mission. He looks like he is on a mission to me. Actually, I was talking to coach [Ben] McAdoo [last Saturday] and he was like, ‘Man, I have to tone Jason down a little bit because he is going so hard out there.’
“He is a man on a mission and he looks like the old JPP.”
Pierre-Paul, 27, will be used differently this season. With the natural limitations of his hand and the offseason signing of defensive end Olivier Vernon, Pierre-Paul has been playing almost exclusively on the left side. He lined up primarily as a right defensive end in recent years.
Defensive line coach Patrick Graham insists he doesn’t look at Pierre-Paul any differently despite his hand.
“I just know he’s out there being effective as a football player, as a defensive end, and working around different situations,” Graham said. “So he’s doing a good job for me.”
Still, Pierre-Paul is not happy with where he is at this point of camp. He believes more improvement is on the horizon.
“I’m getting there,” Pierre-Paul said. “Still trying to rush the passer, play the run, read my blocks right, communicate with [defensive tackles Johnathan Hankins and Damon Harrison], whoever is lining up with me. … That is basically what training camp is all about. I’m just doing OK.”