Associated PressJun 15, 2016, 5:30 pm

Spagnuolo has put Giants defensive woes behind him

Free agent signings of defensive end Olivier Vernon and tackle Damon 'Snacks' Harrison have turned the line into a force again

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The days of Steve Spagnuolo searching for ways to get the New York Giants a pass rush are over.

The free agent signings of defensive end Olivier Vernon and tackle Damon 'Snacks' Harrison have turned the line into a force again, and that's not all "Spags" got in the offseason for the NFL's worst defense.

General manager Jerry Reese signed former Redskins linebacker Keenan Robinson and Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins, re-signed end Jason Pierre-Paul and drafted cornerback Eli Apple, safety Darian Thompson and linebacker B.J. Goodson in the first four rounds of the draft.

For a team that lost six games last season either late in the fourth quarter or in overtime, it's more than a quick fix.

It could be a return to old-time Giants' football, and Spagnuolo is excited. He also does not want to be reminded of last season, when the team went 6-10 for the second straight year, forcing coach Tom Coughlin out of a job.

"They are done," Spagnuolo said Wednesday when asked about the negatives of 2015. "We're going to be better because of players. We are going to be better because of better coaching, less mistakes. We are going to be better because it's the second year in the system.

"That's what we fully expect to do, everything that has and what we went through last year is over and done, we are moving on."

The line though is the key. It was the difference when Spagnuolo's defense stopped Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl in February 2008.

Brady was under pressure most of the game and paid the price.

Vernon, Pierre-Paul, Harrison and Johnathan Hankins have the ability to stop the run and pressure the quarterback, without gimmicks.

Offensive coaches can usually neutralize the top player on a line if he is the only good player.

"You got two, it's a little more challenging," Spagnuolo said.

There are still questions about Pierre-Paul about a year after a fireworks accident mangled his right hand. He showed he can get to the quarterback in the final eight games last season, but tackling them was another issue.

There is no doubt about Vernon, who had 7½ sacks for the Dolphins last season.

"All the offensive coaches said he was the toughest player to play against," Spagnuolo said. "That said it all. You put on the tape and he has a high motor. He makes a difference in the football game."

Veteran linebacker Mark Herzlich is already excited about this season, especially after missing the playoffs the past four years.

The draft and free agency has given the defense enough talent to make it good again. The offense also has a chance to improve if Victor Cruz and rookie receiver Sterling Shepherd take some of the pressure off Odell Beckham Jr. and offer Eli Manning more options.

"Last year I kept saying I can't wait to see Victor and Odell on the same field, and now there is Shepherd, too," Herzlich said. "There is some firepower on offense and defense, so I am excited to see what happens when we get full pads on and go against some other teams."

Mike Sullivan, who took over as offensive coordinator when Ben McAdoo was promoted to head coach, is optimistic that the offense will produce with depth at the receiving group and a multi-headed running game that should benefit playing behind the same line.

The only question that remains is who will call the plays. McAdoo handled that job in Coughlin's last two seasons, but he has not decided whether to keep the job or hand the responsibility to Sullivan.

Both called plays over the past month at the organized team activities and this week's mandatory minicamp.

"We're still trying to get a sense of what is best for us," Sullivan said. "At the end of the day, we'll do what helps us win."

NOTES: Safety Nat Berhe, who missed last season with a calf injury, did not work at the minicamp Wednesday. Defensive tackle Jay Bromley also did not practice, although he walked on the field late in the workout.

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