New York Giants: Defensive Players Who Must Step Up in 2013

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COMMENTARY | After a dismal season defensively in 2012, the New York Giants need a collective effort to right the ship and make it back to the postseason.

New York's defense was atrocious last season, as Big Blue ranked 31st in total defense, highlighted by a No. 28 ranking in the league in pass defense. They weren't much better on the ground either, ranking 25th and surrendering more than 129 ground yards per game.

While an NFL defense certainly is a collective effort, these are three players who must step up for the G-Men in 2013.

Prince Amukamara

Despite spending two seasons in the NFL, cornerback Prince Amukamara is still quite raw, having played in a combined 20 games due to injuries in his first two years with the Giants.

Nonetheless, New York will look to the third-year corner as a key to its secondary during the 2013 season.

Corey Webster played terrible for Big Blue down the stretch last season while Terrell Thomas enters this season coming off of his third ACL surgery and not having played a full NFL season since 2010, which presents the Giants' 2011 first-round pick with an opportunity to step up for his defense.

According to ESPN, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell is pleased with Amukamara's work thus far in the offseason, applauding the CB for an improved skill set and boost of confidence. We've seen flashes of shutdown corner ability from the 24-year-old, but the Giants are hoping 2013 is the year that those dreams come to fruition.

At 6'0", Amukamara has to use his physicality to cover bigger NFL wide receivers, but if he stays healthy and continues to put in the necessary work, the future is bright for the former Nebraska Cornhusker.

Mark Herzlich

He's already beaten cancer and now he'll try to win the Giants' starting middle linebacker job.

With Michael Boley and Chase Blackburn out of the picture, third-year middle linebacker Mark Herzlich will have the opportunity to compete for the starting MLB job along with Dan Connor and Aaron Curry. According to the Giants' official website, Herzlich has been playing with the first-team defense during OTAs, which certainly bolsters his chances of landing the starting job.

Either way, whoever does win the job will be crucial to the success of the defense, as the middle linebacker is often the signal-caller and on-field coach of the D.

At this rate, I'd say Herzlich is the man for the Giants. He's been with the team for two full seasons and appeared in all 16 games for the Giants last season. Herzlich knows Fewell's system and was a standout defender at Boston College, where he was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2008.

Manning one of the most crucial positions on an NFL defense, Herzlich will be a huge key for New York if he wins the starting gig.

Justin Tuck

Will the real Justin Tuck please stand up?

Giants fans haven't seen the real Tuck since 2010, when he racked up 11.5 sacks, forced six fumbles and recorded 76 tackles, which was a career-high tackle mark for the defensive end.

There's no doubting that injuries have contributed to Tuck's lack of production the last two seasons, but nine sacks and one forced fumble the past two years isn't going to cut it for a Giants' defense that struggled to rush the passer and contain their opponents' running game in 2012.

At the age of 30, Tuck still has plenty left in the tank, but he needs a dominant 2013 campaign to prove doubters like CBS Sports' Pete Prisco wrong. In a recent column, Prisco named Tuck the Giants' most overrated player, which should give the eight-year veteran some extra motivation this season.

With Jason Pierre-Paul potentially missing the first game of the season due to back surgery and Osi Umenyiora leaving town for the Atlanta Falcons, Tuck's role becomes all the more important for this season.

Pete Schauer is a native of the Jersey Shore where he covers the New York Giants for Bleacher Report and writes for HoopsHabit and contributes to the YES Network. You can follow him on Twitter @Pete_Schauer.

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