Giants’ raw DE Jason Pierre-Paul overwhelming opposition with freakish talent

INDIANAPOLIS – In the array of awe-inspiring things Jason Pierre-Paul has done in his brief NFL career, it is what he doesn’t know that still wows his New York Giants teammates and coaches.

Because when he learns it all, there’s no telling what the NFL might see.

Pierre-Paul, the 6-foot-5, 275-pound, back-flipping defensive end who has gone from Boston Market to New England nightmare, still has these moments where the Giants realize how new he is to the game.

Giants defensive lineman Jason Pierre-Paul had 16.5 sacks in the 2011 regular season.
(US Presswire)

“We were talking one time and I told him to ‘spill the guard,’ ” Giants defensive line coach Robert Nunn said, referring to a common term for how defensive ends are supposed to take out pulling guards on cutback running plays. “He looked at me like I was talking in a foreign language. He had no idea. All the guys are like, ‘Yeah, spill the guard, don’t you know that?’ He had no idea and that’s because he’s still so new to the game.”

New, inexperienced, raw and, at the same time, spectacular.

In his second year in the NFL and seventh year of organized football since being dragged to the field by the Deerfield Beach High coaches, Pierre-Paul has quickly become one of the league’s elite defensive players. He finished the season with 16 ½ sacks, including a safety, two forced fumbles and six passes defensed.

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He has done it almost completely on athletic ability, a truly rare concept in a league filled with great players. In some ways, Pierre-Paul is like a second-coming of Bruce Smith, a big man with unparalleled physical gifts.

To put it another way, when fellow defensive lineman Justin Tuck was asked when Pierre-Paul figured it all out, Tuck responded: “He hasn’t … that’s the scary part.”

Pierre-Paul, who made the NFC Pro Bowl team, is the latest in a serious of freakishly gifted athletes who show up every five or six years in the NFL. In a league of fantastically gifted people, Pierre-Paul is at the extreme, an outlier of seemingly limitless potential.

Or as New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick put it, he’s the kind of player who makes you go “Wow” on a regular basis.

“Probably about five times a game he has plays like that,” said Belichick, whose Patriots face the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI on Sunday. “He comes out of nowhere and makes a tackle. Or jumps 10 feet in the air and bats down a ball. Or makes an athletic move at the line of scrimmage while keeping his balance. He’s a rare athlete.”

Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis agreed.

“We studied him a lot coming out [in the 2010 NFL draft] and the comparisons of what he could become were pretty significant,” Lewis said. “You’re talking about the explosiveness of guys like Jason Taylor, Jevon Kearse, Jared Allen and Julius Peppers.”

OK, but Taylor and Kearse were guys who did their best work while weighing only about 240 pounds. That’s a far cry from Pierre-Paul’s size.

“You’re right, Peppers is the only one who’s really like him,” Lewis said.

To say he is gifted is an understatement of monumental proportion. Pierre-Paul has been videotaped doing 13 consecutive backflips while in college when he took a dare from University of South Florida teammate Kion Wilson, who got to six before collapsing in exhaustion. The clip has been viewed nearly 900,000 times.

“You have no idea of the strength it takes to do that and to do that when you’re 6-5 and 280 pounds,” former NFL running back and Yahoo! Sports analyst Eddie George said.

To this day, Pierre-Paul will do backflips just for fun.

“It was in the [bye] week and we were just standing around in a circle talking and out of the corner of my eye I notice some movement and it’s JPP doing a backflip,” Nunn said, a little wide-eyed at the memory. “I’m like, ‘Jason, you don’t need to be doing that anymore.’ ”

Entering the draft in 2010, Jason Pierre-Paul, pictured finishing off Aaron Rodgers in a playoff game last month, became a YouTube sensation for his gymnastic skills.
(Getty Images)

Another time, as the players walked off the field after practice, Tuck heard a “thunk.” Looking back, he didn’t see what happened. He heard it again and looked back fast enough to see Pierre-Paul finishing a second backflip …

In full pads.

“A 280-pound man doing that in full pads,” said Tuck, who is not one for hyperbole but was nonetheless incredulous. “Yeah, I used to be able to do a backflip. Not anymore and never in pads. … I said, ‘JPP, enough with that.’ We don’t need him landing on his head.”

Rather, the Giants need to put more information in Pierre-Paul’s head.

Pierre-Paul’s path to this point has been complicated and tinged with challenge. His parents, who are Haitian natives, didn’t know anything about football and didn’t want their son to play. He had to hide the fact he was playing for the high school team from them.

He also had to balance responsibilities at home with trying to play. Pierre-Paul’s father was blind, so the son had to work constantly to help support his family. That included the job at Boston Market.

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A job that almost put an end to football.

“I had a job to take care of my parents – to take care of some bills at the house – because my daddy wasn’t working,” Pierre-Paul said. “I had to figure out how to make that all work at one time. “I was working at Boston Market. … I went into work and thought I was going to get fired. So I told my coach, ‘I can’t play football because I have to make money to help my mom.’ ”

Pierre-Paul’s manager was accommodating, making adjustments to the schedule so that the student-athlete could work shifts following practice. However, Pierre-Paul’s days were long as he routinely worked until midnight.

That’s the kind of life that would make people do backflips to escape. These days, the only thing the Giants do is measure how much to teach him at one time versus just letting him do whatever works.

“There are things he does on a football field that you can’t possibly describe, particularly for a man his size,” Nunn said. “You can’t teach it and when he does it, you just leave it alone. It’s like when he gets caught up with a guard who is a little shorter than him and can get under his pads.”

Instinctively, Pierre-Paul has the ability to sink his hips, lowering his body and finding a way to escape the clutches of the blocker.

“He’s like a cat that way, always landing on his feet,” Nunn said. “At the same time, you want to tell him things about how to avoid this or that. Sometimes I tell him something and sometimes I say to myself, that can wait for later. You just wait to see in a couple of years, after he gets all of this, what he’s going to be. It could be really special.”

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Jason Cole is a national NFL writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Wednesday, Feb 1, 2012