EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Stepping into the room used by the New York Giants’ defensive linemen is like walking into a game.
Everything is a competition. Getting off the best joke. Hitting more baskets. Claiming bragging rights for most tackles and most sacks. And making the best plays in practice, preseason and, of course, games.
It never ends, and this is just competition among teammates.
Imagine when the defensive line of the Super Bowl champions goes against someone they want to really beat, like the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL season opener Wednesday night at MetLife Stadium.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo better be ready.
At least that’s the game plan for what might be the NFL’s best defensive line. It was the formula it used in a season closing six-game game winning streak where they played a major part in limiting opponents to an average of 14 points while recording 23 sacks.
It carried them to a second Super Bowl in five seasons and, with All-Pro Jason Pierre-Paul, who is coming off a 16 ½- sack season, and two-time Pro Bowlers Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora once again leading one of the league’s deepest lines, they believe they can make a run on a second straight title.
It’s not a popular opinion, and Tuck likes that.
"It’s very similar to what happened last year, if I recall," Tuck said. "There were some teams already fitting their fingers for rings before they even played a football game. It doesn’t look like people learned too much from last year. We relish having the opportunity to defend the title, and do it with people thinking that we can’t. We are looking forward to having a great season."
The secret to the line is a combination of talent and depth. Besides the big three, the group has three solid tackles in Linval Joseph, Rocky Bernard and Chris Canty, who will start the season on the physically unable to perform list. It also adds another pass rusher when linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka moves to an end in what defensive coordinator Perry Fewell calls his "NASCAR package" for passing situations.
The lineup is even deeper when rookie tackle Markus Kuhn and ends Adewale Ojomo, Craig Marshall and Matt Broha are added to the mix.
"What makes us go is we all push each other," Bernard said. "We have so much talent. You don’t have much time to show what you can do. You really have to go out and show what you can do, because we have this guy and this guy ready to come in and play."
Giants backup quarterback David Carr said the talent and depth reminds him of playing with the Houston Texans and going against the Tennessee Titans front that featured Albert Haynesworth, Jevon Kearse and Kyle Vanden Bosch.
"I think we have eight or nine guys who could start anywhere," Carr said. "It’s not something you get everywhere else."
The pressure never seems to go away, Carr said.
"You never get a play off. It’s never like I am just going to drop back and go through my reads," Carr said. "You always have someone at your feet, someone grabbing your arms. It can affect your read. You can call a play and you want to throw this route, but you don’t know if you’ll have time to do it. You end up taking what they give you, and that’s where you get three points."
The line is going to have changes with Canty, who started all 20 games last season, out for a while and defensive end Dave Tollefson lost to free agency.
Canty, who will not be eligible to return until at least the seventh game while he recuperates from knee surgery, has not seen a dropoff in the preseason.
"What I see is the guys are competing at a very high level," Canty said. "When you turn on the film, you watch the guys playing, it’s like watching the varsity defense against the JV offense of other teams. They’re dominant. They’re playing at a very high level. Coach talks about building a bridge from the 2011 season to the 2012 season. Guys have picked up right where they left off and it shows in their play."
TOM CANAVAN | AP Sports Writer