Pierre-Paul optimistic as fireworks anniversary nears
New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (90), and defensive tackles Melvin Lewis (76),and Greg Millhouse (64) listen to assistant defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina during practice at the New York Giants training facility Monday, June 6, 2016, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) It's been almost a year since Jason Pierre-Paul mangled his right hand in a July 4 fireworks accident. It seems even longer to him.
There were surgeries and rehab. He had to learn to play with a severely damaged hand and adjust to wearing a club during his eight-game season. He essentially had to return without having gone through training camp. He just wasn't the same player.
That part of his life is over, and Pierre-Paul acknowledged after an organized team activity Monday that he will never be the same on the field.
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That said, the two-time Pro Bowl defensive end of the New York Giants is looking forward to the 2016 season, one that he thinks will be a better one for him.
He has been training since the end of last season, lifting weights, running, exercising. A sleek new glove has replaced the club that looked like a boxing glove on his right hand, and there is a sense of optimism.
Pierre-Paul also has made a promise to himself. His Independence Day will be celebrated outside the United States, in a country where they won't be lighting any fireworks that day.
''I'm just leaving, man. I'm just living my life,'' Pierre-Paul said. ''Oh, I just have to go pop some more fireworks. Ha-ha, I'm just playing. I just wanted to get out of the country.''
The fireworks accident cost Pierre-Paul a long-term contract. He had been designated a franchise player by the Giants after the 2014 season, and he had hoped to get a big deal from New York before the mishap changed his life and cost him a half season worth of wages.
Pierre-Paul finished with 26 tackles and a sack. He was able to disrupt opposing offenses, but making tackles and getting sacks was hard without complete use of his right hand.
''Last year was just up and down for me,'' Pierre-Paul said. ''Like I said, I overcame it, I had to play with a club last year, but I knew I wasn't going to play with it this year. That is basically it. I am going to be making more tackles. For what I came back and did, that was awesome, that was amazing but to be honest I didn't really have to play last season, it was just to help the team out.''
The Giants signed Pierre-Paul to a one-year contract worth $9.4 million. It's a chance to earn a bigger deal if he shows he can produce.
''He has definitely improved his fundamentals,'' new coach Ben McAdoo said. ''I'm sure if you asked him, he would be able to give you a pretty good indication of it. He looks a lot more comfortable. He has always been a very disruptive player and we expect that to continue.''
Right tackle Marshall Newhouse has gone against Pierre-Paul almost every day since the OTAs started.
''He has bulked back up and you can see he is getting more accustomed to using his hand and the state that it is in,'' Newhouse said. ''He is still quick and long-limbed, just still a very instinctive defensive end. He is making me better. I hope I am making him better.''
Pierre-Paul doesn't seem to want to talk about the past or project about the future. He's playing football again, and he says he is happy.
''I will never be completely back to normal, but I am doing everything that they ask me to do or I find ways around it,'' he said. ''That is why I am out there today. I am lifting weights; I'm out here with the guys. I won't say it is normal, but it is normal for me. I can deal with it.''
NOTES: The Giants worked a little on their two-minute drill Monday and the defense stopped the offense on both series, with rookie safety Darian Thompson picking off a Eli Manning pass that Odell Beckham Jr., tipped to end the first series. McAdoo smirked when asked if it was good to see the defense make a stop after losing so many games late last season. ''It depends if you are calling plays or not,'' he said.