Steve Spagnuolo made his mark as the defensive coordinator for the New York Giants before leaving for his first head coaching job with the St. Louis Rams.
He’ll be returning to New York with an injury-ravaged team, much like the Giants.
These banged-up clubs will be looking for their first victories Monday night when the Giants welcome Spagnuolo’s Rams for their home opener.
Most sports books monitored by the SportsOptions odds product have the Giants as 6 1/2-point home favorites, with the total set at 44.
Spagnuolo spent eight seasons as an assistant with Philadelphia before he was hired by Giants coach Tom Coughlin prior to the 2007 season. New York led the NFL with 53 sacks that year en route to winning its third Super Bowl.
Spagnuolo guided the unit to a top-five finish in 2008 when the Giants went 12-4 and earned the NFC’s top seed before he left to take over a Rams team that went 2-14.
It’s unclear if Spagnuolo will see some of his former players on defense for New York. Justin Tuck missed the opener with a neck injury and Osi Umenyiora will probably remain out with a knee injury.
Five other key defensive players were already lost for the year before the season started, with cornerback Terrell Thomas and linebacker Jonathan Goff the most notable.
Tuck has indicated that he will likely return Monday.
A Giants’ defense that allowed Rex Grossman to throw for 305 yards in a 28-14 loss to Washington last Sunday will be up against a Rams offense with major question marks.
Sam Bradford has been cleared to play despite a bruised right index finger that knocked him out in the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s 31-13 loss to the Eagles.
Last year’s NFL offensive rookie of the year was able to complete all his throws Wednesday by using a special glove designed to increase blood flow to the injury.
“Everyone says I look like Michael Jackson,” Bradford said. “I’m not really sure what it does. They say it works and obviously my hand feels better, so I trust them.”
It’s unclear if Steven Jackson or Danny Amendola will play.
Jackson was injured without contact on a 47-yard touchdown run on the Rams’ first play last week and left with a strained right quadriceps after one more carry. Amendola, who led the team with 85 catches last year, is out with a dislocated left elbow.
In addition, cornerback Ron Bartell is out for the season with two breaks in his neck. Another defensive back, Bradley Fletcher, has a sprained toe that might limit him, and offensive tackle Jason Smith has a sprained left ankle.
Spagnuolo said it’s the worst injury report in his three seasons with St. Louis.
“There’s a lot there, no question,” Spagnuolo said. “Nobody’s going to bury their head in the sand, and we’re not going to go away. We didn’t envision beginning like that and we certainly didn’t envision losing all these guys.”
New York could also be without top receiver Hakeem Nicks, who suffered a knee injury in the season opener. Nicks had team highs of 79 catches and 1,052 receiving yards in 2010, and he caught seven balls for 122 yards last weekend.
His loss could hamper Eli Manning, who failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time in nine road games last Sunday. Only thirteen of Manning’s career-high 31 TD passes a year ago came at home.
“It’s not going to affect me,” Manning said. “We have guys that can step up and play. Just figure out what’s going to happen.”
New York’s starting tight end, Travis Beckum, also missed the opener with a right hamstring injury.
Along with Spagnuolo, former Giants defensive tackle Fred Robbins is returning to New York. Robbins was a mainstay up front for New York from 2004-09.
The plethora of injuries, however, are by far the major concerns of the coaches as opposed to any sort of reunion.
“No question he has his hands on the defensive side, but I am sure offense as well and special teams as well,” said Coughlin about Spagnuolo. “They are an aggressive special teams outfit.”
St. Louis has lost four straight to New York since a 15-14 win in 2001.