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It was an odd offseason for the New York Giants. One of the top three head coaches in franchise history was fired, yet much of the coaching staff remained intact. The reins were handed over to the 38-year old offensive coordinator who has never served as a head coach at any level of football.
Let’s take quick look at each overall unit and the position group of the 2016 New York Giants:
Offense: The centerpieces of the 2015 8th-ranked offense remain Eli Manning and Odell Beckham. It appears the starting offensive line will remain the same. There was little turnover at running back and tight end. Much is expected of rookie receiver Sterling Shepard and hopefully the healthy return of Victor Cruz. Three new position coaches were added: quarterbacks, wide receivers, and offensive line. And Mike Sullivan was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator.
There are three major question marks: (1) how will the offense respond with McAdoo now being the head coach and Sullivan the offensive coordinator?; (2) is Victor Cruz permanently-damaged goods?; and (3) will the offensive line be an Achilles’ heel?
Quarterbacks: It seems like just yesterday when Eli Manning came to the Giants. Now the 35-year old quarterback will be entering his 13th season. He doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Entering the third year in McAdoo’s West Coast Offense, Manning should have one of his finest seasons if he stays healthy. He’s coming off a 35-to-14 TD-to-INT ratio season. Ryan Nassib remains the primary back-up. If the Giants had another viable alternative behind Manning, Nassib would be ideal trade bait since he’s entering the last year of his contract. But third-string Logan Thomas appears to be just a camp arm. Frank Cignetti, Jr. is the new quarterbacks coach.
Wide Receivers: Odell Beckham, Jr. is arguably the best wide receiver in football. Aside from injury, the only thing that could prevent him from becoming a legendary player is off-the-field distractions. It will also be interesting to see how he handles himself against his #1 nemesis – Josh Norman – twice per season. Keep in mind the Giants hired Beckham’s old college wide receivers coach, Adam Henry. Much is expected of rookie Sterling Shepard. So far, the early returns are extremely positive. But it will likely be the health status of Victor Cruz that ultimately determines how good this offense can be in 2016. If Cruz can return to anywhere near his 2011-12 form, the Giants will have an elite offense. Dwayne Harris is an ideal 4th receiver and special teams player. There will be tremendous competition for the fifth and possibly sixth wide receiver roster spots. Geremy Davis and Myles White saw quite a few reps with the first unit in the spring. But the other seven receivers on the roster all have talent. Keep an eye on rookie free agent Roger Lewis.
Running Backs: There are a lot of decent backs here, but is there a bell cow? Rashad Jennings has teased with extremely productive flashes like when he rushed for 432 yards in his last four games of the 2015 season. Can he stay healthy and be consistently productive? How much will McAdoo differ from Tom Coughlin in the way he rotates running backs? Regardless, Shane Vereen will remain a key element as a pass-catching back in the West Coast Offense. It’s do-or-die time for Andre Williams, the 2014 4th round draft pick, who simply hasn’t delivered the goods. If he falters, rookie Paul Perkins, productive-but-injury-prone Orleans Darkwa, or even Mike Sullivan favorite Bobby Rainey could jump up the depth chart. At fullback, Nikita Whitlock’s spot is in danger with the addition of experienced, physical fullback/H-Back Will Johnson from the Steelers.
Tight Ends: Larry Donnell came out of nowhere in 2014 but regressed in 2015, at least partially due to a neck injury that caused him to miss half the season. That, combined with Daniel Fells’ career-ending staph infection, opened the door for rookie free agent Will Tye, who looks like he has some real skills as a pass receiver. Pushing these two in spring workouts were second-year player Matt LaCosse and rookies Jerell Adams and Ryan Malleck. Adams and possibly LaCosse have shots to become legitimate two-way tight ends. But don’t discount Donnell and Tye. Regardless, there is a lot of competition at this position. And McAdoo loves using his tight ends.
Offensive Line: The biggest change here was not personnel but coaching. 61-year old Mike Solari is the new offensive line coach. He’s considered one of the best, but has only coached in the West Coast system one year (in 2015 in Green Bay). Unless someone like Bobby Hart surprises, it appears the starting five will remain the same. Most Giants’ fans are deeply concerned about the right side of the offensive line, specifically, guard John Jerry and tackle Marshall Newhouse. Jerry has reportedly worked his tail off this offseason. More good news is that Ereck Flowers, Justin Pugh, and Weston Richburg should continue to develop into a real team strength. Look for the running game to show much more consistency and productivity with these three leading the way. Depth remains an issue as the Giants only added a few no-names in the offseason such as Byron Stingily, Ryan Seymour, and Dillon Farrell.
Defense: The Giants made dramatic changes to their 32nd-ranked defense. The Giants spent almost $194 millon on three defensive free agents, added two much cheaper veteran free agent linebackers, and used three of their first four draft picks on defense. New position coaches were added on the defensive line and at linebacker.
The big question marks are (1) can Steve Spagnuolo regain his mojo as a defensive coordinator?; (2) how good can Jason Pierre-Paul be?; and (2) how quickly can the new pieces of the puzzle come together to form a cohesive unit? It’s been a long, long time since the Giants’ defense really scared anyone.
Defensive Line: The Giants made two major upgrades at this position, replacing defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins with Damon Harrison and Robert Ayers with Olivier Vernon. With the acquisition of Vernon, the Giants likely will move Jason-Pierre-Paul to left defensive end. Much depends on how much JPP’s permanently-damaged hand will affect his play moving forward. Can he come anywhere near his 2011 form again? Vernon was given a mammoth contract and the pressure is on him to perform at the very highest level. The Giants should be well-served by two huge, strong defensive tackles in Harrison and Johnathan Hankins. The Giants are also hoping that Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Jay Bromley provide quality depth. On paper, the defensive line looks like a very strong group. In addition, the Giants made significant changes to coaching when they let go of Robert Nunn and replaced him with rising coaching star Patrick Graham from the Patriots and added a new defensive tackle assistant coaching position with the addition of Jeff Zgonina.
Linebackers: The injury-prone Jon Beason retired. The Giants signed Keenan Robinson and Kelvin Sheppard in free agency and drafted B.J. Goodson in the 4th round. These three will compete with returning linebackers Devon Kennard, Jasper Brinkley, J.T. Thomas, Jonathan Casillas, Mark Herzlich, and Brad Bars. Kennard flashes talent, but can’t seem to stay on the field. The other returning starters seem like “just guys” who could be easily replaced. The good news is there is a lot of veteran experience in the group. Brinkley and Robinson will likely fight for the starting middle linebacker spot with Brinkley being the more physical player and Robinson the better athlete. All three starting spots are open to competition and how this all shakes out will be one of the more interesting story lines of camp. Linebacker still appears to be the weak link of what should be an improved defensive unit. The Giants replaced linebackers coach Jim Herrmann with Bill McGovern.
Defensive Backs: The Giants replaced Prince Amukamara with Janoris Jenkins, who they are paying like a shut-down corner. The pressure will be on him to play to that level. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a Pro Bowl-quality defender. The Giants also used the 10th pick in the draft on cornerback Eli Apple. So on paper, corner looks like a real strength. The big question here is can any of these three players handle the slot corner position? Otherwise we may see more of Trevin Wade than Apple on the field. Diminutive rookie free agent Donte Deayon made noise in the spring, as did his college teammate Darian Thompson at free safety. If Thompson is the real deal, that will allow the Giants to move Landon Collins to his more natural strong safety position. Those two could form a talented, albeit very inexperienced duo. Nat Berhe, Mykkele Thompson, Bennett Jackson, and Cooper Taylor have talent, but have to stay on the field. Lacking experience, the safety unit is very green.
Special Teams: Tom Quinn continues to miraculously survive assistant coaching purges, having remained with the team since 2006. The Giants probably preferred to keep Larry Izzo as assistant special teams coach, but he accepted a position with the Texans. Dwayne Stukes replaces him. Special teams were very much improved in 2015, but they also cost the Giants dearly in a few games. The core will likely remain the same: Dwayne Harris as punt/kickoff returner, Josh Brown as place kicker, Brad Wing as the punter/holder, and Zak DeOssie as long snapper.
Summary: The offense should be good, and could be exceptional if Victor Cruz returns close to 100 percent, but that’s a huge “if.” The concerns about the right side of the offensive line are probably overblown, but depth could be a real issue if injuries hit. On paper, the Giants are much improved on the defensive line and in the secondary, but the various parts need to come together quickly. It’s been a while since Steve Spagnuolo has put together a good defense. Special teams need to be a net positive throughout a 16-game+ schedule. The Giants are in what has proven to be an exceptionally weak division in recent years. It’s time to get back to the playoffs.