By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com
With training camp set to start in three weeks, I thought it might be fun to preview the key roster battles in training camp and to project what the final roster in early September might look like. Keep in mind that it is impossible to predict what players will be lost to injury in camp or the preseason and who else may be signed or claimed off of waivers by September.
Looking at the roster, two things are clear: (1) there is a lot of talent on this team, and (2) this team has very good depth at most positions. There are not a lot of open roster spots, and quite a few players who will end up being cut will likely play in the NFL for other NFL teams.
It is tough to 100 percent accurately predict how many players at each position the Giants will keep. I am going to operate under the assumption that aside from the three special teams-only players (PK Jay Feely, P Jeff Feagles, and LS Ryan Kuehl), the Giants are going to keep 25 players on offense and 25 players on defense. For those who do not know, the active roster limit is 53 players. Some of those who do not make it will be signed to the Practice Squad.
Quarterback (3 – Eli Manning, ?, and ?): The Giants always carry three quarterbacks. Obviously, Eli Manning is the starter. But everything after that is up for grabs. The battle for the #2 and #3 quarterback spots will be two of the more interesting competitions this summer. Rob Johnson has the most experience, but there are still questions about his surgically-repaired arm. “You’re trying to project where he will be at the end of training camp with his arm strength,” said QB Coach Kevin Gilbride. “I think he knows where to go, I know he’s an accurate passer, no question about that. He’ll run the team well, he’ll work hard, those things I think we all know. (The question is) does he have the arm strength to make the throws that are going to have to be made? I don’t know. That’s our challenge, I don’t have an easy answer or a solution to it.”
Last year, the primary back-up was Tim Hasselbeck. Hasselbeck did not impress in the 2005 preseason with the Giants so this is an important camp for him. He lacks arm strength, but he is a smart guy with decent mobility. Jared Lorenzen is always going to have weight issues, but he was impressive in the recent mini-camp. The Giants have another quarterback on the roster – Josh Harris. It is unusual for the Giants to carry five quarterbacks in training camp. When Coughlin was asked last month if he will take all five to camp, he replied, “We’ll see.” Harris is mobile and has a good arm, but he faces an uphill fight.
My guess here is that if Lorenzen continues to improve, he will stick with the other quarterback being the winner of the Johnson-Hasselbeck battle. However, if Lorenzen fades, both Johnson and Hasselbeck could make it.
Halfbacks (4 – Tiki Barber, Derrick Ward, Brandon Jacobs, Chad Morton): The Giants are in better shape here than most fans think. Everyone should know now that Tiki Barber is one of the best backs in the NFL. What most don’t seem to realize is how highly the Giants think of Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward. Why didn’t either play more last year? Easy – (1) how do you sit your best offensive player? and (2) both Jacobs and Ward are still very green and still learning the mentally-imposing task of blitz pick-ups. The biggest reason why most young backs don’t play more is that they make too many mistakes picking up the blitz. That will come with more experience. Jacobs is a freak of nature and I can easily seem him becoming the feature back on this team once Barber decides to retire. But don’t discount Ward either, who was impressive in his limited playing time. “Derrick Ward’s doing a good job, a very good job,” said RB Coach Jerald Ingram. “He’s quick, he’s got size, he’s got changeability…I think Derrick is trying to compete for Tiki’s position.”
The other back who will make the team is Chad Morton. Coughlin loves Morton and although Morton is mainly a special teams player, Coughlin believes he can adequately play halfback in a pinch.
Unless someone gets hurt, James Sims, Little John Flowers, and Decori Birmingham don’t have a chance. Sims does have talent and could wind up on the Practice Squad.
Fullback (1 – Jim Finn): Finn and Barber work well together and it has been Finn who has led the way for two of the most productive seasons in team history by a halfback.
Unless Finn gets hurt, Tony Jackson and Greg Hanoian won’t make it.
Wide Receivers (5 – Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer, Sinorice Moss, David Tyree, and ?): The Giants often carry six wide receivers, but I think they are going to carry one more offensive lineman this year. The first four are easy to predict. Burress has the best chance to be the first Giants’ Pro Bowler at wide receiver since Homer Jones. Toomer will start at least one more year. The Giants are extremely excited about Moss and are already designing offensive plays specifically for him – look for a ton of wide-receiver screens this year. It appears he has already become entrenched as the #3 guy, despite being a rookie. Tyree is a Pro Bowl special teams player who can fill in at wide receiver in a pinch.
The competition for the fifth (and possibly sixth) spot is going to be extremely intense. Fans love to knock Tim Carter, but he is extremely talented and there is a decent chance that he still could put it all together. Speed changes the way an opposing defense handles your offense and Carter has plenty of speed. That said, Carter is really on the hot seat – if he misses any time in camp due to injury or fails to elevate his game, he is likely gone.
Carter’s most serious competition will come from Anthony Mix, Triandos Luke, and Michael Jennings. Mix, a rookie, is a guy who General Manager Ernie Accorsi is high on. He has impressive size. Coughlin had nice things to say about Luke and Jennings recently: “Triandos Luke has done a pretty good job in the spring here. If Mike Jennings can get on the field – he went through the rookie mini-camp and pulled a hamstring and that ended up keeping him out of everything. But he has worked hard in the offseason, he has worked hard as a punt returner, he has worked hard at catching the ball. I would like to see a healthy Michael Jennings because of his quickness and speed and what he could bring to the table there.”
Probably not factoring into the picture are Willie Ponder and Harry Williams.
Tight Ends (3 – Jeremy Shockey, Visanthe Shiancoe, Boo Williams): After Shockey, Shiancoe is still the best blocking tight end on the team. Boo Williams isn’t a lock, but he is a very good receiving tight end who can get down the field. If the Giants can get him to improve his blocking and focus, he could become a real problem for opposing defenses in two-tight end packages. If he falters, don’t discount Wade Fletcher, another pass-receiving-type. Darcy Johnson has an uphill fight.
Offensive Line (9 – LT Luke Petitgout, LG David Diehl, OC Shaun O’Hara, RG Chris Snee, RT Kareem McKenzie, OT Bob Whitfield, OT Guy Whimper, OG Rich Seubert, and OC/OG Grey Ruegamer): Unless someone gets hurt, I am pretty sure the Giants will carry nine offensive linemen and those nine will be the players listed above. Whimper is a guy who the Giants are grooming as Petitgout’s replacement down the road. The Giants won’t risk losing him on the Practice Squad, so he is sure to make the team. That said, they will want Whitfield as the primary back-up at tackle in 2006. Seubert and Ruegamer are the no-brainers. This is a deep and talented group. The three veteran back-ups could start for some teams in the NFL.
The best the rest can hope for is the Practice Squad – OC Todd Londot, OG/OT Lewis Kelly, OG Matt Lentz, OG Julius Franklin, OG Ben Herrell, OG Kevin McAlmont, OT Henry Tellis, OT Jai Lewis, and OT Na’Shan Goddard.
Offensive Overview: Baring injury, I see 22 of the 25 offensive slots already being locked up. That’s pretty incredible. The competition will come at the #2 quarterback spot, the #3 quarterback spot, and the #5 wide receiver position.
Defensive End (4 – Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka): The big question here is will the Giants keep four or five ends on the roster. I think it will be four ends as some of the tackles on the roster can also play end in a pinch. Barring injury, these four are locks. In fact, this may be the most-talented quartet of defensive ends on one roster in the history of the NFL. That’s quite a claim, but I think Tuck is going to be a big-time player in this league and the Giants felt that Kiwanuka was a top-10 pick.
Eric Moore and Adrian Awasom will be playing for someone in the NFL, but not the Giants. Willie Evans and Thomas Carroll have talent, but no chance.
Defensive Tackles (5 – William Joseph, Jonas Seawright, Fred Robbins, Barry Cofield, and ?): Joseph and Robbins are the 3-technique tackles in the defense, but Coughlin has said Robbins could play the 1-technique if need be. Ideally, they want to keep Joseph and Robbins at the same spot. Seawright probably is not a lock, but the coaches and players have said nice things about him and he was the #1 nose tackle at the mini-camps. His combination of size, power, and athleticism is intriguing. Unless he completely flops, the Giants are not going to cut Cofield. That leaves one spot up for grabs between Damane Duckett, Junior Ioane, Sir Henry Anderson, and Marcus Green. Don’t discount anyone here, including the rookie free agents. Keep in mind that Robbins and Cofield have played defensive end so they can do that if injuries hit hard.
Linebackers (7 – SLB LaVar Arrington, MLB Antonio Pierce, WLB Carlos Emmons, SLB Reggie Torbor, WLB Brandon Short, WLB Gerris Wilkinson, and MLB Chase Blackburn): What a difference a few months make! Back in January, this position was a disaster area. Now the Giants have two Pro Bowl candidates starting. The depth situation is vastly improved when you consider that there are now two back-ups (Torbor and Short) with starting experience. Throw in rookie Gerris Wilkinson, who the coaching staff is very high on, and you have a pretty talented and deep group. The only guy I’m not sure about is Blackburn because of the physical and mental issues regarding his comeback from very serious neck injuries. Down the road, Wilkinson has the ability to play inside as well, but the Giants want to keep him to focus on weakside linebacker right now. If Pierce were to get hurt again, depth inside could be an issue. If Blackburn can’t rebound, Kevis Coley and Nick McNeil have an outside shot. Tyson Smith is camp fodder.
Cornerbacks (5 – Corey Webster, Sam Madison, R.W. McQuarters, Curtis Deloatch, and ?): Normally, I would like the Giants to carry six corners, but I think the Giants are going to carry nine defensive linemen and seven linebackers this year. In addition, safety Charlie Peprah – if he makes the team – is a CB/S ‘tweener who actually may eventually end up at corner. Webster and Madison will most likely start with McQuarters playing inside at the nickel spot. Deloatch is a guy who a lot of fans rag on, plus he was benched late in the 2005 season. However, I believe that the Giants are still intrigued with his size/speed combination and he is a guy who did play reasonably well for much of 2005 despite being terribly green. He is no lock, but I think he makes the team unless he flops in camp.
The competition for the fifth (and possibly sixth) corner position is going to be intense. Veteran Frank Walker is still in the picture. This is his last chance with the Giants. Special teams ace Jason Bell was brought in from Houston. Late draft pick Gerrick McPhearson has a lot of speed. Others in the picture include Vontez Duff, E.J. Underwood, Brandon Williams, and Kevin Dockery. This is the one position where I would feel more comfortable if the Giants had another quality player.
Safety (4 – SS Gibril Wilson, FS Will Demps, FS James Butler, and ?): The top three are locks, though I wonder what Butler’s “kidney condition” was at the recent mini-camp that he missed. That sounds scary, though Coughlin said he should be ready to practice by the time camp starts. Butler is great depth and is probably a future starter in the league. The fight for the last spot will probably come down to two ex-Cardinals (Adrian Mayes and Quentin Harris) and 5th rounder Charlie Peprah. Harris is very good on special teams.
Jason Shivers, Trevis Coley, and Claudius Osei don’t have much of a chance.
Defensive Overview: Like the offense, I see most of the defensive spots locked up (22-of-25 again). The only two I am not 100 percent sure about are Blackburn and Deloatch, but I think both will be on the team. The most intense competitions will be for the fifth defensive tackle spot, the fifth corner position, and the fourth safety spot.
Roster Summary: As strange as it sounds, there may only be really six open roster spots out of 53 heading into training camp this year. The talent and depth are there at most positions to go a long way.