Sep 182014
 
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Trumaine McBride and Jon Beason, New York Giants (December 22, 2013)

Trumaine McBride and Jon Beason – © USA TODAY Sports Images

It didn’t take long for the phone call to be made.

Shortly after New York Giants cornerback Walter Thurmond III found out his injured pectoral muscle was torn, sidelining him for rest of the 2014 season, the self-proclaimed best nickel corner in the game dialed fellow corner Trumaine McBride.

Trumaine McBride, New York Giants (December 15, 2013)

Trumaine McBride – © USA TODAY Sports Images

McBride, who last saw sporadic nickel snaps six years ago, saw his phone light up with Thurmond’s name and answered.

“He just told me if I need anything, as far as tips about playing nickel, to reach out to him,” McBride said.

While McBride may be lacking experience as a nickel cornerback, it doesn’t mean he hasn’t been preparing for this moment throughout the offseason.

Back on March 12, after enjoying a breakout season, McBride re-signed with the New York Giants. With Corey Webster and Aaron Ross gone, McBride was expected to compete for the starting position opposite Prince Amukamara.

But the ensuing months were filled with moves that pushed McBride further and further down the depth chart. Zack Bowman, Thurmond and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were signed and Bennett Jackson drafted.

The group of Amukamara, Thurmond and Rodgers-Cromartie began boasting claims as the league’s best trio. Last year’s surprise star was suddenly rendered an afterthought.

With every addition the Giants made to the secondary’s meeting room, McBride took notice. Despite playing nearly his entire career as an outside cornerback, he knew his opportunity to play may not be at the place he’d been most comfortable at. During the offseason, McBride began studying some of the best nickel cornerbacks in the league and working specifically with the group. He wanted to be prepared for anything.

If Amukamara went down, McBride wanted to fill in outside. If Thurmond went down, he wanted to have his named called there, too. One of the best ways to do that? Watch and learn from Thurmond himself.

“Walt’s a guy that plays hard every down and is a very smart, physical cornerback,” McBride said. “Just watching the way he approaches the game. He’s a great guy and a great player on the field.”

McBride said that playing nickel, as opposed to outside cornerback, is vastly different. While cornerbacks have the sideline to their advantage, nickel cornerbacks need to guard both the inside, and outside, portions of the field.

Trumaine McBride, New York Giants (December 22, 2013)

Trumaine McBride – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Not to mention, being a nickel corner requires a different physicality. Being closer to the line of scrimmage, McBride knows he’ll have to stick his head in on some running plays, comparing nickel cornerback to a “cornerback-linebacker” hybrid position.

“It’s just an overall different game plan,” McBride said. “You aren’t going up anymore against guys that are 6-foot-2, you’re going up against guys that are 6-feet and shifty. You have to adjust to the shiftiness of an inside slot receiver.”

While Thurmond has offered help, McBride admits what may be the biggest beneficiary to him learning nickel is the fact he gets to face receiver Victor Cruz every day in practice. During his five-year NFL career, Cruz has established himself as one of the league’s best slot receivers.

“Going up against him every day definitely helps you,” McBride said. “There aren’t many guys out there better than Vic.”

The Houston Texans, who McBride and the Giants will face on Sunday, like to move each of their receivers in and out of the slot in Bill O’Brien’s new offensive scheme. Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins and Demarius Johnson have all seen over 20 reps inside this year.

There isn’t a set player McBride can expect. Does that make his life harder? Not at all.

“I’ve been preparing for this since the offseason,” McBride said. “I knew it could be a possibility of me moving inside. So as far as mentally, I have no issues.”

Sep 152014
 
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Keenan Allen, San Diego Chargers (December 8, 2013)

Keenan Allen Beats Terrell Thomas for a TD – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The New York Giants secondary was set.

The team had two former first-round picks (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Prince Amukamara) at their outside cornerback positions, both of whom were capable of shutting down an opponent’s No. 1 target. Then, for those pesky slot receivers, New York signed the self-proclaimed best nickel defender in the game, Walter Thurmond III, this offseason.

On paper, everything seemed perfect. It looked as if a team that had been led for so many years by their front four, would now be led by their secondary.

Two games into the season, that tactic took a massive blow. Versus the Arizona Cardinals Sunday afternoon, Thurmond suffered a torn pectoral muscle. He will have surgery on Tuesday. His season is over.

In years past, the Giants secondary had been ravaged by injuries. As a result, New York didn’t just build up its starting unit this offseason, but depth as well. Aside from Rodgers-Cromartie and Thurmond, Zack Bowman was signed from Chicago, Trumaine McBride was re-signed and Bennett Jackson drafted.

The injury to Thurmond, while a blow, shouldn’t be that bad. Right? New York should be able to slide any of the above mentioned players into the nickel cornerback position. Right?

Actually, wrong. While New York was considered to be incredibly deep at the cornerback position, it actually lacks experience at the nickel.

Here’s a look at what each cornerback on the Giants roster has done when brought in to play nickel. If the Giants deem the present group not worthy, here’s a few other options that may be worth a look.

Stats are courtesy of Pro Football Focus

Zack Bowman, Chicago Bears (October 10, 2013)

Zack Bowman – © USA TODAY Sports Images

PRESENTLY ON THE ROSTER:

Zack Bowman, CB
Last Year Team: Chicago Bears
Snaps in Slot: 2013 – 8, 2012 – 0, 2011 – 5, 2010 – 5

When the news broke that Thurmond would miss the season, the instant logical solution to many was to simply plug Bowman in. The issue with that? Bowman has rarely been used at the nickel cornerback position throughout the duration of his career. The 29-year old has primarily been known as an outside corner and special teams player. While Bowman excelled in the preseason this year, it was very rarely when lined up in the slot. In four preseason games, Bowman played just two snaps matched up against the slot receiver.

Trumaine McBride, CB
Last Year Team: New York Giants
Snaps in Slot: 2013 – 10, 2012-0, 2011- 0, 2010- 12

McBride enjoyed a breakout season in 2014 while filling in for injured Giants cornerback Corey Webster. When quarterbacks decided to test McBride, their average QB rating was under 60. However, similar to Bowman, McBride has been known as an outside cornerback throughout the majority of his NFL career. In fact, between 2011 and 2012, McBride didn’t play a single snap in the slot.

Jayron Hosley, CB
Last Year Team: New York Giants
Snaps in Slot: 2013-4, 2012-177, 2011- 0

Jayron Hosley is arguably the player with the most experience in the slot, having played 177 snaps as the Giants nickel cornerback in 2012. The issue? He wasn’t particularly effective. Quarterbacks completed 52-of-76 passes when testing Hosley and had a combined quarterback rating of 86.7. In the 2014 preseason, Hosley played primarily outside and struggled, but did get six reps in nickel. He allowed two catches on the only two passes thrown his way. There’s also the small tidbit that Hosley is still suspended for two games. There is a chance that if the new drug policy is put in place, Hosley can play as early as this Sunday, but that’s no guarantee.

Antrel Rolle, New York Giants (August 9, 2014)

Antrel Rolle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Antrel Rolle, S
Last Year Team: New York Giants
Snaps in Slot: 2013-176, 2012- 173, 2011- 319

It seems as if every year the Giants try everything to get Rolle out of the slot, and every year something happens that puts him right back in it. Since joining the Giants, Rolle has played 668 snaps as a nickel cornerback. He’s had some success, too. Last year, a quarterback’s rating when testing Rolle was 66.6, but in 2012, that number was 107.3. Rolle is much better suited to simply play safety, as was evident last year, and New York will most likely try all other scenarios before moving the Pro Bowler down.

ON THE PRACTICE SQUAD:

Bennett Jackson, CB
Last Year: Rookie
Snaps in Slot: 2014 preseason-53

Quietly, Bennett Jackson had a pretty impressive preseason when playing the nickel cornerback position. On 53 snaps, he was only tested four times. He allowed two catches for 36 yards. Jackson is presently stashed on the Giants practice squad and could be activated if Thurmond is placed on the injured reserve, and the Giants decide not to activate Hosley.

Chandler Fenner, CB
Last year: Rookie
Snaps in Slot: 2014 preseason- 0

A very, very unlikely situation would be the activation of Chandler Fenner to the Giants 53-man roster. While Fenner played well in the preseason and team’s training camp, he saw no snaps as a nickel back in the preseason.

Terrell Thomas, New York Giants (October 6, 2013)

Terrell Thomas – © USA TODAY Sports Images

OUTSIDE THE TEAM:

Terrel Thomas, CB
Last Year: New York Giants
Snaps in Slot: 2014-315, 2010- 57

While Jordan Raanan (NJ.com) and Conor Orr (The Star-Ledger) have reported that, at least to this point, the Giants have not contacted Thomas’ reps, the former second-round pick is still a free agent after being cut by the Seattle Seahawks in training camp.

Thomas was one of the feel-good stories for the Giants a year ago when he bounced back from a third ACL tear to play the full 16 games. Thomas saw over 300 snaps as the nickel corner and played well at times. In his first game action in two years, Thomas allowed 45 completions in 59 attempts for 453 yards with three touchdowns. He intercepted one pass and a quarterback’s average rating when testing the USC alum was an even 91. He’s available, knows the system and has had more experience and success than any other cornerback option on the roster.

Charles James II, CB
Last Year Team: New York Giants
Snaps in Slot: 2014 (preseason)- 44 2013 (PS)- 27

During the Giants 75-man roster cut down, they waived fan-favorite Charles James. The former undrafted free agent is still a free agent and saw some action in the nickel package this preseason, but struggled mightily. James played 27 snaps and allowed a completion on both of the throws tossed his way. Similar to Thomas, NJ.com and The Star-Ledger are reporting there has been no phone call made from the Giants to James.

Dunta Robinson, CB
2013 Team: Kansas City Chiefs
Snaps in Slot: 2013- 143 2012-48 2011-3

An unlikely option for the Giants would be to sign a veteran with little connection to the team. Former first-round pick Dunta Robinson is presently a free agent and had the most success in the slot last year of available veterans. Playing for the Kansas City Chiefs, Robinson allowed 17 completions on 24 targets as a nickel corner.

Sep 112014
 
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Rueben Randle, New York Giants (September 8, 2014)

Rueben Randle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

It’s not really an ideal situation for Rueben Randle and the rest of the New York Giants receivers.

Following a stagnant performance in the season opener, Randle and Co. are looking to jump-start a Giants offense that was particularly lacking in the playmaker department Monday night.

In a perfect world, Randle admitted he’d enjoy splitting out wide at MetLife Stadium against the Arizona Cardinals and looking across the line of scrimmage at a cornerback fresh out of college.

Instead? He’ll get either Antonio Cromartie or Patrick Peterson.

The duo has only combined for 40 interceptions, six Pro Bowl appearances and three All-Pro honors.

“It would be ideal (to face someone else),” Randle said with a smile, “but it’ll be great work for us. We’ll see where we stand as receivers with the two great cornerbacks we’ll be facing.”

In both Cromartie and Peterson, the Cardinals bring together two of the more athletically gifted cornerbacks in the NFL. Each were selected in the first round with Peterson going No. 5 overall in 2011, and Cromartie No. 19 in 2006.

Coming out of college, Peterson ran the 40-yard dash in 4.34 seconds and had a vertical of 38 inches. Cromartie posted similar impressive numbers, running a 4.47 40 and the same vertical. Nearly as jaw-dropping as the duo’s timed results are their other measurables.

Both corners are over 6-feet tall. Cromartie is 6-2.

“He is longer, so our job is to get his hands off us,” Randle said. “We can’t let him jam us at the line of scrimmage and we have to get him running to open up his hips.”

While Cromartie is an NFL vet, Peterson is just 24 years old. Peterson is as physically gifted as any other cornerback in the NFL, but he’s struggled with consistency.

At times, Peterson has flashed the ability to be a ‘shutdown cornerback,’ but has also had a knack for getting caught out of position. If Peterson starts hot, it’s a long day for the offense. If a receiver can get past Peterson early, it tends to be the reciprocal.

According to Pro Football Focus, when a quarterback threw at Peterson in 2012, their average quarterback rating was a 64.9. In 2013, that rating jumped to 91.3. To compare with other cornerbacks in the NFL, Joe Haden graded in at a 75.2 rating last year. Richard Sherman led all with quarterbacks averaging a 47.3 rating.

Randle acknowledged that Peterson is in the top-tier of today’s best defensive backs, but that doesn’t mean he’s unbeatable.

“Just by keeping him off balance,” Randle said. “You can’t let him get back there and be comfortable to where he can be the athlete he is and break up the ball and create interceptions.”

Last week versus Detroit, it was Randle who looked off balance. The third-year pro caught two passes for just one yard on three targets from quarterback Eli Manning. Randle said the key this week versus Arizona is getting off to a hot start.

After watching Monday’s film, Randle saw he wasn’t lacking receptions because he wasn’t open. He found the holes in the defense, but Manning, at times, rushed the ball to other receivers instead of waiting for others to get open.

Versus Arizona, Randle is hoping to give Manning the faith and confidence to go to him early and often.

“(If I can) capitalize on more opportunities it will definitely build confidence in Eli,” Randle said. “He can sit back there and allow us to get open. He won’t have to rush or anything to throw us the ball or force it.”

Sep 102014
 
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Odell Beckham, New York Giants (August 9, 2014)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Things weren’t pretty Monday night in Detroit as the New York Giants kicked off their season.

Not on defense, where Calvin Johnson torched New York’s rebuilt secondary. Not on special teams, where the unit allowed a block punt and punter Steve Weatherford tore ligaments in his ankle. And certainly not on offense where, well, just about everything went wrong.

Giants quarterback Eli Manning was under constant pressure and Detroit’s defensive line clogged up any running lanes resulting in little success from the running game. But what may have been the most alarming factor was the lack of playmakers taking the field for the Giants.

Rueben Randle, Victor Cruz and Jerrel Jernigan were complete non factors as Manning was forced to turn to tight end Larry Donnell and Rashad Jennings out of the backfield. The receivers created little, if any, separation. When they did get separation, the group struggled catching the ball.

During the NFL Draft, the Giants elected to forego drafting an offensive lineman in order to add to the above receiving corp. With the No. 12 pick in the draft, the Giants selected LSU receiver Odell Beckahm Jr. The hope was that Beckham would occupy the outsider receiver, position along with Randle, so that Cruz – who general manager Jerry Reese admitted “can’t” play outside – could play in the slot.

With former first-round pick Hakeem Nicks gone, New York needed Beckham to have a near immediate impact. They needed him to be a playmaker.

A nagging hamstring injury has kept Beckham off of the field and left the Giants offense searching for answers. As Manning and Co. continue to struggle, the need for Beckham to get back on the field seems as important as ever.

But is it realistic to believe Beckham can truly change the fortunes of the Giants offense? Can the rookie really turn around a unit that looks to be one of the league’s worst?

History certainly doesn’t stand in New York’s favor.

Since the year 2000, a total of 55 wide receivers have been selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. The success each has seen? Staggeringly little.

Of all NFL receivers selected in the first round, the group has average 37 receptions, 519 yards and three touchdowns each season. Of receivers selected with the No. 12 overall pick (the selection spot of Odell Beckham) or higher, the average jumps slightly to 40 receptions for 554 yards and four scores.

While the numbers seems surprisingly low, there are a few exceptions. The following are players who have exceeded the above-average numbers and put together impressive numbers their first year in the league:

PLAYER NAME, TEAM, STATISTICS:
2003: Andre Johnson, Houston, 66-976-4
2004: Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona, 58-789-8
2004: Roy Williams, Detroit, 54-817-8
2004: Lee Evans, Buffalo, 48-843-9
2004: Michael Clayton, Tampa Bay, 80-1193-7
2006: Santonio Holmes, Pittsburgh, 49-824-1
2007: Calvin Johnson, Detroit, 48-756-4
2007: Dwayne Bowe, 70-995-5
2011: AJ Green, Cincinnati, 65-1056-7
2011: Julio Jones, Atlanta, 54-959-8
2012: Justin Blackmon, Jacksonville, 64-865-5

Jerrel Jernigan was selected by the Giants in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft and went through the same learning curve as many other NFL rookies. His first year in the league, Jernigan struggled to find success on the field and didn’t appear in a game until his second season in the NFL.

“All the defensive backs are talented,” Jernigan said. “They’re all fast and all of them looked at the quarterback. In college, a lot of defensive backs will focus just on their man. Here, they look at the quarterback and their drop to know if you’re going to be running an intermediate route or deep route.

“You need to get used to the coverages, route running and getting the details to get that. Defensive backs here can read what you’re doing a lot better than college players.”

YEAR
2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
WRs SELECTED56337616
AVG RECEPTIONS3228344140324935
AVG YARDS395387479552597431824490
AVG TOUCHDOWNS32435213
YEAR
2008
2009
2010
2011
2012
2013
WRs SELECTEDNONE62343
AVG RECEPTIONSN/A4434474346
AVG YARDSN/A634422757573561
AVG TDsN/A44533

When the Giants selected Beckham, he was considered about as ‘Pro Ready’ as a rookie can be, but can he truly be the Giants offensive savior? Can the team really rely on an immediate impact from a rookie playing a position that has seen little instant success?

New York has rarely gone with a receiver in the first round. In fact, Beckham is just the fifth receiver taken in the first round by the Giants since 1975. Mark Ingram (87), Thomas Lewis (94), Ike Hilliard (97) and Nicks (09) were also selected in the first round.

Of the group, Nicks had the most success his first year. The UNC alum caught 47 passes for 790 yards and six touchdowns in 14 games.

But will Beckham follow the same path as Nicks and see early success in his career? The Giants certainly hope so, but it’s a gamble. For every Nicks-like performance, there are three Ashley Lelies and Donte Stallworths.

It’s a risk, and history certainly isn’t in New York’s favor.

Sep 092014
 
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Victor Cruz, New York Giants (September 8, 2014)

Victor Cruz – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Victor Cruz isn’t blind.

Nor is he oblivious, ignorant or impervious to what the New York Giants displayed on the field Monday night. He knows it wasn’t good, heck, he knows it was downright ugly.

What Cruz, like so many others are, is shocked. Because he, like so many others, never expected the same issues that had plagued the offense the first week of learning Ben McAdoo’s West Coast offense to still be affecting the team now.

Detroit dismantles Giants dismal offense, 35-24
Quick hits and tidbits, Giants fall to Detroit in season opener

“I did think those problems would be over and we would be able to get into a rhythm,” Cruz said. “Mainly because we were playing a full four quarters. We were playing more than we had in the preseason.”

One quarter or four, it didn’t matter. Nationally televised for the world to see was exactly what the Giants had done in their previous five preseason games. There was no time for quarterback Eli Manning to throw. There was little separation created by the receivers. And, just like under previous coordinator Kevin Gilbride, there were interceptions due to miscommunication between Manning and his intended target.

Cruz caught just two passes for 24 yards on five targets. If the Giants offense is to turn things around, Cruz doesn’t think coaches need to look far for a solution.

Taking a chapter out of Keyshawn Johnson’s playbook, Cruz wants to be thrown the ball.

“There needs to be an increased number of targets in my direction and other play-makers’ directions,” Cruz said. “That all comes with the continuity. That comes with getting the running game going. That comes with building what we want to build as the game continues.”

Rueben Randle, New York Giants (September 8, 2014)

Rueben Randle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Despite the Detroit Lions secondary being ravaged by injury, the Giants were unable to take advantage, especially Cruz’s receiving counterpart, Rueben Randle. Playing his first game in an offense that was supposed to benefit the former second-round pick, Randle was as big of a non-factor as a team can have. There was no more excuse of the complexity of ‘reading the defense’ like in the previous offense.

Randle simply didn’t get separation. Manning went his way three times. The result? Two catches for one yard. Jerrel Jernigan was targeted seven times, Rashad Jennings five and Larry Donnell eight.

“I think it was just the way the game unfolded,” Cruz said. “I don’t think it was anything deliberate or [Eli] wasn’t looking his way. I just think it was the way the coverages panned out, and there were a lot of the plays we were calling that were being shifted over to JJ’s side.”

This coming Sunday, Randle, Cruz and Manning will look to establish something, anything, against an Arizona Cardinals defense flying high following a season-opening win against the San Diego Chargers.

The Cardinal defense held Philip Rivers and Co. to 290 yards of offense and just 238 pass yards. Rivers completed 21-of-36 passes and threw one interception. On the ground, Arizona allowed just 52 yards in a 18-17 victory.

It’s hardly a cake walk for the Giants in the team’s home opener, but Cruz believes another tough opponent is exactly what New York needs.

“I am excited to see how we respond,” Cruz said, “just get back on the field and shake off this game one and get on the field and run some routes and begin to feel good about ourselves

“We want to get back out there and be focused and get our confidence back and be able to run some routes again and catch the ball and see football again”

Sep 062014
 
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Weston Richburg, New York Giants (July 22, 2014)

Weston Richburg – © USA TODAY Sports Images

It didn’t matter what team called his name during the 2014 NFL Draft in May, the goal was always the same for Weston Richburg.

Come the first game of the season, he wanted to step on the field with the starters.

When he picked up his phone during the second round of the draft and heard Giants coach Tom Coughlin’s voice, nothing changed. Richburg knew the Giants had just signed J.D. Walton and Geoff Schwartz. He knew Chris Snee was looking to make a comeback.

It just didn’t matter. He wanted to start.

“I had that picture in my mind,” Richburg said.

The Giants are now two days away from kicking off their season on Monday Night Football. When the offense takes Ford Field in prime time, Richburg will be lining up next to Walton with the ones.

“It’s a heck of a beginning to an NFL career,” Richburg said. “I’m very excited about it and wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s just a great way to start it.”

Going up against one of the best defensive tackles in the game? Well, that just makes it even better.

Not only will Monday be Richburg’s first career start, but he’ll also be matched up against Detroit Lions defensive tackle and former first-round pick Ndamukong Suh.

Suh, 27, has a resume that’s already chock-full of awards and accolades in his short four-year NFL career. In 2010, Suh’s first season in the NFL, the 6-4, 307-pound tackle won Rookie of the Year honors and earned the first of his three Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors.

Throughout his career, Suh has recorded 27.5 sacks, 186 tackles and two forced fumbles while terrorizing opponent’s interior offensive linemen with his rare combination of size, speed and strength.

In his two previous meetings with the Giants, Suh has recorded five tackles and 1.5 sacks.

Richburg has spent countless hours in the film room watching tape on Suh. He’s taken note of his moves, and how he gets an edge on those he faces. The biggest observation the rookie’s made? Suh has impeccable timing jumping the count.

“He catches a lot of guys off guard,” Richburg said. “You can mix up the snap count a little to counter as an offense, but as a guard, that’s your advantage. You know the snap count.

“If we’re going to a silent count, it makes that a little more difficult, but you need to be able to anticipate it as well as you can and be able to fire off right when the ball is snapped so you can negate his perfect timing.”

Playing the Lions in Detroit, quarterback Eli Manning and the rest of the Giants offense will almost certainly have to turn to the silent count, and even if Richburg is able to get the initial step on Suh, he still needs to contain him.

At the NFL Scouting Combine in 2010, Suh bench-pressed 250 pounds 32 times. Richburg wasn’t too shabby, either, putting the same weight up 26 times. But Suh has played 63 regular season games in the NFL, Richburg five preseason games.

“He’s big and strong,” Richburg said,” I’m gonna have to buckle up, strap the cleats on a little tighter and just try to drive him off the ball.”

Sep 042014
 
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Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, New York Giants (August 22, 2014)

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – © USA TODAY Sports Images

There’s no doubt in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie’s mind on who’s the best wide receiver in the NFL. There’s also no hesitation in his voice when asked if that receiver is Lions wideout Calvin Johnson.

“No question,” Rodgers-Cromartie said.

So the fact that Rodgers-Cromartie, New York’s prized free-agent acquisition that signed a mega five-year deal this offseason, is playing Detroit’s ‘Megatron,’ has to hype the corner up. This game, under the lights of Monday Night football, has to mean a little more, yes?

“No,” Rodgers-Cromartie said.

No, really, it has to. Johnson is a record-breaking, All-Pro and Pro Bowl pass catcher.

“Gotta look at him as just another guy,” Rodgers-Cromartie said while shaking his head. “It’s just another game.”

On Monday night in Detroit, Rodgers-Cromartie will look to change his nickname from ‘DRC’ to ‘Optimus Prime’ in an attempt to contain Johnson. A task few defensive backs have been able to accomplish ever since Johnson entered the league in 2007.

During his eight-year NFL Career, Johnson has caught 572 passes for 9,328 yards and 66 touchdowns. Last year, he caught 84 passes for 1,492 yards and 12 scores in just 14 games.

Two years ago? It was a record-breaking 1,964 receiving yards.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Denver Broncos (September 15, 2013)

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Rodgers-Cromartie has had his fair share of battles against Johnson during his seven-year career. The cornerback and receiver have gone up one-on-one during Rodgers-Cromartie’s stints in Philadelphia and Arizona.

“You see guys with his body, but the difference is he has the speed to beat you down the field,” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “He has the big hands to go up and get the ball. With a guy like that, you have to play physical.

“You gotta go up there, put your hand son him and disrupt him as much as you can.”

While Rodgers-Cromartie will undoubtedly face Johnson at some point Monday night, it won’t be every play. After Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Rodgers-Cromartie would follow an opponent’s top target all over the field prior to the start of training camp, it appears as if there’s been a change of heart.

In a 23-20 overtime victory over the Lions last year, the Giants kept with their same cornerback approach, leaving one player on the left side, and one on the right. The technique worked. While Johnson wasn’t 100 percent, the Giants still contained him, limiting the receiver to four receptions for 43 yards. So, come Monday night, it’ll be Rodgers-Cromartie on one side, and Prince Amukamara on the other.

Johnson knows this, and appears ready for whomever he has to face.

“Both (Amukamara and Rodgers-Cromartie) have pretty good ball skills,” Johnson said in a conference call. “Cromartie is a very shifty guy, a very long guy. Prince likes to get his hands on you, it seems like, early in the play.”

Sep 042014
 
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Ryan Nassib (9), Eli Manning (10), Ben McAdoo, New York Giants (May 29, 2014)

Ryan Nassib, Eli Manning, and Ben McAdoo – Photo by Connor Hughes

It’s been awhile, but Tom Coughlin still remembers what it was like to call plays.

To stand on the sideline and play the game of chess versus the opponent’s defensive coordinator, working tirelessly to find the perfect play on that laminated sheet to counter a play you’re not certain the defense will run.

Just as much as any of that, Coughlin remembers what it was like if anybody tried to walk up to him during a game and offer advice in the middle of drives drives.

“I’ll be honest with you,” Coughlin said. “I never liked anybody interrupting me.”

It’s that reason why Coughlin will let new Giants offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo do his thing Monday night in Detroit. If the first-year play caller needs help, Coughlin will offer, but for the most part, McAdoo will be left alone.

“Ben McAdoo is a solid, solid football coach that knows what he is talking about,” Coughlin said. “He has an excellent system, applies himself every day and is very smart.”

Ben McAdoo, New York Giants (June 18, 2014)

Ben McAdoo – © USA TODAY Sports Images

For the first time in over a decade, the Giants will open the season with a far different offensive scheme than the one that helped the team capture two Vince Lombardi trophies within the last eight years.

Gone is Kevin Gilbride’s long-developing, read-the-defense, vertical passing attack. In it’s place, McAdoo’s quick-hitting West Coast scheme.

The offense is designed to get the receivers the ball in space, move the pocket and have quarterback Eli Manning put the ball into tight windows. No longer are there many seven-step drops. Instead, three-to-five before Manning is supposed to hit his back foot and fire away.

During the Giants five preseason games, the offense has displayed glimpses of what the offense can do when clicking on all cylinders. There was a long two-minute drive versus the New York Jets in the third preseason game, a 73-yard touchdown run by Rashad Jennings versus the Pittsburgh Steelers. But in between each solid play were four-to-five negative ones.

Three-and-outs, sacks, rushed throws and miscommunications marred the Giants preseason. Fans and critics went running for the George Washington bridge, Coughlin, Manning and McAdoo for answers.

“Well, we are a work in progress, no doubt about it,” Coughlin said. “We have done some good things and we have done some bad things.”

Come Monday night versus the Lions, Coughlin hopes it much more good than bad.

Tom Coughlin and Ben McAdoo, New York Giants (August 28, 2014)

Tom Coughlin and Ben McAdoo – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Standing in the way of a New York offensive showcase? A talented Detroit defense led by standout defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Keeping Suh off Manning?

An injury-depleted offensive line with far more question marks than answers.

“Obviously, it’s a big challenge,” Coughlin said. “They’re an outstanding defensive team and an outstanding defensive front with exceptional players. That having been said, we’re well aware of that.

“We’re preparing ourselves the best we can and I’m sure that our players will get ready and will be highly competitive.”

Aug 242014
 
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Weston Richburg, New York Giants (July 22, 2014)

Weston Richburg – © USA TODAY Sports Images

There was little hesitation from Weston Richburg. Actually, there was none at all. He spit out his answer before the question was done being asked.

Are you where you want to be in your develop….

“Oh, no,” Richburg said.

Initially, there was some confusion. This was, after all, the Giants new starting left guard. The team’s pro-ready second-round pick who was expected to compete for a starting position before being thrust into one due to injury. How could he not be where he wanted to be?

But the puzzled look on those staring back at Richburg quickly changed. No, he’s not where he wants to be right now, and there’s a simple reason for that.

“If you are content with how you are playing, I think you’re cheating yourself,” Richburg continued. “I always want to get better. “

With the injury to Geoff Schwartz, Richburg will have to progress a bit quicker than originally anticipated.

Versus the New York Jets on Friday, Schwartz, who signed a four-year contract with the Giants this offseason, suffered a dislocated toe in the second quarter. Schwartz will have his foot examined by foot specialist Dr. Rob Anderson early in the week to determine the severity of the injury.

Schwartz could be out months, Schwartz could be out the season. Either way, Richburg has gone from fighting for a starting position to holding one. For as long as Schwartz is on the sideline, Richburg will be in the huddle.

“As an offensive lineman, you have to be ready for something like that,” Richburg said. “We don’t rotate as much as some other positions do, so you have to be ready for any kind of injury or anything like that happens. I was ready for whatever came at me.”

Through training camp, the versatile Richburg has been juggling the task of not only learning his first NFL playbook, but three separate positions. The 23-year old has seen time at left guard, right guard and center during practices and the preseason.

Richburg has acknowledged he feels his game is making strides as he gets more comfortable with Ben McAdoo’s scheme and used to facing pro-level defensive lineman, but there’s one part of his game he feels he’s doing the best.

It’s not run blocking or pass blocking, nor is it any specific pancake block. It’s simple, really, Richburg loves the fact he’s able to forget.

“If I make a mistake, I’m able to clap it off and then go on to the next play,” Richburg said. “I think that’s something that sometimes can hurt players. It carries on play by play.

“I think I’m doing a good job of forgetting about it and just playing fast and continuing.”

Aug 202014
 
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Geoff Schwartz, Kansas City Chiefs (August 24, 2013)

Geoff Schwartz was the Giants big signing in 2014 – © USA TODAY Sports Images

With New York Giants backup left tackles Charles Brown and James Brewer nursing injuries, the team has been rolling the dice on several different offensive line combinations.

After all, if anything happened to left tackle Will Beatty, quarterback Eli Manning’s blind site probably shouldn’t be protected by Mark Asper.

This week at practice saw Justin Pugh get reps at left tackle and Brandon Mosley at right. Weston Richburg lined up at left guard and right. Then, there was Geoff Schwartz who, for first the first time all camp, slid over to the right tackle position during Wednesday afternoon’s practice.

Schwartz – the Giants free-agent acquisition from Kansas City who signed a four-year, $16.8 million contract this offseason – had been working entirely at left guard during camp.

“It doesn’t matter to me, I’m comfortable at a lot of different positions,” Schwartz said. “Luckily I have that versatility.

“I started 11 games at right tackle in my career and played pretty much an entire game there last year. I played right tackle at college and I was drafted as a right tackle.”

Originally drafted in the seventh round of the 2008 NFL Draft, Schwartz said his transition to guard came almost by accident. In his first season with the Carolina Panthers, struggles across the offensive line led to a shakeup up front. A positional coach turned to a rookie Schwartz and told him to move over one spot. He’s been at guard ever since.

The 28-year old says the biggest adjustment he had to make was going from facing defensive tackles, to defensive ends. When at tackle, Schwartz doesn’t have the advantage of having a player to both his right and left.

“You have those speed rushers that you don’t have at guard,” Schwartz said. “You are more on an island and really have to focus in on pass rushers because you don’t have the help you have guard.”

With Beatty still rehabbing from a fractured leg suffered in the final game of the regular season, Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Beatty will be limited to 20 snaps in the team’s preseason matchup with the New York Jets on Friday. All other starters will play close to 30. That leaves 10 snaps where the new-look offensive line may get some playing time together.

No matter who lines up in front of Manning, Schwartz knows it is imperative the team establish some form of offense versus the Jets. In New York’s last two games, the offense has struggled immensely moving the football and establishing any kind of rhythm. Manning has completed 1-of-9 passes for six yards in the two outings.

“We gotta score points,” Schwartz said. “We need to end drives with touchdowns and we need to show all the progress we’ve made on our offense. This is the week to do it and there really is no other way to put it. We need to get it done this week.”