Jul 172017
 
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B.J. Goodson, New York Giants (August 20, 2016)

B.J. Goodson – © USA TODAY Sports Images

With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Linebackers

2016 YEAR IN REVIEW: Ever since the New York Giants moved to the 4-3 defense in 1994, the team has largely de-emphasized the acquisition of linebackers in terms of premium resources. The last time the Giants drafted a linebacker in the 1st round was 1984 (Carl Banks). The last three linebackers drafted in the 2nd round were Clint Sintim (2009), Kanavis McGhee (1991), and Pepper Johnson (1986). From time to time, the Giants have spent big money on linebackers in free agency, including Michael Barrow (2000), Antonio Pierce (2005), and Michael Boley (2009). Not surprisingly, the overall play of the position has declined since its golden era of the 1980s, with the last linebackers to make the Pro Bowl being Pierce (2006) and Jessie Armstead (2001). Now annually, the team’s talent level at the position is usually considered sub-par and the defensive weak spot.

In 2016, of the defense’s three levels, the linebacking corps once again took a backseat to the defensive line and secondary. But while the linebackers were not a team strength, they did play at a more respectable level than their recent predecessors. This is a polite way of saying, “Well, at least the linebackers didn’t suck!”

The surprising headliner was Jonathan Casillas, who arguably had the best season of his career. Keenan Robinson stayed healthy and added more speed to the position. And Devon Kennard finally stayed healthy for a full 16 games. Overall, there weren’t many big plays from this group, but they did a respectable job on a defensive unit that improved from dead last in the NFL to 10th in terms of yardage allowed and 2nd in terms of points allowed.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants chose not to re-sign Kelvin Sheppard, who started 11 regular-season games at middle linebacker for the team in 2016. The Giants re-signed unrestricted free agents Keenan Robinson and Mark Herzlich to 1-year deals. The team also signed journeyman street free agent Curtis Grant and rookie free agent Calvin Munson.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: Once again, the Giants made no major player acquisitions at linebacker. The #1 story line here is tracking how well second-year player B.J. Goodson can take over at middle linebacker for Sheppard. Goodson has been praised by coaches and players for his work during the spring, but he has to demonstrate that he can not only stuff the run, but cover tight ends and running backs. The middle linebacker is usually a defensive leader on most teams and it will be a big jump for Goodson, who only played a handful of defensive snaps in 2016.

It assumed by many that Jonathan Casillas, Keenan Robinson, and Devon Kennard will remain the other top linebackers on the team. Can Casillas continue his career renaissance or was 2016 his high point? Can the injury-prone Robinson string together two healthy years in a row? One gets the sense that Kennard still hasn’t reached his true potential, but he must also stay healthy.

ON THE BUBBLE: Mark Herzlich, J.T. Thomas, Deontae Skinner, Curtis Grant, Stansly Maponga, and Calvin Munson.

FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Bill McGovern on B.J. Goodson: “I think he, like everybody has kind of has noticed, he just seemed a little bit more comfortable being in the system another year being around it. You see him more comfortable gaining more confidence as he continues to get more and more reps in practice… He has a really good skill set. He looks like he will be good in the run, but again, without pads on right now, we’re moving around but it’s not anything that is going to be real definitive right now, but he is a guy that looks like he can tackle, we’ve seen on tape that he can tackle. He moves well. It looks like he is moving better in the pass but again you always move better once you always have a better understanding of how you fit in this scheme… the mike linebacker position is one that has got to control our defense, make some calls, make some checks, get us lined up, and let us play.”

McGovern on Keenan Robinson: “I think Keenan, in particular in our sub-package really was a positive for us in terms of coverage. He has length, he has size, and he has athleticism so he was a real positive. Hopefully, again we will continue to expand his role in that.”

McGovern on Devon Kennard: “I think (last year) it was kind of learning, again, more about DK and DK kept taking on more and more responsibility. Finding his skill set improved a little bit in that he has value rushing the passer and that he has value on first down, second down, and third down. It was one of those situations as we developed through the year we realized that he had more and more value and he has continued to work on it through the offseason and we are excited about where he is headed now.”

PREDICTIONS: This group is lucky to be sandwiched between the talent on the defensive line and defensive backs. As of July 2017, clearly there are still no headliners at this position for the Giants. That could change if Goodson or Kennard have breakout years. The key with Goodson will probably be his coverage ability. Can he become a three-down linebacker? I keep waiting for Kennard to have that breakout game. He has the smarts and physical tools. It just hasn’t happened for him yet. Casillas and Robinson had solid seasons, but they have to prove they can do that again.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Barring injury, the obvious ones are B.J. Goodson, Jonathan Casillas, Keenan Robinson, and Devon Kennard. After that, it gets murky. The Giants could keep as few as six linebackers. It is doubtful they will keep eight. Herzlich keeps seeing his defensive snaps reduced, but is clearly still valued as a core special teams player. The wild card is J.T. Thomas, who is still recovering from a serious knee injury. The fact that he has not been cut seems to indicate the Giants still have plans for him or see him as insurance. I’ll say the Giants keep seven linebackers, including special teams aces Herzlich, Thomas, and Deontae Skinner. I would not be shocked to see the Giants replace one of these three after the final roster cuts.

Jul 142017
 
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Dalvin Tomlinson, New York Giants (June 13, 2017)

Dalvin Tomlinson – © USA TODAY Sports Images

With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Defensive Line

2016 YEAR IN REVIEW: The New York Giants defensive line underwent a major overhaul in 2016, and the changes were perhaps THE major reason why the team’s defense improved from dead last in the NFL to 10th in terms of yardage and 2nd in terms of points allowed. The Giants went from 24th in run defense in 2015 (121.4 yards per game, 4.4 yards per carry) to 3rd in 2016 (88.6 yards per game, 3.6 yards per carry).

The key to sparking the dramatic turnaround were the high-priced, high-profile free agent additions of defensive end Olivier Vernon (5-years, $85 million) and defensive tackle Damon Harrison (5-years, $46 million). These two were a major upgrade over defensive ends Robert Ayers/George Selvie and defensive tackles Markus Kuhn/Cullen Jenkins. Harrison is arguably the best run-stuffing defensive tackle in the game and earned first-team All-Pro honors after making the switch from a 3-4 nose tackle with the New York Jets to a 4-3 defensive tackle. Vernon was slowed by a serious hand/wrist injury but played virtually every snap and earned second-team All-Pro honors.

Jason Pierre-Paul (JPP) rebounded nicely from a 2015 offseason catastrophic fireworks accident that left him permanently maimed. After a slow start on the pass-rushing front, the line was rounding into peak form until a groin tear/sports hernia injury sidelined JPP for the final four regular-season games and post-season contest. Unfortunately, the dropoff was noticeable. As a unit, the line finished with 24.5 sacks in the regular season (up from 16 in 2015).

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants’ biggest personnel loss in the offseason was DT Johnathan Hankins signing a 3-year, $30 million contract with the Colts. The team did re-sign DE Jason Pierre-Paul to a 4-year, $62 million deal. The Giants also re-signed exclusive rights free agent DT Robert Thomas, restricted free agent DE Kerry Wynn, and practice squader DE Jordan Williams. New additions include veteran free agents DE Devin Taylor and DT Corbin Bryant as well as rookies DT Dalvin Tomlinson (2nd round), DE Avery Moss (5th round), DE Evan Schwan (undrafted free agent), and DT Josh Banks (undrafted free agent).

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: One of the most significant story lines for the team is can the Giants adequately fill the shoes of Johnathan Hankins at defensive tackle? While Damon Harrison quickly became the headliner at defensive tackle for the Giants, Hankins was an important part of the drastically-improved New York Giants run defense. Many believe Dalvin Tomlinson will automatically assume the starting position, but Tomlinson is a rookie and will face challenges from veterans Robert Thomas, Jay Bromley, and Corbin Bryant. Depth is also a cause for concern as Harrison must now be considered one of the most indispensable players on the team. Heaven help the Giants if he gets hurt.

A secondary story line will be the quest for a third defensive end who can rush the passer and spell Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon, who both played far too many snaps last year. To date, holdovers Romeo Okwara, Kerry Wynn, and Owamagbe Odighizuwa have not demonstrated the ability to consistently harass opposing quarterbacks. They will be pressured by newcomers Devin Taylor and Avery Moss. Then there is the curious backstory of Odighizuwa’s situation as he missed all of the spring work due to undisclosed “personal issues.”

ON THE BUBBLE: Everyone except Jason Pierre-Paul, Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison, and Dalvin Tomlinson.

FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Patrick Graham on the defensive line as a group: “Really the group is smart. They understand that this is their profession and they know they have to have proficiency at that. They all work hard in terms of knowing football and knowing what we want them to do.”

Patrick Graham on Dalvin Tomlinson: “I think any rookie coming into this league, they don’t know anything about this league aside from the stuff they read and see from the media and TV. I think it’s important for them to stick with what they’ve done in being a good football player up until this point. An organization in the NFL wanted them. To be humble there, listen to the players and listen to the coaches and just diligently work through the process. He’s a pretty even keel guy. He’ll be able to handle it. We will see how it plays out once the competition comes and the season comes… We wanted him for a reason. He’s a good football player and he comes from a good program.”

PREDICTIONS: Dalvin Tomlinson is one of the few defensive tackles who realistically could come in and adequately replace Johnathan Hankins as a rookie. He not only has the physical tools, but he is a super-smart guy who played on the big stage at Alabama. Nevertheless, keep an eye on Robert Thomas, who may split snaps with him. Competition for roster spots will be fierce as the Giants added a couple of former veteran starters late in free agency (Devin Taylor and Corbin Bryant). The Giants can’t keep all of these guys and linemen who can play in this league are going to be released. Another player to keep tabs on is Avery Moss. The coaches and players have said nice things about him and the Giants are still looking for that third pass rusher.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Jason Pierre-Paul, Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison, Dalvin Tomlinson, Romeo Okwara, Avery Moss, Devin Taylor, Robert Thomas, and Corbin Bryant. (The Giants hate to part ways with draft picks so it would not be shocking to see Owa Odighizuwa and Jay Bromley make it over late FA additions Taylor and Bryant. I would also not count out Kerry Wynn).

Jul 132017
 
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New York Giants Offense (December 22, 2016)

New York Giants Offense – © USA TODAY Sports Images

BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) Podcast of July 12, 2017: BBI’s Mike Siegel chats with BBI’s SY’56 and Eric Kennedy about the team’s talent at each of the offensive position groups before training camp begins later this month.

SY’56 has been scouting players since 2006 and has developed his own grading system. His work has landed him a position with Ourlads.com. He spends 20-25 hours per week on scouting players throughout the year.

Eric Kennedy, aka Eric from BBI, is the Editor-in-Chief of BBI. For more than 20 years he has led discussions, reported news, and written provocative and piercing analysis about New York Giants issues.

Mike Siegel, aka gidiefor, has been a poster on BBI since 2004.  He is an attorney and avid Giants fan, and for 17 years was an interpreter for the NYC Park System where he lectured extensively and published numerous articles and publications.   

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS (INCLUDING PODCASTS) HERE

Jul 122017
 
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Ereck Flowers, New York Giants (January 1, 2017)

Ereck Flowers – © USA TODAY Sports Images

With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Offensive Line

2016 YEAR IN REVIEW: Entering 2016, the New York Giants offensive line was expected to take a major step forward. While the right-side was still composed of journeymen right guard John Jerry and right tackle Marshall Newhouse, the left side and center were composed of two first-round and one second-round draft picks. With all five returning together, greater chemistry and cohesion was expected. And new offensive line coach – the well-respected Mike Solari – was supposed to make an impact.

Simply put, the offensive line continued to disappoint. Left tackle Ereck Flowers did not markedly improve and remained a significant liability in pass protection. Left guard Justin Pugh missed time for the third season in a row. Center Weston Richburg did not play as well as expected. In some ways, it was the right side of the offensive line that exceeded what admittedly were low expectations. John Jerry had a decent year and second-year lineman Bobby Hart was surprisingly steady at right tackle, replacing Newhouse after Week 2 until the end of the season. That all said, it would be misleading to say either really “played well.”

It’s always difficult to assess who is mostly to blame for a poor running game. The play of running backs, tight ends, and fullback (or in the Giants case, the absence of a fullback) all matter. But the Giants ground game fell from 18th in 2015 (100.6 yards per game) to 29th in 2016 (88.2 yards per game). The average yards-per-rush fell from 4.0 to 3.5.

In pass protection, Eli Manning survived another year without missing a snap. And his sack numbers declined from 27 to 21. But that is a misleading stat given the West Coast Offense emphasis on the short-passing game combined with Manning’s rapid decision-making and quick release. It appeared to many that Manning simply did not trust his pass protection and played some games more than a a bit gun-shy.

Injuries were somewhat of a factor. Pugh missed five games at left guard, leaving a bit of a revolving door as his replacements such as Brett Jones and Marshall Newhouse also got hurt. At one point, the team was down to their fourth-string option at right guard – Adam Gettis. Hart also missed the last regular-season game with an injury.

In summary, the offense of the Giants was a major disappointment in 2016, and the offensive line deserves a large share of the blame.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: Marshall Newhouse signed with the Oakland Raiders early in free agency. The Giants chose not to re-sign Will Beatty, but did re-sign John Jerry to a 3-year, $10 million deal. The only significant addition in free agency was adding D.J. Fluker, who was cut by the Chargers. The Giants re-signed Practice Squad players Adam Gettis and Jon Halapio and added street free agents Michael Bowie and a couple of other players who have already been waived (Khaled Holmes and Martin Wallace). The Giants drafted Adam Bisnowaty in the 6th round and signed rookie free agents Chad Wheeler, Jessamen Dunker, and Jarron Jones after the draft. Bottom line? Newhouse is gone and the only apparent significant additions are Fluker and Bisnowaty.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: Media and fans love to complain that Jerry Reese has ignored the offensive line. Spending two #1 picks and a #2 pick says otherwise as does his free agent spending in recent years. The real issue is that despite the significant allocation of resources, Reese has failed to put together a viable unit since David Diehl, Richie Seubert, Shaun O’Hara, Chris Snee, and Kareem McKenzie retired.

Most of the fan and media attention entering training camp will be on left tackle Ereck Flowers, a lightening rod of criticism. There is no obvious fallback plan if he fails to progress, though in an emergency Justin Pugh and maybe even Bisnowaty could play there. But Pugh – who talks a lot and wants a huge contract – has to prove he can stay healthy. Weston Richburg apparently played hurt in 2016 and needs to rebound from a disappointing season.

The right side is more up in the air. For now, John Jerry remains the starter. But he may be pressed by D.J. Fluker, who surprisingly only received spring reps at right guard. That suggests Bobby Hart is the clear front runner for right tackle, though Bisnowaty could be a factor there.

It is the opinion of many that the only thing that can hold back the Giants in 2017 is the offensive line. While this is clearly an overly-simplistic falsehood, the line has been a team weak spot for years. If a team can’t block up front, it is very difficult to consistently move the football.

ON THE BUBBLE: Michael Bowie, Chad Wheeler, Jessamen Dunker, Jarron Jones, Adam Gettis, Jon Halapio, and Brett Jones.

FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Mike Solari on Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart improving their technique: “Well, just like everything else, you work different drills, you work techniques, and you just keep honing in until you could make it where you don’t have to think about it and its part of your toolkit. The thing is, what we’re excited about, and Ereck is excited about, so is Bobby and not just those two men, everybody. They are committed. Aaron Wellman did a beautiful job in the sense of where they need to improve on. Physically working in the weight room, conditioning aspect, you could tell the difference. I believe you could tell the difference, in the terms of their body types and where they’re at physically at this time of the season. It’s still early, so that’s really encouraging… They do a nice job in the classroom. You’re not privy to that, but they do a nice job in the classroom. They’re into it, they’re learning, they’re into the film study, they’re into their techniques. They know what they are trying to work on, they know what they are trying to achieve.”

Solari on D.J. Fluker: “Big Man. D.J. is a pro, he comes to work every day and he gives everything he has. He’s done a nice job in the classroom, learning and developing and we’re excited about having him when the pads come on… We like him at guard. He’s got experience at tackle, as we all know from Alabama, when he initially came into the league but his strengths are at guard. There will be a point, where we do want to rep him a little bit at tackle, just for versatility, so if he is not the starter, he is able to go to tackle in need. But guard is his strength and guard is where we like him.”

Solari on Weston Richburg’s hand injury in 2016: “That hurts. That hurts you; your hand placement, your ability to grab, ability to work the chest plate is a big part of the game. So that was tough for him, and he worked through it and he performed at the highest level that he could without being able to use that hand at full strength. But it would be a big difference this year.”

Solari on Adam Bisnowaty: “It’s still early. Right now, we got him at right tackle, but he’s a guy that could, he has versatility, he could go to guard. He has played a little guard in his career, obviously at left tackle, but right now, we like him at right tackle. Try to get him as many reps as possible, so when training camp comes, these young rookies are ready to compete.”

PREDICTIONS: There is a very good chance that the starting line will be the exact same line that started the bulk of the games in 2016. And that won’t sit well with many. Media and fans sometimes forget how young both the bookend tackles are. Ereck Flowers is 23; Hart is 22. Both are big, strong, and have been working their tails off. Whether they succeed or fail still remains to be seen, but the tools are there. What will help both is greater stability, consistency, and health from the interior trio. In particular, Weston Richburg and Justin Pugh need to step up and take ownership of this line. I expect the OL to play much better in 2017. I also expect them to look better with Rhett Ellison and perhaps even Evan Engram and Jerell Adams providing more credible blocking on the perimeter. But if Flowers continues to struggle, and Pugh gets hurt again, and Richburg doesn’t rebound, then Jerry Reese is going to look awfully bad. Those three represent three PREMIUM draft picks.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Ereck Flowers, Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg, John Jerry, Bobby Hart, D.J. Fluker, Adam Bisnowaty, and Brett Jones. (Versatile Adam Gettis and Jon Halapio could press Brett Jones. There is a chance the Giants could carry a ninth offensive lineman. That would help Chad Wheeler’s chances).

Jul 102017
 
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Evan Engram, New York Giants (May 12, 2017)

Evan Engram – © USA TODAY Sports Images

With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Tight Ends

2016 YEAR IN REVIEW:  Not good. The West Coast Offense, particularly the Green Bay Packers version that Ben McAdoo brought to the New York Giants, is heavily dependent on the performance of the tight ends. Entering the 2016 training camp, pundits and fans outside of the organization worried that the Giants had not invested enough serious resources to address the position. Both leading candidates to start (Larry Donnell and Will Tye) were former undrafted rookie free agents. The position was not addressed in the 2016 Draft until the 6th round (Jerell Adams). The other two prospects in the picture were also undrafted free agents (Matt LaCosse and Ryan Malleck).

Based on 2016 results, those pundits and fans were right to be concerned. The poor performance of the tight ends was a major factor in the team’s offensive decline, from 8th in the NFL in 2015 to 25th in 2016. Run blocking by the tight ends was sub-par. And any pass-receiving tight end should have feasted on opposing defenses that double-teamed wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. and had to address slot receiver Sterling Shepard.

Larry Donnell was the starter before the bye, but he only averaged 2.5 catches per game and finished the year with an embarrassing total of 92 yards and one touchdown. Donnell was benched after the bye with Will Tye becoming the new starter. Tye was better, but not by much. In his 10 starts (one before the bye), Tye averaged just 3.2 catches per game and also finished the season with just one touchdown. Factoring in rookie Jerell Adam’s lone score, Giants tight ends scored just THREE touchdowns all year. No wonder this team had issues in the red zone.

This may have been the worst group of tight ends in the NFL in 2016.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: Fortunately, the Giants made dramatic moves in this area. The Giants chose not to re-sign unrestricted free agent Larry Donnell. The team then signed Rhett Ellison to a 4-year, $18 million contract. The final big move was drafting TE/WR hybrid Evan Engram in the 1st-round of the 2017 NFL Draft. In addition, the team did re-sign exclusive rights free agents Will Tye and Matt LaCosse and added rookie free agent Colin Thompson after the draft.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: The obvious focus will be on 1st-round pick Evan Engram and how the coaching staff plans to employ the hybrid. It is hoped and expected that Engram will be a Cover-2 buster and help open the entire offense for the receivers, particularly Odell Beckham, Jr. Rhett Ellison will probably have the similar, unsexy role he had in Minnesota and that is of versatile (tight end/H-Back/fullback) blocker who occasionally catches a pass. First, he has to prove he has moved past a nagging calf injury that sidelined him the entire spring.

The focus beyond the top two will be do the Giants keep three or four tight ends, and who do they keep? The injury-prone Matt LaCosse turned a lot of heads this spring, but he has to prove he can stay on the field.”(LaCosse) is a big target down there in the green zone,” said Ben McAdoo. “Matchup-wise, he gives you that length that you are looking for, he can run and he is a functional blocker, so he has a nice skillset.”

Jerell Adams has the size/athletic ability to become a quality two-way tight end, but he has to show he can mentally handle the pro game. With one former starter (Larry Donnell) already gone and still unemployed, the other 2016 starter (Will Tye) will have to fight just to make the team.

One of the interesting things to watch is how often the Giants now move away from the 11-personel (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers) that they used almost exclusively in 2016. And when they move away from it, how much will that cut into the playing time of a player like Sterling Shepard?

ON THE BUBBLE: Evan Engram and Rhett Ellison are safe. One would think Jerell Adams is still very much in the picture given his potential, but he is no sure bet. Everyone else is on the bubble, specifically, Will Tye, Matt LaCosse, and Colin Thompson.

FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Kevin M. Gilbride on Rhett Ellison: “He can catch more than he’s shown from a statistic standpoint. He has good routes and is a good run blocker as everyone knows.”

Gilbride on Evan Engram: “He can (block). It’s important to him. He’s very functional in that area… He shows a very much so willingness to block and to finish and strain the way we’re asking our guys to strain. Again, that’s not pads so that’ll change things to an extent, but I don’t see him backing down. He has a toughness and a willingness to go against anyone on our defense and I’m hoping that remains through the course of this season… He understands coverage and understands the leverage of the coverage, how it changes and how he needs to run his route. He came in with that and it has continue to progress from there. “

PREDICTIONS: There were a lot of reasons why the Giants offense was so bad in 2016. Many have focused on the blocking of the offensive line. Others correctly point out that former skill position STARTERS were readily cast aside this offseason (running back Rashad Jennings and wide receiver Victor Cruz). But a major sore spot both in the blocking and pass-receiving departments was the play of Larry Donnell (now also gone) and Will Tye (fighting for his NFL future). On paper, the Giants are vastly improved at tight end. Evan Engram could develop into one of the NFL’s best pass-catching tight ends. Rhett Ellison is one of the NFL’s better run blocking tight ends. Jerell Adams – who has two-way skills – will be entering his second season. Matt LaCosse was consistently making plays during spring practices. If the Giants get the tight end position fixed, the entire offense will benefit, including the running game as perimeter blocking hopefully will be much improved. And when Eli Manning drops back to throw, coverage should be looser on Odell Beckham, Jr., Brandon Marshall, and Sterling Shepard. On paper, this is a very dangerous (albeit finesse) offense.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, Jerell Adams, and Matt LaCosse.

Jul 072017
 
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Brandon Marshall, New York Giants (June 13, 2017)

Brandon Marshall – © USA TODAY Sports Images

With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Wide Receivers

2016 YEAR IN REVIEW:  While Odell Beckham, Jr. continued his assault on the record books as one of the game’s premiere wide receivers, more was expected from this unit in 2016. It was assumed by many that the departure of the frustratingly-inconsistent Rueben Randle would be addition by subtraction. Sterling Shepard was considered a 2nd-round steal by many. And there were high expectations about the return of Victor Cruz from three injury-sabotaged seasons in a row.

In 2015, quarterback Eli Manning’s top three wide receiver targets were Beckham, Randle, and Dwayne Harris. These three totaled 189 catches for 2,643 yards, and 25 touchdowns. In 2016, Beckham, Shepard, and Cruz totaled 205 catches for 2,636 yards, and 19 touchdowns. The telling stat was there was a 24 percent decline in touchdowns.

Opponent defensive game plans were obvious and consistent: double- and sometimes even triple-team Odell Beckham and dare the Giants to beat them with their running game or passing the ball to other targets. The Giants failed to be able to make other teams pay and the passing offense fell from 7th (271.4 yards per game) to 17th (242.4 yards per game). Much of this decline had to do with the loss of running back Shane Vereen (59 catches for 494 yards and four touchdowns in 2015) and the unproductive tight ends (only 79 catches and three touchdowns as a group).

But while Beckham continued to produce, and Shepard had a respectable rookie season, it was Cruz who was the biggest disappointment. Slowed by three consecutive leg injury issues from 2013-2015, Cruz seemed miscast as an outside receiver instead of the slot position which Shepard now occupies. Cruz struggled to separate from defenders and finished the season with only one touchdown – ironically a game-winner that he scored in the opener. In other words, he was kept out of the end zone for the final 16 regular- and post-season games. Randle had 57 catches for 797 yards and eight touchdowns in 2015 as an outside receiver. Cruz had just 39 catches for 586 yards.

The nadir of Beckham’s 2016 season was obviously the playoff game. Much was expected and Beckham failed miserably to deliver (four catches for 28 yards) against a weak secondary. Exacerbating the situation – right or wrong – was his boat trip to Miami six days before the game on the players’ day off. But keep in mind that the receivers as a group went on that trip – including the veteran Cruz – and the top three all failed to perform at a high level (Cruz had three catches for 30 yards and Shepard four catches for 63 yards). None scored.

Beckham is extremely competitive and the best player on the team. But he clearly is a diva with a media target painted on his back. How much of this is self-promotion, blown out of proportion to sell newspapers, or distracting to the team are questions subject to passionate debate.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: Easily one of the biggest changes the team made this offseason was at the wideout position opposite of Odell Beckham, Jr. The Giants unceremoniously cut Victor Cruz in February and signed the aging but still-productive super-stud receiver Brandon Marshall in March after the Jets released him. The Giants also signed undrafted rookie free agents Travis Rudolph, Keeon Johnson, Kevin Snead, and Jerome Lane.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: Right or wrong, the media has smelled blood in the water with Odell Beckham, Jr. and he will likely remain the subject of unsavory media attention for the remainder of his NFL career. Much of this is self-inflicted, but also much of it is media-whore click-bait. The focus on Beckham distracts from real issues and is a waste of print space and Q&A media time, but it is what it is. Expect of a heavy does of boring and repetitive Beckham stories in camp.

The real focus of attention should be two-fold: (1) how much does Brandon Marshall have left in the tank? and (2) is Sterling Shepard ready to make a huge impact on the passing game?

Marshall is the only player in NFL history with six seasons of 100 or more receptions. Two years ago, Marshall put up huge numbers and had a Pro Bowl and All-Pro season, catching 109 passes for 1,502 yards, and 14 touchdowns. But the 33-year old Marshall suffered through a injury-plagued 2016 campaign where his numbers dropped to 59 receptions for 788 yards and just three touchdowns. He says he only wants to play two more years. If Marshall can regain even a bit of his 2015 form (with crappy Jets quarterbacking), look out. Eli Manning hasn’t had a big, physical receiver like this since Plaxico Burress in 2008.

Shepard largely flew under the radar with a promising initial season, starting all 16 regular-season games as a rookie, catching 65 passes for 683 yards (10.5 yards per catch) and eight touchdowns, mostly out of the slot. But Shepard did not make many impact plays, his longest reception being just 32 yards. Shepard made a lot of noise this spring during non-contact workouts. He could be poised for a big season with defenses focused more on Beckham and Marshall.

“What am I looking to work on? Really just after the catch,” said Shepard. “I feel like I could have gotten a lot more YAC (yards after catch) yardage last year. That is something that I looked at on film and I want to get better on.”

With special teams ace Dwayne Harris likely to make the squad, much fan attention will be spent on which players fill out the #5 and probably #6 receiver spots. 2016 hold-overs Tavarres King, Roger Lewis, Darius Powe, and Kevin Norwood will compete with the four undrafted rookie free agents signed after the draft. King passed Lewis on the depth chart late in the 2016 season and made some noise with a couple of long receptions. King received some quality snaps with the first unit during spring workouts while Lewis was arrested on a substance-abuse charge. But don’t discount Lewis or 2016 practice squad player Powe, who has good size and has worked hard this offseason. Of the newcomers, Rudolph probably has the best shot. Those who stand out on special teams will have the inside track.

ON THE BUBBLE: Tavarres King, Roger Lewis, Darius Powe, Kevin Norwood, Travis Rudolph, Keeon Johnson, Kevin Snead, and Jerome Lane.

FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Adam Henry on Brandon Marshall: “He has been really good and a really good professional. Just helping the guys with little things for us, just pulling them to the side and helping them on different techniques and things like that… The thing is he goes out there and blocks. He does like the dirty work and he is not scared to do that. It’s just him finding a role and he knows he embraces whatever we ask him to do. He’s been good about it.”

Henry on Sterling Shepard: “Right now he has been working hard and he has been out there and he looks really good right now.”

PREDICTIONS: Victor Cruz and Larry Donnell/Will Tye were major drags on the passing game in 2016. The additions of Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram should not only be substantial upgrades in themselves, but should dramatically open things up for Odell Beckham, Jr. and Sterling Shepard. If Eli and Marshall can develop anything similar to the chemistry Eli had with Plaxico Burress, then the passing game should become one of the NFL’s best again. Watch out for Shepard, who may feast on single coverage out of the slot. (Though with the additions of Engram and Rhett Ellison at tight end, Sheppard may see his playing time cut, particularly in the red zone).

Barring injury, it will be hard for any other receiver to make substantial noise with Beckham, Marshall, Shepard, Engram, and Ellison bound to see so much playing time.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Odell Beckham, Jr., Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard, Dwayne Harris, Tavarres King, and Darius Powe. (The last WR spot is one of the hardest predictions to make).

Jul 052017
 
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New York Giants Helmet (August 20, 2016)

© USA TODAY Sports Images

With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center. We follow up the articles with podcasts.

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN SCHEDULE:

Jul 052017
 
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Paul Perkins, New York Giants (October 3, 2016)

Paul Perkins – © USA TODAY Sports Images

With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Running Backs

2016 YEAR IN REVIEW:  Two years ago – in 2015 – the Giants running backs finished 18th in rushing with 100.6 yards per game and averaging 4.0 yards per rush. The Giants rushed for only five touchdowns. The leading rushers on the team that year were Rashad Jennings (863 yards, three touchdowns), Shane Vereen (260 yards, zero touchdowns), Andre Williams (257 yards, one touchdown), and Orleans Darkwa (153 yards one touchdown). In addition, Vereen proved a significant weapon in the passing game with 59 catches for 494 yards and four touchdowns. Jennings also contributed with 29 catches for 296 yards and one touchdown.

Despite the mediocre rushing numbers, there was optimism entering the 2016 season. Half of Jennings’ 2015 yardage (432 yards) came in the last four games of the season. The ground game – led by Jennings – seemed to peaking behind a young and improving offensive line that would remain intact coming into 2016. In addition, replacing the disappointing Andre Williams with 5th rounder Paul Perkins appeared to an upgrade. Vereen was coming off of his best pro season and expected to continue to serve a duo-purpose threat. And the Giants signed veteran hybrid fullback/tight end Will Johnson to mount a significant challenge to fullback Nikita Whitlock.

The 2016 results were a major disappointment. The Giants ground game not only worsened, but it fell to 29th with a paltry 88.2 yards per game and averaging 3.5 yards per rush. The Giants rushed for only six touchdowns. And pass receptions by running backs fell from 92 catches for 828 yards and five touchdowns in 2015 to 83 catches for 622 yards and one touchdown in 2016.

Why the drop? Inconsistent blocking by the offensive line and tight ends was a factor. The improvement by the line – under new offensive like coach Mike Solari – never occurred. There was not a strong blocking tight end on the team. In addition, both fullbacks were lost to injury for the season before it began and the team carried no fullbacks on the roster. As such, the Giants “bread-and-butter” running play was out of the shotgun formation.

But truth be told, it also became painfully clear that while a good guy and a strong locker room presence, Jennings was no more than an aging, backup-at-best halfback who rarely created yardage on his own either by elusiveness or breaking tackles. Starting 12-of-16 regular-season games, Jennings only averaged 3.3 yards per carry. Vereen missed the bulk of the season with a triceps injury that he also re-injured, and his absence in the passing game was very noticeable. Bobby Rainey replaced him but only had 20 receptions. Orleans Darkwa started two games but only received 30 carries and got hurt again. The only real bright spot was Perkins, but he was not a significant factor until December, gaining 271 of his 456 rushing yards in his last four regular-season games.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants cut Rashad Jennings in February and chose to not re-sign unrestricted free agent Bobby Rainey. It’s telling that both remain unemployed football players. While the Giants did not tender the injury-prone Orleans Darkwa as a restricted free agent, they did somewhat surprisingly re-sign him in March as an unrestricted free agent. The Giants also re-signed RB/FB ‘tweener Jacob Huesman, who the team originally added to the Practice Squad in December 2016.

The new faces include veteran free agent Shaun Draughn, 4th-round draft pick Wayne Gallman, and undrafted rookie free agents Khalid Abdullah and Shane Smith.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: Head Coach Ben McAdoo somewhat surprisingly labeled Paul Perkins the starter early in the offseason. It’s his job to lose. But that does not mean there aren’t questions about his pro-level skill-set and durability. Perkins must prove he is a legit NFL starting-caliber running back. Provided he can stay healthy, Shane Vereen should regain the #2 job as the team’s primary 3rd down back. Shaun Draughn – who has a similar skill set to Vereen – was most likely signed as insurance in case the injury-prone Vereen gets hurt again. 2017 may be more of a redshirt year for Wayne Gallman unless he impresses early or someone gets hurt. The wild card is Orleans Darkwa. The coaches seem to like him, but he has not been able to stay healthy.

One of the big question marks will be whether or not McAdoo wants to carry a fullback this year. Unlike last season, the Giants are far more talented at the tight end position and it may be a number’s game in whether or not the team wants to carry an additional tight end or a fullback. Rookie free agent Shane Smith has the look of a traditional fullback while ‘tweener Jacob Huesman is actually a former quarterback.

“Anytime you have a big fullback type in the backfield it adds an element of physicality that is tough to replace when you don’t have it,” McAdoo said in March. “It just didn’t work out last year. It’s not by design… I hear that I don’t want to have a fullback on the roster, and that’s news to me. I think you want the best team you can put out there, but that position has to have special-teams value. I don’t think you just want someone on your roster who plays seven plays a game. They’re not going to play a ton of plays, but the plays they do play are impactful-type plays in the ballgame. But they need to have some value special teams-wise.”

ON THE BUBBLE: Barring injury (with this group, that is more than a passing concern), the locks would appear to be Paul Perkins, Shane Vereen, and Wayne Gallman. Everyone else is on the bubble and fighting for a job.

FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Craig Johnson on Paul Perkins: “He was an effective runner last year. You have to be able to catch the ball. He did a good job in that and you have to be able to block people because they’re going to try you out. I thought that he probably improved the most in that situation. Guys were testing him out to get to the quarterback and he held up very good in protection… (As a runner) he really can cut sharp. He puts his foot in the ground and bursts through the hole. I like that. It helps both in the run and in the pass protection. That really helps his versatility.”

Johnson on Wayne Gallman: “Coming from college, he was a very productive runner. Stats don’t lie. So far what I’ve seen in practice is that he has been effectively able to run the ball in the runs he’s been given. The pass protection, he’s coming along in. He’s certainly made a big improvement in the last week or so. He’s been able to catch the ball effectively. Again, as a young back, he’s trying to figure it all out. The game is a little too fast for him, like they are for every back right now when they’re young. The game starts to slow down and he’s starting to get it. I’ve seen a couple bursts. I think he will continue to get it in the future.”

PREDICTIONS: Other than Shane Vereen as 3rd-down back, this is largely an unproven group. It remains an open question whether or not the Giants have a running back on the roster that will concern opposing defenses. Paul Perkins has to demonstrate that he has the skill set and durability to be a 1,000-yard NFL rusher. As a draft prospect, Wayne Gallman was largely considered a solid, well-rounded back who didn’t excel in any one area. Vereen and Darkwa have proven to be injury-prone players. On paper, at best, this looks like a middle-of-the-pack group. Hopefully, the blocking up front by the line, tight ends, and maybe fullback improves this year. If not, offensively the Giants will remain a finesse passing team.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Paul Perkins, Shane Vereen, Wayne Gallman, Shaun Draughn (no fullback)

Jul 032017
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (November 14, 2016)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Quarterbacks

2016 YEAR IN REVIEW: For quarterback Eli Manning and the entire passing offense, 2016 was a major disappointment. The passing game was once again expected to be THE strength of the team. Instead, the New York Giants fell from 7th in the NFL in 2015 (271.4 yards per game) to 17th in 2016 (242.4 yards per game). Manning’s yards, yards per pass play, and touchdowns were down while interceptions increased. All of this was a significant shock given that Manning was coming off of one of his best seasons in 2015 and was entering his third season in Ben McAdoo’s West Coast Offense. The Giants had problems making big plays. And when they didn’t hit the big play, the Giants had problems sustaining drives and scoring points. This wasn’t supposed to happen given return of Victor Cruz and the addition of Sterling Shepard, not to mention the rest of the offense returning mostly intact.

The back-up quarterback situation also evolved into a mild surprise. Ryan Nassib – who was drafted in the 4th round of the 2013 Draft and who was the #2 quarterback on the team since 2014 – had a terrible preseason and then developed an elbow issue that landed him on Injured Reserve in December 2016. He was replaced by Josh Johnson, who the team signed in September after he was cut by the Baltimore Ravens.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants made no effort to re-sign Ryan Nassib and he has since signed with the New Orleans Saints. The Giants re-signed Josh Johnson, signed ex-New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith in free agency, and drafted Davis Webb in the 3rd round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: It’s one of the great ironies that a two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback on a team that plays in the biggest media market in the world is rarely the subject of media attention. For years, his pressers have been yawn-fests that rarely make a headline. That’s a tribute to Manning’s demeanor, character, hard work, on-field success, and off-field behavior. That said, the biggest question mark on this possible Super Bowl contender is if Manning is losing it? Manning has never missed a start, but he is 36 years old and coming off a disappointing season where much more was expected. Many will convincingly argue that Manning was sabotaged by a sub-par supporting cast, but if this was true in 2016, it was also true in 2015 as the biggest changes were the moves from Rueben Randle and Dwayne Harris to Victor Cruz and Sterling Sheppard. Perhaps the loss of Shane Vereen was a much bigger blow to the passing game than realized.

This offseason, the Giants ditched their 2016 opening-day starters at running back (Rashad Jennings), wide receiver (Victor Cruz), and tight end (Larry Donnell). They added aging but still dangerous super-stud wideout Brandon Marshall, revamped the tight end position with the additions of Evan Engram and Rhett Ellison, and re-configured the running back group with Paul Perkins starting and the drafting of Wayne Gallman. In both of Manning’s two Super Bowl seasons, he had a quartet of dependable targets to throw to (Plaxico Burress/Amani Toomer/Steve Smith/Kevin Boss in 2007 and Victor Cruz/Hakeem Nicks/Mario Manningham/Jake Ballard in 2011). The Giants appear to have a similar level of talent now. So the pressure will be on Manning to perform and once again make the Giants a top-10 passing offense. A highly-paid franchise quarterback is supposed to raise the level of the entire offense.

“I think we want to get back to where we are scoring points and being explosive and where we can take over a game,” said Manning. “The important thing is that we get those yards. That we get the points. You know we didn’t score enough points last year, everyone knows that. We didn’t take care of the football where we needed to take care of it.”

The second big story line, and the one actually gaining more media attention right now, is the back-up quarterback situation. Because of when he was drafted, Ryan Nassib was never considered the heir apparent to Eli Manning. But Davis Webb has a legitimate chance to eventually replace arguably the best quarterback in New York Giants history. Webb has the physical tools and he appears to have the mental make-up. But does he have “it”? And can he handle the media spotlight of New York and the pressure that comes with replacing a living legend in a few years?

“Davis has done an excellent job in terms of his preparation,” said Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan. “I mean, here is someone that was in a completely different offense in college and he has come in and all of the reports that we had about him as far as being a grinder, being a gym rat, and being someone who is a football junkie are true because he puts the time in. And the thing that we have been pleased with in his development is that he is not making the same mistakes twice and there is a learning curve, they are all going to make mistakes, but he has continued to show incremental improvements and he has adjusted well.”

In the short-term, Geno Smith and Josh Johnson will most likely vie for the #2 job. While unlikely, Smith has been given a tremendous opportunity to revive his career and stick it to the Jets if he eventually became a successful starter with the Giants. But don’t count out Josh Johnson, who may be better suited to the back-up role.

ON THE BUBBLE: Barring the unforeseen, Eli Manning and Davis Webb are locks to make the 53-man roster. The Giants won’t risk putting Webb on the Practice Squad. Unless Webb unexpectedly advances rapidly, the Giants will carry three quarterbacks and Geno Smith and Josh Johnson will be fighting for the primary back-up spot.

FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Frank Cignetti Jr. on Geno Smith: “(He is making a) very positive (impression). Tremendous work ethic, tremendous passion for the game, smart… He’s done a great job acclimating himself to the New York Giants. He’s done a great job rehabbing, he’s done a great job learning the fundamentals. He’s done a great job communicating in the classroom and on the field. Every day we’re teaching and learning and Geno has done a great job.”

Cignetti on Josh Johnson: “You could see last season that Josh is a pro. Josh has been in the league. What do I mean by that; he knows how to prepare, he knows how to study, he does a great job in the classroom, he does a great job in the locker room. On the field, he does what he’s asked to do, and does it well. The nice thing is to see Josh go through the offseason program now, because he wasn’t here the last offseason. The offseason, like McAdoo communicates, is building our fundamentals, building our communication, being in the classroom, then on the field with our teammates. Always teaching and learning. So, Josh has been able to start from jump street in the offseason and it’s been great to see.”

PREDICTIONS: Eli Manning seems to alternate the good with the bad. Since 2016 was a down year for him, expect him to rebound in a big way in 2017. Of course, having Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall, Sterling Sheppard, and Evan Engram to throw to will help his cause. The big question is how good can Eli play at the age of 36? The pressure will be on him to perform and help his team make another Super Bowl run. If Eli and the offense struggle, we may see Davis Webb sooner this decade than expected.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Eli Manning, Josh Johnson, Davis Webb

Jun 152017
 
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Ben McAdoo, New York Giants (June 13, 2017)

Ben McAdoo – © USA TODAY Sports Images

JUNE 15, 2017 NEW YORK GIANTS MINI-CAMP REPORT…
The third and final day of the New York Giants mandatory 3-day mini-camp was held on Thursday at Quest Diagnostics Training Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Thursday’s practice was more of a walk-thru. The veterans are now off until summer training camp begins in late July.

INJURY REPORT AND ABSENTEES…
Wide receiver wide receiver Kevin Snead (hamstring), tight end Rhett Ellison (calf), left guard Justin Pugh (back), right guard D.J. Fluker (unknown), linebacker J.T. Thomas (recovering from torn ACL), cornerback Eli Apple (illness), cornerback/safety Mykkele Thompson (unknown), and safety Darian Thompson (illness) did not practice.

“D.J. got nicked yesterday and he is sore, but he bounced back today,” said Head Coach Ben McAdoo.

Defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa has been excused from the mandatory mini-camp for “personal reasons.”

PRACTICE NOTES…
Some snippets from various media sources:

  • Thursday’s practice was more of a walk-thru affair.
  • With Ereck Flowers limited and Justin Pugh still out, the first-team offensive line was left tackle Chad Wheeler, left guard Adam Gettis, center Weston Richburg, right guard John Jerry, and right tackle Bobby Hart. Adam Bisnowaty also worked in at right guard for Jerry.

GIANTS SIGN EVAN ENGRAM…
The New York Giants announced on Thursday that they have signed their first-round draft pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, tight end Evan Engram. All six of the Giants’ 2017 draft picks are now signed.

HEAD COACH BEN MCADOO…
The transcript of Ben McAdoo’s press conference on Thursday is available in The Corner Forum while the video is available at Giants.com.

THE PLAYERS SPEAK…
Transcripts and video clips of the media sessions with the following players are available in The Corner Forum and at Giants.com:

ARTICLES…