Jul 272015
 
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Victor Cruz, Corey Washington, Odell Beckham; New York Giants (June 8, 2015) New York Giants June 8 2015

Victor Cruz, Corey Washington, Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

For 11 years, there have been many peaks and valleys under the Tom Coughlin-Eli Manning partnership. The high points have been two NFL and two NFC championships, three NFC East division titles, and five playoff appearances. The low points have been six non-playoff seasons and three losing seasons. For the last three years, the Giants have not made the playoffs, including the only two losing seasons under Coughlin and Manning since their inaugural season together in 2004.

Due to many unfortunate career-impacting injuries and poor personnel decisions in the draft and free agency, the overall talent level of the team has declined since 2011. The results have been far too many uncompetitive football games and a worsening win-loss record. The Giants have been dreadful against their two biggest division rivals. The Cowboys were a fingertip away from sweeping the last six games from the Giants while the Eagles are 11-3 against the Giants in their last 14 games. It’s almost impossible to win a division when you cannot beat the teams within your division.

Other than the two most visible institutions on the team (the head coach and quarterback), the Giants have clearly been a team undergoing a major transition during the last three years. Most of the 2011 team is gone. Both the offensive and defensive coordinators have been replaced as well as most of the position coaches. There has been dramatic turnover at almost every position on the roster save quarterback. The Giants have become a young team.

If the reports are true about Eli Manning receiving a new long-term extension soon, then barring injury, the Manning era will continue towards the end of the decade. What we don’t know is if the 2015 Giants will show enough improvement for ownership to retain Tom Coughlin and his coaching staff beyond the upcoming season. The Giants will not be favored to win the NFC East or make the playoffs. The Cowboys are expected to win the division and many believe the Eagles will finish second with the Giants and Redskins battling to stay out of the basement for the fourth year in a row.

So heading into Giants training camp, the team will be underdogs. It’s a role that has suited them well many times during the last 35 years. They have the ability to prove the pundits wrong and win the NFC East, but they will need some things to break their way. And Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning have proven to be a very dangerous duo if they make the playoffs.

  • What is going to happen with Jason Pierre-Paul?: Pierre-Paul is (or was) the only impact player on the defense. But it’s hard to see how he will make a positive impact on the team in 2015. At the very least, he lost a finger, severely fractured his thumb, and needed skin grafts on his severely-burned right arm. Pierre-Paul will not be able to train and lift weights and he will not be able to practice. Because he is still unsigned and is likely to remain so unless he and the Giants come to some sort of compromise deal on his nearly $15 million tender, Pierre-Paul will also miss all of the classwork in training camp he desperately needs to understand Steve Spagnuolo’s system. Tom Coughlin and his players will be asked over and over again about JPP. How big of a distraction this will be remains to be seen. And all of this assumes that Pierre-Paul can even play in 2015 and be anywhere near a competent NFL player, which we really don’t know. The situation is a mess. Best case scenario is he signs a compromise deal soon, attends the classroom work in camp, works on his cardio/leg strength, sometime returns to the playing field in September or October, quickly adjusts to the loss of his digit, and remains a quality two-way end. But there are a lot of “ifs” in that scenario and it’s hard to be optimistic.
  • How quickly will the defensive players adjust to Steve Spagnuolo’s system?: Aside from one memorable playoff run, the Giants defense was mostly a statistical mess under Perry Fewell. In three of the the last four seasons, the defense gave up over 6,000 yards and was one of the worst in the NFL. The Giants pray and hope that Spagnuolo can rekindle the magic he brought to the team in 2007 and 2008. The players seem to love him. However, Spags no longer has Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, and Justin Tuck. Those are three all-time NYG greats. And it’s important to remember that the 2007 Giants really struggled early on in Spagnuolo’s complicated schemes, giving up 80 points in their first two games. The 2015 New York Giants will not have the luxury an extended learning period. Four of their first seven games are against NFC East teams, including two games against the Cowboys.
  • Where will the pass rush come from?: The pass rush was going to be a question even before Pierre-Paul’s injury. Now it’s unknown when the team’s best pass rusher will return. And even if JPP does make it back, will he be effective? The Giants have to hope and pray that veteran journeymen like Robert Ayers and George Selvie can elevate their game and that youngsters such as Damontre Moore, Kerry Wynn, and Owamagbe Odighizuwa can develop very quickly into legitimate players. There are some outstanding tackles in the NFC East and they will show no mercy.
  • Will the run defense actually improve?: The assumption is that a combination of Steve Spagnuolo, solid defensive tackle play, a revamped linebacking corps that includes a healthy Jon Beason, and bigger and more physical safeties will dramatically improve what was a dreadful run defense. Spagnuolo has some good tools to work with such as DT Johnathan Hankins, Beason, LB Devon Kennard, and S Landon Collins. Newcomers like Kenrick Ellis and George Selvie should help. Kerry Wynn and Owa Odighizuwa have the physical tools to become very good run defenders. DT Cullen Jenkins is healthy. But we’ll have to see how it all comes together. There are questions at end with Damontre Moore and Robert Ayers. We don’t know who the other starting tackle will be next to Hankins. Can Beason actually stay healthy? And linebackers J.T. Thomas and Jonathan Casillas have to prove the Giants made the correct assessments in free agency. We do know this: the Cowboys, Eagles, and Redskins are three teams who love to run the football with the Cowboys and Eagles being top-10 in rushing yards per game.
  • How good will the safeties be?: The Giants have a lot of young talent at safety, but they are green as grass and unproven except for recently-signed journeyman Jeromy Miles. Steve Spagnulo puts a lot of mental pressure on his safeties and the inexperienced lads such as Landon Collins, Cooper Taylor, Nat Berhe, Bennett Jackson, Mykkele Thompson, and Justin Currie must grow up fast. Safeties are the last line of defense. Mistakes there lead to big touchdowns and lost games. The upside? This is a young, hungry, and physical group. They have the ability to be very good. But they won’t have a lot of time to get ready.
  • Can Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie stay healthy?: With JPP blowing his finger off, Amukamara and Rodgers-Cromartie are now the two most irreplaceable guys on the defense. They can be as good a cornerback duo as there is in the NFL, but there is little apparent depth behind them. If either gets hurt for an extended period, it could spell disaster. Amukmara in particular has been an injury-prone player.
  • Can the Giants overcome their issues at offensive tackle?: Provided everyone stays healthy, the Giants look set on the inside of the offensive line with Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg, and Geoff Schwartz. The Giants also believe that Ereck Flowers will become an outstanding left tackle some day. But what no one knows is how long it will take Flowers to do so since he needs so much technique work. He could struggle as a rookie. The injury to Will Beatty screwed the Giants in the short-term. Now they will have to rely on Flowers and his growing pains at left tackle and twice-benched Marshall Newhouse, the disappointing-to-date Brandon Mosley, or someone else at right tackle. The Giants may be forced to scramble, moving Pugh or Schwartz to tackle.
  • Can Victor Cruz be Victor Cruz?: We simply don’t know if Cruz will ever be the same player again. If he is, this offense could be special as teams will have tremendous problems trying to defend both Cruz and Odell Beckham (not to mention Rueben Randle). But if Cruz is a shadow of his former self, while Eli and Odell can still make this a very good offense, it won’t be the same as if Cruz was healthy.
  • Is Eli Manning primed to be “elite” again?: In 2011, Eli Manning carried a New York Giants team with no defense and no running game to the playoffs. He was arguably the NFL’s MVP that season. He hasn’t regained that same magic since then. However, Eli was very good in 2014 and seems primed for even a bigger season in 2015. There is a quiet confidence about him. He’s healthy and teammates have noticed a very lively arm in offseason workouts. Eli knows Ben McAdoo’s QB-friendly system now. His favorite target Victor Cruz will be back. In Shane Vereen, he may have the best receiving back he has had since Tiki Barber. He has a top-10 receiving tight end in Larry Donnell. Rueben Randle may be finally coming on. But most importantly, Manning has arguably the most exciting offensive player in the NFL to throw to in Odell Beckham. The way this league is now set up is that an outstanding quarterback can carry a team to an NFL Championship. One more title run and Eli has guaranteed himself a spot in the Hall of Fame.

This team has a lot of issues, mostly on the defensive side of the ball. The best the Giants can probably hope for on defense is to be middle-of-the-pack. Yet after the last four years under Fewell, the Giants would take that. And being just average on defense may just be good enough. The offense, and specifically Eli Manning, can carry this team. The only major question marks on that side of the ball are the status of Cruz and ability of the two starting tackles. I honestly think Manning could be in store for an MVP-type season. He has a lot of weapons to throw to and he is in an offense that gets rid of the ball quickly. The Giants have a nice trio of running backs, an outstanding receiving corps, a very solid interior trio on the offensive line, and a good receiving tight end. Special teams should be much better with the addition of Dwayne Harris and a lot of hungry, young players. If two teams with questionable defenses like the Cowboys and Packers can make a run, so can the Giants.

What the team needs is a little bit of luck on the health front. After two years of leading the NFL in injuries, and freak offseason accidents with JPP and Beatty, the Giants could use a change in fortune.

Jul 232015
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (June 8, 2015)

Quarterback Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com 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

2014 YEAR IN REVIEW: Largely lost in the disappointing 6-10 season and the Odell Beckham hype was the fact that New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning experienced a renaissance in 2014. Approaching his mid-30’s and coming off arguably his worst season in the NFL in 2013, Manning rebounded with one of his best seasons in 2014. Indeed, had it not been for a dreadful 5-interception game against the San Francisco 49ers in November, Manning would have thrown only eight picks all season – his lowest ever in the NFL. His success was even more impressive when you consider he was coming off April ankle surgery that limited his offseason work, had a new offensive coordinator and position coach, was introduced to a radically-different offensive system, and lost his security blanket Victor Cruz early in campaign. Before the season, many said Manning was washed up and the team should move on. By season’s end, those thoughts had largely disappeared. Of all of the Giants’ personnel problems, the quarterback position is not one of them.

It originally looked like Ryan Nassib was going to have an up-hill fight for the #2 quarterback spot as the Giants had re-signed 2013 #2 quarterback Curtis Painter and had added quarterbacks Josh Freeman and Rusty Smith in free agency. But Freeman and Smith didn’t even make it to training camp, and Nassib clearly out-performed Painter in the preseason, completing 44-of-74 passes for 588 yards, five touchdowns, and no interceptions (107.3 quarterback rating). Nassib not only earned the promotion to the #2 spot, but the team was comfortable enough with him to cut Painter and only go with two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants signed street free agent Ricky Stanzi in January.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: Entering training camp, Eli Manning seems comfortable, confident, and healthy. He worked hard at improving his arm strength in the offseason and his coaches and teammates have noticed.

“Yeah, (his arm) is lively, very lively,” said Head Coach Tom Coughlin in mid-June. “He has worked hard on that.”

“I would definitely agree with you on that,” said wide receiver Rueben Randle. “He overthrew me twice and I don’t ever recall that happening. That is something we noticed down at Duke working with him. We noticed that his arm got stronger and that is exciting for us.”

But more important than the increased arm strength is that Manning appears ready to take the next step forward in Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo’s quarterback-friendly system. Combine that with talented targets such as Odell Beckham, Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, Larry Donnell, and Shane Vereen and Eli may be primed for a really big year.

“Eli is a lot quicker at this point in time in getting everything going and getting everything moving,” said McAdoo. “Eli has put a lot of time and effort into his footwork and his training there and to his upper body and his strengthening and maintenance in those types of things. I like the look in his eye right now.”

“I think he is gaining confidence in what we have asked him to do fundamentally in the system and in the communication that happens in the meeting rooms and is carried on to the field,” continued McAdoo. “He is on the same page with his receivers, his tight ends and his backs. He is working well with the center and the o-line. I think being in the second year of the system helps.”

ON THE BUBBLE: Barring something unusual, the two quarterbacks will be Eli Manning and Ryan Nassib. Ricky Stanzi is a camp arm.

FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Mike Sullivan on Eli Manning: “(He) is a lot more comfortable, perhaps, and certainly healthy and we have had a chance to get rolling, but I agree he is definitely throwing the ball well and it is exciting.”

Sullivan on Ryan Nassib: “He is a guy who is a very hard worker. He is a grinder and he is a gym rat and is someone who is very conscientious. He came from a similar type system in college, so he didn’t really have to unlearn, if you will, as much. I am very impressed with his work ethic, his competitiveness and how intelligent he is. He has been really trying to focus on the little things that can get his release a little faster. He is very conscientious about that, “Hey, I can just keep the ball a little bit higher.” He understands the reasoning and timing behind things in terms of not wanting to be too slow with his feet or having an elongated release and just a very bright and competitive player. In the meeting room, he is someone that Eli relies upon. I got the sense early on that those two guys really respect each other and you look at a guy like Ryan and I am excited to see how he is going to perform in these games in the preseason, and he is just a really competitive kid.”

PREDICTIONS: To date, 2011 was clearly Manning’s best pro season. Fans forget that team was 32nd in rushing and 27th in defense. Manning practically single-handily willed that team to a 9-7 regular-season record. It was a league MVP-type performance with six 4th-quarter comeback victories (and two more in the post-season).

Provided Manning stays healthy, Eli will be in serious contention for his first league MVP award. Once again, he will carry his team to the playoffs.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Eli Manning and Ryan Nassib.

Jul 202015
 
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Rashad Jennings, New York Giants (June 16, 2015)

Running Back Rashad Jennings – © USA TODAY Sports Images

With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com 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

2014 YEAR IN REVIEW: 2014 was a major transition year for the New York Giants at the running back position. The two backs most-associated with the team’s recent Super Bowl seasons – Brandon Jacobs (2005-11, 2013) and Ahmad Bradshaw (2007-12) – were both completely out of the picture. Heading into training camp, it was anticipated that free agent acquisition Rashad Jennings, 2012 first-round draft pick David Wilson, and 2014 fourth-round draft pick Andre Williams would form the core of the new running attack. However, Wilson’s NFL career prematurely ended when he re-aggravated a neck injury he originally suffered in the 2013 season. He was forced to retire from the NFL in training camp. It was a major blow for the Giants as not only was Wilson particularly well-suited for Ben McAdoo’s West Coast Offense, but he was one of the few home-run hitters on the team and a dynamic kickoff returner.

Without Wilson, the Giants were largely a between-the-tackles and off-tackle team that was unable to consistently threaten the perimeter of the defense. With a group of blockers on the line and at tight end who were not very physical and often struggled to move defenders off of the line of scrimmage, the running backs did not have much room to operate. Exacerbating the situation was the fact that Jennings was limited to nine starts due to knee and ankle injuries. Reserves Peyton Hillis and Michael Cox also ended up on Injured Reserve in November. The Giants were forced to scramble by picking up Orleans Darkwa and Chris Ogbonnaya.

At fullback, Henry Hynoski beat out John Conner in training camp and the preseason. However, the fullback position was de-emphasized in McAdoo’s system in favor of multiple tight end sets. Nikita Whitlock was signed to the Practice Squad in December.

In the end, the Giants were tied for 28th in the NFL with only 3.6 yards per rushing attempt and 23rd in the NFL with 100.2 rushing yards per game. New York was tied for 12th in rushing touchdowns with 13. For a team that was 10th in the NFL in rushing attempts, these figures simply were not good enough.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants cut David Wilson and Peyton Hillis in February, Michael Cox in April, and Chris Ogbonnaya in May. The Giants signed unrestricted free agent Shane Vereen from the New England Patriots in March. After the draft, the team signed rookie free agents Akeem Hunt and Kenneth Harper.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: Provided everyone stays healthy, the Giants appear to have a nice triumvirate in Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen, and Andre Williams. The main focus, of course, will be if the team can dramatically improve its ground game productivity. It’s been a common misperception by national media and fans that the Giants have been a running back-based offense. Nothing could be farther from the truth as the Giants have ranked 32nd (Super Bowl team), 14th, 29th, and 23rd in yards per game since 2010. Obviously much of the success or failure of the running game will depend on the blocking of the offensive line and tight ends. But the primary unknown is how good can Jennings, Vereen, and Williams really be? Is this a middle-of-pack, average group of runners or something more than that?

Not enough attention has been focused on comments made late in the season by Andre Williams who made it clear he felt some of the team’s running game issues were the fault of the coaching staff.

“We were dabbling a lot between schemes, whether we were outside zone, whether we were a zone team or a power team, what fit our personnel the best,” Williams said. “As we continue to learn the offense and learn what we’re good at, we’re bound to get better…I just don’t know if we knew when and where we were supposed to do what.”

Hopefully, with a full first season together under their belt, Tom Coughlin and Ben McAdoo have decided what scheme the team should employ and stick with. The clarity should dramatically facilitate better execution and results.

ON THE BUBBLE: The Giants will keep three or four halfbacks and one fullback. Henry Hynoski is heavily favored to retain his fullback roster spot over Nikita Whitlock. Orleans Darkwa has a good shot to make the team if the team keeps four running backs, but won’t make it if they keep three. The best shot for Akeem Hunt and Kenneth Harper is the Practice Squad.

FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Craig Johnson on Shane Vereen: “He is a very smart player. I kind of figured that was the way he was and the way he played before seeing him on tape. He really picked up our system well, has done a good job of understanding, and has a really good rapport going on with Eli right now, so I really like where he is at and I think he has done a good job. He ended up the spring like I had liked him to.”

Johnson on Rashad Jennings: “Rashad Jennings, who obviously had a very good year for us a year ago. He again has continued to develop, he is a great leader, very versatile, can play all the downs and does a good job. I really like what I saw from him this spring and he felt good, is fit and is running around, so I think he brings a lot to the table also.”

Johnson on Andre Williams: “Andre Williams played a lot of football for us last year, was our leading rusher, had a really good offseason and has worked diligently. A lot of people asked about, what about catching the ball. When he came to us out of Boston College, he didn’t have a catch his last year of playing in college and he has worked diligently at working on his hands and continues to improve dramatically in that area. He can run very well and can block.”

Johnson on Orleans Darkwa: “Orleans Darkwa, who played for us a lot last year, played a lot of teams and has done a good job. He picks up the offense, very smart, very smart player, has very good speed, is good on the edge runs and has done a good job inside. I put him in there in the two-minute situation today and we didn’t miss a beat in the two-minute, so I thought he did a really good job.”

Johnson on the fullbacks: “(We also) have two good fullbacks: Henry Hynoski, who has played for us for quite a while and continues to thrive in his role and brings a lot to the table for us, and then we have Nikita Whitlock, a player that has played some on offense and defense for various teams. (He) is a very strong player, very low to the ground, has good hands and he has really expressed himself well.”

PREDICTIONS: Vereen is going to have a major impact on the offense as a receiver out of the backfield. Ben McAdoo’s West Coast system is heavily dependent on a running back who can catch the ball. Rashad Jennings can do it too, but he missed half the season last year. Plus, Vereen is simply a better receiving target. The Giants are already thrilled with what they see from him.

“(Vereen) can be a quarterback’s best friend in a way in the passing game,” McAdoo said during the June mini-camp. “Similar to the way tight ends can be. He has great body language coming out of the backfield. He usually does not fool (Eli Manning) and they seem to be on the same page.”

With opposing defense’s concentrating on Odell Beckham, Victor Cruz, and Rueben Randle, Vereen should feast on the soft under-coverage. Indeed, Vereen may be the best running back outlet that Manning has had since Tiki Barber. Many fans forget that Barber caught over 100 passes and almost 1,000 yards from Manning in 2005-2006, including many well-executed screens. Vereen’s receiving skills are so good that we’ll even see the Giants split him out wide. Vereen may also be used as a runner more than many expect. He gives the Giants more outside quickness.

A lot of fans don’t think Andre Williams is very good. I’m not one of them. He was far too productive in college and flashed too much late in the season for me not to still be excited about his potential. I don’t think he was scapegoating but being being honest about the coaches not sticking with one scheme last year. I also think he realizes that he needs to develop better patience as a runner in McAdoo’s offense.

“I’m always about accelerating,” said Williams late last season. “In college and in high school, that’s what I watched a lot of other backs do. They got from 0 to 60 as quick as possible and it caught people off guard. But it’s a little different in this scheme. It’s all about timing and being in the right place for things to open up the way they should. That’s what I’m working on right now.”

“All young players, they have a tendency to really get in a hurry, but I think that he is getting more patient as he continues to go,” said Johnson of Williams late last year. “What he is going through, the process of right now, getting more carries and so on, is timing and rhythm with the offensive line. That’s the bottom line. They block in a certain rhythm and a certain pace, he runs at a certain rhythm and a certain pace. Everybody’s trying to mesh that together to make sure we have an effective running game.”

“I tell him,” Jennings said of Williams, “you don’t necessarily want to be quick to the hole, you want to be quick through the hole.”

I really like Jennings as a runner and receiver, but I think Williams is going to push for major playing time. He’s a punishing, physical runner who once he has a feel for the scheme is going to give a physicality to the offense that it desperately needs similar to what Alfred Morris brings to the Redskins.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Jennings, Vereen, Williams, and Hynoski. The team would like to keep Darkwa too, but roster spots are short.

Jul 162015
 
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Odell Beckham and Victor Cruz, New York Giants (June 16, 2015)

Wide Receivers Odell Beckham and Victor Cruz – © USA TODAY Sports Images

With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com 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

2014 YEAR IN REVIEW: Perhaps the two biggest story lines of the 2014 season for the New York Giants were at the wide receiver position. First came the devastating knee injury to Victor Cruz in the game against the Philadelphia Eagles on October 5. Cruz was lost for the final 11 games of the season and it remains to be seen if he will ever return to his pre-injury form.

The other major story line was the rapid emergence of Odell Beckham as an NFL superstar. Cruz and Beckham only played in two games together in 2014 before Cruz was lost for the season. Beckham had one of the greatest rookie seasons in NFL history, and he did so in only 12 games after missing most of training camp and all of the preseason. Indeed, Beckham became the only reason many Giants fans looked forward to tuning in in what otherwise was a very disappointing 6-10 season.

Aside from these two headliners, while Rueben Randle came on strong late, he did not have the type of season expected or hoped for, and the former 2nd rounder remains frustratingly inconsistent. Jerrel Jernigan, who came on very strong at the end of the 2013 NFL season, reverted back to his old disappointing form and was placed on IR after only two games. Preston Parker not only surprisingly made the team but became the new #3 receiver after Cruz was lost. Corey Washington was a preseason star who was little-used once the real bullets started flying. Marcus Harris impressed in training camp but missed the season with a hip injury. The Giants signed veteran Kevin Olgree in October, but he did not see much action. Julian Talley, Juron Criner, and Chris Harper were practice squad players.

In the end, it was Beckham and not much else at the crucial wide receiver spot. Other teams knew that too and still could not stop Beckham.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants released Kevin Ogletree in May after re-signing him in February and waived Marcus Harris in July. The team chose not to re-sign Jerrel Jernigan in free agency. The Giants signed Dwayne Harris from the Dallas Cowboys and drafted Geremy Davis in the 6th round of the 2015 NFL Draft. They also signed Ben Edwards, who was eligible to play in the NFL in 2014 after graduating from the University of Richmond, but sat out the year recovering from an ACL knee injury.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: The two main stories are obviously going to be Beckham and Cruz. Can Beckham make the same impact or better in 2015 or will he regress? How will he handle the attention both on and off the field? How much of an impact will he make on the win-loss record? Beckham was once again nagged by a hamstring issue that caused him to miss most of the spring practices.

The other main story is Cruz. The Giants have repeatedly said that they are optimistic about his return to form, but there are no guarantees that may never be the same player again. If he isn’t the same player, it will be a big hit to the team as Cruz was one of the few impact players on the Giants. Cruz may also not be long for the Giants given his high price tag. But if Cruz does return to form, he and Beckham and Randle could form possibly the best receiving corps in football and help carry the team to the playoffs. So much of the team’s success depends on Beckham and Cruz. It will be interesting to see how much work Cruz gets at training camp and in the preseason. He appears to have made tremendous progress in his rehabilitation.

Randle also will also be under the spotlight. Although he had his best season to date in 2014, he was still inconsistent and was benched twice for disciplinary reasons. But he also exploded in the last two games, catching 12 passes for 290 yards and a touchdown. Plus it’s a contract year for Randle. If he plays like he did in the final two games, that will be a big asset for the Giants.

Corey Washington also made a lot of noise in the spring practices. “He has made some plays and has a better understanding of the offense in his second year and playing faster,” QB Eli Manning said. “I think he has always had the ability to make the great catch and run the go routes and fades but just kind of adding the complete package to his game.”

ON THE BUBBLE: The Giants will probably keep six wide receivers. Barring injury or unforeseen events, Beckham, Cruz, Randle, and special teams extraordinaire Dwayne Harris are the sure bets. That leaves two spots for Parker, Washington, Davis, Edwards, Criner, Talley, and Harper.

FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Sean Ryan on Odell Beckham: “A lot of different things (make him tick). Certainly going against a great challenge makes him tick. Last year, we would do a thing where every Friday I would give him a listing of the rookie receivers because it was a heck of class of rookie receivers. How many catches and yards and touchdowns they had, and certainly Week 5 he was down at zero and the other guys were up there. I think he thrives on challenges. You go out to Seattle and it is him versus Richard Sherman. I think that is what makes that guy tick. He is a true competitor…I think we were as creative last year as I have ever been and as we have ever been with any player, and certainly a rookie. This guy lined up in the slot, as the number one strong, the number one weak, in the backfield; we would motion him into the backfield, from the backfield. (Opponents) can plan for him, but the first thing is they have to find him.”

Ryan on Rueben Randle: “I thought Rube did a nice job. He is another guy that he is a really intelligent football player. The game makes sense to him, and things happen for him. He processes stuff really quickly and I think the more tape he watches and the more practice snaps he gets, the quicker that stuff happens for him and the quicker reactions he makes and I would say that is really what has shown up to me. The more football he plays, the better he gets. He sees things very quickly.”

Ryan on Corey Washington and Preston Parker: “I thought Corey Washington had an excellent spring. I thought he had an excellent spring in the classroom and in the meetings. His attitude was outstanding. He worked. He got better and we will compile all the catches, but he is right up there. I am not sure if he didn’t lead the pack in catches and productivity for the spring. He certainly stood out to me. I thought Preston made some great strides, in particular playing in the slot. He is seeing things a little bit better. He is seeing defenses, reacting to blitzes better, so I thought Preston did a great job. I think those two guys really stuck out to me.”

PREDICTIONS: Why have the Giants struggled so much since 2011? Because they haven’t had enough top NFL talent. Super Bowl-caliber teams need strong overall rosters but they also need impact players. It’s no accident that there has been a noticeable lack of NYG presence on “Top 100″, All-Star, and Pro Bowl lists. Two guys who can be impact players are Beckham and Cruz. And for the Giants to have any realistic shot at the Super Bowl, these two – along with Eli Manning – must carry the offense similar to what Manning, Cruz, and Hakeem Nicks did in the 2011 regular-season.

Beckham seems “Lawrence Taylor”-like to me. If he can do for the offense what LT did for the defense in the 1980’s, this is going to be a fun. I just hope the limelight doesn’t go to his head because that and injury appear the only things that can derail him.

As for Cruz, in a weird way, the injury may end up positively impacting his career. Since peaking in 2011-12, Cruz wasn’t playing up to the same level before the injury. The contract and limelight may have gotten to his head. Now Cruz will have to fight to prove the doubters wrong. He’s no longer the media darling. Beckham is. If his body doesn’t fail him, Cruz could rebound in a very big way. In the clutch, Eli trusts him. I think Cruz will be ready for opening night.

The Giants are in a catch-22 situation with Randle. If he has a big year, it’s hard to see him wanting to re-sign with the Giants next offseason unless the team decides to part ways with Cruz. On the other hand, if he remains inconsistent, the team may not want to keep him. Regardless, it’s a big year for him financially, and because of that, I expect him to play well.

“This is a big year for me, and I’m looking forward to being the player I know I can be,” said Randle. “I get it now. I know what’s expected of me, and now I’m just going to go out there and prove it every day. That’s my main focus.”

My ultimate prediction is that this trio will combine with Eli Manning to get the team back into the playoffs in 2015. Beckham, Cruz, and Randle have a higher upside than Cruz, Nicks, and Mario Manningham.

One final note. It seems as if the Giants may have an offensive role in mind for Harris too. They may move him around a bit like they do with Beckham to take advantage of his elusiveness with the ball in his hands after the catch.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Beckham, Cruz, Randle, Harris, Davis, and Washington. The tough call here is on Preston Parker. He could push Davis or Washington.

Jul 132015
 
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Adrien Robinson, New York Giants (June 16, 2015)

Tight End Adrien Robinson – © USA TODAY Sports Images

With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com 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

2014 YEAR IN REVIEW: As the New York Giants entered training camp in July 2014, the tight end position appeared to be a pending disaster. The Giants had parted ways with the disappointing Brandon Myers and jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none Bear Pascoe. The only returning players were Larry Donnell (16 games, 3 catches in his two NFL seasons) and Adrien Robinson (3 games, no catches in his two seasons), both of whom had demonstrated very little to date. The Giants had added Kellen Davis (unrestricted free agent from the Seahawks), Daniel Fells (who was out of football in 2013), and Xavier Grimble (undrafted rookie free agent). Late in training camp, the Giants also signed Jerome Cunningham (who was out of football in 2013).

Few predicted correctly that Donnell would win the starting job followed by Fells as the #2 tight end and Robinson as the #3 tight end. Cunningham was also signed to the Practice Squad.

Overall, while the tight end was not a position of strength for the 2014 New York Giants, it certainly was not the mess many had expected. Donnell had a breakout year as a receiver. He finished tied for 9th in the NFL among tight ends in terms of catches (63), 13th in terms of yards (623), and tied for 7th in terms of touchdowns (6). Blocking is not a strength of his game, but Donnell appears to be an ascending player with enough physical talent to get better. Fells proved to be less dynamic, but was more reliable as a blocker. And he did chip in with four touchdowns. Robinson remained buried on the depth chart, but at least he finally saw some playing time and caught his first NFL touchdown pass.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants signed undrafted rookie free agents Matt LaCosse and Will Tye after the 2015 NFL Draft.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: The main focus will be on Larry Donnell and whether or not he can take another major leap forward in his development. He jumped from a career 3-catch target to the NFL’s 9th-leading receiving tight end in one season. But Donnell needs to improve his consistency, blocking, and ball security. The good news is he knows that and has been working hard to improve his overall game. A potential fly in the ointment is that Donnell missed most of the spring work with Achilles tendinitis.

Assuming Donnell gets and stays healthy, the other story line is which tight ends will round out the unit. Fells is the steady but unspectacular leader of the group. Cunningham really flashed as a receiver during spring practices. Robinson also made some noise in the spring and LaCosse and Tye appear to have more talent than your typical rookie free agents.

ON THE BUBBLE: Ideally, the Giants would probably like to carry four tight ends, but three is more likely. Barry injury, the only sure bet is Donnell. Fells, Robinson, Cunningham, LaCosse and Tye are probably fighting for two roster spots.

FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Kevin M. Gilbride on Adrien Robinson: “Adrien has made tremendous progress this spring. He’s the one who has made the most progress as far as his understanding and grasping of how to get his job done. He could always tells you what his assignment was, but he didn’t necessarily know how to go about doing it. Or he had been taught how to do it, and then moved onto something else, taught how to do that, and then lost what he had learned. He’s made a lot of progress and it’s showed up more this spring than it ever has before. And I’m not talking about making catches because he could always make catches or get open on a particular route. We’re talking about how to execute when he is working with a tackle on the front side of a zone scheme and when to come off on the backer and the angle to take and where to place his hands and how he should pressure his hands and things like that. He’s made the most progress in that area. It’s good to see because we need him to come around.”

Gilbride on Jerome Cunningham: “What stands out is his effort. He is going to give great effort, no matter what. Whether he knew what he was doing or not, he was going to be going 100 miles per hour, whether he knew what block he was supposed to make or not. He was going to be doing it as well as he could. That gives them a chance. It gives every person who plays this game a chance to be successful, or at least to be noticed as far as staying on the squad in some capacity, which certainly he did. He has carried it over throughout the season and then now through the spring where he has made some good strides.”

Gilbride on Larry Donnell: “It is technique and confidence (with his blocking). Having him miss this offseason was not good for him in that regard. He is going to have to come into training camp and pick up where these other guys have left off in the improvements we have made in that area. We focused on certain things this offseason in the run game. It really started to show towards the end of the spring, which we were happy about. Happy to see. Still have a ways to go overall, but much improved. We were happy with where it went. We just want him to be a part of it.”

Gilbride on Will Tye: “Talented kid. He has very, very soft hands. He can run straight-line very well and for as tall as he plays – because he doesn’t play with great bent knees all the time – he can get in and out of breaks very smooth. What he needs to improve is his quick-twitch and his true effort at the snap to the end of the whistle…It’s not instinctual for him to play fast…He’s got a ways to go as far as learning the offense…He has made too many mental mistakes, but that doesn’t mean he won’t eventually get it. We’ve thrown a lot at all of them.”

Gilbride on LaCosse: “Different skillset. He’s a linear guy, a long-legged guy who can get down the field. Very, very bright. Talk about Will (Tye) making too many mistakes, Matt didn’t make many mistakes, which is impressive. We had him in a role where we moved him around all the time as far as motioning and shifts.”

PREDICTIONS: I like this group of tight ends more than most. If Donnell’s Achilles tendonitis isn’t a problem, I truly think he has the ability to develop into one of the better receiving tight ends in the NFL. He looked like a budding star in his Week 4, three-touchdown performance against the Washington Redskins. Donnell can do it. He has an excellent combination of size (6’6”, 265 pounds), athletic ability, and hands. I love the way he adjusts to the football for a big man. He’s a match-up problem for linebackers. So is Jerome Cunningham, but for different reasons. Cunningham is smaller (6’3”, 250 pounds), but even faster and more athletic. He can be a match-up problem for safeties. There were whispers about him being pretty darn good as a Practice Squad player last year and his performance in the spring was impressive.

What the group seems to be lacking is someone who excels at blocking. Fells is the most consistent and reliable. But he may be pressed by Robinson, provided Robinson finally “gets it” in his fourth year.

I also have a feeling that the Giants are going to like what they see in LaCosse and Tye.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Donnell remains the starter, but Cunningham is going to press for serious playing time as more of an H-Back type tight end. Ben McAdoo will find a role for him in his TE-centric offense. The difficult decision here for me is Robinson versus Fells. I think Robinson will do enough in camp to convince the Giants to keep their 3-year investment. But if Robinson continues to falter, Fells retains his job and provides leadership. While the Practice Squad may be the most realistic option for both LaCosse and Tye, if one excels at blocking, he has a shot at the 53-man roster.

Jul 092015
 
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Brad Harrah and Bobby Hart, New York Giants (June 16, 2015)

Brad Harrah and Bobby Hart – © USA TODAY Sports Images

With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com 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

2014 YEAR IN REVIEW: The overall play of the New York Giants offensive line improved in 2014 from its dreadful performance in 2013 but the unit was still sub par. The Giants were tied for 28th in the NFL with only 3.6 yards per rushing attempt. Pass protection was better as the Giants gave up 30 sacks on the season, which was 9th-best in the NFL. But that figure is a bit misleading given the offense’s new emphasis on getting rid of the ball quickly (West Coast Offense) and quarterback Eli Manning’s long-established tendency to get rid of the ball quickly and not take the sack (which he probably actually should do more often when under duress).

The improvement that did take place not only had to do with the individual components playing better, but the Giants had greater cohesion up front due to far fewer injuries. In 2013, the Giants used seven different starting offensive line combinations, the second-highest total in the NFL that season. In 2014, the same players started all 16 games at left tackle (Will Beatty), center (J.D. Walton), and right guard (John Jerry). Weston Richburg started 15 games at left guard and Justin Pugh started 14 games at right tackle.

That all said, it is widely-recognized that the offensive line was once again a sore spot in 2014. Chris Snee retired before training camp. The Giants counted on high-priced free agent acquisition Geoff Schwartz to be a major building block, but Schwartz only played in two games due to injuries. Beatty had a decent year, but Walton and Jerry really struggled at times. Pugh regressed after a strong rookie season and Richburg experienced the expected growing pains, especially since he was playing out of position. Overall, the line was more finesse than power, which usually is not good for any offense, but especially so for one predicated on balance and the ability to run the football.

Another issue was the overall poor depth situation. James Brewer, Brandon Mosley, Eric Herman, Dallas Reynolds, and Adam Snyder were complete non factors and did not push the weaker links on the line. Adam Gettis was signed late in the season from the Steelers practice squad and ex-Eagle Michael Bamiro was signed to the Giants practice squad.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants released center J.D. Walton in March. Tackle James Brewer signed with the Jets in free agency and the Giants have made no effort to re-sign guard Adam Snyder. The Giants signed CFL All-Star center Brett Jones and street free agent tackle Emmett Cleary early in the offseason and then signed unrestricted free agent tackle Marshall Newhouse from the Bengals.The Giants drafted tackle Ereck Flowers in the first round and guard Bobby Hart in the seventh round. The team also signed rookie free agent tackle Sean Donnelly.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: The Giants will enter training camp with no 2014 starter remaining at the same position. Will Beatty tore his pectoral muscle in an offseason weight-lifting accident and will probably miss at least half of the regular season. Because of that, the Giants are starting Ereck Flowers at left tackle at least one year sooner than they anticipated (post-draft comments by Giants officials made it clear that they saw Flowers as Beatty’s eventual replacement). Flowers had been penciled in at right tackle but now Marshall Newhouse – a player benched by the Packers and Bengals – gets first crack at the position. Weston Richburg moves to his more natural position of center. Justin Pugh has shifted from right tackle to left guard. Geoff Schwartz moves from left guard to his more natural right guard position.

The Giants have now invested two first-round draft picks (Pugh and Flowers), two second-round draft picks (Beatty and Richburg), and a high-priced free agent (Schwartz) on the offensive line. Even though Beatty is out, much improvement is expected. On paper, the Giants look strong inside (Pugh-Richburg-Schwartz) with significant question marks at tackle (Flowers and Newhouse). Flowers should eventually excel, but growing pains should be expected. Newhouse’s track record during the last few years has not been good and he appears to be the obvious weak link. The Giants may be forced to move Schwartz to right tackle and start John Jerry at right guard if Newhouse can’t handle the position. The situation should improve when Beatty returns mid-season, but long-term, Beatty may have sealed his fate with the team, especially if Flowers shows steady improvement at left tackle.

Another area of focus is the depth situation and if one of the younger players could possibly surprise and push for a starting job. Brandon Mosley apparently had a good spring as he received some first-team reps during OTAs. The Giants have some very big, young tackles including Michael Bamiro (6’8”, 340lbs), Emmett Cleary (6’7”, 324lbs), and Sean Donnelly (6’7”, 333lbs). The team drafted guard Bobby Hart (6’4”, 334lbs). Brett Jones was a CFL All-Star who is now adjusting to the NFL game.

Overall, the Giants need the line to become a much more physical and intimidating presence. Flowers has a reputation as a bad ass and should help. Pugh and Richburg worked hard in the offseason to get bigger and stronger. The Giants need Schwartz to rebound from a serious ankle injury and be a tough veteran inside.

ON THE BUBBLE: The Giants will probably carry nine offensive linemen. Beatty will probably start the season on the Physically-Unable-to-Perform (PUP) List and not count against the 53-man roster limit. Flowers, Pugh, Richburg, and Schwartz are the locks. Newhouse and Jerry are on shaky ground, but one will likely start and the other will likely provide veteran depth. The other nine offensive linemen will probably be fighting for three spots. Those linemen include Mosley, Bamiro, Cleary, Donnelly, Hart, Jones, Dallas Reynolds, Eric Herman, and Adam Gettis. Troy Kropog is also currently on a PUP List.

FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Pat Flaherty on Weston Richburg: “Right now the progress is good, it really is. He learned an awful lot last year but I knew that he was going to be a player for a very long time and I know I’m using that, but I believe it because he likes the game of football. He really has embraced the center position because you are the voice of everybody to start out and the quarterback may change things, but you are telling everyone what to do. I think that Weston has a little bit of bossman in him and he likes that.”

Flaherty on Michael Bamiro: “I’ll tell you he is the Kevin Garnett of the football players, that guy is huge. He is a good worker, he really is. He has some position versatility from being a tackle to a guard and we worked out with him. We have to really find out a little more about him when we get on pads, but I like his attitude.”

Flaherty on Justin Pugh: “I think that he likes playing and I love guys who like playing. I think any position that you put him at, he would play it. He would like to be a guy that is settled in one position. Most guys are that way. I think you probably get that feeling from him more than anything. He would only get better at the tackle position for us. Is he a better guard than tackle? He is going to be a good football player…Justin has very good feet, he is a very good athlete, has tremendous lower body strength and when you get closer to the ball at the guard position, you are going to be blocking bigger people, so I think that is going to be an advantage for us. He will be able to block those people.”

Flaherty on Geoff Schwartz: “Geoff wants to do it and he has worked awful hard to get back from his injury and he just needs to have the good luck charm on his side for once. Once he is able to do that, here is a guy that can be in the next half dozen years and have a tremendous finish to his career.”

PREDICTIONS: While there will be growing pains with Ereck Flowers, 4/5ths of the Giants offensive line could be set for a few years provided there are no more injuries and Schwartz recovers well from his ankle injury. Flowers will bring much-needed toughness and physicality to the line. Richburg seems primed to develop into a good one at center and the Giants seem to think Pugh will excel at left guard. In fact, these three players could not only be solid, but very good.

“We like (Flowers) as a future left tackle of the New York Giants. I am very comfortable with him being out there right now,” said Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo during the mini-camp.

“(Pugh) is a football-smart guy,” said McAdoo. “He is a hard worker. He brings a nice level of physicality that we like. Some grit to the position right there. It is probably a position that doesn’t get as much glamor as a tackle, but when you are on the left side, it is important position to protect the backside of the quarterback away from his vision. The left guard position is especially important because a lot goes on there on the inside. When one becomes two and two becomes three and when zero becomes one and all the movement happens, you have to make quick decisions and we feel Justin can do that.”

“Weston is a natural center,” said McAdoo. “I am excited for him. I am excited for the offense. I think he brings some energy to the position and to the offense. He’s a guy who likes to have control of things and likes to have his hand on the football. He works very hard at it. I like Weston.”

The obvious question mark is Newhouse at right tackle. He could be the Achilles’ heel for the entire line. Given his struggles in the league the last few years, it’s hard to imagine him being the answer. If he has problems early, the Giants may have to pull the plug and scramble to fill the position. While fans knock John Jerry, he may be an important piece of the short-term puzzle. The pie-in-the-sky hope is that someone like Mosley or Bamiro presses for starting time.

“Marshall has played a little bit of everywhere,” said McAdoo. “I was with him in the past when he first got into the league. He has played just about every position. I believe he even snapped the ball at one point. He is a smart guy. He gets the game. He is very nimble-footed. We need to get some pads on and get out there and get a look at him with the defense moving and be physical. He has done it before and he has done it at a high level before and he will have an opportunity to be a major contributor this year.”

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Flowers, Pugh, Richburg, Schwartz, Newhouse, Jerry, Mosley, Hart, and Jones.

Jul 072015
 
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Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (October 28, 2012)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com 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 Ends

2014 YEAR IN REVIEW: Ever since the New York Giants transitioned to the 4-3 defense from the 3-4 in 1994, the defensive line has been the heart of a New York Giants defense. But for the third time in the last four seasons, the defense gave up over 6,000 yards (the only times in franchise history the defense has done so). Everyone is to blame, including the defensive ends.

The headliner up front, Jason Pierre-Paul (JPP) started the season off slowly and didn’t really impact games the way he should until the Giants were already out of playoff contention. Mathias Kiwanuka started 11 games at left defensive end, but did not play well and finished the season on Injured Reserve. Free agent acquisition Robert Ayers flashed as a pass rusher at both defensive tackle and end, but was inconsistent against the run and also finished the season on IR. The coaching staff did not appear to trust Damontre Moore, who did not start a game. By year’s end, he was surprisingly passed on the depth chart by undrafted rookie Kerry Wynn. Jordan Stanton was a rookie free agent who spent a couple of stints on the Practice Squad.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants waived Mathias Kiwanuka in February. The team signed George Selvie (1-year, $1.2 million) in free agency. The Giants drafted Owamagbe Odighizuwa in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft and signed Brad Harrah as a rookie free agent after the draft.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: Even before the July 4th fireworks accident that caused severe burns to one of his hands, Pierre-Paul was going to be the main focus given that it was likely (now certain) that he was going to play out the season on his $14.813 million Franchise tender. JPP had a bounce-back year in 2014 but everyone is still looking for the 2011 version of the player who dominated. The Giants are most likely concerned about his inconsistency, previous back injury issues, dedication and focus, and now judgement if he signs a huge, multi-year contract. At this time, it is unknown how Pierre-Paul’s hand injuries will impact his availability and performance in training camp, the preseason, and the regular season. ESPN is reporting that JPP may not return to the line-up until after the beginning of the regular season.

That all said, Pierre-Paul is still one of the very best defensive ends in the NFL, the best player on the Giants defense, and one of the few impact players on the team. How well he plays in 2015 will most likely determine if he remains a New York Giant after the season.

“If you just watch tape with JPP out there, it is evident to me that he is an elite defensive end and fits a 4-3 system, which is exciting,” said Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo in June.

The other big issue is who starts at left defensive end opposite of Pierre-Paul? Mathias Kiwanuka is no longer in the picture. Though he has bulked up to about 255 pounds, Damontre Moore appears to lack the size and strength to anchor the strongside. So unless Steve Spagnuolo moves JPP to left end, Moore will probably be relegated to a situational pass rusher when JPP returns to the starting lineup. Moore does believe his pass rushing skill set is better suited to Spagnuolo’s system.

Robert Ayers was arguably the team’s best pass rusher until he got hurt and JPP improved down the stretch, but he was up and down in run defense in 2014.

George Selvie was a solid strongside run defender in Dallas who occasionally flashed on the pass rush. “George is going to fill in that gap that we have on that other side,” said Pierre-Paul, who played with Selvie in college. “He is going to fight for that starting spot. That’s a good thing. That will make everybody work harder.”

The dark horse could be Kerry Wynn, the 2014 rookie free agent with a nice combination of size, strength, and athletic ability. He received significant playing time in the final month of the 2014 season. The initial impression of his overall game is that he is a better run defender than pass rusher.

Physically-speaking, Owa Odighizuwa may be the most talented of the group. It would be difficult for a rookie to win the starting job, but Odighizuwa has the tools to become a very good two-way defensive end. He could surprise early.

ON THE BUBBLE: There will be some extremely tough decisions at defensive end. Normally the Giants would only carry four or five defensive ends. Barring injury, the only sure bets to make the roster are Pierre-Paul and Odighizuwa. Complicating matters is that JPP may not be on the active roster early in the season. It would be difficult to see the Giants giving up on Moore and Wynn just yet. Ayers is on the bubble, but he is a very good situational pass rusher. If Selvie plays in camp like he did with Dallas in 2013, he will be difficult to cut. Jordan Stanton has talent, but he and Harrah are extreme long shots.

FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Robert Nunn on Jason Pierre-Paul: “You would hope (JPP starts 2015 like he finished 2014). His numbers increased there at the end. I thought he did some good things throughout but just didn’t have the numbers to show for it, and I have said that over and over, sacks are a little overrated, but his quarterback hits and his pressures, he was doing some good things. They were counting for him in a lot of different ways and he took advantage of some opportunities there at the end and got his numbers up. His tackles had to be up there in the top of the league. I don’t know where he was, but he had to be top two or three as far as the production and as far as in the run game and his pass production there at the end. I think it is just coming in healthy and in the right frame of mind and getting ready to start, he is going to be behind (due to missing the spring offseason work) but that is where we will start.”

Nunn on George Selvie: “Selvie is solid, he is a solid pro. He played well last year in Dallas and he has been steady.”

PREDICTIONS: With the signing of George Selvie, the drafting of Owa Odighizuwa, and the likelihood that Jason Pierre-Paul will miss training camp, I am guessing that Pierre-Paul will stay at right defensive end. Because of that, I have a hard time seeing Damontre Moore starting once Pierre-Paul returns to the starting line-up. Ultimately, Owa Odighizuwa will start at left defensive end, but I doubt it happens early in the 2015 season and may not happen until 2016. Unless Ayers dramatically improves his consistency against the run or Odighizuwa really surprises early, I think the starting left defensive end job will be between George Selvie and Kerry Wynn.

JPP was in great shape and looked primed for a big season before the July 4th accident. Now it remains to be seen how the hand injuries will impact his game. Even if he is ready physically for the season opener, the time he missed with the team in the spring and now potentially in the summer will set him back in the new defense. Another question is will the Giants get a solid consistent pass rush on first and second down from the player opposite Pierre-Paul? Selvie and Wynn have flashed in that area but their overall pass-rush ability remains a question mark. Situationally, Ayers proved to be a disruptive pass rusher particularly from the defensive tackle position and I think Spagnuolo will use Moore far better than Perry Fewell did.

If the Giants can get opposing teams into a lot of third-and-long situations, they will present problems with pass rushers like JPP, Moore, Ayers, and Odighizuwa, not to mention Devon Kennard and possibly Jay Bromley. But first and second down could be a problem. All three NFC East rivals like to run the football.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Even before Pierre-Paul’s accident, I was going to go out on a limb and say the Giants would keep six defensive ends: Pierre-Paul, Odighizuwa, Moore, Wynn, Ayers, and Selvie. Now I’m even more convinced. All six can have important roles on the team. Ayers is too good of an inside pass rusher to cut. The Giants were really high on Wynn when they signed him as a rookie last year and thus far he hasn’t disappointed. Selvie could be vulnerable if he does not flash in the preseason and Wynn does, but my guess is the coaches will be more comfortable with his veteran presence in the line-up on opening night. I’m really hoping things work out for Pierre-Paul and the Giants long term because replacing JPP in 2016 would be extremely difficult.

Jul 022015
 
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Markus Kuhn, New York Giants (June 16, 2015)

Markus Kuhn – © USA TODAY Sports Images

With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com 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 Tackles

2014 YEAR IN REVIEW: Although the brightest spot on the New York Giants defense in 2014 was the emergency of defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, the unit was an overall disappointment. The defensive ends, linebackers, and defensive backs all share a significant portion of the blame for the team’s 30th-ranked run defense (dead last in terms of yards-per-carry allowed), but the defensive tackles were obviously a big part of that failure too. Cullen Jenkins was bothered by a nagging calf issue and was barely noticeable. Mike Patterson and Markus Kuhn were easily blocked and rarely made any plays. Jay Bromley saw more action down the stretch, but his rookie season was a wash.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants decided not to re-sign Mike Patterson in free agency. Kenrick Ellis (1-Year, $1.475 million) was signed from the Jets and the Giants signed rookie free agent tryout Carlif Taylor after the rookie mini-camp.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: Barring injury and any unforeseen setbacks, Johnathan Hankins is expected to start at one tackle position and excel. The big question is who will be the primary starter at the other tackle position? The main candidates are Jenkins, Ellis, Kuhn, and Bromley. 2014 practice squader Dominique Hamilton and rookie free agent Carlif Taylor are long shots.

Whomever starts, the obvious goal is dramatically upgrade the middle of the defense, especially against the run. Ellis comes to the Giants with a reputation as a good run defender. After Ellis was signed, Tom Coughlin said, “Ellis is a big human. The young man on our practice squad, Hamilton, is a big human, so I am looking forward to seeing what they can do, too… We realized that big dominating guy in the middle is a good starting point for the D-Line.”

“Right now I’m just trying to work my butt off to prove I’m qualified to call myself a Giant,’’ Ellis said. “It’s gonna be a beautiful thing.”

Jenkins is looking to bounce back from the calf injury. He is also helped by his positional flexibility as the Giants will play him at defensive end as well. “I’m appreciative of another chance to play another year, go out there and try to prove myself again and that I’m not too old while helping the team get back on track to its winning ways,” said Jenkins.

Both Kuhn and Bromley have worked hard this offseason. It’s interesting to note when General Manager Jerry Reese was asked last month who three lesser known players to watch were, Bromley was one of those mentioned.

“I don’t want to give the coaches a reason to take me off the field,” said Bromley. “I don’t want to give nobody an out. There should be no excuse why I don’t play…If your goal isn’t to start, you’re not aiming high enough. If you’re not aiming to start, you’re aiming for second place and I’m not aiming for second place…I strived to not purposely be seen, but work hard enough to the point where you can’t miss me.”

But to earn more playing time and potentially start, Bromley will have to improve his run defense. Kuhn was starting with the first team alongside Hankins during OTAs and the mini-camp. He has bulked up to around 320 pounds.

“The big guys set the tone,” said Kuhn “We have to push back the offensive line. We have to set the new line of scrimmage. Being stronger, being bigger will help with that. (The added weight) feels really good. I’ve been running real well, my conditioning is on par, my body fat is pretty much as low as it has ever been.”

ON THE BUBBLE: The Giants will keep four or five defensive tackles. The only real lock is Hankins. That said, it would be difficult to see the Giants parting ways with 2014 3rd-round pick Bromley after just one season. So Jenkins, Ellis, Kuhn, Hamilton, and Taylor are probably competing for two or three spots.

FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Robert Nunn on Cullen Jenkins: “I think he can help us in a lot of different (ways), it all depends. We are letting him work more at (defensive) end (during spring workouts) for one reason, because of numbers, but I can see him doing some more work for us out there. At his age and stage in his career, we have to take care of him and move him around a little bit. I have been very impressed with him at this point. He got the calf last year and was off to a good start but he never was the same after the calf injury. He has come in here healthy, good frame of mind and we have moved him around a little bit. We will try to take care of him during training camp and get ready to go.”

Nunn on Jay Bromley and Kenrick Ellis: “Jay Bromley has got to continue to improve with technique, Kenrick Ellis has got to continue to improve and I think they have made the effort to do that and we have to continue that.”

Nunn on Markus Kuhn and who will earn playing time: “(Kuhn) has got to continue to do what he is doing. He has given us some quality reps last year and I have been very impressed with him during the OTAs. The thing he has got to do is produce when we get in pads and that is the same way with Jay (Bromley), Kenrick (Ellis) and that group right there. When we get in pads and, like I said earlier, when the live bullets start being fired, production is going to tell us a lot about who is going to be playing and how the rotation is going to work…(Kuhn) needs to increase his production but we all need to do that. He is a steady hand and a very good leader in the classroom, very good leader in our room. He is a quality guy and he has got it in front of him this year, this will be a big year for him.”

Nunn on Johnathan Hankins: “He really surprised a lot of people with his pass rush. Everybody thought that he was a run stopper coming out but those sacks were legit. He had some legit numbers and a lot of quarterback hits and pressures, came up big in some key situations and I really like where Hank is. He has got to continue to improve with technique. That is where his big improvement has got to be going into training camp but I think that it is a very good situation. He has got a chance to be a solid player for a very long time in this league…I think that people underestimate him as a pass rusher. He wasn’t a great pass rusher coming out but he has really worked on a few things that have really made him effective. When they left him one on one the guy took advantage of it. When those guards have to block him one on one, he is powerful and deceivingly quick. He has got better speed and quickness than what people thing he does.”

PREDICTIONS: Barring injury, Hankins may press for a Pro Bowl spot this year. Obviously, the Giants will rotate their tackles, but the most interesting battle will be to see who starts alongside Hankins. Most fans have discounted Kuhn, but the coaches seem to like him. Reese has talked up Bromley. Ellis comes to the Giants with the reputation as the big run stuffer, which the team seems to need. Jenkins may be at the end of his career, but he’s the type of veteran who is tough to cut.

My guess is that Jenkins starts the season, but Ellis and Bromley both start pushing for serious playing time. The coaches may like Kuhn, but he has to do more to justify snaps and perhaps even making the team.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Barring injury, Hankins, Jenkins, Bromley, and Ellis. I think the Giants would prefer to keep Kuhn too, but there is a numbers issue at defensive end and I can’t see the Giants carrying more than 10 defensive linemen. If Jenkins shows that he is fading, he could be the odd man out.

Jun 302015
 
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Jon Beason, New York Giants (June 8, 2015)

Jon Beason – © USA TODAY Sports Images

With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com 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

2014 YEAR IN REVIEW: As was the case with every other area of the defense, the linebackers were a disappointment in 2014. It was expected that Jon Beason would headline and lead an improved linebacking corps. But Beason broke his foot during June OTA’s and never recovered. The 2011 rookie class of linebackers – Jacquian Williams, Spencer Paysinger, and Mark Herzlich – continued to largely disappoint in their fourth season together. Jameel McClain was a decent free agent addition and led the team in tackles. Rookie 5th round draft pick Devon Kennard flashed in the second-half of the season. In the end, the Giants finished 30th in the NFL against the run and dead-last in the NFL in yards-per-rush defense.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: There were significant changes made at linebacker. The Giants said good-bye to Jacquian Williams (still unsigned) and Spencer Paysinger (signed with Dolphins) in free agency. The team signed J.T. Thomas (3-years, $10 million) from the Jaguars and Jonathan Casillas (3-years, $8 million) from the Patriots. The Giants also signed street free agent Victor Butler and rookie free agents Cole Farrand and Tony Johnson.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: The primary focus at linebacker in training camp is can Jon Beason stay healthy? Beason was a major shot in the arm for the entire defense when he joined the team during the 2013 season, but the injury-prone linebacker missed almost all of the 2014 season with a foot injury. Not only is Beason a good run defender, he is an intelligent, inspirational leader who is needed to help orchestrate Steve Spagnulo’s new complicated defense on the field. The complexion of the entire defense changes with Beason in or out of the lineup. The good news? Beason made it through the OTAs and mini-camp this year, something he didn’t do last year.

Assuming Beason can stay healthy, the main story lines will be who mans the two outside linebacker spots, and how well do they perform? It is assumed J.T. Thomas will start at one position. But Devon Kennard and Jonathan Casillas may split snaps at the other spot depending on the opponent, in-game down-and-distance situations, and who has the hot hand. Kennard’s strength is attacking the line of scrimage and rushing the passer while Casillas is better in pass coverage. The Giants seem to be higher on Thomas and Casillas than their former teams, whose coaching staffs saw them more as back-up types. It remains to be seen if the Giants made the right decision to spend $18 million over three years on both. Where Jameel McClain – a respected team leader but castoff from the Ravens – fits in remains to be seen as well.

It’s important to note that Linebackers Coach Jim Herrmann says this is the most talented group of linebackers he has had with the Giants since he joined the team in 2009.

ON THE BUBBLE: The Giants will probably keep six linebackers and assuming everyone stays healthy, the six will probably be Beason, Thomas, Kennard, Casillas, McClain, and Herzlich. The one most vulnerable could be Herzlich. Herzlich had his best pro season in 2014 and appears to remain a Tom Coughlin favorite and decent special teams player. But he’s not the most athletic guy in the world and has only performed so-so or worse when called upon to start. That said, it’s not likely that one of the lesser known players such as Victor Butler, Uani Unga, Cole Farrand, or Troy Johnson would surpass Herzlich on the depth chart. Butler has talent, but a 4-game PED suspension hurts his cause. Farrand looks like he needs work in the weight room.

FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Jim Herrmann on J.T. Thomas: “He is very athletic. That is what I like about him. He will be a great addition to our (special) teams. Special teams and athletically as a linebacker he can cover. He is tough. He is going to fill that role, both in base and in sub. We can do a lot of different things with him…In our base, he is an outside linebacker and in sub, we play him some in the middle. It is a very fluid deal in sub defense, so he can play in or out.”

Herrmann on Thomas and Jonathan Casillas: “They are both very athletic guys. They are different kinds of players, but they are both very athletic and can move well. You like that. It is hard right now for me because you don’t have pads on. You will find out a lot more once the pads go on. With their body of work in the NFL, they are both tough guys who can play.”

Herrmann on Devon Kennard: “I think number one, he is more confident in himself as a player. He knows now he can play in the league. That takes you a long way. Just refining his technique and his footwork and trying to get the best of both worlds.”

Herrmann on Jameel McClain: “I think Jameel is versatile enough. He has played all three positions, so he can play in and out. He is a tough guy, which is good, so you want him in there in the run game. He is athletic enough to play in subs. It gives us a big luxury because we have a lot of guys that have played NFL snaps and to me as a coach, that is luxury to have because a lot of times you don’t have that as a linebacker coach. It is nice to have them where you can do anything.”

Herrmann on Jon Beason: “Yeah, he is a born leader. He has always been that way since the day he got into the league. Since he was at Miami, he was a leader. I think he likes that role and he wants that role. You want a guy like that.”

PREDICTIONS: I am going to go out on a limb and say Beason stays healthy and Thomas has a break-out season as a respectable three-down NFL starter. Fans will push for more playing time for Kennard but much will depend on the opponent and in-game match-ups. Casillas may be a better option at times against teams that throw the ball more to the backs and tight ends. Spagnuolo will use Kennard far more imaginatively than Perry Fewell did, having him rush the quarterback from a variety of spots. Contrary to popular belief, this unit could be one of the better ones in the NFL if Beason stays healthy and Kennard develops.

“I can’t praise Kennard enough,” said Beason. “He prepared better than any rookie I’ve ever seen, and that’s including myself. He just really wants it. He gets it. He understands it…The thing I’ve noticed the most this offseason, he’s a step or two faster. He’s quicker. He’s not afraid anymore.”

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Barring injury, Beason, Thomas, Kennard, Casillas, McClain, and Herzlich.

Jun 272015
 
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Dwayne Harris, New York Giants (June 16, 2015)

Dwayne Harris – © USA TODAY Sports Images

With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com 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: Special Teams

2014 YEAR IN REVIEW: It was a mixed bag for the New York Giants on special teams in 2014. The Giants finished 3rd in the NFL in field goal percentage, but 22nd in net punting (including allowing a blocked punt for a touchdown). The Giants were 2nd in the NFL in covering kickoffs, but 27th in covering punts (also allowing one punt return for a touchdown).

The punt and kick return games remained anemic, with the Giants finishing 19th and 18th, respectively. The punt returns were split among Odell Beckham (21 returns, 11 fair catches, 8.1 yard average), Preston Parker (8 returns, 6 fair catches, 6.6 yard average), and Rueben Randle (no returns, 10 fair catches). The kickoff returns were split among Parker (21 returns, 24.2 yard average), Quintin Demps (12 returns, 21.3 yard average), and Michael Cox (11 returns, 23.7 yard average).

The Giants scored no special teams touchdowns and had the two aforementioned scored against them, both in losses.

The best Giants player on special teams in 2014 was Josh Brown, who made 24-of-26 of his field goals (92.3 percent) with one of the misses being blocked.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants signed street free agent punter Robert Malone and street free agent place kicker/punter Chris Boswell in January to compete with punter Steve Weatherford and place kicker Josh Brown.

The big signing was the the 5-year, $17.5 million contract given to special teams stud Dwayne Harris from the Dallas Cowboys. Because Harris does it all on specials, returning and covering both punts and kicks, he is arguably the best special teams player in the game. Harris has three “NFC Player of the Week” awards to his credit.

Other additions who could impact special teams coverage units include free agent linebackers J.T. Thomas and Jonathan Casillas and rookies WR Geremy Davis, DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa, S Landon Collins, S Mykkele Thompson, and S Justin Currie. Rookies WR Ben Edwards and RB Akeem Hunt could provide competition to the return game.

No longer in the picture are linebackers Spencer Paysinger and Jacquian Williams, as well as returners Quintin Demps and Michael Cox.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: Most eyes will focus on Dwayne Harris and his impact on not only the return game but on special teams coverage units. The $17.5 millon the Giants gave to Harris puts a lot of pressure on Special Teams Coordinator Tom Quinn to fix issues in the return game and punt coverage unit. The Giants also gave a lot of money to linebackers J.T. Thomas (3 years, $10 million) and Jonathan Casillas (3 years, $8 million) to help out on coverage units. Quite a few of the defensive backs on the team are or should be good special teams players too, including Mike Harris, Landon Collins, Bennett Jackson, Cooper Taylor, Nat Berhe, and Mykkele Thompson.

ON THE BUBBLE: Though he will probably make the team, Mark Herzlich (2-year, $2.6 million contract) could be pressed by rookie free agent linebacker Cole Farrand. The signing of Dwayne Harris also could reduce the special teams value of wideout Preston Parker.

FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Tom Quinn on Dwayne Harris: “He is going to be a ‘big four’ player, so he will be on all four of the teams and he will make a very good contribution. His coverage skills are equal to his return skills, so that is the nice thing about getting this kind of player.”

Quinn on what makes Harris a good returner: “He is decisive. There isn’t a lot of wasted movement. He is physical. He has a good understanding of the return schemes and what is needed for each one. There is no hesitation. If he is catching the ball and you are running it to the right, he is going to get it to the right, which sets up all the blockers for him. They know where he is going to be. A lot of times when you are blocking, (the returner) is supposed to be over here, but the returner is running the wrong direction or in the middle and now your block is not set up for that. He is very decisive. He is a strong runner.”

Quinn on new acquisitions who could help out: “We got some new acquisitions at the linebacker spot and we got some safeties in, which are nice, and getting Bennett Jackson back has been pleasing. The young kid from Texas, (Mykkele) Thompson, has done some good things; he is long and has real good speed, so I think he can be pretty versatile for us. Obviously Landon (Collins) has done a nice job in what he have asked him to do, so (I) am pleased with the overall group.”

PREDICTIONS: Punt returns and punt coverage have been a problem under Tom Quinn for quite some time. From 2010-14, the Giants have finished 31st, 29th, 30th, 26th, and 19th in punt return average with no punt return touchdowns during that five-year span. During the same period, the Giants have finished 31st, 17th, 15th, 30th, and 27th in punt coverage with six punt return touchdowns allowed. The kick return game has been pretty bad too except for David Wilson’s performance in 2012.

This is not so much a prediction, but a gnawing fear. Despite bright moments in the 2007 and 2011 playoffs, the Giants special teams have been a sore spot for years. Yet Tom Quinn has somehow avoided the executioner. If the special teams unit under-performs again in 2015, costing the team in the win-loss column, Tom Coughlin may find himself being the one receiving a pink slip because of his decision to stick with Quinn.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: It would be a pretty major upset if Josh Brown, Steve Weatherford, and Zak DeOssie do not remain the team’s place kicker, punter, and long snapper, respectively. Dwayne Harris should be the kickoff and punt returner. There are some good athletes at defensive end (Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Damontre Moore), linebacker (Devon Kennard, J.T. Thomas, and Jonathan Casillas), and safety (Landon Collins, Bennett Jackson, Nat Berhe, Cooper Taylor, and Mykkele Thompson) who should be special teams assets. The Giants also think Geremy Davis could be a special teams weapon.