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.

Jun 242015
 
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Landon Collins, New York Giants (June 16, 2015)

Landon Collins – © 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: Safeties

2014 YEAR IN REVIEW: Like the cornerbacks, the New York Giants safeties were supposed to be an area of strength in 2014 but ended up being a big disappointment. The team decided to cut super-talented but super-idiotic Will Hill after he failed yet another drug test. And Antrel Rolle followed up arguably his best season as a safety with one of his worst. Stevie Brown returned from an ACL injury but lost his starting job to Quintin Demps who later lost it back to Brown. Obviously neither stood out. Second-year safety Cooper Taylor missed the entire season with a foot injury. Rookie 5th Nat Berhe rounder played all 16 games but was primarily used on special teams. The Giants finished 18th in the NFL in pass defense and the safeties were missing in action far too often against both the run and the pass.

Mykkele Thompson, New York Giants (June 16, 2015)

Mykkele Thompson – © USA TODAY Sports Images

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants gutted the position in the offseason as they made little to no effort in re-signing free agents Antrel Rolle (signed with the Bears), Stevie Brown (signed with the Texans), and Quintin Demps (still unsigned). The team also waived practice squader Thomas Gordon in May.

The only remaining safeties from 2014 are Cooper Taylor and Nat Berhe. Bennett Jackson, who spent his rookie season in 2014 on Injured Reserve, was switched from corner to safety this spring. The Giants signed corner/safety ‘tweener Josh Gordy in free agency but he saw most of his spring work for the Giants at cornerback. Three of the six safeties on the roster are rookies: Landon Collins (2nd round), Mykkele Thompson (5th round), and Justin Currie (rookie free agent).

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: On paper, the Giants have some interesting talent at safety in the form of one second rounder, three fifth rounders, a sixth rounder, and a rookie free agent. However these players are all young and inexperienced. Five of the six were acquired in 2014-15 from the college ranks, and the other (Taylor) was a 2013 draft pick. There is absolutely no veteran presence to speak of despite the fact that Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s system is cerebral and complicated. And like most if not all systems, the safeties make the defensive calls in the secondary.

“It’s the most complex system I’ve been in,” said linebacker Jon Beason. “This is my fifth defensive coordinator. It is the most complex because we will not sit back and be dictated to by anybody…Offenses create problems by formations, moving people around, shifts and motions…Every call we (the defense) can make a change.”

So the chief story line will be how fast can the young pups grow up, and how many growing pains will there be?

“I think it is extremely hard (for a rookie to start in this defense),” said New York Giants Safeties Coach David Merritt. “(The safety is) an extension of the defensive coordinator. Whatever call comes in, you need to be able to hear the call, accept the call, and then spit it back out to your fellow teammates. For a rookie to come in and have that pressure, to be the extension of the defensive coordinator, it is extremely difficult.”

“Young,” said Spagnuolo of the safeties. “There is youth and inexperience there. It doesn’t matter what system you are in, in my opinion, defensively, (the starting safeties) are really important. Everyone else relies on them. The quicker we can get to the other nine trusting them, the better off we will be. I am not sure we are there yet. I think it is going to be a work in progress, but we will get there.

“Right now it is a challenge… It is a challenge for our patience and our trust in them. Everyday it gets better, I can tell you that… (But) we have a long ways to go in my opinion.”

Complicating matters is that Nat Berhe, who was pegged early by the coaching staff to start alongside rookie Landon Collins, missed all of the spring practices with a calf injury. Taylor, Thompson, Jackson, and Currie benefited from the additional practice snaps, but both Tom Coughlin and safeties coach David Merritt have said that Berhe’s development has been set back by the missed time.

With Collins sure to start at one spot, it is most likely that Berhe and Taylor will battle for the other starting position.

There is not a lot of time. The Giants face Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten on September 13.

ON THE BUBBLE: The Giants will likely carry four or five safeties. Bennett Jackson, Mykkele Thompson, and Justin Currie are most likely fighting for one or two roster spots.

FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: David Merritt on Landon Collins: “He has to make the calls and get everyone lined up…Now when you are trying to line up grown men who have wives and children at home and they need that call from you, it is a little different than lining up a freshman. The call has to be right. Right now, he is slow to go, which was expected, but he has to pick it up quickly for us to be successful…I really do (think Collins can do it). He is starting to realize that these missed alignments and the minus plays, I have to cut those out of my game in order for the guys around me to trust me. That is what he wants to be. He wants to be a leader. Okay, we are putting him out there. I think he is going to be ready to go, definitely, for Dallas.”

Merritt on Cooper Taylor: “Cooper is coming along well. Mentally, I never doubted Cooper would be able to pick up the defense. It is just now getting Cooper’s body to move in the proper direction once he receives the call and allows himself to line up and just see what is happening in front of him. The mental part, Cooper is fine, but it is now the physical part. We have to make sure the durability factor – he has to be durable for us because he has missed the past two seasons. Mentally, I am not concerned about him. Physically hoping that he will be able to step up and be durable for us.”

Merritt on Nat Berhe: “(Him missing spring practices) hurts tremendously because all the reps that Cooper (Taylor) and Landon (Collins) and Mykkele (Thompson) and some of the other guys have taken, Nat would have been right in there with all the other guys. By him standing on the sideline and taking mental reps – I understand you are taking mental reps, but it is different. It is not the same as putting your body through the motions and making your body react to different movements that the receivers are stemming at you. It is going to definitely hurt him and set him back a little bit, but hopefully he can come back at training camp and be ready to fight for a starting job.”

Merritt on Mykkele Thompson: “Mykkele, I knew was a smart kid. He came here and he is a cerebral kid, that is for sure. He is going to take what I say literally and take my word for it and go out and try to execute it. Now I am starting to see that the kid actually has some football awareness, where I didn’t think he had much of it when we first started off. The (missed alignments) that started at the beginning of rookie mini-camp and OTAs have drastically gone down. Mentally, he has excelled past my expectations…Long arms. We did a drill the other day where he was having to punch a bag and escape from the blocker and to see his arms and the extension of his arms, that was good to see. I am definitely interested to see him in the pads.”

Merritt on Bennett Jackson: “(His conversion to safety) has been good. You are going from the outside where you are playing on an island and then all of sudden, you go to a back end position where you have to see the formation and play, the moving parts, and put people in the right position. Jackson, in his situation right now, there has been a learning curve for him, which has been hard for him. It has been a struggle at first, but out of all the guys, that is one kid that when he puts his foot in the ground, he can go. He can go. I am looking forward to seeing Bennett at camp with pads on because I truly believe he will hit as well.”

Merritt on Justin Currie:  “Justin Currie has done a great job, as well, our free agent. Big kid, as well. I am interested to see what he can do once the pads are on his shoulders and hopefully he will be able to be a thumper for us.”

PREDICTIONS: There will be growing pains. The young safeties will make mental mistakes that will lead to big plays and touchdowns. How bad this inexperience will hurt the Giants in terms of lost games in 2015 remains to be seen. But it’s the nature of the game that old players will eventually be replaced by young ones. Some of those young players will wither while others blossom. In his last interaction with the press, Tom Coughlin seemed generally pleased by the progress of the two rookie draft picks. “We have a good feel for the rookies, we really do. Thompson (has) been doing well and starting to come along and that was a key thing,” said Coughlin. “Collins has done a good job, has gotten better and has really done a good job of starting to direct back there, and I think the coaches are excited about him going forward.”

I believe the players who are currently on the roster will develop into fine players. What I don’t know – and no one really does – is how fast that process will take. The overall effectiveness of the entire defense and the fate of the team’s playoff chances may depend on how quickly Collins, Taylor, and Berhe become assets rather than liabilities. Based on coaching comments, one thing is clear – the team is looking for someone to take charge at safety as a vocal leader.

“You need to have one leader back there, and that’s what I’m still looking for,” said Merritt. “It’s elusive. I’m searching for it. If it’s Landon, great. If it’s Cooper, great. If it’s Nat, great. If it’s Mykkele, great. But I need to have a leader come up and emerge out of this mini-camp and emerge out of training camp…(We’ve had) very slow leadership as far as making calls and controlling the defense. The guys right now are very slow at making those checks.”

FINAL DEPTH CHART: The Giants will keep four or five safeties. I think they will keep five: Landon Collins, Nat Berhe, Cooper Taylor, Mykkele Thompson, and Bennett Jackson. Jackson not only provides special teams value but he can play corner too. Justin Currie is intriguing but his best shot is probably the Practice Squad.

Jun 222015
 
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New York Giants at Washington Redskins (September 25, 2014)

© USA TODAY Sports Images

The New York Giants are scheduled to report to training camp in late July. Since the Giants won its eighth NFL Championship in 2011, the team has missed the playoffs three straight seasons and seen its regular-season record get progressively worse. Not only is Head Coach Tom Coughlin and the entire coaching staff once again on the proverbial hot seat, but three of the team’s best players (Eli Manning, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Prince Amukamara) are entering the final year of their respective contracts. 2015 could be a make-or-break year for many of key faces of the franchise.

Over 30 players have been added to the 90-man summer roster. Are the Giants better? If so, by how much? Which rookies and first- and second-year players will make an impact on the 2015 season? What veterans may be on the bubble? What are the strengths of the team? Where are the roster holes and areas of concern?

Over the course of the next few weeks, we will provide our thoughts on each position on offense, defense, and special teams.

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN SCHEDULE:

We recommend that you regularly check this page for updates.

Jun 222015
 
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Prince Amukamara, New York Giants (June 16, 2015)

Prince Amukamara – © 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: Cornerbacks

2014 YEAR IN REVIEW: The Giants dramatically overhauled the cornerback position in the 2014 offseason, saying goodbye to long-time contributors Corey Webster, Aaron Ross, and Terrell Thomas while adding free agents Dominique-Rodgers Cromartie (DRC), Walter Thurmond, and Zack Bowman. These new additions were to support former-first rounder Prince Amukmara and the re-signed Trumaine McBride. It was believed by many that not only were the Giants exceptionally strong at corner, but that this could be the strongest group of corners on the team in recent memory.

But those expectations vanished quickly due to injury. Nickel corner Walter Thurmond was placed on Injured Reserve after only two games, followed by Trumaine McBride in mid-October and Prince Amukamara in early November. The loss of Amukamara – who was having his best season – was particularly a hard pill to swallow. Without three of their top four corners, more pressure was placed on DRC, who was also dealing with a litany of injury issues to the point where he could not play a full game.

The Giants were quickly left to scramble and made in-season roster moves including signing castoffs Chykie Brown, Mike Harris, and Chandler Fenner. Brown and Harris performed reasonably well given the circumstances, but overall, the secondary failed to fulfill their preseason boasts as one of the best units in the NFL. The Giants finished 18th in the NFL in pass defense.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: Most of the significant roster changes at corner have been subtractions. Somewhat surprisingly, the team did not make much (if any) of an effort to re-sign Thurmond and he signed with the Eagles. The Giants also appear not to have made an effort to re-sign Bowman, who signed with the Dolphins.

The Giants made few additions at corner, choosing instead to re-sign free agents Chykie Brown and Chandler Fenner. The team signed the uninspiring corner/safety ‘tweener Josh Gordy from the Colts and journeyman street free agent Trevin Wade. Because of this, it was expected that the Giants would probably take a corner in the 2015 NFL Draft. However, not only did the Giants not draft a corner, the team also did not sign a rookie free agent at the position after the draft.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, New York Giants (June 8, 2015)

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – © USA TODAY Sports Images

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: If Rodgers-Cromartie and Amukamara can stay healthy, the Giants may have the best duo of corners in the NFL. However, Amukmara has been an injury-prone player since being drafted in 2011, missing significant time in three of his first four seasons. Rodgers-Cromartie did not miss a game in 2014, but was nagged all season long with a variety of injuries that affected his game and the number of snaps he could play. Assuming these two stay healthy, the media will focus much of its preseason attention on how good these two can be playing together.

But the more important story line could be the apparent lack of depth. The third (nickel) corner is a de facto starter in today’s NFL. Who will be the team’s nickel corner? The early favorite is McBride, but he could be pressed by Mike Harris. Also, what if DRC or Amukamara miss time due to injury? Who will be the first corner off of the bench to replace the missing outside guy? Again, the early favorite is probably McBride, but Chykie Brown could factor into the equation.

Other contenders for roster spots include Josh Gordy, Jayron Hosley, Chandler Fenner, and Trevin Wade. None of these names inspire. Indeed, on paper it appears that corner is the shallowest position on the team. An injury or two here could spell disaster.

A longer-term focus is Amukmara’s contract situation. The Giants are currently set to have three of their very best players hit the open market in 2016 (Eli Manning, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Amukamara). And the team can only Franchise tag one of them. Prince has made it very clear via his Twitter feed that he wants to get paid. Will he be able to play a full schedule for just the second time since he was drafted? If he does and plays as well as hoped, will the Giants be able to re-sign him?

ON THE BUBBLE: The Giants normally keep five or six corners. Barring injury or unforeseen circumstances, DRC and Amukamara are locks, leaving three or four roster spots open. The early favorites to make the team are McBride, Harris, and Brown. Gordy, Hosley, Fenner, and Wade are clearly on the bubble. Gordy could be helped by his position flexibility, being able to play safety in a pinch.

FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Tim Walton on Prince Amukamara: “He definitely can improve just in techniques in general. When we play press technique, that is always a constant thing because with his talent, he is going to see different guys, he is going to see smaller receivers and bigger receivers, and you have to be able to change that up based on the guys you see and be effective with it. Also just on his ability to play fast and trying to show him to be able to see formations, see tendencies, see splits and being able to let that put you in the right position and be able to play up to his maximum potential all the time. That has a lot to do with the understanding of the situations, of formation or splits and things like that, because he has played a lot of football so he understands and those are the things that can help him grow so he can play fast all the time because he has some real talent.”

Walton on Rodgers-Cromartie and Amukamara being elite corners: “(DRC) definitely has to be that guy. The thing about it that we feel good about is hopefully we have two guys that can be that and that is the confidence and level of expectation that we have is that he definitely will be that guy and a guy that has that ability, and we need to build on a consistent basis. We also feel that Prince has the ability to do that, also, and that is where we become better as a football team where we can have that with both guys because that gives you the ability that you can handle the match-ups.”

Walton on Jayron Hosley:  “He has the talent. The thing we talk about is confidence. We have to make sure the confidence is there and the consistency is there and all of those things, so that the talent is showing on a daily basis. We don’t want to be up and down with it, so that is the thing we talk about and we work on, is trying to be consistent with it and getting confidence so you can play at a level that you would like to play at on a daily basis… He would probably be outside right now. Who knows what he may end up doing, but right now, to get confidence, you also want to start at one spot and kind of go from there and grow with it. You don’t want to throw a ton on his plate, start with one thing, let’s do that well and we’ll progress from there.”

PREDICTIONS: Provided they stay healthy, the Giants are in great shape with Rodgers-Cromartie and Amukamara. They are clearly the best two corners in the NFC East and one of the two could end up in the Pro Bowl.

Nevertheless, the biggest weakness on this roster may not be the offensive line or linebacker or safety, but cornerback due to the overall lack of quality depth. When teams like the Cowboys, Eagles, and Redskins play 3- and 4-wide receivers sets, the Giants will be forced to counter with the likes of McBride, Harris, and Brown. And God help the Giants if either one of the two top guys get hurt.

The fear here is that while DRC and Amukamara largely handle their business, opponents will feast on the third and fourth corners. The Giants desperately need one or two of these former castoffs to surprise. McBride did start 10 games for the Giants in 2013 and did a respectable job. Harris is a guy who the team thinks can play nickelback.

Chykie Brown, New York Giants (November 16, 2014)

Chykie Brown – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The wild card could be Brown. He was a 2014 in-season cut by the Ravens, when he was ironically being coached by Steve Spagnuolo. Before he was fired, Perry Fewell said of Brown, “He is a young man that is very conscientious. He takes very good notes, and when I say takes good notes, he is a good film study guy. He doesn’t have all of our techniques down pat, but he has the long arms. We like that, for jams, he has really good speed, so we like the speed that he can possess when he runs down the field. He is a pretty tough guy as a corner. Most corners are not physically tough guys, I think he is a pretty tough guy. I think he is a really nice addition to come in and help play in our secondary. We just like the speed factor, and some of the intangibles of what I just mentioned in his play.”

If the reserve corners struggle, the Giants will be scanning the waiver wire.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Unless there is another roster addition, the top five corners look to be Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Prince Amukamara, Trumaine McBride, Chykie Brown, and Mike Harris. To me, the bigger question is do the Giants go with five or six corners. My early guess is they will carry one more safety and one fewer corner and go with only five cornerbacks.

Mar 152015
 
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Jonathan Casillas, New England Patriots (December 14, 2014)

Jonathan Casillas – © USA TODAY Sports Images

By no means is an NFL roster anywhere near finalized by mid-March. There will be additional free agent signings and re-signings. Teams may cut players who the New York Giants have an interest in. And of course, the most important offseason personnel activity remains: the NFL Draft in April. But with the initial flurry of intensive free agency activity over, and almost all of the top free agents now off the market, let’s assess what the Giants have and have not accomplished at each position on the roster.

Quarterback: As expected, the status quo remains here. Eli Manning is the unquestioned starter and Ryan Nassib is the primary back-up. The Giants could still add another cheap arm for training camp.

Shane Vereen, New England Patriots (February 1, 2015)

Shane Vereen – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Running Back: The biggest free agent acquisition looks to be Shane Vereen (3-Years, $12.35 million). While Vereen will likely not start, he should become a critical role player in Ben McAdoo’s West Coast-style of offense as a dynamic and trustworthy pass receiver out of the backfield. Ideally, he should catch 50 passes, ranking him around the #3 or #4 receiver on the roster. In terms of the big picture, barring injury, it looks like the running back position is already largely settled heading into the 2015 season with Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams, and Vereen being the top three backs. The Giants also re-signed Chris Ogbonnaya, who will compete with Michael Cox and Orleans Darkwa in training camp for possibly a spot on the 53-man roster. The team cut Peyton Hillis.

Fullback: The Giants re-signed Henry Hynoski to a 2-year, $2 million deal. He will likely remain the team’s sole fullback on the roster.

Wide Receiver: The key characters still remain. Odell Beckham is the #1. Hopefully Victor Cruz is the #2. Rueben Randle should be the #3. Assuming Cruz can regain much of his old form (a big “if”) and the flashes Randle demonstrated late in the season were not a mirage (another big “if”), then really the main questions are who are the #4 and #5 guys on the roster. Almost assuredly, one will be newly-acquired receiver/returner Dwayne Harris (5-Years, $17.5 million), leaving one game-day active spot on the 53-man roster. Will that spot be for a 2015 draft pick (possibly as high as the first-round pick)? Or will the final spot go to Preston Parker, Kevin Ogletree, Marcus Harris, or Corey Washington?

Tight End: No change. Larry Donnell remains the #1 tight end. Some expect big things from him, others do not. Daniel Fells remains an unrestricted free agent who could be re-signed. The disappointing Adrien Robinson enters the final year of his rookie contract. Jerome Cunningham is a raw but intriguing receiving-type tight end. The Giants could use another body or two here, especially someone who is a reliable blocker.

Offensive Line: Many expected for the Giants to pursue one of the top free agent linemen. They did not. The Giants signed the CFL’s top offensive lineman, center/guard Brett Jones; re-signed journeyman center/guard Dallas Reynolds; re-signed wildly inconsistent guard John Jerry; and signed tackle Marshall Newhouse, a huge lineman who can play both tackle spots but who has also been benched twice by two different teams. The team also cut 2014 starting center J.D. Walton.

For the starting five, as it stands now, Will Beatty will remain the left tackle and Weston Richburg will be the new center. Geoff Schwartz will start at one of the two guard spots. Justin Pugh will start at right tackle or the other guard spot. Unless Newhouse (2-Years, $3 million), Jones, or Jerry surprise, many fans hope the final starting spot will be the first- or second-round pick from the 2015 NFL Draft. They also hope Newhouse is a big upgrade over James Brewer, Jones is an upgrade over Walton, and Jerry stops making so many mistakes. How good the starting five will be, and the overall depth situation, remain huge question marks.

Defensive Line: The Giants franchised Jason Pierre-Paul, released Mathias Kiwanuka, and re-structured Cullen Jenkins’ contract. But no new bodies have been added yet. Will the Giants and JPP be able to agree to a long-term deal? Or does this situation turn ugly? Who will start at end opposite Pierre-Paul? The candidates include Damontre Moore, Kerry Wynn, and Robert Ayers. Will the Giants sign a veteran? Or do the Giants take a defensive end early in the draft? Inside at tackle, Johnathan Hankins will start. Jenkins could remain a starter or be demoted to backup. Does Jay Bromley make a push for serious playing time? Mike Patterson remains unsigned and Marcus Kuhn is still on the roster. There are a lot of open questions at this position.

J.T. Thomas, Jacksonville Jaguars (December 18, 2014)

J.T. Thomas – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Linebacker: For better or worse, things are clearer at linebacker. The Giants and Beason agreed to a contract re-structure so he will have one more chance to prove that he can stay healthy. The Giants did not cut Jameel McClain before he was due a $400,000 roster bonus on March 12, so he will be back. The team re-signed Mark Herzlich to a 2-year, $2.6 million deal with a $400,000 bonus. Meanwhile the Giants seemingly have decided to replace unrestricted free agents Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger with J.T. Thomas (3-years, $10 million) and Jonathan Casillas (3-years, $8 million). Factoring in impressive rookie Devon Kennard, on paper, the Giants appear to have six linebacker spots already locked up. Of course someone could be drafted who might push one of these veterans off of the roster.

Defensive Backs: What a difference a year makes! Last year at this time, the secondary appeared to be the strength of the team and many were saying one of the best in team history. Now there are a lot of question marks. Corner is not quite as settled as some think. Barring injury, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Prince Amukamara form a very strong starting duo. But Amukamara is entering the final year of his contract. In addition, with Walter Thurmond leaving for Philadelphia (1-Year, $4 million), who becomes the all-important nickel corner? And who is the first guy off of the bench if one of the starting two get hurt? The main backups are now Trumaine McBride, re-signed Chykie Brown (2-years, $2 million), Mike Harris, and Chandler Fenner. Not exactly an imposing group. Don’t be shocked if the Giants take a corner high in the draft.

Safety is in far worse shape. Gone is Antrel Rolle to the Bears (3-Years, $11.25 million). Stevie Brown and Quintin Demps remain unsigned, and questionable talents at best even if re-signed. Unless former 5th rounders Cooper Taylor and Nat Berhe surprise, the Giants have glaring holes at this position. There isn’t much left available in free agency, and the draft is supposedly weak at this position.

Special Teams: Both kickers remain under contract. The Giants did add kick/punter returner Dwayne Harris, who also is a very good gunner. J.T. Thomas and Jonathan Casillas should help on specials as well.

Mar 052015
 
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Devin McCourty, New England Patriots (February 1, 2015)

Devin McCourty – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 2015 NFL Free Agency Preview: The New York Giants have clearly been in a downward spiral since winning the team’s eighth NFL title in 2011. In the last three seasons, the Giants have finished in third-place in the NFC East, dropping from 9-7 to 7-9 to 6-10. This despite the team’s huge roster overhaul last offseason that included a free-agent spending spree and a solid draft. After the 2013 season, team President/CEO John Mara asserted the offense was “broken.” While the passing game improved in 2014, the running game remained one of the least productive in the NFL. And the Giants fell to 29th in total defense, giving up over 6,000 yards for the third time in the last four seasons and the only times in franchise history.

Since the end of the 2013 season, both the offensive and defensive coordinator have been fired. Many position coaches have departed too as have player stalwarts from the two Championship teams. But the key actors remain: Jerry Reese, Tom Coughlin, and Eli Manning. Nevertheless, the clock is ticking on Coughlin and Manning and their chances for one final ring.

It’s largely been demonstrated that teams can’t build championship-level rosters through free agency. The key roster upgrades must come through the draft. But free agency is an important part of the equation. And the Giants have had to be more active in free agency because of the team has little remaining to show for from the 2008-12 NFL Drafts. The ideal free agent is usually not the 30-something, big “household” name that everyone recognizes, but the 27-28 year old, lesser-known player who is coming off his first contract and entering his prime.

“I think we are in pretty good health. We are headed in the right direction with respect to the cap,” said General Manager Jerry Reese on February 21. “I think we will be able to do what we need to do. I think we will have enough money to do what we need to do in the offseason, as far as free agency goes and whatever we decide to do with the other guys.”

The biggest needs for the New York Giants? To regain control of the line of scrimmage on both offense and defense. To become a tough, physical football team once again.

Quarterback (Minimal Need): Eli Manning is the starter. Ryan Nassib is the back-up. The team prefers to only keep two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. The Giants might bring another veteran-minimum-type veteran to have an extra arm in camp along with (or to replace) Ricky Stanzi. No one with a legitimate shot to make an NFL roster will want to sign with the Giants because of Manning and Nassib.

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • None

UFA’s of Note:

  • Matt Flynn (Green Bay Packers)

Running Back (Moderate Need): It’s likely that Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams are 1a and 1b on the depth chart. Jennings is well-respected and a solid all-around back. But he has been injury prone and is not dynamic. Williams did not flash as much as hoped during his rookie season, but the coaches seem to be very high on his future. What the Giants could use is a quicker, faster change-of-pace back who can pick up the blitz and threaten teams with his pass receiving. Michael Cox and Orleans Darkwa are still under contract. There are some interesting role players in the free agent market such as C.J. Spiller, Shane Vereen, and Roy Helu.

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • Chris Ogbonnaya (Unrestricted Free Agent)

UFA’s of Note:

  • DeMarco Murray (Dallas Cowboys)
  • C.J. Spiller (Buffalo Bills)
  • Shane Vereen (New England Patriots)
  • Roy Helu (Washington Redskins)
  • Mark Ingram (New Orleans Saints)
  • Reggie Bush (Detroit Lions)
  • Pierre Thomas (New Orleans Saints)

Fullback (Minor or Moderate Need): If the Giants re-sign Henry Hynoski, this really is a minor need, especially given the fact that the role of the fullback was minimized in Ben McAdoo’s offense. But if Hynoski leaves in free agency, the Giants will add a body to compete with with him and Nikita Whitlock in training camp.

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • Henry Hynoski (Unrestricted Free Agent)

UFA’s of Note:

  • John Kuhn (Green Bay Packers)

Wide Receivers (Moderate Need): There is a difference of opinion among fans about how pressing a need the team has at wide receiver. Much depends on how one views the likelihood of Victor Cruz returning from a serious knee injury and the immediate prospects for Rueben Randle. But keep in mind that even the Giants have said Cruz may never be the same player. Randle has been inconsistent, and even if he improves, he might want to leave the Giants when he becomes a free agent next offseason. The other seven guys currently under contract are no locks to even be on an NFL roster. There isn’t much out there on the free agent market.

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • Jerrel Jernigan (Unrestricted Free Agent)

UFA’s of Note:

  • Randall Cobb (Green Bay Packers)
  • Torrey Smith (Baltimore Ravens)
  • Jeremy Maclin (Philadelphia Eagles)

Tight Ends (Substantial Need): Larry Donnell was surprisingly productive in 2014, going from a complete no-name to a 63-catch target in one season. But his blocking still remains suspect. Daniel Fells was just adequate. And while Adrien Robinson took some baby steps forward in 2014, he continues to be a disappointing 4th-round draft pick. Based on his size, Jerome Cunningham is probably strictly an H-Back/receiving type. The problem is the top free agent tight ends are not very good blockers.

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • Larry Donnell (Tendered Exclusive Rights Free Agent)
  • Daniel Fells (Unrestricted Free Agent)

UFA’s of Note:

  • Julius Thomas (Denver Broncos)
  • Jordan Cameron (Cleveland Browns)
  • Charles Clay (Miami Dolphins – Transition Tagged)
  • Jermaine Gresham (Cincinnati Bengals)
  • Niles Paul (Washington Redskins)

Offensive Line (Critical Need): Fans also differ in opinion over the true state of the offensive line. Hopefully, the Giants have made the correct personnel evaluations and Will Beatty, Geoff Schwartz, Weston Richburg, and Justin Pugh are part of the solution. If not, then this line is really in sad shape. As it stands now, even if you are optimistic about the line, the Giants still desperately need one more starter. And the overall depth situation is not good at all. The big albatross is Will Beatty’s contract. Beatty will be entering the third year of his 5-year, $39 million contract. He will count over $8 million against the cap in 2015, even if the Giants cut him. The Giants need to become a tougher, more physical offensive line. Football games are still won and lost in the trenches. There are some interesting free agent players on the market, especially Mike Iupati, Bryan Bulaga, and Orlando Franklin.

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • OT James Brewer (Unrestricted Free Agent)
  • OG John Jerry (Unrestricted Free Agent)
  • OG Adam Snyder (Unrestricted Free Agent)

UFA’s of Note:

  • OG Mike Iupati (San Francisco 49ers)
  • OT Bryan Bulaga (Green Bay Packers)
  • OG Orlando Franklin (Denver Broncos)
  • OG Clint Boling (Cincinnati Bengals)
  • OT Derek Newton (Houston Texans)
  • OT Joe Barksdale (St. Louis Rams)
  • OG James Carpenter (Seattle Seahawks)
  • OT Doug Free (Dallas Cowboys)

Defensive Line (Critical Need): On paper, for at least 2015, the Giants appear set at two positions with defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins. But major questions remain at the other two starting spots. Who is the starting end opposite JPP? Damontre Moore? Kerry Wynn? Robert Ayers? Who starts alongside Hankins? Cullen Jenkins? Jay Bromley? Markus Kuhn and Mike Patterson played quite a bit in 2015 and did not perform well. The Giants need players here who can play the run and rush the passer. The good news is this is probably the deepest free agent group.

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul (Franchise Player)
  • DT Mike Patterson (Unrestricted Free Agent)

UFA’s of Note:

  • DT Ndamukong Suh (Detroit Lions)
  • DE Jerry Hughes (Buffalo Bills)
  • DE Greg Hardy (Carolina Panthers)
  • DT Terrance Knighton (Denver Broncos)
  • DT Nick Fairley (Detroit Lions)
  • DT Jared Odrick (Miami Dolphins)
  • DE Jabaal Sheard (Cleveland Browns)
  • DE Pernell McPhee (Baltimore Ravens)
  • DE Brian Orakpo (Washington Redskins)
  • DE Brandon Graham (Philadelphia Eagles)
  • DT Dan Williams (Arizona Cardinals)
  • DT Kendall Langford (St. Louis Rams)
  • DT Barry Cofield (Washington Redskins)
  • DT Vince Wilfork (New England Patriots)
  • DE Trent Cole (Philadelphia Eagles)

Linebackers (Critical Need): You can argue that the Giants haven’t ignored the position, but simply are terrible at scouting or developing linebackers. Or you can argue the Giants have not spent enough resources on the position. Regardless, the chickens have come home to roost. The Giants are in terrible shape at linebacker, lacking overall athleticism, speed, physicality, and most importantly, play makers. Devon Kennard shows signs of real ability but he’s probably best utilized as a line-of-scrimmage linebacker rather than a guy who you want playing in space. And since the game is more pass-oriented than ever, the Giants need better all-around linebackers. The free agent market for linebackers looks dreadful.

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • Jacquian Williams (Unrestricted Free Agent)
  • Mark Herzlich (Unrestricted Free Agent)
  • Spencer Paysinger (Unrestricted Free Agent)

UFA’s of Note:

  • OLB Derrick Morgan (Tennessee Titans)
  • MLB Rolando McClain (Dallas Cowboys)
  • MLB David Harris (New York Jets)
  • MLB Brandon Spikes (Buffalo Bills)
  • MLB Rey Maualuga (Cincinnati Bengals)
  • MLB Mason Foster (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

Defensive Backs (Critical Need): The Giants are in much better shape at cornerback than safety, especially if they can re-sign Walter Thurmond. But if Thurmond leaves, depth becomes a concern since Prince Amukamara has been injury prone and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is coming off an injury-plagued season. The real concern is at safety where in one season the Giants went from a strength (the 2013 version of Antrel Rolle and Will Hill) to a mess (the 2014 version of Rolle, Stevie Brown, and Quintin Demps). The only safeties currently under contract are Nat Behre, Cooper Taylor, and Thomas Gordon. There are only a few defensive backs really worth pursuing in free agency.

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • CB Walter Thurmond (Unrestricted Free Agent)
  • CB Zack Bowman (Unrestricted Free Agent)
  • CB Chandler Fenner (Tendered Exclusive Rights Free Agent)
  • S Antrel Rolle (Unrestricted Free Agent)
  • S Stevie Brown (Unrestricted Free Agent)
  • S Quintin Demps (Unrestricted Free Agent)

UFA’s of Note:

  • S Devin McCourty (New England Patriots)
  • CB Bryan Maxwell (Seattle Seahawks)
  • CB Brandon Flowers (San Diego Chargers)
  • CB Kareem Jackson (Houston Texans)
  • S Rahim Moore (Denver Broncos)
  • S Da’Norris Searcy (Buffalo Bills)
  • S Marcus Gilchrist (San Diego Chargers)
  • S Ron Parker (Kansas City Chiefs)
  • S Tyvon Branch (Oakland Raiders)

Kickers (Minor Need): If the Giants release Steve Weatherford, this would become a major need.

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • None

UFA’s of Note:

  • P Brett Kern (Tennessee Titans)
Feb 262015
 
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Josh Brown, New York Giants (December 7, 2014)

Josh Brown – © USA TODAY Sports Images

While there were some bright spots, the special teams of the New York Giants continued to under-perform in many key statistical areas in 2014. Consider the following:

Field Goals: The Giants finished 3rd in the NFL as place kicker Josh Brown converted on 24-of-26 attempts for a 92.3 average. This is all the more remarkable when you consider one of those misses was blocked. Brown also hit all 44 extra point tries. Unfortunately, the only real miss by Brown was a factor in the 1-point loss to Jacksonville in November.

Punting: Steve Weatherford, who was impacted by an early-season ankle injury, finished 16th in the NFL in gross average (45.5 yards per punt) and 22nd in the NFL in net average (40.1 yards per punt). He was middle-of-the-pack with punts in the 20-yard line with 25 and touchbacks with six. The Giants also allowed a blocked punt for a touchdown against the Eagles.

Kickoff Returns: The Giants finished 18th in kickoff returns, averaging 23.3 yards per return. They did not return a kickoff for a touchdown and the longest return was only for 45 yards.

Punt Returns: The Giants finished 19th in punt returns, averaging 7.7 yards per return. They did not return a punt for a touchdown and the longest return was for only 25 yards (which was 26th in the NFL). The Giants were 5th in the NFL in fair catches with 27.

Opposing Kickoff Returns: The Giants were very good at covering kickoffs as opposing teams averaged only 18.3 yards per return (2nd best in the NFL), with a long of 33 yards. Forty-six of Josh Brown’s 82 kickoffs resulted in touchbacks (56 percent).

Ted Ginn, Arizona Cardinals (September 14, 2014)

Ted Ginn – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Opposing Punt Returns: The Giants were not as strong covering punts as opposing teams averaged 10.6 yards per return and the Giants allowed a punt return to go 71 yards for a touchdown against the Cardinals. In addition, the Giants finished 23rd in the NFL in opposing fair catches with 17.

With the additions of Trindon Holliday, Quintin Demps, and Odell Beckham, plus the expected return of David Wilson, the return game was supposed to be a strength for the Giants in 2014. However, Holliday missed the bulk of camp with a hamstring injury as was placed on Injured Reserve. David Wilson re-injured his neck in training camp and retired. Beckham kept injuring his hamstring and was not a factor in the punt return game until later in the season. Demps never really flashed on kickoff returns like he did in Kansas City.

The kickoff return game was split among Preston Parker (21 returns, 24.2 yard average), Demps (12 returns, 21.3 yard average), and Michael Cox (11 returns, 23.7 yard average). The punt returns were split between Beckham (21 returns, 11 fair catches, 8.1 yard average), Parker (8 returns, 6 fair catches, 6.6 yard average), and Rueben Randle (no returns, 10 fair catches).

Zak DeOssie, New York Giants (August 18, 2013)

Zak DeOssie – © USA TODAY Sports Images

THE KICKERS AND LONG SNAPPER

Steve Weatherford tore ligaments in his left ankle in September and was hobbled with the injury for much of the season. He finished 18th in the NFL in punting average (45.5 yards per punt) and 25th in net punting average (38.6). Twenty-five of Weatherford’s punts were downed inside the 20-yard line and only six resulted in touchbacks. He did suffer his first blocked punt of his career. Before coming to the Giants, Weatherford played for the Saints (2006-08), Chiefs (2008), Jaguars (2008), and Jets (2009-2010). He is a good directional punter with average length strength.

In his 12th season, Josh Brown had his finest season, making 24-of-26 of his field goals (92.3 percent) with one of the misses being blocked. He made all 44 extra point attempts. And 45 of his 82 kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. Brown was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2003 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. Before coming to the Giants as a free agent in 2013, he kicked for the Seahawks (2003-07), St. Louis Rams (2009-11), and Bengals (2012). Brown now owns the Giants records for both single season and career field goal percentage. In his two seasons with the Giants, Brown has succeeded on 47-of-52 field goal attempts (90.4 percent).

Zak DeOssie is one of the NFL’s most consistent and better long snappers, being voted to the Pro Bowl in 2008 and 2010. DeOssie was drafted as a linebacker by the Giants in the 4th round of the 2007 NFL Draft. He is now strictly a special teams player. Aside from his long snapping duties, DeOssie also excels in punt coverage.