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B.J. Hill and Dalvin Tomlinson, New York Giants (November 25, 2018)

B.J. Hill and Dalvin Tomlinson – © USA TODAY Sports

With New York Giants training camp hopefully beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center. Keep in mind that some of the players discussed may be cut as the 2020 NFL draft class signs their rookie contracts.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Defensive Line

2019 YEAR IN REVIEW: As expected, the defensive line was the strongest unit on the New York defense in 2019. However, that was small consolation on a defense that finished 25th in yards allowed and 30th in points allowed. Once again, the Giants fielded one the League’s worst defenses. This has been a decade-long trend and probably the biggest reason why the team has become a doormat in recent years.

Quality run and pass defense relies on all three levels of the defense playing well together. So it is always unwise to judge each separate unit in a vacuum. Linebackers and defensive backs need to be in the right position and make the tackle in run defense. A good pass rush also depends on linebackers and defensive backs being able to cover backs, tight ends, and receivers. Long story short, the Giants defensive line did not receive much help from the back seven. This was exacerbated by a 3-4 scheme that puts the onus on the linebackers to be play-makers. The players also never seemed to fully embrace Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher’s system.

The Giants entered 2019 with what on paper looked to be a strong starting unit of RDE Dexter Lawrence (2019 1st-round pick), NT Dalvin Tomlinson (2017 2nd-round pick), and LDE B.J. Hill (2018 3rd-round picks). However, depth was very thin with only DE R.J. McIntosh (2018 5th-round pick) and Olsen Pierre (2019 free agent) in reserve. Oddly, two days after the Giants fell to 2-6, General Manager Dave Gettleman traded away two draft picks for soon-to-be-unrestricted free agent Leonard Williams, who had failed to live up to expectations with the Jets. A half-season rental was the type of move a team in the middle of a playoff fight would only be expected to make, not a team clearly needing every draft pick it could keep or acquire. Williams would soon take many of B.J. Hill’s snaps and Pierre Olsen was let go.

Overall, the Giants finished a disappointing 20th in run defense (allowing 113 yards per game) and 28th in pass defense (allowing 264 yards per game). The Giants generated only 36 sacks with only 9.5 coming from the defensive line. That said, Dexter Lawrence (38 tackles, 2.5 sacks) had a promising first season, being named to the All-Rookie Team. Dalvin Tomliinson (49 tackles, 3.5 sacks) became a more disruptive player as the season progressed. Leonard Williams (26 tackles, 0.5 sacks) started five of his eight games with the Giants. As advertised, he was a good run defender who only teased as a pass rusher. More was expected from B.J. Hill (36 tackles, 1 sack), who saw his playing time, tackles, and sacks fall from his promising 2018 rookie season. R.J. McIntosh only played in 10 percent of defensive snaps and finished with only 13 tackles, but did have two sacks in limited opportunities. 2019 7th-round Chris Slayton spent most of the year on the Practice Squad.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: This unit saw the least change during the offseason. Other than Olsen Pierre, who was waived last November, everyone returns. Gettleman doubled down on Leonard Williams, slapping a 1-year, $16 million Franchise Tag on him. The only newcomers are Austin Johnson (unrestricted free agent from Tennessee Titans) and Niko Lalos (undrafted rookie free agent).

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: The new coaching staff is being very coy about the new defense, vaguely repeating that it will be “multiple.” When asked if the Giants will be a 3-4 or 4-3 defense, new Defensive Patrick Graham responds, “yes.” But even a cursory look at the depth chart strongly suggests that the Giants will remain a  predominately 3-4 base as the team currently has nine defensive linemen and 17 linebackers. Nevertheless, expect Graham to constantly change fronts based on opponent, game plan, and down-and-distance.

Personally, I will be curious to see if Dexter Lawrence stays at end or plays more at nose tackle. He has the ability to develop into a truly imposing force in the League. Can Dalvin Tomlinson build upon his strong second half of the 2019 season? Can B.J. Hill return to his more disruptive play as a rookie in 2018? Most importantly, is Leonard Williams worth the the two draft picks and $16 million?

As part of an integrated defense, this unit will ultimately be judged on whether the team can dramatically improve its run defense and pass rush.

ON THE BUBBLE: For a team entering training camp with a 90-man roster, this team remains awfully thin on the line with only nine players. Assuming Niko Lalos spends him time with the defensive line (they gave him a DL jersey number), he clearly is on the bubble. Austin Johnson and Chris Slayton could also be fighting for one roster spot. Barring injury, everyone else should make the team.

PREDICTIONS: Patrick Graham is a relatively unknown commodity. The 41-year old coach has only served as defensive coordinator for one season at any level, that being his 30th-ranked defense with the talent-deficient Dolphins in 2019. Miami also oddly let him out of his contract to join the Giants. One gets the sense that the defensive line will thrive or fail depending on Graham’s overall effectiveness as a coordinator and whether or not the back seven can improve its play. There is talent on the defensive line, but the coaches, linebackers, and defensive backs need to step it up. Keep in mind that Graham served as defensive line coach with the Patriots (2012-2013) and Giants (2016-2017).

It will also be interesting to see how the players respond to new Defensive Line Coach Sean Spencer, aka “Coach Chaos.” Spencer has never coached at the NFL level but his relentless coaching style is vastly different from his predecessor with the Giants who was very low key (at least publicly). In addition, Outside Linebacker Coach/Senior Assistant Bret Bielema was the defensive line coach with the Patriots in 2019.

Do not expect any of the Giants’ current defensive linemen to become double-digit sack masters. None of them have that type of dynamic skill set. These are big, powerful linemen who can hold the point-of-attack, disrupt, and potentially control the line of scrimmage. But the best you can probably expect from each is 5-6 sacks in a season.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, Dalvin Tomlinson, B.J. Hill, R.J. McIntosh, Austin Johnson

Johnson was an under-the-radar singing who really could help the depth situation. Can Chris Slayton show enough to stick?

May 262020
 
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Andrew Thomas, Georgia Bulldogs (November 2, 2019)

Andrew Thomas – © USA TODAY Sports

With New York Giants training camp hopefully beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center. Keep in mind that some of the players discussed may be cut as the 2020 NFL draft class signs their rookie contracts.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Offensive Line

2019 YEAR IN REVIEW: The more things change, the more things stay the same. That could be the mantra for the New York Giants franchise and their almost decade-long effort to rebuild the offensive line. 2019 was no exception. Expectations were at least slightly raised by the offseason additions of seasoned veterans Kevin Zeitler at right guard and Mike Remmers at right tackle. It was expected that left tackle Nate Solder would rebound from a disappointing debut season with the team in 2018. Center Jon Halapio returned after missing 14 games with a broken ankle and we were told by management and coaches what an underrated player he was. Left guard Will Hernandez was coming off a decent rookie season and was expected to develop into a more consistent player.

Long story short is that the offensive line not only did not improve, at times it looked worse than the ad hoc group that finished the 2018 season. Nate Solder regressed even further. Hernandez stagnated. Halapio sucked and tore his Achilles’ tendon with only minutes left in the season. Zeitler dealt with a number of injuries that most likely affected his overall play. Mike Remmers played as expected as an only adequate, temporary placeholder. As a unit, their play did not exceed or equal the sum of its parts. It played at a lesser and very much disappointing level that did not meet expectations. To be blunt, it wasn’t pretty. Saquon Barkley and his fellow running backs were often facing penetration in the backfield and quarterbacks Eli Manning and Daniel Jones were regularly under siege.

The depth situation was also not good. Seventh-rounder offensive tackle George Asafo-Adjei suffered a serious concussion early in camp and was lost for the season. For the second year in a row, back-up center Spencer Pulley did not look good when he played. Reserves Eric Smith and Chad Slade were non-factors. Only 2018 undrafted rookie free agent Nick Gates showed some promise in three starts, one at right guard and two at right tackle.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: Dave Gettleman re-signed exclusive rights free agents Eric Smith and Chad Slade in late December before Joe Judge was hired. The team did not tender restricted free agent Jon Halapio and he remains unsigned. Team officials contend they could still re-sign Halapio, but it is somewhat telling that they already gave his jersey number away to another offensive lineman.

Mike Remmers signed with the Chiefs. George Asafo-Adjei was waived/failed physical in March.

Journeyman offensive tackle/tight end Nate Wozniak was signed to a reserve/futures contract in late December. Unrestricted free agent offensive tackle Cam Fleming (Dallas Cowboys) was signed in March. The Giants drafted three offensive linemen in the 2020 NFL Draft, including tackle Andrew Thomas (1st round), tackle Matt Peart (3rd round), and guard Shane Lemieux (5th round). The team also signed rookie free agent guards Kyle Murphy and Tyler Haycraft after the draft.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: It’s the same as it has been for almost 10 years. Can the Giants field a respectable offensive line? The Achilles’ heel of the offensive team for the last decade has been the play of the offensive line. Every Giants fan knows that. Under two general managers and three head coaches, the team has spent high draft picks and spent a ton of free agent money to fix the problem with no improvement. The old maxim still holds true, football is indeed won and lost in the trenches. And the NFC East is filled with good front sevens. It’s no wonder why the Giants have become the punching bag for the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles.

While the Giants did not make a big splash this year in free agency (Cam Fleming), it certainly did in the draft by taking three offensive linemen in their first five selections, including the 4th player overall. On paper, things look much improved. The Giants appear to have four potentially adequate or more starters at tackle (Solder, Thomas, Fleming, Peart) and guard (Hernandez, Zeitler, Gates, Lemieux). The obvious sore spot is center. There is no reason to believe Spencer Pulley will develop into an adequate starter. Team officials have already publicly admitted that players such as Gates, Lemieux, and Kyle Murphy will cross-train at at both guard and center.

The hope here is twofold. First, the belief that Head Coach Joe Judge, Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett, and Offensive Line Coach Marc Colombo are superior coaches to their predecessors. And not only will they implement more coherent and viable blocking schemes that fit the existing personnel, but they will develop each individual player better. Second, that the Giants have not only improved the level of talent, but also the level of depth.

In the short term, media and fan focus will be on the center position and the development of the rookie tackles. It doesn’t help that the COVID situation has prevented the team from holding on-field spring practices.

ON THE BUBBLE: A lot of fans want to cut Nate Solder now. While an argument can be made to do so, the COVID situation makes it more unlikely that a team would want to rely on untested rookies who missed spring practices. Just as importantly, the team already paid his $3 million roster bonus in March and would be penalized with a sizable cap hit in dead money (almost $10 million if cut after June 1st).

Barring a complete collapse by Solder and/or rapid development of Thomas and Peart, the Giants are likely to keep four tackles: Solder, Thomas, Peart, and Fleming. It would also seem like the Giants will keep at least five interior linemen with Hernandez, Zeitler, Lemieux, and Gates having the inside track. Pulley’s fate may depend on who is on the waiver wire and the cross-training status of Lemieux, Gates, and Murphy.

PREDICTIONS: Things may not be pretty in the short term (this season), but I think FINALLY the Giants made some moves that will settle this position down for the long term (beyond 2020). I’m thrilled with what the Giants did in the draft at this position. With all due respect to Brad Benson, Jumbo Elliott, and David Diehl, the Giants have have not had a left tackle with the skill-set of Andrew Thomas in my lifetime. Thomas has an ideal combination of size/length, athleticism, temperament, and work ethic for the position (Ereck Flowers lacked the latter two qualities). Matt Peart has many of the same characteristics but it is assumed he will take a little longer to refine because he played at UConn. Both started as freshmen. Both have have started at right and left tackle. It is not far-fetched to dream that the Giants may have selected two 10-year starters at tackle in one draft.

Furthermore, Shane Lemieux was one of the best guards in the draft. Like Thomas, he started as a freshman in a major program. Lemieux has the size, temperament, and work ethic you want at the position. I honestly think all three will eventually start for the Giants. I also would not sleep on rookie free agent Kyle Murphy, who has played at both tackle spots, guard, and center. Based on the limited tape I’ve seen of him, this former team captain plays the game you want your offensive linemen to play (VIDEO).

What’s hard to predict is what the starting line will look like in 2020. Nate Solder and Andrew Thomas are going to start at tackle, but we don’t know who will start on each side. If Solder continues to struggle, I would not completely discount seeing Peart or Fleming in there sooner than expected. Hernandez and Zeitler should start at guard, but neither should get too comfortable with Lemieux and Nick Gates looming in the wings. Joe Judge has repeatedly said the best guys will play, regardless of their draft position or paycheck size. Zeitler is one of the better guards in the NFL and should rebound. It will be interesting to see how Hernandez responds to the new coaching staff.

The huge question mark of course is center. Nobody really wants Pulley starting. The hope is that Gates, Lemieux, or Murphy impress enough in camp to quickly take the starting job. But there is not much time.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Nate Solder, Andrew Thomas, Matt Peart, Cam Fleming, Will Hernandez, Kevin Zeitler, Shane Lemieux, Nick Gates, Kyle Murphy

What? No center? No way! You’re right… I’m going way out on a limb here and predicting that Lemieux, Gates, and/or Murphy show enough potential at center for not only to have one, but BOTH centers on the team to be converted guards. Teams can also carry 10 offensive linemen and I wouldn’t discount that as a real possibility with Pulley (or a waiver wire pick-up) serving as insurance. Again, I don’t think things will be pretty in the short term. But sometimes you have to take your lumps early for it to pay dividends down the road.

The Giants rolled the dice in 1984 with a converted guard starting at center, Kevin Belcher. It worked out wonderfully for the team in the short-term. (Kevin’s career ended the following offseason with a car crash).

At the very least, the depth situation looks very much improved. There will be guys who can come off of the bench and play in this league.

May 222020
 
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Kaden Smith, New York Giants (December 1, 2019)

Kaden Smith – © USA TODAY Sports

With New York Giants training camp hopefully beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center. Keep in mind that some of the players discussed may be cut as the 2020 NFL draft class signs their rookie contracts.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Tight Ends

2019 YEAR IN REVIEW: Entering 2019, the Giants and their fans were hoping that 3rd-year player and former 1st-round draft pick Evan Engram would finally make it through a full season and break out with a 1,000+ receiving year. Alas that was not to be as Engram suffered both foot and knee injuries that caused him to miss half the season. In all, Engram played in just eight games in 2019 with six starts, catching 44 passes for 467 yards and three touchdowns. This was after Engram missed five games in 2018 with knee and hamstring injuries.

Making matters worse for New York was that Engram’s primary back-up, Rhett Ellison, suffered a serious concussion in Week 10 and missed the last six games of the season. Ellison accrued his lowest numbers in a Giants’ uniform, just 18 catches for 167 yards and one touchdown.

Scott Simonson badly injured his ankle in the preseason finale, was cut from Injured Reserve in September, and re-signed to the 53-man roster in November. But Simonson was placed on IR again in December with a concussion. He played in five games in 2019 with one start, catching just two passes for 11 yards. Garrett Dickerson split time between the Practice Squad and the 53-man roster, but did not have a catch.

The only real positive at this position in 2019 was the emergence of rookie Kaden Smith. The Giants claimed Smith off of waivers from the San Francisco 49ers in September. (He was a 6th round pick for the 49ers). Smith surprisingly became a significant contributor after the bye week when injuries started to hit the tight end position hard. Smith played in nine games with six starts, and finished the season with 31 catches for 268 yards (8.6 yards per catch) and three touchdowns. He also did a nice job in the blocking department.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: Scott Simonson was cut in February. Rhett Ellison retired from football in March. Evan Engram, Kaden Smith, and Garrett Dickerson return.

The Giants added four new bodies, including veteran free agents Levine Toilolo (49ers) and Eric Tomlinson (Raiders) as well as rookie free agents Kyle Markway and Rysen John.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: The Giants picked up the 5th-year option on Engram in late April, meaning he will be under contract through the 2021 season. However, stating the obvious, this is a critical season for the injury-plagued Engram. He has to prove he can be reliably productive, and you can’t do that if you aren’t playing. And when Engram has played, he has frustratingly alternated between signs of becoming an impact player as a receiving tight end and disappearing for long stretches. As any Giants fan painfully knows, Jason Garrett’s offense relies heavily on tight end play. And Joe Judge preaches about putting players in the best positions to succeed, which would suggest that Engram may see less in-line blocking and be used more heavily in the receiving game. If Engram can’t do it in year four, it may be best for the team to part ways with him.

Kaden Smith’s development will be interesting to watch. He’s not a great athlete, but he did the job when called upon last year despite his limited experience (VIDEO). His upside is the big question mark.

It’s pretty telling that Gettleman and Judge signed two big, run-blocking tight ends in free agency. Now on his fourth NFL team, Levine Toilolo is massive (6’8”, 268 pounds) and figures to be the most physical blocking tight end in this offense. Eric Tomlinson is on his sixth NFL team, and second stint with the Giants. He’s another big man (6’6”, 263 pounds). Neither player will really threaten NFL defenses in the passing game, but their very presence may indicate a renewed emphasis on being physical up front with the running game.

ON THE BUBBLE: One would think that Evan Engram and Levine Toilolo have the inside shots with Engram representing the receiving threat and Toilolo the blocker. If Kaden Smith can continue to develop, he has an excellent shot to make the roster as well. The best hope for each of the others may be for the team to carry four tight ends, but that’s not a given.

PREDICTIONS: I predicted 1,000-yard seasons for Evan Engram in 2018 and 2019. What’s the old saying? Fool me twice? The guy drives me nuts. Week 1: 11 catches and 116 yards and a touchdown against Dallas. Week 3: 6 catches and 113 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown, against Tampa Bay. Then he’ll have one catch for six yards against the Cardinals in Week 7 and miss half of the rest of the year with multiple injuries.

I think Judge and Garrett will understand Engram’s strengths and weaknesses and we will see less in-line blocking from him. That should reduce the wear-and-tear as well as increase his receiving chances. I’m not going to predict anything with him in terms of his final numbers this year. Another boast would sound meaningless at this point. He’s got to prove to everyone he can stay on the football field.

I suspect Levine Toilolo will become a very important cog in the offense this year, not as a receiver, but as the primary in-line blocking tight end. That should help both rookie Andrew Thomas and veteran Nate Solder at tackle. And Saquon Barkley should receive the immediate dividends. I want to get really excited about Kaden Smith, but he still has a lot to prove. Fans may have overrated his play last year simply because he looked like the most reliable two-way guy on the roster, which isn’t saying much.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Evan Engram, Levine Toilolo, Kaden Smith, Kyle Markway

One of the reasons I am going with four is that I don’t think Engram is a true in-line tight end and more of a TE/WR hybrid. So the Giants still need three guys who can block in-line. Toilolo and Smith are the obvious guesstimates in May. Rysen John is another hybrid type who is very, very green. His best shot is probably the Practice Squad. Garrett Dickerson has hung around since 2018 and has some athletic ability, but he’s got to be really on the bubble. I think Eric Tomlinson and Kyle Markway are fighting for that final roster spot. Markway reminds me of Rhett Ellison, a jack-of-all trades type (tight end, H-Back, fullback) who doesn’t mind getting his nose dirty. I suspect the coaches will like him a lot.

May 192020
 
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Darius Slayton, New York Giants (December 9, 2019)

Darius Slayton – © USA TODAY Sports

With New York Giants training camp hopefully beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center. Keep in mind that some of the players discussed may be cut as the 2020 NFL draft class signs their rookie contracts.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Wide Receivers

2019 YEAR IN REVIEW: Perhaps the biggest offseason NFL story in 2019 was the trade of Odell Beckham, Jr. to the Cleveland Browns in March. While the Giants received what now appears to be more-than-adequate compensation (1st- and 3rd-round draft picks and safety Jabrill Peppers), the trade left the Giants without a clearcut #1 wide receiver who could consistently threaten opposing defenses down the field. In addition, the Giants were now very thin and top heavy at the position, with only newly-acquired Golden Tate and yet-to-breakout Sterling Shepard as headliners.

Things got even dicier early when Tate (49 catches, 676 yards, 6 TDs) was suspended for the first four games of the season for the use of performance-enhancing substances. Shepard (57 catches, 576 yards, 3 TDs) then missed six games (Week 2, Weeks 6-10) with concussions. Evan Engram (44 catches, 467 yards, 3 TDs), a hybrid tight end/wide receiver, also missed eight games (Week 6, Weeks 10-17) with knee and foot issues. Former Browns 1st rounder Corey Coleman was lost in July with a torn ACL.

Long story short was that the Giants were forced to rely on guys like perennial tease Cody Latimer (24 catches, 300 yards, 2 TDs) and no-name journeymen such as Bennie Fowler (23 catches, 193 yards), T.J. Jones (3 catches), Cody Core (3 catches), Russell Shepard (3 catches), and Da’Mari Scott (2 catches). David Sills spent the bulk of the season on the Practice Squad until mid-December but he did not have a catch.

Thank goodness for 5th-round steal Darius Slayton, who had a surprisingly productive rookie season, playing in 14 games with nine starts, and finishing with 48 catches for a team-leading 740 yards (team-leading 15.4 yards per catch) and a team-leading eight touchdowns.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants cut Fowler and Jones during the 2019 season and chose not to re-sign Latimer and Russell Shepard in free agency. The team did re-sign Coleman and Core in free agency, as well as re-sign practice squader Alex Bachman.

Surprisingly, the Giants did not sign any free agents from other teams and did not draft a receiver in what was widely-regarded as a very deep wide receiver draft. The only newcomers are undrafted rookie free agents Binjimen Victor, Austin Mack, and Derrick Dillon.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: The main question is do the Giants have enough receiving targets who can stay healthy and scare opposing defenses? On paper, the Giants are pretty much in the same boat as they were at this time last year, having to rely on Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate, and Evan Engram to stay on the field and be consistently productive. The one significant change is the emergence of Darius Slayton. Was 2019 a flash in the pan for the rookie Slayton or the start of something even better? Will he experience the dreaded “sophomore slump”? Tate proved he can still play, but the Giants are his fourth NFL team and it will be interesting to see how he interacts with Joe Judge. The big concern is Shepard’s career-threatening concussion history. How much more will he be able to play?

Cody Core is a stud special teamer but only has 33 catches in four NFL seasons. It’s a bit surprising that Da’Mari Scott is even back. Sills and Bachman have already been cut by other teams. There was some hope last year that Corey Coleman could emerge, but now he’s coming off a torn ACL. Undrafted free agents Victor, Mack, and Dillon probably couldn’t have picked a better team to sign with. At least one has a reasonable shot of making the team. Unless someone really surprises, there is very little depth at this position.

ON THE BUBBLE: Slayton, Shepard, and Tate are the sure bets with Core having a great shot because of his special teams value. That leaves probably two or three spots for the rest, who are all on the bubble. Dave Gettleman and Joe Judge will be actively scanning the waiver wire.

PREDICTIONS: There are a lot of conflicting thoughts in my head when I consider the team’s situation at wide receiver. I grew up during a time when Phil Simms largely had a bunch of no-name scrubs and still got the job done. I also witnessed how the personal excellence of Odell Beckham had no impact on the overall W-L record. On the other hand, it’s hard to see Eli Manning winning two Super Bowls without the presence of Amani Toomer, Plaxico Burress, Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, and Mario Manningham.

Personally, I don’t think the Giants have enough talent at the position. If everyone stays healthy, this could be a more-than-adequate unit, but the slot receiver Shepard is one big hit away from being done and he’s never come close to cracking the 1,000-yard mark. The hybrid Engram also can’t seem to stay on the field. I also could see the show-boating Tate rubbing Judge the wrong way. There will be a lot of pressure on Darius Slayton to perform and even improve upon his rookie season. It is a long shot to believe anyone else will be meaningfully productive.

I suspect wide receiver will be a top priority in free agency and the draft next offseason.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Darius Slayton, Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard, Cody Core, Corey Coleman, Binjimen Victor

After my first four, the next two are my best guesses. Coleman has talent but is now on his fourth team and coming off an ACL. Still, he has the one thing you can’t teach: speed. Austin Mack is one of those receivers who is tough to cut, but I just don’t see an ability to separate in his game. Victor reminds me of a poor man’s Plaxico Burress. The 5th and 6th receivers may not be on the roster yet. Stay tuned.

May 142020
 
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Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (December 29, 2019)

Saquon Barkley – © USA TODAY Sports

With New York Giants training camp hopefully beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center. Keep in mind that some of the players discussed may be cut as the 2020 NFL draft class signs their rookie contracts.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Running Backs

2019 YEAR IN REVIEW: Coming off an incredible debut season in 2018, where he earned “Offensive Rookie of the Year” honors and led the NFL with 2,028 yards from scrimmage, much was expected of Saquon Barkley in 2019. However, his second pro season quickly became forgettable after he suffered a high-ankle sprain in Week 3. The injury caused him to miss three games and nagged him much of the remainder of the season. Playing soft and tentative at times, Barkley did not show signs of his old self until December. Nevertheless, Barkley still rushed 217 times for 1,003 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and six touchdowns behind an offensive line that did not block very well. He also caught 52 passes for 438 yards and two touchdowns.

The game that best epitomized Barkley’s frustrating season was the Week 14 contest against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Giants led 17-3 at halftime, yet the team’s offensive brain trust only called for seven runs by Barkley in the second half. Three weeks later, the Giants faced the Eagles again, this time in the Meadowlands. Barkley’s 68-yard touchdown late in the 3rd quarter tied the game at 17-17. Yet the Eagles went on to win comfortably as Barkley only touched the ball twice before the score became 34-17 in the 4th quarter. One was left with the sense that the coaching staff simply did not use Barkley to full effect.

Unbelievably, and especially when you consider the fact that Barkley missed three games and played hurt in the final 10 games, no other running back on the roster gained more than Wayne Gallman’s 110 yards. To put this in perspective, Daniel Jones rushed for 279 yards. Gallman’s stock plummeted, falling from Barkley’s primary back-up to being a healthy scratch from the game-day roster in the last five contests of the season. Gallman carried the ball only 29 times all year. Jon Hilliman only carried the ball 30 times for 91 yards. Eli Penny 15 times for 39 yards. Javorius Allen 10 times for 36 yards. In other words, all of the other backs combined only gained 276 yards, or three less than Daniel Jones (who only played 12 games).

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The team decided not to re-sign unrestricted free agent Javorius Allen, but did re-sign fullback Eli Penny to a 2-year contract. Saquon Barkley, Wayne Gallman, Jon Hilliman, and practice squad fullback George Aston also return.

Newcomers include Dion Lewis (signed by Giants after he was cut by Tennessee Titans), Javon Leake (undrafted rookie free agent), and Sandro Platzgummer (Austrian from the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program).

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: Saquon Barkley is a generational talent. His presence on the roster had to be an immense appeal to coaches like Joe Judge, Jason Garrett, and Burton Burns, the latter coming back to coaching at the age of 67. But as we saw with Odell Beckham, talent guarantees nothing. And it is up to Judge, Garrett, and Burns to get the very best out of Barkley. Burns is an under-the-radar addition. He’s an old-school, demanding hard-ass, but running backs love playing for him.

Judge has stated numerous times that New York’s offensive game plans will change weekly depending on the opponent, to the point where he said there may be games where the Giants almost exclusively run or pass the football. Given the fact that Barkley is a superb receiving target and that Garrett had the Cowboys throw a ton to Ezekiel Elliott, Barkley should be heavily involved in any game plan. At the same time, the pressure is on all of the new offensive coaches, including offensive line coach Marc Colombo, and the blockers up front to simply give Barkley a chance to do his his thing. Too many times, Barkey was having to avoid tacklers in the backfield. Barkley also needs to touch the football, particularly in the clutch. When he does, good things happen.

There were a couple of red flags with Barkley last year. He still dances around a bit too much instead of taking what is there. And after he got hurt, Barkley looked tentative and indeed soft at times. That changed in December as his ankle got stronger. Hopefully that was only an anomaly. Other than that, Barkley is a legitimate League MVP candidate if he can stay healthy and keep his head on straight.

The other story line of camp is the depth situation behind Barkley. Gallman has not developed as hoped. Penny is more of a fullback. Hilliman didn’t impress as a rookie. The Giants added Dion Lewis, a smaller, elusive journeyman who did his best work in New England.

ON THE BUBBLE: Honestly, I don’t think anyone other than Barkley is totally safe. This is an area where the Giants may be actively scanning the waiver wire before the season starts. Given Judge’s familiarity with Lewis and his versatility as a runner, receiver, and returner, Lewis also has a good shot to make the roster.

PREDICTIONS: I’m a little bit wary of piling on the previous coaching staff, but I just don’t get the impression that they were terribly imaginative in using Saquon Barkley in the passing game (there was an odd, overreliance on the wheel route). The run blocking obviously wasn’t good either. Talent? Coaching? Scheme? Probably a combination of all three. When something worked, the Giants moved away from it, and just when you thought the opponent should be hit with a heavy dose of Barkley, he was nowhere to be seen.

On paper, Garrett, Colombo, Burns, and tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens are major upgrades in the coaching department. I think they will know how to use Barkley. I also expect Will Hernandez, Kevin Zeitler, and Nate Solder to play much better and for Andrew Thomas and possibly Shane Lemieux or Nick Gates to make an impact. Provided he stays healthy and focused, Barkley should hit the 2,000 yard mark again. He’s clearly one of the very best players in the entire League.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Saquon Barkley, Dion Lewis, Wayne Gallman, Eli Penny

After Barkley and Lewis, this is a bit dicey. Gallman is on the bubble. Penny is replaceable. A guy like Javon Leake could easily press for a roster spot, especially given his kick return skills. Hell, a guy like Sandro Plazgummer probably couldn’t have picked a better team to compete on. My guess is Gettleman and Judge will be actively scanning the waiver wire here. Don’t be shocked to see running back a priority area next offseason. The Giants need better insurance behind Barkley.

May 112020
 
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Daniel Jones, New York Giants (September 22, 2019)

Daniel Jones – © USA TODAY Sports

With New York Giants training camp hopefully beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center. Keep in mind that some of the players discussed may be cut as the 2020 NFL draft class signs their rookie contracts.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Quarterbacks

2019 YEAR IN REVIEW: Right or wrong, for about a five year period from 2014 to 2018, there was an overwhelming sense that the New York Giants as a franchise unsuccessfully tried to “fix” the roster around two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning. Offensive linemen, receivers, head coaches, offensive coordinators, position coaches, and even a general manager came and went. Ben McAdoo benched Manning for one game in late 2017, but the outcry caused the team to quickly reinsert Eli back into the line-up. And his career losses continued to mount. Many expected the Giants to draft Manning’s replacement with the #2 overall pick in 2018, but team selected running back Saquon Barkley instead. In 2019, the Giants made the highly controversial decision to draft Daniel Jones with the #6 overall pick. The hand writing was on the wall. Eli’s days were numbered.

Entering the 2019 season, the prevailing opinion was that Jones was unlikely to see the field until the Giants were officially out of the playoff hunt by November or December. Stunningly, it only took two games and an 0-2 start for ownership, management, and the coaching staff to pull the plug. Barring injury or a meltdown by Jones, Eli’s days as a starting quarterback for the New York Giants were over.

Despite his greenness, Jones started off like gangbusters and the team quickly evened its record at 2-2. But dark clouds quickly appeared on the horizon. The team’s best player, Saquon Barkley, suffered a high ankle sprain, missed three games, and wasn’t quite right the rest of the season. The offensive line regressed (again) and couldn’t run or pass block. The Giants top skill players never played one game together with Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram all missing significant time. Making matters worse was the defense remained one of the league’s worst, rarely providing the offense with good field position and opportunities. Jones lost his next eight starts, suffered his own high ankle sprain and missed two games, and split his final two starts, finishing with a 3-9 record. Manning’s first game back came against his old nemesis, the Eagles, which caused him to officially become a career losing quarterback. Fortunately, he won his last career start and evened his regular-season career record at 117-117 before giving way to Jones again for the final two games.

In many ways, Jones had a stellar first season despite playing on a bad football team. Jones’ 24 touchdown passes (in 12 games) was the fourth-most by a rookie quarterback in a single season in NFL history. He threw for over 3,000 yards and completed 62 percent of his passes. Jones also rushed for two touchdowns and 289 yards, the third-highest rushing total by a Giants’ quarterback in the Super Bowl era. He impressed coaches and teammates with his smarts, work ethic, competitiveness, and ability to make plays. Two of his wins included late-game heroics. However, the fumbling problem cannot be overlooked. Jones fumbled the ball an incredible 18 times, losing 11, or about one lost fumble per start.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: Eli Manning has retired. Aside from Daniel Jones, Alex Tanney returns. The newcomers are Colt McCoy (unrestricted free agent from the Redskins), Cooper Rush (claimed off of waivers from the Cowboys), and Case Cookus (undrafted rookie free agent).

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: Stating the obvious, it’s the continued development of Daniel Jones, who is now coached by a new head man (Joe Judge), offensive coordinator (Jason Garrett), and quarterback coach (Jerry Schuplinski). Note that Mike Shula served as both offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2019. It’s also interesting to note that Garrett, Tight Ends Coach Freddie Kitchens, and Senior Offensive Assistant Derek Dooley all have experience as quarterbacks coaches.

The COVID-19 situation has prevented the assistant coaching staff from addressing the media. And Joe Judge has gone out of his way this offseason to not praise or even mention specific players by name as he publicly contends that all players, regardless of their draft or contract status, are competing on a level playing field. But Jones has so impressed Judge during virtual meeting sessions that he has now made an exception with his Jones.

“I love working with this guy every day,” said Judge. “He’s got a fire that burns in him. He brings other guys along with him. He shows up every day. He knows what you’re going to teach before you’re teaching it in terms of being prepared on material. He sets the tone for the room, and I’m very excited when we finally get these guys in person and get with him.

“We had a lot of conversations, a lot of conversations. Let me tell you something right now, sitting down with him and talking his philosophy on the program and where we’re going to go, what his goals are in his career, I’m glad he’s on our team. Let me put it that way. I’m really glad he’s on our team.”

That is great news as it was certainly possible that a new coaching staff would want to start with their own new guy (see the Arizona Cardinals as just one recent example).

Looking at the big picture, the only way the Giants are going to compete with the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, and now possibly the Chase Young-led Washington Redskins is for Daniel Jones to become the best quarterback in the division. That’s a lot of pressure, but it is what it is. This is a quarterback’s league and all you need to do is look at teams like the Chiefs and Ravens and see what a top QB can do for your team. Jones needs to stay healthy and be the type of quarterback who perennially puts up 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns while at the same time cutting down his turnovers.

The secondary story lines ares are who will be the primary back-up and how many quarterbacks will the Giants keep on the roster.

ON THE BUBBLE: Barring the unexpected, Case Cookus’ only shot in the short term is the Practice Squad. Meanwhile, Colt McCoy, Cooper Rush, and Alex Tanney will all be competing for only one or two roster openings.

PREDICTIONS: Yes, I’m drinking the blue Kool-Aid. No New York Giants rookie quarterback has impressed me more than Daniel Jones, and that includes Phil Simms, Jeff Hostetler, Eli Manning, and a host of guys we would rather all forget (Dave Brown, Kent Graham, Danny Kanell). Does the fumbling bother me? Yes. Do I think it can be fixed? Yes. When Jones came to the Giants, I was told by draftniks that the guy had accuracy issues and couldn’t throw a deep ball. I saw the exact opposite. I also saw an incredibly smart, competitive, and tough guy who wants to win desperately. I think Daniel Jones will become the best quarterback in the division and I think it is going to happen sooner than most people think. But he needs to stay healthy in order to do so. We took that for granted with Eli Manning.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Daniel Jones, Colt McCoy, Cooper Rush

Much depends on whether Judge keeps two or three quarterbacks. Being a long-time special teams coach, I can see him wanting to keep an extra special teams player over the third quarterback. But the expansion of rosters to 55 might encourage him to keep three. One has to think McCoy is the front-runner for the #2 job. McCoy has started 28 games in his career and was an early free agent target of the new regime. Cooper Rush has the advantage in that he knows Jason Garrett’s offense. That becomes an even bigger advantage in the COVID-19 environment. That all said, The New York Post is reporting that the Giants continue to value Alex Tanney’s presence on Daniel Jones. So don’t totally discount him.

Jul 152019
 
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Aldrick Rosas, New York Giants (December 2, 2018)

Aldrick Rosas – © USA TODAY Sports

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

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Special Teams

2018 YEAR IN REVIEW: Despite the fact that the New York Giants’ special teams have been a liability for years, special teams ended up being the team’s strongest unit in 2018. New Head Coach Pat Shurmur chose not to bring back long-time special teams coordinator Tom Quinn and hired Thomas McGaughey to be the new coordinator and Anthony Blevins as his assistant. However, since McGaughey was diagnosed with cancer during the 2018 offseason, Quinn was retained as “assistant special teams coordinator.”

Overshadowed by Saquon Barkley’s phenomenal rookie season, place kicker Aldrick Rosas, who struggled in 2017, had the best year of any place kicker in team history, only missing one field goal all season. Newcomer punter Riley Dixon, who was acquired by trade, finished 7th in net punting. The Giants were 7th in the NFL in kickoff returns (24.4 yards per return) and 28th in punt returns (6.2 yards per return). The Giants were also 2nd-best in defending kickoff returns (20.4 yards per return) and 7th-best in defending punt returns (6.6 yards per return). The Giants did not return a punt or kick for a touchdown and they did not allow a punt or kick to be returned against them for a touchdown.

Two Giants made the Pro Bowl as special teams players, Rosas and first-team alternate Michael Thomas, who led the team with 12 special teams tackles. Other leading tacklers included Kerry Wynn (8), Kenny Ladler (8), Nate Stupar (8), and Russell Shepard (6).

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: Six Giants returned punts in 2018, including Jawill Davis (12), Quadree Henderson (9), Odell Beckham (8), Kaelin Clay (5), Stacy Coley (2), and Corey Coleman (1). All but Coleman are gone. Five Giants returned more than one kickoff, including Coleman (23), Davis (7), Cody Latimer (5), Henderson (5), and Coley (2). Only Coleman and Latimer return.

Kerry Wynn, who had a very good year covering kicks, signed with the Bengals. The Giants did sign running back Rod Smith from the Cowboys, who was a core special teams player for that team.

The Giants signed punter Ryan Anderson after he impressed at the 2019 rookie mini-camp. Anderson last punted for Rutgers in 2017 when he was named First-Team, All-Big Ten, averaging 44.4 yards per punt.

Journeyman wide receiver/returner Brittan Golden was signed in January.

The team also added two long snappers: Taybor Pepper (who played in four games with the Packers in 2017) and rookie free agent Jake Carlock.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: Can the Giants replicate their 2018 special teams success and even build upon it? Or will they regress back to their usual norm?

Aldrick Rosas had an incredible season in 2018. He increased his field goal percentage from 72 percent in 2017 to 97 percent in 2018, missing just one field goal, making the Pro Bowl in the process. Was his performance a flash in the pan, similar to Ali Haji-Sheikh in 1983, or is Rosas set to become one of the NFL’s best kickers for many years to come? It is interesting to note that the Giants do not have another place kicker in camp.

While Riley Dixon finished the year 7th in net punting, some think the Giants could do better. Ryan Anderson does have a strong leg and could challenge Dixon.

The Giants were very good at covering both punts and kickoffs in 2018. Using a wide cast of characters, they did a respectable job returning kickoffs but were poor in returning punts. The real questions here are who will be the primary returners in 2018? Corey Coleman averaged 26 yards per kickoff return in 2018. Cody Latimer and Jabrill Peppers also have experience returning kickoffs. Who will return punts is an even bigger mystery. The only obvious candidate at the moment is the starting strong safety Jabrill Peppers, although starting wide receiver Golden Tate also has punt return experience. However, Pat Shurmur has said that impressive rookie wide receiver Darius Slayton is also a candidate to return both kickoffs and punts.

At some point, Zak DeOssie will have to hang it up as the Giants’ long snapper. Does he hold on another year?

ON THE BUBBLE: The kickers are most likely set although Ryan Anderson could challenge Riley Dixon. Taybor Pepper or Jake Carlock would have to be really impressive to unseat Zak DeOssie as long snapper. Brittan Golden has experience returning kickoffs and punts, but has an uphill climb to make the team. The Giants have a number of core special teams players who may not make it including Nate Stupar, Kenny Ladler, Russell Shepard, Antonio Hamilton, and Rod Smith.

FROM THE COACHES: Head Coach Pat Shurmur on Jake Carlock: “He is a very good long snapper. We are always looking for guys at skill positions. He is a very accomplished linebacker as well. Much like (Eric) Dungey who can compete at different areas, he is going to do the same.”

Special Teams Coordinator Thomas McGaughey on whether he would hesitate to have a starter return kicks or punts: “Nope, not at all. It’s a play-making position. When you think about it over the years and you watch punt returners that have had success that have played on defense – the Deion Sanders, and all those guys. That’s a play-making position. That’s one of those positions where you can change the game just like that. I have no reservation by putting any kind of starter back there, because that’s a play that can change the game. We know 75 percent of game in the NFL comes down to the last possession. Any time you could gain an advantage on your opponent, you want to get that advantage.”

McGaughey on Jabrill Peppers: “High energy, the guy is a for sure ball handler. Can make all the cuts full speed. He just brings juice. I’ve known the kid since he was 16 years old. I recruited him when I was at LSU. Jabrill is a special athlete. He can do anything – run the football, catch the football, whatever. He’s just a great athlete… Yes, he’s going to (return kicks and punts for us)… That’s football – he’s a safety in the NFL. Those guys primarily do everything. When you look at them, most of them are three-core, four-core guys when they play. That’s just the reality of it, especially a young safety with a lot of energy like Jabrill.”

McGaughey on WR Russell Shepard, LB Nate Stupar, and CB Antonio Hamilton: “Those guys were the foundation of what we did last year. Whenever you can get veteran leadership and you can have continuity, that’s the most important thing. When you get guys that have done it before, and they’ve done it at a high level, and you can keep them in the same spots – it’s no different from having an offensive line with continuity, a secondary with continuity, it’s the same thing. A core group of special teams players. They’re no different from anyone else. You got to have that continuity if you want to have consistency.”

McGaughey on Rod Smith: “Big, strong, athletic, smart, playmaker – whenever you can get a guy like that on your roster to provide depth, and having value as a running back. (General Manager Dave) Gettleman always talks about having value on offense and defense, not just on special teams. He punches all the tickets. He’s a hard worker, he’s a pro, and he does everything you ask him to do. He’s 6’3”, 235 pounds, and has a skillset. He’s one of those guys if you’re sitting in a room, you won’t even know he’s there. He’s quiet, he comes in, and he works, and he does his job.”

McGaughey on Ryan Anderson: “Ryan is a lefty. Whenever you can bring a lefty in, and you can get a righty spin and a lefty spin is always good. Ryan has a lot of potential. His maturation from last year to this year has been huge. He came here last year to our local day. To see him again this year was a big difference. You can tell he’s been working on his craft, and he’s been working hard. It’s good to have him in to have a little competition. It’s always good to have two guys in where they can kind of compete against each other. It makes it better.”

McGaughey on Jake Carlock: “He’s a young guy with a lot of potential. He can run, he’s very athletic. So what we’ll see what happens with Jake. We’re excited about the chance of working with him.”

McGaughey on Eric Dungey: “He’s going to have a chance somewhere, right? We’ll put him out there. We’ll find a home for him. He’s athletic, he’s a tough kid. We’ll find a home for him. Those types of kids in college that are athletic quarterbacks, they always kind of find a way. They’ll figure out something. They’re athletic, they’ve always competed at a high-level, so they’ll find a way… Anytime you can get a big athlete that’s tough, that’s smart, that’s played the quarterback position, anytime you can get a style of athlete like that, and he’s coachable and is willing, a lot of good things can happen.”

PREDICTIONS: Saquon Barkley overshadowed the incredible performance of Aldrick Rosas in 2018. But the psychology of kickers tends to be on the fragile side and Rosas has to prove that 2018 wasn’t a fluke. If he becomes a perennial Pro Bowler, Rosas may be one of Jerry Reese’s most positive legacies.

Who returns kickoffs and punts seems up in the air at this point. My guess is that Corey Coleman remains the leading candidate to return kickoffs, but he could be pressed by Darius Slayton. For as much press as Jabrill Peppers receives as an athletic returnman, he only averaged 22 yards per kickoff return thus far in the NFL.

Peppers could end up being the primary punt returner, as he has returned 55 punts in the last two season for the Cleveland Browns, averaging 7.3 yards per return.

I think the Giants are going to face some tough roster decisions on veteran special teams players such as Rod Smith, Russell Shepard, Nate Stupar, Antonio Hamilton, and Kenny Ladler. My gut also tells me that either Eric Dungey or Jake Carlock will make the team as a special teams ace and jack-of-all-trades type player. The Giants face a bit of a dilemma with the ever-consistent Zak DeOssie. He plays a position where age isn’t a huge factor, and not only does he do a fine job of long-snapping, but he’s good at covering kicks. But he also doesn’t play another position. That said, Giants fans know all too well how costly having a bad long snapper can be.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Aldrick Rosas and Riley Dixon the kickers. Zak DeOssie as the long snapper, Corey Coleman as the kickoff returner and Jabrill Peppers as the punt returner. It’s too early to tell how legitimate a shot that Eric Dungey or Jake Carlock have in making the team, but I think one of these two will. If both falter, another one of the veteran core special teams players will make it.

Jul 092019
 
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Deandre Baker and Julian Love, New York Giants (June 5, 2019)

Deandre Baker and Julian Love – © USA TODAY Sports

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

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Defensive Backs

2018 YEAR IN REVIEW: In just three seasons, the Giants went from having one of the best secondaries in the NFL in 2016 to one of the worst in 2018. Three Giants were named to the All-Pro team in 2016. In 2018, the Giants had arguably the worst starting free safety (Curtis Riley) and worst starting cornerback (B.W. Webb) in the League. For the second year in a row, overrated strong safety Landon Collins could not replicate his 2016 performance and finished the year on Injured Reserve. The best player in the secondary, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, gave up too many big plays. The Giants decided they had seen enough of top-10 draft pick Eli Apple and traded him in October to the Saints.

The rest of the unit was manned by players such as Grant Haley, Antonio Hamilton, Tony Lippett, Donte Deayon (waived in October), Michael Thomas, Sean Chandler, Kenny Ladler, and Kamrin Moore. Who? Most fans never heard of any of these guys before 2018. In a way, encumbered with one of the worst pass rush units in the NFL, it’s a minor miracle that the secondary was not more abused than it actually was. The Giants finished 23rd in pass defense.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants re-signed cornerbacks Tony Lippett and Antonio Hamilton in free agency as well as Practice Squad cornerback Ronald Zamort. Landon Collins signed a huge, 6-year, $84 million contract with the Washington Redskins. Curtis Riley signed with the Oakland Raiders and B.W. Webb signed with the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Giants obtained safety Jabrill Peppers in a trade from the Cleveland Browns. They signed safety Antoine Bethea after he was cut by the Arizona Cardinals. Street free agent cornerback Henre’ Toliver was also signed.

The Giants selected cornerbacks Deandre Baker (1st round), Julian Love (4th round), and Corey Ballentine (6th round) in the 2019 NFL Draft. Rookie free agents safety Tenny Adewusi, safety Jacob Thieneman, linebacker/safety Jake Carlock, and linebacker/safety Mark McLaurin were all signed after the draft. Thieneman has since been waived due to an injury.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: The Giants have almost completely revamped their secondary. Jabrill Peppers and Antoine Bethea replace Landon Collins and Curtis Riley as the starting safeties. 2018 3rd-round Supplemental Draft pick Sam Beal, who missed his rookie season due to an injury, as well as three 2019 draft picks will have the inside track at making the roster at cornerback. Deandre Baker has already been moved into the starting line-up. Aside from Bethea, Jenkins, and reserve safety Michael Thomas, this is a very young group.

On paper, the Giants are better set at cornerback. Jenkins and Baker should be one of the better starting cornerback duos in the NFL. By all accounts, Baker was one of the most impressive newcomers during Spring workouts. Both will be pressed by Julian Love and Sam Beal. Perhaps the best battle will be for the starting nickel corner spot between Grant Haley and Julian Love.

Safety is a bit more unsettled. Jabrill Peppers played much better during his second year in Cleveland and the belief is that Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher sees him as a cornerstone to the team’s rebuilt defense and will employ him in a variety of ways to take advantage of his physical attributes. Bethea turns 35 in July and is obviously nearing the end. But he will provide leadership and inside knowledge on Bettcher’s schemes, making sure everyone is lined up properly. Depth at safety is a concern as there are no clear up-and-coming players behind the starting two.

Keep in mind that both defensive backs coaches are new with Everett Withers and Henry Baker coming from the collegiate ranks.

ON THE BUBBLE: As I discussed in my linebacker preview, the Giants may view some of these players as hybrid linebackers/safeties such as Jake Carlock and Mark McLaurin. So one of these guys could make the roster as a “linebacker.”

The Giants are likely to carry 9, 10, or 11 defensive backs. Some think Janoris Jenkins could be traded. My belief is that Jenkins, Deandre Baker, Julian Love, Sam Beal, Jabrill Peppers, and Antoine Bethea are the sure bets to make the team. Others with a good shot are Grant Haley, Corey Ballentine, and Michael Thomas, but they are not completely safe. Everyone else is on the bubble.

FROM THE COACHES: Head Coach Pat Shurmur on Deandre Baker: “He has been (making plays) on a pretty steady basis. I think he has made a play or two at each practice. Again, just learning how to compete at this level. Unfortunately, you can’t do a whole bunch of bump-and-run and press coverage, so the corners are at a little bit of a disadvantage. However, you need to learn to play off and for him to be able to make plays in those situations is good.”

Shurmur on Jabrill Peppers and Antoine Bethea: “They are doing a good job. You saw Antoine had an interception today. They communicate extremely well. They are very strong guys. Typically, one guy takes the lead on that, but they both can do it. When I watch, they are getting us in the right coverages and pressures. They are in the right spots and trying to play the techniques within the defenses that are called. That is the thing that you can work on this time of year defensively. All the communication. We are really pleased with where they are. It is only going to get better.”

Shurmur on Jabrill Peppers: “He has a very charismatic personality and he loves to play the game. He picked up quickly what we were doing on defense well and he is extremely smart. He is very tough and very competitive. When you see guys like that on the field, you feel their presence immediately. He got to it quickly… He is very vocal. Sometimes you don’t have to be very vocal and you can be a leader. You can look to him and see that he has that about him. He has a great presence. If you are around him on a day-to-day basis, you can see that he will quickly become one of the guys where you say, ‘OK, he’s got it.’ He loves playing football and has a lot of fun doing it and a lot of fun competing. I think that is part of his charm and what makes him special. He is so darn competitive. It shows up naturally.”

Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher on Jabrill Peppers: “Jabrill is a highly talented and ascending player in this league. A guy that has the flexibility to play strong safety and could come down in the box and play some money. He is a really talented blitzer and when you watched his tape in Cleveland, you saw all the different roles he played. You saw snaps where he plays nickel, high in the middle of the field, high and outside, where he plays down low. A guy that has a lot of versatility. A guy that when he learns this system, he is going to have a lot of fun playing in this system… I flew from Arizona to Michigan and spent a bunch of time with him when he was coming out (in the draft). I thought he was a dynamic kid and the people that were around him loved him. I got multiple texts from coaches that worked with him in Cleveland and it was not something I asked for, this was after we traded for him and they said that we were going to love him. He is going to work exceptionally hard and is going to be about what it is supposed to be about. You see him out here, we are doing stuff against the air and he is moving, sliding and running around. He is in a stance and sometimes you want to be like, slow down, this is on air. He is exciting.”

Bettcher on Antoine Bethea: “We have a chance to add Antoine Bethea, a guy who is one of the highest character players I have ever been around, smart, intelligent and an unbelievable leader. As you have an opportunity to wrap your hands around him and embrace him a little bit, you will see what I am talking about with him. I was talking to him the other day and I was joking with him telling him that as time goes on, I get more gray hair. As time goes on, he gets younger. That is just when you see his play, that is what it has been. The years in the league have progressed for him. He has played fast and played young. That what impresses me about him.”

Bettcher on Deandre Baker: “The thing I would say about Baker is that he played in a very, very tough league. We all know how long it was before he gave up a touchdown pass. He competed and covered some of the best players that have come out of that league on offense. His tape speaks for itself. One of the best, if not the best, tackling corner in the draft, period. Excited to have him. He did an outstanding job at camp this past week.”

Bettcher on Janoris Jenkins: “Janoris has been not great but unbelievable with our young guys. He has had great, teachable moments where as a coach you just have to let it go. You are starting to go coach the young guys and he is already on it. I see the ownership in year two that he is starting to take with those guys. It is outstanding and it is going to help us be a better defense and not just those guys be better players themselves.”

Bettcher on Julian Love: “Naturally, he is a nickel. What is the second position, is he a safety or a corner? Time tells with that and more reps tell us that. You have to be smart and pretty intelligent like he is to be able to handle that.”

Defensive Backs Coach Everett Withers on his cornerbacks: “It is exciting when you bring in all these young men. That is the biggest thing. Talented guys that can play. We are adding Sam Beal into the mix too. You take a guy like Janoris Jenkins, a guy that has been in the league for 10 years and look at him more as an assistant coach. He has taken that role so far this offseason and has done a really good job.”

Withers on Janoris Jenkins: “I think when he is in the meetings, he has such a vast amount of experience in this league that he can help guys not only schematically but understanding the game, splits of receivers and those things. He has done a really good job in the meeting rooms and on the field so far… He has been awesome.”

Withers on Jabrill Peppers: “I am excited. He has a lot of ability and does a lot of things. Our role right now is to try and help Jabrill schematically. Help him grow into what we do and add things into his playbook. He is a guy that comes to work everyday with a lot of energy. He has been really fun to watch so far.”

Withers on Deandre Baker: “He is a really talented guy. When you watch his tape, he is a guy with a lot of competitive experience. To have another guy over there next to Janoris, he is talented enough to go over there and be a factor over there opposite Janoris.”

Special Teams Coordinator Thomas McGaughey on Jabrill Peppers: “High energy, the guy is a for sure ball handler. Can make all the cuts full speed. He just brings juice. I’ve known the kid since he was 16 years old. I recruited him when I was at LSU. Jabrill is a special athlete. He can do anything – run the football, catch the football, whatever. He’s just a great athlete.”

PREDICTIONS: The guy who is flying under the radar is Deandre Baker. Keep in mind that despite drafting him late in the first round, he was the first cornerback selected in the draft. In other words, the Giants believe he was the best corner in this draft class. Thus far, he has not disappointed. Baker has the look of an old school, aggressive, physical corner who likes to mix it up both against the run and the pass. Janoris Jenkins has always done better when his team is playing better. I expect him to regain his 2016 All-Pro form as long as he stays healthy. Grant Haley remained the first-team nickel throughout the Spring practices. However, it is difficult to see him holding off Julian Love for long. Love may lack ideal long speed, but he a smart, aggressive player who makes plays on the football. Sam Beal provides quality depth provided he is over his shoulder issues.

The Giants also look to be upgraded at safety. Landon Collins was not as good as advertised. Most Giants fans know he had issues in coverage. He never regained his 2016 form. Curtis Riley was a train wreck at free safety. James Bettcher insists that Antoine Bethea can still play. At the very least, the team is already thrilled with the leadership and guidance he is providing. He’s like having a coach on the field. The real question mark here is what is Jabrill Peppers’ upside? Is he another one of those better-athlete-than-player types or is he about to experience his breakout season in his third year? It’s obvious the Giants are going to use him in a variety of ways, moving him around quite a bit and even have him blitz. The good news, again, is his attitude. The team is thrilled with his character. Depth at safety is a concern. Michael Thomas is a solid reserve/special teams type who also provides a good locker room presence. But it would be great if one of the young safeties came out of nowhere to surprise.

Don’t be surprised to see the Giants play with a lot of five and six defensive back packages throughout the year. Because of that, I would not be shocked to see the team keep as many as 11 defensive backs. Special teams will also be a big factor in deciding who stays and could help a guy like Antonio Hamilton.

This secondary has a chance to be very good for a number of years.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Janoris Jenkins, Deandre Baker, Sam Beal, Julian Love, Grant Haley, Corey Ballentine, Jabrill Peppers, Antoine Bethea, Michael Thomas, Sean Chandler

Jul 052019
 
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Lorenzo Carter, New York Giants (December 9, 2018)

Lorenzo Carter – © USA TODAY Sports

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

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Linebackers

2018 YEAR IN REVIEW: It’s both ironic and tragic that the team so closely associated with a great linebacking legacy has become so incompetent at addressing the position. Worse, with the shift to the 3-4 defense, the importance of the position was elevated in the overall scheme of the defense. In the 3-4, the linebackers are the play-makers, the pass rushers, and the active run defenders. Despite spending assets on the position: $17 million for Olivier Vernon, $15 million for Kareem Martin, $5 million for Connor Barwin, two draft picks for Alec Olgretree, a 3rd rounder for Lorenzo Carter, and a 4th rounder for B.J. Goodson, the returns were not good. As a team, the Giants had 30 sacks, tied for 30th in the league. Only the Raiders had fewer. And of those 30 sacks, 17 came from the linebackers. Only two linebackers on the team picked off a pass. Most startlingly, Giants linebackers only forced ONE fumble all year. Overall, the run defense wasn’t good (20th), with players often being out-of-position or being successfully blocked out of position. And pass coverage against tight ends and backs remained a sore spot for yet another year.

In terms of specific players. Vernon was an injured tease (again). Barwin was invisible. Martin was one-dimensional. Ogletree alternated between being beaten like a drum in coverage to making some spectacular interceptions. Carter flashed some potential as a pass rusher. Goodson flashed as a run defender, but wasn’t consistent. Rookie free agent Tae Davis had some rough moments both against the run and the pass. Nate Stupar was a core player on an improving special teams unit.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants traded Olivier Vernon to the Cleveland Browns. Connor Barwin was cut in February and Ukeme Eligwe was cut in May. The Giants did not re-sign Jordan Williams, who spent the year on Injured Reserve. Nate Stupar was re-signed, as was Avery Moss, the team’s 2017 5th rounder who spent the year on the Practice Squad.

In free agency, the Giants added Markus Golden from the Cardinals and “street” free agents Jonathan Anderson and Keion Adams. The Giants drafted Oshane Ximines in the 3rd round, Ryan Connelly in the 5th round, and signed rookie free agent Josiah Tauaefa after the draft. The Giants also signed rookie free agent Nate Harvey after the draft, but he was placed on Injured Reserve in May with a season-ending knee injury.

The Giants have also been playing rookie free agent collegiate safety Mark McLaurin at their “money backer” position during Spring practices. Rookie free agent Jake Carlock is another hybrid linebacker/safety type, who can also long snap.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: Perhaps the biggest question mark the entire team faces is the pass rush. The Giants were near dead last in the NFL rushing the passer in 2018 and traded away arguably their best pass rusher. Many wanted the team to select a pass rusher over Daniel Jones with the 6th overall pick in the draft. In the 3-4 defense, you need your outside linebackers to be good pass rushers. The Giants are hoping Markus Golden can rebound from his torn ACL and regain his 2016 form (12.5 sacks). Also, based on the pecking order during Spring practices, it appears the coaches are giving Lorenzo Carter (4 sacks as a reserve in 2018) every opportunity to supplant Kareem Martin as starter. Lurking in the wings is rookie Oshane Ximines. Most believe the Giants are screwed here as they lack the talent to get after the quarterback. It’s up to Golden, Carter, Martin, and Ximines to prove them wrong.

Inside, the problems remain the same. The team has been inconsistent stopping the run and atrocious covering tight ends for years. The Rams most likely traded Alec Ogletree to the Giants because of the same inconsistencies he demonstrated last season, both against the run and the pass. B.J. Goodson has to take the bull by the horns and prove to the coaches he’s an asset on the field. Tae Davis, a former collegiate safety, has been splitting time with Goodson with the first unit. Like Ximines outside, rookie Ryan Connelly is lurking in the wings.

ON THE BUBBLE: There are 13 linebackers on the roster (15 if you count Mark McLaurin and Jake Carlock) and the Giants are likely to keep eight, possibly nine. The obvious players on the bubble are Avery Moss, Keion Adams, Jonathan Anderson, Josiah Tauaefa, McLaurin, and Carlock. The tough decision will be Nate Stupar because of his special teams play.

FROM THE COACHES: Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher on Lorenzo Carter: “He is rushing with a plan. When you see him rush, a year ago he was trying to get off the ball as quick as he could and use his hands when he could. Now, you see a guy that is aware of how he wants to rush, aware of techniques that he wants to rush with. Guys that get in there as pass rushers, I have been in there and have coached them before personally, you see their best growth in the two and three years. You start to figure out what they are as rushers. Whether you are Chandler Jones and a really bloody rusher or a speed counter guy. He is really starting to figure that out. He is building his pass rush toolbox right now. The second thing, he is practicing as hard as anyone on the field right now. He is running around and has been a great example that we have been able to show defensively of just straining and effort, finish.”

Bettcher on Marcus Golden: “Markus unfortunately somewhere around 18 months ago had a pretty significant knee injury. Don’t ever forget that before that he was one of the best pass rushers in this league. People had to plan for him. I know that because I was one of the guys calling the plays for him on defense. I saw what he was able to do when he was healthy and running around. I love how he is moving right now and I love his work. He is a guy that is going to play exceptionally hard. As I sat here a year ago and talked to you about one of the identifying qualities we needed our defense to look like was it took relentless, work relentless and play relentless. I think that is probably the epitome of Markus.”

Bettcher on Alec Ogletree: “This is his second year in the system. You get a guy like AB (Antoine Bethea) who has been in the system before who really can get in the conversations of how we are doing it and what we should expect in certain coverages, that is where Tree is at now. He is in his second year. He is really working on his core fundamentals, but the other side of it, how are we going to attack this coverage? Where is the soft spot in coverage and how can we defend it? I think that is really what happens when guys come into the second year.”

Bettcher on Oshane Ximines: “X-man coming off the tape, I loved the way he played. Saw a guy that could flip and had athleticism to move in space. If you are picking a prototypical outside linebacker, he has some of both of those skills. He has the rush skills and has skills in his hips to open, change in space and change who the rusher is.”

Bettcher on Ryan Connelly: “Connelly is really smart. It is funny because today I was showing a cut-up to the vets and you try not to do that. You try not to show a rookie to the vets too early, but I was showing the cut-up to the vets. This is a guy from the rookie mini-camp and it was a concept and a route and he played it exactly the right way. It was a great example. Smart and tough.”

Linebackers Coach Bill McGovern on Ryan Connelly: “A guy who is smart and intelligent. He plays fast and shows good instincts. We are excited to have him… We are excited that Ryan is a quick study and he has brought things to the practice field so we are excited about that.”

McGovern on Alec Ogletree: “I think you saw him develop as the year went along. As he was getting into the system, he has been in a few different systems. As the season went along, I think he got even better and started making even more and more plays. No matter where he has been, he is a productive player. We have been seeing the ball thrown a little bit more against us and he ended up showing up and making plays in the pass game. He has always been good against the run. He sells out on everything. Again, his leadership and everything else is something that we love having him out there for. We appreciate everything he does on the field.”

McGovern on B.J. Goodson: “Just keep improving. Get better. He has his package and has to work through it. In the run game, there are things that he can use to get better.”

PREDICTIONS: This is the one area of the defense that makes a lot of people nervous. Changes are being made. Olivier Vernon was traded. It appears Kareem Martin will now be more of a role player. The early favorites to start outside and rush the quarterback are Markus Golden and Lorenzo Carter. It is possible to see these two combine for 20 sacks. It’s also possible to see both underwhelm and finish with a total of just 10. With Golden, it’s all about his knee. With Carter, he has to prove he is more than a straight-line athlete. Reading between the lines, the Giants also appear to be pleased with what they’ve seen so far from Oshane Ximines. But until the pads come on, we really won’t know a thing. Going out on a limb here, I’m going to predict that Golden, Lorenzo, Ximines, and Martin are more productive pass rushers than anticipated.

Inside, it appears the Giants are well aware of their issues covering the middle of the field. Hence you see linebacker/safety hybrids like Tae Davis, Mark McLaurin, and Jake Carlock being added to the roster. It’s also telling that Davis saw quite a bit of time with the first unit during Spring practices. I’m not sure what to make of Alec Ogletree yet. Just when I had written him off as a trade bust last year, he started making game-changing interceptions. The coaches seem to think he will be more consistent in his second year in the system, but we shall see. The Rams got rid of him for a reason. I expected more from Goodson last year. I think this is a critical training camp for him. The real wild card here is Ryan Connelly, a very smart player who is a better athlete than advertised.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Markus Golden, Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines, Kareem Martin, Alec Ogletree, B.J. Goodson, Tae Davis, and Ryan Connelly.

(The tough call here is Nate Stupar due to his special teams value. It’s also tough to predict if a guy like Mark McLaurin or Jake Carlock do enough to stick on the 53-man roster. Special teams play will be a huge factor in determining the final numbers).

Jul 012019
 
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B.J. Hill and Dalvin Tomlinson, New York Giants (November 25, 2018)

B.J. Hill and Dalvin Tomlinson – © USA TODAY Sports

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

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Defensive Line

2018 YEAR IN REVIEW: After a quarter of a century of playing the 4-3 defense, the New York Giants shifted back to a 3-4 defense in 2018 under new Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher. While not the old 2-gap defense of the 1980s, the new defense did place more of the pass-rush onus on the outside linebackers than defensive ends. It was anticipated that the big, strong, tackle-like trio of nose tackle Damon Harrison and ends Dalvin Tomlinson and B.J. Hill would dominate the line of scrimmage. While the defensive line was arguably the strongest unit on a disappointing defense, much more was expected. Former All-Pro Harrison was surprisingly traded away in late October after a dreadful 1-6 start. The Giants publicly claimed this was done to move Tomlinson and Hill to more natural positions, but there was also speculation, fueled by senior official comments of bad team chemistry, that the Giants considered Harrison a locker room cancer.

Tomlinson began the year playing the 3-technique position (9 starts) before being moved to the 1-technique spot (7 starts) after Harrison was traded. He finished the season with 59 tackles and no sacks. The rookie Hill played in all 16 regular-season games with 12 starts, finishing the season with 48 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and two pass defenses. Hill was shifted from the five-technique position to the three-technique after the team traded away Harrison. Others to receive significant playing time included Josh Mauro, Kerry Wynn, and Mario Edwards. 5th-rounder R.J. McIntosh missed most of the season with an undisclosed medical condition.

In the end, the numbers were not good. Team defense “improved” from 31st in 2017 to 24th in 2018. The Giants were 20th in run defense in 2018, allowing over 118 yards per game and 4.3 yards per rush, which were very similar to their 2017 numbers. Of course, much of the blame for this disappointing result must also rest with the linebackers and defensive backs, who were often out of position and missed too many tackles. Pathetically, the defensive line was only credited with 10 sacks.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants did not show much interest in re-signing any of their free agent defensive ends and Josh Mauro (Raiders), Kerry Wynn (Bengals), and Mario Edwards (Saints) all left in free agency. The Giants did re-sign nose tackle John Jenkins, who hardly played in 2018.

The Giants signed Olsen Pierre from the Cardinals, Jake Ceresna from the CFL, and street free agent Alex Jenkins. The team drafted Dexter Lawrence in the 1st round and Chris Slayton in the 7th round. Rookie free agent Freedom Akinmoladun was signed after the draft.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: The New York Giants have invested significant draft resources to rebuild their defensive line, including 2019 1st-round pick Dexter Lawrence, 2017 2nd-round pick Dalvin Tomlinson, and 2018 3rd-round pick B.J. Hill. These three are expected to form the strength of the team’s defense, stuffing the run, generating some interior pass rush, and enabling quicker defenders to get after the quarterback. It’s not exactly clear who will play where, and even the coaches have suggested it will change from game-to-game. It’s fair to say that more has been expected of Tomlinson and it will be important for him to step it up this year. Hill is coming off of a solid rookie season and it will be interesting to see if he can build upon his 5.5 sack rookie performance. The 340-pound Lawrence could develop into a Haloti Ngata-like difference-maker. The book on him is that he is strictly a run defender, but there are those who insist he is more than that.

Entering camp, the Giants are a bit thin at the position with just 10 players. It was a bit surprising that the Giants let all of their reserve ends walk in free agency. Because of that, there is pressure on R.J. McIntosh to develop quickly in what will essentially be his rookie season. Olsen Pierre could also have a bigger role than many fans anticipate. Other than the starters, the only nose-tackle-type linemen on the roster are rookie Chris Slayton and journeyman John Jenkins, who was virtually ignored in free agency, only re-signing in May.

ON THE BUBBLE: There are only 10 defensive lineman on the roster. The Giants will carry at least six. The obvious players on the bubble are Jake Ceresna, Alex Jenkins, Freedom Akinmoladun, and John Jenkins.

FROM THE COACHES: Head Coach Pat Shurmur on the defensive line this Spring: “There is no contact, so it is really hard to fully evaluate both lines until we start banging around a little bit. We like the way they are moving around. There are some youthful guys that are in there and doing a good job. They are picking up the system really well. We are pleased with what we are seeing.”

Shurmur on R.J. McIntosh: “He is caught up. He is doing well. With defensive linemen, we will see more once we can get in more hitting situations. He is moving around well and has gotten much stronger since he has gotten here. He fits well in the defense and looks like he is getting himself right for training camp.”

Shurmur on Dexter Lawrence: “I think he gets it… The first thing that jumps out about Dexter is he’s a pretty big man. He’s got a feel for things. He’s a guy that can play the run and rush the passer. We’re looking forward to getting him going. When you pick a guy from Clemson, and he’s played on the biggest stage there is in college football. The other thing that struck me is this isn’t going to be too big for him.”

Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher on the defensive line: “They are working extremely hard and doing everything they are asked to do. Very aware of things they need to improve on.”

Bettcher on the players being more interchangeable up front: “I think you have to be the way the league is now. I think there is enough motions, adjustments and offensive guys are good enough now. For the most part, they are not going to let a nose just sit there and play nose the whole game. They are going to make him slide and extend the play on guards and edges of guards. They are going to motion and do enough to have to be interchangeable enough to defend what we see from an offensive standpoint. Number two, I think they all have enough position flex to do that. We want guys to have the flexibility to play up and down the line. A really good NFL defensive line room has a great rotation. The four, five and six hole spots, whoever those guys are, gaining reps, 15 snaps, 12 snaps, 20 snaps depending on the game, those are important snaps just like the other snaps… It will be competing each week to see who gets the most snaps, who will be the starter in different packages. I love that part about it.”

Bettcher on Dexter Lawrence: “One of the biggest humans that I have ever seen, moves as quick as he can move. A 330-pound guy that is going to come in and compete, help us be the type of run defense that we want to be. Also, don’t forget the guy ran about five flat at 345 pounds. That does not happen very often. A lot of people got to see him move at rookie mini-camp. We are excited to have him.”

Defensive Line Coach Gary Emanuel on Dexter Lawrence: “We think Dexter will develop into a three down player… His ability to stop the run excites everybody. For a guy that size to move as well as he does, you have to get excited about that.”

Emanuel on Chris Slayton: “Chris is a great young man and we think Chris has a great upside… He’s an inside guy who brings some versatility. He can play the nose position, he can play the 3-technique and he’s an interior defensive line player. I don’t think we’ll see him much on the edge but he has a great capacity to improve out there in the interior.”

PREDICTIONS: On paper, this should be a really good group. They are young, big, strong, and athletic for their size. They look like what you want a 3-4 defensive line to look like. But the proof is in the pudding and the team needs to improve what has been a subpar run defense. When Lawrence was drafted, I thought he would immediately be the starting nose tackle, but he appears to have spent perhaps even more time starting at end this Spring. That would suggest that the coaches are truly impressed with his movement skills for a big man. If he can push the pocket on a consistent basis, and if B.J. Hill continues to evolve as a pass rusher, this unit could surprise attacking the quarterback. Two wild cards are Dalvin Tomlinson and R.J. McIntosh. Tomlinson should be making more impact plays; he is capable of breaking out. Fans saw very little of McIntosh last year. He’s built more like a pass rusher than the starting three and could become an important role player. Don’t be surprised to see Olsen Pierre get significant playing time as a reserve.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Dexter Lawrence, B.J. Hill, Dalvin Tomlinson, R.J. McIntosh, Olsen Pierre, and Chris Slayton.