Jul 252017
 
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Olivier Vernon, New York Giants (December 18, 2016)

Olivier Vernon – © USA TODAY Sports Images

BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) Podcast of July 24, 2017: BBI’s Mike Siegel chats with BBI’s SY’56 and Eric Kennedy about the team’s talent at each of the defensive position groups and special teams before training camp begins later this month.

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

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

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

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

Jul 212017
 
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Brad Wing, New York Giants (October 23, 2016)

Brad Wing – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Special Teams

2016 YEAR IN REVIEW: The Giants place-kicking situation was upended midway through 2016 when super-steady Josh Brown – who had made over 91 percent of his field goal attempts since joining the Giants in 2013 – was unceremoniously cut due to significant off-the-field issues. The Giants replaced him with long-time Chicago Bear Robbie Gould who was a perfect 10-of-10 on field goal attempts in 10 regular-season games.

Punter Brad Wing had a strong season in 2016, averaging 46.2 yards per punt (40.9 yard net). He had 28 kicks downed inside the 20-yard line. Wing was also named “NFC Special Teams Player of the Week” twice.

In his second year with the Giants, Dwayne Harris suffered through a frustrating, injury-plagued season. While he played in all 16 regular-season games, Harris was hampered by a variety of nagging injuries all season. His special teams return numbers plummeted with his punt return average falling from 10.0 yards to 5.9 yards and his kickoff return average falling from 28.7 yards to 24.2 yards. He also did not score a year after becoming the first Giants player in 60 years to return a kickoff and punt for a touchdown in the same season in 2015. Harris did remain a force on punt coverage and he was voted to his first Pro Bowl. With Harris ailing, Bobby Rainey (six punt and eight kickoff returns) and Odell Beckham, Jr. (10 punt returns) shared return duties.

Overall, the Giants finished 2016 7th in kickoff return average (23.8 yards per return) and 29th in punt return average (6.1 yards per return). On the flip side, the Giants were 23rd in covering kickoffs (22.8 yards per return) and 19th in covering punts (8.9 yards per return). The Giants neither scored nor allowed touchdowns on returns, but the Giants did return a blocked field goal attempt for a touchdown.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: Robbie Gould signed a 2-year contract with the San Francisco 49ers in March. Place kicker Aldrick Rosas was signed by the Giants to a reserve/future contract in January 2017. Rosas was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Tennessee Titans after the 2016 NFL Draft, but he did not make the team.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: On special teams, the story clearly is the unknown and unproven 22-year old Aldrick Rosas. Currently, Rosas is facing no competition for the job. Games and seasons often come down to field goal kicks. Indeed, Rosas may be THE most important player to follow in the preseason.

A secondary story line is whether or not Dwayne Harris can rebound from a disappointing and injury-plagued 2016 season. Harris is due to make $2.475 million salary in 2017 and $3.225 million in 2018 and 2019. He needs to justify those high salary figures.

ON THE BUBBLE: Even though he is currently facing no veteran competition, clearly Aldrick Rosas is on the hot seat. A discarded veteran kicker could be added at any time.

FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Tom Quinn on Aldrick Rosas: “Aldrick has done well. He’s really progressed from when we first put hands on him and started working with him. He’s gotten better every day, so that’s really been encouraging. He’s been consistent. Big guys we try to tighten them up a little bit and he’s done really well. Very coachable. Very strong leg, and he’s had good accuracy this spring.”

Quinn on Brad Wing: “He’s got a tremendous work ethic… I think as his confidence grows and you could see the true ability come out, and he’s got a lot of ability. He’s very talented.”

Quinn on Dwayne Harris: “Yes (we view him as our primary returner). We’ve always needed two or three guys since I’ve been here to be able to handle those roles. You have Dwayne, you have Odell. Kickoff returns, he was fine. On punt returns, he took a step back, which we don’t like. We’ve talked about it and addressed the things we want to improve on… When you get beaten down so much like he does because he plays some tough positions and throws his body around and is relentless, every time you return it, you’re going to take hits. He got hurt early and never really rebounded from it. It was a tough year, but he had a heck of a year as a coverage man. First year, we saw what we wanted returner wise. Second year, we saw coverage, so hopefully this year we can throw it all together.”

PREDICTIONS: It’s impossible to make an informed prediction on Aldrick Rosas because he is such an unknown commodity. He has the tools and the Giants obviously like what they have seen in the spring from him. But you cannot replicate real-game pressure. It is those pressure kicks and consistency that define a place kicker. If he falters in the preseason, look for the Giants to quickly add a veteran to the mix.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Brad Wing and Dwayne Harris are givens. Right now, it is Aldrick Rosas’ job to lose.

Jul 192017
 
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Landon Collins and Janoris Jenkins, New York Giants (October 23, 2016)

Landon Collins and Janoris Jenkins – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Defensive Backs

2016 YEAR IN REVIEW: The biggest reasons for the New York Giants defense’s dramatic improvement in 2016 was the improved play of the (1) defensive line and (2) defensive backs. The Giants defense went from dead last in 2015 to tenth in yardage allowed and second in scoring allowed in 2016. And while the team’s 23rd-ranked pass defense (251.1 yards per game) does not sound impressive, the unit played at a far higher level than that, as indicated by three defensive backs earning All-Pro honors.

The secondary became a team strength because the Giants signed Janoris Jenkins in free agency, drafted Eli Apple in the first round, and watched second-year safety Landon Collins develop into an impact player at his more natural strong safety position. An inconsistent player in St. Louis, Jenkins became one of the best corners in the NFL in 2016, teaming with Apple and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (DRC) to form perhaps the NFL’s best trio of corners. While Apple had his growing pains, he performed well enough to shut down a number of opponents and allow the coaches to move DRC to the slot corner position. Meanwhile, Collins led the Giants in tackles, was second on the team in interceptions, and third on the team in sacks. The weak spot in the secondary was free safety as promising rookie Darian Thompson and Mykkele Thompson were lost early to injuries, Nat Berhe battled concussions, and undrafted rookie Andrew Adams started the bulk of the season. While Adams didn’t embarrass himself, he did not make many plays either. Late in the season, Leon Hall – who was shifted from corner to safety – took over the position.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants chose not to re-sign CB/S Leon Hall and CB Trevin Wade. The Steelers signed CB Coty Sensabaugh. The Giants signed unrestricted free agents CB Valentino Blake and S Duke Ihenacho and re-signed practice squad players CB Michael Hunter, CB Donte Deayon, and S Ryan Murphy. The Giants surprisingly did not draft a defensive back in a DB-strong draft. But the team did sign undrafted rookie free agents CB DaShaun Amos, CB Nigel Tribune, S Jadar Johnson, and S Trey Robinson.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: At cornerback, while fan focus will be on the depth situation after the top three cornerbacks, the main story line will be determining Eli Apple’s upside. He had a solid but not great rookie season. If he can elevate his game to a different level in 2017, then the Giants defense will be very tough. The Giants do need to determine their #4 and possibly #5 corners. Injuries happen. When Rodgers-Cromartie left the playoff game, the Packers picked on his replacement. With Leon Hall, Trevin Wade, and Coty Sensabaugh gone, someone else will have to step forward.

At safety, can Landon Collins duplicate or even build upon his 2016 All-Pro season? Much attention will be focused on who starts at free safety opposite of Collins. Darian Thompson is coming off a serious lisfranc injury. Nat Berhe and Mykkele Thompson have not been able to stay healthy. “Veteran” journeymen Duke Ihenacho, Eric Pinkins, and Ryan Murphy will battle Andrew Adams and the two rookie free agents (Jadar Johnson and Trey Robinson). There are a lot of bodies, but also a lot of questions.

ON THE BUBBLE: Everyone except for Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Landon Collins, and probably Darian Thompson.

FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Cornerbacks Coach Tim Walton on Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: “Work ethic. He’s an athletic guy, he’s smart so he understands the game. He has enough ability that wherever he works at, he could be successful at it. He’s a very intelligent guy, he’s quick, he’s long, he has experience and he still moves well. Ten years in the league and you can’t tell that by his movement. He rarely misses practice, he practices all the time… He tries to lead the young guys, and tries to direct them on things, because he has a wealth of experience. They listen to him and look up to him, so that’s good.”

Safeties Coach David Merritt on Darian Thompson: “He looks good. The fact that he’s coming off a leg injury. The one day he complained that it was sore, two weeks ago. Since then, he looks good. He’s transitioning. I see him actually bursting and coming in and out of his transition. He’s doing a good job. There is still some ways to go and hopefully training camp we will be able to really test that foot. Right now, he’s going through all the individual drills. I’m happy and excited.”

Merritt on the competition at free safety: “I’m going to be honest with you, you can sit here right now and say yes (Darian Thompson is the favorite to win the job), but I can’t sit here and take away from what Andrew Adams has done. I think they’re all competing for a starting job. That second safety has been elusive for us. To have two guys that can actually step in there and actually hold down the position. Hopefully we will find that solid piece this year but we need four good guys. If we can get four good guys, it’s going to be great… Darian is a very cerebral guy. He is very smart and he understands the calls as well as Landon (Collins). To have two smart guys back there and to be able to feed off of one another, it’s going to be a good mixture between Darian, Andrew and Landon of course. Darian is a very smart guy and that’s what we knew about him coming out of college. He had the mental capacity to learn Spags’ defense and do things we’re asking him to do. It’ll be pretty exciting for sure.”

Merritt on Landon Collins’ ceiling: “Right now, if I was rating him 1 to 10 as far as where he is, right now Landon is at a 7. I think he can get up to playing at an 8 ½, 9 consistently. You’re talking always in the running for (Defensive Play of the Year) and constantly making Pro Bowls, things like that. Last year was such a big jump for the kid and I’m proud of him. That was last year. Antrel Rolle after he came off his big season the next year and didn’t do as well. I’m trying to make sure he doesn’t get caught in any type of trap. I understand right now that he was the best coming out of high school and the best coming out of college. Now, he’s here every year and there is going to be a new crop of guys coming in. The safeties around the league are humble. You have to make sure you’re humble. Keep your body in shape, keep your mind strong and understand constantly learning the game of football and studying your opponents.”

PREDICTIONS: This is arguably the most-talented group of defensive backs accumulated at one time in team history. Most of the question marks here surround health and depth. The Giants top three corners are as good as anyone in the NFL. Two are already playing at an All-Pro level. Look for Eli Apple to elevate his game and make this unit even stronger. As long as his foot is OK, Darian Thompson should start at free safety and give the Giants a very formidable (and intelligent) secondary. Special teams will be a big factor in determining the back-up corners and safeties.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, Dominique Rodgers Cromartie, Michael Hunter, Mykkele Thompson, Landon Collins, Darian Thompson, Andrew Adams, and Jadar Johnson. (Thompson can play both safety and cornerback, which helps his cause. Beat writers think special teams ace Eric Pinkins has a good shot – keep an eye on him. Donte Deayon is a favorite of Steve Spagnuolo).

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

B.J. Goodson – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Linebackers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dalvin Tomlinson – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Defensive Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York Giants Offense – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ereck Flowers – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Offensive Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evan Engram – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Tight Ends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brandon Marshall – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Wide Receivers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© USA TODAY Sports Images

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

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN SCHEDULE: