Connor Hughes/Big Blue Interactive (Follow me on twitter: @92Hughes02)
On the outside, the frantic, fast-paced offseason that has descended upon East Rutherford has cleansed the pallet of most Giants’ fans. After two years of bargain buying, New York finally had the cap to spend, and spend they did.
Yet spending money this offseason wasn’t an option, rather a necessity. New York saw 21 unrestricted free agent contracts expire at the end of the season and two other players retire. Holes needed to be filled with the majority of these players not returning. With only seven draft picks, general manager Jerry Reese had his hand forced when it came to free agency.
But why? Where were the draftees that were meant to replace the wily veterans that had seen their skills diminish over the years? Where’s the replacement for Justin Tuck? David Baas? David Diehl?
New York’s spending-spree in the offseason is as a much a sign of draft dysfunction, as it is free agency-frenzy.
Since taking over as General Manager of the Giants in 2007, Jerry Reese has built two Super Bowl champions. Sure, he inherited some pieces from predecessor Ernie Accorsi (Eli Manning, Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, Plaxico Burress), but smart first-round picks and key free-agent acquisitions helped construct a team that defeated the all-mighty New England Patriots not once, but twice, on the biggest of stages.
Nevertheless, what happened in the middle of each championship is what’s alarming. Since finishing 12-4 in 2008, a season that ended in the first round of the playoffs, New York has never been better than 10-6. There was an 8-8 season, two 9-7’s and last year’s disappointing 7-9 campaign. The Giants have not made the playoff four of the last five seasons. Whenever an injury hit, there were few capable players ready to step up.
When the Giants lost Kenny Phillips, he was replaced by C.C. Brown. When Plaxico Burress shot himself, there was no other reliable deep threat. There has been a revolving door at middle linebacker ever since Antonio Pierce was let go. As the line of David Diehl, Rich Seubert, Shaun O’Hara, Chris Snee, and Kareem McKenzie aged and faded, their replacements were often found lacking and depth was a major issue.
Reese has hit singles, doubles, triples and home runs in the first round of drafts. During their present or past time in blue, Aaron Ross, Kenny Phillips, Hakeem Nicks, Jason Pierre-Paul and Prince Amukamara have all experienced success and played critical roles on the team. The jury is still out on David Wilson and Justin Pugh.
But what of rounds two through seven? What of the draft picks that are meant to build depth? Contribute on special teams? Be groomed to start? How have they fared?
Since 2007, the Giants have made 46 selections after the first round. Excluding the last two draft classes, for belief they are still developing, that number decreases to 34. Of those 34 players, six are still on the Giants present roster. More damning is that of the 12 players drafted in the second and third rounds from 2007-2011, only three remain with the team.
There is one certainty in all of professional sports. His name is Father Time. As players fade or retire, it is those mid-to-late picks who are expected to fill in, plug the holes and make the loss of departed players more manageable. There is no guarantee that you’ll nab a Pro-Bowler, but a contributor is expected.
Who are those six non-first rounders drafted between 2007-2011? Designated long-snapper Zak DeOssie, wide receiver Mario Manningham, offensive tackle William Beatty, wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan, offensive lineman James Brewer and linebacker Jacquian Williams. The 28 other players drafted in rounds 2-7 during that time period are no longer New York Giants.
When injuries struck the established starters, where were those 28 players to help lessen the blow? Where was Chris Snee’s understudy? David Baas’? Will Beatty’s? Justin Tuck’s?
The Giants’ special teams have been one of the leagues worst over the last few seasons, coming to a glaring low this past year. The Giants allowed three touchdowns and 13.6 yards per punt return while only averaging 7.2 yards per return themselves. You don’t draft players in the first round to play special teams. Those players are selected later in the draft. The ineptitude in this area has led to such struggles; Tom Quinn can only take so much of the blame.
So as the Giants watched 21 contracts expire and two other players retire, creating 23 holes that needed to be filled…why was there no one waiting in the wings? No one waiting for a chance?
Some arguments can be made: Rueben Randle is there for Hakeem Nicks, Johnathan Hankins for Linval Joseph. Maybe Damontre Moore becomes a factor at defensive end. But there’s not much in-house help on the horizon.
Steve DeOssie is the only player that remains from the 2007 class, Mario Manningham from the 2008 class, Will Beatty from the 2009 class, and Jason Pierre-Paul from the 2010 class. Four drafts – four players left. And James Brewer is holding on for dear life from the “successful” 2011 class that has four players remaining.
Injuries have ruined some once-promising careers. Ahmad Bradshaw, Kevin Boss, Steve Smith, Terrell Thomas, and Kenny Phillips immediately come to mind. But mostly there has been simply poor drafting.
Reese is one of the best GM’s in the game, there is no denying that. When you hold up a hand with two gleaming Super Bowl rings on it, you earn that label. Reese knows exactly when to let go of a player (Jeremy Shockey, Steve Smith, Kenny Phillips) and is incredible and making sure not to over pay in free agency, although Baas can be considered an exception.
No one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes, but having only eight players remain from 39 selections from 2007-11 (20.5 percent) is one of the reasons the team had 23 holes to fill this offseason.
As the Giants prepare for the offseason conditioning program, there may be even more questions than new faces.
New York Giants 2014 NFL Free Agency Preview: Whether some want to admit it or not, the New York Giants are rebuilding. It’s not a full-fledged rebuild because – assuming Eli Manning rebounds in 2014 – the Giants still have their franchise quarterback in place. But for the first time since the beginning of the Tom Coughlin era in 2004, this team has the feel of one that needs a major infusion of talent across the board. Personally, I do not think this will be a quick fix. Armed with only six draft picks (possibly another late pick when the compensatory picks are awarded), too much much needs to be done. But the Giants can be competitive in the unimpressive NFC East with a strong free agent signing period and draft.
Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that the Giants have never had this many of their own players not under contract. Not counting two who have retired (Brandon Jacobs and David Diehl), the Giants have 27 free agents. Twenty-five of those 27 will be unrestricted. Most will probably not return. It’s conceivable that the Giants may turn over half their roster. And it’s not just the numbers, but the stature of the players they have lost or will be losing. In addition to Diehl and Jacobs, Hakeem Nicks, Justin Tuck, Linval Joseph, Corey Webster, Aaron Ross, Terrell Thomas, and Kevin Boothe may all be gone. Tough decisions still need to be made on Chris Snee and David Baas.
This team will look far, far different in 2014. Things might get worse before they get better.
As for the New York Giants approach to free agency, General Manager Jerry Reese said at the NFL Combine:
The last couple of years it’s been a pretty saturated market. If there are guys you like and you have the money, you can go get them. But if you can hold your water there will probably be some guys available in the second and third wave (of free agency)…If you have the funds available to extend (your own) guys and tie them up, we’ve done that a lot in the past. We think right now it’s best to see what the market is and make our move from there.
Quarterback (Minimal Need): Whether you agree or not, Eli Manning is entrenched as the starter. Ryan Nassib must become the #2 in 2014, allowing the Giants to carry only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster again, or his selection in the 4th round of the 2013 NFL Draft looks more dubious. The Giants will re-sign Curtis Painter or add another quarterback for an additional arm in camp.
New York Giants Free Agents:
Curtis Painter (UFA)
Running Back (Major Need): The worst group of running backs in the NFL The only running backs on the Giants who are currently under contract or don’t have significant injury concerns are Michael Cox and Kendall Gaskins. Injury-prone Andre Brown is a free agent, and even if he is re-signed, how much can the Giants really rely on him? David Wilson’s future is still clouded with a career-threatening neck injury and inconsistent play on the football field. Who is the bell cow on offense? There is a very good chance that the Giants’ starting running back will be an unrestricted free agent signed from another team.
New York Giants Free Agents:
Andre Brown (UFA)
Peyton Hillis (UFA)
Da’Rel Scott (UFA – not tendered RFA)
UFA’s of Note:
RB Ben Tate, Houston Texans
RB Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders
RB Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos
RB LeGarrette Blount, New England Patriots
RB Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
RB Rashad Jennings, Oakland Raiders
RB Toby Gerhart, Minnesota Viking
Fullback (Minor Need): John Conner was impressive in his first season with the Giants as a lead blocker. He also flashed some receiving skills. Even if Henry Hynoski was not coming off of a couple of serious injuries, Conner may in fact be an upgrade.
New York Giants Free Agents:
Henry Hynoski (UFA – not tendered RFA)
Wide Receivers (Substantial Need): The Giants have Victor Cruz and then question marks. It is assumed Hakeem Nicks will leave in free agency. Much depends on the development of Rueben Randle and Jerrel Jernigan. Regardless, the Giants will need to add at least one quality wide receiver in free agency or the draft.
New York Giants Free Agents:
Hakeem Nicks (UFA)
Louis Murphy (UFA)
UFA’s of Note:
WR Eric Decker, Denver Broncos
WR Golden Tate, Seattle Seahawks
WR Julian Edelman, New England Patriots
WR James Jones, Green Bay Packers
WR Emmanuel Sanders, Pittsburgh Steelers
WR Andre Roberts, Arizona Cardinals
WR Sidney Rice, Seattle Seahawks
Tight Ends (Major Need): The worst group of tight ends in the NFL. The Giant do not have a starting-caliber tight end on the roster unless the physically-talented Adrien Robinson and/or Larry Donnell come on like gangbusters. Brandon Myers was a disappointment, seems best suites as a role player, and probably won’t be back. Bear Pascoe is just a guy. Journeyman street free agent Daniel Fells may be the best of the bunch on the current roster.
New York Giants Free Agents:
Brandon Myers (UFA)
Bear Pascoe (UFA)
UFA’s of Note:
TE Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers
TE Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions
TE Scott Chandler, Buffalo Bills
Offensive Line (Major Need): The worst offensive line in the NFL. The Giants currently have one starter who they can count on: Justin Pugh. The Giants may bring back over-priced and injury-prone Chris Snee and David Baas if both will agree to pay cuts. But even if they do remain, their lack of durability over the last few seasons is a major concern. In addition, Will Beatty is coming off of a poor season and a serious leg fracture in the season finale. Kevin Boothe is free agent and may not be back. David Diehl has thankfully retired. None of the back-ups inspire a great deal of confidence. Other than using stopgaps, the Giants need so much help here it is doubtful they will be able to address it all in one offseason.
New York Giants Free Agents:
Kevin Boothe (UFA)
Jim Cordle (UFA – not tendered RFA)
Dallas Reynolds (ERFA)
UFA’s of Note:
OT Eugene Monroe, Baltimore Ravens
OT Jared Veldheer, Oakland Raiders
OT Branden Albert, Kansas City Chiefs
OT Collins, Cincinnati Bengals
OT/OG Rodger Saffold, St. Louis Rams
OT Michael Oher, Baltimore Ravens
OT Zach Strief, New Orleans Saints
OG Jon Asamoah, Kansas City Chiefs
OG Geoff Schwartz, Kansas City Chiefs
OG Zane Beadles, Denver Broncos
OG Travelle Wharton, Carolina Panthers
OC Alex Mack, Cleveland Browns (Transition Tag)
OC Evan Dietrich-Smith, Green Bay Packers
Defensive Line (Potentially Substantial Need): The defensive line is the heart of a 4-3 defense. While much of the attention by Giants’ fans has been rightfully directed at the problems on offense, the defensive line continues to undergo a major transition. And it remains an open question as to whether the Giants can remain as strong here moving forward in 2014 and beyond. Much depends on whether Jason Pierre-Paul can rebound, and the overall talent and development of Damontre Moore and Johnathan Hankins. Mathias Kiwanuka is solid, but not a standout. It looks like the Giants are prepared to say good-bye to Linval Joseph, who many thought would be a long-term building block. Depth at defensive tackle could be a concern. If Justin Tuck’s NYG career is over, will the Giants get enough out of Moore and Kiwanuka to adequately replace him?
New York Giants Free Agents:
Justin Tuck (UFA)
Linval Joseph (UFA)
Mike Patterson (UFA)
Shaun Rogers (UFA)
UFA’s of Note:
DE Michael Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals
DE Lamarr Houston, Oakland Raiders
DE Michael Bennett, Seattle Seahawks
DE Everson Griffen, Minnesota Vikings
DE Jared Allen, Minnesota Vikings
DE Arthur Jones, Baltimore Ravens
DE/DT Red Bryant, Seattle Seahawks
DE Tyson Jackson, Kansas City Chiefs
DE Willie Young, Detroit Lions
DT Jason Hatcher, Dallas Cowboys
DT Henry Melton, Chicago Bears
DT B.J. Raji, Green Bay Packers
DT Randy Starks, Miami Dolphins
DT Pat Sims, Oakland Raiders
DT Clinton McDonald, Seattle Seahawks
Linebackers (Substantial Need): The only linebackers current under contract are Jacquian Williams, Allen Bradford, Marcus Dowtin, and Spencer Adkins. Spencer Paysinger, who was tendered as a restricted free agent, will likely be re-signed. Even if Jon Beason is re-signed, his significant injury history (Achilles, ACL-microfracture surgery) suggests having a solid reserve behind him. Unless Paysinger and Williams come on, the Giants still lack a consistent, play-maker outside.
New York Giants Free Agents:
Jon Beason (UFA)
Spencer Paysinger (RFA)
Keith Rivers (UFA)
Mark Herzlich (UFA – not tendered RFA)
UFA’s of Note:
LB Brandon Spikes, New England Patriots
LB Karlos Dansby, Arizona Cardinals
LB Daryl Smith, Baltimore Ravens
LB Perry Riley, Washington Redskins
Defensive Backs (Substantial Need): As long as Antrel Rolle (high cap figure) and Will Hill (off-the-field issues) are in the picture, the Giants are in much better shape at safety, especially if they can re-sign either Stevie Brown or Ryan Mundy. Also keep in mind that the team has high hopes for Cooper Taylor. The need is far greater at cornerback where Prince Amukamara is the only consistent, proven veteran. If he were to get hurt, the Giants would be in deep, deep trouble. The only cornerbacks currently under contract are Amukamara, Jayron Hosley, Charles James, and four practice squad players.
New York Giants Free Agents:
Trumaine McBride (UFA)
Terrell Thomas (UFA)
Corey Webster (UFA)
Aaron Ross (UFA)
Ryan Mundy (UFA)
Stevie Brown (UFA)
UFA’s of Note:
S Jairus Byrd, Buffalo Bills
S T.J. Ward, Cleveland Browns
S Malcolm Jenkins, New Orleans Saints
S Donte Whitner, San Francisco 49ers
S Louis Delmas, Detroit Lions
CB Alterraun Verner, Tennessee Titans
CB Aqib Talib, New England Patriots
CB Vontae Davis, Indianapolis Colts
CB Sam Shields, Green Bay Packers
CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Denver Broncos
CB Walter Thurmond, Seattle Seahawks
Kickers (Minor if Josh Brown is re-signed): Steve Weatherford is under contract. The Giants apparently would like to re-sign Josh Brown.
In the history of the New York Giants, the 2005-2011 time period will be remembered as one of the franchise’s golden ages. In seven seasons, under the combined leadership and skill of Head Coach Tom Coughlin and quarterback Eli Manning, the Giants made the playoffs five times, won three NFC East titles, two NFC Championships, and two NFL Championships.
What was remarkable about the second title was that the Giants were able to win it despite losing foundation players after the 2007 Championship. By the time 2011 rolled around, gone were Michael Strahan, Antonio Pierce, Barry Cofield, Fred Robbins, Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer, Kevin Boss, Shaun O’Hara, Rich Seubert, and others. Championship teams seldom lose core players like that and still manage to win another title. But the Giants reloaded with players such as Jason Pierre-Paul, Linval Joseph, Chris Canty, Michael Boley, Antrel Rolle, Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Mario Manningham, Jake Ballard, and David Baas.
As we enter the heart of the 2014 offseason, more of those core components of the glorious 2007 and 2011 campaigns are gone, will soon be gone, or have faded. Can the Giants restock their roster once again in order to provide the 67-year old Coughlin and the 33-year old Manning one more realistic shot at a ring?
Regardless of unforeseen factors or excuses, Senior Vice President and General Manager Jerry Reese miscalculated in 2012 and 2013. Reese believed that major components of the 2011 team would not have to be replaced quite so soon. He gambled he could postpone the inevitable transition by simply tweaking the roster, not tearing it up. The result was a combined 16-16 regular-season record and two no-shows in the playoff tournament.
2013 was a disaster and the Giants were far worse than their 7-9 record would indicate. While the defense improved, the once high-flying passing game regressed to the point of embarrassment. The Giants could not run the football or protect Eli Manning. The big-play receivers stopped making big plays. And the two-time Super Bowl MVP found himself once again the target of critics who had been cowering for the last five years. If the Giants had not played a string of teams with terrible quarterback issues, they likely would have finished the season with a 4-12 record or worse.
So is it over? Has the window closed? It may have. Reese appears to be gambling again that it has not. Coughlin is at an age when most retire but he will return for at least one more campaign. The 2013 season was not Coughlin’s fault. He will go down in history as one of the Giants’ best coaches along with Steve Owen and Bill Parcells. But replacing him with a younger man for what looks to be at least a moderate rebuilding project had to be considered as a viable option in January. If the Giants fail to make the playoffs in 2014 and Coughlin is let go in January 2015, then it was a mistake to retain him. Reese is betting that not only can Coughlin get this team back into the playoffs in 2014, but that he will be here a few more years in order to shepherd the Giants into one more legitimate title run.
Reese also appears to believe that Eli’s career can be resurrected. His current salary-cap busting contract is set to expire after the 2015 season. The safe bet would be to not re-structure his contract at the current time until the team can clearly see if he can rebound to his 2011 level. However, to not do so at the present time will limit what the Giants can do in rebuilding the roster since Manning currently accounts for roughly 15 percent of the Giants’ salary cap. It is important to note that all three of the Giants’ offensive assistant coaching hires this offseason are former quarterbacks coaches. The early indications – right or wrong – are that Reese believes Manning will be able to revert back to his 2011 form. If Reese re-structures Manning’s contract in the coming months, then that becomes a certainty.
So let’s assume Reese has already made the decision that the Coughlin-Manning combination has one more run in them. A coach and quarterback can’t do it alone. Can Reese and his personnel department provide Coughlin and Manning with enough support to seriously challenge teams like the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers in the NFC? Right now, as of February 2014, the Giants are nowhere near their class. Equipped with only six draft picks and a moderate amount of salary cap room (which looks inflated right now due to all of unsigned players), it will take a superlative effort by the front office to close the gap.
Offense: The New York Giants finished the 2011 season 9th on offense (5th passing, 32nd rushing). The Giants fell to 14th (12th passing, 14th rushing) in 2012 and 28th (19th passing, 29th rushing) in 2013. Despite the public perception to the contrary, Eli Manning doesn’t need a strong running game to succeed. But he needs decent pass protection and quality play-makers to catch the ball.
Offensive Line: Another myth that surrounds Manning is that he has been the beneficiary of superlative pass protection during much of his career. That simply is not true. Both David Diehl and Kareem McKenzie had issues with outside rushers, particularly in 2011. But the Giants’ interior pass protection really deteriorated in 2013, combined with a very inconsistent and disappointing season by left tackle Will Beatty. It is astounding really that the Giants were able to win an NFL Championship in 2011 with a 32nd-ranked rushing attack, shoddy-at-times pass protection, and the 27th-ranked defense. But Eli Manning and the 5th-ranked passing game carried the Giants to the playoffs where the running game and defense finally showed enough improvement to help New York win its eighth NFL title.
In 2013, the deteriorating, inept offensive line finally made its impact felt. The running game continued to struggle, but now Manning became gun-shy as pressure hit him from all angles. The Giants couldn’t run the ball and they couldn’t pass it. The opposition controlled the line of scrimmage and the Giants were pushed around by more physical opponents. Perhaps the biggest knock of all against Jerry Reese is that he and his personnel department did not do enough to restock the line as Diehl-Seubert-O’Hara-Snee-McKenzie aged and faded.
Right now, the line is a mess. It’s arguably the worst offensive line in the NFL. The Giants have one player to build around: Justin Pugh. Pugh not only appears to have a bright future, but he is flexible enough to be plugged in anywhere on the offensive line. He will likely be the right or left tackle in 2014 depending on the injury status of Will Beatty, who suffered a serious leg fracture in the regular-season finale. The injury-prone and inconsistent Beatty, who was given a 5-year, $39 million contract last offseason, is coming off of a bad season. If he recovers quickly and if he can rebound to his 2012 level of play, that will help. But those are two big “ifs.” Then you have super injury-prone David Baas and the aging and breaking-down Chris Snee. The Giants counted on both to deliver in 2013 and neither could even make it past the first half of the season. It would be highly risky to count on Beatty, Baas, and Snee in 2014. Worse, Beatty ($7.4 million), Baas ($8.2 million), and Snee ($11.3 million) will take up almost $27 million in 2014 salary cap room unless they are cut or agree to take massive pay cuts. The problem with cutting them is dead money. Beatty is basically uncuttable with $15.5 million in dead money. Baas would cost $6.45 million in dead money if cut before June 1st; Snee $4.5 million. Kevin Boothe is a free agent and will turn 31 in July. As I said, it’s a mess.
And this mess is exacerbated by the fact that there is not a lot of young talent waiting in the wings to take over unless you have a lot of faith in James Brewer, Brandon Mosley, Stephen Goodin, Jim Cordle (free agent), and Eric Herman.
The Giants will obviously have to address the offensive line in the draft (with only six picks and many other needs) and free agency. Reese may feel he will be forced to gamble one more time on Beatty, Baas, and/or Snee. But if he does, and one, two, or three of these players end up on IR again or continue to struggle, then not only will the line once again be placed in a revolving door-type situation, but the offensive line rebuild that is necessary will be delayed yet another season.
I don’t think the offensive line can be fixed in one offseason. I think they can add one or two draft picks and add 2-3 free agents this offseason. But unless the Giants spend both their first and second round picks on linemen, it is only plausible that one rookie may start in 2014. On the free agent front, the Giants may be able to go after one premium offensive lineman, but the others will likely be older, short-term veterans merely signed to hold down the fort until more long-term reinforcements appear in 2015.
Tight Ends: Like the offensive line, the Giants have arguably the worst group of tight ends in the NFL. At times, it was like the Giants were playing with 10 men on offense. Brandon Myers is not a starting-caliber player. He is best suited as a role-playing H-Back. Since he is a free agent, there is a good chance the Giants won’t even bother re-signing him. Bear Pascoe is another role-playing type who is a free agent. He’s had a nice career here but the Giants need to do better. That leaves the physically-talented Adrien Robinson and Larry Donnell. But neither developed in 2013 and neither may have NFL futures. Journeyman Daniel Fells, who was signed in January, may actually be the best tight end on the roster right now. That’s scary. So is the fact that the Giants basically fired Mike Pope for Kevin Gilbride’s 34-year old son to coach the tight ends. Gilbride’s only experience coaching tight ends was at Georgetown University in 2006.
Ideally, the Giants would want to spend a first or second round pick on a tight end. But can they afford to do that with the mess on the offensive line? Tight end is likely to be an important position with the West Coast-oriented offense of new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. Look for at least one veteran free agent to be added.
Wide Receivers: This position was supposed to be set for a while with Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, and Rueben Randle. But for whatever reason, Nicks hasn’t been the same player since Week 2 of the 2012 NFL season. Although he is only 26 and should be entering the prime of his career, Nicks is likely to depart by free agency, meaning the Giants will lose the services of another high-round draft pick before it should have been anticipated.
Eli Manning has proved that if you give him great targets, he can still carry this team with an average offensive line, tight ends, and running backs. But now Rueben Randle will be counted on to become the 2010-11 version of Nicks. If he doesn’t, then teams will continue to focus on shutting down Victor Cruz. It also remains to be seen if Jerrel Jernigan’s last three weeks of the 2013 season were a mirage. If Randle and Jernigan disappoint, the Giants will be in deep, deep trouble.
A strong case could be made that wide receiver is one of the most pressing needs on this team given the importance of the position to the Giants’ overall success. So I would not be shocked to see the Giants draft a wide receiver as high as the first round. But if they do so, the offensive line will continue to suffer. Pick your poison.
Running Backs: Another mess filled with question marks and arguably one of the worst groups in the league. (Notice the trend here those calling for the heads of coaches?) Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs got old and are gone. First-rounder David Wilson was supposed to become the new featured play-maker, but now his career is in jeopardy with a neck injury. The hope is he can return and become a Darren Sproles-like role-player. Andre Brown is an injury-prone free agent. Journeyman Peyton Hillis is also a free agent and it’s not even clear if the Giants want him back. Michael Cox flashed in the preseason but did not in the regular season. With not enough resources to deal with all of these positions, the “help wanted” sign is out here as well. The good news? The Giants have a very good fullback under contract (John Conner) and another one who may re-sign as a free agent (Henry Hynoski).
Offensive Summary: It’s a mess. Manning, Pugh, Cruz, Randle, and Jernigan must come through or it will be even worse. The Giants have more issues on the offensive line than they will likely be able to address in one offseason. The tight ends and running backs scare no one. Losing the 2010-11 version of Nicks removes a much-needed impact player.
Defense: Despite winning the Super Bowl in 2011, the New York Giants’ defense was embarrassingly bad in 2011 (27th) and 2012 (31st). Those defenses each gave up over 6,000 yards of offense – the first time that has ever happened in the Giants’ long and storied history. If it were not for the six-game run at the end of the 2011 season, Perry Fewell may have been fired. In 2013, the defense made a huge improvement, ranking 8th in the NFL (10th against the pass, 14th against the run). With the arrow pointed upwards, one may feel there are not many issues to be addressed on this side of the ball. But there are.
Defensive Line: Ever since the Giants switched back to the 4-3 in 1994, the defensive line has been the heart of the New York’s defense. But this once-formidable and deep unit is fraying at the edges. Long gone are Michael Strahan, Barry Cofield, and Fred Robbins. Osi Umenyiora and Chris Canty left the scene last offseason. Justin Tuck is coming off a strong season but he is inconsistent, aging, and has had health issues. 25-year old Linval Joseph, a former second rounder, is a free agent who the Giants may not be able to re-sign. Mathias Kiwanuka is steady, but he doesn’t make many plays and will count over $7 million against the 2014 salary cap.
In a nutshell, the transition on the defensive line basically started last offseason and will continue this offseason. The Giants will need to count on 33-year old Cullen Jenkins and 21-year old Johnathan Hankins inside, especially if they lose Joseph. Depth could become a problem. Markus Kuhn is still in the picture and the Giants will likely re-sign Mike Patterson or sign someone similar.
Bigger concerns exist outside at defensive end. The team desperately needs Jason Pierre-Paul to return to his 2011 form after two disappointing and injury-plagued seasons. Will Tuck re-sign? Should the Giants re-sign him or move on? Is Kiwanuka really worth the valuable cap space he is taking up? Damontre Moore flashed on special teams but not really on defense. The Giants need him to develop or the needs here become even greater. If the offense was not such a mess, a case could be made for drafting a defensive end in the first round.
Linebacker: Perry Fewell uses more 2-linebacker packages than 3-linebacker packages so there is not a premium placed on this position by the Giants. That said, the dramatic improvement in the Giants’ defense occurred last season once Jon Beason became the new starter at middle linebacker. Beason is a free agent but will likely be re-signed. The concern with him is his injury history. If the Giants lose him, the linebacking position becomes a real weakness again, especially inside. In a perfect world, the Giants draft an apprentice middle linebacker with the leadership, intelligence, and physical skills to play in Fewell’s defense.
Contrary to many people, I think the Giants can get by with Spencer Paysinger and Jacquian Williams. But adding more talent would help. Keith Rivers is a free agent but could be a cheap re-sign. I would move on from Mark Herzlich. Allen Bradford will get a shot.
Defensive Backs: Cornerback is a bigger issue than safety. The Giants will be undergoing a significant transition at corner. Free agents Corey Webster and Aaron Ross will likely not be invited back. Free agents Trumaine McBride and Terrell Thomas may or may not return. Right now, the only players under contract are Prince Amukamara, Jayron Hosley, Charles James, and four practice squad players. A strong case could be made for the Giants drafting a corner in round one or two to team with Amukamara. The Giants need Hosley – who missed much of 2013 with an injury – and James to develop. Imagine how bad this position would look if Amukamara was lost due to an injury?
The concerns at safety have more to do with issues off of the field. 31-year old Antrel Rolle had his best season in 2013. He shows no signs of slowing down yet. However, Rolle will be entering the last year of a contract that will count $9.25 million against the 2014 salary cap. That’s a lot of money for a team that is basically rebuilding. 23-year old Will Hill seems like the heir apparent, but his off-the-field issues are worrisome. If these two play in all 16 games in 2014, then the Giants will be in good shape. The Giants drafted talented Cooper Taylor last offseason. And they probably hope to re-sign either Stevie Brown or Ryan Mundy.
Defensive Summary: The success of this defense is largely dependent on the play of the defensive ends and cornerbacks. And the Giants could use more help at both spots. Quality is more important than quantity here.
General Summary: The #1 offseason emphasis so far has to form a team around Eli Manning that can get him back on track. See the hires of offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf, and running backs coach Craig Johnson. If you have a franchise quarterback in the NFL playing at a top level, you should be a playoff team. But the Giants currently no longer have a lot of talent around Manning. They need help at every other offensive position and it will be virtually impossible to address all of these needs in one offseason. The Giants may rebound well enough to challenge for the NFC East title given the sorry state of the division, but they are far from seriously challenging the defense of the Seahawks and 49ers.
Defensively, the Giants should not be lulled into a false sense of security despite the dramatically-improved defensive ranking. The defense line and cornerback positions are in transition and it remains to be seen if the Giants can adequately restock themselves at both positions.
Offseason Breakdown: New York Giants Defensive Tackles
In part one, we covered how important the defensive line is to the overall defense of the New York Giants, and focused on the defensive ends. In part two, we’ll focus on the defensive tackles.
4-3 defenses usually employ two different types of tackles: a 1-technique (or nose tackle) and a 3-technique (or under tackle). The 1-technique tackle usually will see a lot of double teams from the guard and center and usually has to be the bigger, stronger, and stouter player. These types of players usually lack ideal quickness. The 3-technique is usually less stout, but the quicker, more active penetrator. If Linval Joseph and Cullen Jenkins start as expected, Joseph will play the 1-technique and Jenkins the 3-technique given their physical characteristics. Johnathan Hankins is better suited to the 1-technique while Marvin Austin is better suited to the 3-technique. Also keep in mind that in obvious pass rush situations, the Giants have moved defensive ends – including Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Mathias Kiwanuka – inside to rush from the tackle spots.
There are currently eight defensive tackles on the Giants’ 90-man preseason roster. At most, the Giants will be able to keep five defensive tackles on the 53-man regular-season roster.
Linval Joseph: Joseph was drafted in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Giants. He did not play much as a rookie but became a full-time starter in 2011. Joseph has an excellent combination of size (6’4’’, 323 pounds), strength, and athletic ability. He flashes as run defender due to his size and strength, and as a pass rusher because of his quickness. But one gets the sense that Joseph should be a more consistent, more dominating player than he has shown to date.
“Linval is really good,” said DT Cullen Jenkins. “He’s a strong man; really strong. I can’t even workout with Linval in the weight room. But he’s one of the first people in here every day. Out in practice he’s always busting his butt and you have to respect it. He’s got some bright years ahead of him and I think he can do a lot of things in the league.”
“From looking at Linval in all the practices you wonder why he is not a Pro Bowler,” said Jenkins. “He’s got a tremendous amount of ability, the strength he possess, quickness, speed. He’s had a couple dings here and there that have hampered him, but if he can stay healthy I think he’ll be a Pro Bowler.”
“I’m just ready to step up,” said Joseph. “I’m going to be the anchor of this team and I’m ready to go.”
Cullen Jenkins: Jenkins was signed by the Giants in March 2013 after he was released by the Philadelphia Eagles in February. Jenkins was originally signed by Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent after the 2003 NFL Draft. He did not make the team but spent time in NFL Europe and then re-signed with the Packers in 2004. From 2004-10, Jenkins played with the Packers until he signed with the Eagles in 2011.
Jenkins lacks ideal size (6’2’’, 305 pounds) and is on the downside of his career, but he still is a solid two-way defensive tackle who can play the run and rush the passer. Versatile, he has experience in the 4-3 as a defensive tackle and as an end in the 3-4. The Giants have also been playing him at defensive end in the 4-3. In the last four seasons, he’s averaged over five sacks a year. Jenkins is a tough guy who plays with an attitude.
“Cullen, I was with four years in Green Bay, he’s a very explosive guy, talented guy, has matured a lot,” said Defensive Line Coach Robert Nunn. “He’s a different guy than he was in Green Bay. He’s a guy that has gotten better and better as time has gone on, very explosive player both in the run game and the pass game and he is going to bring a lot of versatility to us. I think he can go inside, he can play outside, we can do some different things, which, in turn, will allow us to different things with some of our other guys. He really adds some versatility to what we’re doing…When we get to our pass rush stuff he can free up Justin and JPP and Kiwi to move around so there are several things he brings. The passion he plays with and the toughness, he’s another guy that plays tough. On Sundays, he’s a tough guy. We need that in that room.”
“I’m very impressed with Jenkins,” said Defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell. “He is a seasoned veteran, a proven veteran and I just see that for him to come to our football team and bring the type of energy that he displayed down at his previous team and then bring that to us, I think that’s a positive for our defense.”
“We’re going to take advantage of his versatility,” said Fewell. “He’s very explosive. He’s much stronger than I initially thought he was and he is violent in his reactions and so that’s a good thing for us and it’s very pleasing.”
“He’s a tough guy to block no matter where he is,” said Head Coach Tom Coughlin. “He’s very effective, very good. Moves well. Just gives us a nice piece of versatility to be able to play him basically wherever we need.”
“Once you hit 30, everyone starts talking about how you’re getting older and missing a step,” said the 32-year-old Jenkins. “I see it as a challenge. My whole career, my whole life, has been about proving people wrong.”
“Two things I’ve been working on: my strength and my quickness,” said Jenkins. “Quickness has helped me since I’ve been in the league and it’s one of the reasons I’ve put so much emphasis in making sure my weight stays at a good level for me this year. At the same time, I’m trying to get as strong as I can because getting older I know you have to put a lot more time into your body to make sure you stay healthy. These last few years that’s what I’ve been trying to do to make sure I stay on the field every week.”
Shaun Rogers: The Giants signed Rogers as an unrestricted free agent in April 2012, but he missed the entire 2012 season due to a blood clot in his leg. Rogers was originally drafted in the 2nd round of the 2001 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions. In 11 NFL seasons, Rogers has played for the Lions (2001-07), Browns, (2008-10), and Saints (2011). He was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2004, 2005, and 2008.
Rogers is a huge (6’4’’, 350 pounds), powerful player. In his prime, he was a very strong run defender who could also push the pocket on the pass rush. However, the 34-year old Rogers is nearing the end of his career and it remains to be seen how much he has left in his gas tank. He started four games for the Saints in 2011 and finished with just 22 tackles and no sacks. Amazingly, Rogers has blocked 14 field goal attempts in his career.
Johnathan Hankins: Hankins was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Giants. Hankins is a big (6’2’’, 320 pounds), strong, run-stuffing defensive tackle with good athletic ability and agility for his size. He is a better run defender than pass rusher. Hankins is very stout at the point-of-attack and can take on double-team blocks. When he plays with leverage and proper technique, Hankins is very difficult to move off of the line of scrimmage. Hankins also has the athletic ability to pursue down the line and will flash occasionally on the pass rush with quickness and power.
“He has really surprised me coming in,” said Nunn. “I thought he did an outstanding job between when he started until now with his body. He’s worked, he’s trimmed up, he’s gotten stronger, if he continues to do that I think he’s another young player that’s going to contribute to us. He really has looked good.”
“He’s been running second team,” said Nunn. “He’s picked up everything physically and from a mental standpoint, he’s right where he needs to be. We’ll see what happens when we start shooting real bullets.”
“The two rookies we have on our D-Line have stood out,” said Tuck. “Hank is quiet and he is more polished. You can tell he’s obviously had a great coach and played big-time football (at Ohio State).”
Marvin Austin: The Giants have not received much in return from Marvin Austin ever since drafting him in the 2nd round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Austin missed his last season in college due to an NCAA violation. Austin then missed his second football season in a row when the Giants placed him on Injured Reserve in August 2011 after he tore his pectoral muscle. In 2012, Austin fell to fifth on the defensive tackle depth chart, behind 7th round rookie Markus Kuhn. Austin ended up playing in eight games, but only saw limited time at defensive tackle and finished the season with only eight tackles. He hurt his back in training camp before last season and had offseason knee surgery (torn meniscus) in January 2013.
Austin has good tools to work with. Although he lacks ideal height (6’2’’, 312 pounds), he is a very athletic tackle with fine size and strength. He moves very well for a big man and could develop into a very good pass rusher. However, to-date, he has trouble getting off blocks and simply has not made many plays.
“Marvin…he is another one who has had his best offseason,” said Nunn. “He’s been healthy for the first time. He’s never been able to go through a true offseason because of different ailments that he’s had. He’s where he needs to be right now, he just can’t disappear when the pads come on. He knows what he’s got to do. I’ve spoken to him about it. When the pads come on he’s got to produce. When he gets out there under the lights he’s got to produce. Right now, he’s got himself in the position to give himself the best opportunity since he’s been here of having a productive year.”
“I thought Marvin performed well this past Saturday (in the preseason game against the Steelers),” said Fewell. “He’s progressed each week in practice. He’s had a full offseason with the OTAs, which he didn’t have in the past. I look for good things from him this Sunday in the football game. This will be a really good opportunity for him to showcase his quickness and his abilities. I think Pittsburgh is really a big massive offensive line. Indy, they’ll play more to the strengths of Marvin and so it will be exciting to see him in this game Sunday.”
“He’s a defensive tackle that, really, we need to see him in the fashion that we anticipated when we drafted him,” said Coughlin. “He’s done well this camp rushing the passer and we really would like to see him do a good job against the run.”
Austin believes he will be fine if he can stay healthy. “It seems like one thing after another,” Austin said. “I’ve been hurt the whole time I’ve been here. I feel like as long as I can stay healthy, I’ll be able to help this team.”
“I’ve watched film with Cullen and Mike Patterson,” said Austin. “They’re very quick and good guys and I feel like I can play in that same mode as them. But one of the vets who has helped me and kept me honest, per say, has been Shaun Rogers. He always checks me out, looks at my technique and tries to help me with different stuff.”
Austin sees all of the new defensive tackles the Giants have brought in. “At the end of the day, the National Football League is about competition and is a business,” said Austin. “I haven’t performed since I’ve been here. They’re looking to see if I can play at the high level they drafted me, and they’re going to protect themselves. They’re giving me a chance to compete, and that’s all I could ask for.”
“If you sit there and dwell on it and be negative, you’re not going to help yourself,” said Austin. “You’re either going to stand up or sit down. You can be a man about it or a coward. That’s all it is. And this game is a man’s game.”
“You see the competition (at defensive tackle),” said Austin. “I want to make this team. I’ve got to show them what I can do. I haven’t shown them anything. Some things don’t have to be said.”
Mike Patterson: Patterson was signed by the Giants in April 2013. Patterson was originally drafted in the 1st round of the 2005 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. In eight seasons with the Eagles, Patterson played in 115 regular-season games with 99 starts. Patterson underwent brain surgery in January 2012 to repair an arteriovenous malformation. He played in just five games in 2012 before being placed on the reserve/non-football illness list last year with pneumonia. The Eagles waived Patterson in February 2013.
Patterson lacks ideal size (6’1’’, 300 pounds), but he is a good athlete who can be disruptive with his quickness. He has experience in both 1- and 2-gap schemes. Tough, Patterson is a steady run defender and has 16.5 career sacks.
“I thought I was going to still be (with the Eagles), but you never know how things are going to turn out,” said Patterson. “I’m just happy I was able to land on my feet with the Giants. Even though I didn’t play that much last year, it wasn’t due to football injuries. It just came down to me getting sick and me recovering from my surgery. It was nothing to do with on-the-field stuff, so I know I’m perfectly healthy when it comes to playing football.”
Frank Okam: The Giants signed Frank Okam in May 2013 after he impressed at the rookie mini-camp as tryout player. Okam was originally drafted in the 5th round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans. Okam has spent time with the Texans (2008-10), Seahawks (2010), and Buccaneers (2010-12). The Buccaneers released Okam in August 2012 and he did not play last season. From 2008-11, Okam played in 25 games with six starts.
Okam is a huge (6’5’’, 350 pounds), strong player with limited overall athleticism and agility. He is a run-stuffing nose tackle type who does not get much heat on the quarterback. Okam has very good tools, but he needs to become a more consistent effort player. Very smart.
Markus Kuhn: Kuhn was selected by the Giants in the 7th round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Kuhn is German and was only a one-year starter in college. Kuhn was an active member of the defensive tackle rotation last season before tearing the ACL in one of his knees. He was placed on Injured Reserve in November 2012. Kuhn played in 10 games with one start and finished the season with eight tackles and four pass defenses.
Kuhn has a nice combination of size (6’4’’, 299 pounds) and athletic ability. He is a high-energy effort player who can be disruptive with his quickness and intensity. Kuhn is a better run defender than pass rusher.
Kuhn has been on Physically-Unable-to-Perform (PUP) List since training camp started as he continues to rehab from his ACL injury. With training camp ending next week, it’s becoming more likely that Kuhn will start the season on the in-season PUP as well, meaning he will have to miss at least the first six games of the regular season. Then a decision will need to be made on whether to activate him, put him on Injured Reserve, or waive him.
Summary: It appears Linval Joseph and Cullen Jenkins will start. Based on the way the coaches and players are talking about Jenkins, he may have a much bigger impact on this team than first realized when he signed. Johnathan Hankins has been everything advertised. The real surprise is Shaun Rogers. He did not have a stellar year in New Orleans in 2011 and is now 34 years old, but he’s been receiving snaps with the first team and definitely seems to be in the team’s plans.
I have a hard time seeing the team parting ways with Marvin Austin at this point. He has a lot of talent and has been improving. Unless he flops the rest of the preseason, I think he’s going to be the fifth defensive tackle.
Markus Kuhn could probably be activated off of the PUP now, but I think the Giants realize that if they did so, they would have to end up cutting him. Look for him to be added to the regular-season PUP.
I think Mike Patterson and Frank Okam can play in this league, but it’s a numbers game for them.
Offseason Breakdown: New York Giants Defensive Ends
For better or worse, the mindset of the New York Giants front office, coaches, and players in recent years is that the play of the defensive line will determine the play of the overall defensive unit. When the New York Giants defensive line plays well, the defense plays well; when the defensive line doesn’t, the overall defense can look putrid.
The Giants are the team that first rolled out the 4-3 defense in the 1950s and used the 4-3 as a base defense until 1978. The team went back to its 4-3 roots in 1994. Since that time, the Giants have done a good job of stocking and restocking the defensive line position with players such as Keith Hamilton, Michael Strahan, Robert Harris, Christian Peter, Chad Bratzke, Cornelius Griffin, Kenny Holmes, Fred Robbins, Osi Umenyiora, Barry Cofield, Justin Tuck, Chris Canty, Linval Joseph, and Jason Pierre-Paul.
In nine seasons under Tom Coughlin, the Giants have made the playoffs five times, and have won three NFC East division titles, two NFC championships, and two NFL championships. In those nine seasons, the Giants have finished 13th, 24th, 25th, 7th, 5th, 13th, 7th, 27th, and 31st in overall defense (yards allowed). Obviously, there has not been a lot of defensive consistency on that side of the ball. Yet, for brief and critical moments, the defense has risen up to excel and even dominate explosive offensive opponents. This is especially true of the playoff runs in 2007 and 2011. Indeed, there seems to be a direct correlation with respect to the performance of the defense (defensive line) and the team’s overall success.
Barring significant injuries to key personnel, the Giants’ offense should remain among the NFL’s best. But for the Giants to win the NFC East and win playoff games, the defense must play better. And given the mindset of this team, the greatest onus will be on a defensive line that saw a certain degree of turnover this past offseason. Gone are Osi Umenyiora, Chris Canty, and Rocky Bernard. Reinforcements include Mathias Kiwanuka (moved from linebacker), Cullen Jenkins, Shaun Rogers (spent last season on IR), Johnathan Hankins, and Damontre Moore.
“We obviously have a quarterback in place who has won a couple of Super Bowls, who is in his prime,” said Giants’ President/CEO John Mara. “But he needs a little bit of help and we need to play better on defense and we need to play better up front and we think we’ve added some pieces that are going to allow us to do that.”
Much focus has been on the Giants’ pass rush. The Giants only had 33 sacks last season (22nd in the NFL). Teams like the Browns, Titans, Cardinals, and Panthers had more sacks. But more focus should be placed on the shoddy run defense. The Giants’ defense allowed 4.6 yards per rush (28th in the NFL). That means that opposing teams regularly found themselves in very manageable 2nd-down and 3rd-down situations, making it more difficult to rush the passer. Also, Defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell did not appear to be able to successfully strategize against teams that got rid of the ball quickly or max-protected. In other words, the Giants’ defense was not only out-muscled, it often appeared out-smarted. That is obviously not a good combination.
“We’ve got to be more physical,” said Defensive Line Coach Robert Nunn. “We’ve talked about that as a unit and, you know, there’s no way to shy away from that. We weren’t as physical as we wanted to be last year…When the pads come on, that’s where you’ve got to evaluate our toughness, the energy, the passion we’re playing with and how physical we are. I think that’s the number one thing that we’ve got to improve on is being more physical, which will in turn stop the run, which will in turn allow for us to rush the passer…We’ve got to get back to playing with an edge and playing with some nastiness…We can’t just talk.”
There are currently eight defensive ends on the 90-man preseason roster. It’s hard to see the team being able to keep more than five on the 53-man regular season roster.
“Honestly, there’s been times this season, times in my career, you look at guys we’ve got in (the defensive line) room and you just say, he shouldn’t be here,” Tuck said. “But out of all the guys we have in that defensive line room, I don’t see anybody that doesn’t have the potential, (doesn’t) have the talent, to make a team somewhere, if it’s not here.”
Jason Pierre-Paul: Pierre-Paul is regarded by most as the best defensive player on the Giants. However, he did not play as well in 2012 as he did in 2011, and more importantly, he had back surgery (microdiscetomy) in early June. His back issues obviously affected his play in 2012. There are questions on not only how soon will he be able to return to the football field, but also how effective will he be once he does return? Bad backs can be tricky. And even if healthy, Pierre-Paul will probably have missed all of training camp and the preseason.
Pierre-Paul was voted to his second Pro Bowl in 2012, but his sack numbers declined from 16.5 in 2011 to 6.5 in 2012. More troubling was that he did not register a sack during the last seven games of the season. Pierre-Paul’s overall tackle total also declined from 86 to 66.
Pierre-Paul has an excellent combination of size (6’5’’, 278 pounds), strength, and athleticism. An explosive and disruptive player, Pierre-Paul is fast, quick, and agile. His tremendous wingspan helps him to bat passes down at the line of scrimmage. Pierre-Paul is also athletic enough to drop into coverage. As a pass rusher, he can beat blockers with both power and movement skills. However, he would become a more productive pass rusher if he would improve his initial quickness off the snap. He’s often the last lineman to move and this hurts his ability to quickly pressure with an outside rush. Pierre-Paul is a very good run defender both at the point-of-attack as well as in backside pursuit. In order for him to reach the next level, Pierre-Paul must learn how to deal with double teams on a consistent basis.
“JPP’s on schedule,” said General Manager Jerry Reese. “He’s looking good, he’s running around a little bit. He’s going to be out on the field a little more than usual as we move along. We expect him to hopefully be back, ready to go for the (Week 1) Dallas game.”
Pierre-Paul isn’t sure when he will return. “I’m rehabbing, I don’t know when my return will be, but at the end of the day I’m going to go out there when I feel comfortable,” said Pierre-Paul. “I’ve been doing some running lately, and it feels good. Like I said, it’s basically day-by-day.”
“It’s not really the doctor’s decision (on when I return),” said Pierre-Paul. “I say it’s not the doctor’s decision anymore because it’s basically on me. It all depends on my recovery and how my back feels and if I can go out there and practice with the team but I’m going to have to get a couple practices in before, if, I decide to come back before the first game. I already know I’m going to be taking on two guys, double team, triple team maybe so, I’m not in a rush to come back and put myself in that position…And right now I’m still at that stage that I know I can’t go out there and perform. So, I’m not going to try and rush back.”
“At the end of the day, you know that your coaches and general manager and head coach want you out there, to help the team out, but, it’s all on me, like I said,” said Pierre-Paul. “I’m focused on coming back 100%, not being like 85%, you know what I’m saying? And I know I’m going to be a big factor of the defense, so I’d rather come back 100% and that’s it.”
Justin Tuck: It may be an unfair observation, but there appears to be a direct correlation between how well Justin Tuck plays and how the Giants’ overall defense plays. Tuck had double-digit sack totals in 2007 (as a reserve), 2008 (Pro Bowl), and 2010 (Pro Bowl). He was also strong against the run in those seasons. Tuck did not play well for the bulk of 2011 (and neither did the defense), but he came on during the 6-game stretch run (as did the overall defense), resulting in an NFL Championship.
Tuck appears to be a reluctant team leader and somewhat moody. He has had two down seasons in a row, raising questions whether injuries (especially in the shoulder/neck area) have taken their toll on his game or whether his heart is still in football. Tuck started 14 games in 2012 and finished the season with only four sacks, his lowest figure since 2006.
Tuck has an excellent combination of size (6’5’’, 268 pounds), strength, and athleticism. In his prime, when healthy, Tuck was a very good two-way player who could rush the passer and stuff the run.
On the surface, Tuck appears re-energized and re-dedicated this offseason. Of course this being a contract year for Tuck should help to inspire him.
“I’ll be the first one to tell you the last couple years, I’ve had a lot of distractions that draw away from being the dominating player I’ve been, whether it be deaths in the family, newborns, me trying to do too much in the community, charity appearances, whatever,” said Tuck. “You don’t even think of it as a bad thing while you’re doing it, that you can multitask and do it all, but when I get an opportunity to step back, I know it wasn’t the best thing.”
“Justin has probably had his best offseason since I’ve been with him,” said Nunn. “In the fourth year I’ve been with him, he’s probably in the best physical shape, seems to be in a great frame of mind. The injuries were a factor last year. I think if he can keep himself clean with injuries, I am totally confident that Justin will be a big contributor for us and will be a very effective defensive lineman.”
“(Tuck) wasn’t as bad as everyone thought he was, but he wasn’t as good as he usually is so we’ve got to just keep building,” said Nunn. “He’s approached the offseason, I thought it was just outstanding how he approached the OTAs in the offseason, he’s in very, very good shape. I think he’s got to prove it when the pads come on but I think he’s prepared to have an outstanding season.”
“I’ve had two years that were not up to my caliber of play, two years that I’m nowhere pleased with,” Tuck said. “One of them we won a Super Bowl, but last year was a bad year. No one gives a damn what you did three, four, five years ago. I understand that. I’ll be the first one to tell you I have to play better than last year. I understand what I mean to this team and what me playing well can do.”
Tuck is also taking his leadership role even more seriously. “He’s checking up on everybody,” said S Stevie Brown. “He’s holding everybody accountable.”
Mathias Kiwanuka: Since he was drafted in the 1st round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the Giants, Mathias Kiwanuka has split his time between defensive end and linebacker. He played primarily defensive end in 2006 and 2008-09, and he played primarily linebacker in 2007 and 2010-12. For the last three seasons, under Defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell, Kiwanuka has played a hybrid linebacker/defensive end “joker” role – starting at linebacker but often also being rushed from a down position in obvious pass rushing situations.
Kiwanuka has had two major injuries with the Giants. In November 2007, he suffered a fractured fibula and ligament damaged in an ankle. In September 2010, a potentially career-threatening neck injury (herniated cervical disc) ended his season.
In 2012, Kiwanuka played in all 16 regular-season games, starting five, and finished with 37 tackles and three sacks. Kiwanuka’s tackle number was way down from a career-high 84 in 2011.
With the departure of Osi Umenyiora, the Giants have once again moved Kiwanuka back to his more natural defensive end position. And Kiwanuka seems thrilled with the switch. Kiwanuka combines very good size (6’5’’, 267 pounds) and overall athleticism. Nevertheless, in seven seasons, Kiwanuka has only averaged slightly over four sacks per year, with his career-high being eight in 2008. Obviously, the Giants would like him to set a new career-high in 2013.
“He was off to a great start (in 2010),” said Nunn. “He was really doing a good job and had four or five sacks there before he had the neck issue. And then when he came back we had a logjam there with Osi and Justin and JPP. And so we moved him around a lot. And he came up big down the stretch there when we made the Super Bowl run. Kiwi came up big in San Francisco, and against Atlanta, the roles we asked him to play. But I think it is going to help him and help us to have him in one position, especially with JPP being out.”
“Kiwi and Tuck, since I’ve been with them, have had their best offseason,” said Nunn. “And the OTA work that Kiwi had was outstanding; he’s off to a great start these first few days of (training camp) practice…The toughness he brings, the leadership he brings to that group in that room, I’m looking forward to that. We need some toughness in there…He’s a tough person naturally and I’m excited about it.”
“You see the physicality, he plays with an edge on him,” said Nunn. “When he’s playing confident he’s got an edge on him, which spreads into that room. You talk about toughness, (he) brings toughness to our room. We need that because last year, for whatever reason, whether it be injuries or whatever it was, we didn’t play with that edge at times. At times we did and at times we didn’t. We want to play all 16 games with a little edge and Kiwi brings that to us.”
“It’s great,” said Kiwanuka. “(Defensive end is) the position I was kind of born to play…It’s definitely easier (playing one position) because you’re not worrying about what you’re missing in the other meeting room and what’s being said and trying to track coaches down, in their off time, to get all the rest of the information…Sitting in one room, you can focus on one job and one task. I feel like it puts you in a much better competitive advantage to watch film, to study, to work on your own technique.”
Adrian Tracy: Tracy was drafted by the Giants in the 6th round of the 2010 NFL Draft, but missed all of his rookie season due to a preseason elbow injury. In 2011, he was on the team’s Practice Squad. In 2012, Tracy made the 53-man roster and was active for all 16 games. He finished the season with nine tackles, one sack, and one forced fumble.
The Giants have played Tracy both at linebacker and defensive end, but he is back at defensive end in 2013. Tracy lacks size (6’2’’, 245 pounds) for an end, but he is strong for his size and very athletic for the position.
“I’m really pleased with…Adrian Tracy,” said Nunn. “He is further along right now than he has ever been in his career at this time, this point. He has got to keep moving forward…He always takes care of himself…He has got to go out there and be consistent playing the run and pass on Sundays on defense.”
“I’m a smaller guy, so I think one of my best attributes is speed and keying the ball,” said Tracy. “To get off at the snap is one of the best things that I can do. That gives me an advantage over offensive linemen. But then again, being a smaller guy, people think I’m not as stout and strong, and I think putting in the work with the strength and conditioning stuff has allowed me to prove them wrong as far as being a power rusher as well.”
“I do have strength so hopefully that can translate into me being a run stopper as well,” said Tracy. “I know I have to get off the pass rush and when it’s a run, I have to be stout at the point of attack.”
Tracy’s teammates have nicknamed him “Yosi” (for young Osi Umenyiora). “(Tracy is) playing with a lot more confidence, playing with a lot more purpose and it’s very nice to see,” said Fewell. “Osi did a nice job in training him. He was kind of his mentor, so to speak, and he has flashes of Osi in him at times.”
“There are times when you squint and it could be Osi out there,” said TE/FB Bear Pascoe. “Just the speed, the quickness and then the same sort of moves too.”
Damontre Moore: Moore was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Giants. Moore has the frame (6’5’’, 250 pounds) to get bigger and stronger, which he needs to do. His 40-time isn’t great, but Moore is an athletic disruptor who plays hard and makes a lot of plays in the backfield. He has good first-step quickness, agility, and change-of-direction skills.
The scouting report on Moore is that he is a better pass rusher than run defender. He’s relentless at getting after the quarterback, but he can be handled at the point-of-attack on running plays, which is why he needs to get stronger and add some bulk. Moore tested and interviewed very poorly at the NFL Combine, and he has had some drug issues, but he reportedly has been a good soldier thus far with the Giants. He’s very quickly impressed his coaches and teammates with his ability. Moore has already been elevated to the second-team defense.
“He’s handled everything we’ve given him, both in OTAs and starting off training camp,” said Nunn. “I think he’s going to give us a lot of versatility and do some different things for us and I really see him contributing as a rookie. He’s got some growing up to do, he’s got to help us on special teams, he’s got to contribute on special teams when he’s called to do so but the guy is off to an outstanding start and we have to see what happens when the pads come on. He’s off to a pretty good start.”
“(In college), he’s always close to the quarterback, he’s always a physical player, he came in here in the OTAs and minicamp, he showed that again,” said Nunn. “He’s got some rookie in him, there’s no doubt, but it’s the good kind of rookie. He’s someone you have to tell to slow down, you never have to tell him to speed up. He’s off to an outstanding start and, like I said, I really believe the guy is going to contribute early.”
“I think the jury is still out (on Moore),” said Kiwanuka. “I think for a young guy who is physically gifted, he is very talented, he pays attention, and he’s got that drive and that power. You see him flying around the field. For a young guy like that it’s about staying in tune with the material. He’s got all the physical gifts and he’s got to stay healthy.”
“The two rookies we have on our D-Line have stood out,” Tuck said. “Moore has been explosive, he is still very raw. But you can see the talent and the potential there…the potential of Moore is off the radar right now.”
“He’s been a young man that’s gotten our attention,” said Coughlin.
Matt Broha: Adewale Ojomo and Justin Trattou have received more attention from fans and the media, but right now, it’s Broha who is higher on the depth chart. Broha was signed by the Giants as a rookie free agent after the 2012 NFL Draft. He spent the season on the team’s Practice Squad. Broha has a nice combination of size (6’4’’, 255 pounds) and athleticism. He plays hard and flashed during the 2012 preseason as a pass rusher.
Justin Trattou: Trattou was originally signed by the Giants as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2011 NFL Draft. He split his rookie season on the Practice Squad and 53-man roster. Trattou played in six regular season games in 2011, serving mainly on special teams. Trattou was placed on Injured Reserve in August 2012 after he suffered ankle and heel injuries in training camp. He flashed in training camp last year before he got hurt. Trattou has decent size (6’4’’, 255 pounds) and athleticism. H has good quickness but he is not an explosive edge rusher.
Adewale Ojomo: Ojomo was signed as a rookie free agent after the 2012 NFL Draft. Ojomo was the surprise of the preseason as he accrued four sacks and made the 53-man roster. He was only active for one game in 2012. Ojomo has a nice combination of size (6’4’’, 270 pounds) and athletic ability. He is a confident player who seems to have a knack for rushing the passer even though he was not productive in doing so at the collegiate level. There have been some whispers that he has been having a disappointing training camp this year.
Summary: So much at defensive end depends on the health of Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck. When will JPP return and how effective will he be when he does, coming off of back surgery and missing the preseason? Tuck has been beat up the last few years and now his back has been bothering him too. Mathias Kiwanuka is a nice replacement for Osi Umenyiora. He should be a better run defender, but he has not proven yet he is in Umenyiora’s league when rushing the passer. Tracy is drawing comparisons to Umenyiora. Those are hard to believe but we shall see. The early news on Moore is exciting, but he’s still growing into his body. The other guys have talent, but there doesn’t seem to be room for any of them unless someone gets hurt or they dramatically out-play Tracy.
In the first few paragraphs of part one, we discussed how poorly the Giants’ secondary has played in the past two years within the confines of the equally-disappointing overall defensive performance. We then broke down the safety prospects currently on the roster. In this article, we will focus on the cornerbacks.
There are currently 10 cornerbacks on the training camp roster. The Giants are likely to keep five or possibly six at most on the 53-man roster.
Corey Webster: The Giants need Webster to rebound from a disappointing 2012 season. Webster, who accepted a pay cut in the offseason, also needs to rebound well for personal financial reasons. He is entering the final year of his current contract (he has a voidable year in 2014). There is a good chance this is Corey’s last season with the Giants.
Webster’s career has been a bit of a roller coaster. He seemed like a bust the first two years of his career until he came on late during the 2007 Super Bowl run. Since then, he’s had some outstanding seasons and a couple of sub par ones, including 2012. In his worst moments from last season, sometimes he got cleanly burned, sometimes he was in position to make a play but did not. Webster did not miss a game despite a nagging hamstring injury that plagued him much of the season and breaking his hand in September. Webster finished 2012 with 58 tackles, 13 pass defenses (most on the team), and four interceptions (second most on the team).
Webster has a nice combination of size (6’0”, 200 pounds) and athleticism. While not a blazer, he is smooth and fluid with good quickness and speed. Webster can play both man and zone coverage although he seems more comfortable in man. He is a confident and instinctive player. Webster is not terribly aggressive or physical against the run. Was 2012 an aberration for the 31-year old Webster, or the beginning of the downside of his career?
“We had a lot of errors all across the field and that’s everywhere – coaches, players, and the whole strategy,” said Webster. “So we have to use that film to try and get better. It’s always hard to use film when you lose to get better, but there’s always a silver lining. We’re doing just that. We’re correcting those mistakes, those communication errors, and those misplays so we can eliminate them now and not go into the season trying to eliminate them.”
“Corey will be better,” said Cornerbacks Coach Peter Giunta. “He’s been working very hard to come back and be a better player, become more like he was more at the end of the 2011 season when we had that run and he was very consistent in his performance. And that’s what we’re looking for, for Corey to be a consistent performer for us this year.”
“When he broke his hand, it hurt him with his press technique because he wasn’t able to put his hand on the receiver so he tried to compensate,” said Giunta. “He battled through injuries because he knew we needed him on the field for all 16 games.”
“We put him on the opponent’s best receiver most of the time (in 2011),” said Giunta. “Hopefully this year he will be able to stay at the left corner spot and provide us with the consistency that we are looking for.”
“I do know that (Corey is) coming back with a purpose and so it will be fun to see him come back in the fall,” said Defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell.
Prince Amukamara: Amukamara was drafted in the 1st round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Giants, but his initial season was a virtual wash due to him suffering a broken foot that required surgery very early in training camp. Amukamara missed most of camp, all of the preseason, and nine regular-season games because of the injury. When he did return in November, he did not appear mentally or physically comfortable on the playing field and was burned on several occasions.
2012 did not start off well either when Amukamara suffered a high ankle sprain in the preseason and missed the first two games of the regular season. He also missed a game and was limited in two others in December with a hamstring injury. But when Amukamara played, he was a very steady performer and arguably the team’s best corner. He ended up playing in 13 games, with 11 starts, and finished with 53 tackles, seven pass defenses, and one interception.
Amukamara is a well-built (6’0”, 207 pounds), aggressive, and physical corner. He has good speed and quickness. He has the tools, but what is his upside? The most important thing for him is to stay healthy.
“He’s had a very good offseason program,” said Giunta.” He’s done a great job in the strength program getting himself into the kind of shape he needs to be in and in improving his durability. He’s been here for every OTA and has made every practice. He hasn’t missed any time at all. If he continues to show that kind of devotion, he’ll continue to get better and better as a player. We want him to become a productive performer for us. We want him to make big plays and big hits and big plays for us. He has that ability to do that.”
“He understands the system well now and can go out there and execute it,” continued Giunta. “He feels so much more comfortable because he’s able to do it with his teammates now. He’s not on the sideline watching. He feels like he’s truly a part of it. Last year for him was basically his rookie season, so to have that and to build on that, to be able to come into training camp this year, he’s a different guy who’s much more confident.”
“I’d say the more I play the more confidence I get,” said Amukamara. “Now, during this offseason, just having Terrell (Thomas) just next to me and learning how much knowledge he has, that just took my game to a whole other level. He’s like a player-coach and every time he’s critiquing me on my technique or my back-pedal, just telling me, ‘You need to understand the defense. You don’t need to just worry about you’re doing, but know what the nickel is doing. That’s first-year stuff. You know what you’re doing now. Now you’re in your third year, so now know what the safety is doing and know what the nickel is doing and it will make you play a lot better and a lot faster.’”
“I think he’s still a little wet behind the ears as far as his mentality, how he attacks his daily job,’’ said Thomas. “Me and Corey have been working on him with that, letting him know just doing your job is not enough, we need more out of you. I think he’ll get it. Sometimes it takes some people a little longer than others…With Prince he’s just happy doing his job and we’re trying to get him that we need more. ‘Yeah, you had a good game, nobody caught the ball on you, but you had no pass breakups, you had no interceptions, no big plays, that’s the next step.’ He stays healthy this year, he can be very productive for us.’’
To his credit, Amukamara has high personal goals heading into 2013.
“I really want to be the number one corner on this team and I feel like right now Corey is and my goal is to always just try to beat him out and I think as soon as I establish myself as the number one corner, then hopefully just become the number one corner in the whole league,” said Amukamara. “ I know that’s going to take work, but guys that came out of my draft class are doing great: Patrick Peterson and Richard Sherman, and those are the guys I kind of compare myself to and I’m just trying to exceed all of them.”
Jayron Hosley: The Giants drafted Hosley in the 3rd round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Hosley played in 12 games with six starts, and finished the season with 40 tackles, five pass defenses, one interception, and one forced fumble. He did miss four games with hamstring, shoulder, and quadriceps injuries. The Giants seem to really like Hosley’s game, but he had an injury-prone, inconsistent, and sometimes rough rookie season, being thrust into the nickel back role perhaps sooner than he was ready.
Hosley lacks ideal stature (5’10’’, 178 pounds), but he is athletic with good speed and quickness. Hosley has good ball skills as he reacts well to the football and can make play on the ball in the air. In college, Hosley did have drug issues. If he keeps his nose clean and remains focused on football, Hosley should improve with improved technique and increased playing time. But he also needs to stay healthy. He got dinged a lot as a rookie, causing him to miss valuable practice and playing time.
“I think what happened with him, every time he started to make progress, he’d be injured and would be out 2-3 weeks, and wasn’t able to practice or compete and play in games,” said Giunta. “That’ sets you back, especially as a rookie. So take the Jets game, every time he starts to make progress, he gets hurt. Carolina game, he has a really good game making plays, and then he gets hurt. That’s unfortunate for him, so he has to learn to take care of his body better, get himself in shape and do the kind of things that he needs to do to become a more durable player because he has the talent to be a good football player at this level.”
“He’s learning,” said Giunta. “He’s becoming a better technician, playing inside and playing outside, so he’s developing those skills to play both the nickel and corner spot, and he got experience doing both last year. There’s a lot playing the nickel spot…it’s hard that way when you lose that time. You need experience to play that spot. The more experience you get, the better you’ll get. He can play any of the corner spots we need him to, so that’s huge.”
Terrell Thomas: Thomas was placed on Injured Reserve in August 2012 after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee for the third time in seven years. The first tear occurred in college and the second tear happened during the 2011 preseason. The injuries obviously put his football career in doubt.
Before suffering the second injury in the 2011 preseason, Thomas looked primed for perhaps his best season. Thomas was originally drafted in the 2nd round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Giants. In 2009 and 2010, Thomas was a very solid starting corner who made a lot of big plays but also occasionally gave up a few. In the 31 games he started during that time frame, Thomas accrued 186 tackles, 34 pass defenses, and 10 interceptions.
Thomas is a big (6’0”, 191 pound), physical corner who matches up well with bigger receivers. Pre-injury, while not a blazer, he was a good athlete with fine speed and quickness for his size. Thomas is very good in run support and a good blitzer.
The big question is obvious. Even if Thomas can stay on the field, how much ability has he lost from the back-to-back ACL tears? It is doubtful he can regain his old form, but can he come close?
“I don’t think (Thomas is) an unknown for us,” said Fewell. “We do have plans, but I don’t think he’s an unknown because he’s been with us, he’s been in our program. We understand what his skill set was. Now when he comes back what will his skill set be?”
“He’s making progress,” said Giunta. “Terrell is making good progress…We’re going to do what the offense did with Domenik Hixon, try to bring him along slowly. Give him a certain number of reps each practice to get him from the practices to the first preseason game. We’re going to try and manage him well and just give him a very limited role to start.”
“I’m able to do everything,” Thomas said in June. “It’s more just about getting comfortable and trusting myself without hesitating, without thinking, and just reacting, and I’m almost there. Physically, I haven’t swelled up in the last four months and I’ve been progressing every week. Each week I get better and faster and stronger, so it’s just a progression. I have to be realistic with myself knowing that I had two ACLs in one year and it’s a long journey. But I’ll be back and I’m going to shock a lot of people.”
“I will be ready for training camp without limitation,” Thomas said. “The amount of work I do (in training camp), I don’t know…I’m already cleared for training camp. I got three months (before the season begins) to keep getting stronger and healthy and rehab.”
“Right now, to be honest with you I feel great,” said Thomas on his website in July. “The last (few) weeks, my confidence is getting better and better. I am not 100%; I would say I am 85% to 90%. The only thing missing is real field work; going against my teammates, the grind of practice, and seeing how my knee handles all that.”
“I am excited about camp starting this week,” Thomas said. “I feel like a big question mark on defense and I love it. That makes me feel like a rookie again, nobody knows what to expect from me other than that I was a good player. Just like when I was coming into the league as a good player coming out of college, so I love that feeling. I feel like I am the X factor for the defense, I think I can be a big key for our defense this year as far as my physical play combined with my knowledge, communication, and leadership skills.”
Earlier in the offseason, General Manager Jerry Reese raised the possibility of moving Thomas to safety. That’s still a possibility but it appears the Giants and Thomas want to see if he can still play at corner. The problem is the cornerback position puts a lot of stress on the knees.
“All that safety talk, that was just based on my knee, how I come back,” Thomas said. “In that safety role, it’s kind of like the nickel. When we had the three-safety look, it’s pretty much nickel, it’s just a bigger nickel position. So I already know that position. That’s a position I played my first and second year at the nickel spot so it wouldn’t be a hard transition. I played a little safety in 2010. We had a package where I would go into the post. I had an interception, a couple tackles as well.”
“(Playing corner) it’s more being on an island,” Thomas said. “Your knee is in a more unstable situation. You have to react to the receiver. Safety is more you’re dictating. So I think that’s why Jerry Reese said that. But I already knew I’d switch to safety later in my career just because of my body type, the way I play. So I’m not scared at all. If they tell me I’m going to play kicker, I’ll play kicker.”
“(Moving Thomas to safety is) always a consideration,” said Fewell. “We’d like to find out, obviously, what his skill set is like when he comes back and how comfortable he feels in his movements.”
Aaron Ross: Ross signed with the Giants in March 2013 after he was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars. In 2012, Ross played in 14 games with nine starts for the Jaguars. He finished the year with 46 tackles and three pass defenses.
Ross was originally drafted in the 1st round of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Giants. In five seasons with the Giants, Ross started 41 regular-season games, including 15 starts in 2011, when he finished with career highs in tackles (60), pass defenses (12), and interceptions (four). Ross missed a lot of time in 2009 (hamstring) and 2010 (plantar fascia tear) with injuries.
Ross combines good size (6’0”, 197 pounds) and athleticism. He is fluid and smooth in coverage, but lacks ideal speed and quickness. There seems to be a few games every season where Ross struggles in coverage. He can be aggressive and physical in run support.
One thing is definitely clear – Ross is thrilled to be back with the Giants. And the Giants seem glad to have him back as well.
“I missed the guys, I missed the coaches, I missed the organization and it seems like everybody else missed me just as well so it seems like a mutual thing,” said Ross. “It brings a smile to my face when I came in knowing that it wasn’t just me that was missing the Giants. It was vice-versa…I am happy to be home where I feel like I belong.”
“He has done a great job at the nickel spot for us,” said Giunta. “He did a great job in the Super Bowl run playing right corner. He can play right, left, nickel. His flexibility is huge for us. We are so excited to have him back.”
“He (has) picked up where he left off,” said Giunta. “He looks really focused. His quickness is better than it was when he left. Being away for a while…It showed him how much he missed this place and missed the guys he was with and the way we run the operation here at the Giants. It’s been a breath of fresh air having him back because he really appreciates what we have here and some of the guys take it for granted, but he hasn’t and it comes across to the other guys. Hey, this is important. You guys don’t know how lucky you have it here.”
Like Webster, Ross suggests that coaches and players have needed to work together to prevent mental errors that lead to big plays.
“Where we struggle is where we make mental busts, but I think we’re doing a better job in getting the fundamentals down, learning the defense in and out and taking it rep by rep instead of moving too fast to learn the defense,” said Ross. “I think the coaches sat down this whole offseason and seen that on film. They’re doing a great job in really breaking down the defense in and out, making sure the safeties know exactly what the corners are doing and the corners know what the safeties are doing.”
Ross also thinks he can help in the leadership department.
“I feel like I’m already taking some of the younger guys under my wing and just teaching them the little things that they may not know like myself,” said Ross. “R.W. (McQuarters) and Sam (Madison) did a great job with me and Corey and Terrell Thomas just taking us in and showing us the ropes.”
Trumaine McBride: McBride was an under-the-radar signing for the Giants in January 2013. McBride was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. The Bears waived him in September 2009. Since then, he has spent time with the Cardinals, Saints, and Jaguars. Nine of McBride’s 10 NFL starts came as a rookie. He has played in 48 NFL games but only one last season with the Jaguars. McBride lacks ideal size (5’9’’, 185 pounds), but he is very quick and the Giants appear to like what they’ve seen out of him.
“We’re counting on (Webster, Amukamara, Hosley, Thomas, Ross) plus Trumaine McBride has done a tremendous job in the OTAs so far and we’re looking forward to seeing him compete in training camp,” said Giunta. “He’s a veteran. He’s played in the league and played at Chicago and has a lot of experience and a lot of quickness.”
Terrence Frederick: Frederick spent most of 2012 on the Giants’ Practice Squad but was added to the 53-man roster in December and played in two games. Frederick was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers waived him in August. Frederick lacks ideal size (5’10’’, 187 pounds) and speed, but he is an aggressive, instinctive player who has experience playing in the slot.
Laron Scott: Scott spent 2012 on the Giants’ Practice Squad. He was signed by the Giants in August 2012 after being waived by the New Orleans Saints. The Saints had signed Scott as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2012 NFL Draft. Scott lacks ideal size for a corner (5’9’’, 184 pounds). He can return kicks and punts and had a 67-yard kickoff return for the Saints in their first preseason game.
Charles James: James was signed by the Giants as a rookie free agent after the 2013 NFL Draft. James lacks ideal size (5’9’’, 179 pounds) and speed, but he is a quick, tough, instinctive corner who makes plays on the football. He has experience as a punt returner.
“Very quick athlete,” Giunta said of James. “Very good change of direction. Very good ball skills, like his toughness.”
Junior Mertile: The Giants signed Mertile in May 2013 after he impressed at the rookie mini-camp as tryout player. Mertile has good size (6’1’’, 197 pounds) and excellent speed.
Summary: Giunta says the top five guys are Webster, Amukamara, Hosley, Thomas, and Ross. The Giants need Webster to bounce back, Amukamara to stay healthy and take that next step, and Hosley to stay healthy and develop. If not, then the Giants are going to have issues at corner. Thomas is the wild card. It’s probably not realistic to expect him to be able to play at a high level again, but if he does, that will help tremendously. The return of Ross may be a bigger deal than most fans realize. McBride, Frederick, Scott, James, and Mertile are the longshots. But Giunta did have good things to say about McBride and James.
Aside from the 6-game run to finish the 2011 season, and a game here or there, the New York Giants’ defense has been brutally bad the last two seasons. The statistics don’t lie. In 2012, the Giants finished 31st in total defense. The defense allowed 6,134 yards, or 383.4 yards a game, both the highest figures in franchise history. The defense also gave up 6,022 yards in the 2011. These are the only two seasons in which the Giants allowed 6,000 yards in their history.
In 2012, the New York Giants allowed 60 passes of 20 or more yards (the NFL’s fourth-highest total), 29 passes of at least 30 yards (led the NFL), and 13 passes of 40 or more yards (second in the league).
The Giants have invested a lot of resources in terms of draft picks, free agent acquisitions, and salary cap space in the secondary. But the returns have not been good. The Giants were 29th in pass defense in 2011 and 28th in pass defense in 2012. Now to be fair, good pass defense encompasses all three levels of the defense: pass rush, linebacker coverage, and defensive back coverage. But there is no denying the New York Giants secondary has not performed up to expectations. Over-hyped and inconsistent players, questionable coaching, injuries, or a combination may be to blame, but quarterbacks on other teams have looked forward to throwing against this secondary.
Do the Giants have the players to improve their pass coverage? Can the coaching staff put these players in best position to succeed? The defense first needs to stop the run to get opposing offenses into more predictable passing situations. But to be blunt, the secondary has not done a good job of covering people. It’s scary to think just how much worse the pass defense would have been had it not been for New York’s 21 interceptions last season (more than a third of them from bargain-basement surprise safety Stevie Brown).
There are currently eight safeties on the Giants’ training camp roster. At most, the Giants will keep five on the 53-man roster. Former 1st-rounder Kenny Phillips signed a relatively cheap deal with the Philadelphia Eagles. While it’s clear the Giants were worried about the long-term health viability of his reconstructed knee, his departure is also a cause for concern. The Giants need to find an adequate replacement.
Antrel Rolle: Rolle was originally drafted as a cornerback in the 1st round of the 2005 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals. After three inconsistent seasons at corner, the Cardinals moved him to free safety in 2008, where he excelled. Rolle was signed by the Giants in March 2010 after the Cardinals cut him in a salary-related move.
Rolle has never missed a game with the Giants. For the second season in a row, he finished with 96 tackles, two interceptions, and one forced fumble. He also had five pass defenses in 2012 (four in 2011). One of the better coverage safeties in the game, Rolle has good speed and range. Due to his experience as a cornerback, unlike most safeties, Rolle can play man coverage and has often been called upon to play the slot corner position. That said, Rolle hasn’t made a lot of plays on the football with the Giants (a total of five interceptions and 13 pass defenses in three seasons). Somewhat of a mouthy malcontent when he came to New York, Rolle has become one of the leaders of the defense.
“What’s helping ’Trel now is understanding the Giants’ way, the Giants’ system,’’ said DE Justin Tuck. “He wasn’t accustomed to that when he came in. He was more accustomed to (University of) Miami, things of that nature. Now I think he’s a lot smarter with some of the things he says in the media and some of the things he says in the locker room, and I think he’s gonna be a huge part of our leadership and success of the football team.’’
Rolle’s biggest problem? By far, he’s the highest paid defensive player on the team with $7 million in salary (and a $9.25 million overall cap hit) in both 2013 and 2014. In the latter year, only Eli Manning is currently scheduled to take up more cap space.
The Giants are hoping that they can play Rolle more at free safety this year. Injuries to other players have forced him to play both strong safety and nickel back.
“I truly believe that Antrel needs to get back to playing with great depth and vision off the quarterback,” said Safeties Coach David Merritt. “Because he’s not going to be down in that nickel role. I say that right now, but you know how that’s gone the past two years when he’s been forced down there with injuries. Hopefully Antrel can do what we paid him to come here to do, which is to play safety and be a playmaker back there for us.”
“We always shoot for (me concentrating on safety) each and every year,” said Rolle. “We always shoot for me to play the safety role and stay at the safety role but it’s never happened, unfortunately. At one point in time I would get frustrated…It’s a part of growing up, a part of being professional and most important a part of just being a team player and doing whatever you have to do in order for this team to be successful.’’
“With him wearing 15 different hats on the field and he’s able to make plays from all 15 spots, just imagine what he can do if he’s able to concentrate on one,” said Stevie Brown. “There’s no limit to what he can do.”
Perry Fewell is obviously counting on Rolle to be the leaders of the secondary. “He’s got to be the glue that keeps us together,” said Fewell.
“At safety I have to be a little more disciplined playing the position being that I’m the last guy in the line of defense so I just transfer my mind to understand my role and understand where my help is going to be and where I need to be the protector and where you can take those little slight chances and gambles,” said Rolle.
“My defensive mantra is just to be more consistent,” said Rolle. “To be more consistent and have more dog in us on a daily basis, on an every down basis. There were times out there, I felt, that as a defensive unit we went out there and we played exceptional, we played like the Super Bowl caliber team that we were. Then there were times we went out there and played like the 9-7 team that we were. As a defensive unit you can’t have the ups and downs because we all know that defense wins the game. We all know that. With the quarterback that we have, with the offense we have, they are always going to put points on the board. We expect that. So we just have to make sure we limit (the other team’s scoring).”
Stevie Brown: Brown came out of nowhere and had a tremendous season in 2012, intercepting more passes in a single season by a Giant in 44 years. Brown played in all 16 games, started 11, and finished with 76 tackles, 11 pass defenses, eight interceptions, and two forced fumbles. Brown was originally drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the 7th round of the 2010 NFL Draft. The Raiders cut him the following year and he signed with the Colts. The Colts declined to tender him in 2012 and he then signed with the Giants.
Brown has excellent size and strength for a safety. He’s got pretty good speed for his size, but he lacks overall quickness and agility that you see in smaller safeties. In 2012, the ball just seemed to find its way into Brown’s hands. Sometimes it was a lucky bounce or bad throw, but to his credit, Brown also made aggressive plays on the football. The million dollar question is was 2012 a fluke? Right now, Brown is penciled in as the starting strong safety.
“I look at it as my spot,” said Brown. “It’s my spot to keep.”
Brown needs to become more consistent and avoid mental breakdowns that lead to big plays by the opposing team. As a big, physical safety, he should also be a bigger factor in run defense than he was in 2012.
“Stevie and I have been hanging out a lot more just outside of football, talking and communicating, whether it’s going to watch a basketball game or a movie,” said Rolle. “I’m just trying to get a feel for what kind of guy he is and he’s trying to get a feel for what kind of guy I am because at the end of the day, we’re going to be married back there, free safety and strong safety. We have to make this marriage last.”
“His study and his ability to take coaching, he was a sponge last year,” said Merritt of Brown. “His film study and understanding that the post safety plays at a certain depth and the post safety has to be able play between a certain parts of the field. I am very impressed with Stevie and I truly believe that he can continue making those types of plays for us.”
Ryan Mundy: Mundy was signed by the Giants as an unrestricted free agent from the Pittsburgh Steelers in March 2013. Mundy was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Steelers. After spending his rookie season on Pittsburgh’s Practice Squad, Mundy hasn’t missed a game in the last four seasons, and has started five times.
Mundy was an under-the-radar signing by the Giants. The word on him coming out of Pittsburgh is that he a very physical safety who hits hard and plays well on special teams, but who also struggled at times against the pass.
That said, David Merritt has talked about Mundy with great enthusiasm. Merritt says that Mundy is the leading candidate for the third safety position that Deon Grant played so well for the Giants in 2010-11. ”Ryan Mundy, that’s a guy who I’m impressed with,” said Merritt. “With his ability and his smarts, he would be the third (safety).”
Merritt also likes Mundy’s leadership. “If the season at all starts to dip and players start to slack, I’m gonna lean on him,” said Merritt of Mundy.
“I think I’m a physical player,” said Mundy. “I like to get in the box and mix it up with the bigger guys, knock around a running back, the tight ends, fullbacks.”
Mundy says being with the Steelers has prepared him well. “I know how to work, I know how to practice, I know how to focus in meetings,” said Mundy.
“Mundy’s definitely a professional, definitely a student of the game also. He wants to learn,” said Rolle. “He’s another guy who asks a lot of questions because he’s not so familiar with this defense…I think he plays the safety position extremely well…I’m happy to have him here.”
Will Hill: Hill was a top-ranked athlete coming out of high school in New Jersey, but off-the-field issues at the University of Florida caused him to go undrafted and unsigned as a junior entry in 2011. The Giants invited him to the May 2012 rookie mini-camp on a tryout basis and signed him after that camp ended. Hill not only made the 53-man roster last season, but he became an important reserve, despite being suspended for four games by the NFL for using Adderall. Hill played in 12 games and finished 2012 with 38 tackles, two pass defenses, and one forced fumble.
Hill has average size for the position, but he is a very good athlete with fine speed and quickness. He is a physical player and tackles well. He also is a very good special teams player. Physically, Hill looks and plays like an NFL starter. The questions with him are mental. Can he stay focused on football? Can he keep his nose clean? That is looking more unlikely as it was announced on July 20 that Hill has been suspended by the NFL for four regular-season games again, this time for apparently using illegal drugs. Hill’s future with the Giants and the NFL is now very much in doubt.
“Will is an excellent talent,” said Merritt. “He’s athletic. He’s fast. He will strike you. Will brings a lot to the table. Hopefully he steps up. He is able to produce and we can put him in special roles that will help us out.”
Cooper Taylor: Taylor was selected in the 5th round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Giants. Taylor is a huge safety with very good timed-speed, agility, and overall athleticism for his size.
“He has played strong and free safety, and we are playing him as the WILL (weakside) linebacker in sub defense,” said Merritt. “Runs a 4.4. He is just a big man and very smart. Right now (his head) is spinning because he is playing multiple positions.”
“I think what he’s going to bring to it is a lot of special teams play hopefully, a lot of production for us on special teams,” said Merritt. “If he has to go in the game right now, he would be the fourth safety because Ryan Mundy is doing pretty well. But this kid is going to be good for us. I think he’s at that point right now where he’s overloaded because he’s trying to play safety and linebacker which is a lot, so it’s a little overwhelming for him but he has the metal capacity to where he can actually learn it and produce.”
Taylor says there are key differences when playing the weakside linebacker in the sub-defense and safety roles. “There’s definitely some differences in terms of the drops,” said Taylor. “Playing from top–down rather than bottom-up in terms of the safeties trying to read the quarterback; and coming from the topside where the WILL is doing something a little different reading route combinations and getting underneath routes. So it’s definitely two different learning processes. But it’s good. The coaches teach us to do stuff well, so it’s been a good learning curve so far.”
“More than anything, he’s shown that he’s a guy who’s eager to learn,” said Rolle. “He wants to learn. He’s a guy who’s very intrigued by this defense. He wants to understand this defense without making mistakes. And everyone is going to make a mistake. It doesn’t matter if you’re a rookie or a 15-year veteran. You’re going to make mistakes in this league. He is a guy who’s athletic and big. He moves around extremely well. So we’re definitely going to look for him to come in on certain kind of packages and just be a playmaker for us wherever they put him.”
“To be able to get a young man like that who also has the mental capacity and is very smart, that’s the type of guy we had a couple of years ago in Craig Dahl,” said Merritt. “(Dahl) was able to line up the defense, which is what Cooper Taylor is doing already. He can line up the defense. He understands rotations. It is James Butler all over again as well, yet he is a better athlete than those guys were.”
Tyler Sash: Sash saw his playing time significantly decrease in 2012. First, he was suspended for four games by the NFL for using Adderall. In early December, he suffered a hamstring and despite being able to return to practice, Sash did not play in the last four games of the season. Sash played in just seven games and finished with only eight tackles.
Sash was drafted in the 6th round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Giants. As a rookie, he played in every game and finished the regular season with 17 tackles and one forced fumble on defense. He also was one of team’s better special teams players. Sash is more of a strong safety-type who plays better closer to the line. He has good size, but lacks ideal speed and agility.
David Caldwell: The Giants signed Caldwell to a Reserve/Future deal in January 2013. Caldwell was originally signed by the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2010 NFL Draft. He spent his rookie season on Injured Reserve. In 2011, he played in 16 games with 13 starts and accrued 67 tackles and four pass defenses. The Colts waived him in August 2012.
Caldwell lacks ideal height but he is well-built and a good athlete. He’s a smart player and a reliable tackler. Caldwell did not make many plays on the football when starting for the Colts.
Alonzo Tweedy: Tweedy was signed by the Giants as a rookie free agent after the 2013 NFL Draft. Tweedy was a part-time starter in a linebacker/safety role at Virginia Tech. He has a nice size/speed combination, but was primarily known more for his excellent special teams play in college.
Summary: Until Will Hill’s suspension, the early favorites to make the 53-man roster were Rolle, Brown, Mundy, Hill, and Taylor. Rolle will obviously start at one safety spot, but one wonders if he will become a cap casualty in 2014. It’s hard to see Brown duplicating his turnover production again, but it may be more important for him to simply become a more consistent, reliable player on a down-to-down basis against the pass and the run. Mundy seemed like a ho-hum signing in March, but Merritt has been raving about him. Still, Steelers fans were underwhelmed. Hill and Taylor both have excellent physical tools. Taylor is extremely smart, but Hill’s second drug suspension raises serious questions about his future with the team. Hill’s troubles may have opened the door for Sash, Caldwell, or Tweedy, three players who are going to have to fight and scratch to make the team.
If a tight end can’t block, he won’t play for the New York Giants. It’s that simple. In the Giants’ system, blocking is as critical, if not more important, than pass receiving. The traditional down tight end (hand in the dirt, lined up next to the offensive tackle) is often called upon to block not only linebackers, but defensive ends as well. The problem is that quality two-way tight ends are hard to find. With the proliferation of spread offenses in college, the two-way tight end is disappearing at many schools. There are 32 NFL teams and a very limited supply of quality prospects coming out in the NFL Draft. One-dimensional, pass-receiving, H-Back types (motion tight ends who often do not line up in a down position) are more plentiful, but the Giants’ offense does not tend to feature these types of players.
The good news is the Giants have 71-year old Mike Pope, arguably the best tight ends coach in the NFL. He’s been with the Giants seemingly forever (1984-1991, 2000-present) under head coaches Bill Parcells, Ray Handley, Jim Fassel, and Tom Coughlin. Pope has a history of developing players with good size and just enough athletic ability into solid, two-way tight ends.
The tight end position has been a bit of turnstile for the Giants since Jeremy Shockey (2002-2007) was traded to the Saints in July 2008. Since then, the primary tight end on the Giants has changed from Kevin Boss (2008-2010) to Jake Ballard (2011) to Martellus Bennett (2012) and now to Brandon Myers (2013).
Including Myers, there are six tight ends on the Giants’ current training camp roster. Historically, the team tends to keep three tight ends on the 53-man roster.
Brandon Myers: Myers was signed by the Giants as an unrestricted free agent from the Oakland Raiders in March 2013. He was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Raiders. Myers had a breakout season for the Raiders in 2012, catching 79 passes for 806 yards and four touchdowns. His 16 regular-season starts in 2012 were more than all of the starts he had combined his first three years in the NFL. His 79 catches also dwarfed the 32 he had from 2009-2011.
Myers lacks the size that the Giants usually look for in their primary tight end. He’s only listed at 6’3’’, 256 pounds. The Giants usually like their tight ends an inch or two taller and 15-20 pounds heavier. He’s also not very fast or quick for the position – the Raiders used him more as a short- to intermediate-receiver. But Myers seems to be a smart, heady player with just enough athleticism, a feel for getting open, and good hands. His blocking was reportedly subpar in Oakland last year. A painful shoulder injury (sprained AC joint) could have been a factor. Still his lack of size and strength is worrisome in the blocking department.
“We think he’ll be a great piece to our offense and I think (Eli Manning) will have a relationship with him really quickly,” said General Manager Jerry Reese.
“He is a good receiver,” said Pope. “I think at the Raiders he was more of an intermediate receiver. And now our passing game does allow the tight end to get more vertically down the field – flag routes – double seam routes – post routes – that kind of thing. And he appears to have the skills to get those balls. He has a little bit of a jet that can accelerate and go get a ball that is a little deeper. You may not think he is going to reach it, but he has that little bit. So we are very interested to see him in pads.”
“I’m with a great organization, a proven team with a proven quarterback, in an offense that if you’re a tight end and you can get open, you’ll get a lot of opportunities to catch the ball,” said Myers.
“Obviously, my blocking (in Oakland) wasn’t up to par,” said Myers. “But we kind of went over some things, (Pope’s) technique that he could teach me to help me out, so I think it will be a good fit.”
Coughlin doesn’t appear concerned about his blocking. “He’s a well-rounded tight end,” said Coughlin. “He’s a blocker in the running game as well. We’re looking forward to that.”
Bear Pascoe: The Giants picked up Pascoe in 2009 after the 49ers cut him as a rookie. Pascoe is a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none type of player whose strength is his overall versatility. Pascoe plays tight end, H-Back, and even some fullback for the Giants. In fact, he filled in at fullback for the bulk of the 2010 season when Madison Hedgecock was placed on Injured Reserve. And Pascoe may have to do so again in 2013 with Henry Hynoski’s knee injury casting doubt on his availability.
Pascoe does not really stand out as a blocker or receiver, and needs to improve his productivity and consistency in both areas. But Pascoe is big (6’5”, 283 pounds), solid, and dependable. Pascoe finished the 2012 with only four catches for 35 yards and one touchdown. In four seasons with the Giants, he has 26 catches for 252 yards and one score.
“We’re very confident that Bear, no matter what role we place him in, he does an outstanding job,” said Coughlin. “Bear has had opportunities to play in that slot, B tight end, Y tight end, and he’s always done a nice job.”
“This is kind of what I do. This is my role,” Pascoe said. “The more I can do, the better it is for the team. It’s one of the reason I’ve been here for five years, is I have versatility.”
“(Pascoe) has had to do that for us whenever the fullback has been hurt,” said Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride. “It hasn’t been Henry (Hynoski) but it was Madison Hedgecock before. And so he has done a great job with that. It is not an easy thing. He is not a natural fullback but he is one of those guys that just whatever you ask him to do, he goes out and does it with as much courage and determination as anybody. As a result of that he plays above – sometimes – what your expectations might be. We asked him to do a very difficult role – he does it very well.”
Pope thinks having Pascoe playing fullback may make the Giants’ offense less predictable. “Bear has played a good bit of fullback for us,” said Pope. “Actually he played about 160 snaps at fullback last season. So he is aware of the assignments. There are still some finite things that he can get better at there. But it gives us a great deal of flexibility because when Hynoski is in the game they pretty well know that there are some limitations as to where he will line up. He is pretty much a backfield player. When we can put Bear in with one of these other guys, now we can do a lot more things as far as open formations – a little more difficult for the defense to predict where they can’t just key on one of the those guys and say the ball is going there. So that helps us.”
Adrien Robinson: 2012 was mainly a redshirt year for Adrien Robinson, who the Giants drafted in the 4th round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Robinson made the 53-man roster, but was only activated for two games. He did not catch a single pass. Robinson combines good size with excellent athleticism. He has very good speed and agility for a big tight end. However, he is a very raw player who will need a lot of coaching up. He was not targeted much in college (only 29 receptions in four years), but he displayed an ability to get down the field, adjust to the football, and make the difficult catch. Robinson has the physical ability to be a good blocker.
Because Robinson’s college has trimesters, he missed Organized Team Activity (OTA) practices his rookie season. “I think going through OTAs this year, seeing how slowly the coaches install the plays and understanding how everything feeds off each other, I realize that I did miss a lot last year by coming in so late and trying to jumpstart everything,” Robinson said. “I’ve been here since the (offseason) program started, and it’s a new year. I’m just trying to work my way up.”
“I think the biggest improvement I’ve made is in my understanding of the offense and knowing the plays, my assignments, where to line up, and how to read the defenses,” said Robinson. “Last year, I didn’t get many game reps, so I had to watch a lot, which helped, but it’s not the same as lining up on the field.”
“The biggest thing I want to show the coaches is that I fully understand the offense,” said Robinson. “I understand everything that’s going on, and I want to earn their trust. Once they are confident that you know what you’re doing, you’ll get on the field.”
“Adrien Robinson appears to have gone into the Land of the Believers and yes he has been making some good progress,” said Pope. “He is understanding assignment-wise. But the plays are still not the lines on the page that we give them for instruction. So he is doing a lot of the assignment things correctly. Now we have to get him to adjust to the way the defense is playing on each particular play and to make the best decisions based on how the defense is playing. But he is running well and he has his weight down some. The quarterback is starting to find him. He is hard to miss – he is the tallest tree in the forest out there. So he is a good target. But we are more than mildly pleased with the progress that he has made from an assignment standpoint.”
“Adrien was in that group of guys who came in, didn’t really know much about working with an offensive tackle on a double team block or how do you read coverages, what happens if they blitz here, what do I do?” said Pope in June. “It has taken him some time to learn and feel a little more comfortable. His speed and athletic skills did not surface as quickly as we hoped because he was thinking his way through every single play which slowed him down. Now he’s developing some confidence and he knows a little bit more about what he is doing. These last three or four weeks have been the very best weeks of his Giant career.”
“Wish we could have gotten him in some games more last year, but it just didn’t work out for us to get him in some games,” said Reese. “But we really think – the guy is 280 pounds, he ran a 4.57 (40-yard dash) at his Pro Day, and we think he can really develop into a terrific blocker. In practice, he flashed some things that were really like some ‘Wow’ things in practice. So we’re expecting him to make a jump this season and get in and get going and give us some contributions as our big blocking tight end. And he can catch the ball really nice. So we expect to bring him along, and hopefully he’ll contribute for us.”
Larry Donnell: Donnell went undrafted and unsigned in 2011. The Giants signed him as a street free agent in March 2012 and Donnell spent 2012 on the Giants’ Practice Squad. Donnell has excellent size (6’6”, 270 pounds) and is a good athlete. However, he is raw and needs a lot of coaching. Unfortunately, Donnell missed most of the spring work with a right foot or ankle injury that forced him to wear a walking boot.
Jamie Childers: The Giants signed Jamie Childers to a Reserve/Future contract in January 2013. Childers was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the St. Louis Rams after the 2012 NFL Draft. The Rams waived him in August. Childers needs a lot of technique work not only because of his small school background but because he played both quarterback and tight end in college. Lacking bulk (6’5”, 250 pounds), Childers is built more like an H-Back than true tight end. He’s athletic and has good hands. He probably will never be more than a finesse blocker. According to press reports, Childers did flash as a receiver in spring workouts.
Chase Clement: Clement was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Giants after the 2013 NFL Draft. In college, Clement converted to tight from defensive end. He has good size (6’6”, 262 pounds) and strength and could develop as a blocking-type tight end with better technique. He was not used much as a receiver in college with only 14 career receptions in four seasons. Clement isn’t overly fast.
“When I first looked at (Clement) I had visions of Jake Ballard,” said Pope. “Just because he was a good blocker on the goal line. (LSU) seldom ever threw him the ball. But when the ball was snapped he had kind of that tough-guy mentality – old school. But he really had a motor…He is not going to be an all-world receiver way down the field as far as being explosive and flexible, but he has pretty good football savvy…I think there is something to work with there.”
Summary: Brandon Myers is clearly the #1 guy heading into training camp and will likely be the Giants’ primary tight end, though due to his size, it would be easy to see the Giants using him some at H-Back too. Myers could be the type of receiver who Manning quickly develops chemistry with. But Myers needs to block better than he did last year in Oakland. Pascoe is a limited athlete and his attention will be split between fullback, H-Back, and tight end. The real question is how fast can Adrien Robinson develop? He has the size to be a good blocker and the athletic abiity to be a good receiver. Can he put it all together, and if so, how quickly? Don’t completely discount Donnell (two-way tools), Childers (receiver), and Clement (blocker) either, but their best shot is probably the Practice Squad unless someone gets hurt.
Offseason Breakdown: New York Giants Running Backs
In the long and storied history of the Giants, five of the franchise’s top six all-time rushers have played in the last 30 years. There was the Joe Morris (5,296 yards) era, the Rodney Hampton (6,897) era, the Tiki Barber (10,449) era, and the Brandon Jacobs/Ahmad Bradshaw (9,081) era.
Are David Wilson and Andre Brown mentally and physically prepared to pick up the mantel? Not only were Jacobs and Bradshaw productive running backs, but they provided a lot of emotion and leadership to the team. “We’ve got a tradition of great running backs here that have established themselves as leaders on this team,” said Running Backs Coach Jerald Ingram.
In addition, who else will round out the backfield? There are currently five running backs (not counting fullback Henry Hynoski) vying for three or four roster spots. Let’s look at the candidates:
Andre Brown: Many assume David Wilson will start, but Andre Brown was ahead of him on the depth chart last year and Head Coach Tom Coughlin may feel that Wilson is better suited as a change-of-pace back and someone who should get fewer touches given his size. On the other hand, Coughlin may trust Brown more with blitz pick-ups on third down and thus Brown may be the one coming off of the bench.
After rupturing his Achilles’ tendon with the Giants in 2009, spending time with four different teams in 2010, and spending all of 2011 on the Giants’ practice squad, Brown surprised everyone by winning the Giants’ #2 running back job in 2012. Indeed, at times, Brown seemed more productive running the football than Ahmad Bradshaw. Before Brown broke his leg in November, he had accrued 385 yards and eight touchdowns on 73 carries, averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
Brown has a nice combination of size (6’0’’, 227 pounds) and athletic ability. He is no-nonsense, north-south, downhill runner with some power to his game. Brown performed well in short-yardage and goal line situations last season. He has good hands as a receiver. Brown’s biggest issue right now is that he has to prove he can stay healthy.
“Andre is healthy,” said Ingram. “(Vice President of Medical Services) Ronnie Barnes has done a great job with him right now. He’s motivated. It’s an opportunity for him. He’s been waiting a lifetime around here for that. We brought him in here because he can catch the ball, he can run, he can do a lot of things and be a complete running back here and he’s definitely a true every down kind of guy because he’s got size, speed and quickness. We saw some things out of him a year ago, which was great and it’s a great opportunity for him.”
“Andre has continued to grow,” said Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride. “And he has continued to get better (this spring). You feel more and more confident (about him). He has actually gotten to a point where you feel better about third-down. First and second-down is one important step. But the next step is can you be a third-down back because of the complexity of what people are doing with their defensive schemes?”
Brown realizes the tremendous opportunity in front of him. “I still feel like I’ve got a lot to prove and first I just want to have a healthy season and then go out there and just be productive and help this team win games and championships and that’s what it’s all about,” said Brown.
Early in the offseason, Brown stated that he wanted to rush for 1,300 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2013. He has since toned down his remarks. “I ain’t worried about the carries, I’m not worried about yards, or who’s got the most touchdowns,” said Brown. “I’m just worried about both of us (Wilson and Brown) working together and being effective for the team and having a positive running game.”
But Brown still thinks the Giants are capable of having two 1,000-yard rushers on the same team, a feat accomplished by Jacobs and Derrick Ward in 2008. “It ain’t like they haven’t produced two 1,000-yard backs before in the same season,” said Brown. “I believe that we’re capable of doing that.”
Brown also recognizes there is a leadership void that needs to be filled. “The first couple years we had Brandon, we had Ahmad – those guys were more of the vocal leaders in the room,” Brown said. “I’d just sit back and watch and listen. But now it’s like OK, they showed me the way, and now I’ve gotta step up and be more talkative in the room.”
David Wilson: Last season, Wilson did not see double-digit carries until December and finished the season with 358 yards and four touchdowns on 71 carries (5.0 yards per carry). He only caught four passes for 34 yards and a touchdown. Most of Wilson’s damage came on special teams where he set a team record with 1,533 kickoff return yards, averaging 26.9 yards per return.
David Wilson is very young, having just turned 22 in June. Wilson did not play as much as expected his rookie season, but when he did, he flashed great explosive ability. He also demonstrated a more physical running style than you would anticipate from a 5’9’’, 205 pound running back. And that’s the biggest worry with Wilson – is he big enough not only to take the pounding at the pro level as a ball carrier, but is he big and physical enough to take on blitzing linebackers? The coaches also won’t play him a lot until they believe that he is mentally ready to decipher the complicated blitz packages opposing teams will throw at him, especially on third down.
“I have to be really precise in practice and give the coaches confidence,” said Wilson. “Pass blocking…that’s an area that I definitely need to show the coaches that I can handle.”
“You see a guy like David Wilson who started with no clue on who to block, much less how to block, to a pretty good understanding of what it is that he has to do (during spring practices),” said Gilbride. “Now it is a matter of doing it. And it is a matter of getting better at it. He is still not 100%. He still makes mistakes but there has certainly been some significant, some significant growth. Now until you get the pads on – and he has to show that he, as a smaller guy, can do the things necessary that other small backs in this league have done – you are still kind of holding your breath when you see him.
“But his approach has been great; his attitude in terms of trying to work on that aspect of the game. As a running back, what do you want to do? You want to run the ball. That is all you want to do. You don’t want to do anything else. But he realizes that in order to get the playing time that he wants to get that he is going to have to become a pass receiver; he is going to have to become a good pass protector. And he is going to have to do the things that maybe don’t fall into the strict definition of running the football. But the good thing is that he has been working his tail off.”
“I definitely see progress (in his pass protection),” said Ingram. “I think he’s got a clear understanding as far as what our protections are, what is expected of him, but until you actually physically ask that individual to do that full speed and full gear, we’re not exactly doing that right now. But I think when we go to camp, he knows what his goals are right now and what he has to accomplish to be a complete running back and contribute on our team. I think we’ll get that out of him. He’ll be a much improved player from that situation this year.
“(Wilson) has the talent, has the speed, has a few plays from a year ago underneath his belt. Once we put the pads on, we’ll see who is physical, who’s determined to make plays out there… I think he’s a playmaker… I think we’ll take advantage of his natural ability as much as we can…He’s got to be a guy that Eli can trust in every situation possible and we’ll go from there, but right now I think he’s on track.”
“I’m a lot less nervous, and more comfortable with the offense,” Wilson said. “Going out there now, I can just play football, and run the play that’s called, and not really have to stress as much.”
Speaking of his friendly competition with Brown, Wilson said, “We’re both working hard, and we’re going to play off each other. He’s a bigger back, and I’ve got breakaway speed. We can make things happen.”
Wilson does want to continue to return kicks, but it is unknown whether the Giants will give him that role in 2013. “On kickoff return I definitely want to be a part of that,” said Wilson. “I really enjoy that part of the game and any way I can help the team I’m willing to do it and I definitely want to be back there.”
“(Wilson) would like to (return kicks),” said Special Teams Coordinator Tom Quinn. “He’s done it very well, but we’ll have to see how it all comes down with where he is on the depth chart and what he’s doing on offense… I don’t think it’s too much to do both, but I’m not making all the decisions.”
Da’Rel Scott: Andre Brown and David Wilson are clearly 1a and 1b in terms of the running back pecking order (and it’s not clear who “a” and “b” are at this point). The #3 job is wide open. Da’Rel Scott is the forgotten back on this team, mostly because he has hardly played in the last two seasons since being drafted in the 7th round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Giants. In two years, he has a total of 25 yards on 11 carries. Scott was placed on Injured Reserve in October 2012 after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee.
Scott has adequate size (5’11’’, 210 pounds). He is very fast and is a threat to break a big play every time he touches the ball. However, it still remains to be seen if Scott has the instincts, toughness, elusiveness, and power to succeed at the NFL level on a consistent basis. There simply is not enough to go on yet in order to fully evaluate him.
Coughlin did mention Scott during the June mini-camp. “Da’Rel Scott has had a few good days,” said Coughlin.
Last August, Ingram was asked about Scott. “We saw some things out of Da’Rel (in 2011),” said Ingram. “He’s linear, he can get up field, he’s got good finish speed when he gets going. Where he is right now, he hasn’t been on the field an awful lot. We haven’t played him in a game. Hopefully, we can get him in the game and see what he can do. I want, and we want to see an every down kind of guy, who has some size, who has some quickness, who has some finish speed, who can catch the ball out of the backfield, but can he be a continuous play maker? Can he take care of our quarterback? That’s what we want to see out of him. Until we actually get into these games, who knows?”
Ryan Torain: The Giants signed Ryan Torain in November 2012 as a street free agent. He played in two games but did not touch the football. Torain was originally drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 5th round of the 2008 NFL Draft. Torain was waived by the Broncos in August 2009. He signed with the Washington Redskins in 2010 and spent time on both Washington’s 53-man roster and Practice Squad. The Redskins waived Torain in December 2011. Torain’s best year was in 2010 with the Redskins when he rushed for 742 yards and four touchdowns on 164 carries (4.5 yards per carry) and caught 18 passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns.
Torain is a tough, physical runner with good size (6’0’’, 220 pounds). He lacks ideal speed and elusiveness. Torain also has been somewhat injury prone, something that popped up again in the spring as Torain was sidelined with a hamstring issue.
Michael Cox: Michael Cox was drafted in the 7th round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Giants. He originally played at the University of Michigan before transferring to the University of Massachusetts. Cox is a big (6’0’’, 220 pounds), strong back with decent speed and elusiveness. He catches the ball well.
“He’s a big and powerful elusive guy with speed, so he’s got a lot of things that we like about him,” said General Manager Jerry Reese on the day the Giants drafted Cox.
“Runs hard, he’s got size, he’s got really, really good hands, excellent hands, got a little burst to him,” said Vice President of Player Evaluation Marc Ross. “Real good kid. Our coaches were impressed with him so we were happy we’re getting a big, fast guy who runs hard that late in the draft.”
Cox was regularly mentioned by the Giants’ beat writers as someone who flashed during the spring workouts, showing more nimbleness than anticipated. Coughlin also mentioned him the June mini-camp. “The young kid (Cox) continues to do some good things,” said Coughlin.
Summary: There really are two running back competitions heading into training camp. The first is to determine the “starter” – David Wilson or Andre Brown – though in reality, both will play a lot so the label probably does not mean as much to the team as it does to the fans. The second competition is who will be the #3 back and will someone show enough to convince the Giants to keep four running backs?
The linebacker position on the Giants has been unsettled for quite some time. For the older fans, who had the pleasure to watch players such as Sam Huff, Harry Carson, Brad Van Pelt, Lawrence Taylor, Carl Banks, and Jessie Armstead, it has been frustrating.
When the Giants shifted from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defense in the 1990s, the personnel emphasis naturally shifted from spending premium resources on linebackers to defensive linemen. And that trend has continued under General Manager Jerry Reese.
Since Reese became general manager of the Giants in 2007, in seven drafts, the Giants have drafted seven linebackers, including players in the second, fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds. Only two remain on the roster – sixth-rounders Adrian Tracy and Jacquian Williams. Tracy, a defensive end in college, was drafted as a linebacker and has since been moved back to defensive end. Gone by the wayside are Bryan Kehl, Jonathan Goff, Clint Sintim, Phillip Dillard, and Greg Jones.
In free agency under Reese, the Giants have signed Kawika Mitchell, Danny Clark, Michael Boley, Keith Bulluck, Dan Connor, Aaron Curry, and Kyle Bosworth. The latter three were signed this offseason.
The Giants also traded away their fifth round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft for Keith Rivers.
It’s obviously too early to comment on Connor, Curry, and Bosworth, but of all of the rest, since 2007, only Boley became an established, multi-year starter for the Giants. (After four seasons as a starter, Boley was released this offseason). If we’re being honest, to date, Reese’s track record in addressing the linebacking position has not been good.
With Boley and free agent departure Chase Blackburn no longer on the roster, and Mathias Kiwanuka moving back to defensive end, the Giants will have three new starters at linebacker in 2013. That’s quite a turnover. And it is conceivable that the three new starters in 2013 will be castoffs Rivers, Connor, and Curry. In fact, if you could turn back the clock and tell a Giants fan in April 2008 that the Rivers, Connor, and Curry would be starting for Big Blue in few years, the response would have been, “How the hell did Reese pull that off?” We’ll have to see if they can turn their careers around and regain former collegiate glory.
The Giants currently have nine linebackers on the roster. They will probably keep seven on the 53-man roster, especially since linebackers usually make good special teams players. But it is possible that they could keep as few as six.
“(Our linebackers) actually had a good spring,” said Head Coach Tom Coughlin at the end of mini-camp. “And the good thing about them, they are very unselfish. They work hard; they study hard. If I called for a one hour meeting, those guys were probably going to meet for an hour and a half to two. It is just the way that group is. They have been good. So we’ll see. I have seen some growth and I have seen a lot of good things happen out here. They are going to have to. It’s going to have to happen.”
Let’s look at each of these nine players:
Dan Connor: A highly-regarded Penn State linebacker coming out of the 2008 NFL Draft, Connor was originally selected in the 3rd round by the Carolina Panthers. He signed with the Cowboys as a free agent in March 2012. Connor was then signed by the Giants in March 2013 after he was released by the Dallas. In five NFL seasons, Connor has played in 56 regular-season games with 27 starts. In 2012, Connor started eight games for the Cowboys and finished the season with 56 tackles and one pass defense. Connor has decent size, but lacks athleticism. He is more of a tough, blue-collar, two-down run defender who sometimes struggles in pass coverage. Connor is not overly physical at the point-of-attack, but he is quick to locate the ball, avoids blocks well, and is a good, solid tackler. He can play inside or outside, but he definitely is more comfortable in a 4-3 scheme. Connor’s biggest problem has been staying healthy.
“I think (middle linebacker is my best) position,” Connor said. “That’s the position where I’m comfortable. I played it in college, I was in the middle of a 4-3 in Carolina. So I feel most comfortable in the middle. But I do have some experience on the outside.”
“It’s all about being technique-perfect and being able to call the defense, make the checks and be spot on,” Connor said. “As a new guy in the locker room, that’s how I’m going to earn respect – by knowing not only my position but everyone else’s position. So studying is big for me right now, being vocal on the field, and basically earn the respect of guys who I met (only recently).”
Connor’s chief competition at middle linebacker, Mark Herzlich, has been impressed by Connor. “Dan is a very intelligent player,” said Herzlich. “He’s very good with his reads and his fits. He’s very precise.”
“Run fits have been a point of emphasis, making sure everyone is in the right place at the right time,” said Connor. “The coaches have done a great job teaching us the mistakes that were made last season.”
“We’re looking forward to the challenge,” said Connor. “We have a lot of young guys. They’re hungry. Each one of us feels like we want to put our name on the map. I really like this defense. It lets you play fast and play aggressive.”
Aaron Curry: In the 2009 NFL Draft, Curry was widely-regarded as one of the best linebacking prospects in years and “the safest pick” in the draft. The Seattle Seahawks made him the fourth player selected overall in that draft, but Curry never lived up to his draft hype and was traded to the Raiders during the 2011 season for a 7th round pick and conditional 5th round pick. Curry played better in Oakland, but he was hampered by chronic knee issues and was cut.
Physically, Curry has excellent size and strength. Although he lacks ideal lateral agility, when healthy, he is a very good athlete who runs well. For some reason, it hasn’t come together for Curry at the pro level. Critics have pointed to the lack of big plays, inconsistency, poor coverage, and too often being out of position.
Curry says his problem in Seattle was that he was not focused on football. “Early in my career, I was just selfish and self-centered,” said Curry. “I was more about me than I was about the Seahawks. It was immaturity, and I’m glad I got past that stage…It was like I knew I could do it and I knew I would do it. I just don’t think at the time I was interested in doing it. I think I was interested in other things and at the time football just wasn’t my top priority, just to be honest…(Now) I approach everything differently. I see details now. Football is important now. It has a priority in my life that I’m willing to do whatever it takes that’s going to help the Giants be successful and I’m not so selfish…Now I’m more about finding a way to just put out a lot of effort and a lot of energy and just cause havoc.”
Curry’s biggest issue now may be the health of his knees. Curry underwent stem-cell therapy on both of his knees during the 2012 offseason. He only played two games before he was cut in November. He then underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in December.
Curry’s former linebacker coach in Seattle, Ken Norton, is still a believer if Curry is healthy. “He was a 4-3 linebacker playing off the ball and you’re not going to get sacks,” Norton said. “He’s probably the best linebacker I’ve ever had to play over the tight end and just dominate him. There were a whole lot of expectations. You don’t see the sack numbers and people say this guy isn’t doing what he’s supposed to be doing. At the end, his legs and knees were hurting a lot and he was unable to stop on a dime. He couldn’t do all the things he was supposed to do.”
“If Aaron’s health isn’t an issue, if he can run and stop and hit, I mean, this kid hasn’t scratched the surface,” Norton said. “He can do a lot of amazing things. He does things that Carl Banks used to do on the tight end. Once he gets his mind set on something, he can do it. The only issue with him has been what’s going on between the ears. If everything is in order and he’s to the point where he has something to prove, the Giants might have caught him at the right time.”
“I hope to be able to offer some positive energy (to the defense),” said Curry. “I just want to run around and hit things that are moving and I want my teammates to get excited. I want the defense to be excited at all times and I hope to be able to just uplift everybody and do what’s asked of me and do it full speed…My job and my only motivation is to go out there, play hard, play fast, be physical and get my teammates to just be fired up with me and just bring a positive energy every day.”
Keith Rivers: If Curry was supposed to be a “sure thing”, then Rivers was pretty damn close. Rivers was the ninth player taken in the 2008 NFL Draft. But the injury-prone linebacker was traded by the Bengals to the Giants in 2012 for a 5th round draft pick.
While Rivers never lived up to his draft hype in Cincinnati, he was a solid player for the Bengals when he played. The problem was that he couldn’t stay healthy and that trend continued with the Giants in 2012. Last season, hamstring and calf injuries caused him to miss five games and limited his playing time and effectiveness. Rivers finished the season with six starts and accrued 44 tackles. In four seasons in Cincinnati, Rivers started 33-of-35 regular-season games he played in. But he missed 29 regular-season games with injuries – including nine games in 2008 with a broken jaw and all of the 2011 season with a wrist injury that required surgery. Rivers also missed time in 2009 with a calf injury and in 2010 with plantar fasciitis. Rivers is an athletic, three-down linebacker. He is more of the run-and-hit type than physical presence at the point-of-attack against the run. Rivers has the overall athletic ability and range to do well in coverage, but he needs to become more consistent in that area of his game. He only has two career sacks.
Interestingly, Giants’ beat reporter Paul Dottino, who also does some work for the Giants, says Rivers was clearly the best linebacker in training camp last year. During spring workouts, Rivers was starting at weakside linebacker in Mathias Kiwanuka’s old position. (Note: In Perry Fewell’s system, the weakside linebacker is called the strongside linebacker).
During OTAs, Coughlin said, “The other day Keith Rivers made a heck of a play.” Rivers has the ability to be a very steady performer for New York if he can just stay on the football field.
Mark Herzlich: Herzlich was regarded as one of the better collegiate linebackers in the country before missing the 2009 season at Boston College with bone cancer. Because of the illness, a titanium rod was inserted into Herzlich’s left femur. Herzlich has very good size, but the key question is whether Herzlich now has the overall athletic ability to excel at the pro level. Last year, it was anticipated that Herzlich would provide more of a serious challenge to Chase Blackburn for the starting middle linebacker position, but Herzlich underwhelmed.
Herzlich has had a very good spring. It was Herzlich, not Dan Connor, who started at middle linebacker during spring workouts and the coaches appear to have come away impressed.
“Very commanding,” said Defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell. “He’s taken a leadership role out there and I think he has some good respect from his teammates in some of the things he’s done in the OTAs. Obviously, we want to find out what happens when the pads come on.”
“After the first OTA, (Spencer Paysinger and I) always go and watch the films,” said Herzlich. “Me and Spence were watching film, and we’re like, ‘We’re gonna know this defense better than the coaches.’ So we went to Costco that day, got dry erase boards. I was on the dry erase board all day, just reviewing everything from OTAs, getting ready for mini-camp. That way, when you eliminate the mental mistakes, you can play faster and more physical.”
“As linebackers, you never want to be called ‘soft,’” said Herzlich. “There were some people saying that we were playing soft last year. So we have a mentality to change that this season…We’ve talked about how we couldn’t stop the run when we needed to last season. People say, ‘It’s the defensive line.’ But it starts with the linebackers. We have to fill our gaps and play downhill.”
Connor may overtake Herzlich in training camp and the preseason, but right now, it’s Herzlich’s job to lose.
Spencer Paysinger: Paysinger was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2011 NFL Draft. While serving primarily as one of the Giants’ best special teams players, Paysinger has seen his playing time on the defense increase. He actually started three games in 2012 and finished the season with 39 tackles and one forced fumble. Paysinger has a nice combination of size and athleticism.
Paysinger appears to be flying under the radar scope of many fans. In spring workouts, Paysinger has been starting in Michael Boley’s old strongside linebacker spot. If Paysinger fails, it will not be for lack of hard work. In the offseason, he initiated an intense workout program that not only included weight training, but hot yoga, acupuncture, stretching, and martial arts.
“I came into the league two years ago at 233 pounds and now I’m about 245 pounds and I feel like I haven’t lost a step,” said Paysinger. “When you get heavier, bigger, and bulkier, it’s natural for you to lose a step or two when it comes to agility. By doing yoga and acupuncture and revving up my on-field work, it’s allowed me to counteract any lost steps.”
“(Paysinger) is doing a good job,” said Linebackers Coach Jim Herrmann. “He has a great opportunity to get snaps. And he is competing for the job. He has matured over the last two years. To me, the biggest thing I have seen was his maturity level, because he is comfortable with the formation. Now he is going to go out and take the next step forward because he is anticipating the plays faster and faster. He’s not worried about ‘What do I do in this defense – What do I do in that defense?’ It is, ‘Okay, I know what I am doing – now what is the offense going to do?’ And he is anticipating. And all of those guys have done a much better job of that.”
“Me and Mark (Herzlich), we’ve taken it upon ourselves to learn the defense in and out, studying together,” said Paysinger. “Buying dry erase boards to take home and just draw up plays. Pretty much internalizing the playbook to where it becomes second nature – cause if you know your stuff, you can play that much better.”
“I feel like it’s my time, Mark’s time, even Keith (Rivers’) time to step up and show we can handle this,” said Paysinger.
Jacquian Williams: Williams was drafted in the 6th round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Giants. He was a very raw player coming out of the University of South Florida, having started only one season. Williams lacks bulk, but he is extremely athletic, fast, and quick for the position. However, Williams is not very physical and due to his size, he can get mauled at the point-of-attack against the run. Williams flashes as a blitzer and he could develop into a good coverage linebacker with added experience.
Williams’ 2012 season was sabotaged by a PCL knee injury he suffered in October that caused him to miss six games. He finished the year with just 30 tackles, down from the 78 he accrued in 2011. Though Williams returned to the playing field in December 2012, the PCL injury surprisingly limited him in the spring workouts this year. Hopefully, he will be closer to 100 percent when training camp starts.
Kyle Bosworth: The nephew of former Seahawks’ linebacker Brian Bosworth, Kyle was signed by the Giants as an unrestricted free agent from the Jaguars in May 2013. Eligible to be a restricted free agent, Bosworth was not tendered by Jacksonville. Bosworth was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Jaguars after the 2010 NFL Draft. He spent his rookie season on Injured Reserve with a hamstring injury. He also missed much of 2011 after being placed on Injured Reserve in November with a broken hand. In 2012, Bosworth played in all 16 games. He started five games but was later benched. He finished 2012 with 37 tackles and one interception.
Bosworth is smart, hard-working, and versatile – he can play all three linebacking spots. However, despite having decent size, strength, and some speed, Bosworth is a limited athlete who struggles in space. Bosworth is a very good special teams player and that – combined with his versatility and intelligence – may give him a leg up in the competition for backup spots.
“We felt like he would make a nice fit as a linebacker and a special-teamer,” said Coughlin after Bosworth was signed.
“I can definitely play all the (linebacker) positions,” Bosworth said. “I’ve still got to do a lot of learning in the playbook, but I’m able to fit in with the (weakside, middle, and strongside linebacker). I’m very versatile. I’ve played and started. I’ve been on every single special team, so basically wherever they need me I’ll be able to do it. Whatever they ask and I’ll be ready to go.”
Jake Muasau: Muasau was originally signed by the Giants as a rookie free agent after the May 2012 rookie mini-camp. The Giants waived him in late August, but decided to give him another shot in training camp this year and re-signed him in January 2013. Muasau was voted Georgia State University’s most valuable defensive player by his teammates in 2010 and 2011 when he played the “bandit” DE/LB hybrid position. Muasau has good size and plays with good intensity.
Etienne Sabino: Sabino was signed by the Giants as a rookie free agent after the 2013 NFL Draft. Sabino was a highly-recruited high school linebacker who had a disappointing overall career at Ohio State, but he started to come on as a senior despite breaking his leg. He could project to either middle or outside linebacker. Sabino is a well-built athlete with good agility, quickness, and speed. He flashes ability to run-and-hit as well as take-on-and-shed. There are conflicting scouting reports on his instincts. Sabino should do well on special teams. He supposedly has good intangibles – mature and coachable.
Summary: The starters heading into training camp are Rivers, Herzlich, and Paysinger. But they will be challenged by Curry, Connor, and Williams. It will be interesting to see if there are three viable starters and play-makers within this group, and if the three new starters can integrate themselves with each other and the other eight members of the defense quickly. Not many teams completely revamp their starting linebacking corps in one offseason. For a defense that finished 31st in 2012 and was equally bad against the run and the pass, it is imperative that the linebacking play improve.