Jul 022014
 
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Rashad Jennings, New York Giants (June 18,2014)

Rashad Jennings – © USA TODAY Sports Images

With the New York Giants reporting to camp in less than a month, BigBlueInteractive.com is breaking down each of the team’s positional groups from now until July 21. Our first article concentrated on the team’s quarterbacks. Now let’s take a look at the running backs and fullbacks.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Running Backs and Fullbacks

Brandon Jacobs, New York Giants (October 27, 2013)

Brandon Jacobs – © USA TODAY Sports Images

2013 YEAR IN REVIEW: Just a year ago, the New York Giants appeared to be “set” at running back with a 1-2 punch of Andre Brown and David Wilson. But the injury-prone Brown broke his leg in the preseason, causing him to miss half the season. He started the final eight games and finished with 139 carries for 492 yards (3.5 yards per carry) and three touchdowns. The Giants showed no interest in re-signing Brown in the offseason and he is now a Houston Texan. 2012 1st round draft pick David Wilson only played in five games before being placed on Injured Reserve with a career-threatening neck injury that required surgery in January. He started four games and finished 2013 with 146 yards on 44 carries (3.3 yards per carry) and one touchdown. He also fumbled the ball away twice. Da’Rel Scott made the team, was cut, then re-signed, and then placed on Injured Reserve with a hamstring injury.  Scott played in five games with one start in 2013, finishing the season with 73 yards on 20 carries (3.7 yards per carry). The Giants chose not to bring him back. Michael Cox, the Giants 7th pick in the 2013 Draft, played in 14 games as a rookie with one start. But he only carried the football 22 times for 43 yards (2.0 yards per carry). With injuries to Brown, Wilson, and Scott, ex-Giant Brandon Jacobs and Peyton Hillis were mid-season roster additions. But Jacobs arrived as damaged goods, started only one game, and was placed on Injured Reserve with a knee condition that forced his retirement in January. Hillis ended up playing in seven games with one start. He finished the season with 73 carries for 247 yards (3.4 yards per carry) and two touchdowns.

At fullback, 2013 was a disaster for Henry Hynoski, who missed virtually all of the offseason work with a knee injury (MCL/chip fracture) suffered in an OTA, then fracturing his shoulder and being placed on Injured Reserve in September. John Conner was signed off of the street to replace Hynoski and he performed well as a physical lead blocker in 13 games with seven starts.

Overall, the New York Giants finished 29th in rushing, averaging a paltry 83.2 yards per game and 3.5 yards per rush.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants had no interest in bringing back Andre Brown and Da’Rel Scott, and Brandon Jacobs has retired. David Wilson, Michael Cox, Peyton Hillis, Henry Hynoski, and John Conner return. Kendall Gaskins, who spent time with the Bills and Titans as a rookie, was signed to the Practice Squad in December and returns in 2014. The Giants made a big push to sign ex-Jaguar and ex-Raider Rashad Jennings to a 4-year, $10 million contract. The team drafted the nation’s #1 rusher Andre Williams in the 4th round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: The two main story lines are the health status of David Wilson and the Hynoski-Conner competition at fullback. Wilson is scheduled to undergo another exam on his next the day camp starts – July 21st – to determine if he can be cleared for football contact. If cleared, the explosive Wilson needs to prove he can stay healthy, hold onto the football, protect the QB, and become an instinctive play-maker. Many fans and media types believe Hynoski is the front runner for the fullback spot, but John Conner may be the better blocker, receiver, and yes, runner. The other main question is who will be the #2 back off of the bench behind Rashad Jennings. Will it be Wilson, Peyton Hillis, or Andre Williams?

ON THE BUBBLE: It would appear that Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams are locks to make the team. If he is cleared for contact, and barring a complete lack of development, the former #1 pick David Wilson is likely to make the squad. Peyton Hillis, Michael Cox, and Kendall Gaskins are fighting for one, possibly two roster spots. Don’t automatically write any of these guys off. Even Gaskins has caught the attention of the coaches.

FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Craig Johnson on Andre Williams:  “A big fit (for our scheme). He’s a big, strong physical runner. He led the nation in rushing last year in college football. He is strong, he’s a very explosive runner. I hear that from the defense, they say, ‘Man, that guy has really got it going.’ I’m really excited to see what he’s all about and you can tell, he runs hard.”

Johnson on David Wilson: “He’s got tremendous talent. It’s obvious to see that that. Good hands. I can’t wait to watch him get out there when he gets cleared to show what he can do.”

Johnson on Michael Cox and Kendall Gaskins: “Two guys you probably haven’t heard much about, Michael Cox, a second-year back that was a late draft choice last year, big, strong, physical, can make plays. I’m looking forward to seeing him and Kendall Gaskins, both of them, in pads. They’re young guys, they want to prove it. They’re hungry and they want to go after it. All the backs are pretty good size and pretty physical so I’m excited about the position.”

PREDICTIONS:

Peyton Hillis, New York Giants (December 1, 2013)

Peyton Hillis – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Eric Kennedy – Rashad Jennings, Peyton Hillis, and Andre Williams make this a very big and physical backfield. Considered somewhat of a journeyman running back, I firmly believe that Jennings will blossom in New York not only as a physical, no-nonsense north-south runner, but an incredibly reliable and consistent receiver out of the backfield. He is a natural receiver. I also think he will become a team leader. Some expect Peyton Hillis to be cut, but I see him becoming a John Kuhn-type receiver/runner/pass protector in Ben McAdoo’s scheme. I could see him becoming the third-down back due to his pass pro and receiving skills. I love Henry Hynoski, but I think John Conner is the better blocker, receiver, and runner.

Connor Hughes - I like Andre Williams and Rashad Jennings, too. I believe both are upgrades over Andre Brown and Brandon Jacobs. With that being said, I truly believe the ‘X’ factor for the Giants in the backfield is David Wilson.

Wilson spent the offseason in the weight room packing on the muscle, is still lightning in the bottle and the only player at the position that has the ability to break off a touchdown on any carry. If he’s healthy, I see him as a player that can run for 1200-1400 yards annually. Last year, Wilson struggled, but as the season went it became more evident that that was more of a result of the team’s porous offensive line than the former first-round pick.

I love Wilson’s attitude, he never doesn’t have a smile on his face and is more motivated than ever to get back on the field. Once he does? Look out.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Running Backs – Rashad Jennings (1), David Wilson (2), Peyton Hillis (3), Andre Williams (4), Michael Cox (cut), Kendall Gaskins (cut)

Fullbacks – John Conner (1), Henry Hynoski (cut)

Jul 012014
 
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Ryan Nassib (9), Eli Manning (10), Ben McAdoo, New York Giants (May 29, 2014)

Can Ryan Nassib (No. 9/left) be Eli Manning (Right) backup in 2014? – Photo by Connor Hughes

With the New York Giants reporting to camp in less than a month, BigBlueInteractive.com is breaking down each of the team’s positional groups from now until July 21. First, let’s kick things off with the quarterbacks.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Quarterbacks

Ryan Nassib (9) and Eli Manning (10), New York Giants (June 18, 2014)

Ryan Nassib and Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

2013 YEAR IN REVIEW: Yuck. Eli Manning suffered through arguably the worst season of his career leading experts to question if the once-elite Eli was on decline. Manning endured career-highs in sacks (39) and interceptions (27). His yards-per-game were the fewest since 2008 and completion percentage since 2007. Behind him, Ryan Nassib never played a down and Curtis Painter left very little to be desired, finishing 8-of-16 for 57 yards and two interceptions.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: Not much has changed from a year ago. At one point, the Giants had Josh Freeman (MIN) and Rusty Smith (TEN), but both were cut during the offseason conditioning program. The team ended last year with Manning-Painter-Nassib on the depth chart and enter training camp with the same three names.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: There’s a ton. Can Manning return to form? Can Nassib be the No. 2? Is Painter a viable option if Nassib can’t? Also, how does new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s offense fit the skill set of each. Training camp and preaseason should answer quite a bit of questions surrounding the quarterbacks.

Curtis Painter, New York Giants (December 29, 2013)

Curtis Painter – © USA TODAY Sports Images

ON THE BUBBLE: Manning is the starter, obviously, but whomever wins the No. 2 quarterback position may signal the end of QB No. 3. The only foreseeable situation where the Giants keep all three would be that Nassib struggles mightily, the team isn’t willing to cut him yet, so it’s a near identical depth chart as last year. The more likely scenario? The Giants show faith in Nassib and cut Painter.

FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Danny Langsdorf on monitoring QB reps:  “It was hard to rep five guys for sure. Three is a good number. You’d like to be able to develop that fourth if you have enough spots. Without the extra spot, having three gets some pretty good work and you know what everybody gets. The starter and the backup get the majority of the snaps, but the third guy gets a few reps here and there.”

PREDICTIONS:
Connor Hughes - I think a new offense is exactly what Eli Manning needed at this point in his career. It wasn’t that Kevin Gilbride was a bad offensive coordinator or his offense terrible (They did win two Super Bowl’s during his tenure), he just needed a breath of fresh air. I think Eli could be in for a big 2014, he certainly showed flashes during OTAs/mini-camp of excelling in the new offense. As far as Nassib? I’m far less certain.

Eric Kennedy – A misleading narrative (some would say false bill of goods) is being told by some that all Eli Manning needed this offseason was a new offensive coordinator with some new- fangled scheme based on West Coast Offense principles. Ironically, 10 years ago fans were ready to dump Jim Fassel’s West Coast system in favor of Tom Coughlin’s vertical attack. What Eli really needs it better running backs, better receivers, better tight ends, and most importantly, better blockers than he had in 2013. He also needs to get his head out of his ass and stop making stupid decisions that a 10-year veteran of his caliber (two-time Super Bowl MVP) should not be making. There will be a learning curve with the new offensive system, including terminology that almost all of the offensive players has mentioned as being an issue. Combine that with three new offensive coaches, two coaches switching positions, and dramatic offensive personnel changes, it will be a shock if the Giants offense looks like a well-oiled machine in September and October. Expect growing pains and increasing calls for Eli’s head early. Eli was weened on a vertical passing attack. It will be interesting to see if he can develop the ability to be a much better short-range thrower, particularly to the running backs and tight ends.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Manning (1), Nassib (2), Painter (Cut/3)

Jun 302014
 
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Ryan Nassib (9) and Eli Manning (10), New York Giants (June 18, 2014)

Ryan Nassib and Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

With players scheduled to report to New York Giants training camp on July 21, the anticipation is building for the upcoming 2014 NFL season. What exactly does 2014 have in store for the New York Giants?

Forty new players have been added to the roster. Will big-name free-agent acquisitions live up to their potential, or crash and burn? Which of the rookies will make an impact in their initial season? Will Eli Manning rebound from a disastrous 2013? What are the strengths of this team? Where are the areas of concern?

It’s time to get the answers to all of those questions and more. Over the next few weeks, we’re gonna get you set for all you need to know heading into training camp with our ‘Positional Breakdowns.’ From July 1 – July 21, we’ll be checking out a few positions each week.

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN SCHEDULE:

We recommend that bookmark this page. For each positional breakdown we run, we’ll link to it above. This will make it easier for you to see all of the positional breakdowns in one spot.

Apr 152014
 
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Jerry Reese, New York Giants (February 22, 2014)

Jerry Reese at the NFL Combine – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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.

Mar 072014
 
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Geoff Schwartz, Kansas City Chiefs (August 24, 2013)

Geoff Schwartz – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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.

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • Josh Brown (UFA)

Notes:

UFA – Unrestricted Free Agent
RFA – Restricted Free Agent
ERFA – Exclusive Rights Free Agent

Feb 192014
 
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Jerry Reese, John Mara, New York Giants (July 27, 2013)

Jerry Reese and John Mara – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Restocking the New York Giants for One More Run

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.

Aug 152013
 
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Cullen Jenkins, New York Giants (August 10, 2013)

Cullen Jenkins – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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.

Aug 092013
 
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Jason Pierre-Paul (90), Justin Tuck (91), New York Giants (January 22, 2012)

Pierre-Paul and Tuck – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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.

Jul 262013
 
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Corey Webster, New York Giants (October 28, 2012)

Corey Webster – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Offseason Breakdown: New York Giants Cornerbacks

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.

Jul 212013
 
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Antrel Rolle, New York Giants (October 14, 2012)

Antrel Rolle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Offseason Breakdown: New York Giants Safeties

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.