Feb 032015
 
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Andre Williams, New York Giants (October 19, 2014)

Andre Williams – © USA TODAY Sports Images

2014 was a major transition year for the New York Giants at the  running back position. The two backs most-associated with the team’s recent Super Bowl seasons – Brandon Jacobs (2005-11, 2013) and Ahmad Bradshaw (2007-12) – were both completely out of the picture. Heading into training camp, it was anticipated that free agent acquisition Rashad Jennings, 2012 first-round draft pick David Wilson, and 2014 fourth-round draft pick Andre Williams would form the core of the new running attack. However, Wilson’s NFL career prematurely ended when he re-aggravated a neck injury he originally suffered in the 2013 season. He was forced to retire from the NFL in training camp. It was a major blow for the Giants as not only was Wilson particularly well-suited for Ben McAdoo’s West Coast Offense, but he was one of the few home-run hitters on the team and a dynamic kickoff returner.

Without Wilson, the Giants were largely a between-the-tackles and off-tackle team that was unable to consistently threaten the perimeter of the defense. With a re-vamped offensive line that was not very physical and often struggled to move defenders off of the line of scrimmage, the running backs did not have much room to operate. Exacerbating the situation was the fact that Jennings was limited to nine starts due to knee and ankle injuries. Reserves Peyton Hillis and Michael Cox also ended up on Injured Reserve in November.

At fullback, Henry Hynoski beat out John Conner in training camp and the preseason. However, the fullback position was de-emphasized in McAdoo’s system in favor of multiple tight end sets.

In the end, the Giants were tied for 28th in the NFL with only 3.6 yards per rushing attempt and 23rd in the NFL with 100.2 rushing yards per game. The team was tied for 12th in rushing touchdowns with 13. For a team that was 10th in the NFL in rushing attempts, these figures simply were not good enough.

Rashad Jennings, New York Giants (September 21, 2014)

Rashad Jennings – © USA TODAY Sports Images

THE HALFBACKS

The Giants signed Rashad Jennings as an unrestricted free agent from the Oakland Raiders in March 2014. Anointed the starting running back, Jennings was limited to 11 games with nine starts due to knee and ankle injuries. He finished the season with 639 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 167 carries (3.8 yards per carry) and 226 receiving yards on 30 receptions (7.5 yards per catch). Jennings was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He signed with the Raiders in 2013. Jennings is a big, physical, no-nonsense, north-south runner who does his best work between-the-tackles or off tackle. He is solid pass blocker and has good hands as a receiver. Jennings only has lost two fumbles in his career. He is a hard worker and a good presence in the locker room.

The Giants drafted Andre Williams in the 4th round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Williams began the season as the #2 back behind Rashad Jennings, playing in all 16 games with seven starts. He finished the season with 721 yards and seven touchdowns on 217 carries (3.3 yards per carry). He also caught 18 passes for 130 yards (7.2 yards per catch). Williams is a big, powerful, north-south runner with decent speed. He is not terribly quick or elusive, and does not present much of a threat as an outside runner. Williams seemed less instinctive running the ball at the pro level his rookie season than he did in college. Smart. Williams improved as a pass protector as the season progressed. He’s not a natural pass receiver, but he works at it.

Daniel Fells and Adrien Robinson, New York Giants (September 25, 2014)

Peyton Hillis – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Peyton Hillis was placed on Injured Reserve in November 2014 with a concussion, his second in two seasons. Hillis played in nine games in 2014 as the #3 back and finished the season with 26 carries for 115 yards and 10 receptions for 87 yards. Hillis was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos. He has since played with the Browns (2010-11), Chiefs (2012), and Buccaneers (2013). Tampa Bay waived him in September 2013 and the Giants signed him the following month. With the Giants in 2013, Hillis carried the ball 73 times for 247 yards and caught 13 passes for 96 yards. Hillis’ best season was in 2010 when he rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns for the Browns and caught 61 passes for 477 yards and two touchdowns. Hillis is a big back and a decent athlete for his size. He’s a tough, physical runner between the tackles and has very good hands in the passing game. He is not quick, elusive, or fast and thus does not present an outside running threat. Ball security (15 career fumbles) and durability have been issues.

Michael Cox was placed on Injured Reserve in November 2014 with a fractured lower leg. He was on the Practice Squad of the team until October. Cox played in four games and finished the season with four carries, two catches, and 11 kickoff returns. Cox was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Giants. In 2013, he 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) and caught the ball three times for 12 yards. Most of his work came on special teams where he returned 20 kickoffs for a 21.8 yards-per-return average. Cox is a big, strong back with decent speed and elusiveness. He catches the ball well, but needs to work on his pass protection.

Orleans Darkwa, New York Giants (December 21, 2014)

Orleans Darkwa – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The Giants signed Orleans Darkwa off of the Practice Squad of the Miami Dolphins in November 2014. He played in seven games with the Giants, mostly on special teams, but he did carry the ball five times for 21 yards and one touchdown as well as catching two passes for 17 yards. Darkwa was originally signed by the Dolphins as a rookie free agent after the 2014 NFL Draft. He played in four games in September before being waived in October and signed to the team’s Practice Squad. Darkwa has average size and overall athletic ability, but he is a steady, hard-working football player with good intangibles.

Chris Ogbonnaya was signed to the 53-man roster in December 2014. Ogbonnaya was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams. Since then he has played for the Rams (2009), Texans (2011), Browns (2011-13), and Panthers (2014). Ogbonnaya has played in 51 games with 12 starts and has carried the ball 158 times for 710 yards and two touchdowns. He also has 96 catches for 714 yards and two touchdowns. Ogbonnaya is a big back with good speed. He has good hands catching the ball.

Henry Hynoski, New York Giants (December 7, 2014)

Henry Hynoski – © USA TODAY Sports Images

THE FULLBACKS

Henry Hynoski played in all 16 games in 2014, with four starts. Although he saw his playing time reduced in the new West Coast system, Hynoski actually had a career-high seven carries for 13 yards as the Giants used him more as a short-yardage runner. However, 2014 was the first season he did not catch a pass. That all said, the strength of Hynoski’s game is still his run blocking. Hynoski originally signed with the Giants as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2011 NFL Draft. Hynoski missed virtually all of 2013 with knee and shoulder injuries. A bit of a throwback, Hynoski is a big, physical player. He is not overly athletic as he lacks speed and agility.

The Giants signed Nikita Whitlock to the Practice Squad in December 2014. Whitlock, who played defensive tackle in college, was originally signed by the Cincinnati Bengals as a rookie free agent after the 2014 NFL Draft. He was cut by the Bengals in their final round of cuts and then signed by the Dallas Cowboys to their Practice Squad. The NFL suspended Whitlock in November for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) and the Cowboys terminated his Practice Squad contract. Whitlock was converted to fullback by the Bengals and he flashed in the preseason as a lead blocker with good size.

Jan 272015
 
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Odell Beckham, New York Giants (May 8, 2014)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Perhaps the two biggest story lines of the 2014 season for the New York Giants were at the wide receiver position. First came the devastating knee injury to Victor Cruz in the game against the Philadelphia Eagles on October 5. Cruz was lost for the final 11 games of the season and it remains to be seen if he will ever return to his pre-injury form.

“It is a significant injury that he has,” said General Manager Jerry Reese after the season. “You never know how he is going to come back from that. We are hoping that he is definitely going to come back and be the Victor Cruz that we know. You never know with the significant injury he had. We are hopeful that he will come back and be the Victor Cruz that we like, but you never know.”

The other major story line was the rapid emergence of Odell Beckham as an NFL superstar. The irony is that Cruz and Beckham only played one game together in 2014, and that was the game Cruz got injured. Beckham had one of the greatest rookie seasons in NFL history, and he did so in only 12 games, and playing with significant hamstring tears. Indeed, Beckham became the only reason many Giants fans looked forward to tuning in in what otherwise was a very disappointing 6-10 season. Right or wrong, his performance may also have saved Tom Coughlin’s job as one wonders what the Giants’ record would have been without him.

Aside from these two headliners, while Rueben Randle came on strong late, he did not have the type of season expected or hoped for, and the former 2nd rounder remains frustratingly inconsistent. Jerrel Jernigan, who came on very strong at the end of the 2013 NFL season, reverted back to his old disappointing form and was placed on IR after only two games. Preston Parker not only surprisingly made the team but became the new #3 receiver after Cruz was lost. Corey Washington was a preseason star who was little-used once the real bullets started flying.

In the end, it was Beckham and not much else at the crucial wide receiver spot. Other teams knew that too and still could not stop Beckham.

THE HEADLINERS

Despite missing virtually all of training camp, the entire preseason, and the first four games of the regular season with hamstring tears, Odell Beckham, Jr. had one of the greatest rookie seasons in NFL history in 2014. Beckham finished the season with 91 catches for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns, all franchise rookie records. He also set a franchise record and NFL rookie record averaging 108.8 yards per game. Beckham set NFL records for most catches and yards in the first 12 games to start a career and tied an NFL record for with at least 90 receiving yards in nine consecutive games. He was voted first-alternate to the Pro Bowl and played in the game. He was also voted Pro Football Writers of America “Rookie of the Year.” Beckham was drafted in the 1st round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Giants. While Beckham lacks classic size, his long arms, big hands, and jumping ability give him a very good catch radius. Beckham is a tremendous athlete with excellent speed, quickness, and agility. Explosive. For such a young player, he can already play multiple positions and runs good routes. Beckham is very quick out of his breaks, adjusts exceptionally well to the football, and regularly makes the circus catch. He is dangerous with the football in his hand after the catch. Competitive, smart, and hard working. Beckham also was a very dangerous return man in college. He averaged 8.1 yards per punt return with the Giants in 2014.

Victor Cruz, New York Giants (October 12, 2014)

Victor Cruz – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Victor Cruz was placed on Injured Reserve after tearing the patella tendon in his right knee in October 2014 and it remains to be seen if Cruz can completely regain his pre-injury physical ability. Cruz finished the 2014 season with 23 catches for 337 yards and one touchdown in six starts. Signed as a rookie free agent after the 2010 NFL Draft, the rags-to-riches Victor Cruz story is well known, culminating with his impact season in 2011, first Pro Bowl in 2012, and big offseason contract in 2013. In 2011-2012, he compiled 168 catches for 2,628 yards and 19 touchdowns. However, in 2013 Cruz had his least productive season since becoming a starter in 2011. He also missed the last two games of the 2013 season with concussion and knee injuries – the left knee requiring arthroscopic surgery. Cruz has ordinary size and timed speed. However, he has very good quickness and plays faster than he times. Cruz reads coverages well, runs good routes, and has a good understanding of how to get open against both zone and man coverage. Cruz has good hands and is capable of making the circus catch, though he sometimes will drop the easy reception. He is elusive after the catch and usually isn’t caught from behind. Cruz is a hard worker. He can play outside, but has really developed into one of the NFL’s better slot receivers.

THE OTHERS

Rueben Randle, New York Giants (December 14, 2014)

Rueben Randle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Rueben Randle, a 2nd round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, remains an inconsistent performer. But he had his best season in 2014, catching 71 passes for 938 yards and three touchdowns. He played in all 16 games with 13 starts with his two best games coming at the end of the season. Randle was benched for the first quarter of two games for disciplinary reasons. Randle has a nice combination of size and athletic ability, and he has flashed play-making skills as a vertical receiver. While Randle is not a burner, he is fluid and smooth with good foot quickness and acceleration for a big receiver. He needs to improve his ability to read defenses and improve his route-running. Randle adjusts well to the football in the air and has good hands. Most of all, he needs to become a more consistently reliable performer so his quarterback can trust him. Randle can also return punts, averaging 7.8 yards per return in 2012-13.

Preston Parker, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Preston Parker – © USA TODAY Sports Images

An afterthought by many when the Giants signed him to a reserve/future contract in January 2014, Preston Parker became the team’s primary slot receiver after Victor Cruz was lost for the season. Parker played in all 16 games with seven starts. He finished 2014 with 36 catches for 418 yards and two touchdowns. Parker was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the 2010 NFL Draft. The Buccaneers waived him in September 2012. He was with the Saints in training camp in 2013 but he did not play that season. While Parker lacks ideal size and speed, he is a decent athlete with good quickness and hands. Parker needs to be a more consistent performer. He returned both punts (6.6 yard average) and kickoffs (24.2 yard average) for the Giants in 2014.

The Giants signed Kevin Ogletree in October 2014. He played in seven games, but only caught five passes for 50 yards. Ogletree was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Dallas Cowboys after the 2009 NFL Draft. He has spent time with the Cowboys (2009-12), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2013), and Detroit Lions (2013-14). The Lions waived Olgetree in September. In six NFL season, Olgetree has played in 69 games with four starts. He has 83 career receptions for 1,049 yards and six touchdowns – two of which he scored against the Giants in the 2012 opener as a Cowboy. Ogletree has decent size, athletic ability, and hands.

Corey Washington, New York Giants (August 9, 2014)

Corey Washington – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The Giants claimed Corey Washington off of waivers from the Arizona Cardinals in May 2014. He was a preseason standout for the Giants, catching 10 passes for 155 yards and four touchdowns. While he played in 14 games in 2014, he seldom saw the field and finished the year with five catches for 52 yards and a touchdown. Washington originally signed with the Cardinals as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2014 NFL Draft. Washington played at Division-II Newberry College. Washington combines excellent size, overall athleticism, and speed. However, given his small-school background, he is very raw and needs a lot of development.

Jerrel Jernigan was placed on Injured Reserve in September 2014 with a mid-foot sprain. He played in two games and finished the season with only one catch for six yards. Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Giants, Jernigan had a coming out party late in the 2013 season. In his first two years with the Giants, Jernigan played in 17 games and had a grand total of three catches for 22 yards. Through Week 14 of 2013, Jernigan had “amassed” 10 catches for 92 yards. Then in Weeks 15-17, Jernigan exploded with 19 catches for 237 yards and two touchdowns in addition to carrying the ball twice for 57 yards and a touchdown. However, Jernigan did not really flash during the 2014 training camp or preseason. Jernigan lacks size, but he is a quick, fluid athlete with good speed. He is better suited to the slot position than outside. Jernigan also returns kickoffs, averaging 23.4 yards per return in his first three seasons on 21 returns.

Marcus Harris was placed on Injured Reserve in August 2014 with a hip injury that required surgery on his labrum. Harris was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Detroit Lions after the 2011 NFL Draft. He spent time on Detroit’s Practice Squad in 2011, but the Lions waived him in July 2012. The Titans signed him in August 2012 but waived him a few weeks later. Before the NFL season started in 2013, Harris played in the Arena League caught 94 passes for 1,223 yards and 19 touchdowns. The Giants signed Harris as a street free agent in August 2013 and he spent most of the season on the team’s Practice Squad. Harris has a decent size-speed combination. He flashed with the Giants during training camp and the preseason in 2014, even earning time with the first-team offense, before being played on Injured Reserve.

Julian Talley was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Giants after the 2012 NFL Draft. He did not make the team, but the Giants brought him back for another go in 2013 and 2014. Talley spent most of the 2013 and 2014 seasons on the team’s Practice Squad, although he did play in two games each season. He does not yet have an NFL catch. Talley is a tall, thin receiver with good overall athletic ability. He lacks ideal speed, but is smooth and fluid with decent hands.

Juron Criner was signed to the Practice Squad in September 2014. Criner was originally drafted in the 5th round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders waived him on August 26. In 13 games with the Raiders, Criner has caught 19 passes for 183 yards and a touchdown. He is a big receiver with good overall athleticism, but he needs to develop better technique and consistency.

Chris Harper was signed to the Practice Squad in October 2014. Harper was originally drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the 4th round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Harper did not make the team but spent time with the 49ers (2013) and Packers (2013-14). Harper played in four games with the Packers in 2013 and was cut by the team in August. Harper has a nice combination of size and athletic ability. He is a tough, physical receiver with good speed and hands.

Jan 212015
 
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Larry Donnell, New York Giants (September 25, 2014)

Larry Donnell led Giants tight ends with 63 catches – © USA TODAY Sports Images

As the New York Giants entered training camp in July 2014, the tight end position appeared to be a pending disaster. The Giants had parted ways with the disappointing Brandon Myers and jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none Bear Pascoe. The only returning players were Larry Donnell (16 games, 3 catches in his two NFL seasons) and Adrien Robinson (3 games, no catches in his two seasons), both of whom had demonstrated very little to date. The Giants had only added Kellen Davis (unrestricted free agent from the Seahawks), Daniel Fells (who was out of football in 2013), and Xavier Grimble (undrafted rookie free agent). Late in training camp, the Giants also signed Jerome Cunningham (who was out of football in 2013).

The only tight ends drafted by the Giants in recent years were the disappointing Travis Beckham (2009 3rd round pick) and Robinson (2012 4th round pick). In free agency, the Giants let Kevin Boss walk in 2012 most likely due to a combination of salary cap and concussion concerns. His replacement Martellus Bennett was a good addition, but he departed in free agency the following offseason in 2013. Bennett’s replacement, Brandon Myers, was clearly a free agent mistake.

Exacerbating the legitimate concern about the lack of headline talent was the adoption by the Giants of new offensive system that would feature the tight end position. In a West Coast Offense, the tight end is a critically important component as a pass receiver. Mini-camp, OTA, and training camp reports confirmed that new Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo’s system would not only rely heavily on the tight end, but often employ two- and three-tight end formations. The fullback position was marginalized. And rather than use more three- and four-wide receiver sets, the multiple tight end packages were more prominent. It began took as if McAdoo would not adapt his system to the strengths and weaknesses of the given roster.

So pessimistic were many fans about the prospects for Donnell, Fells, and Robinson that they had penciled in Davis and Grimble as the two most likely to make the team. However, by late August, Davis and Grimble had been cut. Cunningham was cut too but then signed to the Practice Squad. Larry Donnell had won the starting tight end position, followed by #2 tight end Daniel Fells, and #3 tight end Adrien Robinson.

Overall, while the tight end was not a position of strength on the 2014 New York Giants, it certainly was not the mess many had expected. Donnell had a breakout year as a receiver. He finished tied for 9th in the NFL among tight ends in terms of catches (63), 13th in terms of yards (623), and tied for 7th in terms of touchdowns (6). Blocking was not a strength of his game, but Donnell appears to be an ascending player with enough physical talent to get better. Fells proved to be less dynamic, but was more reliable as a blocker. And he did chip in with four touchdowns. Robinson remained buried in last place on the depth chart, but at least he finally saw some playing time and caught his first NFL touchdown.

THE PLAYERS

Larry Donnell went from a little-known player to the team’s primary tight end in 2014, playing in all 16 games with 12 starts. Donnell finished the season with 63 catches for 623 yards and six touchdowns. Donnell originally went undrafted and unsigned in 2011. The Giants signed him as a street free agent in March 2012 and Donnell spent 2012 on the team’s Practice Squad. Donnell made the 53-man roster in 2013 and was active for all 16 games, starting one contest. He finished the season with only three catches for 31 yards. Donnell combines very good size and overall athleticism. A very raw player when he came to the Giants, Donnell is still a work in progress. In the passing game, Donnell is a big target, adjusts well for the football, and is capable of making the circus catch. He needs to do a better job of holding onto the football (four fumbles in 2014) and gaining yards after the catch. While Donnell gives a good effort, he still has a lot of work to do to improve as a blocker.

Daniel Fells was the #2 tight end for the Giants in 2014. He played in all 16 games with nine starts and finished the season with 16 catches for 188 yards and four touchdowns. Fells was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Atlanta Falcons after the 2006 NFL Draft. He has spent time with the Falcons, Raiders, Buccaneers, Rams, Broncos, and Patriots. The Giants signed Fells to a reserve/future contract in January 2014. Fells has good size and average athletic ability. He is a decent blocker. He does not really threaten defenses as a receiver, but he is reliable.

Adrien Robinson has not developed as hoped since being drafted in the 4th round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Giants. In 2014, he was the team’s #3 tight end and played in all 16 games with one start. Robinson only caught five passes for 50 yards on one touchdown. In the previous two seasons, Robinson only played in three games and had no catches. He missed virtually all of the 2013 season with a foot injury he suffered in the preseason. Robinson has a good combination of size and athletic ability, but to date he has been unable to put it all together at the pro level as a blocker and receiver.

Jerome Cunningham was signed to the 53-man roster from the team’s Practice Squad in December 2014. Cunningham played college football at Southern Connecticut State University from 2009-2012, but he was not with an NFL team in training camp until August 2014 when the Giants signed him. He did try out with the Indianapolis Colts in May 2013 and Arizona Cardinals in May 2014, but was not signed by either team. Cunningham lacks ideal size for the position; he’s built more like an H-Back. But he is a good athlete who catches the ball well.

Jan 192015
 
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John Jerry and J.D. Walton, New York Giants (October 19, 2014)

Two Shaky Offensive Line Components – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The overall play of the New York Giants offensive line improved in 2014 from its dreadful performance in 2013 but the unit was still sub par. The Giants were tied for 28th in the NFL with only 3.6 yards per rushing attempt. Pass protection was better as the Giants gave up 30 sacks on the season, which was 9th-best in the NFL. But that figure is a bit misleading given the offense’s new emphasis on getting rid of the ball quickly (West Coast Offense) and quarterback Eli Manning’s long-established tendency to get rid of the ball quickly not take the sack, which he probably actually should do more often when under duress.

The improvement that did take place not only had to do with the individual components playing better, but the Giants had greater cohesion up front due to far fewer injuries. In 2013, the Giants used seven different starting offensive line combinations, the second-highest total in the NFL that season. In 2014, the same players started all 16 games at left tackle (Will Beatty), center (J.D. Walton), and right guard (John Jerry). Weston Richburg started 15 games at left guard and Justin Pugh started 14 games at right tackle. In 2013, not only were the Giants continually shifting players around due to an inordinate number of injuries to starters, but they were sometimes relying on third-stringers as backups were also getting injured.

That all said, it is widely-recognized that the offensive line was once again a sore spot in 2014. The Giants counted on high-priced free agent acquisition Geoff Schwartz to be a major building block, but Schwartz only played in two games due to injuries. Chris Snee, who the Giants never really counted on, retired before training camp. Overall, the line is more finesse than power, which usually is not good for any offense, but especially so for one predicated on balance and the ability to run the football.

Another issue is the poor overall depth situation. For years now, the Giants have not had quality up-and-coming reserves waiting in the wings in case the starters faltered or got hurt. Questionable free agent decisions and shoddy drafting have been the primary culprits. Most of the offensive linemen drafted in recent years have not developed, including Mitch Petrus, James Brewer, Brandon Mosley, and Eric Herman.

THE STARTERS

Will Beatty, New York Giants (October 19, 2014)

Will Beatty – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Will Beatty started all 16 games at left tackle. He rebounded from a terribly inconsistent 2013 and a fractured tibia that he suffered in the regular-season finale at the end of that year to have a mostly positive performance in 2014. Since Beatty was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Giants, Beatty has had issues staying healthy, including a broken foot in 2010, a detached retina in 2011, a back injury that caused him to miss offseason work in 2012, and the broken leg in 2013. Beatty is a big lineman with long arms and a very good athlete. When on top of his game, Beatty can mirror and slide with the best pass rushers, and is athletic enough to pull and engage defenders at the second level in the run game. However, Beatty is more of a finesse player. He does not play with a lot of strength and power and he is not a very physical or aggressive blocker. Beatty still has consistency issues.

The Giants drafted Weston Richburg, a 4-year starter at center in college, in the 2nd round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Most of his practice reps with the Giants came at guard in training camp and when Geoff Schwartz suffered a preseason toe injury, Richburg became the starter at left guard. He started 15 games at the position, being benched for one game in November. Richburg had an inconsistent year as a rookie as both a run and pass blocker. Richburg is a good athlete with decent size, but he needs to get bigger and stronger. He is not a mauling type of lineman, but he plays with good leverage and tenacity. Mobile and agile, Richburg, can block at the second level and pull on outside runs. He is smart, tough, and aggressive. His best position is most likely center though he is obviously versatile enough to play guard.

J.D. Walton started all 16 games at center for the Giants in 2014, but his play was sub par. Walton was originally drafted in the 3rd round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos. He started 32 regular-season games in 2010 and 20011 and the first four games of 2012 until he missed the rest of the season with a severe left ankle injury that required surgery. Walton had a setback on the ankle during the following offseason and underwent a second surgery in June 2013. He missed all of training camp and the preseason and was placed on the Physically-Unable-to-Perform (PUP) List. The Broncos waived him in December 2013 and Walton was then claimed off of waivers by the Redskins. The Giants signed him in March 2014. Walton has average size and athletic ability for a center. He does not generate much movement in his run blocks and can be physically overpowered by bigger, stronger linemen. Walton is a better pass protector but he is vulnerable to powerful or quicker linemen in that area as well. The strength of Walton’s game is his intelligence, scrappiness, and effort. The Giants were comfortable with him making all of the offensive line calls.

John Jerry started all 16 games at right guard for the Giants in 2014. He was a wildly inconsistent player who alternated far too much between solid and poor play. Jerry was originally drafted in the 3rd round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Dolphins where he started 45 games in his first four seasons in the NFL. The Giants signed Jerry as an unrestricted free agent in March 2014. Jerry looks the part with very good size and long arms, and he flashes both as a run and pass blocker. But he simply is not consistently reliable, technique-oriented, and physical enough blocking for both the run and the pass. Simply put, Jerry needs to work harder at keeping his opponent from making the play. He also seemed to struggle at times mentally with recognizing stunts and blitzes in pass protection.

Justin Pugh, New York Giants (October 19, 2014)

Justin Pugh – © USA TODAY Sports Images

In his second season with the Giants after being drafted in the 1st round of the 2013 NFL Draft, Justin Pugh regressed a bit and had an inconsistent season at right tackle. Sporting a brace on his left elbow, Pugh struggled in the first half of the season and then missed two games with a quadriceps injury in November. He played much better in the final four games in December. In 2013, Pugh started all 16 games at right tackle and was voted to the Pro Football Writers All-Rookie Team for his performance. Pugh doesn’t look the part as he lacks ideal size and has short arms for a tackle. But he is a good athlete who plays with fine strength, technique, and leverage. Pugh is smart, aggressive, and tenacious. Though not a mauler, he can get movement on his run blocks and he has the agility to do well in pass protection, though he needs to become more consistent in that area. He can pull and block defenders at the second level. Versatile, the Giants think he can play both tackle spots, guard, and possibly even center.

THE INJURED STARTER

In his first season with the Giants, Geoff Schwartz suffered through an injury-plagued season that saw him play in two games at right tackle because of serious toe and ankle injuries that both required surgery. He missed both the first 10 and last four games of the season, ending up on Injured Reserve in December. Schwartz was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers. He has spent time with the Panthers (2008-10), Vikings (2012), and Chiefs (2013). He signed with the Giants as a free agent in March 2014. Schwartz has excellent size and can maul people as a run blocker. He is very solid in pass protection. Schwartz is versatile – he is able to play guard or right tackle.

THE RESERVES

James Brewer simply has not developed as a player since being drafted in the 4th round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Giants. A year after playing in all 16 games with eight starts, Brewer only played in two games in November before being placed on injured reserve in December with a concussion. Brewer has a nice combination of size and athleticism. He can play both tackle and guard spots. However, he has not proven to be a very tough or physical lineman.

Adam Snyder was signed by the Giants in September 2014. He played in four games with one start at left guard in Week 12 before leaving that game with the knee issue that caused him to be placed on Injured Reserve in December. Snyder was originally drafted in the 3rd round of the 2005 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. During his career, he’s played eight seasons with the 49ers (2005-11, 2013) and one with the Arizona Cardinals (2012). Snyder is extremely versatile, having starting experience at all five offensive line positions. He has started 88 regular-season games in 10 NFL seasons. However, despite having very good size, Snyder was considered the weak link of the starting units in San Francisco and Arizona in recent years.

Brandon Mosley has not developed since he was drafted in the 4th round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He missed his entire rookie season with an ankle injury. Mosley was active for 22 games the last two seasons, including nine in 2014. His only start came late in the 2013 season. Mosley has good size and athletic ability. He is also versatile, having experience at both guard and tackle. But on a weak offensive line, he has not been able to gain any serious playing time.

Dallas Reynolds was active as a reserve linemen in 15 games in 2014, but he did not start. Reynolds was originally signed by the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2009 NFL Draft. He spent time on the Eagles’ Practice Squad from 2009-11. In 2012, Reynolds played in 16 regular-season games with 14 starts. The Eagles waived him August 2013 and he was signed by the Giants in October of that year. A limited athlete with good size, Reynolds is smart and tries hard. He has experience at both center and guard, but he has struggled when called upon to play.

Eric Herman added to the 53-man roster in December 2014 from the Practice Squad, where he spent the bulk of the season. He was also suspended for the first two games of the 2014 season for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Herman was drafted in the 7th round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Giants. He spent most of his rookie season on the Practice Squad until being also added to the roster in December 2013. Herman is a big, strong mauler who struggled with quickness and speed at the collegiate level. Herman needs to develop as a pass blocker in order to make it in the NFL.

Adam Gettis was signed to the 53-man roster from the Practice Squad of the Pittsburgh Steelers in December 2014. Gettis was originally drafted in the 5th round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins. The Redskins waived Gettis in August 2014 and he was signed the Steelers’ Practice Squad in October. Gettis lacks ideal size, but he is athletic.

INJURED RESERVE

Rogers Gaines was waived/injured and then placed on Injured Reserve with a shoulder injury in August 2014. Gaines was originally signed by the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2013 NFL Draft. The Ravens waived him in August 2013. The Bears signed him to their Practice Squad in September 2013. The Giants claimed Rogers Gaines off of waivers from the Chicago Bears in May 2014. Gaines has excellent size and long arms. He is a good athlete for his size. He improved throughout the 2014 preseason at right tackle for the Giants.

Troy Kropog was placed on Injured Reserve in August 2014 with a foot injury that he suffered in training camp. Kropog was originally drafted in the 4th round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans. The Titans waived him in September 2012 and he then spent time with the Jaguars (2012), Vikings (2012-13) and Redskins (2013). The Giants signed Kropog to a reserve/future contract in January 2014. Kropog has a decent combination of size and athleticism, and he is a hard worker. Versatile, he can play both tackle and guard. But it hasn’t come together for Kropog at the NFL level and he has never started a regular-season game.

PRACTICE SQUAD

Michael Bamiro was signed to the Practice Squad in November 2014. Bamiro was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Philadelphia Eagles after the 2013 NFL Draft. He spent the 2013 season on the Eagles’ Practice Squad before being waived in August 2014. Bamiro is a very raw player with an intriguing combiation of size (6’8”, 340 pounds) and overall athleticism.

Jul 202014
 
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New York Giants Defensive Backs (June 12, 2014)

Which of the Giants’ cornerbacks will fail to make the roster? Find out below – Photo by Connor Hughes

BigBlueInteractive.com puts the finishing touches on our training camp preparation today. Throughout the last few weeks, we’ve broken down each positional group heading into camp and yesterday took our guess at the offense’s final depth chart.

Now, we turn our attention to the defense and special teams.

There is no sure way to tell what is going to happen in training camp, what injuries will occur and what undrafted rookie jumps out to surprise a veteran, but we’re taking our shot anyway. Below you will find the final depth chart prediction from both Connor Hughes and Eric Kennedy.

CONNOR HUGHES’ FINAL 53-MAN ROSTER – DEFENSE AND SPECIAL TEAMS

Johnathan Hankins, New York Giants (October 6, 2013)

Will Johnathan Hankins start opening week? – © USA TODAY Sports Images

DEFENSIVE LINE
LDE: Mathias Kiwanuka, Robert Ayers
LDT: Cullen Jenkins, Jay Bromley
RDT: Johnathan Hankins, Mike Patterson
RDE: Jason Pierre-Paul, Damontre Moore
Notable Cuts: Adam Kendrick, Emmanuel Dieke, Jordan Stanton, Kerry Wynn, Everett Dawkins, Markus Kuhn, Kelcy Quarles
Why?: While Mike Patterson has taken every rep with the No. 1’s this offseason, I just don’t see him fending off Johnathan Hankins for all of training camp. First week or so? Sure. 1-2 games of preseason play? Absolutely, but I see no scenario where it isn’t Hankins lining up with the starters come the regular season. With that being said, I see Mike Patterson getting a lot of playing time this year. It’ll be tough for any running back to find a hole in the middle of the Giants’ defense with those two at tackle.

Most of the cuts I have being made shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise with a slight exception for Markus Kuhn. I could very well see Kuhn winding up on the team’s practice squad, or making the team barring an injury, but he’s competing with Jay Bromley and Mike Patterson for this position. Will New York cut this year’s third-round pick? Will it cut the player that has taken every first-team rep? I don’t see it. Kuhn is a victim of the numbers game.

LINEBACKERS
WILL: Jacquian Williams, Spencer Paysinger
MIKE: Jon Beason, Mark Herzlich
SAM: Jameel McClain, Devon Kennard
Notable Cuts: Spencer Adkins, Justin Anderson, Dan Fox, Terrell Manning
Why?: While I don’t believe Jon Beason will be ready to play the first 1-2 games of the season, I do think he’ll be healthy enough to make the Giants comfortable keeping just six linebackers on the team. The interesting thing about this year’s group is that four (Beason, Herzlich, McClain, Kennard) all have the ability to play the middle of the defense. Even if McClain goes down in the middle, the Giants have several others that can fill in.

One cut that I went back-and-forth on for a bit was whether or not Mark Herzlich would make the team or Dan Fox. Herzlich is in very warm water and if Fox can show similar value on special teams, he’ll get the nod. If not, I see Fox headed to the practice squad. This decision came down to a coin flip, Fox was tails and it landed on heads.

SAFETIES
SS: Antre Rolle, Quintin Demps, Nat Berhe
FS: Stevie Brown, Cooper Taylor
Notable Cuts: C.J. Barnett, Thomas Gordon
Why?: This is more of a ‘why are the Giants keeping five safeties’ than ‘why someone was cut.’ I did’t see any scenario (except injury) where Barnett or Gordon made the final 53, but would the Giants keep five at the position?

From talking to coaches and Cooper Taylor himself, it seems like last year’s fifth-round pick is in the team’s plans. This year’s fifth-round pick, Nat Berhe, has flashed during the offseason and I don’t think general manager Jerry Reese would cut a player drafted that high. Not to mention, there is zero guarantee Stevie Brown’s surgically repaired knee can hold up throughout the entire season. The crazy thing is, if Will Hill’s appeal had been won, one of them would be getting cut.

The biggest issue that keeping both Taylor and Berhe caused was the fact it all but sealed the fact the Giants can’t keep seven corners.

Charles James, New York Giants (August 24, 2013)

Can Charles James crack the Giants final 53-man roster?– © USA TODAY Sports Images

CORNERBACKS
RCB: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Zack Bowman
LCB: Prince Amukamara, Trumaine McBride, Charles James
NICKEL: Walter Thurmond
Notable Cuts: Jayron Hosley, Bennett Jackson, Travis Howard, Ross Weaver, Kyle Sebetic
Why? Every single logical scenario I played out in my mind had a very good player getting cut. There was no way the Giants could keep all their corners and whoever doesn’t make the team will wind up on someone else’s 53.

I’ll start with the first move: cutting Jayron Hosley. The fact the former third-round pick is serving a four-game suspension will keep him on the team early on. If Rodgers-Cromartie, Amukamara or Thurmond go down, Hosley will be activated and the other IR’d. But if everyone stays healthy, Hosley will be cut. From my understanding, the Giants have had enough with the underperforming, often-injured and now suspended corner.

The final roster spot that I believe is up for grabs is cornerback position No. 6. Assuming Trumaine McBride is healthy, I view him as a lock. That leaves both Charles James and Bennett Jackson. While Jackson may have an edge on special teams, James showed much more as a corner in the offseason. James also has value as a special-teamer, bringing it down to a coin flip. This will be a battle reported on extensively throughout camp and won’t be decided until the final cut-down day. Whomever shows more will get the spot. The Giants hope the other clears waivers so they can stash him on their practice squad.

One scenario I could see unfolding is one that involves Zack Bowman getting cut and both Charles James and Bennett Jackson making the roster. In order for this to happen, both James and Jackson will need to show they are as good on defense as the corner and can contribute equally as much on special teams. Bowman has excelled on special teams throughout his career and is regarded as one of the best in the league. It’ll be tough to unseat him, but not out of the question.

SPECIAL TEAMS
K: Josh Brown
KR: Quintin Demps
P: Steve Weatherford
PR: Trindon Holliday
LS: Zack DeOssie
GUNNERS: Charles James and Zack Bowman
Notable Cuts: Brandon McManus
Why?: The Giants gambled on a young, unproven kicker with a strong leg once before and it cost them a divisional title. I just cannot see coach Tom Coughlin risking it again. I’m not saying Brandon McManus is the next Matt Dodge, but Josh Brown has been doing it too successfully for too long to warrant a cut. He had a good season last year, proved he can kick at MetLife and still has a few good years left in him.

ERIC KENNEDY’S FINAL 53-MAN ROSTER – DEFENSE AND SPECIAL TEAMS

DEFENSIVE LINE
LDE: Mathias Kiwanuka, Robert Ayers
LDT: Johnathan Hankins, Mike Patterson
RDT: Cullen Jenkins, Markus Kuhn, Jay Bromley
RDE: Jason Pierre-Paul, Damontre Moore
Notable Cuts: Adam Kendrick, Emmanuel Dieke, Jordan Stanton, Kerry Wynn, Everett Dawkins, Kelcy Quarles
Why?: Barring injury, I think this is relatively straight forward unless one of the rookie or street free agents really surprise. I think 2014 will be a “redshirt” year for Bromley similar to what Linval Joseph and Johnathan Hankins went through as rookies.  I don’t expect him to be active on game day much. The biggest question to me here is who starts opposite JPP? Kiwanuka, Ayers, or Moore?

LINEBACKERS
Perry Fewell’s misnamed WILL: Jacquian Williams, Spencer Paysinger
MIKE: Jon Beason, Dan Fox
Perry Fewell’s misnamed SAM: Jameel McClain, Devon Kennard
Notable Cuts: Mark Herzlich, Spencer Adkins, Justin Anderson, Terrell Manning
Why?: Barring injury, I also think this is pretty straight forward with the exception of Dan Fox possibly beating out Mark Herzlich. Unless Herzlich dramatically improves in this camp, I’d rather go with someone with more potential. I think we’ve pretty much seen what Herzlich can do.

SAFETIES
SS: Antre Rolle, Quintin Demps (third safety)
FS: Stevie Brown, Cooper Taylor
Notable Cuts: Nat Berhe, C.J. Barnett, Thomas Gordon, Kyle Sebetic
Why?: In trying to get to 53, my biggest problem was finding room for either 11 defensive backs, 9 defensive linemen, six wide receivers, or five running backs/fullbacks. I’d prefer to keep Berhe, but barring injury (a big potential factor), I think the Giants keep 9 defensive linemen, six wide receivers, and five backs. I also think they keep six corners. My guess is they try to “redshirt” Berhe on the Practice Squad, especially given his lack of ideal size and overall athleticism.

CORNERBACKS
RCB: Prince Amukamara, Walter Thurmond (nickel), Bennett Jackson
LCB: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Zack Bowman, Charles James
Notable Cuts: Trumaine McBride, Jayron Hosley, Travis Howard, Ross Weaver
Why? The initial 4-game suspension of Hosley actually may work in the Giants favor. If someone else gets hurt in the first month of the season, Hosley is obviously a legit option. My biggest upset here is Bennett Jackson beating out McBride. Why? Jackson is a very good special teams player; McBride is not. Plus Jackson has a bigger upside. McBride may be only the fifth best cornerback on the team now and I think Charles James will surpass him this camp. I do wonder where DRC will line-up? One would think Amukamara would stay at RCB and DRC at LCB, but the Giants seem to  have indicated to DRC that he will cover the opposing team’s best receiver, which is usually the split end or X receiver.

SPECIAL TEAMS
K: Josh Brown
KR: Trindon Holliday
P: Steve Weatherford
PR: Trindon Holliday
LS: Zack DeOssie
GUNNERS: Zack Bowman and Bennett Jackson
Notable Cuts: Brandon McManus
Why?: Like Connor, the great debate I see here is at placekicker. Do the Giants go with the younger, strong-legged McManus over the old, proven veteran? I think Coach Coughlin will want to play it safe. Jerry Reese may not. Quintin Demps is a very good kickoff returner with nearly the same yards per return average as Holliday. And Holliday has had ball security issues. But Holliday is a home-run threat every time he touches the ball. Six return touchdowns in two seasons? That’s Devin Hester in his prime territory. Bowman and Jackson may be the best duo of gunners the Giants have had in some time.

Jul 192014
 
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Eli Manning (10), Victor Cruz (80), New York Giants (December 9, 2012)

What’s the Giants’ starting offense going to look like in 2014? – © USA TODAY Sports Images

With the positional breakdowns in the rear-view mirror, BigBlueInteractive.com turns its attention to one final task before training camp begins in a few days.

Our prediction at the final New York Giants depth chart and 53-man roster.

There is no sure way to tell what is going to happen in training camp, what injuries will occur and what undrafted rookie jumps out to surprise a veteran. We know we’re good here at BBI, but predicting injuries? That’s a bit above our pay scale.

Below you will find the final depth chart prediction from both Connor Hughes and Eric Kennedy on the Giants’ offense. Tomorrow, we’ll debut the defense. Below each positional group, you’ll get some insight into why those players were selected, were there any surprise cuts and what factors went into the final decision.

CONNOR HUGHES’ FINAL 53-MAN ROSTER – OFFENSE

Ryan Nassib, New York Giants (May 20, 2014)

Can Ryan Nassib be the Giants’ No. 2 quarterback? – Photo by Connor Hughes

QUARTERBACKS:
1st String: Eli Manning
2nd String: Ryan Nassib
Notable Cuts: Curtis Painter
Why?: I’m not sold on Ryan Nassib, but looking across the Giants roster I just can’t envision any scenario where the team keeps three quarterbacks. Do I believe Nassib can lead the Giants if Eli goes down? No. But I don’t think Curtis Painter could, either. The Giants will roll the dice with Nassib barring a horrid display in the preseason.

RUNNING BACKS:
1st String: Rashad Jennings
2nd String: David Wilson
3rd String: Andre Williams
4th String: Peyton Hillis
Notable Cuts: Michael Cox, Kendall Gaskins
Why?: I went back to this positional group a few times to see if there was any situation the Giants keep just three backs, there isn’t. After how bad things went last year, the Giants want as many bodies here as possible. It was tough cutting Michael Cox, but between he and Hillis, I think Hillis is more polished and the Giants would feel more comfortable going with him. People forget, Hillis had a nice season last year.

John Conner, New York Giants (December 22, 2013)

John Conner – © USA TODAY Sports Images

FULLBACKS:
1st String: John Conner
Notable Cut: Henry Hynoski
Why?: This one really is a toss up and will be the last cut the Giants make. Both players have their highs and lows, but in the end I think Conner has more upside.

WIDE RECEIVERS:
1st String Outside: Rueben Randle
2nd String Outside: Mario Manningham
1st String Outside: Odell Beckham Jr.
1st String Slot: Victor Cruz
2nd String Slot/Outside: Jerrel Jernigan
3rd String Slot: Trindon Holliday
Notable Cuts: Marcus Harris, Travis Harvey, Preston Parker, Julian Talley, Corey Washington
Why?: Initially I put together a depth chart without counting the number of players I was putting on. Then, I went back and made ‘cuts’ based on how many players I needed to get down to. This was one of the positions I needed to rework. I had Marcus Harris making the team but removed him. Truly I believe Harris has a legit shot at making this team and it will be a camp battle between him and Mario Manningham. If Manningham isn’t 100 percent, Harris could be given the nod.

TIGHT END:
1st String: Adrien Robinson
2nd String: Larry Donnell
3rd String: Kellen Davis
Notable Cuts: Xavier Grimble, Daniel Fells
Why?: I think the third tight end competition will be a good one, but with the health questions regarding Robinson and Donnell, having a veteran there instead of an unproven rookie may be the team’s best bet. If Grimble is cut, I see him heading to the practice squad if he clears waivers.

OFFENSIVE LINE:
LT: William Beatty
Back-up: Charles Brown
LG: Geoff Schwartz
Back-up: Eric Hermann
C:  J.D. Walton
Back-up: Weston Richburg
RG: Brandon Mosley
Back-up: John Jerry
RT: Justin Pugh
Notable Cuts: Chris Snee, James Brewer, Troy Kropog, DeMarcus Love, Roger Gaines, Jamaal Johnson-Webb

Chris Snee and Pat Flaherty, New York Giants (July 27, 2013)

Snee was on the sideline for much of the Giants’ offseason workouts – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Why?: Initially I had James Brewer making the roster, but he was one of my final three cuts I needed to make. Chris Snee on the other hand, I never had making the team in the first place.

Throughout his career, Snee has been the ultimate Giant and everything the team could have wanted in a guard. Now? He’s a shade of his former self. I have little belief he’ll make it out of camp healthy and will retire before the season starts. He started a full-go during the non-contact portion of OTAs and couldn’t make it two weeks before a past injury flared up.

ERIC KENNEDY’S FINAL 53-MAN ROSTER – OFFENSE

Sidenote: Trying to guess the final 53-man roster in July is more than a bit silly, especially since there will probably be one or two players on the final roster who are currently not on the team. But we thought this would spark some fun debate.

QUARTERBACKS:
1st String: Eli Manning
2nd String: Ryan Nassib
Notable Cuts: Curtis Painter
Why?: When Curtis Painter played last year, he looked horrible. The Giants have too much invested in Nassib to give up on him this soon. The Giants won’t have the “luxury” of carrying three quarterbacks this season. If they do, that would be a terrible indictment on Nassib.

RUNNING BACKS:
1st String: Rashad Jennings
2nd String: David Wilson
3rd String: Peyton Hillis
4th String: Andre Williams
Notable Cuts: Michael Cox, Kendall Gaskins
Why?: If David Wilson is healthy, I really like this group. I like the  physical nature and size of Jennings, Hillis, and Williams. And Wilson is a home-run threat every time he touches the ball. Jennings, Wilson, and Hillis can all catch too. I see Hillis as a nice one-back runner/receiver/blocker, possibly as a third-down back. I’m not sure how many touches Williams will see as a rookie. I think Michael Cox can play in this league, but it’s a numbers game.

FULLBACKS:
1st String: John Conner
Notable Cut: Henry Hynoski
Why?: Hynoski is the favorite with many fans and the media, but I simply think Conner is the better blocker, receiver, and runner. He hits like Thor’s hammer and is a better athlete than given credit for. I love Hynoski, but he’s a bit on the stiff side.

WIDE RECEIVERS:
1st String (2-WR Set): Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz
1st String (3-WR Set): Odell Beckham Jr., Rueben Randle, and Victor Cruz
Reserves: Trindon Holliday, Jerrel Jernigan, Marcus Harris
Notable Cuts: Mario Manningham, Julian Talley, Travis Harvey, Corey Washington, and Preston Parker
Why?: The safe bet is Mario Manningham making the team. But I wonder how much a very serious knee injury – that he tried to come back from too soon last season – will impact his overall game which primarily based on speed and quickness (and not great route running and technique)? My gut says one of the relatively unknown reserves flashes enough ability and special teams production (as a coverman and blocker) to encourage the Giants to part ways with Manningham, who has very little special teams value. However, if Manningham shows more than Randle, all bets are off.

TIGHT END:
1st String: Adrien Robinson
2nd String: Larry Donnell
3rd String: Xavier Grimble
Notable Cuts: Kellen Davis, Daniel Fells
Why?: The safe prediction here would to be have a veteran on the roster, either Kellen Davis, Daniel Fells, or someone not currently on the team. But Davis and Fells have already bounced around the NFL and, rightly or wrongly, I think management is still intrigued with Robinson and Donnell’s upside (size, overall athletic ability, hands, blocking). Grimble has too much potential to chance him on the Practice Squad. Ultimately, I still see this as a rebuilding team and I don’t think you rebuild with guys like Davis and Fells.

OFFENSIVE LINE:
LT: William Beatty
Back-up: Charles Brown
LG: Geoff Schwartz
Back-up: Brandon Mosley
C:  J.D. Walton
Back-up: Weston Richburg
RG: Chris Snee
Back-up: John Jerry
RT: Justin Pugh
Notable Cuts: James Brewer, Eric Herman, Troy Kropog, DeMarcus Love, Roger Gaines, Jamaal Johnson-Webb, Dallas Reynolds
Why?: Whether Chris Snee is capable of playing a full 16-game schedule is questionable at best. My guess is Tom Coughlin will make the same mistake the team has in the past with injured and fading players on the offensive line and give Snee most of the first-team reps in camp and allow him to start the season. It may be best to start Jerry, Mosley, or Richburg and cut ties with Snee. That said, my biggest concern on the line is the health status of Will Beatty, and his ability to rebound from a poor season. How much time will he miss in training camp?

Jul 182014
 
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Trindon Holliday, New York Giants (June 12, 2014)

Trindon Holliday – © USA TODAY Sports Images

With New York Giants training camp beginning next week, BigBlueInteractive.com concludes our break down of each of the team’s positional groups. We finish by looking at this year’s special teams.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Special Teams

2013 YEAR IN REVIEW: For the most part, the specials of the New York Giants in 2013 were quite poor. The exception was PK Josh Brown who made 23-of-26 field goals (88.5 percent) with a long of 52 yards. In addition, half of Brown’s kickoffs (35-of-70) resulted in touchbacks. P Steve Weatherford was inconsistent. He started off poorly but improved as the season wore on. In 2013, Weatherford, averaged 46.9 yards per punt with a net average of 38.2. The usually reliable long-snapper Zak DeOssie had a poor snap against the Eagles that resulted in a touchdown.

Punt coverage was terrible. The Giants were 3rd-worst in the NFL in opposing punt return average (13.6 yards per return) and allowed three punts to be returned for touchdowns.

Kickoff coverage was better as the Giants were 9th-best in the NFL, allowing an average of 21.8 yards per return.

The Giants return game was not good. The Giants were 26th in the NFL in punt returns, averaging only 7.2 yards per return. WR Rueben Randle was the primary punt returner, averaging 8.2 yards per return with a long of 32 yards.

The Giants were 27th in the NFL in kickoff returns, averaging only 21.2 yards per return. The Giants tried a number of players with similar results, including RB Michael Cox (21.8 yards per return) and WR Jerrel JerniganRB David Wilson (24.7) had a bit more success on his limited number of returns.

In sum, the return yardage differential between the Giants and their opponents was too great, making it tougher for the Giants offense and defense and easier for the oppositions’ offense and defense. The Giants also gave up four special teams touchdowns.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The primary punter, kicker, and long snapper all return though it appears that Josh Brown will face a bit of a challenge from strong-legged place kicker Brandon McManus.

On paper, it appears the Giants dramatically improved their stable of returners with the additions of Trindon Holliday, Quintin Demps, and Odell Beckham, Jr.

Holliday has averaged over 27 yards per kickoff return and 9 yards per punt return in his career, including a total of six return touchdowns the last two seasons (three kickoff, three punt). Demps has also averaged over 27 yards per kick return and has two career kickoff return touchdowns. Beckham was a dynamic kickoff and punt returner at LSU.

Who will form the cover teams and blockers on returns remains to be seen. Newcomers CB Zack Bowman (ex-Chicago Bears) and CB Bennett Jackson (Notre Dame) have strong special teams reputations.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: Trindon Holliday is a home-run threat every time he touches the football as his six career return touchdowns in the last two seasons indicate, including two returns for touchdowns against the Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs. However, he has major fumbling issues (10 lost in the last two seasons). Can the Giants improve his ball security?

David Wilson, New York Giants (December 9, 2012)

David Wilson – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Will David Wilson, if he is medically cleared (neck), be allowed to compete in the kickoff return game? Just two years ago, he set a team record with 1,533 kickoff return yards, averaging 26.9 yards per return. Same question regarding Odell Beckham…will the Giants seriously allow him to compete as a punt returner?

Based on comments from the coaches, Brandon McManus is more than an extra leg so his competition with Josh Brown will be more interesting than usual.

It’s not sexy, but the Giants have to find players who can do a better job of blocking for the returners and covering opposing returners. They need some headhunters out there.

ON THE BUBBLE: Trindon Holliday if he doesn’t fix his fumbling issues or show more than he has to date at wide receiver. There will only be one roster spot for Josh Brown vs. Brandon McManus. Brown is the reliable, experienced veteran, but he’s 35. McManus has the big leg but is a big unknown.

Tom Quinn, Tom Coughlin, New York Giants (August 29, 2012)

Tom Quinn and Tom Coughlin – © USA TODAY Sports Images

FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Tom Quinn on the gunners:  “(Zack) Bowman, (Bennett) Jackson, we’re really excited about those two. Charles James continues to do well so it will be exciting to see those guys run down and cover punts.”

Quinn on Trindon Holliday: “His speed’s an asset, that’s for sure. He’s a strong guy for his size, ball security obviously will be his biggest focus once we start putting pads on and start knocking him around a little bit.”

Quinn on Brandon McManus: “I really like McManus, I liked him coming out. He went to Indy for last training camp and preseason and I thought he was really a good kicker coming out of Temple. He’s kicked in the northeast at a high level, he did all three so I think he’s got a real big upside once it all starts clicking for him.”

Quinn on Quintin Demps: “Demps, we’re real excited to have him. He’s been consistent in this league and explosive. He’s a legitimate number one kickoff returner for us. He runs with good size and he has a real good understanding of the schemes. He’s been great with all teams. A real leader, coming in likely to start and he’ll be able to contribute on special teams.”

PREDICTIONS:

Eric Kennedy – I may go down in flames with this prediction but I think Trindon Holliday finds a home with the Giants both a less mistake-prone kickoff/punt returner and factor on offense as a role player. I think the Josh Brown vs. Brandon McManus battle could be very telling in terms of where this team actually thinks it is as viable Super Bowl competitor. If they believe they are rebuilding, the choice may be McManus.

Connor Hughes – It’s hard to think of a unit that was worse than the Giants’ offensive line last year, but the special teams sure give them a run for their money. Truly, things couldn’t have gotten much worse for Tom Quinn’s squad and there is only up to go from here. I’m very, very high on the addition of Trindon Holliday and Quintin Demps. While Demps may not have the touchdown returns, if he’s able to get the Giants the ball on the 30-35 yard line regularly it’ll pay huge dividends. Holliday, meanwhile, is the little spark plug the Giants have never really had on special teams.

During their prime, Willie Ponder and Domenik Hixon each were explosive, but none can match what Holliday can do when he’s ‘on.’ The ex-Bronco and Texan is electric and will take at least one to the house this year. If he can hold on to the ball…he may turn out to be one of the bigger acquisitions the Giants made this offseason.

The Giants’ coverage unit should also see improvements this year. Zack Bowman has excelled in the role throughout his career and Bennett Jackson had similar success in college. Barring injuries, I’m expecting to see vast improvements from the special teams.

FINAL DEPTH CHART:

Eric Kennedy – Trindon Holliday (kickoff and punt returner), Josh Brown (place kicker), Steve Weatherford (punter), Zak DeOssie (long snapper)

Connor Hughes – Quintin Demps (kickoff returner), Trindon Holliday (punt returner), Josh Brown (place kicker), Steve Weatherford (punter), Zak DeOssie (long snapper)

Jul 172014
 
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Antrel Rolle, New York Giants (November 17, 2013)

Antrel Rolle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

With the New York Giants reporting to camp next week, BigBlueInteractive.com is breaking down each of the team’s positional groups from now until July 21. Today, let’s take a look at this year’s safeties.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWNS: Safeties

Will Hill, New York Giants (October 27, 2013)

Will Hill – © USA TODAY Sports Images

2013 YEAR IN REVIEW: Things truly couldn’t have started much worse for the Giants’ safety unit in 2013. In the team’s third preseason game versus the Jets, Stevie Brown injured his knee returning an interception and was lost for the year.

Shades of C.C. Brown began to dance in the minds of fans… then Will Hill happened.

Hill returned from a four-game suspension to take over as the Giants’ starting safety opposite Antrel Rolle. Hill recorded 77 tackles, two forced fumbles, two interceptions and scored a game-winning touchdown versus the Lions. For 12 weeks, Hill flashed the play-making ability that made him one of the more coveted recruits out of high school. The safety played with reckless abandon, a never-ending motor and was constantly around the ball. As was the case versus the Redskins when Hill ripped the ball out of the hands of Pierre Garcon on fourth-and-1, preserving a Giants victory.

While the 24-year-old’s season was impressive, so was that of his safety counterpart.

Finally being allowed to play safety full time, Antrel Rolle put together his best season in a Giants’ uniform. The former first-round pick earned Pro-Bowl honors, finished with the team lead in tackles (98) and interceptions (6), recorded two sacks and forced fumble a fumble.

Behind Hill and Rolle, Ryan Mundy was solid in Perry Fewell’s signature three-safety package. The 29-year-old was a force down in the box and recorded 77 tackles, good for fifth on the team. Rookie Cooper Taylor saw limited action, mostly on special teams.

Quintin Demps, Kansas City Chiefs (December 15, 2013)

Quintin Demps – © USA TODAY Sports Images

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: Get this one out of the way early: After captivating the hearts of fans, Will Hill’s unbelievable season won’t get an encore. For the third consecutive year, Hill faced a drug-related suspension after his urine came up positive for marijuana. While the third-year player claimed it was for ‘second-hand pot,’ the six-game suspension was the last straw in a troubled career. The Giants cut ties with Hill, having warned him over and over again he was on his last strike. Ryan Mundy also left when the Giants’ chose not to renew his one-year contract.

The team re-signed Stevie Brown, who looks to have slid back into his starting safety position. Quintin Demps was brought over from Kansas City and Nat Berhe was drafted in the fifth round. C.J. Barnett and Thomas Gordon were brought in as undrafted rookies.

TRAINING CAMP STORYLINES: The health of Stevie Brown and his ability to ‘replace’ Will Hill may be the No. 1 question heading into camp. While Brown did record a league-high eight interceptions in 2012, many were a result of being in the right place at the right time and teams wanted to test the unproven Brown. Does he have the natural athletic ability that Hill has? No. Can he be serviceable? Yes. How serviceable? No one knows.

Cooper Taylor’s progression and the overall talent of Nat Berhe will worth keeping an eye on. Taylor has added muscle in the offseason, per the coaches request, and may be a sleeper to see increased playing time in his second year. In college, Berhe played San Diego State’s ‘Aztec’ position, a hybrid mix of the linebacker and safety positions. If he develops, he may make an immediate impact, but will need to climb the depth chart first.

ON THE BUBBLE: There really isn’t any big-name player that is in jeopardy of being cut. Right now, the Giants have seven safeties on the roster and figure to keep four or five. The odd men out? Most likely C.J. Barnett and Thomas Gordon. Cooper Taylor may be in warm water, but the odds of Jerry Reese cutting last year’s fifth-round pick are slim-to-none.

FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: David Merritt on what makes Quintin Demps a good candidate as the team’s third safety: “His speed, his ability to actually change directions and burst. Quintin has played back in the post for most of his career. One of the things that he told me when he first arrived was, ‘Coach, I want to be down near the box.’ So when he said that I said, ‘Well you know what, I’m going to give you all of the tools to hopefully help you be successful down around the box.’ His speed, his ability to change directions and burst is one of the valuable assets that he brings to the table.

“Because he’s played back so many years as a deep safety, being back 20 yards. When you’ve been back there for that amount of years you want to get down around the action. I think he probably has seen guys being down around the action, Berry that he played with in Kansas City, Pollard, the kid that was with him in Houston so he’s see all of these guys down around the action where he’s been back just as a safety valve. Now he’s down close to the box and he’s learning the linebacker aspect of it.”

PREDICTIONS:
Connor Hughes – I’m very, very concerned with Stevie Brown heading into the 2014 season. Not necessarily for his health, but simply because I’m not convinced he’s a starting-caliber player in the NFL.

Stevie Brown, New York Giants (October 7, 2012)

Stevie Brown – © USA TODAY Sports Images

What made Brown so good for the majority of the 2012 season was that he was allowed to play back in the ‘Kenny Phillips’ role. Brown would line up 15-20 yards behind the defense, wait for the deep ball and then track it down in the air. When Phillips played the position, teams stayed away from the deep pass. When Brown played it, they attacked him. The result? Eight interceptions.

If Quintin Demps can develop into a player that can play down in the box, as Merritt suggested he wants to do, then Brown can go back to playing the ‘Kenny Phillips’ role. It best suits him as he’s not an incredible player in the box. With that being said, can Demps play in the box? He’s unproven, just like every Giants’ safety not named ‘Antrel.’

I agreed entirely with the Giants decision to cut Will Hill. It was time. You can’t send that message to the locker room keeping him on the team. But looking over the roster, I just don’t see a viable replacement. The revamped and retooled cornerback position is going to have to carry the load. With their paychecks, that shouldn’t be a problem.

With that being said, there will be times Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie guesses wrong, it’s part of his game. Will there be a player behind him to catch his mistake? We’ll see.

Eric Kennedy – Losing Will Hill was a huge blow. The defense dramatically improved in 2013 once Jon Beason and Will Hill were inserted into the starting line-up. Hill looked like a future Pro Bowl free safety. He might have been the best player on the team last season. Now he’s bagging groceries. Stupid is as stupid does. Like Connor, I have my doubts about Stevie Brown. In 2012, he definitely had a nose for the football, but he also was missing in action on some big pass plays. In addition, he doesn’t hit or play the run like a big safety. I’d accept fewer interceptions if you could guarantee fewer big coverage breakdowns and better run defense.

The coaches have been talking up Quintin Demps more than his reputation in Philadelphia and Kansas City should indicate. Demps thinks he is better suited closer to the line of scrimmage and he may be right. Demps has the inside track on the third safety position in the Giants three-safety package. If he stumbles, Cooper Taylor has the physical tools to steal playing time.

My prediction is that 31-year old Antrel Rolle hasn’t peaked and will have an even better season in 2014. He’s the unquestioned leader of the strongest part of the defense. I expect that to motivate him, as well the fact that he’s entering the final year of his current contract. And I expect the talent at cornerback to allow him to take more chances to make plays on the football. He hasn’t returned a pick for a touchdown yet as a Giant (four times with Cardinals), but I believe he will do that twice in 2014.

FINAL DEPTH CHART
Connor Hughes – Antrel Rolle/Stevie Brown start. Quintin Demps third safety. Cooper Taylor and Nat Berhe reserve. C.J. Barnett, and Thomas Gordon cut.

Eric Kennedy – Antrel Rolle/Stevie Brown start. Quintin Demps third safety. Cooper Taylor reserve. Nat Berhe, C.J. Barnett, and Thomas Gordon cut. My biggest problem is figuring out how the Giants get from 54 to 53. My gut says Nat Berhe makes the team, but I can’t see how the Giants can carry 11 defensive backs in addition to nine defensive linemen, six wide receivers, and five running backs/fullback. Something has to give. I’m guessing they try to sneak Berhe onto the Practice Squad. C.J. Barnett and Thomas Gordon have some talent too.

Jul 152014
 
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Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, New York Giants (June 12, 2014)

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – © USA TODAY Sports Images

With New York Giants training camp beginning next week, BigBlueInteractive.com continues to break down each of the team’s positional groups until July 21. Today, let’s take a look at this year’s cornerbacks.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Cornerbacks

Prince Amukamara, New York Giants (June 12, 2014)

Prince Amukamara – © USA TODAY Sports Images

2013 YEAR IN REVIEW: The one steady constant at cornerback in 2013 was Prince Amukamara at right corner. In his third year with the Giants, and his second as a full-time starter, Amukamara developed into the team’s best corner. Amukamara started all 16 games and finished the year with 85 tackles, 14 pass defenses, 1 interception, and 2 forced fumbles. Things did not go as planned at left corner. Corey Webster had issues with his hip, groin, and ankle. He only started two games before the Giants finally gave up on him and placed him on Injured Reserve in December. His primary back-up, Aaron Ross, only started two games before being placed on Injured Reserve in October with a back injury. Jayron Hosley was next in line but he suffered a significant hamstring in jury in Week 4 that sidelined him for the next five games and nagged him much of the rest of the season. Hosley played in 11 games with one start, finishing the season with just 9 tackles and 2 pass defenses. The player who benefited the most from these injuries was Trumaine McBride. McBride was an under-the-radar street free agent signing who ended up playing in 15 games with 10 starts. He finished 2013 with 37 tackles, 15 pass defenses, 2 interceptions, and 1 forced fumble. Terrell Thomas, coming off back-to-back ACL tears in 2011 and 2012, was primarily used as the nickel slot corner. Though limited all year in practice, he played in all 16 games with seven starts and finished the season with 67 tackles, 1 sack, 7 pass defenses, 1 interception, and 1 forced fumble. Charles James was a rookie free agent who played in 12 games, almost exclusively on special teams.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: Massive changes occurred at cornerback in the offseason. The only ones returning are Prince Amukamara, Trumaine McBride, Jayron Hosley, and Charles James. The Giants have also decided to invite 2013 Practice Squad players Ross Weaver and Travis Howard to training camp.

Gone are former stalwarts Corey Webster, Aaron Ross, and Terrell Thomas. 2013 Practice Squaders Junior Mertile and Chaz Powell were also waived after initially being re-signed in January.

The major new additions are Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (from Denver, 5-years, $35 million), Walter Thurmond III (from Seattle, 1-year, $3 million), and Zack Bowman (from Chicago, 1-year, $730,000). The Giants also drafted Bennett Jackson in the 6th round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: How good is Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (DRC)? Some believe he is capable of being one of the NFL’s elite corners, others say he is overrated. The Giants are expecting (and paying) him to be core impact player. If DRC plays as well as hoped, teams that avoided Prince Amukamara in 2013 will now come after him in 2014. How will he respond? Is he capable of making more plays in the football (only 1 interception per year in three seasons). Is Walter Thurmond as good as advertised as a slot corner? If DRC, Amukamara, and Thurmond live up to the hype, along the expected strong play of the safeties, the major overall storyline is the shifting of the strength of the defense from the front-end to the back-end.

ON THE BUBBLE: The Giants will definitely carry five, and quite possibly six cornerbacks. Barring injury, Rodgers-Cromartie, Amukamara, and Thurmond are locks. Another under-the-radar signing, Zack Bowman, who looked very sharp in the OTAs. Trumaine McBride had hip surgery in January and missed all of the offseason work. He may be on shakier ground than many realize. Continued injury (injury plagued in both 2012 and 2013) and drug issues (upcoming 4-game suspension) have really hurt Jayron Hosley’s chances to make the team. Charles James and Bennett Jackson have talent but will have to fight tooth-and-nail to make the team. Both are helped by their special teams ability however.

FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Peter Giunta on the Giants depth at cornerback:  “We’ve got 10 quality corners right now in the program…Bringing in two guys that started in the Super Bowl obviously helps…We have great depth at that position, the deepest I’ve ever had in my years in the league.

Giunta on DRC and Amukamara: “Yes (they can both cover another team’s top receiver). They both have the skill set and both have done it in their careers, gone out and played on the best guy. They’ll battle, they’ll compete and we’ll be able to have an advantage I think playing those guy.”

Giunta on Rodgers-Cromartie: “He’s got that other gear. He can run as fast as he needs to run to get up on top of a receiver, catch up to a receiver. He’s got that gear that’s incredible. He’s such a smooth athlete. His length is so good and his ball skills are fantastic. He’s got that great skill set where he’s got the speed to recover if he does beat, he’s got the quickness to recover. He’s got the length to reach out and knock balls away that other corners wouldn’t be able to get to and he’s got great hands to make plays on the ball in the air. He’s got what you’re looking for in a corner.”

Giunta on Amukamara: “He improved, he understands well, he communicates well, his instincts, his awareness are really developing. You can really see it in (OTAs) now, he’s on top of all of the stuff. Now he’s starting to gamble a bit and take some chances, which you like to see because you’re taking calculated guesses and risking, ‘Hey, I’m going to go make a play.’ That’s what you want. He’s developed that confidence in himself and the defense, he knows what’s coming.”

Giunta on Thurmond: “He does a great job of studying, he has a great awareness of what people are trying to do to him. He plays with great leverage, understands his drops as an underneath defender. He’s able to get there, get breaks off the quarterback. He’s got great vision and to play inside like that you have to have great vision of everything that’s going on around you, it happens so much quicker. Corner you’re using the sideline to help you but in (the slot) you have so much space, especially covering guys. He’s done a great job. He’s got great quickness and he’s a great (technician). You’ll see that when we’re able to put our hands on people in training camp.”

PREDICTIONS:

Zack Bowman, Chicago Bears (October 10, 2013)

Zack Bowman – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Eric Kennedy – On paper, this is the deepest unit on the team strongest group of corners the Giants have had in my lifetime. Of course, the proof is in the pudding. Moreover, each year, we have seen mental breakdowns in Perry Fewell’s secondary, often followed by a mid-season “dumbing down” in order to reduce blown coverages. Will that same issue rear its ugly head again in 2014 or will the Giants’ secondary carry this defense from the get-go?

Predictions? DRC and Thurmond become fan favorites with their play. Bowman becomes a more important addition than fans currently realize. I think Charles James is underrated but stuck behind the quality guys in front of him.

Connor Hughes – I am incredibly optimistic about the Giants’ cornerbacks heading into this season. More so this year than any year I can remember in recent memory. In the past, veterans on the last leg of their careers, bargain-bought free agents and low-end draft picks occupied the Giants’ secondary as the vaunted defensive line pressured the quarterback. As teams countered with quick-passes to reveal holes in the secondary, the Giants have countered by putting more money into the cornerback position.

I believe Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Prince Amukamara can form one of the top three cornerback tandems in the NFL. I love the return of Trumaine McBride and the potential of Charles James. More than anything else, I can’t wait to see what Walter Thurmond III has to offer.

The first time Thurmond talked to the media, he told them he was the best slot corner in the league. He comes from a secondary the Giants’ believe they can collectively be as good and has an attitude to be the best. Of every acquisition the Giants made, the biggest I truly believe will be Thurmond.

FINAL DEPTH CHART:

Eric Kennedy – Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Prince Amukamara, Walter Thurmond, Zack Bowman, Charles James, Bennett Jackson.

Jayron Hosley misses the first four games due to the drug suspension and could still be brought back depending on injuries. My longshot prediction is Bennett Jackson making it over Trumaine McBride, who was re-signed to a 2-year, $2.875 million contract this offseason. I think Jackson’s special teams play and overall potential keeps him on the roster.

Connor Hughes – Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (RCB), Prince Amukamara (LCB), Walter Thurmond III (nickel), Trumaine McBride (dime), Zack Bowman (reserve), Charles James (reserve).

Jul 132014
 
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Jacquian Williams (57), New York Giants (January 22, 2012)

Barring injury, Jacquian Williams will be the Giants starting WILL linebacker – © USA TODAY Sports Images

With the New York Giants reporting to training camp in just a couple weeks, BigBlueInteractive.com is breaking down each of the team’s positional groups from now until July 21. Today, let’s take a look at the linebackers.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWNLinebackers

Jon Beason, New York Giants (December 22, 2013)

Jon Beason was solid in the middle for New York last year – © USA TODAY Sports Images

2013 YEAR IN REVIEW: In a year of mostly downs, the Giants’ linebackers were one of the team’s few bright spots in 2013. After acquiring Jon Beason via trade from the Carolina Panthers, the middle linebacker established himself as a force in the middle of the Giants’ defense. Beason finished with 93 tackles and an interception in 11 games. Outside Beason, Keith Rivers and Spencer Paysinger were solid in the team’s base 4-3 set while Jacquian Williams continued to establish himself as one of the better coverage linebackers in the game.

In 2012, the Giants defense was one of the worst against the run, finishing 25th in the NFL, but rebounded nicely last year. Coupled with a rebuilt interior defensive unit, the Giants rushed allowed an average of 108.9 rushing yards per game, good for 14th in the NFL.

Against some of the league’s best, the Giants played their strongest. New York held Jamaal Charles (KC) to 65 yards rushing, Matt Forte (CHI) to 67, Adrien Peterson (MIN) to 28, LeSean McCoy (PHI) to 94 in two games, Eddie Lacey (GB) to 27 and Marshawn Lynch (SEA) to 47.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: Not much has changed at the linebacker position for the Giants. Beason was re-signed and Rivers was allowed to walk. The lone notable addition via free agency was that of ex-Baltimore Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain. Devon Kennard was drafted in the fifth round out of USC and has earned early praise from the coaching staff.

Devon Kennard, USC Trojans (September 21, 2013)

Devon Kennard has impressed coaches – © USA TODAY Sports Images

TRAINING CAMP STORYLINES: Little disclaimer early on: not going to count the health/return of Jon Beason (broken bone/torn ligament in foot) as a ‘training camp storyline’ simply because it doesn’t involve camp. If and when he returns will be well after the team breaks on Aug. 14.

Devon Kennard is easily one of the biggest camp storylines this year. Throughout the offseason conditioning program, Giants’ coaches ranted and raved about the progress of the rookie USC linebacker. While words are often meaningless, their faith in the 23-year-old was put on display when Kennard was inserted in as starting linebacker after Beason went down in OTAs.

Injuries have stunted the growth of Jacquian Williams, but it appears he’s ready for a breakout. The former sixth-round pick is no longer a situational player as the Giants have named him their full-time starting WILL. Williams progression, and ability to stay healthy, will be worth following during the summer.

Mark Herzlich, New York Giants (August 18, 2012)

Could this season be Mark Herzlich’s last with the Giants? – © USA TODAY Sports Images

ON THE BUBBLE: It looks like the premier camp battle will be between undrafted linebacker Dan Fox and formerly undrafted Mark Herzlich. In the early stages of his career, Herzlich was all but given the keys to the Giants’ MIKE linebacker position, but never capitalized and struggled mightily on defense. When Beason went down during OTAs, it was Kennard that filled in at the middle…not Herzlich. If Dan Fox can match what Herzlich can do on special teams, there’s a chance he’s given the spot on the final 53. Fox has good speed, is very intelligent and versatile.

FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Linebackers coach Jim Herrmann on Kennard: “His college career he played everywhere. He had like I think three different coordinators at USC. When he was there with Monte Kiffin he was a MIKE. He played in that system. So for him, he’s played all over so he’s got multiple talents and he’s a smart guy so it’s not anything new for him. And he gives us a lot of flexibility. He has some rush ability so on third down he could actually be a rush-type guy. The flexibility helps us. As you go into the season there are 46 guys out there, normally the linebackers get maybe five guys so somebody has to know dual roles and we’ve always had guys that could do that. He’ll give us that ability.”

On progression of Jacquian Williams: “This OTA and mini-camp he did a great job in our base stuff as a WILL. He’s a natural WILL in nickel, he did a great job with our WILL stuff in base. To me he made a big jump and big improvement this spring.”

On UDFA Dan Fox: “To me he’s another guy, one of the young guys who’s got a lot of intelligence. He can play multiple roles. He actually played all three spots this spring, MIKE, SAM, WILL, he plays in our sub. Any time you’ve got a smart guy like that who football just comes natural to him, that gives him a chance. He’s got to make the team on special teams, obviously, that will be his biggest deal when he comes back. For me, as a position coach, being able to say, ‘Hey look, he has multiple roles on defense, he can play a lot of positions,’ that helps his chances. To me, that’s what you want.”

PREDICTIONS:
Connor Hughes – I believe this linebacking unit may be the best (when healthy) that the Giants have had in quite some time. Jameel McClain is a force against the run, intelligent, savvy and a vocal leader. Jacquian Williams (when healthy) has proven he has the raw and natural athletic ability that few at his position possess. Beason (again, when healthy) showed last year he’s an every down linebacker in the NFL and arguably the best in the middle the Giants have had since Antonio Pierce.

Despite all the above, the one player that most intrigues me is the one no one has seen in pads yet: Devon Kennard. The amount of praise Kennard has been given from the coaching staff is noticeable. Everyone from Tom Coughlin, to Perry Fewell, to Jim Herrmann has raved about the rookie. The fact the coaching staff already seems to have locked him in as a starter if McClain is forced to the middle with Beason out is telling. To get Kennard on the field – in pads – against the speed and talent level of the NFL will be a true tell if the Giants snagged a steal in the draft.

Eric Kennedy – Maybe it’s more wishful thinking than a realistic scenario, but I expect Jon Beason to be back by the opener. But obviously, the Giants need him back soon and they need him close to 100 percent. The way he impacted the overall defense with his presence last season was a pretty serious indictment on the Giants’ organization on their de-emphasis of the linebacker spot. If Beason is OK, the good news for the Giants is they now have two confident, cerebral leaders at the position in Beason and Jameel McClain. I’m curious to see McClain on the field. The Ravens said nice things about McClain, but they didn’t make a big effort to keep him. I wasn’t overly impressed in the limited 2013 film I’ve seen of McClain. But he was coming off of a serious neck injury so he may do better a couple of years removed from the injury.

Jacquian Williams has excellent tools but he has to stay healthy and play more physically than he has in the past against the run to prove he is an every-down linebacker. I actually like Spencer Paysinger more than most; at the very least, he is a very good special teams player.

STARTING UNIT WEEK 1?

Stevie Brown and Jon Beason, New York Giants (June 12, 2014)

Will Jon Beason be available for Week 1? – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Connor Hughes – I’m sticking with the fact I don’t believe Beason will be ready versus the Lions. WILL – Jacquian Williams; MIKE – Jameel McClain; SAM – Devon Kennard.

Eric Kennedy – My gut says Beason will do everything he can to be out there on opening day. Starters will be Jameel McClain, Jon Beason, and Jacquian Williams.

WHO MAKES THE TEAM?
Connor Hughes – Jacquian Williams, Jameel McClain, Devon Kennard, Jon Beason, Mark Herzlich, Spencer Paysinger. Dan Fox (PS).

Eric Kennedy – Jacquian Williams, Jameel McClain, Jon Beason, Spencer Paysinger, Devon Kennard, and Dan Fox.