Jun 082020
 
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Blake Martinez, Green Bay Packers (December 29, 2019)

Blake Martinez – © USA TODAY Sports

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

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Linebackers

2019 YEAR IN REVIEW: If we go back in time one year, many believed that while the defensive line and secondary would improve, it was the linebacking unit that still seemed very much unsettled. After all, the 3-4 defense relies on the linebackers to be the play-makers. The Giants had traded away their best pass rusher, Olivier Vernon. Markus Golden was signed in free agency, but he had yet to return to his pre-injury form from 2016 (12.5 sacks). There was a desperate hope and need for second-year player Lorenzo Carter to beat out disappointing free agent Kareem Martin, relegating the latter to reserve duty. The Giants had also drafted Oshane Ximines in the 3rd round.

Inside linebacker was also a bit confused. The Giants were hoping that Alec Ogletree would become more consistent. It wasn’t clear if B.J. Goodson or Tae Davis would start alongside him. Much wasn’t expected immediately of 5th rounder Ryan Connelly.

So what happened? Golden actually ended up being a good signing, starting all 16 games and accruing a career-high 72 tackles, and team-high 10 sacks. On the other hand, Carter disappointed. Despite starting 12 games, he finished the year with just 45 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Martin was placed on Injured Reserve in September 2019 with a knee injury that he suffered in the regular-season opener. He was activated back to the active roster in December and finished the year with only three tackles in five games, with no starts. Ximines had a mixed performance as a rookie, receiving significant playing time (45 percent of all defensive snaps). While he flashed at times as a pass rusher (4.5 sacks), he struggled against the run. The Giants also added some in-season pick-ups who saw limited playing time such Devante Downs, Chris Peace, and Tuzar Skipper.

Inside, it was worse. Goodson was traded to the Packers before the season started. Davis was cut during the season in October. Ogletree missed three games and his overall play noticeably declined. At times, he simply appeared to be going through the motions. The brief bright spot was rookie Connelly, but he tore his ACL in Week 4. The Giants signed David Mayo in September after he was cut by the 49ers and surprisingly ended up starting 13 games. He played just OK. Special teams player Nate Stupar was waived, re-signed, and waived again. Undrafted rookie free agent Josiah Tauaefa made the team but saw most of his action on special teams. Deone Bucannon was signed in October after he was cut by the Buccaneers, starting one game, but playing mostly in a reserve role.

Overall, except for Golden and a brief couple of games from Connelly, the linebacking corps once again was a disappointment in all phases: run defense, rushing the passer, and coverage. The Giants finished 20th in run defense. The team generated 36 sacks with 23.5 coming from the linebackers (10 of those from Golden alone). Coverage on opposing tight ends and running backs remained abysmal.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The revolving door at this position continues. The team’s best linebacker in 2019, Markus Golden, remains in limbo as an unsigned unrestricted free agent. Joe Judge says the team would like him back. Expensive David Gettleman mistakes Alec Ogletree and Kareem Martin were let go in February. Deone Bucannon signed with the Falcons in May. The Steelers re-signed Skipper from the Giants’ Practice Squad in November.

Devante Downs and David Mayo were re-signed. The Giants signed free agents inside linebacker Blake Martinez ($31 million) and outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell ($4.6 million). An influx of rookies arrived in April, including Cam Brown (6th round), Carter Coughlin (7th round), T.J. Brunson (7th round), Tae Crowder (7th round), Dominique Ross (UDFA), Dana Levine (UDFA), and Oluwole Betiku (UDFA).

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: There are a lot of bodies (17), but how many are good players? The team’s most productive pass rusher, Golden, remains unsigned. As of now, the Giants are relying on Kyler Fackrell, Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines, and a late draft pick/rookie free agent to supply the outside pass rush. While the first three players have flashed at times, that’s asking a lot. The belief by many is that new Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham will have to scheme the pass rush.

Inside, much depends on the performance of Blake Martinez and how well Ryan Connelly comes back from a serious knee injury. Opinions on Martinez vary wildly. And Connelly has to prove he hasn’t lost speed/agility. Mayo provides depth and insurance.

Did the Giants find gold with any of the late four draft picks or three undrafted rookie free agents?

ON THE BUBBLE: When you have 17 players at one position, a lot of people are on the bubble. Barring injury, one would think that Fackrell, Carter, and Ximines are safe outside and Martinez and Connelly will make it inside. Mayo has an experience advantage, but he faces competition from at least two rookies (Brunson and Crowder). Will the Giants re-sign Golden? All five rookie outside linebackers have intriguing characteristics, but they all can’t make it. Special teams play probably will be a significant factor.

PREDICTIONS: Stating the obvious, the Giants don’t have an edge rusher who scares the heck out of the opposition and demands potential double-team attention. Even if the team re-signs Golden, he’s more of a complimentary piece than headliner. Fackrell could surprise as he did have a double-digit sack season in 2018 under Patrick Graham. So much depends on whether or not new outside linebacker coach Bret Bielema can develop Carter and Ximines. (Incidentally, a nice addition for Carter was that he former college coach is now coaching the inside linebackers). The pass rush could be aided if the inside linebackers and safeties can improve their coverage against tight ends. The longer a QB has to hold the football, the more time the pass rushers will have to get to the QB. Barring an unlikely breakout season by someone, the Giants are not likely to be a strong pass rushing team in 2020.

On the other hand, contrary to many, I’m a bit more bullish on the inside guys as long as Ryan Connelly can fully recover from his ACL injury. Martinez and Connelly are two smart, heady, better-athletes-than-advertised players who could form a very respectable duo inside.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Kyler Fackrell, Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines, Cam Brown, Carter Coughlin, Blake Martinez, Ryan Connelly, David Mayo, T.J. Brunson

I’m throwing darts at a dartboard when it comes to predicting rookies at this point. For example, who knows if Brunson or Crowder will show more? The heart of any special teams unit are the reserve linebackers and defensive backs so a lot of these guys could make it. I would not be shocked to see one or even two of the undrafted rookie free agents really push for a roster spot. Don’t sleep on guys like Ross, Levine, and Betiku.

Dec 072019
 
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Jabrill Peppers, New York Giants (September 29, 2019)

Jabrill Peppers – © USA TODAY Sports

JABRILL PEPPERS TO IR, KAREEM MARTIN TO 53-MAN ROSTER…
The New York Giants have placed safety Jabrill Peppers (back) and linebacker Chris Peace (knee) on Injured Reserve, effectively ending their seasons. To fill those roster vacancies, the Giants activated linebacker Kareem Martin from Injured Reserve and signed safety Sean Chandler from the Practice Squad.

Peppers was originally drafted in the 1st round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. He was traded to the Giants as part of the Odell Beckham deal to the Browns in March 2019. Before suffering a transverse process fracture in his back in the game against the Chicago Bears in late November, Peppers started 11 games and was credited with 76 tackles, five pass defenses, one interception that he returned for a touchdown, and three forced fumbles. He also returned one kickoff and four punts.

The Giants claimed Peace off of waivers from the Los Angeles Chargers in September 2019. He played in four games with the Giants before injuring his knee. The 6’2”, 250-pound Peace was signed by the Chargers as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2019 NFL Draft.

The Giants placed Kareem Martin on Injured Reserve in September 2019 with a knee injury that he suffered in the regular-season opener. The Giants signed Martin as an unrestricted free agent from the Arizona Cardinals in March 2018. Though not a standout in 2018, Martin has his most productive season as a pro, playing in a 16 games with seven starts, and finishing with 48 tackles (twice as much as his previous high), 1.5 sacks, and 2 pass defenses. The 6’6”, 272-pound Martin was originally drafted in the 3rd round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Cardinals as a defensive end. The Cardinals moved him to linebacker after his rookie season.

Chandler was on the 53-man roster in September and October and spent most of November on the Practice Squad. The Giants originally signed Chandler as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2018 NFL Draft. Chandler made the team and played in all 16 games with no starts. He finished 2018 with 18 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 pass defense. Before he was cut in early November, Chandler played in nine games with no starts, accruing just five tackles.

DECEMBER 7, 2019 NEW YORK GIANTS INJURY REPORT…
Quarterback Daniel Jones (ankle), tight end Evan Engram (foot), tight end Rhett Ellison (concussion), linebacker Chris Peace (knee), and safety Jabrill Peppers (back) did not practice on Saturday. All five players have been officially ruled out of Monday night’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

“(Engram) pushed it as far as he could, but it’s still sore so he can’t go,” said Head Coach Pat Shurmur.

“It sucks,” said Engram. “I was really excited about this week. I felt really good at the beginning of the week, felt really good in my rehab prior to the week. As the week went by, I just wasn’t ready. I made some progress but I’m not ready.”

Cornerback Corey Ballentine (concussion/non-contact) was limited in practice. Ballentine has also been officially ruled out of the game.

Wide receiver Golden Tate (concussion) and left tackle Nate Solder (ankle) fully practiced. Both are expected to play on Monday night.

THE COACHES SPEAK…
Transcripts and video clips of the media sessions with the following coaches are available in The Corner Forum and at Giants.com:

THE PLAYERS SPEAK…
Transcripts and video clips of the media sessions with the following players are available in The Corner Forum and at Giants.com:

WHAT’S UP NEXT…
There is no media availability to the New York Giants on Sunday. The Giants play the Eagles in Philadelphia on Monday night.

Sep 302019
 
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Ryan Connelly, New York Giants (September 29, 2019)

Ryan Connelly – © USA TODAY Sports

RYAN CONNELLY DONE FOR YEAR WITH TORN ACL…
The New York Giants officially confirmed on Monday that rookie linebacker Ryan Connelly tore his right ACL in the game against the Washington Redskins. The Giants have placed Connelly on Injured Reserve, ending his season.

“It has been confirmed he’s got an ACL,” said Head Coach Pat Shurmur. “We can assume that needs to get fixed here, so that’ll probably finish up his year for him unfortunately. It’s unfortunate, but he’s got a real bright future and he’ll come back from this. He was doing a lot of really good things for us. He’s a young player. Part of being a pro sometimes is coming back from injury. If he approaches this the way he has approached playing in the game, he’ll be back to full strength here soon.”

The Giants drafted Connelly in the 5th round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He was elevated to starter after the first game of the season, starting three games, and accruing 20 tackles, one sack, and two interceptions.

GOLDEN TATE RETURNS…
The 4-game suspension for wide receiver Golden Tate for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances is over. He is now on the Exempt/Commissioner Permission List for up to a week until the Giants activate him. In the meantime, he can fully participate in all Giants activities.

“I think it’s going to be great he’s back,” said Head Coach Pat Shurmur. “He should be fresh and ready to go. I have already spoken to him this morning. He’s in the building, and he’s looking forward to getting back at it.”

GIANTS CLAIM CHRIS PEACE OFF OF WAIVERS…
The New York Giants have claimed defensive end/linebacker Chris Peace off of waivers from the Los Angeles Chargers. The 23-year old, 6’2”, 250-pound Peace was signed by the Chargers as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2019 NFL Draft. Peace accrued two sacks in the preseason for the Chargers.

MONDAY PAT SHURMUR PRESS CONFERENCE…
New York Giants Head Coach Pat Shurmur addressed the media on Monday to discuss the team’s 24-3 win over the Washington Redskins (the video is also available at Giants.com):

Opening Statement: I don’t really have much to add in terms of my comments from the game. I think I kind of covered most of it last night. From an injury standpoint, Ryan Connelly, it has been confirmed he’s got an ACL (injury). We can assume that needs to get fixed here, so that’ll probably finish up his year for him unfortunately. It’s unfortunate, but he’s got a real bright future and he’ll come back from this. He was doing a lot of really good things for us. He’s a young player. Part of being a pro sometimes is coming back from injury. If he approaches this the way he has approached playing in the game, he’ll be back to full strength here soon. With that, I’ll try to answer your questions.

Q: How close are (Alec) Ogletree and Tae Davis to being back? Obviously, you are pretty shorthanded there with (Ryan) Connelly being down.
A: They are much closer than they were last week. I think there’s a chance we could get both back, but we’ll just have to see what the week brings.

Q: Could you see (David) Mayo starting if they are not ready?
A: Yeah, he’d have to. If you just do the math. He played quite a bit yesterday.

Q: What did you think of how he played?
A: I thought he played well.

Q: Lorenzo Carter?
A: Yeah, it’s a neck deal. We’re going to kind of count it as game soreness at this point, so we’re hopeful he’ll be back.

Q: How significant is it to get back (Golden) Tate for your offense?
A: Well, I think it’s going to be great he’s back. He should be fresh and ready to go. I have already spoken to him this morning. He’s in the building, and he’s looking forward to getting back at it.

Q: Is Sterling (Shepard) okay? It looked like his hamstring was bothering him and we didn’t see him after the game.
A: That was a cramp. He was cramped up. That episode on the field?

Q: Yeah.
A: Cramps, he’s fine.

Q: Will you guys look for a roster exemption for (Golden) Tate?
A: I think we have one. We have one, so that’ll give us a week. I don’t know the details other than that’ll give us 54 bodies out here for a week, more or less.

Q: I just figured in terms of you may be looking to injuries and everything else you’re looking at, you could be looking to make multiple moves.
A: Well, we’re going to have to make a move just obviously with Golden coming back. That’ll give us a couple more days to have to make that decision, if we choose to.

Q: You or maybe it was (Special Teams Coordinator Thomas McGaughey) T-Mac sat down TJ Jones for one punt after he dropped the two and then he went back to it. What was that?
A: Just settled him down. We trust our players, so we just take them out, settle them down, and put them back in. That’s what went into it.

Q: What kind of explanation did you get on (Cody) Latimer’s offensive pass interference? Was that one you thought of challenging?
A: Yeah, in hindsight…He was in bump and run, it was physical, and it was deemed to be OPI. That’s one of those in hindsight that I might have challenged. But, the explanation that I was given is that he pushed off. I’m not going to go there. Stay tuned. At some point, I’ll go there. I’m not going there.

Q: What will your emotions be like facing your former team, Minnesota? Does the game have extra meaning? You obviously have some memories with that team.
A: Yeah, it was a very meaningful part of my career being there for two years. I am very fortunate to be a part of a 13-3 season. In fact, Case Keenum and I reminisced about that a little bit after the game yesterday. There are a lot of people there that I worked with intimately, a lot of people there that I care about, but after a few handshakes we get to the business of playing the game. I think they would probably answer the question the same way. We’ll just see what happens.

Q: You have two tough games coming up, in 10 days I guess, both with really good defenses. What kind of challenge is that for a young quarterback?
A: Well, I think we’ve had four tough games already. The next one is going to be really tough, certainly, against the Vikings. Then we’ll keep a short horizon here and then we’ll talk about the Patriots when it happens. But we’ve played against four really tough defenses already. The Cowboys were tough. We saw again what Buffalo did yesterday against New England, they’ve got a really outstanding defense. Tampa Bay was a tough defense, and then this front that we played against yesterday – that was a really physical group. We talked all week about (Washington Redskins Linebacker Ryan) Kerrigan and all that. That’s what NFL football is all about, is playing against tough defenses. Certainly, when we play the Vikings this week, I know all too well what they can do to an offense.

Q: Would you prefer that Daniel (Jones) slide on some of those scrambles? I’m thinking of the third down one where he sort of lunged forward.
A: Yeah, I mean those are acceptable slides now if you go head first. If you give yourself up, they are not supposed to be able to hit you. Those are sort of…it’s like baseball now. You can slide head first or you can slide feet first. That’s kind of an acceptable body language to not get whacked. You always want to protect yourself if you can.

Q: How much, particularly on game days, does Daniel provide with his ability to make something when nothing seems to be there, and at times make the exceptional play? How much do you think he gives hope to your team?
A: Oh, I don’t know about hope. Hope is not a strategy. I’ve always said that.

Q: Confidence might be a better word.
A: Yeah, I think possibly. I do think it’s important for the quarterback to use his legs. Daniel has displayed in his last two outings the ability to either convert a third down or get out of trouble and make a throw. Typically, if you have a long scoring drive, we can watch this as we go, it’ll be a fun little project for all of us, but I know this is the case. Typically, if you have a long scoring drive, the quarterback, somewhere in there, has to do something with his feet to help keep it alive. It may be a scramble and throw the ball away, scramble to get some yards, maybe scramble and throw what I call a 60-yard check down. Guys have the ability to do that. But typically, and that’s what you see around the league. Now the important thing is when all of that happens, you’re smart about it and you use good judgement, just like you would if you were in the pocket.

Q: You’ve now won two games with him though where there have been turnovers and in some cases, enough turnovers that perhaps percentages would indicate you’d lose a game like that. To what do you attribute the idea that he has won in improbable moments already in his career?
A: I don’t know. He’s helped lead us to two victories. That’s good. That’s what you want from your quarterback. But there are a lot of other things that happened around him. We had four turnovers yesterday, but we created a bunch of turnovers. It’s a team thing. You’d like to think that every player out there is doing his job but adding value in other areas. We’ll just watch it as we go.

Q: Does that ability to run enable you to go with an empty backfield on that fourth down because he’s still a threat?
A: No. That empty was… I’ve called that pass before with Eli (Manning) in there. That had nothing to do with it. We emptied it out with the idea we were going to throw it. He made a good throw and in that case, Sterling (Shepard) made a good catch.

Q: Saquon (Barkley) sent a photo out to the world of him without a walking boot yesterday. What’s the latest on him? Is he totally out of that? Anymore of a timetable (on his recovery)?
A: Yeah, I think he’s out of the boot. When I see him moving around here…He’s into his rehab. He’s eager and chomping at the bit to get back. But obviously, that’s what I would expect from any of our players. Try to get back as quickly as possible, and then we’ll just make those decisions on a week-to-week basis whether he’s ready to play or not.

Q: Jabrill (Peppers) trash talked a little bit after the game to Washington. What do you think of that? Do you like that kind of emotion after a big game?
A: I really don’t know what happened in that scenario. I think I mentioned it yesterday. I was talking to Jay (Gruden) and he was like, ‘Hey, we’ve got a fight going on.’ I still don’t know a lot of the details. Listen, Jabrill is a very competitive guy. Who knows what… There’s a lot that gets said by a lot of people during games. You certainly don’t want confrontations like that. But I don’t know exactly what happened. I guess since you guys are curious about it, I better find out the details.

Q: Coaches always talk about the next game. You’ve put together a couple of wins in a row now. Is there a carryover from that?
A: Well, I think confidence is something that you’re looking for. I mentioned it yesterday with regard to our defense. That was a pretty darn good outing. But the catalyst for that outing was the week of practice we had here. You develop the confidence to play in the game by the work you do during the week. That’s the important thing to remember. As you go along here, football is a game you have to practice. You have to do it in a way where it points toward the team you’re playing. Then when you go out, even after a good week of practice, it doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to play well. All of that plays into it, but once you’ve done something a few times and had a little bit of success, I think it does help you.

Q: What’s been the difference with (DeAndre) Baker the last two games?
A: He’s a young player. When he played against the Cowboys, that was the first time he had done it on the NFL level. The next week against Buffalo was the second time, and now he did it yesterday for the fourth time. I think he’s getting to be more and more comfortable. For rookies…it seems like we talk about rookies playing a lot here a lot, especially in the last two years. There’s a lot running parallel that’s new out there. When you’re a corner, that’s the bright, hot spotlight when teams throw the ball to really good players. He’s like any young player. He’s getting better with each outing.

Q: After four games, what have you learned about this team?
A: I guess we’ve finished the first quarter. The one thing about this team is I think we have a bunch of tough guys that are willing to work. If you’re willing to do that, then we have a chance to improve. With some of the improvements that we’ve made, we’ve found a way to win games the last two weeks. That’s really what this is about. As we go through this journey, which involves 12 more regular season games, we have to continue to improve and point that toward getting wins. I think this group has shown me that they’re capable of winning, and they’re willing to work.

THE PLAYERS SPEAK…
Transcripts and video clips of the media sessions with the following players are available in The Corner Forum and at Giants.com:

WHAT’S UP NEXT…
The players are off on Tuesday and return to practice on Wednesday.