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.
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 Jernigan. RB 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?
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.
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.”
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)