Tomon Fox, New York Giants (August 21, 2022)

Tomon Fox – © USA TODAY Sports

Outside of the injury situation, the New York Giants have made a lot of progress this summer in Year #1 of the team’s latest rebuilding plan. Make no mistake about it, this team has a ton of warts and it will probably take another 1-2 years of new player acquisition to get this roster into playoff-contention shape. And if you are in the camp that this team needs a new quarterback, that timeframe could shift to 2-3 years. But the VERY early returns are that the offense at least looks functional and the defense has potential to be one of the league’s better units. Combine that with a pretty weak schedule, and the Giants may win more games than expected by most. At the very least, they will be far more competitive. This coaching staff is professional grade, something that has been lacking since the team “fired” Tom Coughlin.

The fly in the ointment right now is the team’s never-ending injury nightmare. A slew of injuries can wreck even the best team’s in the NFL (see the 2021 Baltimore Ravens). So when injuries hit a very thin, rebuilding club, the outcome can be devastating. Yes, injuries are part of the game. No team is immune. Yadda, yadda, yadda. But every freaking year, the Giants are one of the hardest hit teams in the NFL. Coaches and players have come in gone in waves, but nothing changes. We’re not even out of August, and injuries have curtailed the season or development of more than half the 11-player draft class. It has caused significant issues at left guard, center, wide receiver, and outside linebacker. Psychologically, it just wears you out. Players are now getting hurt running sprints after practice. It’s too late to do anything about it this year, but the franchise had better figure this out. You can’t compete if you have a 1/5 of your roster on the sideline and are signing guys off of the street to replace them.

WR Sterling Shepard (Achilles’), WR C.J. Board (ribs), LG Shane Lemieux (foot), OG/OT Joshua Ezeudu (unknown), OC/OG Ben Bredeson (elbow), OL Garrett McGhin (unknown), OLB Kayvon Thibodeaux (knee), OLB Azeez Ojulari (calf), OLB Elerson Smith (ankle/foot), CB Rodarius Williams (unknown), S Dane Belton (broken left collarbone), and PK Graham Gano (concussion) will not play.

WR Kadarius Toney (hamstring?), WR Darius Slayton (unknown), and OLB Jihad Ward (unknown) are questionable for the game.

Shhhh. Daniel Jones has looked pretty good the first two preseason games. This despite this being his third head coach and fourth offensive coordinator entering his fourth season. No, this doesn’t mean Jones has proven anything. And the odds are still stacked against him. But the early returns have been promising, especially after all of the doom-and-gloom coming out of training camp reports.

The Giants seem to be developing an interesting offense. Yes, the team has finally updated their offense philosophy to the current NFL standard. But teams that tend to be more pass-centric (and I think the Brian Daboll/Mike Kafka offense fits into that category) don’t usually run the ball very well. That said, this team IS running the football better than the Giants have done in years. Most running plays are gaining yardage. Backs are not being met in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage on almost every play. What’s weird about this is the Giants are doing this despite a plethora of injuries on the offensive line that have taken out starters and primary back-ups. Talent? Coaching? Too small a sample size? We shall see. Just keep in mind that the New York Jets have a really good defensive front. Things may not look as sharp this week, especially with four offensive linemen already ruled out, and the Giants may not wanting to risk Andrew Thomas and Jon Feliciano in a somewhat meaningless game.

So what to look for?

  • If he plays, can Daniel Jones put together another positive outing?
  • Can Tyrod Taylor rebound from a disappointing game?
  • Was Davis Webb’s fantastic performance against the Bengals a mirage?
  • We haven’t seen Matt Breida yet in the preseason, but the belief is he is the #2 back on this team. Meanwhile the other backs have all had their moments. Who sticks?
  • Can Daniel Bellinger build off his somewhat stronger performance last week? Did the Giants find at least one tight end off of the waiver wire in Tanner Hudson?
  • I am under the strong impression that the Giants are hiding Wan’Dale Robinson. This was confirmed to be by Daboll saying he was a healthy scratch from the joint practice. We won’t really know what we have there until the games count. Aside from him, how many wide receivers and which ones make this team? The uninspiring Kenny Golladay and injury-prone Kadarius Toney (questionable for game) and Sterling Shepard (not playing) are expected to make it. Collin Johnson is done for the season. Meanwhile, journeymen David Sills and Alex Bachman have fans excited. What about Darius Slayton (questionable) and Richie James? Are the Giants really going to use a roster spot on C.J. Board (not playing)?
  • Finally, but perhaps most importantly, can the offensive line continue to look functional despite all of the injuries? We learned this week that Shane Lemieux won’t be returning anytime soon. Unfortunately, his primary back-up, Joshua Ezeudu, is out this game and has missed too much valuable practice time. Ben Bredeson, who was a leading contender for back-up center and guard, will not play. The guy to watch here is Devery Hamilton, who has come out of nowhere and may now be the team’s opening day starter at left guard. Meanwhile, the depth situation, which for once had appeared better, is now shaky again due to injuries. The fear here is someone who should be sitting in the last preseason game is going to get hurt simply because they don’t have the bodies right now.

The Giants entered training camp with outside linebacker looking like a team strength. But injuries have dramatically depleted this group in just a few weeks. The problem is not only the quantity of injuries, but who has suffered them, and the nagging type of injuries that could affect player performance in the regular-season. Starter Kayvon Thibodeaux has a sprained MCL. Starter Azeez Ojulari has a sprained calf. Quasi-starter Jihad Ward has been out for a while now with an unidentified injury. Elerson Smith, who had been flashing, has been in a walking boot for a couple of weeks. The only healthy players at outside linebacker are Quincy Roche, Oshane Ximines, and Tomon Fox (all three have flashed this preseason). Daboll admitted that the team may be forced to play Carter Coughlin and Cam Brown outside until reinforcements arrive.

Meanwhile, Darrian Beavers is done for the season. It appeared he was on the verge of stealing a starting spot inside. Another bad break for a thin team. The guy to watch now Micah McFadden. Can he steal time with the #1s?

Two rookies flying underneath the radar right now are defensive linemen D.J. Davidson and Ryder Anderson. Both have a legitimate shot to make the final 53-man roster. To be honest, I was not expecting Davidson to flash as much as he has. The Giants may have a steal there. I really would not play Leonard Williams or Dexter Lawrence much in this game. They are both ready for a big season. The final questions here surround which vets stick, with the candidates being Justin Ellis, Jalyn Holmes, and Nick Williams.

Not counting the injury situation at outside linebacker, the team’s biggest potential hole on defense is cornerback. Adoree’ Jackson looks primed for his best season. But Aaron Robinson has yet to prove he can survive on an island in Wink Martindale’s system. And depth at outside corner is a major question mark. I’m pretty certain that Achilles’ heel of this defense this year is going to be corner. That won’t likely be fixed until next offseason.

The big news this week at safety was the release of Andrew Adams. No, Adams wasn’t some stud. But he was a steady, reliable veteran who was playing with the first-team defense in three-safety packages. His release suggests that Dane Belton may be back soon, plus growing confidence in fellow rookies Yusuf Corker and Trenton Thompson. Just keep in mind, when you go with youth, there will be growing pains. Especially in blitz-heavy defenses.

One of the things that has bugged me this week is a lot of Giants fans seem to have forgotten how good Thomas McGaughey has been as a special teams coach. There is a reason why he was on the staffs of Tom Coughlin, Pat Shurmur, Joe Judge, and now Brian Daboll. His specials have annually been strong in punt and kickoff coverage. So I’m not overly worried right now. A bunch of rookies are being used to determine who can play on teams.

Graham Gano is out. Ryan Santoso will be the kicker this week.

The two big questions on special remain: (1) do the Giants want the Scottish Hammer to be their punter?, and (2) who will be the primary punt and kickoff returners once the games count? What’s frustrating is the Giants haven’t had that one guy who excels in the return game for years. You’d probably have to go back to Dwayne Harris. I’m not really sure why the Giants haven’t signed or drafted a return specialist since 2017.

The Giants have won their first two preseason games in dramatic fashion. It has been fun to watch. But at this point, I’m more concerned about just getting out of the preseason finale without another major injury to a key contributor. My gut tells me that the Giants got enough quality work in on Thursday in the practice against the Jets. I would use this game to make final roster decisions on the bottom half of the roster.

The Giants need to get to the 53-man roster by 4PM on Tuesday. Given the fact that the team has already picked up seven players off of waivers or immediately after they have been cut, I expect next week to be nuts. Don’t be shocked to see half a dozen new faces on the team.