After a mostly futile decade, it’s an exciting time to follow the New York Giants once again. Not only did the team make the playoffs and actually win a road playoff game against a 13-4 team, but more importantly, there is a general sense that the team is in very good hands under the leadership of General Manager Joe Schoen and Head Coach Brian Daboll. The arrow finally appears to be pointing up.

However, potentially, there are dark clouds on the horizon. It is an annual fan right of passage to complain about the schedule, but truth be told, the schedule is a bitch. And it’s a bitch right out of the gate with the Cowboys, Cardinals, 49ers, Seahawks, Dolphins, and Bills in the first six weeks. Worse, four of those games are on the road and they play the 49ers only after four days of rest. Many Giants fans realize the team may actually be far better in 2023, but miss the playoffs, especially with the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys in the same division. The Giants were 0-5 against these two teams last year.

So despite the optimism, the New York Giants have some serious challenges in front of them. They have to get ready and get ready quickly. The Cowboys arrive at MetLife in one month.

The team has lost three players for the season already: ILB Jarrad Davis, OC Hassenauer, and NT Vernon Butler. Davis was the most significant because he was expected to compete for a starting job. The team also waived WR Jeff Smith with an injury, but he was not likely to make the squad.

RB Gary Brightwell (leg?), RT Evan Neal (concussion protocol), OT Devery Hamilton (ankle?), DL Rakeem Nunez-Roches (groin), and DL Ryder Anderson (triceps) all missed at least one practice this week and are not expected to play. Of this group, Neal is the most significant as he is missing valuable practice time against another team. OL Marcus McKethan (knee) and DL A’Shawn Robinson (knee), who just came off of the PUP and have yet to practice in team drills, also will not play.

In the first preseason game last year, Brian Daboll actually chose to play most of the starters for a couple of series. It will be interesting to see what he does in year two, after two “productive” (his words) practices against the Detroit Lions in a more controlled (i.e., safer) environment. I could see him giving most of the starters a couple of series. I could also see him playing it safe. Players such as QB Daniel Jones, LT Andrew Thomas, TE Darren Waller, and RB Saquon Barkley may not see a single snap.

Regardless, as amped up as fans get for the first preseason game since it marks the return of football, these contests should not be over-emphasized. From a fan perspective, these contests are of more interest to the diehards who want to see the back-ups competing for 53-man roster spots. The most important work for the starters was already accomplished on Tuesday and Wednesday in the joint practices.

So what are we looking for on offense? Competency on the offensive line and an incredibly competitive battle at wide receiver.

The offensive line will be without one (Evan Neal) and probably two (Andrew Thomas) of their starting tackles. So much attention will be on the important swing tackle position. After-thought Matt Peart has re-entered the picture. His chief competition is Korey Cunningham. This is a very important game for both of these players.

Center and guard are more convoluted as Daboll has rotated players at both starting guard spots and center. John Michael Schmitz seems on track again to be starter, but he is green. It might make sense for him to play more than a couple of series. Ben Bredeson has received starting snaps at all three positions. He could end up being a starter on opening day at any of these positions or just the primary back-up. The most likely scenario is he is battling Josh Ezeudu for the left guard position. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that he has received some starting snaps over Mark Glowinski in practices.

Taking all of this into consideration, it would not be surprising to see Ben Bredeson play quite a bit. Josh Ezeudu could see more than a couple of series. He needs the work. Tyre Phillips, who has seen reps at both tackle and guard, should play most of the game. Same with Shane Lemieux, Wyatt Davis, Jack Anderson, and Sean Harlow. Unfortunately, Devery Hamilton is missing valuable time.

The other spot garnering attention is wide receiver. There it is a number’s game. The likely starters – Darius Slayton, Parris Campbell, and Isaiah Hodgins – might not see the field. The Giants have also been careful with Sterling Shepard, who many feel is not a lock to make the team. 34-year old Cole Beasley may also rest. Many wondered why he was signed, but it’s interesting to note he’s played with the first-team more than expected right out of the gate.

So who will play? I expect to see a lot of Jalin Hyatt, Collin Johnson, Jamison Crowder, David Sills, Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Jaydon Mickens, and Kalil Pimpleton. Even if he lays an egg on Friday, Hyatt is going to make the team. In my opinion, the guy to watch here is Collin Johnson. He has developed quite a rapport with Tyrod Taylor. Johnson needs a strong performance to help his cause. He’s probably battling Shepard for a roster spot. Same with Crowder, who is likely battling Beasley for back-up slot receiver. (Remember, Wan’Dale Robinson is rumored to be coming off of the PUP soon too).

Some other passing thoughts: At running back, I would think we would see heavy doses of Eric Gray and James Robinson. It will be interesting to see how both perform. Is Tommy DeVito worth a Practice Squad spot? Tommy Sweeney seemed to flash in the joint practices. How do he and Lawrence Cager perform behind the likes of Darren Waller and Daniel Bellinger?

I would not read too much into this side of the ball on Friday. Why? Mainly because of the situation up front. I’d be very surprised if NT Dexter Lawrence and DL Leonard Williams even see the field. The Lions had significant issues blocking both in practices this week. Furthermore, primary back-ups A’Shawn Robinson and Rakeem Nunez-Roches will not play. Even Ryder Anderson is out. That’s the top five guys on the team’s depth chart. So in effect, the Giants will likely be playing with third-teamers from the start of the game against one of the deeper offensive lines in football.

What this will do is provide us with a good look at guys who are fighting tooth and nail for possibly just one available 53-man roster spot. Jordon Riley, Kevin Atkins, Brandin Bryant, Donovan Jeter, and Kobe Smith will be the guys on the spot. Most of these players were only just signed off of the street in recent weeks. I can hear Giants fans now, “who the hell is that?”

Another player who is not likely to play or play much is Bobby Okereke. Since he was the team’s most expensive free agent acquisition, he was likely hand-picked by Wink Martindale to fix the primary weakness of the team’s defense. They won’t want to risk him getting hurt. So we should see more of Micah McFadden and Darrian Beavers, who are battling for a starting spot. Another to watch is Dyontae Johnson, who was targeted by the team as an undrafted free agent.

Another reason why not to expect much on Friday it is doubtful that Kayvon Thibodeaux, Azeez Ojulari, and Jihad Ward play or play much at edge/outside linebacker. Oshane Ximines, Tomon Fox, Tashawn Bower, and Habakkuk Baldonado will be the outside rushers.

The secondary is more interesting given the greenness of Deonte Banks and Tre Hawkins. Both could see playing time. I would expect Xavier McKinney to sit and Jason Pinnock may not play either. What about slot corner? Does Darnay Holmes sit or do the Giants put both him and Cor’Dale Flott on the field to continue their battle for the starting spot? At outside corner, the guys to watch for back-up spots are Amari Oruwariye and Rodarius Williams. And there is a heck of a battle at back-up safety with Dane Belton, Bobby McCain, Nick McCloud, and Gervarrius Owens.

Special teams are often a mess in the preseason because coaches are experimenting with so many new faces. There are usually breakdowns as it becomes clearer who can’t cut it on special teams, particularly on punt and kickoff coverage. Keep this in mind.

The League minimized the importance of kickoff returns in the offseason. Gary Brightwell, who is currently injured and might not make the team, was listed as the primary kick returner on the team’s unofficial depth chart released this week. His listed back-up is Eric Gray, who is also listed as the primary punt returner. So one of the more interesting things to watch is Gray’s ability as a returner. He only returned nine punts and four kicks in college.

We all know the most important thing… no injuries please.

But beyond that, again, don’t expect much defensively. Too many important pieces in the front seven won’t be playing. On offense, focus your eyes on the offensive line and wide receivers who play.