The New York Giants shocked much of the football world in 2022 by making the playoffs and winning a playoff game. Rookie Head Coach Brian Daboll was awarded “Coach of the Year” honors. On paper, the team followed this up with a strong offseason in terms of both free agency and the draft. Nevertheless, the Giants still finished third in their own division and face a far tougher schedule in 2023. It is certainly possible that the team may be better this year but fail to make the playoffs.
Most pundits believe the Philadelphia Eagles are in a league of their own in the NFC. The Dallas Cowboys are widely believed to still be better than the Giants as well. The short-term goal is to attempt to close the gap between the Giants and those two teams that went 5-0 against the Giants last year.
Much depends on the answers to these questions:
Can Daniel Jones reward the Giants for their faith in him? In a few months, Daniel Jones went from lame duck quarterback on his way out of the Big Apple to being re-signed to a 4-year, $160 million deal. The team appears financially committed to him in a significant way for at least two years. Many think this was a huge mistake and mock Jones and the Giants. Others say Jones may have developed into a middle-of-the-road quarterback, he will never be in the upper tier category. Joe Schoen, Brian Daboll, and Daniel Jones don’t share those views and are eager to prove doubters wrong. For the Giants to seriously compete for the division title and more, Daniel Jones must build upon his 2022 campaign and reach new heights. There will be a greater emphasis on pushing the ball down the field and increasing scoring.
How much of a hissy fit will Saquon Barkley throw and how big of a distraction will it be? Regardless of where you come down on Saquon Barkley’s contract situation, the hands of the franchise were tied as soon as the July 17th deadline passed. The team cannot offer him a multi-year deal now until January 2024. Thus, any holdout into training camp, preseason, or regular season is pointless other than telling the team something they already know, and that he isn’t happy. The more time he misses, the more likely he will not be in sync with the starters as a runner, receiver, and blocker. And the more likely he will not be in football shape and suffer a soft-tissue injury. Then there will be the endless questions for coaches and players from the media about Barkley’s status. The sooner this is over, the better. There isn’t anything Barkley and the Giants can do now to improve his contract situation, but Barkley certainly can punish the New York Giants and his teammates if he decides he wants to be petty about this.
Once again, isn’t it the offensive line stupid? The team’s offensive line situation has not been good for over ten years now. Mainly due to the play of left tackle Andrew Thomas, the arrow was finally pointing up last year but there were issues at the other four spots for much of the 2022 season. Most eyes will be on Evan Neal at right tackle, a player the Giants selected with the seventh overall pick in 2022. But John Michael Schmitz is a rookie and there will be growing pains at center. Mark Glowinski needs to play better at right guard and the left guard spot seems to be wide open, with Ben Bredeson and Josh Ezeudu the main contenders. The Giants don’t have to look further than their own division to understand the opportunities and risks. The Eagles have demonstrated conclusively what an outstanding line can do for an offense, and the entire division is loaded with threatening defensive fronts. The better the line, the better Daniel Jones and all of the skill positions will look. The reverse is also true.
Who starts at wide receiver and will they scare the opposition? The Giants have the numbers. And they have gotten rid of unproductive performers such as Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney. But questions remain about how much better the team really has gotten at this position. Opinions vary. It’s up to the players to prove they can get open and make big plays on a consistent basis. Based on spring workouts, the early favorites to start are Parris Campbell, Isaiah Hodgins, and Darius Slayton. Injury issues exist with Wan’Dale Robinson and Sterling Shepard. Others pressing for playing time and starting roles include Jalin Hyatt, Collin Johnson, and Jamison Crowder.
Can Darren Waller stay healthy and regain his previous form? Everyone who saw Darren Waller practice in the spring raved about his ability. That’s good news for a guy who turns 31 in September. However, ankle, knee, and hamstring issues caused him to miss 13 games the past two years. If he can stay healthy and regain his 2019-2020 form, the Giants offense instantly transforms into a more dangerous animal. This is especially true with the surprising Daniel Bellinger also on the roster at tight end.
Can Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari become consistent pass rushing threats? Both players have demonstrated they can do it. Now both need to stay on the field and do it game in and game out. Thibodeaux’s December 18th game against Washington was reminiscent of Lawrence Taylor, but he was held to four sacks in 2022. He has the potential to triple that figure, but results matter. On the other hand, Ojulari had five sacks in the seven games he played. If Thibodeaux and Ojulari can stay healthy, it is not crazy to think they could combine for 20 sacks or more. That would push the defense into a different tier.
Can the defense improve against the run? The Giants were a dreadful 27th against the run in 2022. That won’t cut it, particularly in the NFC East. To address the problem, the Giants added inside linebacker Bobby Okereke and defensive tackles Rakeem Nunez-Roches and A’Shawn Robinson in free agency. Even cornerback Deonte Banks should help in run support given his physical style.
How will Deonte Banks play as a rookie? It’s unusual for rookie cornerbacks to play as well as Sauce Gardner did in 2022. Most of the time, there are significant growing pains. That will be even more noticeable in Wink Martindale’s aggressive press coverage schemes. The sooner Deonte Banks matures as a player, the better the entire defense will be, not just in coverage but in terms of rushing the passer as the two are interconnected.
Can Adoree’ Jackson stay healthy? For the fourth year in a row, and second year with the Giants, Adoree’ Jackson was not able to complete a full season due to injuries. It’s one of the reasons why the Titans most likely cut Jackson. Depth behind Jackson and Banks is still suspect. The Giants need Jackson to stay on the field.
Who replaces Julian Love? Julian Love was a stabilizing presence in a secondary that slammed with injuries. He led the team in tackles and was able to play multiple positions in a pinch, including free safety when Xavier McKinney missed most of the second-half of the season. With Love in Seattle, Nick McCloud, Bobby McCain, Jason Pinnock, and Dane Belton all get their chance.
Who wins the slot corner job? Darnay Holmes is a physical, aggressive player but he also was a handsy corner who was flagged nine times and exposed at key moments late in contests. He will face a stiff challenge from Cor’Dale Flott.
Who is the second inside linebacker? Bobby Okereke is the main man in the middle and will serve as a three-down linebacker inside. When the Giants do employ defensive packages with two inside linebackers, who starts next to Okereke remains to be determined. A leading contender, Jarrad Davis, was lost for the season. Second-year linebackers Micah McFadden and Darrian Beavers are now on the spot.
Can the Giants settle on some decent returners? Like the offensive line, the Giants seem incapable of fixing the return game. The team hasn’t had consistent, legitimate threats at punt and kick returner since Dwayne Harris. Last year, this issue significantly affected the entire team when Adoree’ Jackson was lost for the second-half of the season returning punts.
Are the Giants OK at punter? Jamie Gillan was the 25th-ranked net punter in 2022. Some of that is on his coverage teams, but the strong-legged Gillan needs to become more consistent and reliable. If not, the Giants may be eyeing who is on the open market.
Can the team get out of training camp relatively healthy? If you’re a Giants fan, no explanation is needed here. The team has already lost Jarrad Davis before camp even started.
The New York Giants have been an active player in free agency during the 2020 offseason. Through the beginning of April, the team has thus far signed 11 free agents. However, the Giants only made big investments on two of these players: cornerback James Bradberry (who was signed to a 3-year, $43.5 million contract) and Blake Martinez (who was signed to a 3-year, $30.75 million contract). Both were the first two free agents the team signed. Given that fact and the money doled out, it is obvious that these two were high-priority targets for the franchise. Let me emphasize that point again, Bradberry and Martinez were THE major “gets” for General Manager Dave Gettleman and new Head Coach Joe Judge in free agency this offseason.
While media and fan reaction to the signing of Bradberry was largely positive, many were underwhelmed by the acquisition of Martinez. “Overrated”, “he can’t cover”, “too many of his tackles were downfield”, and “the Packers and their fans don’t seem to be upset that he’s gone” were commonly heard refrains. Right or wrong, the widely-held perception is that Martinez is a smart, quarterback-of-the-defense type who lacks ideal physicality and overall athleticism for the position.
However, upon closer inspection, some of these claims don’t seem to hold up. Martinez was not a two-down linebacker for the Packers. He played in 98.46 percent of all defensive snaps in 2019, third most on the team. In 2018, he played in 98.59 percent of all defensive snaps. In 2017, he played in 93.06 percent of all defensive snaps. These are absurdly high numbers for an inside linebacker. It means that Martinez doesn’t miss games. But it also means he rarely comes off of the field. For three straight years, Martinez has been the linebacker the Green Bay Packers coaching staff kept on the field in third-down situations.
Martinez strongly believes he is an asset on the field in coverage. “There were probably two times last year… (in) man coverage somebody that I made my own mental mistakes on… my coach last year, he (said) ‘Oh yeah, you’re one of the best, if not the best, zone coverage linebackers I’ve ever been around’. Being able to see the field, see crossing routes, being able to communicate, do all those types of things… I can go and cover tight ends, I can go and cover running backs, I can play in zones, I can do all of the things that you need to do as an inside linebacker.”
The tackles argument doesn’t seem to hold up either. In the last three years, Martinez has averaged 148 tackles per season, with an average of 95 of those being solo tackles. Again, these are exceptionally high numbers. And they are consistent (144, 144, 155). The tackle totals are not an anomaly. For the sake of comparison, Alec Ogletree (the player Martinez is replacing) averaged 89 tackles per season the past three years, with 56 of them being solo. That’s a 40 percent difference in production. The Giants cut Ogletree in late February and signed Martinez two weeks later. That’s no coincidence. The team sees this as a major upgrade.
Martinez also seems to chaff a bit at the notion that he can’t make plays in the hole against the run. “I think that’s the one misconception of me, I guess the public view,” said Martinez. “The way we ran the defense, at least the last two years, is I’m kind of put into the clean-up crew guy. There’s a lot of situations where you see numerous other defenses where… you have A-B gap responsibility as an inside linebacker, you have one-gap responsibility. In our defense no matter what it was, since I was the only linebacker on the field, I was taught and told once again, to be the clean up crew guy. There wasn’t any gap responsibilities for me… I know there’s been things like you make tackles down the field, you make tackles here, you make tackles there. For the majority of the time there that’s what I was told to do. It’s just me I guess doing my job in that sense. Going into this defense, once I learn being whatever it ends up being how we play. I hope I am able to trigger it, solo gaps, do those type of things and make those type of impact plays.”
The Giants new defensive coordinator, Patrick Graham, coached Martinez in 2018 as Green Bay’s linebacker coach and run-game coordinator. That season, Martinez compiled 144 tackles and five sacks. And Martinez is thrilled to be back with Graham.
“We had that year together and we became super close, he was my inside linebacker coach,” said Martinez. “For me, what made me so excited to work with him this year and the following years is how smart he is. I think he is probably the smartest coach I’ve ever been around. The preparation he puts in every week, his intensity, just how much he cares about the game of football. It just allowed me to go in every Sunday or Monday or Thursday games fully prepared. I never felt like I didn’t know what play was going to happen next.”
Martinez is still a young, rising player. He turned 26 in January. Though a tad undersized (6’2”, 237 pounds), he can play the run. He has led the entire NFL in tackles since 2017. While we still don’t know how much 3-4 versus 4-3 defense the Giants will play, it is clear that Graham sees Martinez as a three-down player who will direct his unit on the field. The Giants also have the big bodies up front to help keep blockers from getting clean shots on Martinez. This includes Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, Dalvin Tomlinson, B.J. Hill, and Austin Johnson.
If and when the Giants employ a base 3-4, Martinez’s inside flankmate is likely to be Ryan Connelly, who was extremely impressive starting three games before tearing his ACL. In reserve and serving as insurance is David Mayo, who the Giants re-signed to a 3-year, $8.4 million contract.
Outside, before the draft, the chief candidates at linebacker are Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines, and Martinez’s teammate and roommate in Green Bay, Kyler Fackrell.
“I’m thrilled,” said Fackrell. “We came into Green Bay together and we were roommates all four years of training camp and during rookie mini-camp. We have a good relationship and he’s a great player. I was really excited to hear that he was going to the Giants as well… He does a great job. At inside linebacker, a big part of their job is kind of controlling everything and making calls and all that. He does a great job of that. He’s very versatile as well. He can do a lot of different things. Blitzing, there’s a lot of different things we can do, especially in those third down packages with the two of us and kind of trying to confuse quarterbacks.”
Martinez is also thrilled. “We were both excited we are going to be teammates again,” said Martinez. “He’s an amazing player and I think there is a lot of things that he hasn’t been able to show because of certain kind of depth chart things, certain roles he was placed into. Obviously, he had a 10-sack season two years ago. This last year he was a role player that stepped in and did a lot of great things. I think he is one of the best zone coverage linebackers in the NFL in my opinion. What he has been able to do for us and what he’s been asked to do, he’s done a phenomenal job and I know he is going to be a great asset to this team and show people a lot of great things this year.”
The challenge for Judge, Graham, Martinez, Fackrell, and company is turn around a defense that, outside of 2016, has been a bottom dweller for years. Martinez believes he knows what Graham’s defense will be like. And he knows he will be the quarterback of the unit.
“I think it’s just the aggressive nature. Everyone working together, everyone on the same page, everyone communicating. Everyone is going to know exactly where to be and what to do on every given call. There’s not going to be much, if any, mental errors at all. I know he stressed that a bunch. I don’t know if it is going to be simple but it will be understood by all 11 that are out there. Overall, there is going to be a lot of freedom for me to make checks, make calls and adjustments on a given play pre-snap to give guys chances to make plays. There is going to be a lot of communication across the board. I think it is going to be an awesome defense and I’m just waiting to finally be able to get to learn and see what he has for us.”
One of the hallmarks of a bottom-tier sports franchise is how often it cycles through new coaches. In the last five years, the Giants have fired three head coaches and more assistant coaches than I care to count. With fan ire now rightfully shifting towards ownership, John Mara took a tremendous gamble in hiring Joe Judge, a 38-year old who has never served as a head coach at any level.
2020-Present: Head Coach, New York Giants
2019: Special Teams Coordinator/Wide Receivers Coach, New England Patriots
2015-2018: Special Teams Coordinator, New England Patriots
2012-2014: Special Teams Assistant, New England Patriots
2009-2011: Special Teams Assistant/Football Analyst, University of Alabama
2008: Special Teams/Linebackers Coach, Birmingham-Southern College
2005-2007: Graduate Assistant, Mississippi State University
On the surface, Judge’s resume appears almost entirely based on praise from two living football legends who he has worked under: Nick Saban and Bill Belichick. Other than that, Judge served at the coordinator level for only five seasons (2015-2019).
“He’s an excellent coach,” said Belichick. “He understands the game well, works extremely hard and is a very good teacher of fundamentals. Joe picks up concepts and coaching points quickly. He is an exceptional leader and one of the best coaches I have been around. He has been responsible for coaching units comprised of nearly every player on the roster. That requires an ability to handle many moving parts, make constant adjustments and immediate decisions.”
“Joe did a fantastic job for our program early on in our tenure in Tuscaloosa,” said Saban. “He went on to have a lot of success on Bill’s staff in New England. Joe is one of the brightest young coaches in our profession, and I think he will do a tremendous job as the head coach of the New York Giants. They are getting an extremely smart football coach who is very loyal, organized and diligent about getting the job done.”
At least in the short-term, Judge won over many doubting fans during his introductory press conference, evincing a no-nonsense, take-charge attitude and a sense of urgency that seems to have been lacking in recent years. But make no mistake, Mara is taking a big risk here on an unproven commodity with virtually no track record on the offensive and defensive sides of the football.
Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett
Despite his 85-67 regular-season record as head coach and earning “coach of the year” honors in 2016, most Cowboys fans were eventually glad to see Garrett let go. That said, his temperament and overall ability is probably best suited to offensive coordinator. Hiring Garrett was a major “get” for Judge and the Giants as his very presence gives the coaching staff some much-needed gravitas. Indeed, many had expected the Giants to pursue Garrett for the head coaching vacancy. When asked about Garrett, Judge pointed to Garrett’s ability run multiple schemes, putting pressure on defenses, and being an excellent teacher.
“There were guys I worked with that I came across in my career at both Alabama and at the New England Patriots that worked with Jason through their time in Miami with him,” said Judge. “They consistently all reflected on how smart he is, how great a teacher he is and how his perspective of the game was through a different lens than most coaches. And when he sees it, he’s able to communicate it and paint that mental image to the players. And he does a fantastic job of making in-game adjustments… It’s a great system he brings with great teaching that will allow our players to go out there and play aggressively.”
2020-Present: Offensive Coordinator, New York Giants
2011-2019: Head Coach, Dallas Cowboys
2010: Interim Head Coach, Dallas Cowboys
2008-2010: Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator, Dallas Cowboys
2007: Offensive Coordinator, Dallas Cowboys
2005-2006: Quarterbacks Coach, Miami Dolphins
Quarterbacks Coach Jerry Schuplinski
After serving four years as an assistant quarterbacks coach with two teams, Judge hired Schuplinski as the primary quarterbacks coach for the Giants. Schuplinski has received praise from former pupils young and old, including Jimmy Garoppolo and Ryan Fitzpatrick. While Schuplinski will be under pressure to develop Daniel Jones, keep in mind that Jason Garrett began his NFL career as both a quarterback and quarterback coach.
“Jerry is an incredible teacher,” said Judge. “He has done a phenomenal job of developing young quarterbacks in this league. He simplifies the game so the quarterback can play fast in terms of understanding our scheme and analyzing the opponent’s defense.”
2016-2018: Assistant Quarterbacks Coach, New England Patriots
2013-2015: Coaching Assistant, New England Patriots
2007-2012: Linebackers/Special Teams Coach, Case Western Reserve University
2002-2006: Head Coach, Trinity High School (Ohio)
2000-2001: Running Backs/Special Teams Coach, John Carroll University
Running Backs Coach Burton Burns
The oldest member of the staff, the 67-year old Burns actually transitioned from legendary running backs coach at Alabama to assistant athletic director for football two years ago. Yet the coaching bug appears to still be in his veins.
“I’ve worked with Burton, so I knew first-hand the impact he has on the players he coaches,” Judge said. “He’s coached a number of great backs, he’s coached on a lot of championship teams, and he knows how to get the most out of his players. He’s tough. That’s one thing you’re going to find out about Burton right away. He’s tough. He’s hard-nosed, he coaches tough, he demands his players to play tough. But he has as deep a care for the players he coaches as anybody out there. They respond to him because they know he’s in a foxhole with them. I’m excited to have Burton here, very excited to have Burton here. I know he’s looking forward to working with the guys on the roster.”
Burns was credited with helping to develop Heisman Trophy winners Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry. One has to think that the lure of coaching Saquon Barkley was a major factor in bringing Burns out of coaching retirement.
2020-Present: Running Backs Coach, New York Giants
2018-2019: Assistant Athletic Director for Football, University of Alabama
2007-2017: Running Backs Coach, University of Alabama
1999-2006: Running Backs Coach, Clemson University
1994-1998: Assistant Coach, Tulane University
1986-1993: Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator, Saint Augustine High School (New Orleans, LA)
1981-1985: Assistant Coach, Southern University
1980: Assistant Coach, Booker T. Washington High School (New Orleans, LA)
1977-1979: Assistant Coach, Saint Augustine High School (New Orleans, LA)
Wide Receivers Coach Tyke Tolbert
One of the few coaches to survive the purge, Tolbert was hired by Pat Shurmur two years ago after serving as wide receivers coach with a number of franchises including the Cardinals, Bills, Panthers, and Broncos. From an outsider’s perspective, the major reason he was brought back appears to be the development of Darius Slayton. Others such as Sterling Shepard and Cody Latimer, the latter also being with Tolbert in Denver, have not developed as hoped. Judge may have been impressed with his work with previous teams as well as the job he did with a slew of bottom tier wide receivers the Giants have had to rely on the past two seasons.
“Tyke’s a guy I knew throughout the league from going against him,” Judge said. “He’s a guy that came recommended by a lot of people that I know very personally. But ultimately, the deciding factor on Tyke is you turn his tape on, and his guys play hard, they play fundamentally sound, he’s been able to develop a number of receivers in different systems, and ultimately, the video tapes are what tells you how a guy is coaching.”
2018-Present: Wide Receivers Coach, New York Giants
2011-2017: Wide Receivers Coach, Denver Broncos
2010: Wide Receivers Coach, Carolina Panthers
2004-2009: Wide Receivers Coach, Buffalo Bills
2003: Wide Receivers Coach, Arizona Cardinals
2002: Tight Ends Coach/Recruiting Coordinator, University of Florida
1999-2001: Wide Receivers Coach/Recruiting Coordinator, University of Louisiana at Lafayette
1998: Tight Ends Coach, Auburn University
1995-1997: Tight Ends Coach, Northeast Louisiana University
1995: Wide Receivers Coach, Ohio University
1994: Graduate Assistant, Northeast Louisiana University
1994: Graduate Assistant, Louisiana State University
Tight Ends Coach Freddie Kitchens
A lightening rod for many fans given his disastrous debut season as a head coach with the Cleveland Browns in 2019, Kitchens was not long ago considered a rising offensive mind in the League. Indeed, it was speculated that Judge may have considered Kitchens for the offensive coordinator spot. Kitchens has a wide array of position coaching experience, including running backs, tight ends, and quarterbacks. He also was an offensive coordinator for one season in Cleveland before becoming head coach. Kitchens replaces Lunda Wells, who now ironically is the tight ends coach for the Dallas Cowboys.
“I think any position on offense is good for Freddie,” Judge said. “He’s got a lot of experience at different positions. He’s been head coach, he’s been a coordinator, he’s been a position coach. He sees it through a lot of different perspectives. What I love about Freddie is he brings an element of toughness and discipline to his room. He brings outside the box thinking a lot of times to how he approaches the game from a game plan perspective. I think he’ll be an asset to working with our offensive coaches and developing the game plan throughout the week. But ultimately, I’ve worked with Freddie, I’ve played for Freddie, and I’ve called against Freddie, and I understand what his players are about.”
2020-Present: Tight Ends Coach, New York Giants
2019: Head Coach, Cleveland Browns
2018: Offensive Coordinator, Cleveland Browns
2018: Associate Head Coach/Running Backs Coach, Cleveland Browns
2017: Running Backs Coach, Arizona Cardinals
2013-2016: Quarterbacks Coach, Arizona Cardinals
2007-2012: Tight Ends Coach, Arizona Cardinals
2006: Tight Ends Coach, Dallas Cowboys
2005: Running Backs Coach, Mississippi State University
2004: Tight Ends Coach, Mississippi State University
2001-2003: Running Backs Coach, University of North Texas
2000: Graduate Assistant, Louisiana State University
1999: Running Backs/Tight Ends Coach, Glenville State College
(NFL has blocked the following video from BBI, click on link to see “Freddie Kitchens: The Most Selfless Man in the NFL”).
Offensive Line Coach Marc Colombo
Most Giants fans were pining for long-time offensive line guru Bill Callahan, but Cleveland hired Callahan in late January. Judge instead chose 41-year old and relatively still green offensive line coach Marc Colombo over the more experienced Dave DeGuglielmo, who couldn’t seem to stay in one place very long. One of the primary selling points had to be Colombo’s preexisting relationship and experience with Jason Garrett in Dallas. As a player for the Cowboys, Colombo was also a favorite of then Dallas Head Coach Bill Parcells.
“Continuity is very important, especially between the offensive coordinator and the offensive line coach, that they can be on the same page starting out,” Judge said. “One of the challenges of a new staff is getting on the same page and working through some of the differences that maybe we’ve had from past experiences but making sure we’re working to one goal. I’d say with Marc, the deciding factor wasn’t his past experience with Jason. The deciding factor was he’s a tremendous coach. His body of work as you turn on the tape and watch how his guys play with technique, execution and toughness is ultimately what the deciding factor was.”
2020-Present: Offensive Line Coach, New York Giants
2018-2019: Offensive Line Coach, Dallas Cowboys
2016-2018: Assistant Offensive Line Coach, Dallas Cowboys
Assistant Offensive Line Coach Ben Wilkerson
Wilkerson is another Pat Shurmur hire who survived the purge. He worked under unimpressive offensive line coach Hal Hunter, who was out of coaching in 2017 before Shurmur hired him and currently remains unemployed as a coach. Judge has not publicly commented on the retention of Wilkerson. He must see something in him.
2018-Present: Assistant Offensive Line Coach, New York Giants
2015-2017: Assistant Offensive Line Coach, Chicago Bears
2014: Assistant Football and Track Coach, North Shore Senior High School (Texas)
2012-2013: Offensive Line Coach, Grambling State University
2011: Offensive Administrative Intern, Louisiana State University
2010: Offensive Graduate Assistant, Louisiana State University
Senior Offensive Assistant Derek Dooley
Dooley is the third assistant coach on the offensive side of the football who has served as a head coach in the NFL or at a major collegiate program. He also worked with Jason Garrett in Dallas for five seasons as wide receivers coach. He also has experience as an offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach, tight ends coach, running backs coach, and special teams coordinator.
2020-Present: Senior Offensive Assistant, New York Giants
2018-2019: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach, University of Missouri
2013-2017: Wide Receivers Coach, Dallas Cowboys
2010-2012: Head Coach, University of Tennessee
2007-2009: Head Coach, Louisiana Tech University
2005-2006: Tight Ends Coach, Miami Dolphins
2004: Assistant Head Coach/Running Backs Coach/Special Teams Coordinator, Louisiana State University
2003: Running Backs Coach/Special Teams Coordinator, Louisiana State University
2000-2002: Tight Ends Coach/Recruiting Coordinator, Louisiana State University
1997-1999: Wide Receivers Coach/Co-Recruiting Coordinator, Southern Methodist University
1996: Graduate Assistant, University of Georgia
At the very least, he is quite the character (see video below).
Offensive Assistant Stephen Brown
It seems Brown was probably brought onboard due to his preexisting relationship with Jason Garrett, serving in the same role in Dallas for four seasons. Judge has not commented on Brown.
2020-Present: Offensive Assistant, New York Giants
2016-2019: Offensive Assistant, Dallas Cowboys
2013-2014: Assistant to the Head Coach/Special Teams Assistant, Buffalo Bills
2009-2012: Quality Control Coach/Director of Recruiting, Syracuse University
2006-2008: Student Assistant, University of Tennessee
Offensive Quality Control Coach Bobby Blick
Blick survived both the Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur firings. However, Judge moved him from the defensive to the offensive side of the ball. Judge has not commented on Blick. Typically, quality control coaches prepare the statistical analysis as well as the initial video study of upcoming opponents several weeks in advance of playing them.
2020-Present: Offensive Quality Control Coach, New York Giants
2017-2019: Defensive Assistant, New York Giants
2016: Director of Player Personnel, Army
2015: Special Teams Coordinator/Director of Recruiting, Samford University
2014: Tight Ends/Slot Receivers Coach, Samford University
2014: Special Teams Quality Control Coach, Georgia Tech
2011-2013: Tight Ends/Running Backs Coach, Elon University
2008-2010: Offensive Graduate Assistant, North Carolina State University
2004-2007: Undergraduate Assistant, North Carolina State University
Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham
The selection of Graham as assistant head coach and defensive coordinator may be the most head-scratching hire Judge made. In his only season as defensive coordinator, an admittedly undermanned Miami Dolphins defense finished 30th in yardage allowed and 32nd in points allowed. Furthermore, since Graham was still under contract, the Dolphins voluntarily allowed Graham to go to the Giants.
2020-Present: Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator, New York Giants
2019: Defensive Coordinator, Miami Dolphins
2018: Defensive Run Game Coordinator/Inside Linebackers Coach, Green Bay Packers
2016-2017: Defensive Line Coach, New York Giants
2014-2015: Linebackers Coach, New England Patriots
2012-2013: Defensive Line Coach, New England Patriots
2011: Linebackers Coach, New England Patriots
2010: Defensive Assistant Coach, New England Patriots
2009: Coaching Assistant, New England Patriots
2009: Defensive Line Coach, University of Toledo
2007-2008: Defensive Graduate Assistant, University of Notre Dame
2005-2006: Tight Ends Coach, University of Richmond
2004: Defensive Line Coach, University of Richmond
2002-2003: Graduate Assistant, Wagner College
When asked about Graham, Judge repeats the same word: multiple. The good news about Graham is that Belichick thought enough of him to keep him around for seven years, coaching both the defensive line and linebackers. Ironically, he also served two years on Ben McAdoo’s staff in 2016 and 2017.
Defensive Line Coach Sean Spencer
Spencer was not Judge’s first preference as this job was first offered to University of Mississippi Defensive Line Coach Freddie Roach, who apparently first accepted and then backed out of the job. Despite not having any pro coaching experience, Spencer appears to be a solid fallback option as “Coach Chaos” was widely respected for his work at Penn State.
“I’ve known Sean through the business,” Judge said. “The most impressive thing about Sean is the players he’s developed through his time at both Vanderbilt and Penn State, among other stops in his career. Sean has a great energy about him, he has great command within a room, his players respond to him, they play hard and they play fundamentally sound.”
2020-Present: Defensive Line Coach, New York Giants
2018-2019: Associate Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator/Defensive Line Coach, Penn State University
2014-2017: Defensive Line Coach, Penn State University
2011-2013: Defensive Line Coach, Vanderbilt University
2009-2010: Defensive Line Coach, Bowling Green State University
2007-2008: Defensive Line Coach/Special Teams Coordinator, University of Massachusetts
2006: Defensive Line Coach, Hofstra University
2005: Linebackers Coach, Villanova University
2004: Defensive Line Coach, College of the Holy Cross
2001-2003: Defensive Line Coach, University of Massachusetts
2000: Defensive Line Coach, Trinity College
1998-1999: Running Backs Coach, Trinity College
1996-1997: Running Backs Coach, Shippensburg University
1995: Running Backs/Tight Ends Coach, Wesleyan University
Bielma’s career path is a bit odd and he is somewhat a controversial and “colorful” figure. As head coach, he led the Wisconsin Badgers to a 68-24 overall record and three straight Big Ten Championships. But Bielma surprisingly left Wisconsin for the head coaching position at Arkansas, where he struggled, compiling just a 29-34 record. He was fired after five seasons. Bill Belichick then hired Bielma as a consultant in 2018 and then shifted him to defensive line coach in 2019. After being the only coach Judge poached off of Belichick’s staff, Bielma interviewed for head coaching jobs at Michigan State and Colorado. However, as of now, he will be a New York Giant in 2020.
“There’s a lot of things (to like) about Bret,” Judge said. “I think Bret brings a great personality to the group, brings a great perspective on how he sees the game, he’s coached the front for some time, he’s coordinated defenses at a high level. Players respond to Bret in a positive way. He has a great way of teaching, he has a great way of getting the guys motivated, and he gets the most out of his players. He brings experience from the NFL, as well as college, so not only does he understand what’s going on in the league now, he understands what the players coming from college are used to and how to better translate the trends they’re going to see.”
2020-Present: Outside Linebacker Coach/Senior Assistant, New York Giants
2019: Defensive Line Coach, New England Patriots
2018: Consultant to the Head Coach, New England Patriots
2013-2017: Head Coach, University of Arkansas
2006-2012: Head Coach, University of Wisconsin
2004-2005: Defensive Coordinator, University of Wisconsin
1996-2001: Linebackers Coach, University of Iowa
1994-1995: Graduate Assistant, University of Iowa
2002-2003: Co-Defensive Coordinator, Kansas State University
Inside Linebackers Coach Kevin Sherrer
Like Sean Spencer, Kevin Sherrer has never coached at the pro level. So it remains to be seen how well he will adjust to the pro game. Interestingly, he coached linebacker Lorenzo Carter at the University of Georgia.
“Kevin is just an old ball coach,” Judge said. “When I met Kevin, he was coaching at Hoover High School in Alabama. The next year, he was on the staff with us at Alabama. I’ve watched him progress through his career as defensive coordinator at South Alabama, his time in Georgia, his time in Tennessee. I think Kevin is a phenomenal football coach, and he coaches from the ground up with fundamentals, his players play sound and they play hard.”
2020-Present: Inside Linebackers Coach, New York Giants
2019: Special Teams Coordinator/Inside Linebackers Coach, University of Tennessee
2018: Co-Defensive Coordinator/Inside Linebackers Coach, University of Tennessee
2014-2017: Outside Linebackers Coach, University of Georgia
2013: Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Backs Coach, University of South Alabama
2010-2012: Director of Player Development, University of Alabama
2007-2009: Defensive Coordinator, Hoover High School (Alabama)
2005-2006: Defensive Assistant, Hoover High School (Alabama)
2001-2004: Defensive Backs Coach, Spain Park High School (Alabama)
1998-2000: Graduate Assistant, University of Alabama
1996-1997: Assistant, Tuscaloosa County High School (Alabama)
Defensive Backs Coach Jerome Henderson
On the surface, Henderson doesn’t seem like an overly inspiring hire as his passing game defenses in Atlanta ranked 28th, 12th, 27th, and 22nd the last four seasons. The Falcons fired him in January. Before that, he served as defensive backs coach for the Dallas Cowboys for four seasons.
“Jerome has a great resume, he’s coached a lot of good players in a lot of good schemes,” Judge said. “I think the more you check around with Jerome, I talked to guys that he coached, the way they responded to him and the way they respected him in the room definitely said a lot about him as a coach.”
2020-Present: Defensive Backs Coach, New York Giants
2016-2019: Defensive Passing Game Coordinator, Atlanta Falcons
2007: Assistant Defensive Backs Coach/Director of Player Development, New York Jets
2006: Director of Player Development, New York Jets
Assistant Defensive Backs Coach Anthony Blevins
Blevins was another Pat Shurmur assistant who Judge chose to keep. However, Judge moved him from assistant special teams coach to assistant defensive backs coach. Blevins did coach defensive backs at the collegiate level.
“I’ve known Blev for some time now, and he’s coached on all three sides of the ball,” Judge said. “He brings great experience that he can contribute to a lot of different parts of developing players. One thing you learn working with the special teams is you’re learning how to develop techniques of a total player. He could easily have gone over to the offense and worked with a skilled position. He could have stayed on special teams and have been an asset. We thought right now, the best fit for Blev was to help with our defense and bring some experience he brought from the other sides of the ball and work with Jerome.”
2020-Present: Assistant Defensive Backs Coach, New York Giants
2018-2019: Assistant Special Teams Coach, New York Giants
2012: Cornerbacks Coach, University of Alabama at Birmingham
2011: Special Teams Coach/Cornerbacks Coach, Tennessee State University
2009-2010: Cornerbacks Coach/Recruiting Coordinator, Tennessee State University
2008: Cornerbacks Coach/Recruiting Coordinator, University of Tennessee-Martin
2005-2007: Graduate Assistant, Mississippi State University
2003-2004: Defensive Backs/Running Backs Coach, Meadow Creek High School (Georgia)
Defensive Assistant Jody Wright
Judge has not publicly commented on Wright, who will serve as a defensive assistant.
2020-Present: Defensive Assistant, New York Giants
2019: Offensive Assistant, Cleveland Browns
2018: Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line Coach, University of Alabama at Birmingham
2015-2017: Director of Player Personnel, University of Alabama
2014: Running Backs Coach, University of Alabama at Birmingham
2013: Passing Game Coordinator/Tight Ends Coach, Jacksonville State University
2010-2012: Graduate Assistant/Offensive Analyst, University of Alabama
2009: Assistant Athletic Director for Football Operations, Mississippi State University
2006-2008: Graduate Assistant, Mississippi State University
2005: Volunteer Coach, Mississippi State University
2002-2004: Student Assistant Coach, Jacksonville State University
Defensive Quality Control Coach Mike Treier
Judge also has not commented on Treier, who will serve as defensive quality control coach. Typically, quality control coaches prepare the statistical analysis as well as the initial video study of upcoming opponents several weeks in advance of playing them.
2020-Present: Defensive Quality Control Coach, New York Giants
2019: Safeties Coach/Recruiting Coordinator, Marshall University
2018: Defensive Backs Coach, Marshall University
2017: Defensive Analyst, Marshall University
2016: Co-Defensive Coordinator/Secondary Coach, University of Tennessee at Martin
2014-2015: Graduate Assistant, Marshall University
Special Teams Coordinator Thomas McGaughey
McGaughey deservingly survived the latest coaching purge as his special teams performed decently the past two years.
“I’ve known T-Mac from going against him as well as being in the business and I have a good relationship with him professionally and personally,” Judge said. “I have a lot of respect for him as a coach and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him as a person. He gets the most out of his players. I’ve competed against him and I knew it was always going to be tough sledding in the game there. From the perspective of having to go against him, you understand you don’t want to get him out of the building; you want to hold onto guys like that. They’re definitely key assets. He and Tom Quinn do an outstanding job of working together, coaching the players in techniques and coming up with schemes for game plans that allow them to apply pressure on the opponents.”
2018-Present: Special Teams Coordinator, New York Giants
2017: Special Teams Coordinator, Carolina Panthers
2016: Assistant Special Teams Coach, Carolina Panthers
2015: Special Teams Coordinator, San Francisco 49ers
2014: Special Teams Coordinator, New York Jets
2011-2013: Special Teams Coordinator/Defensive Assistant, Louisiana State University
2007-2010: Assistant Special Teams Coordinator, New York Giants
2005-2006: Assistant Special Teams Coordinator, Denver Broncos
2004: Special Teams Coordinator/Cornerbacks Coach, University of Houston
2003: Special Teams Coordinator, University of Houston
2002: Special Teams Intern, Kansas City Chiefs
2002: Special Teams Coordinator/Defensive Backs Coach, Scottish Claymores (NFLE)
2001: Pro Scouting Assistant, Houston Texans
2001: Minority Intern, Kansas City Chiefs
1998-2001: Special Teams Coordinator/Defensive Backs Coach, Willowridge High School (Houston, TX)
1998: Graduate Assistant, University of Houston
Assistant Special Teams Coach Tom Quinn
Quinn must have been reincarnated from a cat because he definitely has nine lives. Quinn miraculously not only has survived Tom Coughlin, Ben McAdoo, and Pat Shurmur, but some dreadful special teams units during his tenure as special teams coordinator for a decade with the team.
“The experience is important, but the success is more important,” Judge said. “(McGaughey and Quinn have) been doing it at a high success rate for a long time. The fact that they had a relationship working together already, I had a relationship with both guys from going against them and have known them within the profession for some time now. T-Mac and Tom do a tremendous job. I love the way they relate to the players, I love the way they coach their guys. You know when you go against their units that they’re going to be sound and they’re going to play hard, and that’s critical. I have a lot of respect for both of them.”
2018-Present: Assistant Special Teams Coach, New York Giants
2007-2017: Special Teams Coordinator, New York Giants
2006: Assistant Special Teams Coach, New York Giants
2004-2005: Special Teams/Outside Linebackers Coach, Stanford University
2002-2003: Special Teams/Tight Ends Coach, Stanford University
1999-2001: Special Teams/Linebackers/Tight Ends Coach, San Jose State University
1996-1998: Defensive Coordinator, College of the Holy Cross
1995: Defensive Coordinator, Boston University
1992-1994: Special Teams Coach/Recruiting Coordinator, James Madison University
1991: Linebackers Coach, Davidson College
Assistant Coach – Special Projects and Situations Amos Jones
Amos was the last coach Judge hired. His title is a new one for the New York Giants franchise.
“Amos is someone I’ve known for quite some time,” Judge said. “I have a high trust factor with him. He’s definitely somebody who has worked consistently throughout his career with a number of organizations dealing with situations. He’s got an eye for all sides of the ball. He’ll help with a lot of special projects that will come up throughout the season with evaluation of ourselves and our opponents… Amos brings a wealth of experience to our team.”
2020-Present: Assistant Coach – Special Projects and Situations, New York Giants
2019: Assistant Special Teams Coach, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2018: Special Teams Coordinator, Cleveland Browns
2013-2017: Special Teams Coordinator, Arizona Cardinals
2012: Special Teams Coordinator, Pittsburgh Steelers
2007-2011: Assistant Special Teams Coach, Pittsburgh Steelers
2006: Outside Linebackers Coach, Mississippi State University
2004-2005: Special Teams Coordinator/Linebackers Coach, Mississippi State University
2003: Tight Ends/Special Teams Coach, James Madison University
1999-2002: Running Backs/Special Teams Coach, University of Cincinnati
1998: Assistant Coach, East St. John High School (Louisiana)
1997: Assistant Coach, BC Lions
1995-1996: Linebackers Coach, Tulane University
1993-1994: Assistant Coach, Eau Gallie High School (Florida)
1992: Kicking Game Coach, University of Pittsburgh
1990-1991: Special Teams Coach, University of Alabama
1989: Assistant Coach, Shades Valley High School (Alabama)
1986-1988: Defensive Line Coach, Temple University
1983-1985: Tight Ends Coach, Temple University
1981-1982: Graduate Assistant, University of Alabama
The New York Giants are a broken franchise. Their 10-34 record since 2016 is one of the very worst in football. Six of their last seven seasons have been losing seasons. They’ve fired one general manger, one vice president of player evaluation, and two head coaches during this time period. A head coach hired in 2016 was fired two years later. He was replaced by a coach with a 17-42 (.288) head coach record. The defense has become a perennial embarrassment and the offense isn’t much better. The Giants can’t beat the Cowboys (losing 12 of their last 15) and Eagles (losing 10 of their last 11). The Giants have become the “get right” team for opponents who have otherwise struggled.
How do the Giants get out of this mess? How do they fix it? Ownership needs to take a step back and dispassionately analyze the situation moving forward, both from an organization standpoint and a player personnel standpoint. One flows from the other.
General Manager: The Giants never really had a general manager search in early 2018. The minute former general manager Ernie Accorsi was hired to “consult” on the GM search, the coronation of Dave Gettleman was a foregone conclusion. We all know it. Gettleman appears to have drafted much better than his predecessor, being unafraid to make two controversial top-six picks in Saquon Barkley and Daniel Jones. On the other hand, his free agent acquisitions have left much to be desired.
The bottom line is the Giants have not improved under his tenure. The same problems on the offensive line and defense continue to plague this team with no light apparent at the end of the tunnel. The Giants seem years away from seriously competing in their own division, let alone against the better teams outside of the division. In fact, they are one of the worst teams in the NFL.
Gettleman, who battled life-threatening lymphoma in 2018, will be 69 years old in February. Ownership is obviously comfortable with him given his long-standing relationship with the team that began two decades ago. But that may be part of the problem. One can become too comfortable. There is a lot to be said for stability, familiarity, and once-proven methods. But the organizational structure the Giants are still relying on has them now firmly ensconced in their worst period of football since the structure was adopted by George Young in 1979. In other words, the Giants have returned to their 1960s-1970s nadir. It’s not working.
Hiring a post-retirement age GM to oversee a rebuilding effort seemed odd in 2018. It appears even worse today. This offseason, John Mara and Steve Tisch must decide whether Gettleman is the right man moving forward, especially with the team poised to have large amount of salary-cap space to operate with. A potential fly in the ointment is the fact that Vice President of Football Operations/Assistant General Manager Kevin Abrams, the team’s salary cap “guru”, is clearly being groomed to replace Gettleman. Abrams started with the team in 1999, the same year Gettleman arrived, and has been weaned on the “Giants way” of doing things. Ownership probably considers this a huge plus. Many fans would beg to differ.
Recommendation: This team is years away from seriously competing again. Gettleman is too old to oversee the multi-year rebuild. It’s time to hand the keys over to Abrams unless ownership intends to conduct a serious general manager search outside of the organization, which is doubtful. Gettleman should also not be deciding coaching decisions at this point. Let the next GM pick his people.
Head Coach: Pat Shurmur isn’t the answer. He’s a 17-42 head coach who has won seven games in two years with the Giants. The team is not getting better under his guidance. Shurmur seems like a great guy, a good family man. But organizations usually don’t thrive under the guidance of “nice guys.” He has a milquetoast personality and his game-day coaching instincts are on par with George Costanza. He should actually do the opposite of what his instincts tell him. He would be better off. And so would the Giants. If that weren’t enough, the coaching staff he has cobbled together isn’t impressive either.
Recommendation #1: Fire the entire coaching staff. You can’t win in the NFL if you don’t have good coaches. Mara will be tempted to adopt his 2006 approach where he forced Tom Coughlin to get rid of both coordinators. But Pat Shurmur is not Tom Coughlin. Mara swung and missed with Ben McAdoo. He did the same with Pat Shurmur. Let the new GM pick the head coach and stay out of it. You’ve got some Costanza in you too, John.
Recommendation #2: Stop hiring “offensive gurus.” Get back to your roots: defense. Hire a defensive-oriented coach with strong leadership and organizational skills, or at least, make sure your new head coach hires an experienced defensive coordinator who knows what he’s doing (i.e., a Rod Marinelli type).
Pro Personnel and College Scouting: Something is endemically wrong with the Giants ability to scout offensive linemen, linebackers, and safeties. This must be addressed. If the scouts can’t get the job done, replace them.
Recommendation: Analyze every draft and free agent mistake. Find out who was the leading advocate for acquiring those mistakes. See if there are disturbing trends of incompetency. If so, terminate the offenders.
Defense: Full disclosure, I am personally biased towards defense. I firmly believe a team can compete and win with a middle-of-the-pack offense if they have strong defense and special teams. On the other hand, I do not believe a team can consistently win with middle-of-the-pack or worse defense. In my view, good defense can cover for a multitude of sins. I also believe that a team’s physicality and mental and physical toughness emanates from the defensive side of the football. Outside of 2011, most of the great Giants teams played great defense. And their personality came from their defense.
The Giants will not win again until they field a good defensive team. Outside a blip here and there, the Giants have been dreadful on defense for years, not just middle-of-the-pack, but near dead last. You can’t win like that. How many times have we seen the defense fold in a key situation, on 3rd-and-long, or defending a lead in the 4th quarter? Enough.
Recommendation: Stop emphasizing the offensive side of the football over the defense. We’ve seen that having a great wide receiver or running back won’t help you win unless you play good defense. Switching quarterbacks won’t matter either. Hire strong defensive coaches, including at the top head-coaching spot, and build a perennially strong defense. Start beating the crap out of other teams again. Deliver the punch instead of taking it. The wins will follow.
Offensive Line: We have to state the obvious. The Giants are completely incompetent when it comes to building an offensive line. Two general managers, three head coaches, and three offensive line coaches have been able to cobble together a remotely passable group. Talk to any non-Giants fan and what’s the first thing they usually say? “Man, your offensive line sucks!” It’s been that way for years. And contrary to popular belief, it is not because the Giants haven’t spent a lot of resources trying to fix the problem. They have. They have spent multiple premium draft picks and thrown millions of free agent dollars on players who simply could not perform at an acceptable level.
The Giants wasted the second-half of Eli Manning’s 16-year career due to poor offensive line play. The are now wasting Saquon Barkley’s early career and negatively impacting the development of Daniel Jones. The Giants can’t run or pass block. It’s pathetic. Enough.
Recommendation: Unless the Giants have a sleeper in Nick Gates, the team must acquire two new starting tackles and a starting center this offseason. The strong temptation will be use the top five pick on a tackle and throw as much money as possible to acquire the best free agent tackle and/or center the market. That is dangerous thinking. You can build a respectable offensive line without overspending in terms of draft capital or dollars. See Ereck Flowers and Nate Solder. Address the line, but be smart about it. It will do the team no good if you are cutting these players three years from now. For those who say the Giants will have a ton of cap space so they can afford to overspend, I say no. There will be a bunch of teams with just as much cap space or more as the Giants this offseason. Prices will get out of hand rapidly. And many of these other teams have pressing needs on the offensive line. Contracts like the ones the Giants gave Nate Solder will prevent the team from re-signing its hopefully talented draft picks to their second contracts.
Heavily scout the college ranks and free agent pool for offensive linemen. Along with the defense, addressing the offensive line must be the priority. The measurables are important, but so is the attitude. You can win with guys like Rich Seubert, David Diehl, and Shaun O’Hara. If you see another guy like Kareem McKenzie or Ron Stone, maybe open the pocket book. Like I mentioned on the other side of the ball, the Giants must become a more physical football team. Everything else will flow from the offensive line. Daniel Jones will look better. Saquon Barkley will look like the back he was at Penn State. And receivers will seem miraculously far more open.
Too simplistic? Perhaps. But sometimes there is beauty in simplicity. This team has been a bottom feeder treading water for years now. And I keep finding myself coming back to the same themes as to why:
Poor player acquisition.
Poor offensive line play.
Some of these are bigger fish to fry. Fixing structural organizational problems is a nightmare. But unless the Giants acquire and coach talent better, nothing else will matter. Why does the defense suck? Because they don’t have enough good defensive players and they aren’t very well coached. It’s that simple. Same with the offensive line. Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur were the wrong men to lead this team. Admit to the mistake and move on, just like you did with Eli Apple and Ereck Flowers.
Organizational issues aside, we have all seen that this team can’t consistently compete until it fixes the defense and offensive line. And both have been a problem since the last Championship. Enough is enough. The problems are obvious to everyone. Fix it.
Now that the dust has settled and the New York Giants have officially announced the make-up of Ben McAdoo’s coaching staff, let’s take a closer look at its composition.
Overall, not counting the head coach, there are 20 coaching positions. Eight of the 20 coaches are new to the organization. All three coordinators are holdovers from the Tom Coughlin era, with Mike Sullivan being promoted to offensive coordinator.
Offensive Coaching Staff (8 Coaches)
There are three offensive coaches new to the organization: Quarterbacks Coach Frank Cignetti, Jr., Wide Receivers Coach Adam Henry, and Offensive Line Coach Mike Solari. The holdovers are Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan (brought to the Giants by Tom Coughlin in 2004 and again in 2015), Running Backs Coach Craig Johnson (came aboard with McAdoo in 2014), Tight Ends Coach Kevin M. Gilbride (hired in 2010 and son of former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride), Assistant Offensive Line Coach Lunda Wells (hired in 2012), and Offensive Assistant Ryan Roeder (hired in 2013).
McAdoo pursued former Miami Dolphins Head Coach and Green Bay Packers Offensive Coordinator Joe Philbin as an assistant head coach, but Philbin accepted the same position with the Indianapolis Colts instead. Philbin was McAdoo’s boss in Green Bay for five years. He probably would have served as a crutch for McAdoo if had come to New York.
It is interesting to note that five of the eight offensive coaches have experience as offensive coordinators with other teams, including Sullivan (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Cignetti (St. Louis Rams, Rutgers University, University of Pittsburgh, University of California, University of North Carolina, Fresno State, Indiana University of Pennsylvania), Johnson (University of Maryland and Virginia Military Institute), Henry (McNeese State University), and Solari (Kansas City Chiefs and University of Pittsburgh).
Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan: With McAdoo being promoted to head coach, the offensive coordinator position became vacant. To fill it, the 49-year old Sullivan was promoted to offensive coordinator. It remains to be seen how much influence Sullivan really will have. Other than 2015, Sullivan’s background is not based on the West Coast offensive system. And McAdoo has not yet publicly announced who will even call the plays. Sullivan was highly respected by Coughlin, but his two years in Tampa as offensive coordinator did not go well. With the Giants, Sullivan has coached wide receivers (2004-2009) and quarterbacks (2010-2011, 2015).
Quarterbacks Coach Frank Cignetti, Jr.: The 50-year old Cignetti is a well-travelled coach with a ton of experience as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. He has never really worked with a quarterback the quality of Eli Manning. He replaces Sullivan, who was promoted to offensive coordinator.
Running Backs Coach Craig Johnson: The 55-year old Johnson arrived with McAdoo in 2014. Assuming McAdoo had some sort of influence in Johnson’s hiring, it is not surprising that that McAdoo retained him. Most of Johnson’s experience is actually coaching quarterbacks. He also served as assistant head coach of the Titans for one season.
Wide Receivers Coach Adam Henry: Odell Beckham, Jr. is extremely tight with the 43-year old Henry, who coached OBJ at LSU. At the pro level, Henry coached the 49ers’ wide receivers in 2015 and the Raiders’ tight ends in 2009-2011. He replaces Sean Ryan, who the Giants decided not to retain.
Tight Ends Coach Kevin M. Gilbride: The 36-year old Gilbride is now the longest-tenured Giants’ offensive coach, having arrived in 2010. When Gilbride was hired, fans feared it was pure nepotism on the part of the team given the fact that his father was the offensive coordinator at the time. Gilbride’s work as wide receivers coach in 2012-2013 was nondescript and he was re-assigned as the tight ends coach in 2014. Under his tutelage, Larry Donnell and Will Tye developed from no-name, small-school rookie free agents to viable pro targets.
Offensive Line Coach Mike Solari: The 61-year old Solari is the oldest coach on the team. He is considered one of the best offensive line coaches in the game, having coached very solid lines in Kansas City and San Francisco. Solari spent last season with Mike McCarthy in Green Bay, so he also now has a better understanding of the West Coast system. Solari replaces Pat Flaherty, whom the team chose not to retain.
Assistant Offensive Line Coach Lunda Wells: Interestingly, rather than bring in two new offensive line coaches, the Giants decided to part ways with Pat Flaherty and retain the popular Lunda Wells. The 33-year old Wells joined the Giants in 2012 and became the assistant offensive line coach in 2013 when Matt Rhule left to become Temple University’s head coach. Before coming to the Giants, Wells did assistant coaching work at LSU.
Offensive Assistant Ryan Roeder: The 36-year old Roeder came to the Giants in 2013 after serving as the tight ends coach at Princeton University for three seasons.
Defensive Coaching Staff (7 Coaches)
There are three defensive coaches new to the organization: Defensive Line Coach Patrick Graham, Assistant Defensive Line Coach Jeff Zgonina, and Linebackers Coach Bill McGovern. The holdovers are Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo (brought to the Giants by Tom Coughlin in 2007 and again in 2015), Cornerbacks Coach Tim Walton (came aboard with Spagnuolo in 2015), Safeties Coach David Merritt (the only coach remaining who came to the Giants with Tom Coughlin in 2004), and Defensive Assistant Rob Leonard (hired in 2013). In a nutshell, at the position coach level, the Giants decided to part ways with their front seven defensive coaches and keep their secondary coaches.
The big story here is the retention of Steve Spagnuolo despite the Giants not only finishing dead last in defense, but having the third-worst defense in NFL history. Alarmingly, Spagnuolo’s defense in New Orleans in 2012 was also the worst in NFL history. Since Spagnuolo is reportedly admired by ownership and was interviewed for the team’s head coaching position, one wonders if McAdoo had full autonomy to decide his fate.
Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo: It’s been eight years since the 56-year old Spagnuolo coached a decent defense as defensive coordinator. Since then, two of his defenses have ended up being the worst in NFL history. Spagnuolo has to prove that he can oversee even a competent defense without an all-star defensive line. Spagnuolo has NFL experience as a linebackers and defensive backs position coach, mainly with the Philadelphia Eagles. He was also head coach of the St. Louis Rams (2009-2011) and assistant head coach of the Baltimore Ravens (2014).
Defensive Line Coach Patrick Graham: The 37-year old Graham was highly respected and popular in New England. He has served as both defensive line coach (2012-2013) and linebackers coach (2011, 2014-2015) under Bill Belichick. Graham replaces Robert Nunn, whom the team chose not to retain.
Assistant Defensive Line Coach Jeff Zgonina: The assistant defensive line coach position is a new position on the Giants. The 45-year old Zgonina has only one year of coaching experience, but he played an astounding 17 years in the NFL as a tough, blue-collar, overachieving defensive tackle for seven teams.
Linebackers Coach Bill McGovern: The Giants passed on Mike Singletary to hire the 53-year old McGovern. McGovern coached linebackers at Boston College for 13 years before serving as the Philadelphia Eagles’ outside linebackers coach for three seasons. He replaces Jim Herrmann, whom the team chose not to retain.
Cornerbacks Coach Tim Walton: The 44-year old Walton came aboard with Steve Spagnuolo in 2015 so it isn’t a surprise that he was retained. Walton has experience as a defensive coordinator with the University of Miami, University of Memphis, and St. Louis Rams. He was the defensive backs coach for the Detroit Lions for four years (2009-2012).
Safeties Coach David Merritt: The 44-year old Merritt has been with the Giants now longer than any other coach, having arrived with Tom Coughlin in 2004. Since 2006, he has coached the team’s safeties and worked with Steve Spagnuolo on the Giants in 2007-2008 and 2015.
Defensive Assistant Rob Leonard: The 30-year old Leonard joined the Giants’ staff in 2013. Before that, he only did graduate assistant coaching work at North Carolina State University.
Special Teams Coaching Staff (2 Coaches)
No major change here given the fact that Tom Quinn will remain the team’s special teams coordinator, a position he took over in 2007. Larry Izzo, who had been the assistant special teams coach, departed as he received a promotion from the Houston Texans as their new special teams coordinator.
Special Teams Coordinator Tom Quinn: The much-maligned, 48-year old Quinn had arguably his best season as special teams coordinator in 2015. That said, special teams play was a factor in four losses (Saints, Patriots, Jets, Panthers). Like with Spagnuolo, one wonders if McAdoo had full autonomy to retain or dismiss Quinn.
Assistant Special Teams Coach Dwayne Stukes: The Giants probably preferred to keep Izzo. But with his departure, a vacancy had to be filled. The 39-year old Stukes has special teams coaching experience with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears.
Strength and Conditioning Coaching Staff (3 Coaches)
The major change here was at the top. After six consecutive injury-plagued seasons in a row, the team replaced Jerry Palmieri with Aaron Wellman. Palmieri had been with the Giants since 2004.
Strength and Conditioning Coach Aaron Wellman: The 41-year old Wellman has never coached at the pro level. But he is well-respected in the business and on top of the latest trends in sports training. He has worked at the university level at Indiana, Michigan State, Ball State, San Diego State, Michigan, and Notre Dame.
Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach Markus Paul: The 49-year old Paul has been with the Giants since 2007 after having spent time with the Saints (1998-1999), Patriots (2000-2004), and Jets (2005-2006).
Performance Manager Joe Danos: The 35-year old Danos has been with the Giants since 2013. Before coming to the team, he spent time at the college level at LSU, SMU, and Florida State.
Overall, McAdoo decided to part ways with five coaches: Sean Ryan (wide receivers), Pat Flaherty (offensive line), Robert Nunn (defensive line), Jim Herrmann (linebackers), and Jerry Palmieri (strength and conditioning). The vacancies filled by the three other new guys were created by Mike Sullivan’s promotion, Larry Izzo receiving a promotion from the Texans, and the new assistant defensive line coaching position. Replacing the wide receivers, offensive line, defensive line, and linebackers coaches is no small move. But all three coordinators are holdovers from Coughlin’s staff plus the running backs, tight ends, cornerbacks, and safeties coaches.
In January 2004, the New York Giants appeared to be a broken franchise. The team that had come tantalizing close to an NFL title in 2000 had once again begun to slip into mediocrity. It had been 13 years and three head coaches since the team’s sixth NFL title in 1990. And after a horrific 4-12 season in 2003, the Giants appeared far from ending their championship drought. The Giants had only made the playoffs four times since Bill Parcells quit and yet another coach had just been let go.
On January 6, 2004, Tom Coughlin became the 16th head coach of the New York Football Giants. After he was introduced by then-General Manager Ernie Accorsi at his introductory press conference on January 7, Coughlin addressed the media.
“What we must be all about right now, immediately, is the restoration of pride; self pride, team pride, the restoration of our professionalism and the dignity of which we conduct our business,” said Coughin. “We must restore our belief in the process by which we will win. We must replace despair with hope and return the energy and the passion to New York Giant football.”
“My job is to convince these young men that with the parity that exists in this league today, the difference is in the preparation and that our formula will earn us the right to win,” said Coughlin, prophetically using the very words that would become the title of his book nine years later.
The rebuilding process began in 2004 with the draft-day mega-trade for quarterback Eli Manning and the selection of Coughlin’s eventual son-in-law, guard Chris Snee, in the 2nd round of the NFL Draft. In free agency, the Giants added quarterback Kurt Warner, center Shaun O’Hara, and defensive tackle Fred Robbins. New York started the season 5-2, but after falling to 5-4, Coughlin decided to bench Warner and begin the Eli Manning era. Manning only won one game that season, the finale against the Cowboys, as the Giants finished the year 6-10.
More pieces arrived in 2005. Wide receiver Plaxico Burress, right tackle Kareem McKenzie, and linebacker Antonio Pierce were signed in free agency. Cornerback Corey Webster, defensive end Justin Tuck, and running back Brandon Jacobs were drafted. Both co-owners, Wellington Mara and Bob Tisch, passed away from cancer within three weeks of each other during the season. The Giants surprised everyone by finishing 11-5 and winning the NFC East before being knocked out in the first round of the playoffs 23-0 by the Carolina Panthers.
In 2006, the Giants added cornerbacks Sam Madison and R.W. McQuarters in free agency and drafted defensive end/linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka and defensive tackle Barry Cofield. Despite a second straight playoff appearance, the 2006 season was a disappointment. After starting 6-2, the Giants lost six of their last eight games and finished 8-8. They were one-and-done again in the playoffs, losing to the Philadelphia Eagles 23-20. In just his third season, Coughlin was already on the hot seat and many wanted him gone. He was forced fire both his offensive (John Hufnagel) and defensive (Tim Lewis) coordinators. Mike Sweatman, the special teams coordinator, also retired.
The 2007 New York Giants ended up being one of the most remarkable teams in all of sports history. Coughlin softened his approach and listened more to his players. New additions included kicker Lawrence Tynes, linebacker Kawika Mitchell, cornerback Aaron Ross, wide receiver Steve Smith, tight end Kevin Boss, and running back Ahmad Bradshaw. With a completely new set of coordinators on offense (Kevin Gilbride), defense (Steve Spagnuolo), and special teams (Tom Quinn), the team lost its first two games, won six straight, and looked very shaky down the stretch, playing .500 football in the last eight games, and barely making the playoffs for the third year in a row. Nobody – and I do mean nobody – gave the 10-6, #5 seed Wild Card Giants a shot at winning three straight road playoff games. Up until that point, in their entire history since 1925, the New York Giants had only cumulatively won three post-season away games. The “road warrior” Giants went on to double that total by defeating the #4 seed Buccaneers, #1 seed Cowboys, and #2 seed Packers before shocking the sports world by beating the AFC’s #1 seed, the “best team of all time” 18-0 New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. In a matter of a few games, Eli Manning developed into a true franchise quarterback. Coughlin became the fifth head coach in team history to win an NFL Championship, New York’s seventh overall.
Coughlin’s best regular season with the Giants came in 2008 as the team went an NFC best 12-4 and won the NFC East. However, the Plaxico Burress shooting incident and mounting injuries derailed a team that had beaten both eventual Super Bowl participants, and the Giants were one-and-done in the playoffs against the Eagles again. The Giants missed the playoffs in 2009 and 2010 with 8-8 and 10-6 records and Tom Coughlin was once again on the proverbial hot seat. Spagnuolo departed and was replaced first by Bill Sheridan and then Perry Fewell. New additions during these three years included wide receivers Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, and Mario Manningham; tight end Jake Ballard; defensive linemen Jason Pierre-Paul, Chris Canty, and Linval Joseph; linebacker Michael Boley; and safeties Kenny Phillips, Antrel Rolle, and Deon Grant.
In 2011 came miracle season #2, so eerily reminiscent of the storybook 2007 campaign. Center David Baas and punter Steve Weatherford arrived in free agency. Foreshadowing future personnel problems, that year’s draft didn’t provide much help. Like 2007, the Giants started off 6-2, but struggled in the second half of the season. The Giants lost four games in a row and looked dead until saving their season by defeating the Jets and sweeping the Cowboys to win the NFC East. The Giants were terrible running the football (32nd in the NFL) and on defense (27th in the NFL), but the passing game led by Manning, Cruz, and Nicks carried the team to a 9-7 record, with six 4th-quarter comebacks. The #4 seed Giants then proceeded to beat the #5 seed Falcons, #1 seed Packers, and #2 seed 49ers, before dispatching the #1 seed Patriots, Tom Brady, and Bill Belichick for the second time in four years in Super Bowl XLVI. Coughlin became the third Giants coach to win multiple championships and the 13th NFL coach in history to win multiple Super Bowls.
The 2012-2015 seasons were not kind to Coughlin as his team missed the playoffs each of his final four years in New York with 9-7, 7-9, 6-10, and 6-10 records. Poor drafting and numerous career-impacting injuries hollowed out the roster. Blowouts and heart-breaking 4th-quarter defeats mounted. Offensive and defensive coordinators were let go and many position coaches were fired with no improvement to the overall record. Approaching the ripe old age of 70, ownership decided to make a change.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as head coach of the New York Football Giants,” said Coughlin on the day he stepped down. “Obviously, the past three years have not been what any of us expect, and as head coach, I accept the responsibility for those seasons. I think it has been evident these last 12 years here how much pride I take in representing this franchise. I am gratified and proud that we were able to deliver two more Lombardi trophies to the display case in our lobby during that time.”
Alongside Steve Owen and Bill Parcells, Tom Coughlin is indisputably one of the greatest head coaches in the history of the New York Giants. Coughlin coached the Giants to a 102-90 regular season record and 8-3 post-season record. He had more wins in franchise history than any coach except for Owen, and tied Parcells for the most post-season wins in team history. In 12 seasons, Coughlin guided his team to five playoff berths, three division championships, two NFC Championships, and two NFL Championships. One-quarter of the team’s eight titles came under his helm.
There was never a hidden agenda with Tom. His only goal was to make the New York Giants a winner. And with two of the most stunning playoff runs in sports history, Coughlin accomplished that objective. He was tough on his players, but in the end, they loved him for it.
“Thank you Tom Coughlin for demanding the very best from myself (and my) teammates every single day,” said offensive lineman David Diehl, who played for Coughlin from 2004-13. “Respect is not given, it’s earned.”
“It has been one of the greatest honors of my life and career to be led by Tom Coughlin; my life will forever be changed,” said current place kicker Josh Brown.
If someone would have predicted in January 2004 that Tom Coughlin would win two Super Bowls in the next 12 years with the Giants, any fan of the team would have signed up for that deal in a heartbeat. Mission accomplished Coach Coughlin. You will always hold a special place in our hearts.
As discussed in our spotlight on defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis, the defensive line of the New York Giants has been in a state of decline. This has been most noticeable at defensive end where the Giants have seen the deterioration and departure of Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, and Mathias Kiwanuka, not to mention the roller coaster productivity of Jason Pierre-Paul.
To help reinforce this unit, the Giants signed unrestricted free agent George Selvie from the Dallas Cowboys on March 20. The contract was reportedly a 1-year, $1.4 million deal that included a $200,000 signing bonus.
The 28-year old Selvie was a collegiate teammate of defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul at the University of South Florida. And it is Selvie, and not JPP, who holds school records for career sacks, sacks in a season, and tackles for a loss in a season. In 2007, Selvie was named “Big East Defensive Player of the Year” when he accrued 14.5 sacks. Indeed, at one time, Selvie was considered a better pro prospect than Pierre-Paul. But not by the Giants and the rest of the NFL.
After the Giants drafted Pierre-Paul in 2010, Giants Vice President of Player Evaluation was asked why the Giants like JPP better than Selvie. “(Pierre-Paul) is a great player,” replied Ross. “Selvie – not much. This kid helped Selvie… They are totally different players; totally different skill set; totally different athletic ability. The media was talking about Selvie – the guy had a tremendous sophomore year. He had 15 sacks or so. But his production has gone down and that is where you evaluate their skill set; their athletic ability; the height, weight, speed, the quickness, the strength, those things.”
While Pierre-Paul was drafted in the 1st round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Giants, Selvie fell to the 7th round where he was drafted by the St. Louis Rams. The head coach of the Rams at the time was Steve Spagnuolo. Selvie only lasted one season with the Rams. He played in all 16 games as a rookie and finished the year with 21 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
Spagnulo waived Selvie in early September 2011 before the regular season started. Selvie was immediately claimed by the Carolina Panthers but then waived a month later after playing in four games as a backup. A month after that, in November, he was signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he played in seven games as backup. In all, Selvie finished the 2011 season with only six tackles and half a sack.
Selvie missed the first five games of the 2012 season with a knee injury. When he returned, Selvie played in nine games as a reserve for the Jaguars, collecting 15 tackles and one sack.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Selvie as a free agent in April 2013 after the Jaguars decided not to tender him. However, Tampa Bay became the fourth NFL team to cut ties with Selvie when they released him a month later.
It was at this point in time where there would occur another connection between Selvie and the Giants. After being cut by Tampa Bay, Selvie was invited to try out at the Giants rookie mini-camp in May 2013. However, Selvie did not do enough to impress the team and he was not offered a contract.
At the time, that looked like the last hurrah for Selvie. But two months later, the Dallas Cowboys signed him after their training camp opened. Defensive end Anthony Spencer was having knee issues and defensive end Tyrone Crawford had just tore his Achilles. Although Selvie was not expected to make the team, the Cowboys were desperate for bodies. However, Selvie did more than that as he quickly earned first-team reps and was named the starter at left (strongside) defensive end in the preseason.
For the Cowboys in 2013, Selvie started all 16 regular-season games and finished the year with 45 tackles, seven sacks (second most on the team), 22 quarterback pressures, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. Selvie’s first sack as a Cowboy was on Eli Manning in the opener. Defensive Line Coach Rod Marinellis affectionately nicknamed him the “Bricklayer.”
“It’s something coach Marinelli came up with,” said Selvie. “You know sometimes you got guys who will just keep going out there and work, just through time lay bricks, lay bricks one at a time to get better. That’s an analogy they try to use with me, so it just kept.”
Selvie’s productivity in Dallas declined in 2014. He played in all 16 regular-season games with 13 starts at left defensive end. He also started both playoff games for the Cowboys. Selvie finished the regular season with 30 tackles, three sacks, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. He added six post-season tackles, including five against Green Bay. Selvie was credited with 20 quarterback pressures in the regular season, down by just two from 2013. And he continued to cause problems for the Giants, sacking Eli again and being credited with eight tackles in two games against Big Blue in 2014.
When Dallas signed one of the better defensive ends in free agency in Greg Hardy in March 2015, Selvie became expendable. The Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers – two teams that had already looked at him just two years earlier and had rejected him – were both interested once again. Selvie signed with the Giants, whose new defensive coordinator, Spagnulo, had also previously waived Selvie.
“I’m excited to be here,” Selvie said. “It’s a great opportunity for me. And I’m excited to be playing with JPP again, along with Spags. I’m excited for the opportunity to be here.
“There have been great defensive linemen that have played (with the Giants), and I want to be one of those. I felt like this was a great situation. With Jason being over there (at right defensive end), he gets a lot of attention. I hope I can get free with that. It’s a great opportunity and a great fit.”
Pierre-Paul also appears thrilled to be playing with his old collegiate teammate.
“I think that’s a great pickup,” Pierre-Paul said of the Giants signing Selvie. “He’s a good player. George can play the run and rush the passer. From the film I’ve watched, he’s gotten better as a player…He’s a dedicated worker, and I know he’s going to work to try to get better and better.”
So how does Selvie fit in with the Giants? At 6’4”, 270 pounds, the journeyman Selvie has demonstrated an ability to be a decent run defender at left end, where he has started 31 regular- and post-season NFL games since 2013. He also has 10 sacks and 42 quarterback pressures in the last two regular seasons. That alone gives him a decent shot a starting job at strongside end if the Giants choose to keep JPP at weakside end. Selvie will compete with Damontre Moore, Robert Ayers, and Kerry Wynn – along with any potential 2015 draft pick – for a starting job. No one yet has the inside track.
“George is going to fill in that gap that we have on that other side,” Pierre-Paul said. “He is going to fight for that starting spot. That’s a good thing. That will make everybody work harder.”
The big question is what is Selvie’s upside? Was 2013 his career year for a journeyman now with his sixth team? Is he the kind of guy you look to replace, or can become a valuable starter or reserve in New York? That remains to be seen. Like a bad penny, Selvie keeps turning up. Spagnulo, the Buccaneers, and Giants all wanted him back after cutting ties. At the very least, it will be interesting to see if Selvie’s presence on the team has an impact on JPP’s mental outlook and overall game.
Heading into the offseason, it was clear to many, including team officials, that the New York Giants had to get better on both sides of the line of scrimmage. The once-vaunted defensive line has clearly declined. While the Giants actually finished fourth in the NFL in sacks (47), that statistic was misleading as the team went long stretches without being able to consistently pressure the passer. Worse, the Giants were 30th against the run in terms of yards per game (135.1) and dead-last in the NFL in terms of yards per rush (4.9).
To help rectify that problem, the New York Giants signed 27-year old unrestricted free agent defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis from the New York Jets on March 18. The contract was reported to be a 1-year, $1.65 million deal that included $500,000 in guaranteed money.
Barring injury, the up-and-coming Johnathan Hankins will start at one defensive tackle position. But the second spot appears up for grabs between 34-year old Cullen Jenkins, who is coming off a down season where he was bothered by a troublesome calf injury; 2012 7th-rounder Markus Kuhn, who did little to excite in 2014; 2014 3rd-round Jay Bromley, who mostly rode the bench his rookie season; and journeyman Dominique Hamilton, who spent the year on the team’s practice squad. The Giants could also add another defensive tackle in the 2015 NFL Draft.
The Jamaican-born Ellis is a huge (6’4”, 346 pound) run-stuffing defensive tackle who was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Jets out of Hampton University. Ellis transferred to Hampton after he was dismissed from the South Carolina Gamecocks in May 2008 for repeated violations of team and university drug policies. Ellis also ran into legal problems at Hampton. In April 2010, he was arrested by university police and served jail time after a felony assault charge on another student.
With the Jets, Ellis’ numbers were as follows:
2011: 5 games, 2 starts, 7 tackles
2012: 12 games, 2 starts, 18 tackles (missed four games with a knee injury)
2013: 16 games, 1 start, 16 tackles
2014: 14 games, 0 starts, 12 tackles, 1 sack
So overall, in four seasons with the Jets, Ellis played in 47 games with five starts. He only accrued 53 tackles and one sack during that time. Those are hardly superlative numbers. However, it is important to keep in mind that (1) Ellis was valuable reserve on a very talented Jets defensive line, and (2) his role on the team was not to make plays but to tie up blockers, allowing others to make the tackle.
Ellis was expected to start in 2013, but he was injured in training camp and beaten out by Damon Harrison, an undrafted free agent. In 2014, Ellis only played 158 snaps behind Harrison.
“I am a run-stopper and I like doing it,” said Ellis. “That is the strength of my game. I look forward to helping the Giants get back to their glory.
“I’m a journeyman. I come in and do my job. You don’t get much recognition for it, but you get the job done and it helps out the team. I’ll take on the double-teams and take on the work no one else wants to do. It’s just who I am. I take pride in what I do, which is being a big man in the middle and try to make sure no one runs the ball.”
Despite his low production and his own claims to being a journeyman, Ellis may be more than that. And he has legitimate chance to start for the Giants in 2014. Ellis has the tools. Not only is he naturally strong and huge with long arms, he’s pretty darn athletic for his size. He is also competitive and plays with a bit of a mean streak. Ellis can take on double-team blocks and he is extremely difficult to move off the line of scrimmage. And despite having only one career sack, Ellis does flash explosiveness. The knocks on him coming out of college were his off-field issues, inconsistency, and instincts.
“Ellis is a big human,” said Coughlin. “The young man on our practice squad, Hamilton, is a big human, so I am looking forward to seeing what they can do, too… We realized that big dominating guy in the middle is a good starting point for the D-Line.”
“(The Jets) took a lot of pride in (stopping the run) while I was there, and I want to take the same pride here and start something special,” Ellis said.
As discussed in our free agent spotlight on linebacker Jonathan Casillas, the New York Giants have been forced to upgrade the linebacker position in free agency because of their failed attempts to do so from the college ranks. After four seasons, the Giants decided to part ways with Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger and sign Casillas from the New England Patriots and J.T. Thomas from the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Giants signed 26-year old J.T. Thomas in March 2015 to a 3-year, $10 million deal that included $4.5 million in guaranteed money and $1 million escalators in 2016 and 2017.
Thomas – a three-year starter at the University of West Virginia – was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. He spent his entire rookie season on Injured Reserve after suffering a hip injury in the preseason. In February 2012, Thomas was arrested on a misdemeanor drug possession charge (marijuana). He played in all 16 games for the Bears in 2012, but did not start and finished the season with six special teams tackles and one forced fumble.
The Bears waived Thomas in August 2013. He was immediately claimed off of waivers by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Thomas played in 15 games with the Jaguars in 2013, starting two contests and finishing the season with 17 tackles (12 solo) on defense and six special teams tackles (third on the team). Thomas also blocked a punt that resulted in a safety.
Thomas remained a back-up at the beginning of the 2014 season, but started the last 10 games of the year at middle linebacker after Paul Posluszny got hurt. He finished the season with 84 tackles, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles.
“I really like J.T. Thomas,” said Jacksonville Jaguars’ Head Coach Gus Bradley after the Giants signed Thomas. “Really, the good thing about J.T. is flexibility. He played at all three positions for us. He can go in at all three positions at any time and play extremely fast, as far as knowing what he’s supposed to do.
“He took really good command of the defense. When (Posluszny) got hurt for us, we were scrambling a little bit. When J.T. came in he settled things down. It’s very important to him. I can’t say enough good things about J.T.”
In the week 13 match-up against the Giants, Thomas finished the game with 12 total tackles and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Head Coach Tom Coughlin pointed to that game as a significant factor in the team’s evaluation of Thomas, who also had double-digit tackle numbers in games against the Colts and Titans.
Despite that productivity, the Jaguars still saw Thomas as back-up material as the team signed Dan Skuta from the San Francisco 49ers to start along side Posluszny and Telvin Smith.
“What his role would be for us, with a guy like Puz coming back, it would be more a role where he was a back-up,” Bradley said. “He saw himself more as a starter.”
Right or wrong, the Giants seem to think Thomas can be a viable NFL starter too, ideally at weakside linebacker to replace Jacquian Williams. On the surface, this does seem to be his best position given his size (6’1” and 236 pounds) and overall athletic ability (4.65 speed). The Giants also think Thomas will improve their special teams.
“We think Thomas can be a WILL ‘backer,” said Coughlin. “Casillas is basically the same kind of guy. Both are excellent special teamers. They’ll make contributions in both ways.”
Thomas lacks ideal size, but is a good athlete. In a nutshell, he is a run-and-hit linebacker who is at his best when he is protected and does not have to take on blockers at the point-of-attack. Thomas is intense, instinctive, and involved in a lot of tackles. While Thomas is not afraid to stick his nose into the scrum, he is not a strong or physical player. He won’t shock you as a hitter, and many of his tackles are of the down-the-field variety. Thomas is good in coverage and should help the New York defense deal with the plethora of tight end and running back receiving threats in today’s NFL.
In terms of intangibles, Thomas has some off-the-field issues in his past. Aside from the drug charge, in college, Thomas was arrested for being involved with a stolen laptop. On the flip side, he is known for his charity work with children with medical issues. Thomas also has the reputation for being a hard worker and team leader. His on-field personality is demonstrated when he was mic’d up in a December 7, 2014 game against the Houston Texans.
How does J.T. Thomas fit in with the Giants? He is probably the favorite to start at the weakside linebacker spot though he will face competition from Jonathan Casillas. At worst, he could be a valuable reserve as he can play all three linebacker spots and is a good special teams player. The big question with Thomas is what is his upside? Jacquian Williams was the heir apparent to Michael Boley but he couldn’t handle the job. Is Thomas another placeholder or can he be a 4-5 year starter at the position? Thomas wanted the opportunity to prove himself, and now he has it. He seems to be a hungry player.
“I am an aggressive player,” said Thomas when he signed with the Giants. “Bang, bang plays, turnovers – that is my thing. I am good at getting the ball back (by) creating turnovers. I think that is what will help us win ballgames, and that is my goal.”
When the free agent period officially opened on March 10, the New York Giants moved quickly to sign five players. Wide receiver and returner Dwayne Harris of the Dallas Cowboys was one of the five. And surprisingly, Harris’ 5-year, $17.5 million deal was by far the largest in terms of the number of years and overall value. Harris also received the largest amount in guaranteed money ($7.1 million with a $4 million bonus).
On the surface, that appears to be a lot of money for Dallas’ 4th wide receiver/back-up slot receiver and punt/kickoff returner.
The 27-year old Harris was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Cowboys. In four seasons with the Cowboys, Harris has played in 52 regular-season games with three starts, catching 33 passes for 418 yards and three touchdowns. Harris finished 2014 with just seven catches for 116 yards and no touchdowns, down from nine catches in 2013 and 17 catches in 2012.
Harris also averaged 9.2 yards per punt return and 24.7 yards per kickoff return in 2014. Those decent but not stellar figures were 9th- and 13th-best in the NFL last year.
So why the big bucks for a guy who has been only a good role player to date?
“Harris is a well-kept secret to a lot of people, except the teams in NFC East,” said General Manager Jerry Reese. “He is one of the top all-around special teams players in league and a solid third or fourth receiving option.”
Harris indeed was far more impressive on special teams in 2013 as he averaged 12.8 yards per punt return and 30.6 yards per kickoff return. Those figures were 3rd- and 2nd-best in the NFL that season, helping him to earn “NFC Special Teams Player of the Week” twice, including once against the Giants.
Harris also won another another “NFC Special Teams Player of the Week” honor in 2012 against the Philadelphia Eagles. That season, Harris averaged 16.1 yards per punt return, 2nd best in the NFL. Harris returned punts for touchdowns in both 2012 and 2013. Bringing him on board strongly suggests that the Giants do not want to risk Odell Beckham on punt returns.
On the downside, he Harris six career fumbles on punts, including four in 2014. Ball security has been an issue for him going back to his college days at East Carolina.
Harris’ contributions on special teams are not limited to the return game. Harris is an excellent coverage man on special teams. Indeed, it was Harris’ coverage work against the Giants on opening day in 2013 that earned him the “Special Teams Player of the Week” award. In that game, Harris made three special teams tackles and forced a fumble that was recovered by Dallas. In 2014, Harris was credited with 18 special teams tackles – a very high number.
“I am a physical player,” Harris said. “I think all of the Giants fans are going to find that out soon. I am a physical player and I like the physical nature of the game. I like being the guy who hits players. I take a lot of hits during the game. It is always fun to return the favor.”
But $17.5 million with $7.1 million in guaranteed money still seems like a lot of money for a special teams player. Could the Giants see Harris as a bigger contributor at wide receiver than his 33 career catches to date indicate?
Assuming everyone stays healthy, the top three receivers on the Giants should be Beckham, Victor Cruz, and Rueben Randle. Since Harris is experienced playing the slot receiver position, the Giants may consider Harris to be an insurance policy if Cruz struggles or re-injures himself. Preston Parker was the reserve slot guy in 2014, finishing with 36 catches for 418 yards and two touchdowns. Parker also returned both punts (6.6 yard average) and kickoffs (24.2 yard average) for the Giants in 2014. The Giants might see Harris as an upgrade over Parker not just as a returner, but as a receiver.
Heading into the offseason, the Cowboys felt they could re-sign wide receiver Cole Beasley or Harris, but not both. Harris provided more special teams value, but Beasley is the primary slot receiver for the Cowboys. Dallas re-signed Beasley with a 4-year, $13.6 million contract that included $7 million in guaranteed money and a $4 million signing bonus. As soon as that deal was done, Harris was sure to sign elsewhere.
Harris has flashed at receiver. While he is not a big (5’10”) or exceptionally fast (4.5 range) target, Harris is a solid 202-pounder with good quickness and run-after-the-catch ability. He is tough and physical and an excellent blocker for the ground game, something repeatedly mentioned by those who followed him in Dallas.
“This was just a perfect fit for me with what (the Giants) do,” said Harris. “They are going to give me a chance to play my old team, the Dallas Cowboys, twice a year.”