Mar 192015
 
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Jonathan Casillas, New England Patriots (December 14, 2014)

Jonathan Casillas – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Linebacker has been a sore spot for the New York Giants for quite some time. The Giants have had to rely on free agent acquisitions and a trade to beef up a unit that the team has been unable to satisfactory address in the draft. After four seasons with the team, the Giants apparently have given up on 6th round draft pick Jacquian Williams and undrafted rookie free agent Spencer Paysinger. To fill these vacancies, the Giants signed unrestricted free agents J.T. Thomas from the Jacksonville Jaguars and Jonathan Casillas from the New England Patriots.

The 27-year old Casillas was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the New Orleans Saints after the 2009 NFL Draft. He has played for the New Orleans Saints (2009-11), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2013-14), and Patriots (2014). In 2014, Casillas played in five games for the Buccaneers before being traded to the Patriots in late October. In eight games for the Patriots with three starts, Casillas accrued 28 tackles and forced one fumble.

Casillas is a local talent, having been born in Jersey City and going to high school in New Brunswick. He has played on two Super Bowl championship teams: the Saints (2009) and Patriots (2014). After arriving in New England in mid-season, Casillas was mainly a back-up pass coverage specialist and core special teams player for the Patriots. Casillas signed a 3-year, $8 million contract with the Giants on March 10. He has already been given Paysinger’s #54 jersey number.

“It’s hard to put into words,” Casillas said. “After so much time away and playing ball in New Orleans and Tampa and New England, being able to come back home and be able to play in front of your home crowd and my family is really a blessing.”

In five seasons, Casillas has played in 64 regular-season games with 18 starts. He missed the entire 2010 season with a foot injury that he suffered in the preseason.

At 6’1”, 227 pounds, Casillas is an undersized linebacker. But he is an excellent athlete with good speed and agility for the position. Indeed, when he came out of college at the University of Wisconsin, there was some talk he might be better suited to the safety position at the pro level. As you would expect for such a linebacker-safety ‘tweener, Casillas is good in pass coverage and special teams. Against the run, while he has good instincts and range, he is not a physical player and he can have trouble at the point-of-attack due to his lack of size. He is a solid tackler.

Casillas only has three career sacks, all three coming in 2011 with the Saints. Despite being very sound in pass coverage, Casillas does not make many plays on the ball. He has never intercepted a pass at the pro level and only has five career pass defenses.

As for his role with the Giants, Casillas will compete for a starting outside linebacker spot, but he most likely will be a situational pass coverage linebacker. That is an important role in today’s pass-happy NFL that features athletic receiving threats at running back and tight end. He is a guy who can match-up against tight ends and backs split out wide or in the slot.

Casillas should also become one of the Giants’ better special teams players. He has 22 career special teams tackles in 70 regular- and post-season games. He recovered an onside kick in Super Bowl XLIV.

“The Giants are getting a real football player,” Casillas said. “Since I’ve been in the league, I’ve been under the radar, and I’ve accepted that. I’ve found a way to make plays and contribute, and also to make a healthy contribution to the city I’m in by doing things in the community. I try to do things the right way.”

Mar 172015
 
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Shane Vereen, New England Patriots (October 16, 2014)

Shane Vereen – © USA TODAY Sports Images

As the New York Giants entered 2015 NFL free agency, it was anticipated that the team would pursue a quicker, shiftier running back with pass receiving skills in order to compliment the bigger bruisers, Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams. The Giants signed arguably the best candidate on the open market in Shane Vereen to a 3-year, $12.35 million contract that included $4.75 million in guaranteed money.

“Vereen gives us lots of versatility as a receiver and runner,” said General Manager Jerry Reese.  “He is one of the best as a receiver out of the backfield or detached. He is very hard to handle for most linebackers. And he has big game experience.”

Vereen has been favorably compared to another former Patriot all-purpose back: Kevin Faulk. For Giants fans unfamiliar with Faulk’s body of work, think David Meggett, who ironically signed with the Patriots as a free agent in 1995. While many remember Meggett for his special teams kickoff and punt return exploits, Meggett was also a major component in the Giants offense from 1989 to 1994. On a team that did not emphasize the short passing game, Meggett not only rushed for 1,228 yards and five touchdowns, but more importantly he caught 231 passes for 2,194 yards and 10 touchdowns. He kept the chains moving for Phil Simms and Jeff Hostetler, and at times provided the big play.

If he stays healthy, Vereen should put up bigger numbers for the Giants. In the last two seasons in New England, Vereen caught 99 passes despite missing half the year in 2013. In the Giants West Coast-style offense under Ben McAdoo, the running back is a featured component in the passing game, not only as a check-off option when other targets are covered, but as a primary receiver. The West Coast offense is designed to exploit the field not only vertically, but horizontally, exploiting holes in defensive coverages. Vereen is a smaller, shiftier back who is a match-up problem for most linebackers. If teams focus their attention on Odell Beckham and Victor Cruz – as they should – then Vereen could feast against the underneath coverage.

What makes Vereen such a good receiver is not just his athletic ability and hands, but he is a precise, trustworthy route runner. He doesn’t make mental mistakes. And his skill set allows him to not only catch shorter passes on dig, drag, swing, and screen passes but also deeper routes where his split out wide like a conventional wide receiver. Indeed, there are times when the observer will understandably initially confuse Vereen for a wide receiver because of his route-running and pass-catching adeptness. He is like having another legitimate wideout on the field. Vereen has pass receptions of 83, 50, and 49 yards in the past three seasons.

What will be interesting to see is how the Giants use Vereen. Under Kevin Gilbride, Vereen probably would have been limited to a third-down back. But in Ben McAdoo’s system, although Vereen won’t be a conventional “starter”, he should see the field much more on first and second down, depending the opponent and game plan.

There are those who say it does not matter how good a pass catcher Vereen is because Eli Manning doesn’t have a good feel for throwing to running backs. While this certainly isn’t the strength of Manning’s game, the numbers don’t support that argument. When Eli had Tiki Barber, Barber was a favorite target of Eli’s, catching 54 passes in 2005 and 58 passes in 2006. Derrick Ward caught 41 passes from Eli in 2008 and Ahmad Bradshaw 47 passes in 2010. Despite being limited to 11 games with just nine starts, Jennings caught 30 passes from Manning in 2014. What these figures demonstrate is that even in an offense that was more vertically-oriented, Manning has productively thrown to running backs when the talent is there.

Another important component to Vereen’s game is that he does a good job or recognizing and picking up blitzes despite his lack of size. He has only fumbled twice in his pro career, losing one.

Vereen usually will not wow you as runner. He has good quickness and speed, but he is not a dynamic breakaway threat. His longest run from scrimmage at the pro level is only 21 yards. And at 5’10 and 205 pounds, he is not going to run over a lot of defenders. But Vereen can be a factor in the running back, especially out of the shotgun formation that McAdoo likes to employ. In his last two seasons in New England, Vereen ran the ball 140 times for 599 yards (4.3 yards per carry) and three touchdowns.

Perhaps the biggest negative on Vereen is that in three seasons, he has only played a full 16-game schedule once. And that was in 2014. He missed 11 games in 2011 with hamstring issues, three games in 2012 with a foot injury, and eight games in 2013 with a fractured wrist. Obviously, for a New York Giants team that has been ravaged by injuries in recent years, Vereen’s injury-plagued past is a bit disconcerting.

But if Vereen stays healthy, it is not unreasonable to project him as a 50+ catch target in the New York offense. He should become a key figure in keeping drives alive and therefore increasing overall offensive productivity and scoring. Keeping drives alive will allow more opportunities for Manning, the wideouts, and the running backs. In the simplest terms, Vereen will make the New York Giants a much better offensive football team.

Feb 162015
 
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Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (November 3, 2014)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The New York Giants must decide soon whether or not to use the Franchise or Transition tag on soon-to-be unrestricted free agent defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. Starting today (February 16), NFL teams have a two-week window to decide on to designate Franchise or Transition players about to become unrestricted free agents. That window closes on March 2. Other teams can begin negotiating with free agents on March 7 and sign the to contracts on March 10.

A Franchise tag binds a player to the team for one year if certain conditions are met. Each team may only designate one player each year as that team’s Franchise player. There are two types of Franchise tags:

  • An “exclusive” franchise player must be offered a one-year contract for an amount no less than the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position as of a date in April of the current year in which the tag will apply, or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary, whichever is greater. Exclusive franchise players cannot negotiate with other teams. The player’s team has all the negotiating rights to the exclusive player.
  • A “non-exclusive” franchise player must be offered a one-year contract for an amount no less than the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position for the previous year, or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary, whichever is greater. A non-exclusive franchise player may negotiate with other NFL teams, but if the player signs an offer sheet from another team, the original team has a right to match the terms of that offer, or if it does not match the offer and thus loses the player, is entitled to receive two first-round draft picks as compensation.

Teams can also use a Transition tag, which also guarantees the original club the right of first refusal to match any offer the player may make with another team. The transition tag can be used once a year by each club. A transition player must be offered a one-year contract for an amount no less than the average of the top 10 salaries of last season at the player’s position or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary, whichever is greater. A transition player designation gives the club a first-refusal right to match within seven days an offer sheet given to the player by another club. If the club matches, it retains the player. If it does not match, it receives no compensation.

The upside to using a Franchise tag on Pierre-Paul is that the team could ensure that he remains with the Giants in 2015. The downside is he would count for about $15 million against the 2015 salary cap.

In his fifth NFL season, Pierre-Paul had his second-best season in 2014, starting all 16 games and finishing with 77 tackles, 12.5 sacks, six pass defenses, and three forced fumbles. Pierre-Paul played the run well most of the year and finished up strong as a pass rusher after a slow start, with nine of his sacks coming in the last five games of the season. Pierre-Paul was originally drafted in the 1st round of the 2010 NFL Draft. His best season came in 2011 when he accrued 86 tackles and 16.5 sacks. 2012 and 2013 were down seasons for him with a total of only 8.5 sacks. Pierre-Paul had surgery in June 2013 to repair a herniated disc in his lower back and suffered a shoulder injury that caused him to miss the last five games of that season.

The Giants have used the Franchise tag twice in recent years, once for running back Brandon Jacobs in 2009 and once for punter Steve Weatherford in 2012. But both were signed to long-term deals soon after being tagged.

Dec 272014
 
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Antrel Rolle, New York Giants (August 9, 2014)

Antrel Rolle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and safety Antrel Rolle both joined the New York Giants in the 2010 offseason. Now after five seasons, with their contracts set to expire after Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles, both may be leaving Big Blue during the same upcoming offseason. Free agency begins on March 7 and JPP and Rolle will surely test the free agent waters if not re-signed by that date.

Rolle signed a 5-year, $37 million contract with the Giants as a free agent in March 2010 after being cut by the Arizona Cardinals in a salary cap-related move. Pierre-Paul was the 15th player selected in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Both were a critical part of the 2011 Giants defense that finished 27th in term of yards allowed during the regular season but got hot by year’s end. In the last six games that season – including four playoff games – the Giants held opponents to an average of less than 14 points per contest and won an NFL Championship.

Initially Rolle had difficult accepting Tom Coughlin’s coaching methods. Yet he eventually warmed up to Coughlin and became an important leader of the defense. In five seasons, Rolle has never missed a game with the Giants. He has intercepted 14 passes and averaged over 90 tackles per season in 79 regular-season games. Rolle received All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors in 2010 and 2013, the latter being arguably the best season of his career.

2014 has been a down season for Rolle, who turned 32 this month. While he has accrued 79 tackles and three interceptions, he has not made many big plays on a defense that is currently ranked 28th in the NFL. Rolle still has talent, but he is an aging, 10-year veteran on a defensive team that needs a shake-up, an infusion of talent and speed, and may have a new defensive coordinator in 2015.

“I would love to finish my career here,’’ says Rolle. “That’s not my call to make. This is a great fit. I feel like next year, when we get all our guys healthy and we can get on the same page at the same time, I think it’s going to be wonderful… It would be great to stay here with these guys and build something.

“I want to be with JPP and (Odell) Beckham and I can’t wait to see (Victor) Cruz come back. These are all my boys, these are my brothers who I’ve shared (the) battlefield with. (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) is someone I helped bring here, and he always tells me I ain’t going anywhere.’’

Despite his down season, Rolle firmly believes he can stay play at a high level. And because of that, the odds are he will want to be paid well in what could be his final pro contract.

“I feel like I can still go out there and definitely be one of the best safeties in this league,” said Rolle. “I’ve never worried about age. I’ll put myself up against any 32-year-old.”

How long does Rolle think he can play? “Who knows? Maybe at 13 (seasons),” said Rolle, “I’ll say two more (years). I’m just going with the flow and whatever my body tells me at this point.

“Outside looking in, I don’t know how people are going to say what, or view what. Is this my best season? No, it is not my best season. Am I playing ball? Yes, I am definitely playing ball. I am not giving up touchdowns. I am not giving up huge plays. I am playing the way I am supposed to be playing. I am playing multiple roles.’’

Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (August 9, 2014)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The Pierre-Paul situation is different. JPP turns 26 in January. His best football clearly could still be in front him. That said, Pierre-Paul has had difficulty recapturing his tremendous productivity from his sophomore NFL season in 2011 when he accrued 86 tackles and 16.5 sacks. Those numbers plummeted to 66 tackles and 6.5 sacks in 2012 and 27 tackles and 2 sacks in 2013.

Pierre-Paul had surgery in June 2013 to repair a herniated disc in his lower back and he never seemed to fully rebound from that procedure during the 2013 season. He flashed some of his old form in Week 10 that year but also suffered a shoulder injury that caused him to miss the last five games of the season.

JPP has rebounded in 2014 with 72 tackles and 10.5 sacks. Though he can be vulnerable to misdirection, Pierre-Paul is a very stout player at the point-of-attack against the run. And after a slow start in terms of rushing the passer, Pierre-Paul has sacked opposing quarterbacks seven times in the last four games.

Much more was hoped for and expected in 2014, but JPP remains the one player in the front seven that other teams need to account for. If he leaves, the Giants will have a major hole to fill on a defense already pot-marked with holes. But bringing him back is not a no-brainer. There is a salary cap and JPP clearly believes he is one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL and wants to be paid like it. The Giants know Pierre-Paul has had inconsistent productivity the last three years, as well as back surgery and shoulder issues.

JPP sounds much more intent on testing the free agent market and does not seem to be overly concerned with remaining in Giants Blue. On Friday, Pierre-Paul was asked if he expected to re-sign with the Giants.

“I don’t know,” responded JPP. “Everybody asks me that question and I really can’t answer that question truthfully. I don’t know what my future holds. Who knows if I am going to be in a Giant uniform, who knows where I am going to be in the offseason. Like I said, now, the numbers are there, I had a great season, and everybody sees it. There really is nothing else to say, just negotiations and it is coming.

“At the end of the day, it’s business, it’s business. Everyone knows that, even the fans know that, my family members know it, and I am going to make the best decision to better me and my family.

“I‘d love to be a Giant for the rest of my career, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t always fold like that. Look at Justin Tuck, look at Osi Umenyiora, look at Brandon Jacobs, it doesn’t matter.

“I think I am worth a lot of money.”

Pierre-Paul was asked if he would give the Giants a hometown discount.

“Like I said, it is going to be a business situation, it’s going to be about my family, and what I want to pursue,” replied Pierre-Paul. “At the end of the day, I’m here. Like I said earlier in the season, if I am a Giant, then I will be a Giant for my whole life. I don’t know what is going to happen.”

Changes are coming on defense. At least they ought to be. In the last four years, the Giants defense has finished 28th, 31st, 8th, and is currently projected to finish 28th. Will Rolle and Pierre-Paul be a part of the rebuilding project moving forward? Should they be? The answers to those questions will be discovered in the next two months.

Sep 182014
 
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Trumaine McBride and Jon Beason, New York Giants (December 22, 2013)

Trumaine McBride and Jon Beason – © USA TODAY Sports Images

It didn’t take long for the phone call to be made.

Shortly after New York Giants cornerback Walter Thurmond III found out his injured pectoral muscle was torn, sidelining him for rest of the 2014 season, the self-proclaimed best nickel corner in the game dialed fellow corner Trumaine McBride.

Trumaine McBride, New York Giants (December 15, 2013)

Trumaine McBride – © USA TODAY Sports Images

McBride, who last saw sporadic nickel snaps six years ago, saw his phone light up with Thurmond’s name and answered.

“He just told me if I need anything, as far as tips about playing nickel, to reach out to him,” McBride said.

While McBride may be lacking experience as a nickel cornerback, it doesn’t mean he hasn’t been preparing for this moment throughout the offseason.

Back on March 12, after enjoying a breakout season, McBride re-signed with the New York Giants. With Corey Webster and Aaron Ross gone, McBride was expected to compete for the starting position opposite Prince Amukamara.

But the ensuing months were filled with moves that pushed McBride further and further down the depth chart. Zack Bowman, Thurmond and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were signed and Bennett Jackson drafted.

The group of Amukamara, Thurmond and Rodgers-Cromartie began boasting claims as the league’s best trio. Last year’s surprise star was suddenly rendered an afterthought.

With every addition the Giants made to the secondary’s meeting room, McBride took notice. Despite playing nearly his entire career as an outside cornerback, he knew his opportunity to play may not be at the place he’d been most comfortable at. During the offseason, McBride began studying some of the best nickel cornerbacks in the league and working specifically with the group. He wanted to be prepared for anything.

If Amukamara went down, McBride wanted to fill in outside. If Thurmond went down, he wanted to have his named called there, too. One of the best ways to do that? Watch and learn from Thurmond himself.

“Walt’s a guy that plays hard every down and is a very smart, physical cornerback,” McBride said. “Just watching the way he approaches the game. He’s a great guy and a great player on the field.”

McBride said that playing nickel, as opposed to outside cornerback, is vastly different. While cornerbacks have the sideline to their advantage, nickel cornerbacks need to guard both the inside, and outside, portions of the field.

Trumaine McBride, New York Giants (December 22, 2013)

Trumaine McBride – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Not to mention, being a nickel corner requires a different physicality. Being closer to the line of scrimmage, McBride knows he’ll have to stick his head in on some running plays, comparing nickel cornerback to a “cornerback-linebacker” hybrid position.

“It’s just an overall different game plan,” McBride said. “You aren’t going up anymore against guys that are 6-foot-2, you’re going up against guys that are 6-feet and shifty. You have to adjust to the shiftiness of an inside slot receiver.”

While Thurmond has offered help, McBride admits what may be the biggest beneficiary to him learning nickel is the fact he gets to face receiver Victor Cruz every day in practice. During his five-year NFL career, Cruz has established himself as one of the league’s best slot receivers.

“Going up against him every day definitely helps you,” McBride said. “There aren’t many guys out there better than Vic.”

The Houston Texans, who McBride and the Giants will face on Sunday, like to move each of their receivers in and out of the slot in Bill O’Brien’s new offensive scheme. Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins and Demarius Johnson have all seen over 20 reps inside this year.

There isn’t a set player McBride can expect. Does that make his life harder? Not at all.

“I’ve been preparing for this since the offseason,” McBride said. “I knew it could be a possibility of me moving inside. So as far as mentally, I have no issues.”

Sep 152014
 
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Keenan Allen, San Diego Chargers (December 8, 2013)

Keenan Allen Beats Terrell Thomas for a TD – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The New York Giants secondary was set.

The team had two former first-round picks (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Prince Amukamara) at their outside cornerback positions, both of whom were capable of shutting down an opponent’s No. 1 target. Then, for those pesky slot receivers, New York signed the self-proclaimed best nickel defender in the game, Walter Thurmond III, this offseason.

On paper, everything seemed perfect. It looked as if a team that had been led for so many years by their front four, would now be led by their secondary.

Two games into the season, that tactic took a massive blow. Versus the Arizona Cardinals Sunday afternoon, Thurmond suffered a torn pectoral muscle. He will have surgery on Tuesday. His season is over.

In years past, the Giants secondary had been ravaged by injuries. As a result, New York didn’t just build up its starting unit this offseason, but depth as well. Aside from Rodgers-Cromartie and Thurmond, Zack Bowman was signed from Chicago, Trumaine McBride was re-signed and Bennett Jackson drafted.

The injury to Thurmond, while a blow, shouldn’t be that bad. Right? New York should be able to slide any of the above mentioned players into the nickel cornerback position. Right?

Actually, wrong. While New York was considered to be incredibly deep at the cornerback position, it actually lacks experience at the nickel.

Here’s a look at what each cornerback on the Giants roster has done when brought in to play nickel. If the Giants deem the present group not worthy, here’s a few other options that may be worth a look.

Stats are courtesy of Pro Football Focus

Zack Bowman, Chicago Bears (October 10, 2013)

Zack Bowman – © USA TODAY Sports Images

PRESENTLY ON THE ROSTER:

Zack Bowman, CB
Last Year Team: Chicago Bears
Snaps in Slot: 2013 – 8, 2012 – 0, 2011 – 5, 2010 – 5

When the news broke that Thurmond would miss the season, the instant logical solution to many was to simply plug Bowman in. The issue with that? Bowman has rarely been used at the nickel cornerback position throughout the duration of his career. The 29-year old has primarily been known as an outside corner and special teams player. While Bowman excelled in the preseason this year, it was very rarely when lined up in the slot. In four preseason games, Bowman played just two snaps matched up against the slot receiver.

Trumaine McBride, CB
Last Year Team: New York Giants
Snaps in Slot: 2013 – 10, 2012-0, 2011- 0, 2010- 12

McBride enjoyed a breakout season in 2014 while filling in for injured Giants cornerback Corey Webster. When quarterbacks decided to test McBride, their average QB rating was under 60. However, similar to Bowman, McBride has been known as an outside cornerback throughout the majority of his NFL career. In fact, between 2011 and 2012, McBride didn’t play a single snap in the slot.

Jayron Hosley, CB
Last Year Team: New York Giants
Snaps in Slot: 2013-4, 2012-177, 2011- 0

Jayron Hosley is arguably the player with the most experience in the slot, having played 177 snaps as the Giants nickel cornerback in 2012. The issue? He wasn’t particularly effective. Quarterbacks completed 52-of-76 passes when testing Hosley and had a combined quarterback rating of 86.7. In the 2014 preseason, Hosley played primarily outside and struggled, but did get six reps in nickel. He allowed two catches on the only two passes thrown his way. There’s also the small tidbit that Hosley is still suspended for two games. There is a chance that if the new drug policy is put in place, Hosley can play as early as this Sunday, but that’s no guarantee.

Antrel Rolle, New York Giants (August 9, 2014)

Antrel Rolle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Antrel Rolle, S
Last Year Team: New York Giants
Snaps in Slot: 2013-176, 2012- 173, 2011- 319

It seems as if every year the Giants try everything to get Rolle out of the slot, and every year something happens that puts him right back in it. Since joining the Giants, Rolle has played 668 snaps as a nickel cornerback. He’s had some success, too. Last year, a quarterback’s rating when testing Rolle was 66.6, but in 2012, that number was 107.3. Rolle is much better suited to simply play safety, as was evident last year, and New York will most likely try all other scenarios before moving the Pro Bowler down.

ON THE PRACTICE SQUAD:

Bennett Jackson, CB
Last Year: Rookie
Snaps in Slot: 2014 preseason-53

Quietly, Bennett Jackson had a pretty impressive preseason when playing the nickel cornerback position. On 53 snaps, he was only tested four times. He allowed two catches for 36 yards. Jackson is presently stashed on the Giants practice squad and could be activated if Thurmond is placed on the injured reserve, and the Giants decide not to activate Hosley.

Chandler Fenner, CB
Last year: Rookie
Snaps in Slot: 2014 preseason- 0

A very, very unlikely situation would be the activation of Chandler Fenner to the Giants 53-man roster. While Fenner played well in the preseason and team’s training camp, he saw no snaps as a nickel back in the preseason.

Terrell Thomas, New York Giants (October 6, 2013)

Terrell Thomas – © USA TODAY Sports Images

OUTSIDE THE TEAM:

Terrel Thomas, CB
Last Year: New York Giants
Snaps in Slot: 2014-315, 2010- 57

While Jordan Raanan (NJ.com) and Conor Orr (The Star-Ledger) have reported that, at least to this point, the Giants have not contacted Thomas’ reps, the former second-round pick is still a free agent after being cut by the Seattle Seahawks in training camp.

Thomas was one of the feel-good stories for the Giants a year ago when he bounced back from a third ACL tear to play the full 16 games. Thomas saw over 300 snaps as the nickel corner and played well at times. In his first game action in two years, Thomas allowed 45 completions in 59 attempts for 453 yards with three touchdowns. He intercepted one pass and a quarterback’s average rating when testing the USC alum was an even 91. He’s available, knows the system and has had more experience and success than any other cornerback option on the roster.

Charles James II, CB
Last Year Team: New York Giants
Snaps in Slot: 2014 (preseason)- 44 2013 (PS)- 27

During the Giants 75-man roster cut down, they waived fan-favorite Charles James. The former undrafted free agent is still a free agent and saw some action in the nickel package this preseason, but struggled mightily. James played 27 snaps and allowed a completion on both of the throws tossed his way. Similar to Thomas, NJ.com and The Star-Ledger are reporting there has been no phone call made from the Giants to James.

Dunta Robinson, CB
2013 Team: Kansas City Chiefs
Snaps in Slot: 2013- 143 2012-48 2011-3

An unlikely option for the Giants would be to sign a veteran with little connection to the team. Former first-round pick Dunta Robinson is presently a free agent and had the most success in the slot last year of available veterans. Playing for the Kansas City Chiefs, Robinson allowed 17 completions on 24 targets as a nickel corner.

Sep 112014
 
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Rueben Randle, New York Giants (September 8, 2014)

Rueben Randle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

It’s not really an ideal situation for Rueben Randle and the rest of the New York Giants receivers.

Following a stagnant performance in the season opener, Randle and Co. are looking to jump-start a Giants offense that was particularly lacking in the playmaker department Monday night.

In a perfect world, Randle admitted he’d enjoy splitting out wide at MetLife Stadium against the Arizona Cardinals and looking across the line of scrimmage at a cornerback fresh out of college.

Instead? He’ll get either Antonio Cromartie or Patrick Peterson.

The duo has only combined for 40 interceptions, six Pro Bowl appearances and three All-Pro honors.

“It would be ideal (to face someone else),” Randle said with a smile, “but it’ll be great work for us. We’ll see where we stand as receivers with the two great cornerbacks we’ll be facing.”

In both Cromartie and Peterson, the Cardinals bring together two of the more athletically gifted cornerbacks in the NFL. Each were selected in the first round with Peterson going No. 5 overall in 2011, and Cromartie No. 19 in 2006.

Coming out of college, Peterson ran the 40-yard dash in 4.34 seconds and had a vertical of 38 inches. Cromartie posted similar impressive numbers, running a 4.47 40 and the same vertical. Nearly as jaw-dropping as the duo’s timed results are their other measurables.

Both corners are over 6-feet tall. Cromartie is 6-2.

“He is longer, so our job is to get his hands off us,” Randle said. “We can’t let him jam us at the line of scrimmage and we have to get him running to open up his hips.”

While Cromartie is an NFL vet, Peterson is just 24 years old. Peterson is as physically gifted as any other cornerback in the NFL, but he’s struggled with consistency.

At times, Peterson has flashed the ability to be a ‘shutdown cornerback,’ but has also had a knack for getting caught out of position. If Peterson starts hot, it’s a long day for the offense. If a receiver can get past Peterson early, it tends to be the reciprocal.

According to Pro Football Focus, when a quarterback threw at Peterson in 2012, their average quarterback rating was a 64.9. In 2013, that rating jumped to 91.3. To compare with other cornerbacks in the NFL, Joe Haden graded in at a 75.2 rating last year. Richard Sherman led all with quarterbacks averaging a 47.3 rating.

Randle acknowledged that Peterson is in the top-tier of today’s best defensive backs, but that doesn’t mean he’s unbeatable.

“Just by keeping him off balance,” Randle said. “You can’t let him get back there and be comfortable to where he can be the athlete he is and break up the ball and create interceptions.”

Last week versus Detroit, it was Randle who looked off balance. The third-year pro caught two passes for just one yard on three targets from quarterback Eli Manning. Randle said the key this week versus Arizona is getting off to a hot start.

After watching Monday’s film, Randle saw he wasn’t lacking receptions because he wasn’t open. He found the holes in the defense, but Manning, at times, rushed the ball to other receivers instead of waiting for others to get open.

Versus Arizona, Randle is hoping to give Manning the faith and confidence to go to him early and often.

“(If I can) capitalize on more opportunities it will definitely build confidence in Eli,” Randle said. “He can sit back there and allow us to get open. He won’t have to rush or anything to throw us the ball or force it.”

Sep 102014
 
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Odell Beckham, New York Giants (August 9, 2014)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Things weren’t pretty Monday night in Detroit as the New York Giants kicked off their season.

Not on defense, where Calvin Johnson torched New York’s rebuilt secondary. Not on special teams, where the unit allowed a block punt and punter Steve Weatherford tore ligaments in his ankle. And certainly not on offense where, well, just about everything went wrong.

Giants quarterback Eli Manning was under constant pressure and Detroit’s defensive line clogged up any running lanes resulting in little success from the running game. But what may have been the most alarming factor was the lack of playmakers taking the field for the Giants.

Rueben Randle, Victor Cruz and Jerrel Jernigan were complete non factors as Manning was forced to turn to tight end Larry Donnell and Rashad Jennings out of the backfield. The receivers created little, if any, separation. When they did get separation, the group struggled catching the ball.

During the NFL Draft, the Giants elected to forego drafting an offensive lineman in order to add to the above receiving corp. With the No. 12 pick in the draft, the Giants selected LSU receiver Odell Beckahm Jr. The hope was that Beckham would occupy the outsider receiver, position along with Randle, so that Cruz – who general manager Jerry Reese admitted “can’t” play outside – could play in the slot.

With former first-round pick Hakeem Nicks gone, New York needed Beckham to have a near immediate impact. They needed him to be a playmaker.

A nagging hamstring injury has kept Beckham off of the field and left the Giants offense searching for answers. As Manning and Co. continue to struggle, the need for Beckham to get back on the field seems as important as ever.

But is it realistic to believe Beckham can truly change the fortunes of the Giants offense? Can the rookie really turn around a unit that looks to be one of the league’s worst?

History certainly doesn’t stand in New York’s favor.

Since the year 2000, a total of 55 wide receivers have been selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. The success each has seen? Staggeringly little.

Of all NFL receivers selected in the first round, the group has average 37 receptions, 519 yards and three touchdowns each season. Of receivers selected with the No. 12 overall pick (the selection spot of Odell Beckham) or higher, the average jumps slightly to 40 receptions for 554 yards and four scores.

While the numbers seems surprisingly low, there are a few exceptions. The following are players who have exceeded the above-average numbers and put together impressive numbers their first year in the league:

PLAYER NAME, TEAM, STATISTICS:
2003: Andre Johnson, Houston, 66-976-4
2004: Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona, 58-789-8
2004: Roy Williams, Detroit, 54-817-8
2004: Lee Evans, Buffalo, 48-843-9
2004: Michael Clayton, Tampa Bay, 80-1193-7
2006: Santonio Holmes, Pittsburgh, 49-824-1
2007: Calvin Johnson, Detroit, 48-756-4
2007: Dwayne Bowe, 70-995-5
2011: AJ Green, Cincinnati, 65-1056-7
2011: Julio Jones, Atlanta, 54-959-8
2012: Justin Blackmon, Jacksonville, 64-865-5

Jerrel Jernigan was selected by the Giants in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft and went through the same learning curve as many other NFL rookies. His first year in the league, Jernigan struggled to find success on the field and didn’t appear in a game until his second season in the NFL.

“All the defensive backs are talented,” Jernigan said. “They’re all fast and all of them looked at the quarterback. In college, a lot of defensive backs will focus just on their man. Here, they look at the quarterback and their drop to know if you’re going to be running an intermediate route or deep route.

“You need to get used to the coverages, route running and getting the details to get that. Defensive backs here can read what you’re doing a lot better than college players.”

YEAR20002001200220032004200520062007
WRs SELECTED56337616
AVG RECEPTIONS3228344140324935
AVG YARDS395387479552597431824490
AVG TOUCHDOWNS32435213
YEAR200820092010201120122013
WRs SELECTEDNONE62343
AVG RECEPTIONSN/A4434474346
AVG YARDSN/A634422757573561
AVG TDsN/A44533

When the Giants selected Beckham, he was considered about as ‘Pro Ready’ as a rookie can be, but can he truly be the Giants offensive savior? Can the team really rely on an immediate impact from a rookie playing a position that has seen little instant success?

New York has rarely gone with a receiver in the first round. In fact, Beckham is just the fifth receiver taken in the first round by the Giants since 1975. Mark Ingram (87), Thomas Lewis (94), Ike Hilliard (97) and Nicks (09) were also selected in the first round.

Of the group, Nicks had the most success his first year. The UNC alum caught 47 passes for 790 yards and six touchdowns in 14 games.

But will Beckham follow the same path as Nicks and see early success in his career? The Giants certainly hope so, but it’s a gamble. For every Nicks-like performance, there are three Ashley Lelies and Donte Stallworths.

It’s a risk, and history certainly isn’t in New York’s favor.

Sep 092014
 
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Victor Cruz, New York Giants (September 8, 2014)

Victor Cruz – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Victor Cruz isn’t blind.

Nor is he oblivious, ignorant or impervious to what the New York Giants displayed on the field Monday night. He knows it wasn’t good, heck, he knows it was downright ugly.

What Cruz, like so many others are, is shocked. Because he, like so many others, never expected the same issues that had plagued the offense the first week of learning Ben McAdoo’s West Coast offense to still be affecting the team now.

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“I did think those problems would be over and we would be able to get into a rhythm,” Cruz said. “Mainly because we were playing a full four quarters. We were playing more than we had in the preseason.”

One quarter or four, it didn’t matter. Nationally televised for the world to see was exactly what the Giants had done in their previous five preseason games. There was no time for quarterback Eli Manning to throw. There was little separation created by the receivers. And, just like under previous coordinator Kevin Gilbride, there were interceptions due to miscommunication between Manning and his intended target.

Cruz caught just two passes for 24 yards on five targets. If the Giants offense is to turn things around, Cruz doesn’t think coaches need to look far for a solution.

Taking a chapter out of Keyshawn Johnson’s playbook, Cruz wants to be thrown the ball.

“There needs to be an increased number of targets in my direction and other play-makers’ directions,” Cruz said. “That all comes with the continuity. That comes with getting the running game going. That comes with building what we want to build as the game continues.”

Rueben Randle, New York Giants (September 8, 2014)

Rueben Randle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Despite the Detroit Lions secondary being ravaged by injury, the Giants were unable to take advantage, especially Cruz’s receiving counterpart, Rueben Randle. Playing his first game in an offense that was supposed to benefit the former second-round pick, Randle was as big of a non-factor as a team can have. There was no more excuse of the complexity of ‘reading the defense’ like in the previous offense.

Randle simply didn’t get separation. Manning went his way three times. The result? Two catches for one yard. Jerrel Jernigan was targeted seven times, Rashad Jennings five and Larry Donnell eight.

“I think it was just the way the game unfolded,” Cruz said. “I don’t think it was anything deliberate or [Eli] wasn’t looking his way. I just think it was the way the coverages panned out, and there were a lot of the plays we were calling that were being shifted over to JJ’s side.”

This coming Sunday, Randle, Cruz and Manning will look to establish something, anything, against an Arizona Cardinals defense flying high following a season-opening win against the San Diego Chargers.

The Cardinal defense held Philip Rivers and Co. to 290 yards of offense and just 238 pass yards. Rivers completed 21-of-36 passes and threw one interception. On the ground, Arizona allowed just 52 yards in a 18-17 victory.

It’s hardly a cake walk for the Giants in the team’s home opener, but Cruz believes another tough opponent is exactly what New York needs.

“I am excited to see how we respond,” Cruz said, “just get back on the field and shake off this game one and get on the field and run some routes and begin to feel good about ourselves

“We want to get back out there and be focused and get our confidence back and be able to run some routes again and catch the ball and see football again”

Sep 062014
 
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Weston Richburg, New York Giants (July 22, 2014)

Weston Richburg – © USA TODAY Sports Images

It didn’t matter what team called his name during the 2014 NFL Draft in May, the goal was always the same for Weston Richburg.

Come the first game of the season, he wanted to step on the field with the starters.

When he picked up his phone during the second round of the draft and heard Giants coach Tom Coughlin’s voice, nothing changed. Richburg knew the Giants had just signed J.D. Walton and Geoff Schwartz. He knew Chris Snee was looking to make a comeback.

It just didn’t matter. He wanted to start.

“I had that picture in my mind,” Richburg said.

The Giants are now two days away from kicking off their season on Monday Night Football. When the offense takes Ford Field in prime time, Richburg will be lining up next to Walton with the ones.

“It’s a heck of a beginning to an NFL career,” Richburg said. “I’m very excited about it and wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s just a great way to start it.”

Going up against one of the best defensive tackles in the game? Well, that just makes it even better.

Not only will Monday be Richburg’s first career start, but he’ll also be matched up against Detroit Lions defensive tackle and former first-round pick Ndamukong Suh.

Suh, 27, has a resume that’s already chock-full of awards and accolades in his short four-year NFL career. In 2010, Suh’s first season in the NFL, the 6-4, 307-pound tackle won Rookie of the Year honors and earned the first of his three Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors.

Throughout his career, Suh has recorded 27.5 sacks, 186 tackles and two forced fumbles while terrorizing opponent’s interior offensive linemen with his rare combination of size, speed and strength.

In his two previous meetings with the Giants, Suh has recorded five tackles and 1.5 sacks.

Richburg has spent countless hours in the film room watching tape on Suh. He’s taken note of his moves, and how he gets an edge on those he faces. The biggest observation the rookie’s made? Suh has impeccable timing jumping the count.

“He catches a lot of guys off guard,” Richburg said. “You can mix up the snap count a little to counter as an offense, but as a guard, that’s your advantage. You know the snap count.

“If we’re going to a silent count, it makes that a little more difficult, but you need to be able to anticipate it as well as you can and be able to fire off right when the ball is snapped so you can negate his perfect timing.”

Playing the Lions in Detroit, quarterback Eli Manning and the rest of the Giants offense will almost certainly have to turn to the silent count, and even if Richburg is able to get the initial step on Suh, he still needs to contain him.

At the NFL Scouting Combine in 2010, Suh bench-pressed 250 pounds 32 times. Richburg wasn’t too shabby, either, putting the same weight up 26 times. But Suh has played 63 regular season games in the NFL, Richburg five preseason games.

“He’s big and strong,” Richburg said,” I’m gonna have to buckle up, strap the cleats on a little tighter and just try to drive him off the ball.”