Giants training camp preview: What to watch for
The Giants open training camp later this week, and like most teams have high hopes for a successful season — not to mention a plethora of question marks that need answering.
While they’re unlike most franchises that never get the chance to even compete in the postseason tournament, the Giants have at least recently enjoyed the thrill of victory.
Like most franchises, the Giants have had an upheaval of departing long-time stars, mixed with an influx of new faces.
Questions abound for a Giants team that essentially endured two seasons in one during the 2012-13 campaign. The defending Super Bowl champions raced out to a quick 6-2 mark, only to finish 9-7, injury-riddled and out of the playoffs. The seesaw season had highs, like blowing out the 49ers and Packers, and lows, like a combined 67-14 trouncing in back-to-back weeks late in the season in Atlanta and Baltimore.
The Giants were apparently bitten by the proverbial Super Bowl hangover bug last season, so thankfully for them expectations from the outside world are considerably low.
3 things to watch in camp …
1. Mission impossible
Victor Cruz’s contract situation wasn’t the only storyline to keep tabs on when it pertained to Giants wideouts, as fellow starter Hakeem Nicks made his own headlines for mysteriously missing all of the Giants’ voluntary spring workouts. Besides his curious no-shows, Nicks may also have to deal with knee issues following his offseason surgical procedure. If Nicks can’t return to his 2011 form, when he was widely considered an elite wideout, Cruz will definitely have to earn every bit of his new contract. He’ll have to pick up the slack for two — and likely see constant double-teams, something that usually faces a healthy Nicks. Cruz is an excellent receiver in his own right, but if Nicks looks more like the guy who posted a meager 53 catches, 692 yards and three touchdowns in 2012, the Giants’ passing attack will be in trouble.
2. Crash and burn?
The once-fabled “NASCAR” pass-rush package has blown a couple of tires since their last Super Bowl win, as Justin Tuck has steadily regressed, Jason Pierre-Paul had a down 2012-13 campaign and Osi Umenyiora is now a Falcon. Tuck, the heart and soul of the defense, has been in a steady decline since his 11-sack season in 2010. He’s amassed only a combined nine sacks in the past two years, has been besieged by injuries and is in the final year of his contract. This is his make-or-break campaign. Pierre-Paul is recovering from offseason back surgery and may not even be back in time for the regular season opener. But even with Pierre-Paul last season (6 1/2 sacks), the Giants’ pass rush was anemic. Umenyiora took his talents to Atlanta, which means the Giants will have to mix and match to get enough pressure without compromising the defense with an inordinate amount of blitzing. The rotation, which will probably have to pick up the slack for a recovering Pierre-Paul as well, includes Mathias Kiwanuka, who’s bounced all over the defensive front-seven, hybrid linebacker/defensive end Adrian Tracy, who the coaching staff is very high on, Adewale Ojomo, who was a preseason star last season for the Giants, and rookie Damontre Moore of Texas A&M, who might possess the team’s best pure pass-rushing skill set outside of Pierre-Paul.
3. On the run
The Giants really wanted to retain linchpin running back Ahmad Bradshaw — at the right price — but his departure to the Colts might actually be a blessing. The coaching staff is really intrigued with his understudy, David Wilson. Wilson, the Giants’ 2012 first-round pick, has elite speed and dazzling open-field moves, as his kick-return game can attest. But now that Wilson will get the first crack at winning the starting job over veteran Andre Brown, the speedy back will get to show the Giants he’s worthy of carrying the load. Bradshaw, who famously battled foot and ankle issues for most of his tenure, may actually be missed more in the meeting room and locker room than on the field. But the coaching staff thinks Wilson can more than compensate for Bradshaw’s lost rushing yards (1,015). The main concern with Wilson as the full-time starter, though, is his ball security and whether he can be the workhorse Bradshaw was. During last season, Bradshaw had more carries (221) than Wilson (71) and Brown (73) combined. Wilson will need to triple that workload for the Giants to regain offensive balance.
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.