The Giants are only five days into training camp, and still about two weeks away from their preseason opener. But with a well-deserved day off on Tuesday, it’s a good time to evaluate the current roster and see how it’s forming.
General manager Jerry Reese is the man in charge of developing the roster, and while he said he “likes” what he sees so far, it’s safe to say there are still holes at key spots.
Overall, there’s been optimism and a great vibe at camp, as players have been flying around and looking good in team sessions. Sure, mini-camp had its share of injuries and mishaps, but compared to last season’s uncertainty, this camp so far has been a plus.
Last year at this time, the offense was brand new, and players were struggling with grasping Ben McAdoo’s system -- including veteran quarterback Eli Manning, who was slow to decipher all the nuances. But with a year under their belts, Big Blue’s offense seems poised to take the next step. Manning is still expected to hover near the 70-percent completion rate that McAdoo wanted last season. And with the healthy return of wideout Victor Cruz and the ascension of second-year phenom Odell Beckham Jr., Manning’s numbers may surpass the stellar numbers from last season (4,410 yards, 63.1 percent, and 30 touchdowns).
The good news for the Giants so far is that both wideouts have been full participants in practices, despite dealing with injuries, both serious and nagging. Cruz (knee) hasn’t missed a practice, and most importantly, has not seen any time on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, as was initially feared before camp began.
The team has also been careful with Beckham’s hamstrings, but when on the field, he’s been dazzling onlookers with his usual flare.
The offense as a whole should pick up, as they added a dual-threat running back in Shane Vereen, a veteran wideout in James Jones, who already knows the offense from his time with McAdoo in Green Bay, and a first-round pick in left tackle Ereck Flowers, who will maul defenders trying to get to Manning’s blindside. Flowers has missed some time with a hip flexor injury, and is listed as day-to-day, so for the time being, Justin Pugh has manned the left side.
Simply put, the Giants offense will be loaded and ready to carry the burden, should the revamped defense not carry its weight. And heavy is the task that new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo carries as he tries to reboot a unit that underachieved last season.
Jason Pierre-Paul’s situation has been front and center so far this summer, but that isn’t the only issue for Big Blue. The overall anonymity of the defensive line, sans Pierre-Paul, is striking.
But for Reese, he believes he’s stocked the roster enough to overcome the absence of his lone star defender.
“It’s a great opportunity for some more guys at that position to step out of the shadows and do that. There’s some guys that have been around for a while, [like] Damontre Moore. He’s a guy that sticks out in my mind, Kerry Wynn, too,” said Reese. “We’ve got some other guys. We drafted Owa [Odighizuwa]. There’s some more guys at that position that we like and think can help shore up that position for us.”
The defensive line may be the biggest concern – even when Pierre-Paul returns – as Spagnuolo is known for only rushing four lineman to disrupt opposing passers. But what rivals the line is the youth at the back-end of the secondary. Gone is stalwart Antrel Rolle and veteran Stevie Brown, and in steps youth – a lot of it.
The Giants didn’t really address the issue via veteran help, so they’ll look to a group of rookies and young vets, and even a convert, as they moved second-year player Bennett Jackson from cornerback to safety to add depth. Rookie and second-round pick Landon Collins will likely be the opening day starter at one safety spot, so it’ll be up to Jackson , veteran Jeromy Miles, rookie Mykkele Thompson, or young holdovers like Nat Behre and Cooper Taylor to battle for time.
Secondary coach David Merritt, who specifically oversees the safeties, noted the process of trying to sort out his group.
“You look at these young guys and you’re still trying to make sure you figure out who’s going to be the leader, who’s going to be able to stand back and make the calls and make the adjustments that we need on game day,” Merritt said. “When you look at it from a depth perspective, we have rookies on the field [so], right now, it’s still wide open. We’re going to have to get into some preseason games. Then, hopefully it will clear up right away.”
Hopefully for Big Blue, they’ll get some clarity on the defensive side of the ball soon. But until then, Manning and Co. should be able to pick up the slack.
Big Blue notes:
-Reese acknowledged that he’s always keeping an eye on trying to upgrade his roster – particularly the bottom end if it: “We always keep our options available. Every day we look at the wire. We’re always looking for trade possibilities [and] we’re always trying to upgrade our roster.”
-He also noted that they’re monitoring the injury bug that’s hampered the team in recent seasons – but added there’s only so much the team can do: “We’ve tried different things. We readjusted the schedule, we adjusted some things in the weight room, we’re trying to have more room for down time, as an opportunity for guys to recover. But I think it’s just been some bad luck. When guys break bones or tear muscles off the bone or something like that, it’s just unfortunate. Bad things happen sometimes in the National Football League, and hopefully this is our year to stay healthy.”