The Giants began voluntary workouts this week, sans coaches, but that doesn’t mean the front office is on hiatus.
As the NFL draft nears, general manager Jerry Reese has been hard at work trying to fill holes via free agency while also figuring out which incoming rookies will best help the team. Reese said no matter what position of strength a unit may have, the best available player will be a Giant — even a quarterback.
“Without a doubt, the best guy available will get picked, even quarterback,” Reese said, joking that should a franchise quarterback be there at pick No. 32, it’ll be a no-brainer. “If Andrew Luck is down there you don’t think we’d pick him?”
If the consensus is correct, obviously Luck won’t last past the first pick, but that was Reese’s way of saying that no position, not even one that has the reigning Super Bowl MVP, is off limits to stockpile.
Reaching for a player just because they might fill a position of need is not something the Giants do, according to Reese. Big Blue has question marks at offensive tackle, running back depth and linebacker, but that won’t make Reese rush to nab a guy.
“We never reach for a player. We just try to pick the best player available. If there is a really good player at No. 32, regardless of position, we’ll draft him — other than kicker of punter of course,” Reese said. “The bottom of the first round or the top of the second round is pretty much the same player on our board.”
Reese quickly rattled off names of past draftees that were taken in the second round.
“There’s some very good players there and we’ll get a good player in our slot,” Reese said. “There’s good value there and we’ve done well there before. Guys like [safety] Kenny Phillips, [wideout] Mario [Manningham, now in San Francisco] and [linebacker] Mike Goff.”
Filling holes frugally has been the Giants’ way under Reese. He rarely stocks the roster with high-priced free agents or high-end draft picks that may be developmental projects. He likes ready-made players and said sometimes the answer is right from within.
The departure of stalwarts like running back Brandon Jacobs (free agent signee to San Francico) and right tackle Kareem McKenzie (free agent, but still could be resigned) has left some big holes in the team’s depth. Reese said he’ll do his diligence in free agency and the draft, but guys will also have to step up from within.
“Andre Brown and Da’Rel Scott will have to step up out of the shadows. We already know what [D.J. Ware] can do, but we’ll also do draft diligence on the running backs,” Reese said of the running backs void. “And [wideout Ramses] Barden has to be healthy to really show what he can do, but we expect him to finally show that.”
Reese said the linebacker position is also a work in progress. The general manager made some waves recently when he said he thinks the team may move weakside linebacker Michael Boley to middle linebacker to accommodate the arrival of weakside linebacker Keith Rivers, who was traded from the Bengals for a fifth-round pick last week. While the statement caught Boley off-guard, Reese didn’t see the big deal and said Boley will excel wherever the coaches put him.
“[Boley] played middle linebacker in our nickel packages anyway, so he can play any spot really,” Reese said. “We have some good players at linebacker in the mix. We feel Keith [Rivers] can play anywhere, too. With him, injuries have been the main hurdle as to why he’s fallen. But his profile tape shows he can do good things. We had him ranked high on our board when he was coming out [of USC].
“And then there’s young guys like Jacquian [Williams] who will mostly stay at weakside, but that’s up to the coaches who plays and where. … Overall, we like our linebackers to be versatile.”
The Giants have the versatility to put guys almost anywhere, but don’t have much cap flexibility to add more key pieces. Reese said he’ll now focus mainly on the guys he already has under contract — even with some rather unhappy. Wideout Victor Cruz is looking for a new deal after his career season and of course the Osi Umenyiora cloud will hang over the team’s head until something is done with the disgruntled defensive end, one way or another.
“The salary cap rules everything you do. But we feel good about what we’ve done so far,” Reese said, declining to expand more on the ongoing contract talks. “All those [scenarios] you can think of is on our plate.”
Eli Manning naturally declined to get involved in the management process, but added he’s just happy to be back at work and will take the field with whomever Reese adds to the roster.
“Guys need to step up everywhere, especially at the third wide receiver position. Competition is good everywhere on a roster, [especially] running back to help Ahmad [Bradshaw] and at tackle with Kareem [McKenzie],” Manning said, adding he’s already looked past last season. “The motivation is always trying to improve, with whoever is here. We can’t worry about last year. You always have to figure out how to get better going forward. Once you come into these workouts the focus is onto the next season. There is no more celebrating.”
Big Blue notes
» Victor Cruz said he’s not worried about the contract proceedings and is just looking forward to getting better: “There’s no timetable. I’m just here to play football. It’s all fluid. DSI [sports agency] will take care of that. I just want to be the same guy, the same player, whether [the contract] is $100,000 or $30 million or something crazy like that.”
Cruz added he’s very interested in watching the third wideout competition unfold: “That third role is important. It’s going to be a good battle to see the competition between guys like Domenik Hixon, Jerrel Jernigan and Ramses Barden. I’m excited to see those guys and see who steps up.”
»Bradshaw said he’s disappointed in seeing his good friend Jacobs go, but understands the business aspect of the league: “It’s a business ordeal. It’s sad to see him go because he’s my big brother. I hope he has a great career,” Bradshaw said. “But I feel confident that I can handle the load, handle any role they give me.”
Bradshaw continued by saying he feels as healthy now as he’s ever had, thanks to the stem cell procedure: “The stem cell is the way to go,” he said of the February procedure that took stem cells from his hip bone and injected them into his ailing foot. It was the fifth procedure he’s had on his foot since entering the league. “I haven’t felt this good in like eight years — since my freshman year in college.”
»Reese reported on the statuses of his rehabbing tight ends, who both tore an ACL in the Super Bowl: “Looks like Jake [Ballard] will take more time than Travis [Beckum] to heal. But we have guys to fill in. Bear [Pascoe] has been a Joker for us, able to play multiple positions. And we’re looking forward to seeing Martellus [Bennett]. He’s a huge man with a great skillset.”
»Justin Tuck said he’s happy the “so-called experts” are already writing off the Giants as a lock to not even have the chance to defend their title in next season’s playoffs: “When you get to the top of the mountain you don’t want to go down again. … We feel confident that Reese did a good job at mostly keeping us intact because we feel we can play with anybody.”
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8 as the NFL draft approaches for all the updates.