The Giants wrap up their final portion of its offseason program on Thursday, as mandatory minicamp comes to a close.
And while the players get a little reprieve from team activities until the start of training camp on July 28, the coaching staff will still be hard at work, trying to find resolutions to many questions that still need answering.
Some of the biggest subplots for Big Blue are the offensive line, the health of Victor Cruz, the gelling of their big-money free agents, the linebackers, and the team’s crowded backfield.
Metro takes a look at some of the key storylines heading into training camp.
What To Watch:
Will there finally be a wide receiver dynamic duo?
Giants’ fans wait with bated breath for any positive news regarding Victor Cruz, because should the former franchise wideout regain his form, the Giants’ passing attack could be among the league’s most potent. A corps that includes a finally healthy Cruz, pass-catching running back Shane Vereen, rookie Sterling Shepard, and of course Odell Beckham Jr. would really strike fear into opposing defenses. Beckham was giddy talking about his mentor on Wednesday, smiling as he held up the touchdown signal when asked what it’ll be like to finally pair with the 29-year old veteran. Giants fans can expect tons of touchdowns should Cruz be healthy – but he’ll first need to get through training camp unscathed and without setbacks.
Crowded backfield needs to be sorted.
Rashad Jennings enters camp as the unquestioned starter, but that doesn’t mean he won’t face stiff competition. Perhaps Jennings’s biggest threat comes from a rookie who wasn’t even in attendance at most of the team’s organized team activities (OTAs), former UCLA star Paul Perkins. While the rest of the players endured the offseason program, including three weeks of OTAs, Perkins was at UCLA completing his academic requirements. The fifth-round pick said he maintained a connection to the team through the use of his team-issued iPad, on which he watched the daily practices, and phone conversations with running backs coach Craig Johnson and head coach Ben McAdoo. The long-distance crash course of the Giants’ playbook may serve the rookie well.
“I had an iPad with all the plays and a script with what they were doing each day,” Perkins said. “And then Coach Johnson would call me periodically throughout the week to see how I was doing – and Coach McAdoo, as well … I definitely wish I was here sooner, but it definitely helped me more so than not having it and just watching.”
The backfield is crowded with veterans, so he’ll need to have a strong camp to carve a niche among a group that includes holdovers Jennings, Shane Vereen, Andre Williams, and Orleans Darkwa (currently sidelined with a leg injury), and veteran newcomer Bobby Rainey. But if anyone is capable of climbing the depth chart quickly, it’s Perkins. The former Bruin rushed for 3,491 yards at UCLA, including 1,343 last year, so he is used to carrying a heavy load – which would be a change for the Giants, who haven’t had a linchpin workhorse since the Tiki Barber days.
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Is the offensive line’s starting unit going to remain the same?
There’s been much consternation among Giants’ fans regarding the starting five, as a majority likely won’t want to see the same holdovers in place – particularly the right side. The left side is rock solid, as it features last year’s first round pick, Ereck Flowers at left tackle, Justin Pugh at left guard, and Weston Richburg at center. It’s the right side, however, that causes angst. Last season primarily featured John Jerry and Marshall Newhouse at right guard and right tackle, respectively. The former was harangued for most of the year, as his grade on Pro Football Focus was an eye-opening -11.5 – including a -16.2 grade in run blocking. His pass blocking was a respectable +1.9, though, as he didn’t allow any sacks and only two quarterback hits. The latter is a journeyman who is working on his third team in four seasons, so he either needs to drastically improve or the Giants will be looking for a replacement. Help could be on the way by the time camp convenes, as there are reports that recently-released tackle Eugene Monroe has caught the eye of general manager Jerry Reese. Monroe, who was let go by the Baltimore Ravens earlier in the week, was the subject of trade talks between the two teams. But due to his then-pricey contract ($6.5 million) and the fact Baltimore also wanted a draft pick, the Giants declined. But now that he’s a free agent, the Giants will almost certainly re-open dialogue with Monroe’s representatives. It’s a fluid situation that may play out even before the start of camp, as the 29-year old Plainfield, New Jersey native would definitely welcome a return home.
Will the defensive newcomers help rejuvenate the holdovers?
Last season’s edition was among the worst in recent NFL history, which is why Reese splurged in free agency (over $200 million in total salaries). Guys like defensive end Olivier Vernon, nose tackle Damon Harrison, and cornerback Janoris Jenkins were paid very well to be immediate impact players. And that also goes for under-the-radar addition like linebacker Keenan Robinson, and touted rookies like cornerback Eli Apple, linebacker B.J. Goodson, and safety Darian Thompson, who is the leader in the clubhouse to start on opening day. And that’s not even including second-year defensive end Owa Odighizuwa, who missed almost the entire rookie season due to multiple maladies, and athletic linebacker Devon Kennard and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins who also suffered injury-plagued campaigns. If all the aforementioned players play to form – and Jason Pierre-Paul returns to form — Big Blue could be one of the best defenses in the NFC East and perhaps the league. But before they get ahead of themselves, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will need to get everyone to gel and master his gameplan. Camp and the preseason games will be valuable means for Spagnuolo to see where his outfit stands, and he’s happy to put last season behind him and get back into the lab and tinker with his new toys.
“We’re going to be better because of players, better coaching, less mistakes, [and] because it’s the second year in the system. That’s what we fully expect to do … Everything that happened and what we went through last year is over,” he said. “I’ve always said this league is about players and the more top-notch players you can have I think the better defense you’re going to be. To me it doesn’t matter what scheme you’re going to put in, [because] players make plays. We’re looking for guys that can produce, and I think we have them.”