The New York Giants have multiple young or new players they are counting on to step up in 2012. They lost several key veterans from their Super Bowl run, and the new faces will have to erase the memory of those players.
Whether a free agent, undrafted free agent or player drafted in the 2012 NFL draft, the Giants will be counting on everyone in their title defense.
Victor Cruz, Jake Ballard, Jacquian Williams and Henry Hynoski are just a few names you probably never heard of before last year. They all busted loose with terrific seasons, helping the Giants win their fourth Lombardi Trophy.
Who are those names this season? Here are four.
Newly acquired tight end Martellus Bennett will be leaned on heavily to bring the run game back to its former glory. A blocking specialist with Dallas, the former Texas A&M Aggie will bring an intensity and fierceness alongside the offensive line.
Eli Manning should also be able to count on Bennett to create mismatches over the middle. Bennett is 6'7'' and 270 pounds but runs like he is 240. Having witnessed his athleticism close hand at Texas A&M (he played basketball for two years), I can attest to his ability.
The issue for Bennett has always been his attitude and concentration. Tight end coach Mike Pope will hopefully get the most out of this guy. He already caught Bennett's attention at mini-camp.
According to Mike Garafolo, Bennett went down with a minor injury yesterday. However, instead of getting wrapped where the trainers were located, Pope made them come to him so Bennett could continue to learn the offense.
I'm expecting big things from Bennett this season, despite the fact he hasn't caught a touchdown since 2008.
Prediction: 40 catches, 650 yards, 8 touchdowns
When Rueben Randle fell to the Giants at No. 63, they were shocked. The term "NFL-ready" has been tossed around Randle's direction, and so far he's impressed throughout camp.
With Mario Manningham out the door, it opened competition for several wide receivers. Randle, Domenik Hixon, Ramses Barden and Jerrel Jernigan will all be vying for playing time.
Although Randle failed to break the 1,000-yard barrier during his last year in college, he provided LSU with a legitimate deep threat and is deceptively fast.
The Giants would like to keep Victor Cruz in the slot, so finding a third receiver who is exceptional from the outside will be paramount. Randle was the first option at LSU and played mostly split out, so this will not be a huge transition from the college game.
He'll need to learn the complex playbook, though, which could cause the Giants to use Hixon over him early (provided Hixon's knee holds up). However, once he has the language down, Randle will have a fine season.
Prediction: 43 catches, 774 yards, 5 touchdowns
The Giants have announced that Hakeem Nicks has broken his foot and will be out until training camp. This could give Randle a huge opportunity to prove himself.
During the rookie mini-camp, first round pick David Wilson impressed the coaching staff. However, he still obviously has room to improve.
Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride seemed excited with the prospect of working with Wilson.
From The Star-Ledger:
"He looks for every yard, fights for every yard, breaks a lot of tackles," Gilbride said. "Probably breaks a little more tackles than you would think he'd be capable of just looking at him and then he combines that with phenomenal speed.
Ahmad Bradshaw is obviously not going anywhere, but given his injury history and the Giants' propensity to use multiple running backs, expect Wilson to be one of the better rookie running backs in terms of numbers.
Prediction: 150 carries, 630 yards, 25 receptions, 175 yards, 6 Total TDs
Technically Terrell Thomas is not a "new" addition to the team, but he was re-signed as an unrestricted free agent in 2012. Although he is coming off his second ACL surgery, Thomas is brimming with confidence in both his rehab and his ability to re-take his starting job in training camp.
From the New York Daily News:
“I feel that’s why they brought me back,” he said. “Obviously, come training camp, there’s going to be a lot of competition, with me, Prince, Corey, young guys, Molden. There’s no position set, except for probably Eli. But starting, that’s my mind-set going into it.”
Hearing Thomas talk to reporters all season makes you feel like he's focused and motivated to prove why the Giants gave him a four-year deal that could be worth up to $28.4 million. He was the best defender for the Giants in 2010, registering 101 tackles, four forced fumbles, five interceptions and 21 pass deflections.
The Giants will ease him back into the lineup, but I expect him to start and be his old self from Week 1.
Prediction: 80 tackles, three interceptions, one forced fumble, 18 pass deflections