The New York Giants didn't exactly start the preseason with a bang. The supposedly improved running game wasn't a factor early and the first-team defense was terrible on Jacksonville's first drive. But they settled in and got some great performances from guys who they'll be counting on this year for the first time.
Yes, they blew a big lead in Jacksonville Friday night, but that's really not a concern. Against the Jaguars, we learned that the Giants might actually be even deeper than many figured. Here's what else we learned.
Ahmad Bradshaw didn't have a great 2011 season and has had trouble staying healthy, so he probably had a clue that his starting job was in jeopardy when the Giants spent their top draft pick on Virginia Tech speedster David Wilson.
But it became apparent on Friday night that Wilson isn't the only guy with a chance to cut into Bradshaw's carries. Wilson, D.J. Ware and Andre Brown combined for 98 yards on 19 carries, with all three backs busting off runs of 12 or more yards (Wilson had a 26-yarder, which was the second-longest play of the night for the G-men).
Meanwhile, Bradshaw had just 12 yards on four early carries. He's not expected to get a ton of work in games like these, and that unimpressive performance won't hurt him. But the three backs behind him on the depth chart probably gained ground in Jacksonville.
Based on what I saw against the Jags, I'd guess Wilson will be the team's most utilized back the moment he can be relied upon as a blocker.
Like I said, David Wilson still has to improve his blocking, and he had a bad mental mistake when he didn't know he was getting a handoff late in the game. Jayron Hosley looked good as a punt returner and had a sack, but also muffed that punt. Tackles Brandon Mosley and Matt McCants struggled.
"We also have a number of people who really quite frankly don't know what they're doing," head coach Tom Coughlin said after the game. "And even though they may have some talent and some ability, they've got to spend a little more time trying to figure out what we're asking them to do."
There was more good than bad from the rookies, and Rueben Randle and Brandon Collins both looked great at wide receiver. But there were quite a few mistakes.
I don't think anyone expected otherwise, but I'm just relaying what we learned.
The Prince Amukamara era is starting a year later than expected. And unless Amukamara steps up his game, it might not last as long as most anticipated.
Amukara was burned twice on Jacksonville's first drive. He appeared especially lost on a 29-yard Blaine Gabbert completion to Mike Thomas.
After the game, Akukamara said:
I know I need to earn my teammates' respect so I can be trusted out there. Those were mental errors I made out there on the long drive, but my teammates came right to me and told me I need to have a short memory. So that's what I did. I forgot about it and went out there and forced that turnover and that felt good....The touchdown, that was just a mental error. It's the preseason, so I need to get those out of the way now. I've got to correct those mental errors.
It's not time to panic. Mental mistakes are correctable, and the second-year corner did force a fumble on the ensuing series. All in all, though, it was a rough night. It'll be interesting to see if Michael Coe and Justin Tryon get more work with the first-teamers going forward.
Jayron Hosley and Jerrel Jernigan both muffed punts deep in Giants territory.
Earlier, Hosley had two really good punt returns, so he'll likely continue to get opportunities, but he can't afford to cough it up again. Tom Coughlin won't tolerate it.
"The number one thing is ball security as a punt returner," Coughlin said last night. "The first thing you've got to do is catch the ball.''
Jernigan was outplayed by Hosley on punt returns and David Wilson on kick returns. Considering that Domenik Hixon is also expected to handle punts this year, and that he had no catches on offense, it was a bad night for Jernigan.
Somewhat quietly, Dave Tollefson had 512 snaps at defensive end last year in New York. Now, it helped that Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora missed a combined 11 games due to injury. But Tollefson factored into every game.
This year, Tollefson is gone, and the leading candidate to take his snaps is Adrian Tracy. The third-year end (a converted linebacker) had a solid preseason opener, registering a sack and a forced fumble. He applied consistent pressure and exhibited his explosiveness on several occasions.
With Justin Trattou out with an ankle injury, Tracy has an edge in the fight to be the Giants' fourth defensive end.
Technically, Bear Pascoe is the No. 1 tight end in New York, but Martellus Bennett shined Friday night, making three catches for 27 yards and a touchdown. Unsurprisingly, he also blocked like a champion.
One of his grabs was arguably the play of the night as he reached up to grab a bullet from David Carr.
Pascoe was barely a factor, making just a single two-yard catch. The Giants lost Jake Ballard in the offseason, but I think Bennett's performance Friday night probably made them feel a lot better about the tight end position. He and Pascoe should both be factors this year. But if Bennett keeps this up, he'll be the top option.
You can tell that the team believes in Will Hill. The former Florida Gator who went undrafted last spring due to behavioral concerns has been great in camp and was superb Friday night.
Working primarily as the Giants' third safety, Hill always seemed to be around the ball. He displayed great strength and physicality and showed that he can come into the box if needed. He finished with four tackles.
With safety Antrel Rolle having to chip in on coverage and Tyler Sash suspended for the first four games of the year, expect to see a lot of Hill going forward.
Chase Blackburn didn't really do anything good or bad in his limited time on the field Friday night, which is fine. The problem for Blackburn, though, is that backup Mark Herzlich continues to excel.
The second-year linebacker was stout against the run and solid in pass coverage.
However, Herzlich was facing second- and third-teamers, while Blackburn was in against the best Jacksonville has to offer (stop laughing). I'd really like to see Herzlich work with the first team in the weeks to come.
If he continues to perform like this, the Giants won't be able to keep him off the field.