What We've Learned About Each Positional Unit so Far in Giants Preseason
The preseason is never a telltale sign of what’s to come in the regular season. But that’s not to say we can’t draw some hazy conclusions about what to expect when September rolls around. So far, the Giants have given us 14 training camp practices and a preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars as kindling to spark our discussion.
For the rest of the month, some players will be pushing for starting jobs while others struggle to make the final 53-man roster. Each positional unit has a varying level of competition, as some roles appear to be set in stone while others are very much up for grabs.
This article will lay out, unit by unit, what we’ve been able to assess so far in Giants’ preseason. There may still be three preseason games to go, but we football fanatics are an anxious breed—so it’s never too early to speculate about the regular season.
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Since the NFL is now a quarterback driven league, there’s no more appropriate place to start than the offensive signal-caller.
Luckily for the Giants, Eli Manning will be taking the reins at quarterback for the ninth time since 2004. Manning has been a mainstay for the Giants since his rookie season, but in the last calendar year, he has become a feared passer league-wide. Manning has started 119 consecutive games (an active record among quarterbacks) and, barring a disastrous turn of events, he will look to add to that streak in 2012.
But even if Manning does go down, how many teams across the league have a former first overall pick waiting in the wings?
Backup quarterback David Carr is no Manning, but he’s a formidable second option. If Carr is ever called upon—he has not taken a snap with the Giants since 2009—he will be reliable, and should prevent a complete team meltdown like Indianapolis had when they lost their Manning.
Due to Manning’s durability and Carr’s experience, the Giants have only carried two quarterbacks on their active roster in the past. That means Ryan Perriloux, who worked with the third team during camp, is probably on the outside looking in.
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If the Jacksonville game taught us anything, it’s that running back Ahmad Bradhaw has some serious talent behind him. The key word: behind.
Despite all the hype surrounding first round pick David Wilson and his apparently inhuman explosiveness, Bradshaw will see most of the touches in 2012. Bradshaw may have had a down season a year ago as nagging foot injuries limited him to only nine starts, but he was the lone bright spot in a rushing attack that ranked dead last in the league.
Wilson will get his opportunity to shine in the regular season, though. He is the future of the franchise at running back, and it would be wise to get him acclimated to the NFL early and often. Wilson looked impressive against the Jaguars with 43 yards on seven carries, although the fact that he was the fourth running back to enter the game was a bit concerting.
Surprisingly, D.J. Ware has made a pretty strong case to be Bradshaw’s immediate backup. He played primarily in third down situations a season ago, but there is an opportunity for his role to expand drastically in 2012. He brings a lot more knowledge and experience to the table than the rookie out of Virginia Tech.
Andre Brown has bounced around practice squads for the majority of his four-year career, and is probably a long shot to make the final 53-man roster. Da’Rel Scott, last year’s speedy seventh-round pick out of Maryland, gets lost in the mix as injuries have prevented him from making a significant impact this preseason.
Many teams are doing away with the traditional fullback role, but offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride’s system still calls for one. Henry Hynoski should earn the starting job for the second straight season. Look for more production out of Hynoski in the receiving game in 2012.
Undrafted free-agent Joe Martinek, who played both fullback and halfback at Rutgers, provides an interesting option because of his versatility. But in the end, it’s still a numbers game, and I can’t find a way for the Giants to squeeze him into their 53-man roster.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
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I almost feel bad for the Giants coaching staff, who will be forced to select only the top receivers from a young and talented crop in the coming weeks.
The duo that combined for 2,728 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2011, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, are locked in as the starters on the outside. However, in three wide receiver sets, the Giants plan on moving Cruz into the slot, leaving a wide-open third wide receiver position.
This year’s second-round pick, Reuben Randle, and last year’s third-round pick, Jerrel Jernigan, are sure bets to make the team. However, it may be veteran Domenik Hixon, who is currently filling in for the injured Nicks, that ultimately nabs the third wideout position.
Assuming the Giants take six receivers, the front-runner (by default) for the final spot is probably Ramses Barden, a third-round pick out of Cal Poly back in 2009. Despite an impressive college career and highly desirable size, Barden has yet to become a significant producer in the Giants’ offense.
Now, Barden is faced with a make-or-break season as young players such as David Douglas, Dan DePalma and Brandon Collins nip at his heels. Even Isaiah Stanback, who seems to be coming on as of late, may make a push for that final roster spot. After all, Stanback’s one-handed touchdown grab against the Jaguars sure will help his case.
With Travis Beckum sidelined as he recovers from a torn ACL, the battle for the starting tight end job appears to be a two-man race between Bear Pascoe and Martellus Bennett.
Bennett, who connected with Carr for a 12-yard score in his big blue debut, is looking for a new start after playing second fiddle to All-Pro tight end Jason Witten for the past four seasons in Dallas. Pascoe, who has never been a primary target in the passing game, may fall short in this competition.
The Giants will also keep fourth round draft pick Adrien Robinson as a developmental tight end. In time, tight ends coach Mike Pope hopes to mold Robinson’s raw athletic ability into an NFL-ready pass-catcher.
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The Giants’ starting offensive line will feature a slightly shuffled, yet familiar cast. Chris Snee will anchor the line, as he is entering his ninth straight season as the team’s starting right guard. To his left, David Baas is expected to be more consistent in his second year as the Giants center.
Kevin Boothe, who finished the season as the team’s starting left guard, appears to have re-earned the starting gig over the ever-energetic Mitch Petrus for the 2012 season. David Diehl, who lined up at left guard for the first ten games before finishing the season out at left tackle, will replace Kareem McKenzie, who the team opted not to re-sign, as the starting right tackle.
The only question mark along the Giants offensive line is the health of left tackle Will Beatty. The Giants expect him to protect Eli’s blind side, but a sciatic nerve in Beatty’s back has caused him to miss several practices.
The signing of veteran offensive lineman Sean Locklear in the offseason provides a bit of insurance for the Giants’ uncertain situation at left tackle. With Beatty resting his back, Locklear ran with the first team against Jacksonville and played well. If Beatty’s back issues do not subside come September, Locklear could become a permanent fixture in the Giants’ O-line plans for 2012.
The Giants’ young blockers seem to be coming along slowly. Aside from Petrus, who will likely assume the utility backup role held by Boothe a season ago, none of the younger offensive linemen have looked particularly impressive. Just ask David Carr—the Giants’ second-string quarterback was barraged by the Jaguars’ pass rush last Friday night.
The Giants want their massive second year tackle, James Brewer, to take a big step forward in 2012 and eventually become capable of competing for the starting role in the near future. They also wouldn’t mind seeing some healthy progression out of their 2012 draft picks, tackle Matt McCants and guard Brandon Mosley.
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One of the most feared defensive lines in the NFL took a huge hit on Tuesday when the team announced that two defensive tackles have been lost for the season due to injury. A blood clot in Shaun Rogers’ leg and a herniated disk in Martin Parker’s back will leave the interior defensive line a bit thinner heading into regular season.
Fellow defensive tackle Marvin Austin was also sent to the hospital for an examination on his back, and to make matters worse, starter Chris Canty still has no timetable for when he’ll be taken off the physically unable to perform list.
The Giants will need their big bodies, Linval Joseph and Rocky Bernard, to play even larger until Canty can make his return to the team’s active roster. But in the wake of these injuries, ex-practice squad member Dwayne Hendricks and 2012 seventh-round draft choice Markus Kuhn have a legitimate shot to rise up from obscurity.
But despite the interior line’s woes, the Giants will still field a ferocious set of pass rushers. Between Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and even Mathias Kiwanuka in some specialized sets, New York should have no shortage of athletes at the defensive end position. All four of these players have the ability to harass the opposing quarterback, and each played a pivotal part in amassing the league’s third best sack count in 2011.
With Dave Tollefson now settled in Oakland, there is probably room for one more defensive end to step up and see a significant amount of snaps in 2012. Former Florida Gator Justin Trattou appeared to be the early front-runner, but a recent ankle/heel injury has been a major setback. Instead, Adrian Tracy, who had a decent outing versus the Jaguars, may step in front of Trattou.
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At this time last year, New York’s biggest issue was a linebacker. This year they almost have too much talent, as a solid player may end up getting cut simply because slimming down to a 53-man team is a numbers game.
Michael Boley and Mathias Kiwanuka are sure bets to start on the outsides. They each enjoyed career years in 2011, and both are expected to continue their leadership into the 2012 season. They are versatile linebackers that can drop into coverage on passing downs just as easily as they step up and make a tackle on running downs.
Mark Herzlich, the undrafted cancer survivor, and Chase Blackburn, the midseason savior, are battling it out for the starting middle linebacker position. So far Blackburn, a player that was not worthy of a new contract last summer, is slated to be the starter, but Herzlich is right behind him. Both linebackers play with a lot of heart, most likely due to the incredible journeys they have travelled to get to where they are today.
But where does that leave talented players like Keith Rivers, Jacquian Williams, Greg Jones and Spencer Paysinger? Knowing defensive coordinator Perry Fewell’s ingenuity (i.e. his patented “NASCAR” package), he should be able to create special sets to utilize each linebacker’s specific skill set. After all, they went out of their way to make the trade with Cincinnati for Rivers—I would expect Fewell to utilize his talent in a specialized role.
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The Giants were planning on fielding a dominant cornerback tandem in Terrell Thomas and Corey Webster, but a re-injured ACL will set Thomas back at least a few weeks.
Until he returns, it’s time for Prince Amukamara to show why the Giants spent a first-round draft pick on him. He failed to impress last season after working his way back from a broken foot, however, for the most part, Giants fans are willing to give him a pass as long as he produces in 2012.
If Amukamara comes up short, a slew of hungry corners are waiting right behind him for their opportunity to shine. Michael Coe and Justin Tryon, two corners who had their 2011 seasons cut short by injuries, both had an impressive training camp and should push for playing time in the regular season. Even third-round draft pick Jayron Hosley could see the field in nickel and dime packages if he earns the coaching staff’s trust.
Safety Tyler Sash’s four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy has little bearing on the starting unit—Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips have proven to be staunch against both the run and the pass. However, it does create an opening for undrafted free-agent Will Hill.
Hill is climbing his way out of a self-described “dark” past. He came to New York looking for a new beginning and so far, he’s made the most of the opportunity he’s been given. Hill played well against the Jaguars, recording five tackles (all of them solo). Hill could end up playing a role similar to the one Deon Grant played last year, especially if Rolle is asked to play some nickel corner again.
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Lawrence Tynes has kicked for the Giants since 2007 (although he missed the majority of the 2008 season due to a knee injury). But 2012 marks the first time that he’ll have the same long snapper and holder in consecutive seasons. Punter/holder Steve Weatherford, long snapper Zak DeOssie and Tynes have combined to form a consistent unit on field-goal and extra-point attempts.
Weatherford, who was battling for a job with Matt Dodge at this time last year, has had no one but himself to compete with in preseason this year. Weatherford looks to build on last year's clutch performance. He is an accurate directional kicker that pinned three of his four punts down inside the Patriots 20-yard line in the Super Bowl.
If Weatherford can improve on his power he could join the ranks of Shane Lechler of Oakland and Andy Lee of San Francisco as one of the best punters in the league. If Weatherford adds some distance, he could be selected as an All-Pro next winter.
The return game, as usual, is up in the air. Da’Rel Scott looked to be an early favorite as a kick returner. The former Terp has blazing speed, but the injuries I mentioned earlier have limited his reps. In Scott's absence, David Wilson had an impressive 48-yard return against Jacksonville, in which he showed an explosive burst to beat everyone to the outside.
Both Jayron Hosley and Jerrel Jernigan muffed punts in the Jaguars game, which we know Coughlin has no tolerance for. These guys will get the opportunity to redeem themselves as preseason moves on, but you can bet that Coughlin will also give other players like Rueben Randle and Domenik Hixon a shot at winning the job.