You’ve read projection after projection but now it’s for certain—on Friday night, the Giants officially announced that they have cut their roster down to the league-mandated limit of 53 men.
A week ago, the roster was nearly twice the size it is now. After Monday’s first wave of cuts, the roster dwindled from 90 to 75. Now, with 22 more players out of the picture, the Giants have trimmed down to only the most promising prospects.
A lot went into putting together this final roster. Each player’s past contributions, performance in the preseason and potential for the future were factored into the coaches’ decisions to either keep or cut.
In some cases, sheer numbers got in the way of a talented player’s opportunity to make the team. But regardless of the reason, a few of the team’s personnel decisions took Giants Nation by complete surprise.
Let’s take a look at the four most surprising roster moves from Friday night.
Almost every roster projection had veteran running back D.J. Ware making the team. He has logged five seasons with the team, and was a member of both the ’07 and ’11 Super Bowl-winning squads.
In wake of Brandon Jacobs’ departure, Ware had a real opportunity to become a big time contributor for the Giants in 2012. After receiving a slightly expanded role as a third down back in 2011, Ware entered training camp as a reliable second option behind starter Ahmad Bradshaw, should he go down with an injury.
First round draft pick David Wilson provided some added motivation for Ware, and early on, it looked like he was dealing with the pressure very well. Ware ran with a purpose against the Jaguars in Week 1 of the preseason, rushing for 30 yards on five carries.
From there, things started going downhill for Ware. Against the Jets, Ware was only able to muster up 15 yards on 11 carries, and against the Bears with Bradshaw resting a bruised hand; Wilson was given the starting nod over him.
In spite of his apparent regression, it was expected that his experience and expertise as the team’s third down back would earn him a roster spot. Quarterback Eli Manning even singled Ware out as the team’s best route-runner out of the backfield.
Things got even worse for Ware in Week 4 of the preseason. Against the Patriots, Ware failed to record a single carry in what proved to be his final opportunity to impress the coaching staff.
Suddenly, bubble players like Andre Brown and Da’Rel Scott, who had both been relatively low on the depth chart all preseason, were back in the thick of things. Coughlin mentioned after the game that both Brown and Scott “distinguished themselves” in the team’s final preseason game.
Ultimately, it may have been those distinguishing performances that pushed the team to part ways with Ware after five seasons in New York.
The Giants flaunted a pass rush this preseason that was ripe with plenty of young talent. However, with so many impressive players, a few tough cuts seemed to be imminent.
Aside from the starting rotation of Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul—which has already proven itself as one of the premier units in the league—the Giants had (presumably) one final roster spot to fill and an extensive crop of defensive ends to choose from.
2010 sixth round draft pick Adrian Tracy made the move from linebacker to his original position, defensive end. At 245 pounds, Tracy has an explosive burst and quickness similar to Umenyiora’s. In fact, the resemblance has led Tracy to be better known as “Young Osi.”
Early on, Tracy was the clear-cut favorite to land the final spot at defensive end, but a hamstring injury pulled him from the action early, leaving just enough room for undrafted free agent Adawale Ojomo to make a case for his own spot on the roster.
Ojomo burst onto the scene in Week 2 of the preseason. Against the Jets, Ojomo recorded two sacks. He added another against the Bears, and then capped off his preseason with a late-game strip sack that set up Lawrence Tynes’ go ahead field goal in the Patriots game. Ojomo showcased incredible athleticism and aggressiveness in all three games he played in.
But Matt Broha also contributed consistently all preseason, adding 3.5 sacks of his own. And don’t forget about Craig Marshall. The defensive end spent most of 2011 on the Giants’ practice squad, but he had a strong, 1.5-sack showing in the team’s final preseason game.
With so many options, picking out who should stay and who should go must have been a tough decision to make.
Ultimately, the Giants surprised all of us and decided to keep both Tracy and Ojomo, raising the total number of defensive ends on the roster to five. Broha and Marshall were released, but you can bet that the Giants will happily re-sign them to the practice squad if they clear waivers.
Allow me to speculate for a moment: ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted that the Giants may be interested in trading for an offensive lineman. With five solid defensive ends on the 53-man roster, did Umenyiora suddenly become trade bait?
New York’s linebacker situation was in shambles at this point last season. Mathias Kiwanuka was still in the early stages of his transition from defensive end, Jonathan Goff was placed on injured reserve with a torn ACL, and four rookies (two of them undrafted) ended up making the team.
One of those rookies, Greg Jones, a sixth round draft choice out of Michigan State, found his way into the starting lineup for Week 1. As Giants beat writer Tom Rock (Newsday) pointed out in a tweet on Friday, Jones was the first rookie linebacker to begin the season as a starter since Lawrence Taylor.
He didn’t stay there long, though. He lost his starting job to fellow rookie Mark Herzlich, and when Herzlich went down for the season, the team turned elsewhere for help at middle linebacker. The Giants decided that bringing back Chase Blackburn, who was team-less for the first 12 games of the season, would be a better idea than inserting Jones back into the starting lineup.
The rest is history.
Jones fought back in the summer of 2012, entering camp at a slightly lighter weight so he would be quicker and better suited to play on the outside. He showed versatility and the ability to produce on special teams or in the base defense.
Still, Jones was in a deadlocked tie with Spencer Paysinger for the majority of training camp. The two had difficulty setting themselves apart, making it difficult to predict who would end up surviving the final cut.
Paysinger, who started in training camp last year with Boley out, ran with the first team again this year when the Giants’ starting weak side ‘backer was held up by a nagging hamstring. Despite his effective reserve duty in practice and his standout ability on special teams, the general consensus seemed to be that Jones’ potential far outweighed Paysinger’s.
Apparently, the New York coaching staff sees things a little differently because they kept Paysinger and told Jones to take a walk. The move was surprising, but it was one the team had to make.
Neither player had a real chance at cracking the starting lineup; Blackburn, Kiwanuka and Boley have those spots locked down. It was even unlikely for either one to be an immediate backup, as Herzlich, Keith Rivers and Jacquian Williams have been ahead of them on the depth chart all summer.
But the team felt the need to keep one of them, and they chose Paysinger as their man.
It has been a particularly tumultuous summer for the Giants defensive tackles. The unit started the preseason with a foot in the hole, given the fact that starter Chris Canty was restricted to the physically unable to perform list from the beginning. To make matters worse, Shaun Rogers (blood clot), Marvin Austin (back) and Martin Parker (back) all suffered substantial injuries as well.
The Giants were forced to bring in outside talent and put young, inexperienced players on the developmental fast track. Marcus Thomas, an ex-Bronco and proven starter, was the immediate front-runner to make the team behind Linval Joseph and Rocky Bernard.
However, it was Dwayne Hendricks who seemed to make the most of his opportunity. Hendricks was a practice squad player for most of the 2011 season, but in training camp, he saw an opening to make the 53-man roster.
Hendricks performed well throughout the preseason. He collected 11 total tackles through four games, including six in the team’s final preseason matchup against the Patriots. Even Coughlin took notice of Hendricks’ impressive play and non-stop motor, but the competition for a roster spot at defensive tackle was far from over.
German-born rookie Markus Kuhn was almost a sure bet to land on the practice squad after the team drafted him in the seventh round of the 2012 NFL Draft. But when the defensive tackle unit was stricken with a rash of injuries, Kuhn got the opportunity to run with the first and second string a little ahead of schedule.
Like Hendricks, Kuhn also played well when called upon, recording five tackles in three preseason games. However, his inexperience with the game had the coaching staff worried that he could be a liability on Sundays.
Ultimately, Kuhn must have proven his reliability, as the once-developmental project was given a roster spot over both Hendricks and Thomas.