New York Giants Players Feeling the Most Pressure Heading into Camp
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A swollen version of the New York Giants’ 2013 roster will take the field for training camp at the Timex Performance Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey, later this summer. With a limited amount of roster spots to claim, many Giants will already be feeling the heat on day one of camp.
The Giants have specific areas of play in which they must improve, and several key players who have kept the team competitive have since departed. For the players expected to pick up the slack, hiding from the heightened media scrutiny of training camp will not be easy.
This slideshow will highlight the Giants players feeling the most pressure when training camp begins on July 26.
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Superstar wide receiver Victor Cruz, whether he is on the field with his teammates or not, will be under an immense amount of pressure when camp opens up in July. Cruz has quickly become the team’s top pass-catcher, but recent headlines have focused on his contract dispute rather than his league-famous salsa dance.
After catching 168 passes in the past two seasons combined, Cruz is on the lookout for a top-tier payday. As a restricted free agent, however, he hasn’t had a chance to drive his price up on the open market. With the Giants holding much of the leverage, the cards in Cruz’ hand are quickly dwindling, and a holdout is becoming more likely with each passing day.
Cruz understands that he is a valuable cog in the Giants offense, as evidenced by the $10-11 million a year he is asking to be paid. If Cruz does hold out of training camp, he will leave quarterback Eli Manning without his favorite target during pivotal rhythm-building days. Off the field, he will risk being portrayed as a prima donna.
On the other hand, if a deal is reached in time, Cruz will then face the pressure to live up to the terms of the deal. If the deal is particularly lucrative, he will be expected to raise his already unlikely production to a new level.
Because of his uncertain future and all the added attention on him this offseason, Cruz will be under the most pressure at the start of camp.
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Cruz could potentially be MIA when camp opens, but offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride believes third-year wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan can contribute from the slot position in Cruz's absence (via NFL.com). So far, Jernigan hasn’t shown that ability on Sundays, as he’s only caught three NFL passes, all in 2012.
Jernigan, a former third-round selection from Troy, is an undersized receiver that was expected to make an immediate impact as a return man. That project failed, however, when Jernigan botched three punts in a preseason game versus the Jets during his rookie season. Since then, he has returned just nine kicks (no punts), only one of which occurred during the 2012 season.
Gilbride’s high expectations for Jernigan appear to be unwarranted, considering the 5’9” receiver’s past production. Cruz was able to burst onto the scene as an unknown, undrafted free agent from UMass, though, and Steve Smith was a major weapon from the slot before that, contributing heavily even in his rookie year. There is no reason why Jernigan, who has spent two seasons soaking in the Giants’ playbook, can’t be just as productive in 2013.
This season will be a major make-or-break year for Jernigan, and failure will put his NFL future in serious jeopardy. The pressure is squarely on his shoulders.
As a former first-round pick, running back David Wilson is expected to take over the reins as New York’s primary ball carrier at some point. With longtime Giant Ahmad Bradshaw out of the picture in 2013, though, Wilson will need to take a clear step forward right away; his readiness will be in question if he stumbles out of the gate.
Immediately, Wilson will have big shoes to fill. Bradshaw rushed for 1,015 yards last season, carrying the ball a grueling 221 times. After allotting only 71 touches during his rookie season, Wilson’s duties will surely increase as the Giants try to find consistency in their running game—the team has not had a single 1,000-yard rusher in back-to-back seasons since Brandon Jacobs barely accomplished the feat in 2007 (1,009) and 2008 (1,089).
Wilson will be expected to contribute without ample experience, too. Bradshaw spent three seasons as Jacobs’ understudy before usurping the starting role in 2010. Jacobs spent two seasons learning from Tiki Barber before taking over the starting job in 2007. Even Barber did not earn his first 1,000-yard performance until his fourth season in the league. Yet the Giants are counting on Wilson to step up to the plate in only his second year as a pro.
Few have questioned Wilson’s physical ability to get the job done—he flashed several moments of freak athleticism during his rookie season. The questions, instead, have come from his ability to overcome mental errors. He was restricted to the bench after a single fumble last season, and he lost significant playing time because of his ineffectiveness in pass protection. Wilson will have a lot to prove early on.
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The Giants pass rush will have a slightly different look in 2013, with defensive end Osi Umenyiora and defensive tackle Chris Canty out of the picture. Justin Tuck, a nine-year veteran and team captain, will be the team’s most aged member on the defensive edge.
After an electrifying early career in which he earned an All-Pro honor in only his fourth season, Tuck has suffered almost a complete drop off in production. He has recorded more than six sacks in only one of the past four seasons. Injuries have caught up to Tuck as well, causing him to miss seven starts in the past two seasons.
For a while now, we’ve heard about getting Tuck back to his “normal” self. However, it has been so long since he has been a force that some are beginning to question whether or not Tuck was even an elite defensive end in the first place.
For Tuck to retain his starting role, he’ll need to fend off Mathias Kiwanuka, who could make a shift back to the line after playing linebacker for the last two seasons, and Damontre Moore, an impressive rookie selected in the third round. Players like Adewale Ojomo, Adrian Tracy and Justin Trattou will also push him for snaps in training camp.
Tuck desperately wants to shake the label of broken down All-Pro, but he won’t unless he is able to dominate the competition once again. With so much young talent pushing him, Tuck must feel plenty of pressure to produce in camp.
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Almost every cornerback on the Giants roster is under some type of scrutiny heading into training camp. After giving up an abysmal 60 passes of 20 yards or more in 2012, this unit has the most room to improve this season.
Corey Webster was burned repeatedly in 2012, falling mightily from his nearly Pro Bowl-caliber performance of a season earlier. Webster had to take a massive pay cut to stay with the team for the final year of his contract—he will need to prove his worth all over again, which would reinforce the team’s decision to not cut him.
Prince Amukamara has to take the next step in 2013. After a rocky start to his career, the former first-rounder has shown flashes of top-tier coverage ability. Injuries have always held Amukamara back, however, and it’s beginning to look like he may never reach his full potential. Arguably, no player would benefit more from a healthy 16-game season than Amukamara.
Aaron Ross is returning to the Giants after a one-year stint with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Ross was not spectacular before his departure, so like Webster, he will be re-proving his worth during training camp. The former first-round selection will try to make the Giants regret ever letting him walk in the first place.
Terrell Thomas may be the cornerback under the greatest amount of pressure, though. After two consecutive ACL injuries, Thomas has plummeted from the team’s highest ranks in pass coverage. Once the Giants’ no. 1 cornerback, Thomas will now fight for a spot on the roster while earning a meager league-minimum salary for a player with his experience.