Early Observations from New York Giants Training Camp
Still, in just shells and shorts (and shoulder pads on Wednesday), several Giants have made significant first impressions through five days of summer practice at Quest Diagnostics Training Center in East Rutherford, N.J.
With a month of camp, four preseason games and two rounds of cuts to go, a lot can change before the "G-Men" take the field at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, to square off against the Dallas Cowboys in the regular-season opener. That's not to say these early observations are meaningless, though.
Click through the slideshow to find out which important developments could ultimately impact the team well into the 2013 season.
Setting the Standard
GM Jerry Reese addresses the press.
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After a disappointing 9-7, second-place divisional finish in 2012, the Giants fell short of the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. Although the one postseason qualification (2011) they've had during that time yielded a Super Bowl XLVI victory, general manager Jerry Reese made it very clear that the Giants are not consistently reaching the standard of excellence he expects of his team.
"Close is not good enough," Reese told the Associated Press. "You need consistency. At times last year we looked like a good football team, and at times we looked like a bad football team. We want to put everyone on notice that is not our standard. Being to the playoffs one time in four years is below our standards."
Although the Giants have not finished a season with a losing record since 2004, head coach Tom Coughlin's first year with the team, Reese believes the talent that New York's front office has assembled is fully capable of perennial playoff runs. Too often, however, a second-half slump has stunted the Giants' playoff hopes in the waning weeks of the season.
But there will be added motivation in 2013: Super Bowl XLVIII will be played on the Giants' home field, within the friendly confines of MetLife Stadium.
To remind his players of the rapidly approaching league championship to be played on their living room carpet, Reese has implemented a countdown. Saturday's training camp opener marked 190 days to the big game in the Giants' home town.
"190 days is not that far away," Reese said before the press on Saturday.
If the Giants find themselves out of contention long before that countdown is over, seismic changes could be on the way for "Big Blue."
No Nicks, No Problem
Will WR Hakeem Nicks stay healthy?
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After becoming the Giants' highest-paid receiver, Victor Cruz conceded on NFL Network that fifth-year man Hakeem Nicks is New York's true No. 1 receiver. Coming off an injury-plagued season which caused the Giants offense to sputter down the stretch, Nicks' health was one of the team's biggest concerns heading into training camp.
However, second-year receiver Rueben Randle has minimized that concern with a few stellar practices, all while Nicks has been slowed by tightness in his groin. The 6'2" Louisiana State product wants to be more involved in the Giants offense, and that could be a very real possibility given Nicks' injury history.
"I just want to go out there and make more plays," Randle told Michael Eisen of Giants.com.
There's a good chance he'll get added opportunities in 2013, whether it's as the team's X or Z receiver. In the spring, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride promised that Randle will "play a lot" on both first and second down, as well as third down, when the Giants utilize at least a three-receiver set, Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN reports.
So far, Randle has impressed all the right people. Coughlin held high praise for the progressing pass-catcher, citing elements of Randle's work ethic as the most notable changes from his rookie season.
"He came back lighter and he looks good," Coughlin told Eisen. "He seems to be more serious, more intent. He had a lot to learn in that first year, and it looks like some of the messages are getting through."
At the very least, Randle should have Nicks looking over his shoulder with precaution.
Diehl Not Done Yet
RT David Diehl is hanging on to his starting job.
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After he worked exclusively at right tackle in spring practices, many expected first-round draft choice Justin Pugh to push for the starting job. Through five days of practice, the much-anticipated camp battle between Pugh and incumbent starter at right tackle David Diehl has been rather humdrum.
Like most Giants rookies, Pugh has taken the backseat while the more experienced Diehl has worked with the first-team offense. Adding to the one-sidedness of this so-called battle, offensive line coach Pat Flaherty made it no secret as to who the front-runner for the starting job is.
"My right tackle is David Diehl," Flaherty told Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News. "We have a lot of confidence in David Diehl."
Diehl, who has been a loyal member of the Giants for 11 years—longer than any other player on the roster—isn't the same player, physically, who won a Super Bowl at left tackle in 2007 and earned a Pro Bowl bid two seasons later. His heart, however, hasn't changed, as evidenced by the massive pay cut he agreed to in order to stay with the Giants for the 2013 season.
While Diehl may no longer be the prototypical NFL offensive lineman, his value is undeniable. He possesses a thorough understanding of Gilbride's offensive scheme, and he has the versatility to execute it at multiple positions. Pugh admits he still has a lot to learn from Diehl.
"I just get out there, work and learn from him," Pugh told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN New York. "Obviously he's been there 11 years and he knows the ropes and how to play the game. I know my role, right now I'm running with the two's. Just learn as much as I can from him and go out there and compete. That's all I can do."
While Pugh is currently adjusting to a backup role, his mind is in the right place for someone who wants to ultimately become a mainstay along New York's offensive front.
Ross' Happy Homecoming
CB Aaron Ross stands on the sideline with Terrell Thomas.
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Cornerback Aaron Ross, a former first-round pick in 2007, is back with the Giants after spending the 2012 season with the Jacksonville Jaguars. For Ross, playing with the loathsome Jaguars was a culture shock he regrettably referred to as "a nice paid vacation to Florida" back in April in an interview with NFL AM (h/t Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk).
Winning championships has been ingrained in Ross' football DNA ever since his rookie season, but Jacksonville clearly wasn't the proper setting to allow that passion to thrive. Now, the 30-year-old defensive back and two-time Super Bowl champion couldn't be happier to be back with a perennial contender.
"Every team talks about winning a Super Bowl, but being here for five years, it's something that is embedded in you," Ross told Tom Rock of Newsday. "It feels like I'm refreshed. I'm happier. It just feels like a huge load is off my back."
The change of environment has done wonders for Ross, who is standing out at Giants training camp for the first time in a long time. After two very successful seasons in 2007 and 2008 in which he snagged six interceptions, returning two of them for touchdowns, Ross never asserted himself as a consistent starter.
This season, Ross is expected to compete primarily as a backup and for nickel corner duties. With Prince Amukamara and Corey Webster entrenched in the two starting positions, Ross' biggest competition this summer will be Jayron Hosley, a second-year defensive back from Virginia Tech.
"I like playing nickel," Ross told Rock. "I like getting dirty a little bit."
Ross' current one-year, $715,000 deal, per Spotrac, doesn't exactly reflect his original draft position six years ago, but judging by his attitude heading into the 2013 season you'd never tell.
We Want Moore
DE Damontre Moore look to get into the mix.
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The newest addition to the Giants' once-vaunted pass rush, third-round selection Damontre Moore of Texas A&M, is off to a hot start. With Jason Pierre-Paul sidelined while recovering from back surgery, there is an opening for Moore to make an impact as a rookie, especially now that longtime Giant Osi Umenyiora is with the Atlanta Falcons.
In college, Moore was one of the best pass-rushers the SEC had to offer. It looks like the 250-pounder will be able to translate that ability to the next level, as Moore has drawn early praise from defensive line coach Robert Nunn, who has oriented New York's defensive trench since 2010.
"I think he's going to give us a lot of versatility, do some different things for us, and I really see him contributing as a rookie," Nunn told Art Stapleton of the Bergen Record. "He's got some growing up to do, he's got to contribute on special teams when he's called to do so, but the guy is off to an outstanding start."
Moore still has a long way to go and many naysayers to prove incorrect. His draft stock plummeted after his work ethic was called into question, and his size is less than ideal for him to be staunch against the run. So far, Moore has displayed a spirited practice motor; now, he must prove he can do more than rush the passer.
"I want to be well-rounded and try to add a lot of things to my arsenal, that way I won't be a one-trick pony," Moore told Stapleton. "That's all I've been labeled as. I'm just trying to go out there and prove a lot of people wrong."
If he can accomplish that, Moore will set himself apart from fellow undersized DE Adrian Tracy and last year's preseason standout Adewale Ojomo.