Predicting Team Awards for the New York Giants' 2013-14 Season
Football might be a team sport, but often times, the performances of individuals or specific groups separate teams from the rest of the pack.
For the New York Giants, they are counting on every man to help contribute to the team's ultimate goal: to become the first franchise to play in a Super Bowl held in their home stadium.
For that to happen, the Giants are going to need to stay healthy and to achieve consistency across the board, with several key players needing to step up this year.
Most Valuable Player
As quarterback Eli Manning goes, so too does the Giants offense, which is why the 10-year signal caller is a clear choice for the team MVP honors this season.
It's not just his calm demeanor in the huddle; it's Manning's ability to mesh with receivers and tight ends, and help them develop into viable contributors on offense.
It's his ability to help not just his fellow quarterbacks, but also the other ten guys who line up with him on each play by avoiding trouble when under duress, by identifying potential blitzers and by getting everyone all lined up to have the best chance for success.
It's all in a day's work for Manning, a renowned locker room prankster whose latest commercial with older brother Peyton for DirectTV, "Football on Your Phone" showed his teammates another side of his personality.
"I just want to go out there and just be able to run our offense efficiently, be able to run the ball, throw the ball well, make good decisions, make sure guys are in the right spots," Manning said of his on-field objectives.
Manning might just be the one player on the Giants roster who, if he were to suffer a season-ending injury, would take with him any chance the Giants would have at having a successful season.
For those reasons alone, Manning is perhaps the one player that the Giants can ill-afford to lose.
Rookie of the Year
Before he even set foot on the practice field for the Giants, defensive end Damontre Moore, 20 years old, taken by the team in the third round of this year’s draft, came with some concerns about his maturity level and his work ethic.
Since then, he's done nothing but take care of business, keeping a level head and recognizing that despite having a breakout summer in which he proved to be a disruptive force on both the defense and special teams, he's far from being a finished product.
“Watching film there were a lot of places where I was really close,” Moore said of his NFL debut against the Steelers. “I think that’s what motivates me more to get there and make the play. It doesn’t do anything but aggravate me more to know that I was that close and didn’t make the play. So it was my motivation.”
Whereas Moore looked like he might be a situational pass rusher, because of his progress and work ethic, he might just see more opportunities than originally planned, especially if starter Jason Pierre-Paul isn’t ready to start the season.
That's why Moore, who missed some practice time with a shoulder contusion, said he has a lot of work to do before he becomes close to being a finished product.
Watching film, I’d say containing the edge and not just being so one track minded; really focusing on my assignment and not just looking at the ball. Like, if it’s my assignment to go (be) puller or keep the tight end. Just honing in and being more focused on my assignment, and not just looking at the ball trying to find it.
If Moore gets his chances, he stands to become the one rookie draft pick that could potentially make the biggest impact on the 2013 season, thus making him an obvious choice for rookie of the year.
Most Improved Player
To understand just how far receiver Rueben Randle, in his second year out of LSU, has come, one need go back to the last game of the 2012 season in which he had four receptions for 58 yards and 2 touchdowns.
“I just wanted to continue to build off the last game that I had,” Randle said of his progress. “I felt like I played a lot faster. I didn’t want to take any steps back and continue to push forward and become a better player for the team.”
That’s exactly what he’s done.
“I think I became faster in recognizing the coverages, the safety rotations,” he said of the biggest difference in his play. “That took time, just multiple reps, seeing everything so they couldn’t try to disguise it and throw you off balance. I think my recognition of certain coverages has picked up from what it was last year.”
Randle also said that a key to his progress has been his gaining a more advanced perspective on his role on the team.
As a player, just maturing and understating what the organization wants out of me, understanding the offense and being able to play a lot faster and just getting on the same page with (quarterback) Eli Manning has been the major difference for me coming in last year and over to the summer.
He’s also still learning new things to help him become even better.
For example, one of the first lessons he’s taken from his performance in the preseason opener against the Steelers came about when he Victor Cruz scored his long touchdown, a play that came about because Randle didn’t release into his pattern as quickly as he could have.
“Just coming off the ball a little bit faster because that’s when I would be a step away from making a play,” Randle said. “That’s kind of what I took from that play, missing that opportunity. This week I’m looking to come off the ball a little faster, so if the opportunity does come, I can get to those types of balls.”
Last season, tight end Adrien Robinson, the Giants' fourth-round draft pick who was instantly dubbed "the JPP of tight ends" by general manager Jerry Reese had anything but a Jason Pierre-Paul-like rookie season, playing in only two games and not posting a reception.
That's because Robinson, who missed the spring OTAs because his college classes as the university of Cincinnati were still ongoing, fell so far behind that at best all the coaches could do was to work with him on technique and to help him better understand his responsibilities in the team's rather complex offensive system.
"With being a rookie last year, coming in I didn’t really know much about releases and blitzes and reading coverages and overall being a professional," Robinson said. "(Former Giants tight end) Martellus (Bennett) helped me out a lot with that and so did Bear (Pascoe) and Brandon Meyers. I’m trying to learn from everybody."
So far, so good.
Not only is Robinson much more comfortable in the Giants' system, thanks to his being able to spend an entire offseason learning the background of the playbook, he's actually been turning a few heads in the process.
"We want to get Adrien on the field," said Giants' tight ends coach Mike Pope. "He’s a terrific target and runs well."
During the preseason, the Giants used the 6'4", 264-pound tight end down in their goal line and short yardage packages, but it's in the slot where Robinson's size and athletic abilities can make for a nice change of pace whenever the Giants want a better matchup.
Then there has been his blocking, which has come a long way.
"I think that’s definitely the most important thing. Having the right technique, stepping with the right foot and stuff like that," Robinson said. "Plus, I’m a bigger guy so learning how to use size to my advantage helped me out."
It's too soon to say what Robinson's actual receiving numbers might be—he said the most catches he's had was 12 in his senior year of college, and, before that, 20 in high school—but it's not too soon to say that he potentially has the tools to follow in the footsteps of Bennett, whose tremendous size and athleticism made him an asset as both a blocker and as a receiver.
The Giants' offensive line is at a crossroads, as age and injury continue to affect this unit.
Already the Giants are looking at missing their starting center, David Baas, who suffered a MCL injury in the team's second preseason game.
Baas, who has been injured every year since signing with the Giants as an unrestricted free agent, could miss anywhere up to six weeks, depending on how quickly he recovers.
Because the team doesn't yet know how much time Baas stands to miss, there will be some reshuffling of the line. Left guard Kevin Boothe is moving to center; right tackle David Diehl is moving to left guard, and first-rounder Justin Pugh, who has thus far done the majority of his work at left tackle, is moving to right tackle.
Head coach Tom Coughlin talked to Giants.com about the changes in the O-line:
It’s the best way for us to play right now. We, fortunately, have some guys that can play in a lot of different spots and David Diehl has played in a lot of spots in the course of his career and he’ll go inside there and do a fine job. We’re trying to get a group on the field now that can work together, hopefully to prepare for the regular season.
Speaking of Diehl, there are concerns with his play so far in the preseason. The 11-year veteran, who is now sporting a hard cast for a thumb injury he suffered on his right hand, has continued to struggle with technique issues that, given his veteran status, should probably not be occurring.
The Giants' offense's success starts up front in the pit, as without blocking, the skill players aren't going to be able to get much done. The unit will probably have more than its fair share of hiccups this season, especially if this newly configured line is the one the team sticks with deep into the season.
Offensive Player of the Year
Receiver Victor Cruz might be the same modest person who grew up in Paterson, N.J., but when it comes to making the clutch play on offense, no one has done it better for the Giants over the last two seasons.
Just look at Cruz's production last year alone.
Although he posted his second straight second with double-digit drops, he also recorded his second straight season with 1,000-plus receiving yards and double-digit touchdowns.
Further, Cruz has been Mr. Reliable, catching 65.6 percent of the passes targeted for him since his 2011 breakout year, posting 2,897 receiving yards in the process.
Rewarded with a new long-term contract, Cruz is still very much operating with that free-agent mentality in which he feels the need to re-establish himself year after year as one of the best at his position.
If there’s one flaw in Cruz’s game, however, it’s been his tendency to drop passes. According to ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required), Cruz has posted double-digit drops in each of the last two seasons, a flaw that he’s made a top priority on his list of things to improve this season, mainly through "just concentration."
Even out on the practice field, I have been training myself to look the ball all the way in, even if I am in traffic or getting to the ball late, or if I see it late, just look it all the way into my hands and then make a move later.
I think a lot of my drops were me trying to make a move before I actually caught the football. So now I want to focus on catching the ball first and looking it all the way in.
If he stays healthy—Cruz is currently dealing with a bruised heel that will likely keep him out of the rest of the preseason—and can turn those double-digit drops into receptions, there is certainly no reason to believe that he won't be able to come close to, if not top his Pro Bowl numbers from last season.
Defensive Player of the Year
In a league that's become pass-happy, having a shutdown cornerback is a large key to success. In cornerback Prince Amukamara, the Giants just might finally have that defensive weapon that can clamp down on opposing passing games.
Giants' cornerbacks coach Peter Giunta had this to say about Amukamara:
Prince understands the defensive package right now, he feels much more comfortable with what we are doing defensively. He’s got a great relationship with the players, and more importantly he’s had a full offseason to work out and get in shape. He’s a completely different player now because he’s had the opportunity to work the whole time.
In Amukamara, who played in 12 games last season after missing 10 games as a rookie due to a broken foot, the Giants have a cornerback who, according to ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required) allowed just two touchdowns all of last season while allowing no more than 75 pass yards to an opponent in any game last season.
“(Until this offseason) he’s been rehabbing the whole time,” Giunta noted. “There’s a huge difference between rehabbing and between conditioning and getting ready to play football.
That ability to focus on football and stay out of the training room has been huge for Amukamara, who has also been able to latch onto his veteran teammates for tips and tricks.
“I’d say the more I play the more confidence I get,” Amukamara said. "During the offseason, just having (cornerback) Terrell (Thomas) next to me and learning how much knowledge he has, that just took my game to a whole other level."
He’s like a player-coach and every time he’s critiquing me on my technique or my back pedal, just telling me, ‘You need to understand the defense. You don’t need to just worry about you’re doing, but know what the nickel is doing. That’s first-year stuff. You know what you’re doing now. Now you’re in your third year, so now know what the safety is doing and know what the nickel is doing and it will make you play a lot better and a lot faster.’
To get the most out of this rising talent, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell is planning on changing up the responsibilities of the cornerbacks to where there might be times when Amukamara lines up across from the opponent’s number one receiver, while others, he might have a different assignment.
If the 24-year-old proves to be the same playmaker that he’s shown to be during training camp, don’t be surprised if that plan fizzles out and Amukamara is left to go against the opponent's No. 1 receiver.
Patricia Traina is the Senior Editor for Inside Football. All quotes obtained firsthand.