With New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese having publicly put the entire team on notice that one playoff berth in the last four years is not acceptable, there were bound to be some changes made to get the club back on track.
Whether it was personnel deployment moves or schematic changes, head coach Tom Coughlin and his assistant coaches are hoping that the experimenting they did during the preseason helps push the Giants to at least a 10-6 record as well as a playoff berth.
Quarterback Eli Manning is entering his 10 NFL season, and as an anniversary gift, he's been given a few new faces to help him and the Giants offense become among the top in the NFL:
|Starting Running Back||David Wilson||Ahmad Bradshaw|
|Third Receiver||Rueben Randle||Domenik Hixon|
|Starting Tight End||Brandon Myers||Martellus Bennett|
Bradshaw was one of those salary cap moves that the Giants hated to make back in February. Still, the move had to be done as the emotional leader's constant foot problems combined with his rising salary made it fiscally impossible for the Giants and Bradshaw to reach a happy medium.
With Wilson, the team's first-round draft pick last year, waiting in the wings, New York made the commitment to go with youth.
While it’s still to be determined who Wilson’s backfield partner will be now that Andre Brown will miss several weeks with a broken left leg, Wilson said he’s willing to take on an increased role if it means helping the team win games.
“I’m in shape, so hopefully I can handle it,” he said. “Whatever they need me to do, I’m ready to do it. I think I prepared pretty well, I’m a physical guy, so I think I’m in pretty good shape.”
At receiver, Hixon, now with the Carolina Panthers, was always such a good role model in the locker room and an inspirational story as well, given that last year he successfully made it back after losing two straight seasons to ACL injuries.
However, with the Giants looking to get younger, it became less likely as 2012 wore on that they would re-sign Hixon. Instead, they went to the next best option in Randle, their 2012 second-round draft pick, who last year credited the veteran Hixon for teaching him how to be a professional.
Randle is by far the most improved player on the Giants offense, and now that New York has a third receiver who can not only step in for either Hakeem Nicks or Victor Cruz if they're injured. He can also help draw some of the double coverage away from them, and the 2013 passing game should be that much better as a result.
Given that he had a "breakout" season last year, Bennett, the colorful personality who in addition to proving that he was effective in the passing game also showed that he could block, cashed in on a big payday given to him by the Chicago Bears.
To replace him, the Giants signed Myers, another player who had a breakout season as a receiving tight end. While there are some questions as to whether Myers can be the kind of blocker that Bennett was, the Giants are at least hoping to get similar if not better production from him in the receiving game.
Although the Giants seem to put more of an emphasis on their defensive front and secondary during the offseason, even general manager Jerry Reese had to admit that the play of the starting linebacker unit last year wasn't anywhere near what it should have been.
So welcome to 2013, where the entire unit has been rebuilt and includes an undrafted free agent at the weak side (Spencer Paysinger), a former first-round but injury-prone talent on the strong side (Keith Rivers) and a former third-round pick in the middle who is now on his third team (Dan Connor).
While those names might not yet stir memories of the days of Lawrence Taylor, Carl Banks, Harry Carson, Jessie Armstead and Antonio Pierce, in today's pass-happy NFL, the Giants have been using their base defense less and less, instead opting for a nickel package that should see Rivers and Jacquian Williams providing the firepower for the front seven.
The hope is that the defensive front is much improved this year; however on the back end, the season-ending injury to safety Stevie Brown could affect plans to use the three-safety set, instead forcing defensive coordinator Perry Fewell to use more nickel instead.
After squeezing as much out an offensive line that, since 2011, consisted of David Diehl at right tackle, Chris Snee at right guard, David Baas at center, Kevin Boothe at left guard and Will Beatty at left tackle, the Giants have begun injecting the unit with some youth.
This move was made necessary because of injuries to Diehl (thumb) and Baas (knee) and the selection of tackle Justin Pugh in the first round of this year's draft.
The projected starting line for opening day against the Dallas Cowboys will have Pugh at right tackle, Snee at right guard, Boothe at center, third-year man James Brewer at left guard and Beatty at left tackle.
Given that this configuration has only had about a week to work together, some bumps in the road are to be expected. However, if this group settles down and gets the job done, don't be surprised if the coaches try to stick with it even once the injured guys are healthy.
Giants K Josh Brown
The Giants and Lawrence Tynes, their placekicker since the 2007 season, went their separate ways this year after the two sides couldn't agree on a contract.
Looking to find a more accurate kicker—Tynes' connected on 87.5 percent of his attempts inside the 40-yard line during his six-year Giants career—as well as someone who could consistently reach the end zone on kickoffs, the Giants signed Josh Brown to a one-year, veteran-minimum contract.
Brown has played in 148 regular-season games and has made 231 of 284 field-goal attempts (81.3 percent) and 310 of 312 extra point tries, for a total 1,003 points. He has also kicked a field goal of at least 52 yards in every season but one, including a career-long 58-yarder as a rookie.
In three preseason games, Brown has converted five of his six attempts inside the 40 and is 1-of-2 on field goals over 50 yards. More importantly, the 34-year-old Brown has shown this preseason that he still has a big leg on kickoffs, recording 10 touchbacks.
Giants safety Antrel Rolle
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has been experimenting with a number of new defensive formations this summer, many of which have a 3-4 flavor.
Fewell has also looked at switching up the responsibilities of his defensive ends and his cornerbacks in an effort to get more favorable matchups.
Whether he integrates all of the new looks that his defense worked on over the summer remains to be seen, but certainly some new ideas can't be a bad thing for a defense that finished 31st overall in the NFL last year.
The Giants appear to have found a suitable replacement for their kickoff returns in running back Michael Cox, who will take over the role from David Wilson.
Cox averaged 29.3 yards per return in the preseason, 12th best in the league.
On punt returns, it looks like cornerback Jayron Hosley will hold the job; however, Hosley missed the preseason finale with an ankle injury and is not certain to play in the regular-season opener against Dallas.
If Hosley can’t go, the team will likely look to receiver Rueben Randle to handle punt returns.
Giants rookie offensive linemen draft picks Justin Pugh (left) and Eric Herman.
Every year, the Giants hope to have as many members of their rookie class contribute as possible. Which of this year’s class are in the best position to contribute early on?
Tackle Justin Pugh (Round 1) is already penciled in to be the starting right tackle, a role that is now his to lose.
Defensive end Damontre Moore (Round 3), also known as "DaMonster" for his terrorizing play against opposing quarterbacks, hasn’t been able to return to the field after suffering a shoulder contusion in the preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
While there’s no question that the missed practice time has likely set him back, Moore is probably still going to be called upon to contribute in pass-rushing situations this year.
Running back Michael Cox (Round 7) is projected to be the kickoff returner this year and might see time in the offense if he can improve his pass-protecting skills.
The Giants lost safety Stevie Brown, their team leader last year in interceptions with eight and the NFL leader in interception return yardage with 307, to a torn ACL suffered in the preseason matchup against the Jets.
Enter Ryan Mundy, who spent the first four years of his career with Pittsburgh learning under Pro Bowlers Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu.
Mundy, who first filled in when Antrel Rolle had to miss time due to a sprained ankle, is looking forward to doing whatever is asked of him to help the Giants be successful.
"This is a situation I’m familiar with, stepping in for guys when they go down and I’m excited about it," he said. "It’s a great opportunity and I look forward to making the most of it."
The question, though, is can Mundy provide the kind of production that Brown—who ironically was in the same position last year, in that he stepped in for the injured Kenny Phillips—generated in 2012?
"I just want to go out there and make plays," Mundy said. "Whether it’s interceptions, getting the ball carrier down, some big hits. Whatever the team needs me to do. I’m just more than willing to do my job. That’s what Stevie did. He did his job and he was in the right place at the right time. If you do what you’re coached to do, you’ll be in the right place and plays will happen for you."
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell
General manager Jerry Reese has put the entire team on notice that last year's results were not good enough. He's also instilled a reminder in their locker room that the calendar is counting down to Feb. 2, 2014, the date that the Super Bowl will be played in MetLife Stadium, the Giants’ home stadium.
On paper, there would seem to be no reason for the Giants not to be in the mix to become the first team in NFL history to play in the Super Bowl that is held in their home stadium.
However, looking good on paper and looking good on the field are two very different things, and a lot needs to happen if the Giants are to fulfill Reese's expectations, such as:
- The Giants will need to finish with at least a 10-6 record to have a chance at a playoff berth.
- The defense will need to play a lot better than it did last year, when, despite injuries, there were far too many communication breakdowns on the field, a problem that can probably be traced back to the coaches and quality control.
- The team will need to stay healthy, a difficult thing to count on since injuries can and usually will happen. Injuries to key players could drastically alter the Giants' 2013 season.
- The offense will need significant production from receivers Nicks and Cruz.
- The running game, especially the short-yardage package, needs to improve, a tall order given that Andre Brown, the team’s short-yardage specialist, will be out several weeks with a broken leg.
Patricia Traina is the Senior Editor for Inside Football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.