The New York Giants' 2013 training camp, which concluded on August 21, was certainly not lacking in storylines.
Here’s a look back at some of the most significant ones that stood out as far as position battles, injuries and lineup changes that will all factor into the team’s quest to become the first club in NFL history to play in a Super Bowl in its own stadium.
When Ryan Nassib was drafted by the Giants in April, everyone assumed that Curtis Painter, who had been signed on January 4, 2013 to a reserve/futures contract, would be the odd man out.
Well, not only has Painter, who last threw a pass in a regular-season game in 2011 for the Indianapolis Colts, stuck around all summer, he’s been pushing David Carr, Manning’s backup in four out of the past five seasons, for the No. 2 job.
“I think there’s no question, it’s a legitimate competition,” said offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride earlier this camp.
Through two preseason games, Carr, who will not play against the Jets, is 14-of-22 (63.6%) for 121 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He’s also been sacked four times for minus-31 yards and has a 78.0 passer rating.
Painter, who did not play last week, will get his chance to make his case in the team’s third preseason game. He is 4-of-11 (45.5%) for 55 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions, and he has only been sacked once, recording a 68.6 passer rating.
The battle will likely go down to the final preseason game, and a big sign as to who is actually in the lead will be whichever quarterback relieves Eli Manning in the team’s preseason finale against the New England Patriots.
There is no question that rookie defensive end Damontre Moore had a strong training camp and was potentially looking at increased snaps.
However, a shoulder contusion has now cost him two weeks of valuable practice time that cannot be made up.
Therefore, it would not be surprising if that lost time puts a damper on the team’s early-season expectations for the rookie, who, by his own admission after his dynamic performance in the preseason opener, has a few things to work on.
“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,” Moore said two days after his wildly successful NFL debut.
In the past, some veteran players have opined that they can get by without training camp practices given their knowledge of the offense or defense.
However, that logic rarely, if ever, applies to a rookie, and it is not something head coach Tom Coughlin agrees with.
“Any player that misses practice is missing the opportunity to experience things and instinctively react to things,” Coughlin said via conference call the day after his team lost 20-12 to the Colts.
“That’s what you worry about with any player who misses time and misses practices because you don’t get the opportunity through repetitions to learn in a multiplicity of things that can happen on any given play.”
With that in mind, the question is: How much will the missed practice time affect what the coaches have planned for Moore?
That remains to be seen, obviously, and while there is no question that Moore is going to be a viable contributor in this defense, it will be on him to try to catch up on whatever he has missed.
On a football field, everything begins in the pit, so in an ideal situation, a team will have its starting lines set and working together as much as possible before the games start to count.
That won’t be the case for the Giants offensive line, as two weeks into the preseason, they have had to reconfigure this unit due to injuries.
New York replaced two injured starters, right tackle David Diehl (thumb) and center David Baas (knee) with rookie Justin Pugh and third-year man Jim Cordle at right tackle and center, respectively.
Pugh, of course, is the team’s first-round draft pick, a player who they were hoping would show enough to get on the field sooner than later anyway.
Cordle, meanwhile, has been a steady backup over the years who, in addition to playing center, can also play guard.
The talent is not so much the issue as the time left for this unit to gel and communicate effectively. Considering this is the first time this summer that this particular configuration has worked together, it’s going to take a handful of practices before they reach a comfort level.
Based on the feedback I get on Twitter, defensive end Adewale Ojomo is a big fan favorite. So why doesn’t he get a chance to play more?
I think the reason starts with practice. This summer, Ojomo really didn’t flash much during the training camp practices. If a player isn’t flashing and making plays in practice, usually a coach isn’t going to reward him with significant game snaps, which could be why Ojomo, who made the 53-man roster last year, was usually on the inactive list behind Adrian Tracy.
While there has been no question that Ojomo has seemed to perform well in games, it should be remembered that those snaps have come against competition of which the majority probably won’t be on NFL rosters next month.
What does this mean going forward for Ojomo, whose competition to land a roster spot includes Adrian Tracy and Justin Trattou? It means that if he wants to be a part of this team, if he wants to go against better competition, he needs to pick it up in practice and show the coaches that he really wants it.
Ask head coach Tom Coughlin which injury has him most concerned, and he’ll probably say all of them.
However, if I had to pick one injury that is worth watching, it would be the sprained ankle suffered by Antrel Rolle in the week leading up to the second preseason game.
Depending on the severity, ankle sprains can linger, which is not a good thing for a defensive back who has to run, cut and back pedal.
While Rolle has been aggressively rehabbing his injury to where he hopes to play again in the preseason, he might just be better off playing it safe rather than attempting to rush back out there.
If you’re wondering why I didn’t go with Victor Cruz’s heel contusion as the choice for the most concerning injury as of this writing, I have two reasons.
First, it doesn’t sound like the injury is serious enough to become a lingering issue.
Second, while Cruz is very valuable to the Giants offense, even if he has to miss a game or two, Rueben Randle has shown he can step in without the offense missing a beat.
Hoping that his third year would be the charm, receiver Jerrel Jernigan, the team's third-round draft pick in 2011, again failed to make any progress in securing one of the two return spots. If that wasn’t bad enough, he also had to deal with some soreness that caused him to miss a chunk of practice time.
Jernigan will likely get his chances in the remaining preseason games, but at this point, one has to wonder what he will be able to contribute if he makes the roster.
After having a strong spring showing, there was some optimism that linebacker Mark Herzlich might show enough to win the starting middle linebacker job despite the addition of free agent Dan Connor this offseason.
However after two preseason games, Connor, who signed a one-year veteran minimum deal, seems to have done enough to win the starting job.
This is a great example of why it’s important to temper expectations based on what a player shows in the OTAs and spring minicamps, when the practice tempo is less intense than in training camp when teams are allowed to practice in full pads.
Meanwhile, Herzlich will still have opportunities to contribute to the team’s defensive sub packages and on special teams.
The Giants defense last year was clearly in need of fixing. However, one question that seems to still be unanswered is how many of the problems were a result of players versus what they were being asked to do.
The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle, as the Giants have put an emphasis on revamping their front seven and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has been experimenting this summer with numerous new looks that have included some 3-4 formations.
While it’s hard to find fault with Fewell’s desire to fix the defense, one of the biggest problems many of the players said existed last year was breakdowns in communication—guys interpreting instructions differently.
That’s a problem that starts in the classroom, where the coaches are teaching the game plan and where they are responsible for making sure the players know what they're doing before they set foot on the field.
So the question that needs to be asked is this: If the players had trouble with executing the scheme last year, as would seem evident by the communication issues, will introducing all these new looks create more confusion?
It’s probably because there haven’t been that many snaps given to the starters yet, but I thought that tight end Brandon Myers had a somewhat underwhelming camp.
While he wasn’t brought in to be a blocker, when he’s been asked to block, it hasn’t always been pretty, as was the case against the Colts where he either whiffed on his man or didn’t get enough to make the block.
As a receiver, Myers has been targeted twice so far in preseason, catching only one pass. Earlier in camp, I made note of several times when it looked like Myers was fighting the ball a bit when it came his way. However, as camp went on, he was starting to look more comfortable in his routes.
The bottom line, though, is that if Myers is going to be on the field as a starter, the Giants are going to need a lot more out of him from both a blocking and a pass-receiving standpoint.
Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins’ versatility cannot be overstated.
In addition to being a very active presence inside, especially against the run, Jenkins can move outside to end, as he did when Justin Tuck was ailing, and not miss a beat.
I have a feeling that if he stays healthy, Jenkins could be among the defensive line’s statistical leaders this year and be a guy who rarely comes off the field.
What’s more, if defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (back) isn’t ready to start the season, Jenkins’ versatility could very well save the Giants from needing to use another roster spot on an extra defensive end.
When you look for players who took their game to the next level once the pads went on, look no further than cornerback Prince Amukamara.
Amukamara has come a long way from being a wide-eyed rookie who, after fighting back from a foot injury, was patient with his development.
He surrounded himself with his teammates in the spring, soaking up as much knowledge as he could. He also spent a lot of time studying film, taking extensive notes on little details that he might have overlooked earlier in his career.
All of that work has paid off as Amukamara is playing with increased aggression, refusing to let receivers get their hands on him and fighting every inch for the ball when it's in the air. He’s been so good, in fact, that it wouldn’t be surprising if opponents limit the number of times they target him.
Last year in the regular-season finale, things finally started to click for receiver Rueben Randle, who in that game caught all four passes thrown his way for a team-leading 58 yards and two touchdowns.
In the spring, Randle further capitalized on his opportunities, thanks to the absences of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. Before too long, the second-year player had suddenly become leader on that unit and a player who had earned the coaches’ trust.
Once the pads went on, Randle’s stock continued to rise, as his daily practice battles against cornerback Prince Amukamara, himself a rising star in the Giants defense, were a sight to see. Often times it was a draw, but whoever did emerge victorious in these one-on-one battles barely did so.
With Cruz dealing with a bruised heel—the injury isn’t expected to force him out of the regular-season opener—and Nicks’ injury history, having a strong third receiver, something the Giants really didn’t have last year, will be a big boost to the passing game.
Patricia Traina is the Senior Editor for Inside Football. All quotes obtained firsthand.