New York Giants: 5 Players to Watch vs. Detroit Lions

Patricia Traina@Patricia_TrainaFeatured Columnist IVDecember 21, 2013

New York Giants: 5 Players to Watch vs. Detroit Lions

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    If you’re planning on watching this weekend’s New York Giants game against Detroit Lions, pay very close attention because you’re about to get a glimpse of the future.

    Thanks to injuries, head coach Tom Coughlin, who all along has insisted that he’s out to win every game regardless of what’s at stake, has been left with no choice but to play some of his younger players.

    The final result may or may not be pretty, but regardless, Coughlin can at least get a better idea of what he has going forward in terms of ascertaining who on the roster really does want to be a part of the solution moving forward as opposed to those who are just happy to be collecting an NFL paycheck. 

    “You have to have the passion and the character to fight on," Coughlin said when asked what he'd be looking for this weekend.

    "That’s what this game is all about—playing as hard as you can possibly play. Pride gets involved, the name on the front of your shirt being more important than the name on your back. So I expect that to take place.”

    So let's take a look at some of these young players who are projected to have a chance to show their head coach that they do indeed have pride and that they want to be a part of the solution moving forward.  

Guard Brandon Mosley

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    Mosley, the Giants' fourth-round draft pick last season, spent his entire rookie year on the injured reserve list with an elbow injury.

    As a result, this season has largely been his rookie season as far as getting live practice reps.

    He's done well. Mosley has played in four games, Weeks 4, 13 and 14, as the blocking tight end in the jumbo package.

    Last week, the former Auburn standout stepped in at left guard in what was his most extensive action of his young career.

    Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he took 34 of the 57 game snaps in place of James Brewer, announced at the game last week as having an ankle injury.

    While in the majority of the cases a starter shouldn't lose his job to injury, the fact remains that Brewer has also struggled since being elevated to the starting lineup.

    According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), in his last three games, Brewer has received his lowest overall weekly grades of the season. 

    With Brewer and David Diehl both on the injury report this weekend, the 6’5”, 308-pound Mosley, who has seen snaps as the jumbo tight end before stepping in along the offensive line, said he’s ready if he has to face Detroit's disruptive defensive tackles, Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh.

    “If the opportunity presents itself, I’ll be ready,” Mosley told Dave Hutchinson of The Star-Ledger. “I’m just looking forward to the chance to get out there and help my teammates in any possible way.”

    Last week, Mosley acquitted himself quite well. Per PFF, he finished with a 2.0 grade in run blocking, the only Giants offensive lineman to finish with a positive grade in run blocking.

    That could be good news for a Giants running game that last week struggled thanks to the interior of guards Brewer and Diehl, and center Kevin Boothe, who combine for a -7.5 run-block grade from PFF.

    “He’s a hard working young kid,” head coach Tom Coughlin said of Mosley. “He’s nice and thick, O-line type, and hopefully he’ll play well.”


Receiver Jerrel Jernigan

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    It took almost three years, but receiver Jerrel Jernigan, the Giants' third-round draft pick in 2011, might just be starting to shed that potential bust label.

    Last week against the Seattle Seahawks’ top-ranked pass defense, the 5’8”, 189-pound Jernigan led his team in both receptions and receiving yards after catching seven passes for 67 yards, numbers that were also career highs for the 24-year old receiver.

    On one of those receptions, Jernigan was hit hard by safety Kam Chancellor, yet he fought to hang onto the ball and to pick up yards after the catch. That play especially caught the coaches’ eyes.

    “His toughness was outstanding the other day,” said head coach Tom Coughlin.

    “Even running his kickoffs up in there, he barreled up in there and got knocked around from side to side, spun around, and then the play he made late where the big safety, Chancellor, came and stuck him and he spun out of that and kept going. I was inspired by that.”

    Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride was also impressed with Jernigan’s effort.

    “After Victor (Cruz) got hurt, (Jernigan) came in and showed the quickness that we always knew he had, and I thought he made great decisions in the zone coverages,” Gilbride said.

    “It was great to see him play like that. We’ve been kind of waiting and feeling that he has that ability and just anxious to see it come out, and manifest itself the way it did was very encouraging."

    Jernigan hasn't had very many opportunities playing behind Cruz, but he told Dave Hutchinson of The Star-Ledger that he hasn't been frustrated by the lack of opportunities

    "It hasn’t been frustrating at all because I’m sitting back and learning. The stuff Victor shows me in practice and the things I see him do. Whenever I got my chance, I was confident I knew what to do when I got out there," Jernigan said.

    Because of his play and the knee injury to Cruz, Jernigan, whom Gilbride said most closely embodies the qualities they like in a slot receiver, is going to get a big chance this weekend to build off last week’s performance.

    “Yeah, he’ll definitely be the guy,” Gilbride confirmed.


Running Back Michael Cox

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    With Peyton Hillis (concussion) ruled out of this weekend’s game, rookie Michael Cox will get his first extensive action with the offense since Week 8, when he played on 12 of the offense’s 76 saps in that game.

    “He’s a serious minded kid, so he’ll be ready to go,” said head coach Tom Coughlin of the 6'0", 220-pound Cox. “He’s got good energy and good endurance.” 

    When he’s had the ball in his hands, Cox has rushed for 42 yards on 20 carries, (2.1 yards per carry avg.). Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he’s also averaged 1.4 yards after contact.

    "It's a big opportunity," Cox told A.J. Perez of "I am definitely really excited. Any time you get a chance to play, I'm happy with that."

    Where the coaches might hold their collective breath regarding Cox is in pass-protection situations. In two games played, PFF reports that the rookie missed three pass-protection blocks, including two in his last game played on offense (Week 8 against the Philadelphia Eagles).

    That’s not good news for quarterback Eli Manning, who wants to play this week even though he’ll be behind a patchwork offensive line.

    Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride seemed to have mixed feelings about the team's situation at running back this week.

    “We’ve been bringing him along. He’s had a chance to play some, in a prominent role, and he did a very good job when he had that chance,” he said. 

    Still, Gilbride sounded a bit hesitant in pledging his full support for the rookie.  

    “You obviously would like to have your starters. You deal with the hand you’ve been dealt, and I think he’ll give you as much as he has. He’ll give you the toughness he showed in the games that he started.  He’ll give you the speed if there’s an opening there. 

    “Everything’s new and he’s trying to learn as best as he can.  He has certainly developed a little bit, but would you rather have your starters come in? Sure,” Gilbride added.  

    What could end up happening for the Giants is that the coaches will have Andre Brown take on the pass-blocking role this week, though fullback John Conner has also been working to contribute in that area. 

    It will also be interesting to see if Cox is utilized as a receiver out of the backfield, something that Hillis showed flashes of being able to do, or if the team instead turns to Conner, who has shown that he could handle such a role.

    This season, Conner has caught six of the seven passes thrown his way for 31 yards, 29 of which came after contact, and a long of 12 yards, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).  

    He has 10 career receptions for 49 yards over his four-year career.

    Conner, who also said he’d be “happy” to carry the ball if asked, per the team's website, also has some experience as a NFL rusher if the Giants get desperate.

    The fullback has 21 carries for 88 yards and two touchdowns, all coming in his first two seasons when he was a member of the New York Jets.

Defensive Tackle Johnathan Hankins

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    After spending five of his first seven NFL games on the inactive list, Detroit native Johnathan Hankins, the Giants’ 2013 second-round draft pick, has been slowly working himself into that defensive line rotation.

    The good news for the Giants is that each time Hankins has received a fair amount of snaps, he’s done well with the opportunities.

    In his NFL debut against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 5, Hankins played in 34 of the 85 defensive snaps, earning a 3.7 overall grade form Pro Football Focus (subscription required), a grade that also included a 3.1 mark against the run.

    In his last two games, against the Chargers and Seahawks, Hankins continued his fine play against the run, twice earning a 1.3 grade in that area.

    He’s come up with 10 stops for the season (tackles for zero or negative yardage) and has posted 11 total tackles, nine of which were solo efforts.

    His performance last week alone was worthy of an increased role moving forward, as per PFF, Hankins earned the highest run-defense grade of any Giants defender.

    “He had a couple of good plays the other day,” said head coach Tom Coughlin. “I think he’s a young guy who is coming along and learning how to play in this league. He makes some errors, but as I said, he did make a couple of nice aggressive plays.”

    Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell agreed.

    “He’s been a solid, steady guy in there for us,” said Fewell.

    “He had a couple of plays in there last week that made you go, ‘Wow, I didn’t know you could do that.’  We knew he could do it, but he brought it to the forefront against really good competition. He’s steadily gotten a little better each week, and he’s gotten more plays each week.”

    The difference for Hankins has been patience. 

    "I would say being patient on the field, not always trying to make a play or jump a snap," he told The Sports Xchange. "Do your job and the plays you have to make will come to you."

    Having gotten his feet wet, Hankins is hoping to show the coaches that he’s ready to handle a bigger role, something that they might need him to do if the organization is unable to re-sign Linval Joseph, who, as an unrestricted free agent after the season, could depart.

Tight End Adrien Robinson

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    Dubbed the “JPP of tight ends”  by general manager Jerry Reese because of similar physical characteristics as the defensive end, tight end Adrien Robinson has played in two games, both last season, taking three snaps on offense.

    In training camp this past summer, the coaches were intrigued enough by Robinson’s 6’4”, 264-pound size to where they began using him inside of the red zone.

    Alas for them, Robinson, the Giants’ fourth-round pick in 2012, suffered a serious foot sprain in the preseason finale. Thus, any hopes the Giants might have had of breathing life into their sagging red-zone offense fell by the wayside.

    After not being able to practice for several weeks, Robinson has recently been on a fast track to get on the field.  

    With the coaching staff having had a chance to look at Larry Donnell in several games this season, Robinson could finally be active for the first time this season when the Giants visit Detroit.

    “Maybe,” head coach Tom Coughlin said when the question of Robinson possibly playing was put to him. “He’s had a couple of good weeks of practice.”


    Patricia Traina covers the New York Giants for Inside Football. All quotes and information obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow her on Twitter, @Patricia_Traina.