What Offseason Moves Are Next for New York Giants with the Draft Complete?
That means after signing free agents, drafting new rookies, as well as scrounging together a few that went unselected, of General Manager Jerry Reese's offseason work, personnel-wise, is behind him. Reese should now be focused on getting his rookie draft class under contract, as well as balancing the team's salary-cap situation heading into the 2014 season.
Now, with the roster at its widest point, head coach Tom Coughlin is handed a team of men from which he must sculpt a playoff-caliber squad. I don't expect to see anything more than agate transactions until injuries and cuts cause New York's roster to dwindle toward the end of training camp. Until then, the moves made by Coughlin will be more critical than those made by Reese.
This article will focus on New York's remaining practice-style gatherings this offseason, where Coughlin will make his earliest coaching impressions on the 2014 Giants. The Giants will come together for three types of practices this summer: organized team activities (OTAs), then mandatory minicamp and, finally, training camp. Each new practice session ratchets up the competitive intensity a little more than the last.
For each of the different gatherings, I will highlight the moves Coughlin must be making at that time to ensure a successful turnaround for the Giants, who finished 7-9 a season ago.
OTA Workouts, First Glance at Team
DATES: May 28-30, June 2-3, June 5, June 9-10, June 12-13.
Teams have a four-week window in the late spring to hold voluntary workouts. Although these OTAs are not mandatory, Coughlin likes all his players to be in attendance, as he made obvious when starting wideout Hakeem Nicks failed to participate last year.
For the veterans under Coughlin's commandership, these workouts may be a bore. Players are not allowed to go full contact in OTAs, but the permissible 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills sure beat the on-field workouts during "Phase 2" of the NFL Offseason Program, which restricts drills to positional units or offensive and defensive platoons.
These OTAs are Coughlin's first opportunity to lay eyes on many of his new players in a somewhat realistic football setting. Also, it's the first offseason go-round with new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, whose offensive system, brought over from Green Bay will be unfamiliar to all. Coughlin will keep track of the quick-learners, as everyone on offense—from rookies to veterans—is starting together on Page 1.
That's not to say the defense will have it easy during OTAs. No one can really say what New York's first-team defense is to look like come Week 1 of the regular season: Super Bowl centerpiece Justin Tuck, as well as big-time tackle Linval Joseph, are now missing along the defensive line; not much is certain beyond Jon Beason at linebacker, and how do you expect the influx of talent in the secondary to shake out?
The Giants have much to figure out on offense and defense, and they will begin the sorting process in OTAs. Outside of a few obvious players and positions, no one will be named the regular-season starter in June. But Coughlin and his staff will take early note of players most likely to lead the Giants on their charge back to the top of the NFC East.
Mandatory Minicamp, Timing Is Everything
DATES: June 17-19.
Also during the four-week window, teams are allowed to have one mandatory workout. The Giants call this June meeting a "minicamp." The minicamp has the same rules as the OTA, as far as contact and allowable drills go. However, every player must be in attendance at minicamp, or else he will risk being fined by the team.
This minicamp will be a little more serious than an OTA but not nearly as rigorous as training camp practices. By the time minicamp rolls around, players will have nearly a month's worth of meetings with coaches and teammates under their belts. The playbook should be familiar by then, as well. In minicamp, Coughlin will find out which players best retained the information.
Coughlin will also take notice of players who share an on-field chemistry. Perhaps Walter Thurmond, as a slot cornerback, fits into the defensive backfield better than a third safety. Maybe Jameel McClain, rather than Spencer Paysinger or Jacquian Williams, is better suited to be Jon Beason's complement at weak-side linebacker. What if Jason Pierre-Paul moves to the strong side, so the sleeker, younger Damontre Moore can rush from the quarterback's blind side?
These are all options New York would like to have hammered out by the end of minicamp, but when it comes to chemistry, none is more important than the one between a quarterback and his receivers. With Manning still recovering from an April ankle surgery, this minicamp may be the first time we see him take full reps.
Manning already has the desired chemistry with the Sultan of the Slot, Victor Cruz. First-round pick Odell Beckham Jr. will want to build that connection right away, as will third-year man Rueben Randle, who struggled with miscommunication at times in 2013. A battle for Manning's attention between Mario Manningham and Jerrel Jernigan would have been no competition in 2011, but things have changed a little since then.
It's also important that one of New York's young, athletic tight ends catches on with Manning early, whether it's Adrien Robinson, Larry Donnell or the recently signed undrafted free-agent Xavier Grimble from USC.
Training Camp, Contact and Cuts
DATES: To Be Announced.
Training camp is where everything should start to come together. After having most of July to assess what they saw in June's workouts, the coaches should have a working depth chart by the time the Giants reassemble for these August practices. The few unsettled starting jobs, like possibly fullback (John Conner vs. Henry Hynoski), will yield training camp's most engaging position battles.
Other than those select battles, the work done in training camp primarily goes toward fine-tuning the first team for the regular season. The four preseason games (five this year with the Hall of Fame game versus the Buffalo Bills on Aug. 3) are the best opportunities for the reserves to make an impression on the coaching staff, like Victor Cruz did back in 2010 against the New York Jets.
The practices at training camp are faster and slightly less restricted than OTAs and minicamp. However, regulations on the daily training camp practices are still much more stringent than they used to be. The amount of contact and padded practices are limited, while coaches must also recognize practice length and off-day mandates agreed upon in the Collective Bargaining Agreement of 2011. Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun has the specifics on training camp rules here.
Still, even with the regulations, the coaching staff will benefit greatly from daily workouts with the team. During the four-week window in May and June, practice sessions are sporadic. The rhythm of a day-to-day practice routine will immerse the players in professional football—for some, this will be their first real job, something they hope to turn into a career—and only those who thrive in the environment will survive it.
At some point, the Giants must trim their roster from 90 players down to 75, and then once more to finalize the 53-man squad. That means, at the most, less than 60 percent of the current roster will still be on the team Sept. 8, when the Giants travel to Detroit in Week 1 to take on the Lions on Monday Night Football.
These cuts will be some of Coughlin's toughest decisions of the year, as they will literally shape his team moving forward.