New York Giants: Ranking Remaining Offseason Priorities
My last slideshow highlighted the three different types of practice sessions for which the coaches, trainers and players of the New York Giants will gather this summer: organized team activities (OTAs), mandatory minicamp and training camp.
This slideshow will rank the Giants' priorities over that stretch of summer practices. As I mentioned in my last slideshow, the team has reached the point at which the offseason responsibilities transfer from general manager to head coach. Through free agency and the draft, Giants GM Jerry Reese has assembled 90 football players; it is now on Tom Coughlin to make them a team.
Coughlin must have his priorities straight this offseason if he expects to taste playoff success in 2014. The Giants have failed to qualify for the postseason four times in the past five years. If that trend is to change this season, it will stem from a focused offseason approach.
In this slideshow, I have prioritized five items sure to be on Coughlin's offseason to-do list.
All statistical information courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.
1. Manage Injured Players Properly
The Giants have grossly mismanaged key injuries in each of the past two seasons. In both cases, those poor decisions have had lasting effects.
In 2012, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks broke his right foot during OTAs. The Giants rushed to have him ready for Week 1, but they should have started the season with Nicks on the physically unable to perform list (PUP list). Nicks has yet to recover, production-wise, from that foot injury in May of '12.
In June of 2013, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul underwent back surgery. Again, New York rushed its injured superstar back into action. Pierre-Paul never reached full strength last season, playing in just 11 games. Had he been rested properly, Giants fans would be less concerned about his status heading into 2014.
Here are several players nursing injuries this offseason, according to Rotoworld:
- QB Eli Manning, 33 (ankle)
- OT Will Beatty, 29 (leg)
- G Chris Snee, 32 (hip)
- DE Damontre Moore, 21 (shoulder)
- RB David Wilson, 22 (neck)
- WR Mario Manningham, 27 (knee)
Of these injuries, the one involving Manning's ankle has gotten the most publicity, but I find the injuries to Beatty and Snee the most concerning. Beatty (left tackle) and Snee (right guard) both play positions along New York's least stable unit: the offensive line. It will be difficult to solidify Manning's main protectors if some of them are unable to get on the field.
David Wilson's neck condition, which required a spinal fusion procedure to correct, is the biggest question mark on this list. Damontre Moore's recovery from a February shoulder surgery will be closely monitored too, as the Giants are expecting a "big leap" from the second-year defensive end in 2014, per Dan Graziano of ESPN.com.
2. Determine an Ideal Starting Five at O-Line
The Giants' main concern when acquiring talent this offseason was the offensive line. That concern has not been alleviated, even after signing several offensive linemen in free agency and spending a second-round pick on a center in the NFL draft.
Without proper protection, Eli Manning was sacked a career-high number of times (39), which played a part in his career-high interception total from 2013 (27). Unless New York wants a repeat performance, Coughlin must formulate an ideal starting five.
I think it should look something like this:
- Right tackle: Justin Pugh, 23
- Right guard: Chris Snee, 32
- Center: Weston Richburg (R), 22
- Left Guard: Geoff Schwartz, 27
- Left tackle: Will Beatty, 29
I used the word "ideal" because Snee and Beatty present variables at their respective positions due to the injuries I mentioned in the previous slide. Even if Coughlin can't have this exact line during the offseason, he must have an idea of the one he wants for the regular season—I can't imagine he'd exclude either Beatty or Snee when making that projection.
Pugh is a sure thing after starting all 16 games as a rookie, as is the mammoth Schwartz, who last paved paths for Kansas City's All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles. The 22-year-old Richburg, although tough and athletic, will be the biggest risk in the starting lineup due to his inexperience.
The starting offensive line is important, but with the injuries to Snee and Beatty, reliable reserves are also a must. John Jerry, formerly of the Dolphins, will be a solid utility backup, while ex-Saint Charles Brown is set to fill in at left tackle for the time being, according to Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News. Guards James Brewer and Brandon Mosley could pleasantly surprise and compete for starting spots.
3. Groom a Tight End into a Viable Pass-Catcher
- Adrien Robinson, 24
- Kellen Davis, 28
- Larry Donnell, 25
- Xavier Grimble (R), 21
Reese had a curious exchange with a reporter regarding the tight end position during his pre-draft press conference, as outlined by Dan Graziano of ESPN.com. After downplaying the prominence of the tight end's role in New York's offense from a historic perspective, Reese claimed that his roster is already laden with players at this position who "can catch some important passes."
And that's all the Giants need, Reese insists.
Below, I've ranked each of the four tight ends on New York's roster, beginning with the most likely candidate to become the team's go-to pass-catcher and finishing with the least likely candidate:
Some Giants fans may have given up on Robinson, a fourth-round selection out of Cincinnati in 2012, after two catchless seasons in the pros. Based on his pre-draft comments, Reese is still holding out some hope that Robinson can be New York's guy. Without an NFL reception, however, Robinson hasn't shown a lick of evidence that he will be the one to catch those important passes in 2014.
And with only three career catches, Donnell does not confirm Reese's confidence in the tight end position either. In fact, Davis, who is seen primarily as a blocker, is the only tight end with extensive pass-catching experience on the Giants' current roster. In Chicago, where Davis experienced his most exposure as a receiver, he was released and then described as "scattershot" by Marc Sessler of NFL.com.
Reese must like his chances with one of these players, as he ignored the position completely in the draft—or perhaps the value of the prospects he considered didn't align with the position of New York's picks. Either way, the Giants felt comfortable enough at tight end to add just Xavier Grimble, an undrafted free agent, in the days after the draft.
4. Create Wide Receiver Depth Chart
- (X) Rueben Randle, 23
- (Y) Victor Cruz, 27
- (Z) Odell Beckham, Jr., 21
- Jerrel Jernigan, 24
- Mario Manningham, 27
- Trindon Holliday, 28
The loss of Hakeem Nicks sets the Giants receiving corps back significantly, even though his production had dropped off steeply since breaking his foot in 2012. Without a valid No. 1 outside receiving threat (X), New York's passing game will be without an identity for yet another season.
Reese made a clear distinction between the roles Victor Cruz and first-round pick Odell Beckham Jr. are projected to play in Ben McAdoo's new offense—imported from a sub-basin of Lake Michigan. That's why I have Cruz in the slot (Y) and Beckham on the outside (Z) in this six-man depth chart projection:
Some believe Beckham has what it takes to win No. 1 outside receiver duties in 2014. I think he will compete for the job, but the 6'3" Randle, who led the team in touchdown receptions a season ago (six), will ultimately hold Beckham at bay. Beckham will still make for a formidable No. 2 outside threat, and he could end up drawing the opposition's best in coverage regardless of the routes McAdoo has him running.
If you make this into an argument, it's a moot point. If McAdoo's offense isn't geared toward getting the ball to Cruz underneath and over the middle, he will fare no better than Gilbride did as a coordinator. The outside men must be respectable pass-catchers but only so much so that Cruz can excel as the superstar of Manning's passing offense.
Something about this year's team I would never have believed in 2011: The most intriguing battle at this position is between Jerrel Jernigan and Mario Manningham for the fourth receiver job. I think Jernigan will build upon the explosive end to his 2013 season, while Manningham's toes will twinkle a little less along the sideline with that bum knee.
Is Trindon Holliday guaranteed a roster spot as a return specialist? We'll discuss that in a minute, but Holliday will only have to prove himself more valuable than the likes of Julian Talley (two career games played) and four other roster rats.
5. Pick the Perfect Return Specialist
- WR Trindon Holliday, 28
- WR Odell Beckham Jr., 21
- RB David Wilson, 22
- S Quintin Demps, 28
The Giants lacked explosion on return teams, both kickoffs and punts, in 2013, and Reese responded accordingly. Now, the Giants have four players primed to win the job of return specialist.
This is how I see the competition shaking out:
Holliday has two punt-return touchdowns and two kick-return touchdowns in two full seasons. Not included among those scores are a 90-yard punt return and a 104-yard kick return, both of which occurred in the divisional round of the 2012 playoffs. You remember him from the 81-yard punt return he scored against the Giants as a member of the Broncos in Week 2 of the 2013 season. If he can stay on Coughlin's good side (11 career fumbles), he is a shoo-in for the job.
Beckham was described as "a guy who can score touchdowns three ways for you" by Reese, according to Patricia Traina of Bleacher Report, leading one to believe the GM means as a receiver, a punt returner and a kick returner. Wilson is also interesting to consider. A second-team All-Pro kick returner as a rookie, could he be just as effective returning punts?
Even though I list him fourth above, I would not be at all surprised if Demps ends up Coughlin's specialist of choice. Although his experience is only as a kick returner, Demps has six seasons of it. That sort of sure-handedness usually bodes well with the Giants' turnover-intolerant head coach.
No player in a Giants uniform has returned a kick or a punt for a score since David Wilson did so against the Saints on Dec. 9, 2012.