Breaking Down the Top Story Lines of the Upcoming New York Giants OTAs
This week, the New York Giants finally kick off the third and final phase of their offseason program. They'll run three (out of 10 total) OTA (organized team activity) practices, as allowed by the CBA prior to their three-day mandatory team minicamp June 17-19.
For starters, it’s the only phase of the three-part offseason program in which the offense can practice against the defense.
There are some limitations, though. The two biggest are that there are no pads or live contact allowed.
What is allowed are 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills.
Okay, so if no pads are allowed and no live contact is allowed, just what can one expect to learn from these activities?
B/R’s Matt Bowen wrote an excellent article on this very same topic which is well worth the read, but to give you a snap shot, there are four primary areas that are usually worth watching.
These include technique work, playbook install, player strength and conditioning, and how well the rookies seem to be are fitting in, and whether or not they are making any glaring mistakes.
I’ll also add to that list the injury factor, as at these workouts, you can finally see how much, if any, work, the players who had offseason surgeries able to work.
That, in turn, leads to the other key element, and that is lineups. Who's running with the starters? How does the rest of the depth chart look?
All of these questions are usually answered during the OTA practices (which are not open to the public, though the media is granted access to one workout per week leading up to the minicamp.
Now that you know what to expect of the OTA period, in this article, I’m going to preview what I think will be some of the top Giants storylines as far as what to watch for over the next few weeks.
If there are any others you're interested in reading about when I do my first OTA report later this week, be sure to let me know in the comments section below.
Ben McAdoo's New Offense
All the build-up about new Giants offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s offense has at times reminded me of the build-up leading to a big-screen blockbuster movie.
Well, we’re still several months away before the official release date, that being Monday, Sept. 8, when the Giants launch their 2014 campaign on the road in Detroit.
However, like a movie, there have been teasers and, soon, trailers that will all point to one very evident conclusion: This system is barely going to resemble the system that had been in place under the now-retired Kevin Gilbride.
So what do we know about McAdoo’s new offense so far?
It will be fast-paced
Remember the six delay-of-game penalties (per NFL Game Statistic Information System, login required) charged against quarterback Eli Manning last year, not to mention the numerous times when Manning ran the clock down to the nub?
I’ve always believed that the reason Manning ran the clock down was because of the complexity of the offense and how it slowed things down.
There seemed to be too many calls to make, leaving Manning making adjustments until the last minute. As a result, players weren't always on the same page, and the results, especially when they involved the younger players, wasn't always pretty.
Well, all that sounds like it’s going to change.
Based on what McAdoo told reporters during a February conference call and what several players have added, the offense is going to be more fast-paced, which probably means less verbiage for the quarterback to spit out in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage, resulting in less confusion all around.
We’ll be seeing more screens
Over the last several years, the Giants’ attempt to run a screen pass has been, well, comical.
Newsday’s Tom Rock, quoting statistics he obtained from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), noted that Manning threw 99 yards on successful screen plays last year.
That’s not a typo, folks. Ninety-nine yards.
Given the success of the screen play in Green Bay, the offense from which McAdoo comes, it’s no surprise that the plan is to make a variety of screen plays a focus in this offense.
"We’ll have different plays and different types of screens, whether they are sidewalk screens or hash screens or so forth and so on, just like everybody else in the league,” McAdoo said.
It will maintain a commitment to the power running game
One of the staples from the Giants' old offense that will be very visible in this new system is a re-commitment to the power running game, with an eye on getting the running game back into the Top 10 league-wide, a placement it hasn't seen since the 2010 season, when their 4.6 yards per carry average put the unit sixth in the league.
In that season. Ahmad Bradshaw ran for 1,235 yards on 276 carries while Brandon Jacobs contributed 823 yards on 147 carries. The two men combined for all 17 of the running game’s touchdowns, their rushing scores accounting for 35.4 percent of the Giants touchdowns that season.
Since then, the Giants have had just one 1,000-yard rusher—Bradshaw in 2012 (1,015 yards on 221 carries)—but have been missing that strong second option able to contribute solid numbers.
This year, the Giants are hoping to fix all that. They signed unrestricted free agent Rashad Jennings from the Raiders, drafted Andre Williams in the fourth round and re-signed Peyton Hillis to presumably compete with Michael Cox.
If they can get David Wilson back, who is currently recovering from offseason neck surgery, the talent and options for McAdoo to consider will be among the best the team has had in quite some time.
Want another reason why the coaches are so keep to re-establish the power running game and get back into the Top 10 league-wide?
As Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger pointed out, the last three times the Giants have been in the Top 10 league-wide in rushing (2007, 2008 and 2010), they’ve won at least 10 games, which should be enough win to qualify for a postseason berth.
The Offensive Line
While the Giants have taken steps to infuse some new (and improved) talent along an offensive line that last year allowed 40 sacks, tying them (20th) with New England, for having given up the most sacks, this unit is still very much a work in progress.
About the only thing we can probably say is true about this offensive line as of right now is that right tackle Justin Pugh and left guard Geoff Schwartz are the only two definite starters, barring injury, of course.
The rest of the line’s personnel, however, presents some questions.
There is the health status of projected starters such as right guard Chris Snee (hip/elbow) and left tackle Will Beatty (leg).
At last check, Snee’s comeback from surgeries last season was coming along nicely; however, it remains to be seen if he has a shred of the mobility that he once had when he was in his prime.
Beatty, meanwhile, is gradually working himself back to the field after suffering a broken leg in the regular-season finale last year.
The good news is that Beatty, who before that injury did not have a very good season, has had the maximum amount of time to rehab his injury.
That the Giants didn’t spend a draft pick on a tackle would seem to indicate that they believe Beatty is going to be fine, even if he’s initially limited during OTAs and the mandatory minicamp.
Then there is a matter of the competition that is brewing at center between veteran J.D. Walton and rookie Weston Richburg.
At last week’s media session, Walton told reporters that he expects to start at center and that he hasn’t been doing work at guard.
Richburg, meanwhile, did reveal that the coaches told him to expect to see some snaps at guard, which seems to indicate that they want their second-round draft pick to be ready to step in for Snee just in case.
I still think that barring anything unexpected happening, the Giants’ starting offensive line on opening day will be Beatty at left tackle, Schwartz at left guard, Walton at center, Richburg at right guard and Pugh at right tackle.
That projection obviously depends on how quickly Richburg adjusts and whether he can demonstrate that he's the better option than Snee, who at this point in his career might be better off playing a reserve role regardless if he's 100 percent again.
Anyone remember the last time a Giants tight end had success working from multiple positions?
Yeah, me either.
Under McAdoo, the plan is to change that.
Adrien Robinson, who hopes to finally have his breakout season at tight end for the Giants after two disappointing years, told reporters at last week’s media day that the tight end position in McAdoo’s offense is “completely different,” adding, “we move around a lot more in the backfield, (run) different routes.”
Besides Robinson, there’s Larry Donnell, an undrafted free agent who’s also entering his third season.
Also competing to be a part of the new Giants offense at tight end are older veterans Kellen Davis and Daniel Fells, and rookie undrafted free agent Xavier Grimble.
Is that enough talent or might the Giants look elsewhere?
If none of those guys steps up, the Giants will being in additional help—remember, there are bound to be tight ends that shake free from other teams as roster cuts are made after June 1 and as training camp cuts are announced later in the summer.
So while there is hope seems to be that the athletically gifted Robinson, Donnell and Grimble all step up and show they can get it done, it remains to be seen how well each has taken to an offense that Robinson, believed to be the early odds-on favorite to win a starting job, said “is more fitted for the things that I’m good at.”
The Return Game
Last season, the Giants averaged 7.2 yards per punt return and 21.2 yards per kickoff return in taking a by-committee approach.
Those two averages were good enough—or maybe I should say “bad” enough—to enable the Giants to finish 26th in punt returns and 27th in kickoff returns in the league.
After several seasons of trying to “loan” a player from either the offense or defense who just so happened to also have return experience, the Giants have taken a different approach, which is to bring in guys who have primarily made their living in the league to date as return specialists.
Those guys are Trindon Holliday, formerly with the Broncos, and Quintin Demps, most recently with the Chiefs. They will headline a group of return specialist candidates that’s will also include a mixture of rookies and returning vets such as Jayron Hosley, Jerrel Jernigan, Michael Cox, Rueben Randle and possibly Odell Beckham Jr.
Demps, who has two career touchdown returns in 2013, also has 12 career kickoff returns of 40 or more yards and has encountered just one fumble.
Holliday, who has experience returning both kickoffs and punts, last year averaged 8.5 yards per punt return; however, he’s had some ball-security issues.
Of his 10 career fumbles as a punt returner, five of those came last season, something that is sure to be addressed this summer.
However, there’s no mistaking Holliday’s speed. He had an 81-yard punt return touchdown against the Giants in Week 2 and a 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Eagles in Week 4.
Can the Giants afford to carry one, if not two additional specialists on their roster? In Demps' case, he can also contribute at safety.
Holliday, meanwhile, who stands 5'5", is probably too short to be considered for snaps at wide receiver.
If New York is looking to improve their average starting field position, which Football Outsiders has at 26.86, 24th in the NFL, they might not have a choice but to carry proven return specialists.
The Revised Defense
While the bulk of the spotlight figures to be on the new offense, the defensive side of the ball underwent a few changes as well this offseason that are worth discussing.
The biggest change is up front, where the Giants lost half of their starters from last season—end Justin Tuck, who signed with Oakland, and tackle Linval Joseph, now with Minnesota.
In the interior, second-year man Johnathan Hankins is projected to replace Joseph as the starter. At end, however, the picture is less clear.
By default, Mathias Kiwanuka, who last year started 10 games while Jason Pierre-Paul was fighting through several health issues, including a late-season shoulder injury, will probably begin the OTAs as the “starter” at Tuck’s old spot.
Kiwanuka, Pro Football Focus’ worst-ranked 4-3 defensive end out of those who took 60 percent of their team’s snaps, probably won’t stay there for long—not with Robert Ayers, Denver’s first-round pick in the 2009 draft, and second-year man Damontre Moore, the Giants’ third-round draft pick last year, breathing down his neck.
He recently told Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger that he is about halfway through his offseason goal of adding 15 pounds of muscle and that his surgically-repaired shoulder is “at 95 percent right now,” though he hasn’t been cleared yet for contact.
The other thing that will be interesting to see with the Giants’ defensive line is if they experiment with some 3-4 fronts.
Last offseason, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell did play around with some of those multiple defensive fronts in order to maximize his options, but the plan to use more 3-4 looks was scrapped when injuries started to hit.
Still, it wouldn't be a shock if Fewell dusts off those plans in order to get as many of his pass-rushers on the field at once, even those who might not be every-down contributors.