The 5 Biggest Issues Facing the New York Giants with OTAs Wrapped
As the New York Giants wrap up their OTAs this week—next week the team will hold its annual mandatory minicamp before breaking until training camp on July 21—there are still lots of questions facing head coach Tom Coughlin’s crew.
Some of these questions will probably be answered very early on in training camp, while others might take a while to play out.
So without any further delay, here’s a look at the top five burning questions that the Giants will try to answer once they begin training camp.
Who Will Win the Fullback Role?
Out of all the competitions set to take place this summer, the starting fullback remains too close to call right now for several reasons.
One, given the nature of the non-contact drills, we have not yet been able to see what, if any, improvements John Conner and Henry Hynoski have made as blockers.
In the OTAs, both have appeared to know what to do assignment-wise, but it should be remembered that the plays are being run at half speed right now.
That leads into the second unknown, and that is what offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo expects of the fullback position. The popular assumption is that he is looking for the next John Kuhn—a fullback who can catch the ball out of the backfield, run the ball and block.
However, recent history would seem to indicate otherwise.
Per stats from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Kuhn received 100 fewer snaps in 2013 than he did the prior season.
Kuhn, who has been targeted in the passing game about 20 times per season, also saw his carries decline over the last three years, from 31 in 2011 to 12 in 2013. This is no doubt due to the emergence of running back Eddie Lacy.
As for the Giants, one overlooked factor when it comes to handicapping the front-runner at fullback is the role of the tight end.
Based on observations made from the two open OTAs, as well as feedback received about the position’s role in the offense, the tight ends do a lot more motioning than in the past, occasionally lining up in the backfield at the fullback position.
Might a pure fullback end up yielding snaps to the tight ends in this offense? It certainly would not surprise me if that were the case.
The one thing that won't change is that whoever plays fullback will need to be a solid lead blocker. In this regard, Conner, who received a 8.7 blocking grade last year, appears to have the edge over Hynoski in 2012 (7.6) per PFF.
The thing to watch, then, is consistency—which player is consistently making his blocks at the line and successfully getting to the second level.
The answers to those questions will more than likely determine who wins this battle, assuming both are at 100 percent health-wise.
Who Will Emerge as the Starting Tight End?
The Giants passed on an opportunity this spring to draft a new tight end, instead adding undrafted free agent Xavier Grimble to a group that includes two young holdovers, Adrien Robinson and Larry Donnell, and two veterans, Kellen Davis and Daniel Fells.
Is the new starting tight end among that group? It’s too soon to say for sure, but it should be noted that the Giants are reportedly hosting tight end Tom Crabtree, formerly of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers, at some point this week, per Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger.
You can read into Crabtree's visit a couple of considerations—certainly his prior experience in Green Bay’s offense, where Ben McAdoo comes from is a factor. The visit could also mean that the coaches aren't thrilled with the progress shown so far by the current tight ends and are looking for someone who has experience with the West Coast offense to step in.
Getting back to the players the Giants do have on the roster, based on the snap allocation, the Giants seem to be looking for Robinson, their fourth-round draft pick in 2012, to step up.
So far, Robinson has made a handful of nice plays in the OTAs as a receiver, particularly down the seam. Whether he’s been pristine with executing the rest of his assignments isn’t known; he doesn’t appear to have committed any glaring mistakes in the two OTA workouts the media was allowed to see.
One of the other things to watch with the tight ends will be their presnap activity. Right now McAdoo has them moving all over the place, and as Donnell told me two weeks ago, one of the biggest challenges for the tight ends in general has been remembering the calls and where they want the players to line up on each formation.
How effective will each tight end be in disguising what the offense is trying to do?
We'll find out soon enough.
How Will the New Offense Look?
After a 7-9 season also saw the “broken” Giants offense finish 28th in the NFL, New York brought in an up-and-coming assistant coach by the name of Ben McAdoo.
McAdoo, who comes from Green Bay’s offensive system, is looking to reenergize the Giants offense with a faster-paced attack that is still grounded in solid fundamentals.
However the new approach is still very much a work in progress. Even quarterback Eli Manning, widely regarded as one of the most intelligent members of the offense, admitted to Paul Schwartz of the New York Post that he's still trying to process all of the information when he runs plays.
So therein lies one of the many questions regarding the new offense. Will it be able to come together by opening day or will it need additional time (and if it’s the latter, how much)?
What about McAdoo, who has never before called a play at the NFL level? How will he respond when the pressure is on?
When McAdoo was hired in January, Coughlin, in a press release issued by the team to the media, said that he would be there to help his rookie offensive coordinator with play-calling. If he needs to do that often, what effect might that have on McAdoo's confidence?
Overall, it’s a high-risk, high-reward situation for the Giants. If it works out as hoped, the Giants are going to be in great shape for years to come.
If it doesn’t…well, let’s not even think that way.
Will They Have a Pass Rush?
The Giants lost one-half of their starting defensive line this offseason thanks to free agency.
Gone are defensive end Justin Tuck and defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who, per stats compiled from Pro Football Focus (subscription required) combined for 16 sacks, 20 quarterback hits and 55 quarterback hurries in 2013.
To put those numbers into perspective, that’s 47 percent of the sacks, 18.3 percent of the quarterback hits and 53.9 percent of the hurries of the entire defense accounted for by just two players. That’s a large chunk of pass-rushing production right there now with other teams.
Meanwhile the Giants are left to wonder if the men who are projected to replace Tuck and Joseph, Robert Ayers and Johnathan Hankins, respectively, can match or top that production.
To give the defensive front the best possible opportunity to be effective, the Giants took a page out of the Seattle Seahawks’ book on how to build a roster by placing a premium on revamping its secondary.
One of the primary expectations behind this strategy is to force opposing quarterbacks to hold onto the ball longer, which should hopefully lead to more coverage sacks.
Another possibility is the use of multiple defensive fronts, some of which could include a 3-4 look, and some disguised blitzes.
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has been experimenting this spring with different ideas in the hopes of finding things that will work, so it will be interesting to see what he comes up with once the season begins.
What's Going to Happen at Left Tackle?
At the start of the spring, there were questions regarding how the starting offensive line might look.
Many of those questions seem to have been resolved for now. Barring injury, J.D. Walton should be the guy at center for this season.
Chris Snee should open up the season at right guard but I suspect at some point he might yield to second-round pick Weston Richburg.
Free-agent acquisition Geoff Schwartz will be the starter at left guard and Justin Pugh will be the starting right tackle.
The starting left tackle? On paper, it should be Will Beatty; however, Beatty, who suffered a broken leg six months ago, has been unable to work out this spring. When asked about Beatty (as well as receiver Mario Manningham, who also hasn’t been able to practice this spring), head coach Tom Coughlin told reporters, “Supposedly they’ll be ready for the fall.”
Beatty is coming off his worst season as a pro. Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he finished 2013 with an overall grade of minus-6.3, giving up a career-high 13 sacks and an alarming 39 quarterback hurries. Not surprisingly, Beatty’s pass-blocking grade was an disconcerting minus-14.3.
The year before was a much different story as Beatty was one of the top left tackles in the NFL. PFF graded him with a 22.3 overall mark and a 14.4 grade in pass-blocking in 2012, a season in which he allowed just three sacks and 22 quarterback hurries.
Because the Giants have big money tied up in Beatty, he is going to be their starting left tackle once he is physically able to return to the gridiron.
However, he’s missed very valuable practice time while rehabbing his leg.
If Beatty isn’t ready to go by the start of training camp—and I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts training camp on the PUP list—the Giants will probably open up with Charles Brown as their left tackle. (John Jerry has been sidelined this spring as well as he recovers from knee surgery.)
Per PFF, Brown wasn’t that much better than Beatty last year, finishing with a minus-9.2 overall grade, and a minus-13.6 pass-blocking grade that saw him surrender 7.0 sacks and 33 quarterback hurries.
Another possibility at left tackle is James Brewer, but he hasn’t really worked much at tackle in live games.
Again, Beatty will “supposedly” be ready to go by the fall. The big question is how much will the lost practice time set him back in terms of the offense.
We'll find out soon enough.