Rounding Up New York Giants' Offseason Buzz, Post-Minicamps
With spring in the past, so too is New York Giants minicamp. The players and coaches now sweat out most of the next month, waiting until pro football's version of summer vacation comes to an end when training camp begins on July 21.
To wrap up the spring workouts, I've compiled the early offseason's five most compelling stories—some of which have lingered, while others are just budding. These are the storylines most likely to dominate the Giants' 2014 training camp.
Enjoy the compilation, and leave your prediction for each developing story in the comment section below.
All roster information courtesy of Giants.com.
All statistical information courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.
Several Revelations About Linebacker Unit Have Surfaced
Middle linebacker Jon Beason suffered the only major injury of Giants camp, tearing a ligament in his right foot, compounded by a slight fracture to the sesamoid. The timetable for his return—12 weeks—butts up against the start of the regular season.
Beason is targeting a healthy return for Week 1 (Sept. 8), when the Giants travel to Detroit to face the Lions on Monday Night Football.
However, not everyone is as optimistic as Beason. Dan Graziano of ESPN writes that the 29-year-old linebacker being sidelined for the season opener "seems likely."
Last season, Beason was heralded as the solution that stopped New York's early-season skid. Without the former Carolina Panther on the field, the Giants' linebacker unit has been forced to address some tough questions about its identity this offseason.
The first uncertainty surrounded the need to find an immediate replacement for Beason in the middle. For the most part, free-agent acquisition Jameel McClain has manned that role. McClain, 28, played his first six seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, and he spent lot of his time there playing alongside Ray Lewis, one of the best inside linebackers of all time.
Now, as a Giant, McClain will channel the lessons learned from a half-decade of lining up beside a surefire Hall of Famer.
With McClain taking over the middle linebacker duties, the strong-side position has been left vacant for rookie Devon Kennard's taking. The fifth-round selection out of USC has acclimated to the NFL quickly, as far as offseason workouts go. If the regular season were to start today, the 22-year-old Kennard would start on the strong side, but he still has the rest of the summer to make his case for manning the middle.
The final revelation at the linebacker position has been the progress of fourth-year player Jacquian Williams, who has been competing with Spencer Paysinger for snaps on the weak side since they were rookies in 2011. Although Williams, 25, is typically described as the more athletic of the two, Paysinger was the more productive linebacker in 2013.
At the conclusion of minicamp, linebackers coach Jim Hermann confirmed to NJ.com that Williams has "entrenched" himself as the starting weak-side linebacker after showing improvement in the base formation, where Williams has been unable in the past to stick as an every-down 'backer.
Little Progress Made at Tight End
When Kellen Davis, primarily a blocker, was the only tight end signed by the Giants during free agency, many expected the Giants to target the position in the draft. But with their seven selections, New York did not pick a single one.
Adrien Robinson, a former fourth-round selection for whom the Giants had high expectations, is not the favorite to win the starting job. According to Jordan Raanan of NJ.com, there is no front-runner for No. 1 tight end duties.
Right now, the Giants feature a wide-open, five-man competition.
Robinson, 25, is up against three tight ends who were not even drafted and a former fifth-rounder who was a failed pass-catching project with the Chicago Bears.
Former undrafted free agent Larry Donnell showcased a bit of potential as a rookie in 2013. The 25-year-old Donnell, a Grambling State product, played in all 16 games, mostly on special teams, catching all three of his passes during an early-season blowout loss to the Denver Broncos. The only headline he snagged this spring, however, was when he was taken by ambulance to the hospital to be treated for dehydration.
The three remaining tight ends are new to the team.
Davis and Daniel Fells are the veterans of the competition, both entering their seventh year of NFL service. Davis, 28, spent last season with the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, while the 30-year-old Fells was without a team for all of 2013. Neither have ever been extremely productive pass-catchers in their NFL careers.
The fan favorite in this race might be undrafted rookie Xavier Grimble of USC. The underdog Grimble is the slimmest of all New York's tight ends at 257 pounds, and he's purposely playing in a large shadow by choosing to wear the jersey number once worn by Mark Bavaro, an all-time Giants great at tight end.
Johnathan Hankins Making Strides in Year 2
When the Giants lost Linval Joseph to free agency, New York knew it had a massive hole to fill at nose tackle. Not just because Joseph weighs in excess of 320 pounds, but also because the 2010 second-round selection was easily the Giants' most disruptive interior force on the defensive line.
Enter Johnathan Hankins, another second-round pick—this one an Ohio State product coming off a promising rookie year.
After seeing limited action in 2013, the 22-year-old Hankins projects to fill Joseph's role and then some. The 320-pounder has received rave reviews from the Giants coaching staff this offseason. Hankins is allowing the D-line, and the team in general, to move forward with confidence after losing an integral cog in the defense.
Hankins isn't a player that will dominate the stat sheet, but that is not necessarily what the Giants are asking him to do. He will be a behind-the-scenes type, a defender who carves out his living in the unforgiving trenches.
Against the run, the Giants need Hankins to be stout at the point of attack, stuffing any rushes up the middle and forcing backs to the outside, where New York fields its quicker, sure-tackling defenders. If on the field for passing downs, he must draw double-teams, allowing Giants pass-rushers to compete one-on-one on the edges.
Joseph set the standard, but the Giants are confident Hankins can match if not exceed his predecessor's play.
Jason Pierre-Paul, Chris Snee Still Hurting
Two Giants veterans coming off injury-plagued seasons have been vocal about their respective comebacks in 2014.
Guard Chris Snee, now entering his 11th season, missed all but three games in 2013. Two bothersome hips, for which he has undergone a pair of surgeries since 2012, sent Snee to the sidelines and then injured reserve last season.
New York's offensive line crumbled from there.
At 32 years old, Snee wanted one more season with the Giants, the only team for whom he has suited up during his decade-long NFL career. It took a $6 million pay cut to make that happen.
Health, age and salary aside, Snee is just as confident as ever. Although he acknowledged that New York rebuilding its O-line with younger players is part of the business, Snee also claimed that the new guys are "not beating [him] out" if he is healthy, according to Newsday.
On the other side of the ball, fifth-year defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul was hampered by the effects of an offseason back surgery, followed by a shoulder injury that eventually put him on injured reserve. The once dominant pass-rusher played in only 11 games in 2013, mustering just two sacks.
Pierre-Paul, 25, is a player New York needs 100 percent healthy and effective in 2014. When the Giants won the Super Bowl in 2011, they did so by riding a pass rush that featured one of the NFL's single most disruptive defensive forces in Pierre-Paul.
After a seriously down season, Pierre-Paul claims he will "shut people up" with his play this year (as reported by The Star-Ledger).
Yet, almost in the same breath, the former 2010 first-round pick admitted that he still feels "a little something" when it comes to his recovery from back surgery, which took place over a year ago.
Snee's not in ideal shape either, as the old guard's elbow, which underwent a surgical procedure in November, caused him to miss some practice this spring. On top of that, the Giants want Snee to add 10 pounds to his already 300-pound frame.
Rueben Randle Rebounding from Early Criticism
Several of quarterback Eli Manning's league-leading 27 interceptions were the fault of second-year receiver Rueben Randle in 2013. Because of this fact, many fans wanted to write him off as a liability without giving him a chance to rebound under the direction of new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo.
Randle, 23, is now making those critics eat their words.
So far this offseason, the 6'3" receiver is showing the necessary improvement. The Giants obviously are hoping he can amount to being more than just a complementary target to Victor Cruz and the No. 12 pick in the 2014 draft, Odell Beckham Jr., who was once a teammate of Randle's at LSU.
While some critics expect Randle's offensive influence to dwindle in his third year, there's reason to think it could actually expand, based on his performance in OTAs. In a revamped scheme, Randle can become a veritable outside receiving threat—perhaps one more effective than even the departed Hakeem Nicks.
Apparently, he is capable of more than that. The Giants have been experimenting with Randle, sometimes utilizing him in the slot. It's certainly an unexpected option, given that Cruz is one of the most effective slot receivers in the NFL, but why not allow Randle dabble on the inside, where his large frame can shield away less athletic coverage men?
No Giant scored more touchdowns than Randle's six in 2013, illustrating that he made just as many positive plays as he did negative ones. Now soaking in a simplified offense, Randle can rely more upon his playmaking ability and less upon his defense-reading ability.
That's good news for both Randle and the Giants, as 2014 will be the season in which the former second-rounder becomes the receiver New York drafted him to be.