New York Giants: What to Watch for in Preseason Game Action
With the New York Giants having launched their 2014 preseason last weekend in the annual Hall of Fame Game, a 17-13 win over the Buffalo Bills, there was just as much to like as there was to take issue over.
Here's a look at five areas for New York fans to focus on this weekend as the Giants get set to play the Pittsburgh Steelers Saturday night.
The Offensive Line
The Giants' starting offensive line continues to be a work in progress that, while taking strides forward, is still not where it needs to be.
Quarterback Eli Manning completed four of six pass attempts for 25 yards against the Bills' starting defense. But he was sacked for a 12-yard loss, which resulted in a fumble recovered by former Giant Keith Rivers, now a starting linebacker for Buffalo.
The Giants starting running backs, meanwhile recorded minus-2 yards on two carries against the Bills first-team defense, not exactly a promising statistic.
It should be noted that the Giants were missing starting left tackle Will Beatty, though Charles Brown, his replacement, seemed to hold up.
The interior of the offensive line had its share of hiccups. New York is still trying to solidify the right guard spot, vacant since Chris Snee retired. Brandon Mosley has been working primarily with the starters at that position, but hasn't really shown much so far. John Jerry has also had some snaps at the position, but he's still working his way back from knee surgery.
Over on the left side, guard Geoff Schwartz had his share of struggles, that were perhaps due to the knee injury that head coach Tom Coughlin revealed would keep the guard out of Wednesday's practice. Still, when Schwartz was in the game, there were times when he didn't look so comfortable on the left side. One possible solution to help bring the offensive line along could be to move Schwartz to the right guard, where, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he excelled last season, earning an 18.6 overall grade.
At left guard, the Giants might try plugging in rookie Weston Richburg, who, while clearly the team's future center, has been too solid of a player to keep on the bench.
The Continued Development of Quarterback Ryan Nassib
Entering the Hall of Fame Game, there were some questions as to whether second-year quarterback Ryan Nassib, who had started to look good in training camp, could continue on that path.
It turned out he could and did.
Nassib finished 7-of-12 for 139 yards and one touchdown for a 126.7 rating. He also engineered the game-winning touchdown drive for the Giants early in the fourth quarter when he connected with receiver Corey Washington on a 73-yard touchdown pass.
"I thought that Ryan, for the most part, did a good job," head coach Tom Coughlin told reporters during a conference call.
"For the most part of it, he did direct his team and he did throw the ball well enough, and I am sure he is looking forward to continuing his development and getting in the game next week and having more opportunities."
The Punt Returner Competition
When the Giants signed receiver Trindon Holliday in the offseason, the team envisioned him doing to opponents what he had done to them last year when he was a member of the Denver Broncos.
In Week 2 of last season, Holliday ran back a punt 81 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to widen the Broncos lead over the Giants in Denver's 41-23 win. Unfortunately for the Giants, Holliday hasn’t done much in the way of showing that he can provide the thrills that he did in that game.
Instead, he has been sidelined since the second day of camp with a leg issue, an injury from which head coach Tom Coughlin said Holliday "doesn't seem like he's as far along" in his recovery.
With Holliday’s chances for a roster spot quickly fading, special teams coordinator Tom Quinn told reporters that cornerback Charles James II and receivers Marcus Harris and Preston Parker will get a chance to compete for the punt returner job in the coming days.
The Place-Kicker Competition
When the Giants signed rookie kicker Brandon McManus to a reserve/futures contract, on Jan. 16, it wasn’t all that surprising.
At the time, Josh Brown, the 2013 kicker, was about to become an unrestricted free agent with no guarantees of re-signing. That left McManus, at least as far as the Giants’ front office was concerned, as insurance just in case Brown went elsewhere.
As things turned out, Brown re-signed with the Giants on what overthecap.com reported to be a two-year deal worth $2.5 million.
With that kind of commitment—Brown’s signing bonus is listed by OTC as being $500,000—one would think that the role of McManus and his younger leg would be to provide relief for the 35-year-old Brown throughout the long summer.
Such is not the case, though. Special teams coordinator Tom Quinn said it’s a real competition between the two, and that it’s indeed as close as it appears to be.
“Yeah, you guys have seen it every day. They’re both competing and have really strong legs,” Quinn told reporters. “They both have pretty good accuracy at this point. It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out.”
Two weeks ago, head coach Tom Coughlin told reporters that Brown had a slight advantage in the field goal department. However, any advantage that the 12-year veteran had has apparently vanished, as McManus has been cashing in on every opportunity he’s received.
If it comes down to experience or leg strength, Quinn suggested that choice should be easy enough to make. “You value a kicker who can make the kicks,” he said. “You try to put the young kicker in some situations and try to test him.”
That doesn’t mean, though, that Brown is a lock.
“The thing about Josh is that he does have a strong leg. A lot of times, you have an old kicker and a young kicker, and the young kicker has such a strong leg,” Quinn said.
“But Brandon will really have to beat him out in all areas to win the job, and he knows that.”
If you were wondering why you didn’t see much of receiver Victor Cruz in Sunday’s Hall of Fame Game, you weren’t alone.
It turns out that Cruz, who took 19 snaps according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), wasn’t used that much for a reason.
“(Head coach Tom Coughlin) just wants to give younger guys reps and get everybody acclimated,” Cruz told reporters on Wednesday. “There’s only so many reps to go around so I just know that when I’m in there, I have to make the most of my reps and take it from there.”
With the coaching staff knowing what Cruz can bring to the new offense—he had plenty of reps in the spring—there are decisions to be made on the depth chart behind Cruz, the No. 1 receiver, and Rueben Randle, the projected No. 2 receiver.
Rookie Odell Beckham Jr., who hasn’t made it through a full practice in a little more than two weeks, has been gradually increasing what he's able to do this week. He's penciled in as the team's No. 3 receiver.
As for the identities of the No. 4 through 6 receivers (assuming the Giants keep six), that’s still to be determined.
Initially, projections had veterans Mario Manningham, Jerrel Jernigan and Trindon Holliday as the top candidates to fill out the depth chart, behind Cruz, Randle and Beckham.
However, Holliday has not been able to practice due to a leg injury, while Manningham has continued to struggle with his surgically repaired knee that appears to have robbed him of the speed and quickness he once had.
Jernigan appears to have the best chance of the three to earn a roster spot, but there are three young receivers—Marcus Harris, Preston Parker and Corey Washington—who have had strong camps thus far, and who are making a case for a roster spot.
Harris has caught just about every ball that’s been thrown his way. He was also the Giants’ team leader in receptions (four) and receiving yards (49) in the team’s preseason opener last week.
Parker, opened a few eyes with his punt-return abilities, averaging 11.0 yards per return in the Hall of Fame Game against the Bills.
Washington, the tallest of the Giants receivers, stands 6’4”, 214 pounds. He’s also shown that he’s a physical wideout who's got the toughness and ability to catch balls in traffic.
Stay tuned on this one, as this could be a battle that goes down to the wire.