NY Giants Biggest Preseason Disappointments So Far
In this installment, we’ll look at seven players and/or positions that thus far have been disappointing for whatever the reason.
While some of these players won’t necessarily end up on the waiver wire when the final training camp transactions are announced this weekend, these are players whom the team was probably expecting to get a lot more out of than it did.
WR Odell Beckham Jr.
Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was supposed to be one of the missing pieces to the puzzle on the Giants offense–a speedy receiver who could step right into the modified West Coast offense, take those quick throws and then do some major damage with his legs.
However, a balky hamstring issue that first showed up in the spring and has limited the first-round pick to the equivalent of maybe a practice and a half all summer has left head coach Tom Coughlin frustrated by all the time missed by the rookie.
What’s even more frustrating is that after returning to practice more than a week ago, Beckham seemed to re-tweak the hamstring (though Coughlin told reporters that the receiver didn’t have a setback).
Whatever you want to call Beckham’s current predicament, there’s no question that the receiver’s inability to get on the field much this summer is a major disappointment for an offense that’s in dire need of playmakers.
The Tight Ends
Go ahead and take your pick as to which Giants tight end is the biggest disappointment—there is no wrong answer.
What’s particularly frustrating is how back in the spring, Adrien Robinson and Larry Donnell, the two young tight ends whom the front office seems to be banking on stepping up, spoke endlessly about how this new offense was such a better fit for their respective talents.
"The expectations were that the two young guys would develop and grow and that the two veteran players would be stabilizers and do the things that they have done well," head coach Tom Coughlin told reporters regarding the team’s expectations of Robinson, the team’s fourth-round pick in 2012, and Donnell an undrafted free agent in 2012.
How bad has it been for those two as well as for veterans Daniel Fells and Kellen Davis? The four have combined for nine receptions for 116 yards with one touchdown.
No tight end had a reception in last week’s game against the New York Jets.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), both Donnell and Robinson have the worst overall grades, minus 4.3 and minus 3.0, respectively.
Robinson, whom general manager Jerry Reese so famously dubbed the “JPP of tight ends,” while trying to compare Robinson’s physical traits to that of the defensive end, has negative grades across the board in both pass receiving and in run blocking, per PFF, while Donnell has an alarming minus-4.0 run blocking grade.
Because no one has stepped up to make the starting position his, Coughlin and the coaching staff will turn to a committee approach for the immediate future.
"That is not necessarily what the plan was," Coughlin said. "But the plan has evolved to that, where people can be utilized for their skills in different ways."
The problem with a committee approach is twofold. One, it might force the Giants to keep an extra player at the position where that roster spot might be best-served elsewhere.
More importantly, it won’t take opposing defensive coordinators long to figure out how the tight ends are being used, which in turn will make it easier to anticipate what might be coming.
The Offensive Line
Want to know why quarterback Eli Manning continues to look a little squeamish out there?
It’s probably because he’s playing behind an offensive line that, per the signature stats at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), has yielded pressure on 38.1 percent (16) of his 42 dropbacks.
Breaking that number down further, when under pressure, Manning has been sacked five times and has completed just one of 11 pass attempts. That comes to a 9.1 percent completion percentage and a 12.5 percent accuracy percentage.
With the exception of right tackle Justin Pugh, none of the other projected starters—left tackle Will Beatty, left guard Geoff Schwartz, center J.D. Walton and right guard Brandon Mosley—have anything close to a positive overall grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
The backup depth hasn’t been that much better as John Jerry, who will likely be the starting right guard this season while rookie Weston Richburg fills in for the injured Schwartz at left guard—hasn’t fared well in pass blocking or run blocking.
The same can also be said of backup tackle Charles Brown, who’s currently sidelined with a shoulder injury, and James Brewer, who continues to be inconsistent when put at tackle, but who has done a little better inside at guard.
While the new offensive philosophy is designed to allow for Manning to get rid of the ball faster (and thus take the onus off the offensive line as far as having to hold its blocks as long as in the past), it’s important for that line to jell.
Unfortunately the injuries and the constant shuffling of personnel—it would not be a shock if the Giants brought in a veteran from the waiver wire—makes it more than likely that the line is going to take time to evolve into a cohesive unit.
WR Trindon Holliday
There must have been something in the water served in the meeting room of the Giants' receivers, as Trindon Holliday, the diminutive return specialist, who looked so good as an outside receiver in the spring, was also struck down by a hamstring injury suffered early in camp.
His injury has prevented him from practicing much at all, and what once appeared to be a promising opportunity to help the Giants' punt-return game has all but evaporated for this five-year veteran.
DT Markus Kuhn
The Giants’ affable German-born defensive tackle is another player who looked to have so much promise back in the spring.
How good was Kuhn, who at the time was enjoying his first full offseason as a pro after missing the previous spring while recovering from an ACL injury suffered in his rookie season?
So good that defensive line coach Robert Nunn gushed about Kuhn to reporters after the team’s mandatory minicamp concluded in June.
“He had an outstanding offseason, really outstanding practices. … He showed up every day. When we go out there and go in team situations Markus was, there wasn’t a day that went by that we didn’t call his name out in a positive manner.”
The preseason has been a little different for the 28-year-old Kuhn, who, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), has an overall minus-4.8 grade (the worst of the Giants’ defensive tackles) that includes a disappointing minus-3.0 run defense grade.
Part of the reason for Kuhn’s drop-off, as Inside Football (subscription required) noted, is that he seems to absorb more blocks than he does in attempting to deliver the blows.
That’s a big problem for a defensive tackle because it means he’s a nonfactor on most of the snaps he’s played.
FB John Conner
The Giants' fullback competition was supposed to be one of the more interesting ones this summer. However, it’s turned out to not be that much of a competition after all.
John Conner, who last year had a strong showing when he came in off the street to replace incumbent Henry Hynoski following his season-ending shoulder injury, has struggled this summer with consistency.
While it didn’t help Conner to miss a few days of practice after suffering a concussion against the Pittsburgh Steelers (though he didn’t miss a game), Conner just hasn’t graded out that well, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), who has him as a minus-1.8 overall to Hynoski’s 2.8.
There are two things that have hampered Conner’s performance this summer. The biggest one has been consistency.
When he’s been on point, he’s been devastating—almost to the point where one can see a defender try to avoid being crushed by the five-year veteran.
When he’s missed, as he did a few times in game against the Jets (the same team that picked him in the fifth round of the 2010 draft), it’s been ugly.
It also probably hasn’t helped Conner’s case that the coaching staff has given a small sampling of H-back plays to Hynoski, who told reporters earlier this month about his increasing responsibilities in the offense.
“I’m really asked to do a lot,’’ Hynoski said. “Right now I can play fullback, obviously, running back, and tight end is something I feel I can do also. Getting into some routes, some inline blocking and that type of thing. In this league, the more you can do, the better. It certainly won’t hurt if I can expand my role a little bit more.”
While there’s always a chance that the Giants might keep both fullbacks, especially given the mess it has at the tight end position, right now it would seem that Conner would be the odd man out on the battle.
WR Jerrel Jernigan
Last year, receiver Jerrel Jernigan opened quite a few eyes when he stepped in for the injured Victor Cruz in Week 16.
All Jernigan did in the final two games of the 2013 season was catch 12 (out of 17) passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns, a performance that prompted team co-owner John Mara, at his season-ending press conference, to wonder aloud to the assembled reporters why it took so long for the coaching staff to realize what it had in Jernigan.
Unfortunately, the coaches' reluctance to play Jernigan until forced appears to have been justified based on his inconsistent performance this summer.
"He's had days when he's done very well, and he's had days when he hasn't," head coach Tom Coughlin told reporters last week.
"I don't mind saying the other night (against the Jets) he did run by the defender. If he caught the ball, it certainly would have helped us."
In four preseason games, Jernigan has caught six of the 11 passes thrown his way for 41 yards, four yards after the catch and no touchdowns, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Those numbers don’t exactly get coaches excited, especially not when they’ve seen him do better.
Also diminishing Jernigan’s value is that early on he had another chance to be a return specialist on special teams, only to quickly eliminate himself from that competition with a nondescript performance.
With that all said, Jernigan is more than likely going to be a part of the initial 53-man roster, thanks to the season-ending hip injury suffered by Marcus Harris, and the on-going hamstring issue that Odell Beckham Jr. is trying to manage.
Whether Jernigan makes it to the end of the 2014 season is another story, as is how many chances on offense he actually receives.