Rounding Up Latest New York Giants Offseason Buzz
Yes, NFL offseason programs are a place where coaches spend a great deal of time teaching the players about new wrinkles added to the playbook. And yes, the offseason is pretty much officially over as of the end of Thursday.
It's been a semi-eventful offseason for the New York Giants, who are looking to build off last year's 11-5 record.
Things will really start to heat up with the team reports back to their facility in late July for the start of training camp, but until then, let's take a look at what we learned over the offseason and how it could impact the Giants moving forward.
Odell Beckham's OTA Absence Wasn't a Contract Protest
Remember that tweet by ESPN's Adam Schefter in which he reported that receiver Odell Beckham Jr.'s skipping out on the voluntary OTAs was "directly related to his desire or a new deal?"
That report, which Schefter prefaced as saying "No one from Beckham’s camp would admit it," was rebuffed by Beckham himself in his first public comments made to the media since the Wild Card playoff loss to Green Bay.
"I have seen the whole holdout and all of that stuff and I have never really seen that work, so that was never in my mind, to not go to OTAs to get a new contract," he said.
"I don't really think that that proves a point, in my opinion. So, I was just out there really taking that time for myself to reflect on life and value what is really important and like I said, to grow and mature in life. You should be growing each and every year, each and every day you should be growing until the day that you leave this Earth."
Still when Beckham was directly asked if he was unhappy with his contract, rather than deliver a simple yes or no response, he said: "I leave that in the hands of the man above honestly. When that time comes, that time comes. Right now is really not the time to discuss it. Like I said, when it comes, it comes."
Some Injury/Health Concerns Develop
Last year, the Giants managed to stay healthy for the most part, especially during the spring.
This year, they have a few nicks and bumps that may or may not be something to keep watch on when the team reports back to New Jersey next month for training camp.
Among those players who ended up missing time due include tight end Rhett Ellison (calf), safety Darian Thompson (illness), cornerback Eli Apple (hamstring/illness), offensive tackle Ereck Flowers (undisclosed), offensive guards D.J. Fluker (right arm) and Justin Pugh (back), tight end Evan Engram (undisclosed) and receiver Kevin Norwood (hamstring).
While there is still a lot of time between now and the start of training camp in late July, a few of those injuries bear watching.
Ellison's calf problem tops that list given the Giants' history with players who have developed calf issues. Ellison, remember, suffered a torn patellar tendon in the 2015 regular-season finale, an injury for which he had surgery (and the same injury that sidelined former Giants receiver Victor Cruz).
Unlike Cruz, Ellison, who signed a four-year contract in the offseason, didn't miss a beat the following year. He also told reporters earlier this spring that he didn't think his calf injury was related to overcompensating for his knee.
That hasn't stopped the Giants being cautious with a guy they are counting on being a part of their offense this season.
"He's champing at the bit to get back," head coach Ben McAdoo said of Ellison. "I anticipate him for training camp."
The other injury that bears watching is Apple's hamstring, which he tweaked during the team's third OTA.
Hamstrings can take a long time to properly heal, depending on the severity of the initial strain. That Apple was not seen in the first two days of the team's minicamp is curious. As with an illness, most times players who are kept inside usually are allowed back outside the ensuing day.
Last year, linebacker J.T. Thomas strained his hamstring in the team's minicamp. He ended up starting training camp on the PUP/Active list, where he sat for several weeks.
Again, there's still plenty of time and no reason to suggest just yet that any of the players who missed practice time this spring won't be ready for training camp.
But just when you are feeling good that an injury isn't something to worry about, that's when it can come back to haunt you, which the Giants are hoping won't be the case.
There's Hope for the Offensive Line
All spring we've heard about the countless hours spent by both Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart in the team's weight room—hours that have resulted in both men reshaping their physiques and, per offensive line coach Mike Solari, improving their stamina and quickness.
"In that aspect, it's improving their conditioning, their strength, their flexibility. So, all those things add up in a sense of they will perform better at your task," he said when asked how the weight training has helped.
"Again, their technique has to be on the football field. The technique, for an offensive lineman, you have to have your pads on. So again, right now, it's more communication, it's more learning the playbook, and just being more detailed on your assignments and your technique.
"For an offensive lineman, until you can put the pads on, that's when you'll really ascend as an offensive lineman.”
The pads won't come on for a few more weeks yet, but it was hard not to notice how much more compact and efficient both Flowers and Hart were with their footwork and hand placement in blocking drills done against a sled.
Whether that translates over to live competition, where big humans now become a moving target who can attempt to juke an defensive lineman out of his cleats, remains to be seen.
If nothing else, for Hart and Flowers—who were among the Giants worst blockers on offense last year—it's certainly a step in the right direction.
Evan Engram Appears to Be the Real Deal
It’s easy to fall in love with the potential of a rookie in the spring, when there is no contact and hence little resistance in allowing him to do what he was brought in to do.
But when that rookie is tight end Evan Engram, who has lined up literally everywhere for the Giants except at quarterback and halfback, then you can understand the excitement.
Engram, the team's first-round pick, has appeared in the slot, split wide, in the backfield, and even in-line as a blocker. His presence has enabled the coaching staff to use less of the 11-personnel and to mix and match Engram with the receivers to get the best possible matchups.
"I will say that we are very excited about what the young man brings to the table. I mean, he has an excellent attitude, he is very smart, he is tough," said offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan.
"I think from the practices that you guys have seen, we will all agree, he is very explosive and he is very fast. There is an added dimension to the pass game standpoint that we look forward to using in the season."
If that wasn't enough to whet the team's whistle, consider how much of a challenge Engram has been to cover in practice.
"It reminds me of when the Saints had Jimmy Graham and they would line him up on the outside and create nightmare mismatches," said receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who finally got a chance to see Engram work against the defense during the team's three-day mandatory minicamp.
"He is a real hybrid. If you put him out there and you have a safety guard him that is going to be trouble. If you put him out there and you have a linebacker guard him that is going to be trouble. And from what I have been hearing he has even tortured corners."
Come the summer, we'll see just which packages the coaching staff decides to stick with on offense, but one thing is for sure: Engram certainly looks as though he's the missing piece on offense.
The Offense Is Going to Expand
Normally head coach Ben McAdoo and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan like to play their cards close to the vest when it comes to the offense.
This spring, both men have expressed excitement over the looing expansion of the playbook, a result of the new talent that was added in the offseason such as receiver Brandon Marshall and tight ends Rhett Ellison and Evan Engram.
"I think that the personnel groupings are at a point right now where we can have more multiplicity," Sullivan said Wednesday. "We were at a high percentage of the Zebra personnel, 11 personnel, with three wide receivers, one tight end and one back, as people call it.
"With those additional tight ends and with having a couple of fullbacks that we're taking a look at, just to have those different groupings gives the defense more to prepare for and in terms of trying to do things, that will give us that balance that we want, run and pass."
Last year, operating mostly out of the 11-personnel, the Giants attempted 598 passes, all by Eli Manning. But they only ran the ball 398 times, accumulating just 1,412 yards on the ground—just 45 yards more than what receiver Odell Beckham Jr. alone recorded in the passing game.
Sullivan thinks they'll be able to change that distribution this year.
He said: "We have a few more options when you run all of those different personnel groups and then some of the play-action passes, some of the shots that you take intentionally. It is exciting with all the additions we have. I'm really, really looking forward to training camp."
Landon Collins Plans to Be Even Better in 2017
If you thought safety Landon Collins' second season was a sight to behold, the third-year safety wants you to know that you ain't seen nothing yet.
Collins, who has grown not only into a leader but a key core member of the Giant defense, told reporters he has his eye on passing good friend Earl Thomas of the Seattle Seahawks as the top-ranked safety in the NFL.
"I am very driven," he said. "I watch guys like Eric Berry, I watch guys like Earl Thomas, I watch guys like Kam Chancellor—those guys have terrific seasons each and every year. They build on top of their great seasons that they have and their work ethic is phenomenal.
"I'm going to Earl Thomas' camp this upcoming week and we are definitely going to chop it up and stuff like that, so just the mindset that he has is different than anybody that I have talked to. The mindset I want to have is just like him."
David Merritt, Collins' position coach with the Giants, said last week that the 23-year-old safety who was named the 28th best player on the NFL Network's Top 100 Players of 2017, is playing at a seven out of 10, and that he was expecting Collins to make the jump to an eight or higher this season.
That's just fine with Collins.
"I want to be a 10. I work on being a 10 and I feel like I could be a little bit better," he said. "I would say I am a seven, too.
"There are a lot of things I could work on and I was nitpicking and watching my film myself, and watch my film by myself, there are a few things I know I could be better at myself and I am definitely going to work on it this year and this offseason."
If he can do that and pass Thomas as the league's top safety, just imagine how much more dangerous that Giants defense is going to be in 2017.
Patricia Traina covers the New York Giants for Inside Football, the Journal Inquirer and Sports Xchange. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise sourced.