Giants Preseason Opener: Ten Things to Watch For Come Monday Night
Preseason is a time to watch how rookies, newly acquired free agents, and on-the-bubble players perform in a game situation. Most of them mean little in terms of the actual outcome, but that doesn't mean that there aren't a couple "subplots" to watch out for.
This may be a minor subplot or it could develop into something bigger. Rex Ryan is a big man with an even bigger mouth, and there has already been a fair amount of trash talk concerning the game.
The Jets may have the better roster right now, but several Giants, especially CB Terrell Thomas, have made it clear that they refuse to play second fiddle to anybody.
Expect a bit more intensity than most preseason games during this matchup.
The safety position was perhaps the biggest issue for the Giants entering the offseason.
The promising Kenny Phillips recorded two interceptions in his first two games before missing the rest of the season with an arthritic left knee. This left C.C. Brown, Michael Johnson, and Aaron Rouse as the Giants safeties, a very uninspiring unit.
Incredibly poor play drove Brown and Rouse out of the Giants organization during the season. The Giants then signed pro-bowler Antrel Rolle and veteran Deon Grant--in case Phillips is not 100% this year.
It will be interesting to see how this rebuilt unit plays, Rolle is an exciting player and a ballhawk and Deon Grant has a great football IQ. Phillips will not play this week, but he is practicing and looks good so far.
This unit was the biggest question mark for the Giants headed into the 2009 season, yet they put on quite a show for Giants fans. Breakout receiver Steve Smith and explosive first-rounder Hakeem Nicks helped lead Eli Manning to over 4,000 passing yards.
Smith, 2009's second most targeted receiver, will be out for the game. Mario Manningham is questionable. This means that Nicks, who led the league in average yards after the catch his rookie season, will get a taste of being Eli's primary target.
He worked with Manning more than any other receiver in the offseason, trying to develop better chemistry. Nicks is a prime breakout candidate, and it will be exciting to see how he performs as a number one receiver.
The Giants are also deep at the position, and New York fans are itching to see how the 6'6'' Ramses Barden will play perform, as his training camp has been promising so far.
Undrafted free agents Tim Brown and Victor Cruz both have a chance to unseat the disappointing but hard-working Sinorice Moss as the number six receiver this year. Both have looked promising during training camp.
Don't expect much from the tight-end position, as the Giants have resorted to using defenders and linemen as tight-ends due to a rash of injuries.
Rookie Defensive Linemen
Giants general manager Jerry Reese surprisingly drafted the "boom-or-bust" Jason Pierre-Paul fifteenth overall in the draft. "JPP" isn't the raw talent Reese usually goes for, but his ceiling is immense. His explosion of the ball is blindingly fast, but he may take a season or two to truly develop. We will see how plays on Monday night.
Second round pick Linval Joseph may develop into the force in the middle the Giants lacked in 2009. Too often DE's Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck would get a good edge rush, only to have the QB step up into the pocket because of a lack of pressure up the middle. Joseph has impressed in training camp so far, but he still has to fight for his spot behind the Giants veteran DT's.
Veteran Defensive Linemen
The dynamic all-pro duo of Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck wasn't so dynamic in 2009.
Tuck injured his right shoulder last year against the Cowboys, a very big problem for a left-side speed rusher. He posted single digit sacks for the first time since 2006, only getting to the QB six times. Hopefully his shoulder has recovered and he will return to dominance.
Osi Umenyiora missed the 2008 season with a torn ACL, and his injury continued to hinder him in 2009. Now his ACL is better, but he has been experiencing bad hip pain during training camp. Hopefully he can outperform his seven sacks in 2010, but I don't expect him to return to his all-pro form just yet.
The big signing for the Giants in the 2009 offseason was Chris Canty, the standout 3-4 end for the Cowboys. Canty only played in eight games in 2009 because of an injured calf, and he played the rest of the year still in pain. He claims he has recovered fully, and reports from training camp say he finally looks like the man Jerry Reese dumped 42 million dollars into.
Jay Alford missed 2009 with an ACL injury, it'll be interesting to see if he can bounce back. His most memorable play with the Giants was his sack of Tom Brady during the Patriot's last drive in Super Bowl 42.
Offensive Line Competition
The unit pictured here has been together for what seems like forever. They have possibly the best chemistry and cohesiveness of any line in the league, but age seems to be catching up to them.
Rich Seubert is the man trying to retain his starting guard spot over LT Will Beatty. Beatty wouldn't play guard, but if he starts he would push current LT David Diehl to take over Seubert's guard position, where Diehl tends to play exceptionally well. We will see soon how the line performs with Beatty and Diehl versus with Seubert and Diehl.
I also have rookie guard Mitch Petrus as a dark horse candidate to push for a starting spot sometime this year. He was a walk-on fullback in college, and has incredible strength, athleticism, and most importantly, dedication.
Their are two subplots here: one is the health of the backs, the other is who gets the majority of the carries.
Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw had their fair share of injuries last year. Bradshaw broke both of his ankles, while Jacobs struggled with a knee injury.
Also, last year's fourth-round steal Andre Brown missed the 2009 season with a ruptured Achilles tendon, which is tough to recover from. Reports from training camp say he looks completely unhindered by his injury, but I would take that with a grain of salt.
Ahmad Bradshaw seems to outperform Jacobs every time he gets a significant number of carries. Then he gets injured. Bradshaw may very well get the majority of carries this year, hopefully he can handle it. Watch to see who gets the most carries.
The biggest current question for the Giants is the linebacking unit.
The Giants lost veteran and leader Antonio Pierce last year to injuries and released him during the offseason. They have made two additions to this unit so far: Phillip Dillard and Keith Bulluck. Second year player Clint Sintim and veteran Michael Boley will start on the outside.
The MLB position will probably go to Bulluck, but he may not play much this game because the staff has him taking it slow. Jonathan Goff may get the first team reps come Monday. Look for Dillard and Gerris Wilkinson to also get time at MLB.
Battle for the Number Two Corner Spot
CB Terrell Thomas quietly had a great season last year. He was the lone bright spot on an injury riddled secondary.
Aaron Ross is finally healthy after a rash of hamstring issues, and now he finally looks like the corner the Giants drafted him to be.
This competition is wide open, they both compliment number one corner Corey Webster very well. Whoever plays better in the preseason will have the edge to start in week one.
Perry Fewell's Defensive Scheme
Preseason games are like a giant sandbox for the coaches and coordinators. They get to toy around with schemes and players and figure out what works.
New defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has a lot of Giants fans excited, and is a welcome change from the lethargic Bill Sheridan. Reading Sheridan's scheme was like reading a book, but Fewell brings more creativity to the table.
The Giants will probably play a "read and react" type of defense, but one that's tuned to the talents of the players. Fewell's defense in Buffalo was great against the pass and at forcing interceptions, and he has even more talent to work with in NY.
One particular package, dubbed "Ace," involves rotating Tuck and Umenyiora to DT and putting DE's Mathias Kiwianuka and Jason Pierre-Paul on the field for passing downs. The Giants probably have the most promising defensive end rotation in football, and having all four pass rushers on the field at once is something I can't wait to see.