2011 New York Giants Training Camp: 7 Position Battles to Watch
With the Giants' preseason opener on the horizon—Saturday against the Panthers—and less than a month until New York kicks off its regular season, position battles are heating up at the Giants' training camp.
Although the battle for the Giants No. 3 wide receiver job has garnered the most attention, there are a number of other position battles that are just as intriguing.
Here are the top position battles to watch at the Giants' training camp.
Backup Quarterback: David Carr vs. Sage Rosenfels
Talent-wise, it's a no-brainer.
Sage Rosenfels is a much better NFL quarterback than the former No. 1 overall pick David Carr.
But this isn't just about talent.
For the Giants, who are hovering around the $120 million salary cap, this is also about money, and right now Rosenfels is set to make $3 million next season while Carr's one-year deal is worth just $1 million.
So the question is: Is Rosenfels really worth the extra $2 million?
Sure, he's a great backup and was a big contributor on special teams last season—Lawrence Tynes went 16 for 17 with Rosenfels as the place kick holder—but paying $3 million to backup quarterback is ridiculous.
Think about this: Braylon Edwards ($1 million), Todd Heap ($2.25 million) and Malcom Floyd ($2.5 million) are all scheduled to make less than Rosenfels next season.
Although Carr may not be as talented as Rosenfels, he is familiar with the Giants' system—from having played in New York from 2008 to 2009—and is more than capable of serving as the backup quarterback.
David Carr (3/1)
Sage Rosenfels (7/1)
No. 3 Running Back: DJ Ware vs. Andre Brown vs. Da'rel Scott
Danny Ware: In a 2008 preseason game against the Cleveland Browns, the then 24-year-old running back Danny "DJ" Ware gashed the Browns' defense for 97 rushing yards on 10 carries, and seemingly cemented himself as the Giants future No. 2 running back.
However, since then Ware has had little opportunity to prove his worth—he has carried the ball just 35 times in the last three seasons combined—and now with Da'rel Scott and Andre Brown in the mix, the four-year veteran has to fight just to make the Giants' 53-man roster.
Da'rel Scott: Scott, a seventh-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, is known for his elite speed—he posted a 4.34 forty time at this year's NFL combine, the fastest time by a running back—but has shown in training camp that he is capable of breaking tackles as well, which is something he struggled to do at Maryland.
Although he occasionally struggles in pass-protection—something he must improve—Scott has great hands and can be a dynamic third-down back for the Giants.
Andre Brown: The third running back, Andre Brown, is another explosive runner who the Giants drafted in the fourth round of the 2009 NFL Draft.
Brown impressed during the first two weeks of the 2009 training camp. However, he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon on August 14, 2009, and the Giants released him a year later.
Now, fully recovered from his Achilles injury, Brown is hoping to make a lasting impression in his second stint with the Giants.
So far he's doing a good job.
Here's what Tom Coughlin said earlier today about Brown, according to John Fennelly of Giants Football blog: “He’s faster. To me, he looks faster. I think all his issues with his legs are past and he does look, to me, he looks more explosive."
No. 3 WR: Jerrel Jernigan vs. Domenik Hixon vs. Victor Cruz vs. Devin Thomas
**NOTE: Ramses Barden isn't listed because he is on the Physically-Unable-to-Perform (PUP) list and has yet to participate in training camp.
In parentheses are the odds—in my opinion—each player has to win the No. 3 job.
Domenik Hixon: Hixon has a definite advantage over the three other receivers because of his familiarity with the Giants' system and his rapport with Eli Manning.
Since joining the Giants in 2007, Hixon has proved that he is a talented receiver with decent speed and reliable hands (Giants fans are shaking their heads as they recall Hixon's drop against the Eagles in 2008). And when Plaxico Burress was suspended/injured in 2008, it was Hixon who stepped up. In the seven games Burress missed, Hixon caught 32 passes for 453 yards and three touchdowns.
Don't get me wrong. Hixon doesn't have the talent to be a No. 1 receiver, but he is more than capable of being the Giants' No. 3 receiver.
Victor Cruz: I'm shocked that the Giants still haven't added a #3 Victor Cruz jersey to their team shop.
Yeah, Cruz hasn't made the 53-man roster yet, but there is no doubt in my mind that his jersey would be a top seller.
After his performance against the Jets in the Giants 2009 preseason opener in which he caught six passes for 145 yards and three touchdowns, including a stunning one-handed catch along the sideline that led to a 64-yard touchdown, Cruz emerged as a fan favorite, leaving the fans intrigued by his potential.
Unfortunately, Cruz didn't get a chance to showcase his talent in 2010 because of a season-ending hamstring injury that placed him on the IR. However, now that he has fully recovered from the injury, Cruz has an opportunity to build on last year's preseason success and take over as the Giants No. 3 receiver.
Although Hixon has been practicing as the No. 3 receiver, whenever he sits out—which is every other day—Cruz has taken over as the No. 3 wideout, according to ESPN New York's Ohm Youngmisuk.
And so far he hasn't disappointed.
Aside from a few drops in the first couple of practices, Cruz has displayed solid hands as well as excellent speed, footwork and route running.
Devin Thomas: Had Devin Thomas never suffered a dislocated pinky finger last Friday, I think he would be the favorite to win the No. 3 receiver job.
However, because of his dislocated finger—an injury that head coach Tom Coughlin believes will keep Thomas out for 'a while'—Thomas may miss an extended amount of training camp, which will make it difficult for the three-year veteran to win the job.
UPDATE: Devin Thomas returned to practice on Wednesday, according to ESPN New York's Ohm Youngmisuk.
This is great news for Thomas, who had been held out of practice since Friday. If he can stay healthy, Thomas has the talent to win the No. 3 job.
Jerrel Jernigan: Jernigan has the potential to be a dynamic slot receiver. However, having played college football at a mid-major (Troy), he has never faced the type of elite coverage he will see on a weekly basis in the NFL, and as a result, it may take time for Jernigan to adjust.
Of course, the shortened offseason didn't do him any good.
With that said, Jernigan is an explosive athlete who—in just a few practices—has shown an ability to create separation from his defenders.
Starting Tight End: Travis Beckum vs. Bear Pascoe
This is an interesting position because the Giants don't have a "complete" tight end—someone who is an exceptional blocker and receiver—on their roster.
Travis Beckum is a great receiving tight end, but at 6'3", 239 pounds, he doesn't have the size or strength to block a defensive lineman or linebacker.
On the other hand, Bear Pascoe is a blocking specialist who has limited speed and quickness, which makes it almost impossible for him to separate from his defenders.
Combined, they'd form one heck of a tight end.
And that's why I think the Giants will use a lot of two-tight end sets this season.
As for the No. 1 tight end, I think it's Beckum's job to lose.
The three-year man has been taking reps as the No. 1 tight end in training camp, and although I think we will see Beckum move around—from tight end to H-Back to the slot—it looks as if he will be the Giants starting tight end next season.
Here's what Tom Coughlin told ESPN's Kieran Darcy about the possibility of Beckum as a full-time tight end:
"Well that's a possibility. You'd have to change some things in the run game to be able to do that. He had a couple of nice blocks down in the green zone last night that were pretty physical."
"We've blocked him inside from the fullback position this [camp], we've put him on the edge and done that with him, and we've lined him up at the point. He has a special skill set, if you will, and we'd certainly like to take advantage of that skill set."
No. 2 Defensive Tackle: Linval Joseph vs. Marvin Austin
Marvin Austin: Austin was the 27th defensive player to be selected in the 2011 NFL Draft, but don't let that fool you; Austin is an elite talent.
Had he elected to forego his senior season at North Carolina, Austin likely would have been a top-15 pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
Instead, Austin returned to Chapel Hill and was projected by many—before the season—to be a top-10 pick in the upcoming draft.
But his senior season didn't go as planned.
Just a few weeks before the regular season started, head coach Butch Davis suspended Austin indefinitely due to alleged NCAA violations involving extra benefits from agents.
Then, on October 11, North Carolina dismissed Austin from its football program for "violations of NCAA agent benefits, preferential treatment and ethical conduct" according to a statement released by the school.
Shortly after his dismissal, Austin's draft stock plummeted as NFL teams began to question his character and work ethic.
But when the Giants took a chance on him with the No. 52 pick in the draft, they knew what kind of player they were acquiring: a playmaking defensive tackle with elite speed and strength for the position.
Here's what Giants general manager, Jerry Reese had to say about Austin:
"All you can do is look at his season before. You go back and look at his tape as a junior and you see a really good football player. We had him really highly rated. This guy is going to be a tremendous player for us. This is a very good football player. He felt he let his team down. He’ll come in with a chip on his shoulder.”
So far, Austin has shown flashes of his potential and—in doing so—has drawn the praise of defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, who told reporters that Austin looks "powerful, strong and quick."
Linval Joseph: Despite having played just six games in his career, Joseph is expected to start alongside Chris Canty at defensive tackle this season.
The 22-year-old Joseph, who recorded just six solo tackles last season, has been taking reps with the first-team defense, and so far he looks good, according to Fewell:
"He shows power, he shows speed. He shows quickness. We have to work on him with some little things and I won’t use the coaching point or phrases that we will work with him on but there are some little things that we would like him to improve on from a blocking scheme standpoint. I do like his mental makeup right now."
Unlike Austin who is 6'2", 309 pounds, Joseph is among the bigger defensive tackles in the league. At 6'4", 328 pounds, Joseph has the strength to push the pocket—Justin Tuck says he's the strongest player on the team—and the size to clog up running lanes.
Strong Side Linebacker: Mathias Kiwanuka vs. Clint Sintim
Two-year man Clint Sintim is listed as the starting strong side linebacker on the Giants' "unofficial depth chart", but according to linebackers coach Jim Hermann, Mathias Kiwanuka will be the Giants strong side linebacker on first and second down—Kiwanuka might play DE or DT on third down to add another pass rusher to the defensive line (like Justin Tuck did in 2007).
Mathias Kiwanuka: Personally, I'd rather see Kiwanuka play defensive end—he's really improving at that position—but with the lack of depth and talent at strong side linebacker, moving Kiwanuka back to linebacker makes the most sense.
The 28-year-old possesses tremendous sideline-to-sideline speed and has the athleticism and agility to avoid blockers in his pursuit of the ball carrier.
However, as a career defensive end, Kiwanuka's coverage skills are not up to par. And if there is one weakness on the Giants defense, it's the linebackers'—aside from Michael Boley—inability to cover opposing tight ends or running backs.
That said, Kiwanuka has a full training camp to work on his technique and to develop an understanding of the position.
Clint Sintim: Clearly Kiwanuka's move to outside linebacker doesn't bode well for Sintim, whom has yet to prove he can be a capable every down linebacker.
In his two-year career, Sintim has just 21 unassisted tackles (Ahmad Bradshaw has 29 career solo tackles) and one sack.
Additionally, before suffering a season-ending ACL injury on December 13, 2010, against the Minnesota Vikings, Sintim recorded just 13 tackles in 13 games, and was benched for 33-year-old Keith Bulluck.
I think it's about time for Jerry Reese to give up on this former second-round draft pick.
Punter: Matt Dodge vs. Steve Weatherford
Steve Weatherford isn't the greatest punter in the NFL.
He may not even be among the top 10 best punters in the league.
But as long as he can consistently catch the ball, I'll take him over Matt Dodge.
Yeah, Dodge had some great punts—this one against the Redskins was his best—but he also shanked numerous punts, and crushed low line drives that resulted in big returns (See: DeSean Jackson, Dez Bryant and Brandon Banks).
Aside from Nick Harris and Britton Colquitt, Dodge allowed the most punt return yards (535) of any punter in 2010, and surrendered a NFL worst two touchdowns off punt returns.
Pro Football Focus gave Dodge a grade of -3.8 for his performance in 2010—placing him 30th out of the 31 punters who played in at least 12 games.
Meanwhile, Weatherford finished with +13.4 rating, according to Pro Football Focus—fifth among the punters who qualified.
Here are two telling stats from the 2010 season (Pro Football Focus):
Kicks inside the 20: Dodge 23, Weatherford 42 (most in the NFL)
Kicks Fair Caught: Dodge 7, Weatherford 27
I think it's about time Reese ends the Matt Dodge experiment.