Now, let’s face it. The NFL preseason is the O’Doul’s to the regular season’s Budweiser. The first-team offense and defense will be on the field for a single series, and many players who will actually make the starting squads may not play. But that shouldn’t hinder our NFL fan-boy delirium. These contests are glorified tryouts, but they quell the hunger.
Here are five players who need to make an impression Saturday. No, not all are in a position battle, but this game could either solidify their standing with the team or assert their position on the depth chart.
Steve Smith’s departure for Philadelphia makes Victor Cruz’s performance key.
Last year, Cruz scorched the Jets in their annual preseason contest with six catches, 145 yards and three TDs. That netted him a spot on the roster, but a torn hamstring landed him on injured reserve.
The Giants love his potential. He has to prove he can stay healthy, but more importantly, he may have to assume Smith’s position in the slot. Jerrel Jernigan may have received Smith’s No. 12, but this should be Cruz’s spot to lose.
If he proves he can be the dynamic playmaker he appeared to be, he’ll allay the fans’ concern with the WR position.
Note: Apologies for the name "Diaz" rather than "Cruz." It's been a long week. And despite reviewing much of the stories leading up to this game, I never put two and two together. Apologies.
Hynoski is an undrafted free agent out of Pittsburgh, but he also happens to be the only true fullback on the preseason roster. Once the lockout was lifted, 15 teams sought Hynoski’s services, but the Giants were the preferred destination of his family.
Hynoski comes from a football pedigree. His father was a sixth-round selection by the Cleveland Browns 36 years ago but had his career ended early due to injury.
Hynoski is in position to snatch the fullback job that was filled in for admirably by Bear Pascoe last season once Madison Hedgecock went down.
His performance affects not only the FB position, but the tight end battle as well. Travis Beckum is a pass-catching tight end, not a player Tom Coughlin can utilize in critical blocking schemes. Pascoe is much better suited to fill that role.
If Hynoski can show the coaching staff he’s got the right stuff for the job, the offense improves in several areas immediately.
The Giants drafted Marvin Austin in the second round of this year’s draft, though that’s only because he slipped. He’s a first-round talent, and he’ll figure into the discussion at defensive tackle to replace Barry Cofield.
Still, Joseph has an edge.
It’s his second year in the system, and Austin is nursing a hip flexor, which will likely make him unavailable for the Panthers game. Joseph is oft mentioned as the strongest man on the team, and there’s no doubt he has the size to play the position. It’s really up to him to take the lead on the depth chart with Austin a clear threat to start right away.
Aaron Ross is a veteran, but he’s got much to prove. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell originally tried to move Ross to safety, but according to Zach Berman of the Star-Ledger, Ross "[w]ouldn't entertain it."
Once Prince Amukamara went down, Ross again factored into the cornerback rotation, where he’s likely to be used in nickel packages. He should see some extended action against the Panthers.
Can he stay healthy? Will he buy into Fewell’s defense? Can he handle the rigors of playing the corner? These are only a few of the many questions for a player that should have been a mainstay in the defensive backfield for the Giants.
Baas (pronounced "Boss") inked a five-year, $27.5 million contract with $11.5 million guaranteed. Not bad for a player who wasn’t a full-time starter until 2009. Last year was his first season at center full-time, as well. And while he’s in no danger of losing his spot, this is one guy that deserves our attention.
The nuances of an Eli Manning-run offense, while not as complex as his older brother’s, are not a quick learn. Baas replaces hometown favorite Shaun O’Hara, who served as Eli’s center for much of his career. There will be a learning curve, and even if it’s just one series, it will be interesting to watch their interaction.