The 5 Biggest Issues Facing New York Giants with OTAs Wrapped
As the New York Giants put their slate of 10 OTA practices into the books—the final OTA is set for Friday, with the following week consisting of the mandatory three-day minicamp—head coach Tom Coughlin now has a better idea of what they have at some spots and how that will affect what they hope to do on the field.
While the non-contact and no-pad nature of OTAs makes it difficult to draw conclusions on players, the coaching staff at least has an understanding of whose technique needs a little more work and which personnel groupings and plays are working well versus those not working well.
Then there are the question marks—those still-unresolved issues that remain in limbo because of the lack of contact in the drills, the absence of a player or some other circumstance that doesn’t provide the coaching staff with the entire picture.
Here now is a list of five of the biggest question marks that probably won’t be answered in next week’s mandatory minicamp—and which might not be answered until well into summer training camp.
Have They Found the Right Offensive Line Combination?
The plan was so perfect that in retrospect, it was flawed.
Draft Ereck Flowers (6'6", 329 lbs), a big offensive tackle who, while still raw in his technique, could more than likely survive at right tackle for a year or two while working on his technique, learning the pro game and upgrading an offensive line that, per Football Outsiders, was ranked 22nd in the NFL in run blocking last year.
Ah, but the injury bug struck again, this time hitting left tackle Will Beatty during a routine weight-room session. Beatty’s pectoral muscle tear necessitated surgery and will have him on the shelf until at least early November.
Meanwhile the Giants have now been forced to play Flowers, a rookie, at that all-important left tackle spot while plugging in veteran journeyman Marshall Newhouse—who, per Pro Football Focus, finished with a minus-3.8 run-blocking grade last season—at right tackle.
Besides wreaking havoc on the starting offensive line, the Giants are now one more injury away at offensive tackle from really being thrust into uncharted waters.
While the Giants could potentially play Geoff Schwartz, Justin Pugh or John Jerry at tackle if another injury hits, this unit just can’t take any more misfortune.
Right now, the coaching staff hasn’t been fully able to evaluate the current offensive line configuration since OTAs are of the non-contact variety.
However, head coach Tom Coughlin already said that, much like they did last summer when injuries started forcing their hand with the offensive line, the Giants will try some different offensive line combinations when they get to training camp.
"It is obvious you throw an awful lot at them," Coughlin said. "The young guys are doing OK; progress is being made and this is what [OTAs] are all about: Throwing them in there, letting them go and see how they do."
That's why for the time being, the team will probably stick with the current configuration of Flowers at left tackle, Justin Pugh at left guard, Weston Richburg at center, Geoff Schwartz at right guard and Newhouse at right tackle.
It will, however, be interesting to see if New York eventually pursues guard Evan Mathis to play left guard, which would of course kick Pugh back out to right tackle. Mathis is available after the Philadelphia Eagles released him on Thursday, per NFL insider Ian Rapoport.
Who Will Be the Other Defensive End?
While the offensive line seems to get all the attention, the defensive line is probably further away from being settled.
So far we know that, barring any more injuries, Jason Pierre-Paul will be one of the defensive ends and Johnathan Hankins and Kenrick Ellis the likely defensive tackles.
Who, though, will be the other starting defensive end on a unit that is at the core of Steve Spagnuolo’s new system?
The Giants, remember, are looking to improve their run defense.
Having a healthy Jon Beason back at middle linebacker should help in that regard, but what will help more is having a defensive end who can set the edge and flow runners back toward the inside where they become a little easier to contain.
There are two potential candidates who might emerge as the starter, both of whom have shown themselves to be good run defenders.
The first is George Selvie, acquired via free agency from the Dallas Cowboys earlier this year. Per Pro Football Focus, Selvie finished with a 7.8 run-defense grade last season in 274 run-defense snaps.
The more intriguing candidate, as was discussed in this analysis, is Kerry Wynn, who has looked solid and been consistent during OTAs.
Whomever the Giants do end up going with, they need to hope that he is as effective against the pass as he is against the run.
Will Odell Beckham Jr.'s Hamstring Be an Issue?
If you cringed when you read “Odell Beckham Jr.” and “hamstring” in the same sentence, you are not alone.
The Giants' No. 1 receiver, who had an entire offseason to rest a balky hamstring that limited him to “only” 91 receptions for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in 12 games last year, is once again dealing with a hamstring strain, this time in his other leg.
The Giants wasted no time shutting him down for OTAs. It also looks like Beckham won’t be doing much in next week’s mandatory minicamp.
While the decision to hold Beckham out of practice is smart, the drawback is that he has been unable to work with quarterback Eli Manning on some of the timing routes this spring.
Perhaps that won’t matter, especially after the coaches saw what Beckham was able to do after missing most of last spring and last summer.
Hamstring strains are tricky and can take a long time to fully heal.
Even when a player reports he has felt better from a hamstring strain, there is always a chance of re-injuring it, which is why Beckham is unlikely to see the field the rest of the spring.
There is still a lot of time before opening day, obviously, so there’s no need to panic just yet.
Still, let’s hope that the Giants medical team comes up with a solution to help keep Beckham’s hamstrings loose and feeling good when he does come back for training camp.
Is Cooper Taylor Ahead in the Safety Competition?
The Giants have two safety jobs up for grabs this year.
Barring a complete upset in events, the first job will go to second-round draft pick Landon Collins, who has been among the most consistent performers on defense during OTAs.
The identity of the second safety is less clear because of—what else?—an injury.
Second-year man Nat Berhe was supposed to share reps with third-year man Cooper Taylor for that other safety position. However, Berhe has missed OTAs and does not look as though he will participate in next week’s mandatory minicamp either.
In the meantime, Taylor, who has spent all or part of his first two seasons in the NFL on injured reserve, has been trying to jump out ahead in the competition. He has taken snaps with the starting defense, and he looks noticeably faster and appears to be grasping the new defensive scheme well enough.
The problem with Taylor, who is 6’4” and 228 pounds, is that he has a rather slender-looking frame, which might be an issue for him in run support when he has to wrestle running backs to the ground.
Then there is head coach Tom Coughlin’s take, which as of Monday was frustration over not having Berhe on the field.
“This would have been the ideal time for him,” Coughlin said of Berhe. “Unfortunately, he has not been able to get to where he can really drive, so it has been very slow.”
That doesn’t mean, though, that Coughlin has given up on Berhe, who should be good to go by the start of training camp and was impressive in what few snaps he received last year as a rookie.
“He was here as a rookie and got to play a little bit,” Coughlin said. “He also did a nice job on special teams. He has a lot of things of that nature, but this would have been ideal for him.
"We are looking for Nat to get back in there and help balance it out."
From the sound of things, Berhe will get his chance if he is able to get on the field by camp, which means that Taylor has not sewed up that second safety position like Collins apparently has.
Will Defensive End Jason Pierre-Paul Be Ready to Go?
Eventually, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is going to report to the Giants’ facility, sign his franchise tender and get on the field.
Coughlin is hoping that this occurs in time for next week’s minicamp, telling reporters after the first OTA practice that he'd had communication with Pierre-Paul and that he expects the defensive end to attend next week’s mandatory minicamp.
“The question that was asked of me was do I expect him to be here, and I said, ‘Yes,’” Coughlin said. “It is not hopeful; I expect him to be here. Could it be that he won’t be here? That could happen, sure.”
When Pierre-Paul does show up, it will be interesting to see how far behind the rest of his teammates he will be regarding the concepts and language that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has been teaching now for over a month.
The Giants are going to need a healthy and up-to-speed Pierre-Paul to pick up where he left off last season, when he finished the final five games of 2014 by posting nine of his 12.5 sacks.
Patricia Traina covers the Giants for Inside Football, the Journal Inquirer and Sports Xchange. Unless otherwise noted, advanced analytics are from Pro Football Focus.
All other quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise sourced. Keep up with the New York Giants! Follow me on Twitter.