Winners and Losers of New York Giants' Offseason so Far
While some people don’t put much stock into the various practice reports and highlight reels that come out of a team’s OTA period, New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin certainly does.
From Coughlin’s perspective, he is looking to see how well his players are grasping the concepts being taught in the classroom. He is looking for improvement in route running, taking angles to the ball and in overall technique.
And he’s looking for the “want to” attitude from each of his players, who, along with Coughlin and the coaching staff, will attempt to erase the bitter taste of three straight non-playoff seasons and two consecutive campaigns in which the Giants finished under .500.
So yes, it’s early, and yes, these OTA practices are voluntary and conducted in a sterile, non-contact environment.
However, Coughlin and his assistants have a much better grasp on what they have, what they still need and what they’re realistically going to be able to do this coming season, which is the first of several steps in getting things ready for the 2015 campaign.
With all of that said, here is a look at the winners—those who have taken advantage of the OTAs to impress—and losers, those who have not for whatever the reason, of the 2015 offseason.
Winner: WR Corey Washington
Yes, before Odell Beckham Jr. took the NFL by storm, Washington was one of the “it” players, an undrafted free agent who landed with the Giants after a stint in Arizona, and a player who looked as though he might become the next Victor Cruz.
Despite sharing the NFL lead for preseason touchdown catches with four, Washington saw almost all of his snaps against third- and fourth-string players, many of whom never caught on with NFL teams.
In fact, he was buried so far down the depth chart that some Giants fans wondered if there was a conspiracy.
It turned out that head coach Tom Coughlin was not happy with Washington’s efforts on special teams. As such, Coughlin went with Preston Parker, who offered more in that part of the game.
When the 2014 season completed, Washington had received just 57 snaps on offense.
Moving forward, Washington has kept his mouth shut and has been taking full advantage of the absences of both Cruz and Beckham from the team drills.
Washington has caught everything thrown his way, showing no fear in going over the middle during the non-contact drills.
“He has had a nice spring. He has worked hard. He has had a good attitude,” head coach Tom Coughlin told reporters.
“He has had a smile on his face. He has done most everything we have asked him to do. I think every time he has been called upon he seems to have responded.”
So what does Washington have to do to receive a bigger slice of the pie? The answer is consistency. For instance, when he is not the primary target, is he dogging it or is he going all out? When asked to block for a teammate, does he get after it? And how will he respond on special teams?
Washington is a long way off from having assured himself a promotion up the depth chart, but he sure has laid the foundation for a strong enough case so far this spring.
Loser: LT Will Beatty
There is nothing worse than suffering an injury—any injury—if you’re an athlete.
When that injury takes place during a weightlifting session, a time that is supposed to make you more durable and stronger, that has to be absolute rock bottom.
Welcome to the world of left tackle Will Beatty, who suffered a torn pectoral muscle while trying to get himself stronger for the upcoming season. Beatty’s injury will keep him on the shelf until at least the end of October, if not longer, not to mention it put the entire offensive line into a state of disarray.
For the time being, the Giants will be working Ereck Flowers, their first-round draft pick, at Beatty’s left tackle spot. The presumption, however, is that once Beatty is healthy and cleared to return, he will come back and be reinserted into that starting lineup.
That’s probably not going to happen so fast if Flowers is performing well, unless there is an injury that warrants such a change.
It would probably behoove the coaching staff to leave Flowers at left tackle rather than shift him to the right side out of the blue, especially in this, his rookie season where he’s trying to become acclimated to the speed of the game.
So where does that leave Beatty? Not only might he be looking at not getting back to the starting lineup, but if Flowers performs well, it probably wouldn’t be a shock if the Giants decide to cut Beatty, who is due to count for $9.175 million against the 2016 cap, next offseason.
They could then use the $4.175 million cap savings (or if they designate Beatty as a post-June 1 cap cut, they’d save $6.675 million) to pay for new contracts for cornerback Prince Amukamara, quarterback Eli Manning and/or defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.
Winner: S Landon Collins
So far, so very good for safety Landon Collins.
The Giants’ second-round draft pick looks as though he will be among the first players to have nailed down a spot in the starting lineup in the spring, joining offensive tackle Ereck Flowers for that distinction.
The progress made by Collins has been nothing short of amazing. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo told reporters about the significant jump in progress the rookie safety made from the first to the second ray of the rookie minicamp last month.
Since then, veteran teammates have even started to take note of how polished Collins has been on the field.
Linebacker Jon Beason, in an interview with Sirius XM NFL Radio, commented about how the rookie has “come in and looked every bit as good as he did every Saturday at Alabama,” (h/t Paul Schwartz of the New York Post).
If that’s not enough to make Collins one of the winners of the spring OTAs, he recently managed to get No. 21, which was a jersey number previously worn by the late Sean Taylor, Collins’ idol, from veteran cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie—all without having to pay a dime.
Yes, it has indeed been a very good spring for the rookie out of Alabama.
Loser: S Nat Berhe
At the start of the OTAs, second-year safety Nat Berhe was among those missing from the on-field action due to a calf strain.
Head coach Tom Coughlin indicated the decision to hold back Berhe was precautionary, but since then, the injury, initially thought to be minor, kept Berhe out of all 10 OTA practices and left Coughlin, whose team needs to identify its other starting safety, annoyed.
“This would have been the ideal time for him,” Coughlin told reporters. “Unfortunately, he has not been able to get to where he can really drive, so it has been very slow.”
From what Coughlin said, it sounds as though Berhe’s injury might be a little more than just a mild strain warranting precautionary steps.
That’s not good considering the other starting safety position is wide open for the taking and yet he can’t participate in the spring when the new defense is being installed.
“It doesn’t help Berhe any, and he was here as a rookie and got to play a little bit. 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,” Coughlin added.
Winner: TE Jerome Cunningham
When the Giants added Jerome Cunningham, a player who was on their practice squad last year, to the 90-man roster, very few people paid attention.
These days, that’s not the case, as Cunningham, who has earned snaps with the starting offense, has been making the most of his opportunities.
A polished pass receiver, Cunningham said on the Big Blue Chat podcast that having had an opportunity to spend an entire offseason getting into the playbook has helped.
“When I first came out here, I wasn’t comfortable,” he admitted. “Then as I studied more, I became more and more comfortable with the reps and with working with the starters.”
So far, so good. Cunningham has shown himself to have soft hands, as he catches everything in proper form and seemingly with ease. He also has a quick burst that has enabled him to separate from defenders in coverage, where he has been able to gain additional yards after the catch.
In terms of his blocking, Cunningham admitted he needs to continue to work on his blocking if he is to have a chance at the 53-man roster.
“It’s technique—hand placement and pad level; a combination of both,” he told me for Inside Football.
“You want to go fast, but sometimes when you go too fast, you pop up and your pad level rises and your feet get out of place. So it’s all about practicing and repetition to make sure that it becomes like a second nature. I’m just trying to get more comfortable at it right now.”
The OTA drills, remember, are non-contact and are not run at full speed, so while Cunningham seems to know who to pick out to block, doing it in slow motion versus in real-time speed are two very different challenges.
Certainly Cunningham has done nothing to hurt his case for more reps in the coming weeks, and it will be interesting to see where he stacks up against the rest of his competition.
Loser: TE Larry Donnell
Although tight end Larry Donnell’s roster spot is probably safe, his role might undergo a change if he continues to be sidelined with Achilles tendinitis and these younger tight ends behind him keep making plays that draw praise from the coaching staff.
Donnell, who was the starter last year, came out of nowhere to set the league on fire, catching four of his six touchdown receptions in the first month of the season (including a three-touchdown reception game in Week 4 against Washington).
When opposing defenses realized Donnell was very much a part of the offensive game plan, they adjusted to him, bumping him at the line of scrimmage, something he never adjusted to.
According to data from Pro Football Focus used as a basis, in his first four games, when opposing defenses were hands-off against him, Donnell caught 80.6 percent of the passes thrown his way for an average of 59 yards per game.
Once teams adjusted, Donnell’s numbers as a receiver dropped. He caught just 67.9 percent of the passes thrown his way, and his average receiving yards dropping to 35.1 per game.
Toss all of that into the equation with the fact that Donnell was the worst of the three Giants tight ends last year as a blocker, his inability to take advantage of every rep this spring and the promise shown by the younger tight ends, and you will have all of the ingredients necessary for what will be one of the highlighted battles of camp this summer.
Winner: DE Kerry Wynn
Earlier I mentioned how it’s important for players to show they are able to retain the information being taught to them in the classroom and apply it on the field.
One such player who has been able to do that is second-year defensive end Kerry Wynn. Wynn has received snaps with the starting defense thanks to the shortage of defensive ends—Jason Pierre-Paul skipped the voluntary OTAs, while Damontre Moore, Robert Ayers and Owa Odighizuwa all were limited due to injuries.
Besides looking noticeably bigger and stronger, Wynn looks as though he has added to his repertoire of pass-rushing moves.
In the three OTAs open to the media, he has consistently found a way to get himself into the offensive backfield, and as far as execution is concerned, Wynn successfully executed stunts with linebacker Devon Kennard on the left side.
Head coach Tom Coughlin has taken notice, too.
“Kerry Wynn works hard and makes plays,” Coughlin said. “He is very consistent.”
If Wynn keeps building on his consistency, he could turn quite a few more heads around the league.
Loser: DE Jason Pierre-Paul
In addition to using the spring practices to get a better look at rookies, new players and players returning from injuries, the spring is a time to experiment with new personnel groupings or, as is the case for the Giants defense, install new concepts.
That’s a big reason why, if head coach Tom Coughlin had his way, he’d make attendance at these practices mandatory for each and every player who is projected to be on the 53-man roster come opening day.
Unfortunately for Coughlin, he can’t make that a mandate. While most every player has been there for the program, one who has not is defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.
Pierre-Paul, the franchise player, has yet to sign his tender, so he’s not obligated to attend any workout, mandatory or voluntary.
Instead, he has been using the time to train on his own, even going so far as to share video clips of himself “grinding it out” on Instagram to prove he is committed to being ready.
That’s fine, but what Pierre-Paul is missing is learning the new concepts of this defense, the terminology that goes with it and building the chemistry with his returning and new teammates.
While some might say that it doesn’t matter because Pierre-Paul is a veteran, it's still going to take him some time to come up to speed.
That was the case when defensive end Michael Strahan missed training camp in 2007, ironically also the first year that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was trying to install a new system. While Strahan eventually caught up, it took him a while to get up to speed.
Pierre-Paul will be in the starting lineups on opening day. However, the Giants need him to hit the ground running from Day 1, and to somehow find a way to make up for all of the hours of practice time and classroom study he has missed while he delays the inevitable signing of his franchise tender.
Winner: Cooper Taylor
Although it’s still very, very early in the safety competition, credit Cooper Taylor, a third-year pro, for taking advantage of the opportunity before him.
Taylor, who spent all or part of his first two seasons on injured reserve, made changes to his diet, telling reporters that he switched to cleaner, healthier food choices.
He also said that he incorporated some fascial stretch therapy into his training in order to remain flexible and avoid those nagging hamstring issues that slowed him down as a rookie.
As a result, he hasn’t missed an OTA practice this spring, and he’s looked like he’s taking to the new defense quite well as far as showing instincts and getting himself into position to make the plays.
What still needs to be seen, however, is how well he works against the run. Taylor is listed at 6’4”, 228 pounds, but he’s a very slender-looking 228 pounds (plus, that is the weight he was listed at according to the 2014 roster).
Still, there’s no substitute for live reps, and credit Taylor for taking full advantage of the opportunity with Berhe temporarily on the shelf.
Patricia Traina covers the Giants for Inside Football, the Journal Inquirer and Sports Xchange. Unless otherwise noted, advanced analytics are from Pro Football Focus, and contract information is from Over the Cap. All other quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise sourced.