The New York Giants sought a fresh start last season and hired former Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo to replace Kevin Gilbride as the team's offensive coordinator. In his first season, McAdoo's offense ranked 10th in the NFL in terms of total yards (5,875) and 13th in terms of points per game (23.8).
Although the Giants experienced some success on the offensive side of the ball last season, McAdoo doesn't expect his platoon to pick up where it left off without a lot of hard work.
"To me, every year is a new year," McAdoo told reporters earlier this offseason, via the Giants' official website. "And you have to come in and you have to earn what's going to take place down the road. It's not like riding a bike. It takes work to get there. As soon as we can get together, get everyone together and on the same page and get that chemistry built, the better."
To get the most out of his offense in 2015, McAdoo must make these three things happen.
The Offensive Line Must Take Shape
|New York's Projected O-Line for 2015|
|Left Tackle||Ereck Flowers|
|Left Guard||Justin Pugh|
|Right Guard||Geoff Schwartz|
|Right Tackle||Marshall Newhouse|
The Giants offensive line will look much different than it did last year, but that does not mean it will be any better. The unit has already been dealt a major blow, as left tackle Will Beatty underwent surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle and is expected to be sidelined for at least the next few months.
Beatty's replacement is first-round rookie Ereck Flowers, a player McAdoo is comfortable calling the "future left tackle of the New York Giants." The team selected Flowers out of Miami with the ninth overall pick in this year's draft, so expectations were high for the 6'6", 329-pound rookie before Beatty was injured.
At least Flowers will be playing a familiar position. Justin Pugh has been moved to left guard, a position he hasn't called home since high school, after starting each of the past two seasons at right tackle. A first-round pick in 2013 (19th overall), Pugh has a great mix of athleticism, intelligence and nastiness, which should help expedite the transition process.
"He's a football smart guy," McAdoo said of Pugh. "He's a hard worker. He brings a nice level of physicality that we like, some grit to the position right there."
Weston Richburg is also playing a different position this year. Unlike Pugh's transition, however, Richburg's is to the position he played in college. Last season, the Giants needed their second-round pick to line up at left guard. Now, he's primed for a bigger impact at his natural position—center.
The right side of the line cannot be projected with a great deal of certainty. Geoff Schwartz, who only appeared in two games last season, is trying to make a comeback at guard; free-agency acquisition Marshall Newhouse is currently penciled in as the starting right tackle. The Giants can't count on either of these players with any degree of confidence.
Perhaps Brandon Mosley can bounce back from multiple injuries to become the Giants' savior on the right side. Or maybe they'll be forced to rely upon John Jerry again. Whatever the case may be, it's on McAdoo to figure out the most effective configuration and maintain the stability of the offensive line throughout the season.
Stars Must Rise to the Occasion
Once the line begins to jell, McAdoo may then work on maximizing his offensive star power. This, of course, starts with quarterback Eli Manning.
Manning is entering his 12th NFL season. At 34 years old, the two-time Super Bowl MVP is still learning new concepts, as he continues his adaptation to a faster-paced offense designed to get the ball out of his hands quicker. Before McAdoo was hired, Manning ran a scheme under Gilbride that required him to hang back in the pocket and throw downfield more often.
"Eli's put a lot of time and effort into his footwork, his training there, and to his upper body in his strengthening and maintenance and those types of things," McAdoo said. "I like the look in his eye right now. His offseason has been encouraging."
Manning set a new career high for completion percentage last season (63.1). He also eclipsed 4,000 yards for the first time since 2011, threw 30 touchdowns for the first time since 2010 and threw fewer than 15 interceptions for the first time since 2009. To continue his upward trend during his second season in McAdoo's system, his biggest offensive weapons must be unleashed.
That means the Giants need another big season out of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
It'll be tough for Beckham to replicate the rookie season he had in 2014. He's sure to garner far more attention from opposing defensive coordinators as they game-plan for the Giants this year. But Beckham is a breed of athlete that can only be described by viral videos, so McAdoo can be creative when it comes to getting him the ball.
While Beckham has been bothered by some hamstring soreness this offseason, fellow wide receiver Victor Cruz is recovering from a far more serious injury—a torn patellar tendon. When healthy, Cruz can be a game-breaker for a functioning offense with his play in the slot. If Cruz makes a full recovery, the Giants offense will benefit tremendously.
Rueben Randle must also step up to complete the wide receiver trifecta. After a couple of seasons marred by inconsistency, the former second-round pick began to emerge as a reliable secondary target late last year. If all else goes right and Randle continues his progression, the NFL's best receiving threesome could hail from New York in 2015.
At running back, the Giants need consistency more than anything else. Rashad Jennings must stay healthier than he did last year so he can lead the offense as the best all-around back. McAdoo must also continue to bring second-year pro Andre Williams along, since he's the team's most valuable short-yardage asset and could be the team's featured back of the future.
X-Factors Must Emerge
If the Giants nail everything previously mentioned, they'll field a playoff-caliber offense. In order to take the last step and solidify the team as a Super Bowl contender, McAdoo must also pave the way for an X-factor to make a difference.
Who might be the Giants' offensive X-factor in 2015?
Tight end Larry Donnell is a leading candidate. The former undrafted rookie was productive in his first season as a starter, catching 63 passes for 623 yards and six touchdowns last year.
Maybe 6'4", 214-pound wide receiver Corey Washington can make the leap after the spectacle that was his 2014 preseason. He, after all, impressed in OTAs with both Beckham and Cruz sidelined this spring.
Dwayne Harris, another receiver, could be in the mix, too. Most expect him to provide some electricity as a return specialist, but his speed and prowess in the open field—combined with the eyebrow-raising terms of his free-agent deal—could lead to him having an impact on offense.
However, above Donnell, Washington and Harris, running back Shane Vereen is most likely to become the Giants' offensive X-factor in 2015. Signed away from the New England Patriots in free agency this offseason, Vereen is the ideal third-down back for McAdoo's offense.
Game film from last season helps illustrate Vereen's versatility and value as a pass-catcher.
Take this play for example: a 2nd-and-10 against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 11. The second half had just begun, and the Patriots needed an early spark to keep the Colts, who were trailing 14-10, from surging back. Vereen provided it by slipping out of the backfield for a big gain.
The left wideout (No. 11) starts in motion and draws the attention of three defenders with a shallow crossing route. Vereen goes the opposite direction, while the slot receiver clears out the flat by streaking downfield.
By the time Vereen catches the ball, there's no one within 10 yards of him. He's able to turn the play upfield, resulting in a 39-yard gain that put the Patriots in Colts territory. If not for a misstep near the sideline while breaking a tackle, the gain could have been even longer.
The defense isn't as lucky and fails to keep Vereen out of the end zone on this next play.
It's a 2nd-and-7 against the New York Jets in Week 7. This time, Vereen is lined up as a wideout. He's going to run a deep route along the right sideline, and the Jets secondary is going to suffer a breakdown in coverage.
Wide-open way downfield, Vereen displays the athleticism needed to leave his feet and make the catch. Few running backs across the league can complete this type of play consistently, and that might be why the Jets leave him uncovered.
Vereen shows great concentration, completing the catch as he goes to the ground and maintaining possession throughout his slide into the end zone. No Dez Bryant issue in play here; that's a 49-yard touchdown catch.
"He can be a quarterback's best friend, in a way, in the passing game, similar to the way tight ends can be," McAdoo said about Vereen. "He has great body language coming out of the backfield, usually does not fool the quarterback. They seem to be on the same page, and it happened pretty early."
Finding an X-factor will be the last step for McAdoo to get the most out of his offense. If Vereen's progress to date is any indication of what's to come, the Giants may be well on their way to fielding a fairly strong offensive unit in 2015.
*All quotes courtesy of Giants.com unless noted otherwise.
Kevin Boilard writes about the New York Giants at Bleacher Report.