NFL Team Report - New York Giants - INSIDE SLANT
Despite finishing as the league's eighth best defensive unit last season, New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell's troops underwent a massive facelift this offseason.
They'll have at least five new starters at Kickoff 2014. However, rather than wring his hands in worry about the significant number of changes made to the unit, Fewell said he is looking forward to seeing how it comes together.
"There's some new energy, different blood," he said. "So far they have gelled very well together."
On the defensive line, Fewell will have two new starters to replace tackle Linval Joseph and end Justin Tuck, both of whom left via free agency.
Second-year man Johnathan Hankins will replace Joseph while newcomer Robert Ayers is projected to fill the vacancy created by Tuck's departure.
"(Defensive line coach Robert) Nunn has done a nice job in developing the squired guys such as Robert Ayres. We're glad to have (Jason Pierre-Paul) back -- he looks like he's in a good frame of mind. I've been extremely impressed with Johnathan Hankins. I think the inside portion of our defensive line is a strong positive for us. We will continue to develop the outside portion of it."
At the linebacker position, long regarded as the Achilles heel of the defense, the unit has slowly transformed itself into a respectable unit.
That transformation began with the arrival of middle linebacker Jon Beason from Carolina last fall.
Although Beason is in jeopardy of missing opening day thanks to a broken foot suffered during OTAs, newcomer Jameel McClain, who was initially penciled in at strong-side linebacker (replacing the departed Keith Rivers), has stepped into Beason's role in the middle without missing a beat.
On the weak side, young veterans Spencer Paysinger and Jacquian Williams will slug it out for the starting job. Up-and-comers such as rookies Dan Fox and Devon Kennard, the latter a fifth-round draft pick this year, have been contributing their energy to the unit. Both could round out the unit's depth if both have strong camps and stay healthy.
Overall, Fewell said he has been pleased with the communication between the linebackers so far.
"On the field they're doing a great job of communicating. They have ... it's almost like a group chat all the time because they are football people, talking football," Fewell said.
"All of them as a group are working really well together and accomplishing what we need to accomplish from a communication standpoint."
The defensive secondary grabbed the headlines in the offseason largely thanks to the free-agent acquisition of cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who will start opposite Prince Amukamara, and slot cornerback Walter Thurmond.
The secondary also will welcome back safety Stevie Brown, who missed last season with a torn ACL. Also joining in the parade of new faces in the secondary are safety Quintin Demps from Kansas City, who will be the third safety in Fewell's "Big Nickel" package, and cornerback Zack Bowman, a special teams ace.
"I like those new tools we've got," Fewell said with a smile.
Fewell's defense has understandably flown under the radar this spring, despite its significant makeover, due to the new offensive system being installed by Ben McAdoo that's clogged most of the offseason headlines.
"We love it. It's definitely up-tempo," Fewell said when asked about practicing against the new offense.
"It's multiple personnel groups that tries to get the ball to all of the different weapons that he has. It was always difficult to defend when we played against (Green Bay) and it's still going to be difficult to defend. We love it as a defensive staff."
Between the new pieces added to the mix and the chance to work against a faster-paced, multi-look offense, optimism is running high in the defensive meeting room about improving its year-end ranking.
"We came up with a lot of philosophies, some base philosophies," he said. "We'll let you see the schemes in the fall."
Team reports: July 21
First practice: July 22
Camp ends: Aug. 14
NFL Team Report - New York Giants - NOTES, QUOTES
--After holding their collective breath regarding right guard Chris Snee's surgically repaired hips, it turns out that the 11-year veteran offensive lineman's 2014 season is indeed in jeopardy.
That's because Snee missed the majority of the spring due to an issue arising from his surgically repaired elbow. These could ultimately force Snee to make a decision regarding whether he is able to return this year.
Although Snee expressed optimism about being ready for training camp when he spoke to the media at the start of the three-day mandatory minicamp, general manager Jerry Reese, in a radio interview with WFAN's Joe Benigo and Evan Roberts that took place after the minicamp concluded, painted a different picture.
Reese said "the jury's still out" regarding Snee, whom he said was "not doing great this spring."
He added, "We'll see in the next few weeks if he's going to be able to help us or not. I think he will make a decision one way or the other. We'll see where that goes."
If Snee is forced to call it a career, his replacement could be Brandon Mosley, who took all of the reps at right guard during Snee's absence.
Mosley, who is entering his third season, has twice landed on injured reserve. He missed his entire rookie year in 2012; last year, he suffered a broken hand in Week 16 against Detroit after playing just a few snaps.
With his injury woes hopefully behind him, Mosley looks noticeably bigger this year and has improved daily, according to Giants offensive line coach Pat Flaherty.
"Last year was really his first year and he was progressing very well and then when he had the opportunity to really take the bull by the horn again Detroit he went against a good football player and was really battling pretty good and then he broke his hand and it started all over for him again," Flaherty said.
"The one thing this spring showed for him -- and showed for us -- is that he got a lot of reps and didn't miss any time. That's a step in the right direction for him."
--Several onlookers from the media were somewhat surprised to see rookie center Weston Richburg taking snaps at guard this spring.
According to offensive line coach Pat Flaherty, there's a very good reason why Richburg, widely regarded as the Giants' future starting center, was getting some work in at a position that he might not play much of in his career.
"You know the main reason?" Flaherty asked reporters. "I don't like them standing around. How are they going to do good standing beside me? You've got to get in there and play, especially when you're young.
"You have a lot of energy, you're young just like everybody before me. You've got a lot of energy to do that so use your energy. It's only going to make you better. He's learning the position, not only at center, he's learning at guard and he's progressing."
--Although he won't necessarily be lining up against the opponent's top receiver on a weekly basis -- that role has already been designated to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie -- that doesn't mean that the Giants have soured any on cornerback Prince Amukamara.
In fact, Giants cornerbacks coach Peter Giunta said that Amukamara has shown significant growth in what was his third season last year.
"Last year, his durability was (the) No. 1 (reason for progress). He was able to play all 16 games for us, and the only time he missed was when he got dinged a little bit in the opening game against Dallas," Giunta said.
"He improved, he understands well, he communicates well, (and) his instincts, his awareness are really developing. You can really see it in camp -- he's on top of all of the stuff. Now he's starting to gamble a bit and take some chances, which you like to see because you're taking calculated guesses and risking, 'Hey, I'm going to go make a play.'"
--Team strength: Secondary.
The Giants revamped their secondary, placing a premium on top cornerbacks such as Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond during free agency. Head coach Tom Coughlin has already advised Rodgers-Cromartie that he'll be assigned to cover the opponents' No. 1 receiver. Thurmond, one of the top slot cornerbacks in the NFL, will take over that role from Terrell Thomas. The Giants also added cornerback Zack Bowman via free agency to complete a unit that also has Prince Amukamara and Trumaine McBride.
At safety, despite the circumstances that led to the team's release of Will Hill, their signing of free agent Quintin Demps to go along with the return of Stevie Brown and Antrel Rolle should allow defensive coordinator Perry Fewell to run his three-safety set.
--Breakout player: Wide receiver Odell Beckham.
Although he was limited during the spring because of a hamstring injury, receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. figures to become a frequent target of quarterback Eli Manning in the Giants' passing game.
The Giants have been lining up their receivers all over the place, so Beckham, who could also compete at punt returner, is expected to line up both on the inside and the outside for the offense.
--Fantasy football reality check: Running back Rashad Jennings.
Jennings is entering his sixth year in the NFL, and had career-highs in carries and yards last season for the Raiders (163 carries for 733 yards). With the Giants, he's in line to be the starter and the unit's workhorse, which means he could potentially put up some nice numbers each week.
"He's definitely a bell cow type of a running back - he can run it, he can catch it, he can block, he can do everything with it," general manager Jerry Reese told WFAN radio's Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts.
NFL Team Report - New York Giants - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Eli Manning. Backups - Ryan Nassib, Curtis Painter.
Manning, who is fully recovered from offseason ankle surgery, will look to rebound from last year's horrendous showing that included a career-high in interceptions (27) plus a third straight season in which he saw his accuracy decline. An improved offensive line will certainly help, but whether the new things that coordinator Ben McAdoo appears to be asking of the quarterbacks, such as more rollouts and shorter passes, play into Manning's strengths remains to be seen. Nassib is getting every opportunity to convince the coaching staff that it doesn't need a third quarterback on the roster. While he seems to have no trouble directing the offense, he hasn't looked good throwing the ball.
RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Rashad Jennings. Backups - Peyton Hillis, Michael Cox, Andre Williams, David Wilson, Kendall Gaskins, FB John Conner, FB Henry Hynoski.
Jennings will be the bell cow this year, regardless of what happens with Wilson, who is still seeking full medical clearance to return to full contact drills after having spinal fusion surgery on his neck in January. Wilson's next tests are said to be scheduled just before the start of training camp. Hillis is leaner and more muscular, but he's also been injury prone in the past, raising some concern as to his reliability. A hamstring strain suffered during the spring certainly did little to reassure anyone that, despite his devotion to remaking his body, he still isn't immune to the issues that cause players to miss practice time. Still if he's healthy, he could fill that John Kuhn type of role in the backfield. Cox has raw talent and speed, but he could end up a victim of the numbers game, especially if Williams and Wilson are on the final roster. Williams could emerge as the short-yardage and goal-line back in the running game. Gaskins is an interesting and versatile prospect who can play both running back and fullback. With a strong summer, he could very well land up on the practice squad. The fullback competition is dead-even. Coordinator Ben McAdoo's offense has had fewer two-back sets, which means it could come down to who is the better runner and receiver out of the backfield. Both Conner and Hynoski are about even in those areas; where Conner has an advantage over Hynoski is that he can move linebackers out of the hole. The big question though is whether Hynoski, who has missed 19 games over his three-year career due to injuries, can stay on the field and if his surgically repaired shoulder is fully healed.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Adrien Robinson. Backups - Kellen Davis, Larry Donnell, Daniel Fells, Xavier Grimble.
The Giants' tight end situation is a muddied mess right now, as no one from the five players listed on the depth chart has really distinguished himself as the No. 1 candidate. The team has hopes that Robinson, its fourth-round draft pick in 2012, can finally stay healthy and live up to his moniker, "the JPP of tight ends." Donnell, meanwhile, is hoping that having a full offseason to learn in the classroom and work on the field -- he missed last spring due to a broken foot -- will make a difference for him. Davis has a reputation as being a solid inline blocker and could be one of the tight ends the Giants keep. Grimble, a rookie who is a Davis clone physically, could land up on the practice squad if he has a solid summer. He will need to show he is caught up with what is in the playbook.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle. Backups - Odell Beckham Jr., Mario Manningham, Trindon Holliday, Jerrel Jernigan, Julian Talley, Preston Parker, Corey Washington, Marcus Harris.
Ben McAdoo's West Coast offense is going to put more on the shoulders of the receivers, who will have fewer sight adjustments to make and who will get to display their speed by racking up the yards after the catch. Cruz, who's 100 perfect recovered from his season-ending knee injury, will lead the way while the team hopes that Randle and rookie Beckham, the latter of whom was limited this spring due to hamstring issues, can help take some of the pressure off Cruz. Speaking of Randle, he could see time as a slot receiver. With Manningham's status uncertain -- he continues to struggle with his surgically repaired knee -- Holliday has a chance to step up and contribute on offense. Jernigan finished last year strong, but he is not a lock for a roster spot, as he has proven he's not able to contribute on special teams, a role the fourth and fifth receivers would have to show they can handle.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Will Beatty, LG Geoff Schwartz, C J.D. Walton, RG Chris Snee, RT Justin Pugh. Backups - G/T John Jerry, G/T James Brewer, C/G Weston Richburg, G/T Troy Kropog, OL Jamaal Johnson-Webb, T Rogers Gaines, G/T Brandon Mosley, T Charles Brown. G Eric Herman, T DeMarcus Love.
The Giants made their offensive line a priority in both free agency and the draft, but it remains to be seen if they did enough. Despite adding Schwartz and Walton to improve the interior, the unit is still facing some significant questions related to the health of two potential key starters. The first is Snee, who missed most of the spring thanks to the slow recovery of his surgically repaired elbow. Mosley, who is entering his third year and who has shown some promise when he has been able to stay on the field, has been working in Snee's place. Meanwhile Beatty, who's recovering from a broken leg, did not participate in the spring and could be looking at starting training camp on the PUP list. Behind him is Brown, who was last seen struggling for the Saints, and who appeared to have his share of hiccups in the spring for the Giants. Jerry missed the entire spring while recovering from knee surgery. He could start training camp on PUP. Richburg is the future at center, and while it doesn't look as though he'll be the opening-day starter, it's just a matter of time before he does take over that job. In the meantime, he'll work at center and at both guard spots. Brewer might have an uphill battle to make this team after failing to do enough last year to convince the coaches that he's worthy of a full-time starting job at guard or tackle.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LDE Robert Ayers, LDT Johnathan Hankins, RDT Cullen Jenkins, RDE Jason Pierre-Paul. Backups -- E Mathias Kiwanuka, E Damontre Moore, T Markus Kuhn, T Jay Bromley, T Everett Dawkins, E Jordan Stanton, E Kerry Wynn, T Mike Patterson, T Kelcy Quarles.
The team is counting on Pierre-Paul bouncing back to his 2011 form when he logged 16.5 sacks and was a handful for opponents to cover. Hankins, who flashed as a rookie, will move into the starting lineup at defensive tackle to replace Linval Joseph, who signed with the Vikings as a free agent. Ayers is projected to be the starter at the other defensive end position, replacing Justin Tuck, who left via free agency for the Raiders; however, the team is hoping that Moore, the second-year ball of energy, shows significant improvement playing against the run. For the time being, Moore might handle the passing downs and Ayers might be the run-stopping specialist. Kiwanuka has been seeing snaps as a stand-up pass rusher, a move that draws upon his experience as an outside linebacker. Kuhn figures to be a big part of that defensive interior rotation, as the coaches have liked what they have seen from him. Meanwhile, third-round pick Bromley seems raw and undersized; he could be headed for limited playing time this year while he works to increase his strength and technique.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - WLB Jacquian Williams, MLB Jameel McClain, SLB Spencer Paysinger. Backups -- Jon Beason, Terrell Manning, Devon Kennard, Mark Herzlich, Dan Fox, Kendrick Adams, Justin Anderson.
An injury to a key starter such as Beason, who broke his foot during the team's ninth OTA, is never a good thing. However, the Giants should be in good hands in the middle as McClain, who has had experience playing that position, will slide over from the strong-side linebacker spot where he had been working at until Beason returns. Speaking of Beason, who didn't need surgery, the hope is he'll be back for opening night, but a more realistic scenario is probably Week 3 or 4 assuming there are no setbacks in his rehab. Rookie Kennard, the fifth-round draft pick, has turned quite a few heads with his play in the spring, but it's probably too soon to anoint him as a starter for either the middle or outside linebacker spots where he's worked. Kennard isn't the only rookie who has caught the coaches' eye; Fox, the undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame, has turned a few heads with his athleticism. He could be the one who ends up pushing veteran Herzlich off the roster if Fox shows he can match Herzlich's production on special teams. Paysinger and Williams will probably split time again at the other outside linebacker spot once Beason returns and McClain moves back to the outside. Williams is the more athletic of the two, but Paysinger plays a smarter game.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, SS Antrel Rolle, FS Stevie Brown, RCB Prince Amukamara. Backups - CB Walter Thurmond, CB Trumaine McBride, CB Jayron Hosley, CB Charles James, CB Zack Bowman, CB Bennett Jackson, CB Ross Weaver, S Quintin Demps, S Cooper Taylor, S Nat Berhe, S Thomas Gordon, S CJ Barnett.
The Giants significantly upgraded their defensive secondary with the addition of Rodgers-Cromartie, whom head coach Tom Coughlin has already declared will draw the opponent's top receiver every week. Thurmond, who comes over from the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks, will take over in the slot. Last year, Thurmond allowed zero touchdowns as the slot receiver and came up with one interception in that role according to Pro Football Focus. Hosley, a third-round draft pick in 2012, has likely played himself off the team, as two injury-filled years plus a looming four-game suspension for violating the league's policy on substance abuse haven't endeared him to the organization. Bowman has flown under the radar, but his special teams prowess as a gunner along with his solid showing as a cornerback could be more than enough to get him a roster spot. Jackson, a sixth-round draft pick from this year, will probably end up on the practice squad due to the numbers. Brown will be looking to recapture his form from 2012, when he led the Giants with eight interceptions and the league with 307 interception yards. So far so good for Brown, who missed last season after suffering a torn ACL. Taylor, a second-year player and Berhe, a rookie draft pick, will likely battle for the final spot at safety if the Giants keep four on the roster. Taylor could have the advantage as the Giants could potentially be hoping to sneak Berhe onto the practice squad.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Josh Brown, P Steve Weatherford, LS Zak DeOssie, PR Trindon Holliday, KR Quintin Demps, K Brandon McManus.
Brown, who signed a two-year deal in the offseason, figures to be the kicker when the dust clears, though McManus will help take some of the workload off the 35-year-old's shoulder to help keep him fresh for the season. The Giants saw up close and personal how dangerous return specialists Holliday and Demps can be, as both had big returns against them last year. Holliday's big issue though, is ball security, as he has had nine of his career 10 fumbles as a punt returner in the last two seasons. So far, so good, as special teams coordinator Tom Quinn said he likes how Holliday has paid extra attention to protecting the ball.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--OL Jim Cordle (not tendered as RFA).
--DT Shaun Rogers (not tendered as UFA).
--RB Da'Rel Scott (not tendered as RFA).
--CB Terrell Thomas (not tendered as UFA).
--CB Corey Webster (not tendered as UFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
--WR Odell Beckham Jr. (1/12): 4 years, terms unknown.
--C Weston Richburg (2/43): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--DT Jay Bromley (3/74): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--RB Andre Williams (4/113): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--S Nat Berhe (5/152): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Devon Kennard (5/174): terms unknown.
--CB Bennett Jackson (6/187): terms unknown
--LB Jon Beason: UFA; $16.8/3 yrs, $4.4M SB/$6.03M guaranteed.
--K Josh Brown: Potential UFA; $2.6M/2 yrs, $225,000 RB 2014-2015.
--S Stevie Brown: UFA; $2.75M/1 yr, $1M RB.
--LB Mark Herzlich: Potential RFA; $1M/1 yr, $200,000 RB.
--RB Peyton Hillis: Potential UFA; $1.8M/2 yrs, $100,000 RB.
--FB Henry Hynoski: Not tendered as RFA; $1M/1 yr, $250,000 SB.
--CB Trumaine McBride: Potential UFA, $2.875M/2 yrs, $100,000 SB/$225,000 RB.
--QB Curtis Painter: UFA; $795,000/1 yr, $65,000 SB.
--DT Mike Patterson: UFA; terms unknown.
--LB Spencer Paysinger: RFA tendered at $1.431M with no compensation); $1.431M/1 yr.
--OL Dallas Reynolds: ERFA; $570,000/1 yr.
--DE Robert Ayers: UFA Broncos; $4M/2 yrs, $1M SB/$1.75M guaranteed.
--CB Zack Bowman: UFA Bears; $795,000/1 yr, $65,000 SB.
--T Charles Brown: UFA Saints; $795,000/1 yr, $55,000 SB/$10,000 RB.
--TE Kellen Davis: UFA Seahawks; $795,000/1 yr, $15,000 SB/$30,000 RB.
--S Quintin Demps: UFA Chiefs; $1M/1 yr, $100,000 SB/$100,000 RB.
--TE Daniel Fells: FA; $730,000/1 yr.
--KR/PR Trindon Holliday: Not tendered as ERFA by Broncos; $700,000/1 yr, $100,000 SB.
--RB Rashad Jennings: UFA Raiders; $10M/4 yrs, $2.25M/SB/$2.98M guaranteed.
--G John Jerry: UFA Dolphins; $770,000/1 yr, $25,000 guaranteed.
--WR Mario Manningham: UFA 49ers; $755,000/1 yr, $25,000 RB.
--LB Jameel McClain: FA Giants; $4.5M/2 yrs, $600,000 SB/$400,000 RB 2015.
--CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: UFA Broncos; $35M/5 yrs, $10M SB/$13.98M guaranteed.
--G Geoff Schwartz: UFA Chiefs; $16.8M/4 yrs, $3.2M SB/$6.2M guaranteed.
--CB Walter Thurmond: UFA Seahawks; $3M/1 yr, $1M SB/$2M guaranteed.
--C J.D. Walton: UFA Redskins; $5M/2 yrs, $1.25M SB/$3M guaranteed.
--C David Baas (released/failed physical/post-June 1 designation).
--OL Kevin Boothe: UFA Raiders; $2.625M/2 yrs, $300,000 RB.
--LB Allen Bradford (released).
--RB Andre Brown: UFA Texans; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--OL David Diehl (retired).
--S Will Hill (released).
--RB Brandon Jacobs (retired).
--DT Linval Joseph: UFA Vikings; $31.5M/5 yrs.
--S Ryan Mundy: UFA Bears; $3M/2 yrs, $650,000 SB.
--WR Louis Murphy: UFA Buccaneers; terms unknown.
--TE Brandon Myers: UFA Buccaneers; $4M/2 yrs, $2M guaranteed.
--WR Hakeem Nicks: UFA Colts; $3.975M/1 yr, $2M SB/$375,000 RB.
--TE Bear Pascoe: UFA Falcons; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--LB Keith Rivers: UFA Bills; $4.05M/2 yrs, $1M SB.
--CB Aaron Ross: Not tendered as UFA/Ravens; terms unknown.
--DE Justin Tuck: UFA Raiders; $11M/2 yrs.