New York Giants: Eli Manning

Giants preview: Make-or-break stretch

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
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The New York Giants play all three of their division road games in a four-week stretch on the schedule from Sept. 25 to Oct. 19. They're at Washington, home vs. Atlanta, at Philadelphia and at Dallas, which leads right into their Week 8 bye. Because what ensues is a Colts/Seahawks/49ers meat grinder, it's crucial for the Giants to play well on the road against their division opponents before the bye if they want to avoid getting buried in the standings for the second season in a row.

Complete Giants season preview.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin said quarterback Eli Manning and the rest of the starters would play about 15-18 snaps in Thursday's preseason finale against the New England Patriots. It will be the fifth preseason game for Manning and most of the starters, who have spent this offseason trying to learn a new offense with so-far disappointing results.

Manning
"Sounds right," Manning said after Monday's practice. "I hadn't heard a number yet, so just preparing for them and for however much he wants to keep us in. But we expect to go out there and try to move the ball and see if we can do something. See if we can get into a good rhythm early in the game instead of having to wait until later."

The Giants' offense has struggled all preseason, and Manning hadn't thrown a touchdown pass until his final play of Friday night's preseason game against the New York Jets. That 15-yarder to Rueben Randle capped a successful two-minute-drill drive at the end of the first half of that game and left the Giants encouraged about their progress on offense.

"I think everybody knows what to do. It's just the pace it needs to be done, and everything done precisely," Manning said. "So every day we're trying to get better at that. We're making small steps. We're probably not all the way where we need to be, and I think there'll always be things we're going to improve on. It's not something you're going to master in four weeks. As the season goes on, we'll know what we do well, we'll progress, we'll put different things in."

The idea that the Giants will arrive at the regular season in two weeks without a full command of their new offense isn't shocking. It's even understandable. What's more alarming is the current state of the offensive personnel. Injuries on the already-questionable offensive line this week have resulted in new starters at both guard positions, and it's difficult for Manning to know for sure which five guys will be lining up in front of him two weeks from now in Detroit.

"Those might be the guys who are playing for us, so the more reps they can get together, the better it'll be," Manning said of the newly configured line, which has rookie Weston Richburg at left guard and John Jerry at right guard at the moment. "Making calls, guys communicating. We don't know who's going to be there that first game, so we've got to be ready and get a lot of guys ready to play. So it'll be good to work with this group. The more options we can have at offensive line to step into different roles, the better off we'll be."
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Down seven spots from No. 34 to No. 41 in our annual ranking of the top 100 offensive NFL players, New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz nonetheless enters 2014 as one of the few sure things on a New York Giants' offense with tons of question marks. My question is whether Cruz can be productive enough in the Giants' new West Coast offense to move back into the top 40 next summer.

Cruz
The first-blush answer to that is yes. Cruz looks to be playing the Randall Cobb role if you compare this offense to that of the Green Bay Packers, which is new coordinator Ben McAdoo's former team. In Green Bay, Cobb lines up in the slot (or sometimes in the backfield) and catches a ton of passes, mainly at short range, and is asked to make plays with the ball in his hands. Cruz profiles as a player who fits that role nicely, and in theory it should mean great things for him.

The rest of the Giants' offense, though, makes you wonder if things can possibly go according to plan. If Cruz is in the slot, are the wide receivers on the outside good enough to make it all work? Can they find a representative tight end who can function as a complementary target to Cruz over the middle and in short range? Do they have enough depth at running back? Can the offensive line keep quarterback Eli Manning upright long enough for the offense to get into a rhythm?

You got a glimpse, during that two-minute drill at the end of the first half of Friday night's preseason game against the Jets, of the manner in which the Giants will use Cruz if things are going well. And if your fantasy draft was Thursday night and you ended up with Cruz, that drive likely made you feel pretty good about the possibilities. He's the No. 15 wide receiver in this year's #NFLRank poll, and he will be playing in an offense that should help his numbers justify that position or even better. As long as enough other things go well around him.

Cruz will be the last Giants player to appear on the lists, as they have no one who ranked in the top 40 on either offense or defense.

Giants on 2014 ESPN #NFLRank lists

WR Victor Cruz, No. 41 offense

DE Jason Pierre-Paul, No. 48 defense

QB Eli Manning, No. 62 offense.

CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, No. 79 defense

S Antrel Rolle, No. 83 defense

New York Giants' projected roster

August, 25, 2014
Aug 25
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One final projection of the New York Giants' 53-man roster before the final cuts are made Saturday:

QUARTERBACKS (2)
Nassib's performances in the past two preseason games make the Giants far more confident about keeping him -- and only him -- as the backup to Manning.

RUNNING BACKS (4)

Hillis' sprained ankle could help Gaskins and Michael Cox make the team if it lingers, but if they're picking between Cox and Gaskins for that fourth spot, Gaskins looks like the better player so far in camp. Tom Coughlin also keeps saying that the fullbacks can play running back, and they have been using Henry Hynoski all over the formation in practice, so it's possible they could carry just three here, especially if they can get Gaskins on the practice squad.

FULLBACK (1)

It's a camp battle between Hynoski and John Conner, and I don't think the Giants will keep both. There was even some talk early in camp that they could go without a fullback, but the continued poor showing by the tight ends likely has put that to bed.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
Marcus Harris is ahead of both Washington and Parker, but he injured his shoulder Friday night and is likely to miss the start of the season, if not more. Parker sneaks onto the list this week because (a) with Beckham's hamstring injury continuing to be a problem, they may need to carry six wide receivers just to have five and (b) Parker is the primary punt returner right now with Beckham and Trindon Holliday laid up.

TIGHT ENDS (4)

Donnell, Davis and Robinson each got exactly 14 snaps in the first half Friday night, and Robinson was the only tight end in the game on the successful two-minute drill at the end of the first half. What's it all mean? Really just that no one has separated himself in this group. Davis was the starter ahead of Donnell for the first time Friday, but there's still no clarity on this situation.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
Geoff Schwartz's injury has created a real mess here, as he projects to miss a significant amount of time due to a dislocated toe. The most likely scenario is that Richburg ascends the starting left guard role, but Mosley remains a question mark at right guard, which is why Reynolds (who can play center or guard) enters the picture here. Jerry could claim one of the starting guard spots, but at the very least, he becomes a more valuable reserve. Brewer, who once appeared gone for sure, becomes more valuable as an all-around backup. And the missed opportunity for Eric Herman, who's suspended for the first four games for a drug violation, looms even larger.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9)

Very few changes here, though if Kuhn's leg injury ends up costing him practice time, it could open up a spot for someone like defensive end Kerry Wynn to make the team. Bromley has looked surprisingly good in games so far and could slide in for Kuhn in the defensive tackle rotation for the short term.

LINEBACKERS (6)

Kennard has been so good so far that, if they only keep five, you wonder about Paysinger's spot a little bit. Williams is the starter at the weakside spot, even in the base defense, as long as he can stay healthy. And Kennard is a first-teamer right now on the strong side, with McClain manning the middle in place of the injured Beason. I wonder if Kennard could keep the spot ahead of McClain even once Beason comes back. Herzlich is on the squad for special teams, where he has great value.

CORNERBACKS (5)

It helps the numbers that Jayron Hosley will be suspended for the first four games of the regular season for a drug violation. If he does make the team, the Giants will have to clear a spot for him in Week 5. This group could also swell if the Giants decide they need to keep sixth-round pick Bennett Jackson and/or Charles James for special teams. It's going to be tough to make the Giants' roster as a corner this summer, though recent injuries to Amukamara and Bowman could result in a short-term spot opening.

SAFETIES (4)
Cooper Taylor's toe injury is serious enough to keep him out for a long time, possibly even the whole season. That's unfortunate for Taylor, but it helps Berhe and likely helps someone at another position, such as Charles James at cornerback or Adrien Robinson at tight end. The Giants like to have a balanced roster -- 25 offensive players, 25 defensive and three specialists -- but that's not a requirement.

SPECIALISTS (3)

Brown isn't home-free yet, as Brandon McManus is hitting bombs in practice and has shown well in games. But Brown hasn't done anything to lose his spot, and as long as he remains reliable, my bet is he keeps it.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Two days after losing left guard Geoff Schwartz to a toe injury, the New York Giants practiced Sunday without starting right guard Brandon Mosley.

"His back tightened up," Giants coach Tom Coughlin explained after practice. "He came out here ready to go, but then he couldn't."

As a result, John Jerry worked at right guard with the first-team offensive line while Weston Richburg, the most likely long-term replacement for Schwartz, worked at left guard. The Giants have major problems in this area, as detailed here earlier Sunday. Coughlin offered no insight on how long Mosley could be expected to be out.

Some other notes from Coughlin and Sunday's practice:
  • From the My God This Could Be Even Worse Than We Think Department: Coughlin was asked what he thought of left tackle Will Beatty's performance Friday and he said Beatty was working very hard every day in practice. Asked if he was happy with Beatty's work since returning from his injury, Coughlin said this: "'Happy' and 'satisfied' are not the words I would use to describe it, but I do recognize the progress and I do recognize that he's working hard at his trade." All righty, then.
  • Matter of fact, let's just keep profiling Coughlin quotes. This one on rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who missed yet another practice with a hamstring injury: "I would like to see the young man practice before we start talking about him playing in the regular season. That would be a good thing."
  • Running back Peyton Hillis returned to practice after missing a couple of weeks with an ankle injury, and Coughlin described him as "rusty." Return man Trindon Holliday also did some work in punt return and individual drills but remains hobbled a bit by his own hamstring problems. Cornerback Prince Amukamara worked on the side with trainers as he continues to deal with a groin injury.
  • Yes, Ryan Nassib did work some at quarterback with the first-team offense in Sunday's practice. No, there's obviously no chance they're considering any kind of change. Nassib is certainly going to get a lot more work in Thursday night's preseason finale than Eli Manning is, and that's why he's practicing more this week. The third-teamers spent more time on the field Sunday than the first-teamers did for similar reasons.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As the regular season approaches, it becomes more and more apparent that running back Rashad Jennings could be the most important part of the New York Giants' offense.

Jennings
 At least at the start of the season, while they sort out the offensive line and Eli Manning and who they have at wide receiver and tight end, the Giants' offense is likely to flow through Jennings, who is pretty much all they have at running back at this point. Rookie Andre Williams may eventually be an excellent player, but it's clear that his game still has a lot of room for improvement, and initially his most important role will be to help give Jennings a break when he needs it.

Jennings showed the breadth of his value Friday night, when he delivered a couple of big blocks in pass protection during the Giants' two-minute drive at the end of the first half. The Giants signed him because they believed he could be a complete back -- run the ball, catch the ball and pick up the blitz -- and he has shown he has the ability to do all of those things.

"Being a student of the game is something every player has to do," Jennings said Sunday. "Studying tape and understanding the overall picture of the protection, the routes and where you fit into the triangle of it. In the pass protection, Eli always puts us in a good position. The line communicates well, and everyone is on the same page. But as far as coming across and going backside, that's just a part of playing football, and it comes from repetition."

Jennings should expect to get a lot of repetitions once the season begins. As a guy who's played in power run games throughout his NFL career, he still struggles at times to hit the right hole at the right time in all of the zone and stretch runs the Giants are installing this season, but he should develop better consistency along those lines without too much trouble. It's the first time a team has asked him to be the No. 1 guy for a full season, so until he does that, we don't really know whether he can. But there appears little doubt that he'll get the opportunity to do it if he can stay healthy. With David Wilson having retired due to neck injuries and Williams still a work in progress, Jennings is pretty much all they have. If he can, in fact, do it all, they will ask him to do just that.

Giants have a problem at guard

August, 24, 2014
Aug 24
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In an offseason in which fixing the offensive line was the New York Giants' clear No. 1 priority, Geoff Schwartz was their first call.

They targeted Schwartz early and signed him as soon as free agency began. They viewed him not as a cure-all but as a foundation piece -- a reliable veteran whose presence at left guard would help make the rest of their line problems easier to solve.

So while injuries happen and you can't fault the Giants if Schwartz's toe injury keeps him out for a significant period of time, it is a major problem for them, and they may struggle more than you think to solve it.

Schwartz
 The "next man up," to borrow from strained NFL parlance, is rookie Weston Richburg, a second-round pick who played center in college but has been working throughout camp at guard behind Schwartz and Brandon Mosley. Richburg obviously has talent. There was some thought when he was drafted that he might be a better option at center than current projected starter J.D. Walton. But he's also a rookie, and even he admits he's not where he'd like to be at this point in his development.

"Oh, no," Richburg said Sunday morning. "If you're content with how you're playing, I think you're cheating yourself. I always want to get better. I made some mistakes in the last game that I know I need to correct."

He may have no choice but to correct them on the fly. The Giants don't like to lean on rookies as starters, but they showed last season with right tackle Justin Pugh that they will if they have no other choice. Pugh played well enough as a 16-game rookie starter that it worked out. Problem is, there's no guarantee that it will work out again. Even if Richburg is an eventual Pro Bowler, no one can be sure he'll develop as quickly as Pugh did.

"What I'm doing best right now is having a short memory," Richburg said. "If I make a mistake, just clap it off and go on to the next play and not let it affect me. I think I'm doing a good job of forgetting about it and just playing fast and continuing."

Great, but the issue is that the understandable rookie mistakes are happening, and that mistakes on the offensive line are hazardous to the health and effectiveness of Giants quarterback Eli Manning. This wouldn't be as serious a concern if left guard were the only spot at which there was concern. But the Giants have had pass-protection issues with Walton, Mosley and left tackle Will Beatty this preseason as well. Adding a still-green Richburg to the starting mix leaves Pugh as the surest commodity, and even he is a second-year player whose growing pains likely aren't all the way behind him. There are still talent evaluators around the league who view Pugh as a guard playing out of position and think the Giants' line will be better once he's moved inside, but at this point they don't have any better options at tackle.

No, the issue here continues to be depth, and that's a failing of the organization's offseason. They brought in John Jerry on the premise that he'd be a quality veteran backup should something happen at guard, yet after Chris Snee retired and Schwartz got hurt Jerry remains in a backup role while Richburg and Mosley line up with the starters. Charles Brown, signed as the veteran depth at tackle, played terribly in relief of Beatty early and is now hurt, which has resulted in Pugh having to take some left tackle snaps in practice with Mosley moved out to right tackle. Reserve guard/center Eric Herman is suspended for four games, and reserve guard/tackle James Brewer is hurt.

It's thin, folks, and it's still very thin at the interior positions that were supposed to be upgraded this year. There's a lot of book from last year on how easy and effective it is to pressure Manning from the A-gap, and if the Giants don't get things figured out in there, defenses aren't going to need to alter last year's plan very much to beat them. After all the work that was done in the offseason, the Giants' biggest 2014 problem may end up being exactly the same as the one that sunk them in 2013.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Sitting here wrapping things up from MetLife Stadium and taking your #nygmail Twitter questions on the 4-0 New York Giants. Some of these questions came in before Friday night's game, so please bear that in mind, as I did when answering them after it.

@DanGrazianoESPN: No. And either third or fourth. I think they're clearly behind Philadelphia and Washington on paper, and Dallas' offense is light years better than theirs. The problem the Cowboys have is that their defense looks horrible, so flip a coin there for third and fourth place between them and the Giants. Now, this is all just about predictions on paper. The Giants are very well coached and don't appear to have a brutal schedule. And I'm not much good with preseason predictions anyway. But you asked. @DanGrazianoESPN: You're right that Rueben Randle had been having a quiet preseason, as had almost everyone on that Giants' first-team offense. Which is why it was nice for the Giants to see Randle cap off Friday night's first-half touchdown drive with that 15-yard touchdown catch from Eli Manning. Randle is a key component of what they need to do on offense this season. As of right now, he's the most established threat they have on the outside with Victor Cruz in the slot. Mario Manningham looks to be slowed by his knee problems, Odell Beckham Jr. has been sidelined all camp with his hamstring problems, and they're looking for answers out there. If they can truly count on Randle to play well and be consistent, that's a massive help. For me, he's miscast in this new offense, since he's more of a vertical threat and they want to operate in short range. But if he can use his size to create separation quickly and win his matchups, he could be a major factor. We haven't seen enough this preseason to know which way to bet on that. @DanGrazianoESPN: I don't think so, but obviously it's more precarious for Tom Coughlin now than it was a year ago. If the Giants miss the playoffs again, that would be five times in the last six years, and you do start to wonder how much longer the fact that they won the Super Bowl in the other carries him. I have thought since that Super Bowl that Coughlin would coach this team as long as he wanted to. And in truth, he's one of the best coaches in the league and they're unlikely to be able to replace him with a better one. But if things bottom out here and they start having to think about Eli Manning and his future with the team, there exists the possibility that they decide to start from scratch with new leadership. It's not something they want to think about, but it's not out of the question. As for Manning, he's signed through 2015, and he's unlikely to be replaced next offseason or at all. Again, they're not likely to find a clear upgrade on the market. If they go 8-8 and miss the playoffs, I imagine they'd avoid sweeping changes. But if they fall apart and go 4-12 or something like that, all bets are off. @DanGrazianoESPN: It was very interesting that Marcus Harris got (by my count) eight snaps as an outside receiver with the first-team offense Friday night. It was very unfortunate for Harris that he hurt his shoulder and now may not be able to cash in on the opportunity the Giants clearly wanted to give him. He said after the game that his shoulder injury should only cost him 3-to-4 weeks and that he hopes it doesn't cost him a roster spot. But we shall see. As for Corey Washington, who's now caught a second-half touchdown in all four of the Giants' preseason games, it's telling that he wasn't in the game Friday until the fourth quarter. That tells me they rank him behind other options right now, including Harris, Manningham, Jerrel Jernigan and others, in spite of his height and his strong performance so far in preseason games. I've been putting Washington on my Monday roster projections, and honestly he'd be hard to get through waivers after catching four preseason touchdown passes, so he might make it for that reason. But there's still a lot to sort out for the Giants at receiver. Thanks for your questions and enjoy the remainder of your Saturday.
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- They've played four games already, but the New York Giants' first-team offense isn't done with its preseason work just yet. Giants coach Tom Coughlin said after Friday's preseason victory over the New York Jets that quarterback Eli Manning and the Giants' first-stringers are likely to play a bit in Thursday's preseason finale against the Patriots.

"I think we will. I haven't decided that yet," Coughlin said. "We don't play until Monday Night, so that's quite a hike. We'll probably play some snaps with the ones."

Coughlin's Monday night reference is to the fact that the Giants' regular-season opener isn't until "Monday Night Football" on Sept. 8 -- a full 11 days after their final preseason game. So the reason Manning & Co. likely will have to work next week isn't just because they've struggled to move the ball this preseason. Part of it is that he doesn't want them to go 17 days without any live game action.

"At the end of the day, we just work here and we have to listen to the coaching staff and do whatever they feel is right," wide receiver Victor Cruz said. "I'm definitely excited to go out there and get some routes in against the Patriots. Hopefully, we can build on what we did this week."

They could use the work. Friday night was the first time in four preseason games that Manning threw a touchdown pass, connecting with Rueben Randle on a 15-yard score at the tail end of a successful two-minute drive at the end of the first half. Manning was 7-for-10 for 91 yards on that drive, including three completions to the target-starved Cruz for 52 yards. But until that time, the first-team offense was struggling again in pass protection, and Manning was not in a rhythm. And even on that drive, he threw a terrible interception that was called back because Jets cornerback Kyle Wilson had stepped out of bounds before catching it.

So after all that had gone wrong, so far this month and in this game, it was a huge relief for the offense to put together a drive like the one with which it ended the first half.

"We definitely needed it," left tackle Will Beatty said. "We needed to put points on the board as the first offense."

Beatty and the rest of the offensive line admittedly had a tough time keeping the Jets' front-seven defensive players away from Manning. Coughlin said Manning "re-established himself as a tough customer" in this game by bouncing back up from all the hits he took. But while Coughlin was obviously trying to be upbeat and talk about the two-minute drive and the run blocking, it's clear Manning's protection needs to be better.

"Our goal is for him to come in with a white jersey and come out a little bit cleaner," Beatty said. "Tonight, it was way too many touches on the quarterback. There's still a lot of work for us to do. Personally, I think my footwork was better this week than it was last week. I'm still not where I need to be, but I'm on the right track."

There was a lot to dislike about the way the game was going for Manning and the Giants' starters until that final drive of the first half. At this point in the preseason, they are choosing to look at the positive things they're doing and use those to help convince themselves it's all going to be OK once the real games start in a couple of weeks.

"Not concerned at this point," Manning said. "I know we have to keep working and keep getting better. It's not where it needs to be, but I thought there was progress in today's game. We're going to keep working, and it'll be better and better as things go on. Hopefully it'll be better next week and better for that opening game. But it's not going to be complete at that point, either. We're going to have to continue to make improvements throughout the season."

At least after Friday, they feel a little bit better about the possibility that they can accomplish something on offense.

Observation Deck: New York Giants

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It took only three weeks, four preseason games and 37 pass attempts, but New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning finally threw a touchdown pass Friday night.

Manning's final play of the Giants' 35-24 exhibition victory over the New York Jets was a 15-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Rueben Randle that capped off a successful two-minute drill by the Giants' first-team offense. After the way things had gone so far this preseason -- and in this game -- they needed it.

Here are some other thoughts on the Giants' fourth preseason game:
  • Until that two-minute drive, on which Manning was 7-for-10 for 91 yards and Victor Cruz caught three passes for 52 yards, the pass protection had been a major issue. Left tackle Will Beatty struggled mightily in his second game of the preseason. Left guard Geoff Schwartz went down with a dislocated toe. And Manning was under siege all night. It was no excuse for the terrible decision and throw he made on the fourth play of his final drive, which resulted in an interception that was overturned because the defender had stepped out of bounds. But Manning had trouble getting into a rhythm because his protection was a mess.
  • Backup quarterback Ryan Nassib looked sharp once again, throwing touchdown passes to Henry Hynoski and Preston Parker in the third quarter, and he looks like a strong bet to win the No. 2 quarterback job ahead of Curtis Painter.
  • Parker, by the way, continues to work as a punt returner with Odell Beckham Jr. and Trindon Holliday out, and a strong showing as a receiver helps his case to make the final roster. Also helping that case could be a bad break for Marcus Harris, who was getting significant work with the first-team offense Friday night before a shoulder injury knocked him out of the game.
  • Hynoski, by the way, looks as though he has a role to play in the offense, even though they're not using a fullback much in these preseason games. Hynoski can be used in a variety of ways, especially as the Giants continue to have questions at tight end.
  • Speaking of tight end, Kellen Davis got 14 first-team snaps, Larry Donnell got 14 and Adrien Robinson got 14, including all 11 in that two-minute drill during which the Giants didn't substitute. Davis was the starter, and five of Donnell's snaps were in two-tight-end formations with one of the other two on the field. Donnell also was flagged for a holding penalty and an illegal block in the back (which was declined). Still no clarity here.
  • Reserve defensive end Damontre Moore made his presence felt in the second half with a pair of sacks and a fumble recovery. Moore continues to make plays when given the chance, but the Giants are still working with him on playing more under control and avoiding penalties.
  • Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul left the game briefly with a knee injury but did return to action. Defensive tackle Markus Kuhn (lower leg) and cornerback Zack Bowman (triceps) left the game with injuries and did not return.
  • And of course, Corey Washington caught a touchdown pass for the fourth straight preseason game, because that's apparently a thing.

W2W4: New York Giants

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
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The New York Giants (3-0) and the New York Jets (2-0) square off in their annual preseason meeting Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET at MetLife Stadium.

1. Time for the starters to show something. We've said this every week so far, but so far Eli Manning and the Giants' first-team offense hasn't shown anything encouraging in the preseason. There's some hope that the game-planning they've done for this game (where they didn't do any for the first three) might help the new Ben McAdoo offense look more in sync, though the Jets' tough defense could negate some of that. Giants coach Tom Coughlin hinted last weekend that Manning and the offense might not be able to take their accustomed breather in next week's preseason finale if he doesn't feel they've played well enough to deserve it. So they certainly should be motivated.

2. The offensive line. This seemed to be Coughlin's greatest source of consternation in practice this week -- the idea that he still doesn't have a five-man starting line combination with which he feels comfortable. Left tackle Will Beatty should play more than he did in his preseason debut last week, but if the Giants retain questions about how much they can expect of him, you wonder if you'll start seeing right tackle Justin Pugh over there. Pugh moved to the left side a few times in practice this week, with guys like Geoff Schwartz and Brandon Mosley getting reps at right tackle and rookie Weston Richburg playing guard. Watch to see who gets the snaps and at which positions on the line as the Giants continue to play around with this critical area.

3. Looking for playmakers. Will we see unproven wide receivers such as Corey Washington and Marcus Harris, who have been preseason stars, play with the first team at wide receiver? With first-rounder Odell Beckham Jr. still sidelined, the Giants are looking for answers on the outside. Not only could guys like Washington and Harris make the team with a strong showing, they could earn surprisingly large roles early in the season. Starting tight end remains up for grabs, and there still could be time for Jerry Reese favorite Adrien Robinson to overtake Larry Donnell. And there's still a lot to sort out at running back behind starter Rashad Jennings. Anyone who plays well in this game will set himself up nicely as roster cuts and other final decisions loom next week.

Practice report: More O-line shuffling

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- For all of the very legitimate concern over the condition of Odell Beckham Jr.'s hamstring, the more pressing matter for the New York Giants with the season coming up quickly now is the state of the offensive line. The regular season begins in less than three weeks, and the Giants are still searching for the right starting-five combination of offensive linemen.

What's worse, the preseason has given them some reason to question whether they really are deeper on the line than they were during last season's meltdown.

The first-team line for Saturday's preseason game in Indianapolis was Will Beatty at left tackle, Geoff Schwartz at left guard, J.D. Walton at center, Brandon Mosley at right guard and Justin Pugh at right tackle. That's what it's been in practice since training camp started, and I think the Giants' ideal plan would be to feel good enough about that line to run it out there Week 1 in Detroit.

Problem is, Mosley has been inconsistent, Schwartz struggled a bit Saturday and Beatty's still recovering from (A) a broken leg and (B) a poor season, so they can't know what they have with him yet. He still needs to take practice reps off, and he did again Tuesday.

Now, the fill-in for Beatty earlier in camp was veteran Charles Brown, but he's got a shoulder injury now and was playing poorly even when healthy. With backup tackle James Brewer also hurt, the Giants tried something interesting Tuesday when Beatty had to come off the field. They moved Pugh from right tackle to left tackle, kicked Mosley out to right tackle and put rookie second-round pick Weston Richburg at right guard.

"They're all playing pretty much everywhere," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "You always attempt to be creative and flexible."

The goal is to find the best combination of five and let it play and jell together. But it seems clear at this point that the Giants don't feel they've done that yet. They could elevate Richburg, who's played both guard spots and center this camp, to starting guard in place of Mosley and put him and Schwartz on either side, really. If they ended up having to move Pugh to left tackle, they could play Schwartz at right tackle, where he has some experience, and keep Mosley and Richburg as the guards. Richburg could yet overtake Walton at center, which is the position he played in college.

What's disappointing, after a year in which they scrambled for depth on the line, is the backup situation. Brown was terrible at left tackle, and John Jerry has been a non-factor so far at guard. These were the veterans the Giants signed with the hope that they'd have more experience behind the starters this year than they did last year. Brewer hasn't developed and is on the roster bubble. Promising guard/center Eric Herman is suspended for the first four games of the season for a drug violation. Injuries to starters on the offensive line have a chance to put the Giants right back where they were when it all fell apart early last season. And in case you don't remember, that wasn't good.

Some other thoughts from Tuesday's practice:
  • This was a "cards" day, with time spent in preparation for Friday's preseason opponent, the Jets, specifically. So for much of practice, for example, the Giants' offense was running Jets plays. Eli Manning in the pistol, etc. And there were times when it was the defense's job to simulate Rex Ryan's exotic blitz schemes. This is the one preseason game for which the Giants devise a game plan, and it'll be interesting to see whether that helps the first-team offense look better.
  • Rookie linebacker Devon Kennard managed to tip and pick off a Manning pass in 7-on-7 drills while the defense was in a Jets-specific look. He's a fun player to watch in practice, though the special-teams coaches continue to work with him on technique on the coverage teams.
  • The Giants have tried the past couple of days to get Mario Manningham more looks on the outside at wide receiver to evaluate him and his balky knee. He does not seem to be performing at a high level. You wonder whether they will start using Victor Cruz outside more if they're not going to have Beckham to start the season, or whether they'll leave Cruz in the slot and use someone like Marcus Harris or Corey Washington on the outside.
The expectation has been that Eli Manning and the New York Giants' starters would play one more preseason game -- this week against the Jets -- and sit out the preseason finale against the Patriots. That's the way teams tend to do things, and it's the way the Giants have done things in the recent past.

But the Giants' first-team offense has looked so bad so far this preseason that coach Tom Coughlin says it shouldn't assume it's getting that final preseason game off. Basically, he's challenging his first-teamers to show something this week.

[+] EnlargeTom Coughlin
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesIn regards to not playing his starters, New York giants coach Tom Coughlin said "it's not written in stone about what you do in that last preseason game."
"They'd better," Coughlin said in his Sunday conference call. "Because it's not written in stone about what you do in that last preseason game."

Recall that the reason Coughlin put then-co-starting running back Andre Brown in the preseason finale last year in New England was because he didn't think Brown had played well enough and he wanted to see more from him. Brown broke his leg in that game and missed the first half of the season as a result, but that doesn't mean Coughlin won't run guys out there if he doesn't think they've played well enough to start the season.

As he had Saturday night, Coughlin praised the effort his second-team and third-team players made to score 27 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to come back and win their preseason game against the Colts in Indianapolis. But there's no disguising the concern Coughlin feels about the way his starters performed en route to a 20-0 halftime deficit.

"Anytime you set up a schedule in the preseason, you expect to be at certain points along the way," Coughlin said. "So, certainly, it's disappointing not to be at least a little bit more advanced than we are."

The Giants hired a new offensive coordinator, Ben McAdoo, and have spent much of the offseason installing and learning a new offense. But it hasn't come together yet in practice or, obviously, in the games. Manning is 7-for-16 for 49 yards in the Giants' three preseason games and just 1-for-9 in the last two. It's entirely possible, with three weeks left until the start of the regular season, that the Giants' new offense will enter the season with more learning still to do.

"I don't know that there's any way to put it but that," Coughlin said. "The last few years, we've had what would have to be looked at as unproductive games in preseasons and we've still been able to come out and perform early on in regular seasons. But is it a concern? Yes it is."

In other news from Coughlin's day-after conference call with reporters:

  • Rookie Weston Richburg saw more time with the first-team offensive line Saturday and remains a candidate to start at right guard, where Brandon Mosley has taken the bulk of the first-team reps since Chris Snee retired. Coughlin pointed out that Richburg has played right guard, center and left guard in these games, so I guess you have to say he's also a candidate to start at center ahead of J.D. Walton. "Just because five guys trot out there doesn't mean that's the starting unit," Coughlin said. "It's a work in progress and we're trying like heck to speed that up, but we have to make sure we're looking at all the possibilities."
  • Ryan Nassib led the fourth-quarter comeback and could reclaim the No. 2 quarterback spot from Curtis Painter this week, though Coughlin also pointed out that the rally got started with Painter under center.
  • Backup safety Cooper Taylor suffered a serious toe injury and could end up on injured reserve as a result. Coughlin said it was a sesamoid bone injury that would require "quite a bit of time" to heal.
  • Cornerback Prince Amukamara was scheduled for an MRI on his injured groin and could have to miss some practice time. Unclear at this point whether the start of the regular season is at issue, but from what I understand the team is not overly concerned about Amukamara's injury.
  • Backup tackle Charles Brown has a shoulder injury and could miss some time. Defensive tackle Markus Kuhn hyperextended his elbow in the game, but Coughlin said Kuhn "for sure can deal with that."
INDIANAPOLIS -- They said all the requisite things about how much fun it was to score 27 unanswered points in the fourth quarter and come back to beat the Indianapolis Colts 27-26 in Saturday night's preseason game. But the New York Giants still aren't happy about the way their first-team offense has performed this preseason, and honestly they shouldn't be.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesEli Manning will probably have just one more opportunity in the preseason to get the Giants' offense in shape.
"We are realists, and looking at what looked to be a very poor performance in the first half with the 1s that didn't really get a lot better once the 2s came in," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "It wasn't impressive at all. We didn't get a whole lot done. There's no production. There's nothing to look at from a production standpoint."

Quarterback Eli Manning was 1-for-7 Saturday night after going 0-for-2 in the preseason game a week earlier against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The first-team offense looked lost once again, with most of the short-range and mid-range passes missing their targets. They tried a few downfield shots with mixed results. Victor Cruz caught one but fumbled it away, and then the whole thing was nullified by a Colts penalty. Jerrel Jernigan seemed to have his man beat a few plays later, and Manning threw to him, but the defender caught up with Jernigan and knocked the ball away.

The run game didn't do much this time either. And in spite of the return of left tackle Will Beatty from his leg injury rehab, the offensive line looked once again like a group still working on coming together -- which is what it is.

"Still figuring out what's going to be our style of football, which concepts are going to work the best for us and all of those things," Manning said. "Each game, something comes up that's new, and we've got to make sure we're on the same page as [offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo] and we're seeing eye to eye."

Manning said he does see progress, even though it's not readily apparent to those of us watching from the outside.

"I think there's progress being made, just in understanding the offense," Manning said. "We made some checks and some calls today that got everybody on the same page. We've just got to execute it at a higher level. But the mental capacity of it, speeding it up, I think those things are getting better. I think we were just a few plays from being OK tonight."

The question is whether three more weeks will be enough to get the offense in shape for games that count. The Giants open the regular season with a Monday Night Football game Sept. 8 against the Lions in Detroit. Manning is likely to play somewhat extensively in Friday night's preseason game against the Jets, but perhaps not at all in the following week's preseason finale against the Patriots. So he has one more chance to show himself, his team, his coaches and the rest of the outside world the way that progress looks when it comes to fruition against a live opponent. Otherwise, it's going to be a leap of faith once the regular season begins.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants' first-team offense was not sugarcoating things after Saturday night's preseason game. They have been terrible so far this preseason and they know it. But the Giants' locker room wasn't a downcast place, and the reason was that the backups had just scored 27 points in the fourth quarter and won the exhibition game, 27-26.

No, these games don't count, but that doesn't mean teams don't want to win them. The Giants thought it was awesome that the backups came back and improved them to 3-0 in the preseason.

"Some of us could take some lessons on how to move the ball down the field and score," starting left tackle Will Beatty said with a smile.

We shouldn't make too much of preseason games one way or the other, good or bad. And the Giants' fourth-quarter comeback Saturday was a comeback by third-stringers against third-stringers, so you can make the case that even less should be made of it than usual. But there are always players worth highlighting in these situations, so here are a couple of them:

Adrien Robinson

Robinson
In the spring, he looked like the leading candidate to start at tight end. But when camp started, he was buried at No. 5 on the depth chart and has barely seen the field at all in the first halves of the preseason games. But he caught two seam passes over the middle from Ryan Nassib on the game-winning drive, using his size and height to take the ball away from defenders on a play we've seen work a few times with him and Nassib in practice.

"He used the advantage of going up top, which was very smart in my opinion, given the way they're calling things out there," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.

It's possible a showing like this could help Robinson's chances for more responsibility in the offense. It's not as though Larry Donnell has run away with the starting job while playing with the first team.

"It's my third year, so I need to go out there and make plays if I want to stay around," Robinson said.

Ryan Nassib

He was demoted this week from second to third string, so he didn't enter the game until Eli Manning and Curtis Painter had left it. It was 26-14 Colts when Nassib first got the ball. He was 11-of-15 for 158 yards and the game-winning touchdown pass to Cory Washington. He completed a fourth-down pass to Marcus Harris on the drive that cut the lead to 26-21 and a 27-yarder to Travis Harvey just before that Michael Cox touchdown run. He was 6-of-8 on the game-winning drive, including the 26-yarder to Robinson fourth down and 16.

"He did a lot in very difficult circumstances, which was impressive," Coughlin said.

Cory Washington

Third straight game with a game-winning touchdown catch, this one a 4-yarder on which Nassib read the all-out blitz and lofted it to Washington in the end zone. The 6-4 rookie went up and got it, and his chances of making the roster continue to improve.

"I just want to practice the way I play, and keep showing the coaches I belong," Washington said, his smile growing larger by the week.

Kerry Wynn, Justin Anderson and Spencer Adkins

Anderson forced the fumble and Adkins recovered it in the end zone for the touchdown that cut the Colts' lead to 26-14 one play after the Giants scored their first points of the game. Wynn, the rookie defensive end out of Richmond, helped pressure Colts backup quarterback Chandler Harnish throughout the fourth quarter. These guys are all long shots to make the team, obviously. But they wouldn't mind getting something on tape that might help them make some team. And honestly, in the meantime, their spirited performance is inspiring the sluggish first-teamers.

"When we start the game the way we're finishing them," Beatty said, "it's going to be a sight to behold."

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