New York Giants: Hakeem Nicks

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- His instantly famous one-handed touchdown catch against the Cowboys was just one moment in a brilliant month for New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who on Thursday was named the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Month for November.

Beckham led the NFL with 593 receiving yards in November. His 38 catches in the month led all rookies and were the second most in the league behind only Denver's Demaryius Thomas, who had 41. He had at least six catches and at least 90 receiving yards in each of the five games the Giants played in November, and he had more than 100 yards in three of them.

His 38 catches and 593 receiving yards were the most ever by a Giants player in a calendar month (though it's important to note that five-game months are not the norm), and he's the first Giant to win the offensive rookie of the month award since wide receiver Hakeem Nicks did it in October 2009.

W2W4: New York Giants

November, 2, 2014
Nov 2
10:00
AM ET


The 3-4 New York Giants return from their bye week for a Monday Night Football matchup against the 5-3 Indianapolis Colts at MetLife Stadium on at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. Here are three things we'll be watching closely from the Giants' end:

1. The pass rush: Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is the league's leading passer, and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton leads the league in receiving yards. They like to throw the ball, and Luck likes to spread it around to different receivers. The best hope for the Giants' defense is to get to Luck quickly to limit his ability to go through his progressions -- a task likely made more difficult by Luck's underrated speed and willingness to run. There was a lot of talk around the Giants last week about getting second-year pass-rusher Damontre Moore more involved in the defense, and his speed might be an asset against Luck if he's able to play within the system and under control. As team, the Giants have just 13 sacks in seven games, and the Colts have allowed just 13 in eight games. So it's not going to be easy for the Giants to get to Luck. If they can find a way, it could impact the game significantly.

2. The deep passing game: On Monday, Giants GM Jerry Reese said he'd like to see the offense be more aggressive. On Thursday, quarterback Eli Manning said the plan would remain the same and the Giants' passing game would take what's available to it and continue to work to find easy completions and avoid sacks and interceptions. The guess here is that Manning ends up being right, but as rookie speedster Odell Beckham Jr. gets more acclimated to the offense, it's possible they'll try to spring him deep a few times and stretch the field against the Colts' secondary. Indy's pass rush has been inconsistent from week to week, so if the offensive line can keep the defense off of Manning, there might be a chance to find someone open a bit further down the field. Not that he's looking for it.

3. Old friends: Former Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw is having a renaissance season, leading the Colts in rushing and leading the league in receiving touchdowns by a running back. Former Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks has been a disappointment in his first season in Indianapolis (as he was in his final season in New York), but as we've mentioned, Luck does like to spread the ball around. And if ever there were a game for which Nicks would be motivated to elevate his game, it could be this one. Two of the key members of the Giants' most recent Super Bowl title team, Bradshaw and Nicks, will certainly draw the attention of the Giants' defense on Monday Night.

Colts vs. Giants preview

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
8:00
AM ET

The Indianapolis Colts had won five games in a row before last week's 51-34 loss to Pittsburgh. The New York Giants had won three in a row before losing in Philadelphia and Dallas prior to last week's bye. These two teams are looking to remind everyone of better times as they meet at MetLife Stadium on "Monday Night Football."

ESPN Colts reporter Mike Wells and ESPN Giants reporter Dan Graziano are here with your game preview:

Wells: Dan, the Cowboys went from Super Bowl contenders to having to worry about Tony Romo's back, and the Eagles are coming off a loss. Do you feel like the Giants have a realistic shot at winning the NFC East?

Graziano: It's not impossible, but I don't think it's realistic. They trail Dallas by 2½ games and Philadelphia by two, and they lost to each of those teams before the bye. The idea that they could catch both is far-fetched, especially since they can't go 2-0 against either.

Fundamentally, I just don't think the Giants are very good. Eli Manning is playing well in the new offense, but the group around him is made up of young guys and backups. Injuries to Victor Cruz (out for the year) and Rashad Jennings (who will miss a third straight game) have sapped the offense of much of its explosiveness, and guys such as Odell Beckham, Rueben Randle, Larry Donnell and Andre Williams have shown promise but are still developing. The offensive line, also quite young in spots, has been inconsistent. On the defensive side, they're extremely banged up at cornerback and they just lost middle linebacker Jon Beason for the season.

The Giants are a team with a clear vision for the future and they've already shown progress in the new offense, but they're going to be outmanned most weeks.

How about the Colts? The group around Andrew Luck seems to have come together better than I expected it would. What are the main reasons (other than himself) that Luck is leading the league in passing yards?

Wells: The main reason is that Luck's ability to spread the ball around makes it difficult for defenses to key on one area. He had back-to-back games earlier this season where he completed passes to nine different receivers. Another reason: Two key players -- receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dwayne Allen -- are back after having their 2013 seasons cut short. Wayne is second on the team with 434 receiving yards -- trailing only T.Y. Hilton -- despite missing the Pittsburgh game. Allen is tied with former Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw for the team lead in receiving touchdowns with six.

Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton took a lot of criticism last season for being determined to make Indianapolis a power-running team despite having Luck at quarterback. Hamilton is more comfortable in Year 2 as an NFL coordinator and it's showing, as the Colts run the ball just enough to keep defenses honest.

Manning is 22nd in the league in passing yards. Would it be safe to say he's on the decline of his career, or does he have enough left in the tank to win his third Super Bowl ring at some point?

Graziano: I don't think he's declining. They just totally changed the offensive system. Longtime coordinator Kevin Gilbride "retired" (cough, was forced out, cough) and was replaced by Ben McAdoo, a former Packers assistant who brought Mike McCarthy's West Coast offense with him. The emphasis for Manning has been on avoiding turnovers after leading the league with 27 interceptions last year, and as a result the Giants are leaning hard on the run and the short-passing game. A whopping 67 percent of Manning's throws have traveled fewer than 10 yards down the field, compared with 61 and 62 percent the two seasons prior.

It's possible the offense develops more of a downfield element as everyone continues to develop -- especially first-round rookie Beckham, who has field-stretching speed but has only played three games. GM Jerry Reese said Monday that he'd like to see the offense be more aggressive, but coach Tom Coughlin has insisted that they're not looking to take more chances downfield and prefer to play it close to the vest so as to avoid a recurrence of last year's turnover problems.

Long term, I think Manning has enough time to win another Super Bowl if this new group develops around him. I imagine he'll get his contract extension this offseason, and the way the league is set up for quarterbacks right now, it's not crazy to think he has five or six good years left.

When we talked to Eli on Monday, he said he'd watched the Colts' past two games and noted the significant difference in the number of points they surrendered in them. His take was that the defensive scheme wasn't different but that Pittsburgh did a great job against it, while Cincinnati obviously did not. What on earth went wrong Sunday, and which Colts defense is the one we should expect to see Monday?

Wells: I'm not even sure the Colts know what went wrong against the Steelers. There wasn't a defense in the league that probably could have stopped Ben Roethlisberger. Defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois summed it up best when he said they got a wake-up call and Roethlisberger was a step ahead of them the entire game. He found the soft spots of the defense when they played zone and torched them when they blitzed. He also laid out the blueprint on how to beat a Colts defense that had 20 sacks and nine turnovers in the five games leading up to that matchup. Indy's front seven couldn't get any pressure on Roethlisberger; it was the first time since Week 2 that the Colts didn't have a sack.

Luck has thrown for at least 300 yards in six straight games. The Giants are 25th in the league against the pass. How do they expect to slow Luck down?

Graziano: Their best bet is that the offense clicks and they put together long, sustained drives that keep Luck off the field for long stretches. Their pass defense is in tatters. Top cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has been trying to play through leg and back injuries, and he doesn't seem to have improved much over the bye. They lost nickelback Walter Thurmond (arm) and backup nickel Trumaine McBride (thumb) to a season-ending injuries.

To overcome those losses, they've been putting Prince Amukamara on the opposing team's top receiver and experimenting with a three-safety look that includes Antrel Rolle, Quintin Demps and Stevie Brown, who was demoted earlier in the year due to ineffectiveness. It would help if they could generate more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but in spite of a solid performance against the run, Jason Pierre-Paul and the rest of the defensive line have not been getting sacks. (As a team, the Giants have only 13 in seven games.) Luck has a chance for a big night.

If Luck does have a big night, however, it doesn't seem as though former Giant Hakeem Nicks will be a part of it. Has he been as much of a non-factor there as he was here last year, and if so, why do the Colts think that is?

Wells: The Colts are saying the right things publicly, but it's been a mystery why Nicks hasn't been a factor. Last weekend's game basically summed up his time with the Colts. With Wayne out with an elbow injury, Nicks was the No. 2 receiver, but he was clearly outplayed by rookie Donte Moncrief. Nicks only caught one of the six targets from Luck for 27 yards while playing 60 of 66 snaps. Moncrief only needed 40 snaps to catch seven passes for 113 yards and a touchdown. You would have thought having a bigger role in the offense would help Nicks. Now you have to wonder if he'll fit in at all this season because Wayne will likely play Monday and Moncrief's performance may have been good enough to move him ahead of Nicks as the third receiver.

Graziano: Thanks, Mike. Travel safe and I'll see you Monday.

Hakeem Nicks and Ahmad BradshawAP Photo/Stephen B. MortonHakeem Nicks, Ahmad Bradshaw and the Colts lead the AFC South with a 5-3 record.

The New York Giants let Ahmad Bradshaw walk after the 2012 season because they couldn't trust him to stay healthy and because they felt they had running back covered with younger, cheaper options in Andre Brown and David Wilson.

The Giants let Hakeem Nicks walk after the 2013 season because they were mystified as to why he'd performed so poorly in his contract year. They decided it was best to move on to younger, cheaper wide receiver options such as Rueben Randle and, ultimately, first-round draft pick Odell Beckham Jr.

Bradshaw and Nicks will return Monday night to the stadium in which they played home games en route to the Giants' most recent Super Bowl title. They are members of the Indianapolis Colts now, and they bring with them no ill will.

"It didn't take me long to get over it, but it just hurt me because I felt that was my family, that I was a big part of that team and that I still had a lot of football left," Bradshaw said on a conference call Wednesday, reflecting on the Giants' decision to release him two offseasons ago. "I knew it was a business. I know how this business goes. I gave everything I could to the Giants. Injury-wise, I just couldn't get out there on the field.

[+] EnlargeHakeem Nicks and Ahmad Bradshaw
AP Photo/Eric GayNicks (88) earned one Super Bowl ring and Bradshaw won a pair during their time with the Giants.

"When I left, at first I didn't know why. But I kind of sat back and thought about it, and it being business, money and injuries."

The injuries followed Bradshaw to Indianapolis, where he played just three games last year and ended up needing career-threatening neck surgery. He has managed to recover from that and so far lead the 5-3 Colts with 371 rushing yards. He also has 31 receptions for 264 yards and six touchdowns. He's eager to show off in front of Giants fans on Monday Night.

"Like I said, that was a family to me at one time, and that was like home to me," Bradshaw said. "And just to be able to go back home and be around old fans of mine and play in front of old fans of mine and family and just get back and see those guys and be in that atmosphere, it makes me anxious to be ready for this game and be ready to go."

Nicks was a former first-round pick who was one of the top wide receivers in the league for a time and a critical part of the Giants' Super Bowl run in 2011. But his disappearance from the offense in 2013 was one of the great mysteries of that disappointing season. He ended without a touchdown catch despite playing in all but one game. Other than a brilliant performance in a home preseason game against the Giants, Nicks' time in Indianapolis has been a disappointment so far as well. He's tied for sixth on the team with just 18 receptions for 168 yards, though he has caught two touchdowns.

"There's only one football, and we've got a ton of skill guys and a ton of playmakers surrounding our quarterback," relentlessly upbeat Colts coach Chuck Pagano said by way of explanation. "The numbers may not look outstanding at this point, but he's come in here and done a great job and worked his tail off. He's a selfless guy, and right now he's trying to do whatever he can to help the team win."

Nicks was known around the Giants as a hard worker and a selfless player, which is part of what made 2013 so difficult to understand. Looking back, he doesn't seem to have much of an idea what happened, nor any interest in discussing it. He did say he felt better physically than he has in years, but as far as anyone around the Giants knew he was healthy last year, so that doesn't make much sense as an explanation either.

"I'm in a new situation, and I've got a chance to prove to this team what I can bring to the table," Nicks said. "I take everything from the past and I learn from it. I don't dwell on it. It's life. There's going to be ups and downs, and you just learn from it."

Some Sunday Giants thoughts

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
12:00
PM ET
The New York Giants don't open their season until Monday night in Detroit. But while most teams in the NFL are firing up their first games today, we don't want Giants fans to feel left out. So here are a couple of leftover #nygmail questions that didn't make it into Saturday's Twitter mailbag, and some thoughts on the answers to them.
@DanGrazianoESPN: If defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has a big year, it is absolutely in the Giants' plans to re-sign him as the long-term anchor of their pass rush. That is their ideal situation, and yes, they will have the cap space to do it if they want to. They should be in decent cap shape regardless, with big-number guys like Mathias Kiwanuka and Cullen Jenkins candidates for pay cuts (or outright cuts) in 2015, and a likely contract extension for quarterback Eli Manning would provide more relief. So the ability to sign Pierre-Paul won't be an issue. The only potential issue arises if Pierre-Paul has the kind of year that makes him a poor candidate for a new contract, ala Hakeem Nicks in 2013. The Giants' plan going into last season was to re-sign Nicks if he had a big year. He had a rotten one and fell out of their plans. That situation could repeat itself if Pierre-Paul has more injuries or struggles through his contract year as Nicks did. But Pierre-Paul seems both healthy and motivated, and the Giants' hope is that he proves worthy of a big extension.
@DanGrazianoESPN: The Giants' strong preference is to keep wide receiver Victor Cruz in the slot, where he dominates matchups against linebackers and safeties. The new offense should offer Cruz a good opportunity to make plays once he has the ball in his hands, and they made it clear when they drafted Odell Beckham Jr. as an outside speed threat that they like Cruz better in the slot than they do outside. That said, you make a good point about the extent to which Jerrel Jernigan has struggled as Beckham's replacement on the outside. And if Beckham is going to miss a large chunk of the season, they likely have to look at other options there. One of those could be using Cruz on the outside and Jernigan in the slot, but the argument against that is that it weakens the Giants in two spots as opposed to just one. The problem, of course, is the lack of depth on the roster at the wide receiver position and the resultant lack of solutions. Someone -- be it Jernigan or Corey Washington or Preston Parker -- is going to have to play better. Or Beckham is going to have to (a) get healthy and (b) develop rapidly. And, oh by the way, it would be a huge help if Rueben Randle showed up as a consistently reliable option on the other side, which is still yet to be seen. Lots of question marks at that position, and that's one of the major issues facing the Giants as the 2014 season begins.

Enjoy the first Sunday of NFL football, and I'll chat with you Monday from Detroit.

Observation Deck: New York Giants

August, 16, 2014
Aug 16
10:35
PM ET


INDIANAPOLIS -- The New York Giants still have three weeks to practice before their regular-season opener on Sept. 8 in Detroit. Saturday's improbable 27-26 exhibition victory over the Indianapolis Colts was a preseason game, its results utterly devoid of meaning and relevance to the larger picture. It is important that you read everything I'm about to write with that in mind.

Because, my goodness, does the Giants' first team look horrible right now. Eli Manning and the offense generated 45 yards on 23 snaps. Manning was 1-for-7 passing. They averaged 3.2 yards per carry as a team in the first half, and with Curtis Painter under center in the second half they showed no improvement.

Painter did have a fourth-quarter touchdown pass before giving way to Ryan Nassib, who led the furious rally. Nassib passed for 158 yards and the winning touchdown, a 4-yarder to Corey Washington.

The Giants said coming into this game that they wanted to have some success moving the ball with their first-team offense. By no means can they claim they did.

Here are some other thoughts on the Giants' third preseason game:
  • The Giants didn't make it through the game especially healthy, either. Cornerback Prince Amukamara (groin), defensive tackle Markus Kuhn (elbow), safety Cooper Taylor (toe) and tackle Charles Brown (shoulder) all left the game with injuries and did not return. Left tackle Will Beatty and cornerback Trumaine McBride did make their 2014 preseason debuts after sitting out the first two games while rehabbing from offseason surgeries.
  • Penalties were an issue again. The Giants were officially called for six of them for a total of 45 yards in the first half, and that doesn't count a Walter Thurmond defensive holding penalty that was declined because the play resulted in a touchdown or a Quintin Demps defensive holding that was offset by Hakeem Nicks' hilarious taunting penalty. It's a league-wide issue from which the Giants have been far from exempt so far.
  • Rookie linebacker Devon Kennard definitely flashed. They're using him on blitzes, which is something the Giants haven't done with their linebackers much in recent years and likely reveals an increased confidence in the linebacking corps as well as in Kennard himself. He appears to have some speed to go with his smarts.
  • Defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka continues to have a strong preseason and was able to get pressure on Colts quarterback Andrew Luck a couple of times in the first quarter.
  • Victor Cruz finally got a deep ball and caught it, but he fumbled at the end of the play and the Colts recovered. The Giants were saved, however, by an illegal contact penalty by the Colts that negated the play. That came one play after a Manning interception was called back due to illegal contact by the Colts. Manning tried going downfield to Jerrel Jernigan a short time later, but while Jernigan appeared to have beaten his man, he wasn't able to stay ahead of him, and the pass was broken up.
  • Larry Donnell was the only tight end targeted at all in the first half, and he only got one target. You start to wonder if the plan to involve the tight end in the passing game is being rethought due to the obvious personnel deficiencies at that position.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Of all the disappointments in the New York Giants' hugely disappointing 2013 season, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks may have stood out the most. The team's 2009 first-round pick went the entire year without a touchdown, got benched for a critical November game against the Cowboys and was allowed to leave as a free agent without any effort being made to re-sign him. An ugly and surprising end in New York for a Super Bowl hero who'd previously been counted among the hardest-working and productive on the team.

Nicks
Nicks landed with the Indianapolis Colts, and coincidentally the Giants are headed to Indianapolis for their next preseason game Saturday night. Nicks still has plenty of friends on the team, and they're looking forward to a reunion.

"Always good to see Hakeem," Giants safety Antrel Rolle said Wednesday. "And I think he landed in a blessed situation. Most important, alongside [veteran Colts receiver] Reggie Wayne. I'm a longtime friend of Reggie Wayne's, and I understand his work ethic and his craft. Hakeem having someone above him to lay down the foundation, lay the law down, is going to help him improve his game that much more."

Interesting point. Even once Victor Cruz emerged, Nicks was kind of the most seasoned and veteran receiver on the Giants during a time when he was still quite young. Heck, he's still only 26. Being part of a receiving corps that has the veteran Wayne and the emerging young T.Y. Hilton could be a benefit to Nicks if one of his problems last year was dealing with pressure.

Either way, as nice as it'll be for Rolle to see Nicks, he'll also be trying to stop him.

"I'm excited to see Hakeem, but there are no friends out there on the field, and I know he understands that," Rolle said. "I know he feels the same way about us. This is home for him. I'm just looking forward to the game. It's going to be a great battle."
The New York Giants Twitter mailbag is back from vacation! And not that you asked, but no, it does not feel as though it played enough golf. But oh well.

@DanGrazianoESPN: Speed. Like the Eleanor Roosevelt quote says in the opening credits of Talladega Nights, "hot, nasty, bad-a** speed." Odell Beckham was drafted to give the Giants the field-stretching threat that Hakeem Nicks did not provide last year, and the team believes he can outrun defensive backs and help open things up for Ben McAdoo's offense near the line of scrimmage. Of course, assuming they're right, Beckham can provide a big-play threat in his own right down the field. But their hope is that he has the speed to beat press coverage and stretch out defenses in a way that allows their offense to operate with a variety of quick-hitting options. I have my own concerns over how Beckham will react to big, physical cornerbacks, but there are plenty of people I talk to around the league who like him a lot and believe he'll contribute right away. @DanGrazianoESPN: Well, I think very. But I don't think there's any way you can count on it to happen. Even if Snee stays healthy, can he possibly deliver the same old power and explosiveness, on a consistent, week-to-week basis, that he did early in his career? All due respect to a great player, but I don't see it. They need a reliable backup plan, and I doubt it's John Jerry. So watch Brandon Mosley closely in camp. The Giants liked what they saw from him in the spring, and they're hoping he emerges as a reliable backup option (or a starter option if they do lose Snee and/or Jerry) at guard. A healthy, 16-game Snee would be a huge benefit to the Giants' offensive line. But I think it's a real long shot that they get it. He's a tough, tough champion who could surprise, but bodies wear down over time, especially at that position. @DanGrazianoESPN: I mean, I don't know who you have in mind, but Daniel Fells and Kellen Davis each have five years' worth of experience in the NFL, and those guys are already on the team. Given what's left on the free-agent market at this point, it's hard to see how they could bring in anyone who's any different from those two guys to do what you're suggesting. The Giants honestly want to give Adrien Robinson and Larry Donnell a chance to show what they can do. They honestly don't believe in spending big resources on the position. But it's not as though they have NO TIGHT ENDS on the roster. What they lack is an experienced starting tight end they can trust to be a reliable option in the passing game. If none of the guys they have show any ability to be that, then sure, they could be shopping for tight end help once other teams start making cuts in late August. But given what the Giants tend to expect out of their tight ends, it's hard to imagine how someone on the roster won't emerge as at least a viable option. This is the group they're taking to camp at this point, and the truth is there's not a lot out there right now that would improve it. @DanGrazianoESPN: There's a role there for rookie fourth-round running back Andre Williams if he can take it. The Giants love to have a big, power running back who can grind out yards up the middle. No matter who the offensive coordinator is, that's going to be something Tom Coughlin wants. But they won't force Williams into playing time if he doesn't show he can handle some of the pass-protection responsibilities and maybe catch a ball or two. So while they like Williams and he was extremely productive in college last year, you shouldn't assume he's going to be a big factor in the run game right away. The Giants don't like to rush rookies, and everything I heard about Williams in spring practices indicated he needed a lot more work. They have Rashad Jennings, Peyton Hillis, Michael Cox and probably David Wilson, so they can certainly get by. When Williams is ready, they will have use for him. But that may not be Week 1.

Thanks for all of your questions. I'm'a check back in Monday from training camp, and we'll be off and running. Until then ... Shake n Bake. 

Giants' biggest key to success

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
12:00
PM ET
The biggest key to the New York Giants' success over the next three years is a player who's only signed for two of them, and it's not a young player. Quarterback Eli Manning is as vital to his team's success as any player in the league, and the extent to which the Giants can handle the tremendous offseason roster turnover they underwent this season and return to contender status in the NFC rests on Manning's ability to reinvent himself in a new offense this year and in the years immediately following.

Manning
Manning's 2013 season was the worst of his career so far, as he threw a career-high and league-leading 27 interceptions. The offense crumbled around him. The offensive line collapsed due to injuries. Top wide receiver Hakeem Nicks mysteriously shut it down in a contract year. The running game never showed up. But Manning would admit that he was also part of the problem. He appeared to let the mess that was mushrooming around him affect his performance and his decision-making, and the result was an unacceptable level of performance.

Manning is 33 years old now and has two years remaining on his contract. Somewhat surprisingly, the Giants chose not to try to extend Manning's contract this offseason, though it would have saved them significant cap room. His cap numbers the next two years are $20.4 million and $19.75 million, which are monster numbers that make it difficult for the Giants to budget around him, but they don't mind that if he's performing like a two-time Super Bowl MVP.

That's why the biggest key to the Giants' success over the next three years is Manning's ability to master new coordinator Ben McAdoo's offense, help all of the new pieces jell together and convince the Giants that an extension that keeps him in blue for the remainder of his career is a no-brainer. If Manning flames out in 2014, then the Giants have a major decision to make about the most important position on their roster. And that would throw their next three years -- and likely a few after that -- into disarray.
Rueben Randle led the New York Giants in touchdown receptions in 2013. Now, that's a little like being the tallest dwarf, since he only had six of them and the Giants' offense was so bad that no one else could come up with more than four. But still, the Giants' 2012 second-round pick has flashed the ability to make a play. He has the size and the physical skills needed to be a good NFL wide receiver. His issue, to this point, has been consistency of concentration.

[+] EnlargeRueben Randle
Julio Cortez/AP PhotoIn 16 games last season, Giants WR Rueben Randle had 41 receptions for 611 yards and 6 touchdowns.
"Intelligence, he's got that," Giants wide receivers coach Sean Ryan said last week. "For me, the battle with him is consistency, and I think he's addressed it in this offseason in the way he approaches his job. I've seen a difference in his seriousness towards his work. This spring, I thought he was locked in. I thought he did a good job learning the new offense. Like I said, he's got some football intelligence to him. Things come to him. He sees things pretty well. But I thought he really worked hard at being locked into the meetings and on the field as well. I noticed a difference in him."

With Hakeem Nicks gone off to the Colts in free agency following a very disappointing year, the Giants are looking for more production from Randle on the outside. They drafted his fellow former LSU wide receiver, Odell Beckham Jr., in the first round, but Beckham is a rookie with much to learn. Randle is in his third NFL season, which is generally thought to be a big one for wide receiver development.

There's also a school of thought that the new offense under new coordinator Ben McAdoo will help Randle, who seemed to struggle to be on the same page as quarterback Eli Manning in some high-profile incidents last year that resulted in interceptions. Former coordinator Kevin Gilbride's offense relied on option routes, and the ability of the wide receivers to identify the same coverages as Manning did at the line of scrimmage. Randle had issues with that and could theoretically thrive in a simpler scheme, though Ryan disputes the idea that the change in coordinators will make things that much easier for receivers.

"Yeah, I think maybe that is oversimplifying, because you're always going to face route adjustments versus certain coverages," Ryan said. "Maybe this offense doesn't have as many, but he's still going to have to face those same decisions. In terms of the volume of route adjustments, there's probably a little less in this offense. But there's always going to be certain routes that we're going to run versus certain coverages, and post-snap they're still going to have to see it just like the quarterback sees it and be on the same page. So it's still going to be a part of the game, just probably not as much."

Ryan also said he's been trying to work his receivers all over the field and in different positions, which has in some practices resulted in Randle getting some work out of the slot.

"That's a big target running down the middle of the field," Ryan said of the 6-2, 208-pound Randle. "And that's something that we've certainly talked about and talked to him about, so it's possible."

Meantime, the key for Randle once training camp starts up next month is to maintain the focus he showed throughout the spring and apply it once games start. The Giants are expecting big things from Randle in his third NFL season.
The weekend fruits of your #nygmail hashtag labor:
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul says he weighs 275 pounds (down from last year) and feels no residual effects of the back and shoulder problems that limited him to 11 games and only two sacks in 2013. Still just 25 years old and entering the final year of his contract, Pierre-Paul says he's eager to get the 2014 season started.

"I feel great. Nothing's bothering me," Pierre-Paul said after Thursday's practice. "My main goal is go come out here, play football and show everybody I've still got it."

Pierre-Paul
The extent to which a Pierre-Paul recovery matters to the Giants cannot be overstated. Other than quarterback Eli Manning, he is the most important player on the roster as the Giants work to return to playoff-contending form after missing the playoffs in four of the last five years and finishing 7-9 last year. More than anyone else on the Giants, Pierre-Paul has shown an ability to elevate his game to an absolutely elite level. And if he performs the way he did in 2011, or in the early part of 2012 before his back problems began, Pierre-Paul has the ability to elevate the entire defense.

He knows this. He also knows he's now the second-longest-tenured Giants defensive lineman behind Mathias Kiwanuka. Free agency claimed defensive end Justin Tuck, who was Pierre-Paul's lockermate and mentor, and defensive tackle Linval Joseph. Pierre-Paul is playing off those departures in a part-of-the-game way and saying he believes the new guys who were brought in (Robert Ayers, most prominently) are players who can help the Giants win.

But there's no player on the defense who's more capable of helping the Giants win than Pierre-Paul when he's at his best. The fact that he has just three sacks since Halloween of 2012 is a big part of the reason the Giants haven't been as consistent on defense as they need to be.

"I don't feel any pressure at all," Pierre-Paul insisted. "There's still Kiwi here, [Cullen Jenkins], [Mike Patterson], and we've got to be the leaders of this defense."

Pierre-Paul has to lead by doing what he, in 2011, did as well as anyone in the NFL -- get to and sack the opposing quarterback. He showed in a critical late-season game in Dallas that year an ability to win a game more or less by himself on defense. A 2010 first-round pick, he has demonstrated the ability to be a dominating performer. And the Giants believe he can and will do that again. Their hope is that he has a huge year and they sign him to a huge contract extension once it's over.

But they hoped similar things with first-round picks like Kenny Phillips two years ago and Hakeem Nicks last year, and neither one of those guys delivered. This is a huge year for Pierre-Paul, and not just because the Giants need him if they want to contend for the postseason. It's a huge year as concerns his future with the team.

Giants offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
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With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the New York Giants' offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeGeoff Schwartz
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsThe Giants knew they needed help on the offensive line, so signing Geoff Schwartz was a move in the right direction.
Best move: Signed to start at left guard after a season in which the interior of the Giants' offensive line crumbled completely and decimated the offense, Geoff Schwartz will be an immediate upgrade at a key position and should help the run game as well as Eli Manning's protection in the passing game. The Giants needed to make the offensive line a priority, and signing Schwartz at the start of free agency showed that they understood that.

Riskiest move: Letting defensive tackle Linval Joseph leave for Minnesota in free agency. Joseph is still just 25 years old -- younger than any free agent the Giants signed. He and Justin Tuck (who left and signed with the Raiders) were the Giants' two best defensive linemen in 2013. The Giants are hoping 2013 second-round pick Johnathan Hankins can fill Joseph's shoes, but letting him go risked leaving the Giants too thin on the defensive line -- a position of renowned strength during their last two Super Bowls.

Most surprising move: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and in general the amount of free-agent attention the Giants paid to cornerback. They spent big to acquire Rodgers-Cromartie and also signed Walter Thurmond, Zack Bowman at Trumaine McBride. They obviously needed to replace Corey Webster (who they should have replaced last offseason), but the extent to which they beefed up at the position was surprising for a team that appeared to need more help on offense than on defense.

Draft pick impact: First-round pick Odell Beckham Jr. has a chance to make a rookie-year contribution as Hakeem Nicks' replacement at wide receiver if he can learn the offense quickly. Ditto second-round pick Weston Richburg, who has a chance to beat out J.D. Walton for the starting center job. And fourth-round pick Andre Williams, who led all of college football in rushing yards last year at Boston College, could get into the mix early at running back. The Giants are counting on their draft picks to help fill holes on the offensive side.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- He is the New York Giants' 2014 first-round draft pick. He was the No. 12 overall pick in this year's draft. But wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is here at the Giants' team facility doing what everybody else on the offense is doing at high speed -- learning.

"It's a new offense for everybody," Beckham said Tuesday. "They just got it two or three weeks ago, so the veterans are all learning, too. So right now, everything's all up in the air."

[+] EnlargeOdell Beckham Jr
Elsa/Getty ImagesLike the rest of his new teammates, Odell Beckham Jr. is busy learning a new offense.
Beckham said his goal is to learn every wide receiver position in new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's system, but he's starting out with the X receiver position. That's the split end, or the receiver that's tied to the line of scrimmage and doesn't go in motion. Based on what the Giants said about Beckham the night they drafted him, they view him as an ideal candidate for that spot, since success there depends on the receiver's ability to beat press coverage and get separation from the defender. Hakeem Nicks, the 2009 first-round pick who left as a free agent this offseason, could not do that last year, and the Giants hope that the replacement they drafted can do a better job with that.

Beckham's LSU teammate, 2012 second-round pick Rueben Randle, would then be the Z receiver on the other side with Victor Cruz handling the slot receiver duties. But of course that could change from week to week or play to play, which Beckham knows. At this point, he's just trying to get down what he can.

"Right now for me, it's a lot of learning the offense," he said. "I feel like I'm catching up. There's so much being thrown at you a once, it's all going to take some getting used to."

He said having Randle around helps him some, as does his familiarity with Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who went to the same high school Beckham attended in New Orleans and has worked with Beckham at his passing camps. And Beckham also is well aware of outside criticisms about his size (5-foot-11) and has made his peace with them.

"It's something I don't really think about," Beckham said. "There are a lot of guys in the league my size. Percy Harvin is one of them. Maybe he's a little faster than I am, but he's been successful. Size is not something that matters, I don't think."

If he has speed and the ability to get away from defenders, Beckham's size shouldn't hold him back. Nicks has the size to outfight people for the ball, but his inability to get open with any kind of consistency last year hamstrung the Giants' offense. The Giants don't care how tall Beckham is if no one's covering him. They want to get him the ball and let him run with it.

First, though, he's got a lot to learn.
Jerry ReesePat Lovell/USA TODAY SportsOf the 39 players drafted during GM Jerry Reese's first five drafts, only eight remain on the roster.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There are New York Giants fans reading this who aren't sure how to feel about this year's draft but assume it'll be all right because they trust GM Jerry Reese as a good drafter.

They shouldn't. Because the evidence says he's not.

Reese's reputation as a good operator of the draft rests on two things -- his very good debut draft as Giants GM in 2007, and the fact that the Giants have won two Super Bowls during his seven seasons in the position. But that shouldn't be enough, really. The 2007 draft was seven years ago now, and he hasn't had a good draft since. And the Super Bowl is used far too often to excuse other sins. It's one game (or two, in this case). If Mario Manningham's pinkie toe is on the sideline when he makes that catch, or if Rob Gronkowski's end-zone lunge starts a half-second sooner that night in Indianapolis, would it then be OK to criticize the Giants' recent draft record? If the answer is yes, then it should be OK to do so anyway. Credit the people who run the Giants for the Super Bowl titles, but it's also on them that their team has missed the playoffs four of the past five years.

I don't think Reese is a bad GM. His in-season work last year to patch holes with guys such as Jon Beason and Brandon Jacobs kept the Giants from being historically awful. He was active and smart in free agency this spring, wisely identifying his roster as one that needed widespread repair. Victor Cruz as an undrafted free-agent find is on his résumé, too. But when it comes to the draft, a deeper look reveals a troubling lack of clothes on this particular emperor.

Discount, just for our purposes here, the 2012 and 2013 drafts, which are still too recent to evaluate. (Though it's tough to feel real excited about the David Wilson/Rueben Randle/Jayron Hosley start in 2012 so far). Look at Reese's first five drafts -- 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. He selected a total of 39 players and only eight are on the current roster. One of those eight, Manningham, left for two years and came back. Four of the eight came from the 2011 draft, so only four of the 31 players he took in his first four drafts are on the team at the moment, and only three have been on it all along.

[+] EnlargeHakeem Nicks
Al Bello/Getty ImagesHakeem Nicks is the latest former Giants first-rounder who didn't sign a second contract with the team.
Of all the players Reese has drafted for the Giants, exactly three -- Ahmad Bradshaw, Will Beatty and Zak DeOssie -- signed second long-term contracts with the team after their rookie deals. Reese's first three first-rounders -- Aaron Ross, Kenny Phillips and Hakeem Nicks -- all signed elsewhere when they hit free agency. Linval Joseph, the second-round pick in 2010, also was not re-signed. These were fine picks who produced for the Giants, but you can't say you're building through the draft when you're not retaining those types of guys. Even in a league where the average player's career lasts less than four years, consistent failure to retain your top picks beyond that time frame is evidence that you're doing something wrong.

Who's Reese's best pick? After Bradshaw, the 2007 seventh-round steal who helped deliver one Super Bowl as a rookie and another as a veteran, it's probably 2010 first-rounder Jason Pierre-Paul. They don't make the 2011 playoffs, let alone win that year's Super Bowl, without Pierre-Paul. But 2011 was Pierre-Paul's only good year so far. He's a near-permanent resident of the weekly injury report and he has a total of two sacks in the Giants' past 23 games. He could become the fourth to join that list of second-contract guys, but so far he hasn't. And if he limps around and fails to produce this year, he becomes a contract-year question mark just like Phillips and Nicks were. Best pick? The most consistently reliable long-term contributor Reese has taken is DeOssie, the fourth-round mainstay long-snapper.

There's miss after miss at key spots in early and middle rounds, and Giants fans know their names: Clint Sintim, Ramses Barden, Phillip Dillard, Marvin Austin, James Brewer. Since Bradshaw in 2007, there are no late-round gems who've surprised and become major contributors. Some of it is because of injury. Some can be blamed on those charged with player development. But this is a results business, and for whatever reason -- too many risks, too much trust in poor evaluations, whatever -- Reese hasn't delivered the kinds of draft results that help build strong organizations.

The Giants have drafted as poorly over the past half-decade as any team in the league. The results showed up last year in a hollowed-out roster that had to overachieve to get to 7-9 and required Reese to sign more free agents than anyone else this offseason in order to fill its many holes. This past weekend, Reese delivered a tepid draft. The Giants are excited about the dynamic Odell Beckham Jr., their first-round pick. And they like the center, Weston Richburg, they got in the second round. But the rest of the draft was safe and dull, devoted to finding what Reese calls "clean" players. Every pick after the second round looks like a player who's just about at his ceiling and can make an immediate contribution as a backup and/or special-teamer, but almost all of them were reaches and very few look likely to blossom into future stars.

Maybe that's for the best. The Giants needed to draft differently this year than they have in recent years, because they've been absolutely terrible at it. They needed to pull a George Costanza and start doing everything the opposite of the way they usually do it, because it never seems to work out. Reese's reputation as a shrewd drafter isn't deserved, and good for him if he realized he needed to change things up. It's time to stop assuming all is well here just because of the four trophies in the lobby. It's time for the Giants to start thinking about what they can do to build their roster back up and put themselves back in a position to even have a shot at winning a fifth.

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