New York Giants: Jacquian Williams

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. -- Never let it be said that I'm not here to serve the people. Every day of training camp, the New York Giants' media relations staff asks us for lists of players we'd like to speak to, and then they work on bringing those players out to us for interviews. Wednesday, I was struggling for ideas and therefore struggling to decide which players to request, and as this was happening I got this from Twitter follower Kevin Oakes:


So I asked to talk to some linebackers, and I got some decent stuff.

With starting middle linebacker Jon Beason still working his way back from a foot injury suffered in the spring, the most likely Week 1 starting lineup for the Giants at linebacker is Jameel McClain in the middle, Jacquian Williams on the weak side and rookie Devon Kennard on the strong side. Spencer Paysinger could overtake Williams on the weak side, but after years of using Williams as a weakside backer in nickel situations, the Giants' coaches now say they're ready to trust him on all three downs. Once Beason returns, the most likely result is that McClain moves back to the strong side, but it's not out of the question to think Kennard could hold him off. The rookie has been impressive.

So here are some thoughts from and/or about the three men likely to be the Giants' starting linebackers on Monday, Sept. 8 in Detroit.

Jacquian Williams

It seems like a long time ago that Williams was one of the heroes of the Giants' NFC Championship Game victory over the 49ers in San Francisco, stripping the ball from return man Kyle Williams and setting up the game-winning possession in overtime. He missed six games the following season to injury and was a rotational player for the Giants in 2013. But he says he thinks back on that 2011-12 postseason for inspiration.

[+] EnlargeSean McGrath
AP Photo/Ed ZurgaJacquian Williams seems ready to take on more responsibility in his fourth season.
"I remember that Super Bowl," Jacquian Williams said Wednesday. "I'm a rookie, and there's two minutes left. Two minutes left! It was a big deal. And I kind of was still trying to find myself as a rookie. You know, it's the Super Bowl. Big time. And (linebackers coach Jim Hermann) says, 'Jacquian! Jacquian! Go out there!' And I'm looking like, 'Huh?' And he's like, 'Go out there!' And that there was a big moment for me as far as knowing I definitely belong here. Even though I had had my flashes and everything throughout the year as a rookie, that was a turning point."

It has taken a while to go from fun, useful rookie to NFL starter, but Williams believes he's completed the journey and he knows what the difference is between now and then.

"Trust," Williams said. "Trust from the team, and not only the coaches, but the players. My teammates are trusting me to be in that role. They speak up for me more at times. And overall, my confidence. My personal confidence for the game, for the position. And experience."

Beason said he thinks Williams and Paysinger both have made big leaps from last season to this season.

"I really feel they're ready to contribute and take that big step to where they can be dominant linebackers in this league," Beason said. "Because they have all the intangibles, and they have the experience now, which is the most important thing. You can't expect a guy to go out there in his first couple of games starting, ever, and kill it. But last year they both made splash plays, and I think this year they're ready to be consistent."

Devon Kennard

The 174th overall pick of this year's draft -- one of two fifth-rounders the Giants had this year -- Kennard didn't seem likely to be a big-splash guy this summer. But goodness, has he been the talk of the defense since OTAs.

[+] EnlargeDevon Kennard
Julie Jacobson/AP PhotoThe coaching turmoil at USC might have been a blessing in disguise for Devon Kennard.
"Great rookie. Very polished, more so than anything," Beason said. "Not just his physical attributes, but the way he prepares. As a rookie, that's kind of unheard of. You don't really see a guy come in and put the time in making calls and doing those little things. Most guys, it takes them a long time. But he's polished, and he's going to help us out a lot this year, Kennard."

Beason said he thinks Kennard benefited from all of the coaching staff turnover and turmoil that happened during his time at USC. Recruited by Pete Carroll, he played most of his USC career for Lane Kiffin after Carroll left for the Seahawks, then had three different head coaches last year after the Kiffin thing fell apart and Ed Orgeron resigned before the bowl game because he didn't get the full-time job replacing him.

"I moved around a lot," Kennard said.

He has been a standup outside linebacker, a standup inside linebacker, a pass-rusher ... you name it. And being an overall student of defense has helped him get rise quickly since the draft.

"I ask a lot of questions, and I spend a lot of time in my playbook," Kennard said. "I try to understand as much as I can, and as more and more goes in, I try to keep it organized in my mind and constantly go over things so I can play as fast as I can when it's time to practice and play in games. It's a work in progress, but I'm working every day."

At this point, if something happened to McClain before Beason returned, Kennard would be the next guy they put in at middle linebacker. They already trust him with the on-field organizational responsibilities associated with that position.

Jameel McClain

"Jameel is a proven vet, very vocal, and he's going to help us out big time, especially at that Mike position, getting guys lined up," Beason said.

They didn't bring McClain out to talk to me, so that's about all I have on him. But his presence on the roster is a sign that the Giants have changed the way they look at this position. They went for cheap solutions for years. Williams, Paysinger and Mark Herzlich, a special-teams ace and backup linebacker, were all rookies in that same 2011 season. Of the three, Williams was the only one who was drafted, and they got him in the sixth round.

But after Beason took over as a leader on defense at a critical time last season, the Giants reconsidered their view of the value of spending resources on linebackers. They re-signed Beason, drafted Kennard and signed McClain, who provides a veteran presence they need on the field as long as Beason is on the shelf.

This position group might not be a clear strength of the team the way cornerback is. But gone are the days it stands out as a clear and damaging weakness (the way, say, tight end is). If nothing else, this year's Giants linebacker group is interesting, and offers reason to hope it might be fun.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Oh, nothing beats NFL training camp for tickle-your-funny-bone, feel-good stories about players you hope will be great. Just Thursday, here at New York Giants camp, they were telling stories about defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and how awesome he's feeling out there. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said Pierre-Paul is out running routes before practice against his old Fort Scott Community College teammate, speedy Giants linebacker Jacquian Williams, and having just a big ol' time with it.

"He's having fun again in football," Fewell said of Pierre-Paul, who had 16.5 sacks in 2011 but has just two in the Giants' last 23 games. "He can't cover Jacquian, but he's having fun playing the game again. And when he's got that smile on his face, then he'll get that hunger in his eye in the week as we prepare for games, and I think you'll see him perform the way he can perform."

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
Al Bello/Getty ImagesJason Pierre-Paul, who had 16.5 sacks in 2011, has just 8.5 sacks over the past two seasons.
Sure. Sounds great. Personally, I kind of think so too. But it sure has been a long time since Pierre-Paul played like the player everyone seems to know he can be. He had back problems in 2012 and back and shoulder problems last year and obviously wasn't himself. He says he feels fantastic now and expects to dominate. To "shut some people up," as he put it, somewhat oddly, during minicamp. And it all sounds feasible and fantastic.

Thing is, watching him play the few snaps he played Sunday night against the Bills, I didn't see it. Did you? I saw him get handled one-on-one by a tight end, Chris Gragg, at one point in the first quarter. I'm out here daily watching Will Beatty handle him in practice. And I know as well as you do that none of this stuff counts. But if the point is that Pierre-Paul is having fun and playing free and easy, wouldn't you think you'd see him flying through the line and getting somewhere near the quarterback on a regular basis? There were early practices in which we saw that, but it hasn't been happening much over the past week or so.

The flip side of the fresh hope for a healthy Pierre-Paul is the possibility that his 2011 form doesn't come back. We can all believe and assume it will, since he's still only 25 and my goodness how can you be as great as he was at 22 and then just have that disappear. But this is very difficult, this game Pierre-Paul plays for a living, and until we see him deliver on all of this talk, we'll have to wonder whether he'll get hurt again, whether the drive he had to be great in 2011 will ever truly reappear, whether any number of possible circumstances might conspire to prevent him from dominating the league ever again.

As I said, I'm betting the other way. I think Pierre-Paul rebounds from his health issues and again plays like one of the best in the league at his position. But I kind of thought the same thing with Hakeem Nicks last year, with no reason to doubt him, and we all know how that worked out. Sometimes, the guy you think is going to do it just doesn't do it. For whatever reason.

"JPP is a special player," Fewell said. "We need for him to be special."

That there is plain fact. The question, though, until we see it happen, is whether Pierre-Paul can be that special player again.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Jon Beason is still working his way back from a broken foot and unable to practice, but he's still a major presence at New York Giants training camp practices. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell says Beason is everywhere.

"He is present," Fewell said before Thursday's practice. "He is listening to every call. He's like a microphone in my ear all the time. He's in my ear and I'm in his ear. I hear things on the field, calls on the field, and I go to him and say, 'I wish we could change that. How can we make this better?' So we're communicating all the time."

[+] EnlargeSean McGrath
AP Photo/Ed ZurgaJacquian Williams looks healthy and poised for a breakout season after injuries slowed him the past two seasons.
Beason's arrival by trade from Carolina last season completely altered the way the Giants viewed their linebacker situation. After basically neglecting it for years, Beason's impact as a leader and a middle linebacker convinced them to invest in the position this offseason, and re-signing Beason was a top priority. They also brought in veteran Jameel McClain (who's taking Beason's spot in the middle while Beason heals) and spent a fifth-round pick on USC's Devon Kennard. Add that to holdovers Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger, and linebacker has gone from a position no one around here wanted to talk about to a reason for optimism.

"I think we look good on paper because I think we're stronger at linebacker than we've been in the past," Fewell said. "Especially if Jon Beason returns, but I still like the 'backers that we have. I like Jameel McClain. I like Jacquian Williams. Devon Kennard, he's been a very pleasant surprise for us. Some of our young players, the Spencer Adkins kid has performed well. So we've strengthened ourselves there."

Beason has been doing more running on a side field during practice the last couple of nights, and he believes he's on track to return by Week 1. Assuming he does, he mans the middle with either McClain or rookie Kennard on the strong side. And Williams, who in the past has been a weakside linebacker in the nickel defense only because of his coverage skills, is now projected as the weakside linebacker in the base defense as well.

"I've worked hard, trained hard, studied hard, and the opportunity as a professional was there, so it's for me to take advantage of it," Williams said. "The goal is to be an every-down linebacker. I belong there, I worked for it, and it's my time."

Williams was a star for the Giants on special teams and in coverage as a linebacker on passing downs during their victory over the 49ers in the NFC championship game three seasons ago. That was his rookie season, and health issues have held him back over the past two. But he says he's healthy now, and his speed and coverage ability should allow the Giants to keep their defensive backs in their regular roles more reliably.

"I think Jacquian Williams has made great strides since his rookie year, and he's performed like he's a three-down player thus far in this camp," Fewell said. "His run fits and his confidence in his coverage ability, his knowledge of his assignments, executing his assignments with speed, coming back with feedback, knowing the other position, saying 'I knew he was supposed to be here and this was what I did,' being able to have a good football conversation about what happened on that particular play."

Such advancements by Williams have taken time, but they're a huge boost. As is the surprising performance of fifth-round pick Kennard out of USC.

"I would say he's exceeded my expectations from this standpoint," Fewell said. "Young guy who played a number of different positions at SC. Came in very mature, extremely football-smart and very poised as a young rookie. We really don't find that a whole lot. So yes, he exceeded my expectations."

Kennard could push McClain for the starting strongside job once Beason returns, or he could serve as a valuable backup at a couple of spots. It has been a long time since the Giants have felt they had depth and quality at linebacker, but they have reason to feel that way going into 2014.
Two weeks ago, we took a position-by-position look at the New York Giants' offense heading into training camp. We're doing the same with the defense this week, one position group per day. Today, it's the linebackers' turn.

Projected starters: Jon Beason (inj.), Jameel McClain, Jacquian Williams

Projected backups: Spencer Paysinger, Mark Herzlich, Devon Kennard

Others competing for spots: Spencer Adkins, Justin Anderson, Dan Fox, Terrell Manning

Beason is hoping to return in time for Week 1 and resume his starting middle linebacker role. If he can't, McClain will move to the middle and either Paysinger or Kennard would start in his place on the strong side. Williams is the leading candidate to start on the weak side, though Paysinger could beat him out for that spot in camp. Even if that happens, the Giants likely would still use Williams on the weak side when they go to their nickel packages.

Herzlich hasn't contributed much as a linebacker, but he's a decent enough backup and his performance on special teams likely makes his spot on the roster safe. Kennard was a fifth-round pick this year and opened eyes in minicamp. He could move up the depth chart quickly. Among the others, Fox is somewhat interesting, but it's a tough road for anyone from that group to make a roster that's going to have to strain to carry six linebackers as is.

Opportunity knocks for Jacquian Williams

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
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video ESPN.com New York Giants reporter Dan Graziano says Jacquian Williams has an opportunity to earn the full-time job as the team’s starting weakside linebacker.
One last New York Giants Twitter mailbag before I start a too-brief summer vacation ... @DanGrazianoESPN: Yeah, I think that's a fair expectation, and I think you saw the Giants lean that way last year with Terrell Thomas as the regular nickel corner. They signed Walter Thurmond to play that position, and he's as good at it as anyone in the league. And they're thin at safety with Will Hill suspended and released, Stevie Brown coming off knee surgery and Quintin Demps having been signed primarily to return kicks. They have been talking a lot about keeping Antrel Rolle at safety, rather than using him all over the field as they've done in years past, and obviously sticking with a three-cornerback look would help with that. I honestly don't see the need for the old three-safety package, especially if Jon Beason is back healthy at middle linebacker early in the season. It worked well during that 2011 Super Bowl season, but that year they were thin at cornerback and linebacker and deep at safety. You're right if your point is that the scheme should be based around the personnel, and right now cornerback is a Giants strength. @DanGrazianoESPN: With Beason nursing a foot injury, the starting middle linebacker in training camp (and probably for Week 1) is going to be Jameel McClain. He projects as the starting strongside linebacker if Beason's healthy, but he's taking over in the middle while he's not. Jacquian Williams is the front-runner for the starting weakside linebacker spot, and the strongside position should belong to either Spencer Paysinger or rookie Devon Kennard, who impressed coaches with his minicamp performance. As for receivers, that's an interesting case. My first thought is that they keep six -- Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, Mario Manningham, Odell Beckham Jr., Jerrel Jernigan and Trindon Holliday. But Holliday isn't really likely to factor as a receiver, as he's pretty much exclusively a kick and punt returner. So that would leave them with five real receivers (four if Manningham's knee won't let him answer the bell). That opens it up for someone like a Marcus Harris, Julian Talley or Corey Washington to possibly sneak onto the roster with a good camp, but that's a long shot. @DanGrazianoESPN: Based on my conversations with Giants people (and with Will Beatty himself) last year and this spring, I think the main reason Beatty struggled was technique. He's not a big, monstrous, mauling left tackle who relies on strength and an ability to overpower people. Beatty's success, when he's had it, has had more to do with quickness and athleticism. I was told last season while he was struggling that Beatty was playing with his hands too low, giving away leverage and hurting his ability to dictate his matchups. That sounds like an easy thing to fix, but bad habits are tough to break, and as the year went along the struggles got into Beatty's head. He admitted in December that he'd felt the weight of his free-agent contract and let the pressure get to him, and I think he was looking forward to an offseason to clear his head. The problem is that Beatty's offseason has been about recovery from that broken leg he suffered in the Week 17 game against the Redskins, and he hasn't had time to practice getting back into good habits. I agree that a Beatty rebound would have a positive ripple effect along the rest of the line, but at this point you have to consider him a major question mark, and not just because of the injury. @DanGrazianoESPN: The firing of their longtime tight ends coach does rank among the more surprising moves of the Giants' offseason. But when they hired young Ben McAdoo as their new offensive coordinator, it was only fair to assume he'd want to bring in a few of his own coaches and help construct the staff. During those discussions, it was decided that Pope's position would be one of the ones to turn over. They moved wide receivers coach Kevin M. Gilbride (the son of the former offensive coordinator) to tight ends coach, Sean Ryan from quarterbacks coach back to wide receivers coach and hired Danny Langsdorf as the new quarterbacks coach. Pope was a Giants icon, and the only person whose name is on all four of the franchise's Super Bowl trophies. But there was an effort to get a bit younger on the coaching staff this offseason. Tight end Adrien Robinson spoke during OTAs about how he's felt a different kind of connection with the younger Gilbride than he did with Pope, and if that's the case with the rest of the group it might answer your question. Thanks for all of your questions. If you need me, I'm on the golf course.
You used the #nygmail hashtag on Twitter this week, and I thank you for it.

@DanGrazianoESPN: Let's assume, for the sake of this discussion, that middle linebacker Jon Beason does not make it back from his foot injury to play for the New York Giants in Week 1 in Detroit. If that is the case (as seems likely), then Jameel McClain is the front-runner to start at middle linebacker.

At this point, the starters on the outside would be Spencer Paysinger and Jacquian Williams, but rookie fifth-rounder Devon Kennard impressed coaches in the spring program and could be in the mix to start on the strong side. What's interesting to me is that linebackers coach Eric Hermann had a lot to say Thursday about the improvement Williams has shown as a weakside linebacker in the Giants' base defense. They already love him on the weak side in their nickel package due to his speed and coverage ability. But if they like him there in the base as well, Williams might be ahead of Paysinger to start there even once Beason returns and McClain moves back to the strong side. So to answer your question, I'd expect to see McClain in the middle, Williams on the weak side and either Paysinger or, if he has a big camp, Kennard on the strong side in Week 1.

@DanGrazianoESPN: No. I mean, obviously the short answer is no at this point, because Ryan Nassib, who didn't play at all as a rookie (by design) is still a work in progress.

Giants coaches like his progress. Quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf on Thursday praised Nassib's intelligence and his ability to pick up the new system but said he's still got to work on his accuracy and his timing. Which is understandable, given that he's still a young quarterback who's never played in the league. It's clear they view him as the No. 2 right now behind Eli Manning -- or that they're at least giving him every chance to beat out Curtis Painter for that spot in camp. But no, if Manning got hurt, at this point the Giants would not have honest confidence in Nassib or anyone else who might replace him.

Manning costs the Giants 17 percent of their salary cap. He's the player around whom their team is built. If they don't have him, they simply won't be a remotely competitive team. Even if Nassib comes quickly in camp and becomes a viable No. 2, there's no chance that, in 2014, he offers anything close to what Manning offers as a starting NFL quarterback. All the Giants want from Nassib is continued growth and development, and their hope is that he's a decent backup/emergency option this year and maybe more down the road.

@DanGrazianoESPN: I agree that the Giants' defensive line is questionable behind the starters, and that there's a chance it could be a bad defensive line. They desperately need Jason Pierre-Paul to stay healthy and dominate from the defensive end position, because honestly they're not going to get much pass rush from the other side at this point. Mathias Kiwanuka and Robert Ayers are what they are, and they're not the kinds of defensive ends who are going to whip tackles regularly and pile up sacks. And Damontre Moore is still developing.

On the inside, you mention Cullen Jenkins, and I agree he's key because he's the one guy in there who's not a question mark. Coaches were raving this week about the development defensive tackles Johnathan Hankins and Markus Kuhn have shown, and if so then that's a positive thing for them and for the Giants. But there's no way to know until they can practice in pads and play against other teams what they really have in there. To me, the Giants are hoping a lot of people -- namely, Hankins, Kuhn, Moore, Ayers and Kiwanuka -- outperform anything they've yet shown in the league in order to make them strong on the defensive line. It's not nuts to think one or two of them will, but... all of them?

@DanGrazianoESPN: The first-team offensive line in minicamp was, left to right: Charles Brown, Geoff Schwartz, J.D. Walton, Brandon Mosley, Justin Pugh. Which, no, is not good. They believe Chris Snee could play right guard if he had to right now, but he's working his way back from elbow and hip surgeries and they're taking it slowly with him. And they're also hoping Will Beatty is healthy enough to play left tackle in training camp ahead of Brown, who was signed as a backup. Rookie Weston Richburg is in a straight-up competition with Walton for the starting center spot. So it's possible that by Week 1 it's Beatty/Schwartz/Richburg/Snee/Pugh, which would look a lot better than what they ran out there this week. But as of now, that's your starting five.

Mosley's an interesting case. They like him and think his development has been hurt by injuries. But the fact that Snee and John Jerry (knee surgery) haven't been able to get on the field helped Mosley get a lot of first-team reps this spring. And that can only help him if they need to turn to him to play a starting role in camp, in the preseason or in the season.

Thanks for all of your questions. Enjoy the first weekend of summer. 

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There's no getting around the fact that the New York Giants haven't drafted well in the middle and late rounds for the last half-decade or so. General manager Jerry Reese isn't hiding from it either. At his annual pre-draft news conference Thursday, Reese trotted out an old line about how "nobody's batting 1.000," but he also didn't defend the indefensible.

"We sure want to do better than we've done in the last few drafts with the middle and late-round picks," Reese said.

Of the 26 players the Giants drafted in the second round or later from 2008-11, only five are on their current roster. One of those five, Mario Manningham, spent the last two years with the 49ers and only re-signed this offseason. Of the five, the only projected starters are left tackle Will Beatty and linebacker Jacquian Williams, and neither of their spots is exactly rock-solid at this point.

All but one of the seven players the Giants took in the 2012 draft are still on the team, but the only ones who could be starters this year are second-round wide receiver Rueben Randle and maybe, if he develops and they don't upgrade, fourth-round tight end Adrien Robinson. Again, no sure things there. Last year's second-rounder and third-rounder, Johnathan Hankins and Damontre Moore, could be starters but are also question marks. The point remains that the Giants' inability to find and/or develop mid-round talent is the main reason their roster hollowed out to such an extent that they had to sign more free agents this offseason than any other team in the NFL.

"There are different reasons why guys don't make it," Reese said. "Sometimes you just miss on guys, and we've done that. Sometimes there have been injuries why guys didn't pan out, and some of the guys have panned out. It's personnel, and nobody's batting 1.000 in personnel."

Given the importance Giants ownership places on stability in leadership positions, and the relative lack of turnover in the Giants' GM office over the past several decades, I am not of the opinion that Reese is on the "hot seat." I think he's going to be the Giants' GM for a long time to come, regardless of the results of this draft or any other.

For that reason, Reese is invested in the need to do better than he's done in recent years. He's a proud guy and doesn't give away too much in these settings, but he can't hide from the past draft misses. And it's clear that while he doesn't intend to do that, it does weigh on him. Reese is an old scout who believes in his scouts and want to see better results. So for that reason, I think he's feeling the pressure to have a better draft this year. The Giants don't want to keep finding themselves in the position of having to sign 16 outside free agents every spring. They need to build and maintain a deep roster, and those middle rounds of the draft are the place to do that.

Giants' last five drafts: 2011

April, 16, 2014
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With the NFL draft still a relatively painful three weeks and one day away, we're taking a look this week at the New York Giants' last five drafts to see how much they've helped. Today we look at the 2011 draft, which saw the Giants pick a defensive back in the first round and then kind of flail around a bit.

The Picks

First round (19th overall): Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska

Second round (52): Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina

Third round (83): Jerrel Jernigan, WR, Troy

Fourth round (117): James Brewer, OT, Indiana

Sixth round (185): Greg Jones, LB, Michigan State

Sixth round (198): Tyler Sash, S, Iowa

Sixth round (202): Jacquian Williams, LB, South Florida

Seventh round (221): Da'Rel Scott, RB, Maryland

Still with Giants: Amukamara, Jernigan, Brewer, Williams

Still in NFL: Austin (Cowboys), Jones (Titans),

Games played with Giants

Amukamara: 36

Austin: 8

Jernigan: 36

Brewer: 24

Jones: 20

Sash: 29

Williams: 46

Scott: 20

Review: The Giants have already received more in terms of playing time and production from the second half of their 2011 draft class than they did from their 2009 and 2010 draft classes. Williams was a strong performer during the 2011 playoff run, especially in the NFC Championship Game victory in San Francisco, and could end up being a starter at linebacker this year with a good camp. Jernigan showed something as a Victor Cruz replacement in the final weeks of 2013. And Amukamara is a legitimate starting NFL cornerback. But all of that said, Austin was a swing-and-a-miss in the second round as an injury guy they hoped would work out. Brewer hasn't turned into anything in spite of repeated opportunities. And Jones, Sash and Scott were bit players at best at their peaks. Again, as we've discussed all week, you don't assume you're getting anything in those fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. But if you go three or four years without hitting on anything at all in those rounds, your roster gets thin in a hurry. If you've been following this series all week, you've seen that the Giants haven't turned up many helpers in the late rounds in the last half-decade. This draft was about Amukamara, a guy who fell to No. 19 in spite of pre-draft projections that had him in the top 10, and not much else.

Grade: D.
Another day, another linebacker. The New York Giants' steady, uninspiring first week of free agency continued Thursday when they agreed to terms with linebacker Jameel McClain on a contract he's expected to sign Friday.

McClain
McClain is 28 and went to Syracuse, so he's right in the Giants' wheelhouse. The former Baltimore Raven, who returned to the field in 2013 after a scary spinal cord injury knocked him out in December of 2012, seems a likely candidate to start at the strongside linebacker spot with Jon Beason in the middle and either Spencer Paysinger or Jacquian Williams on the weak side. McClain played inside linebacker in Baltimore's 3-4 front.

McClain joined the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2008 and was one of their starting linebackers from 2010 until the injury knocked him out of Baltimore's run to the Super Bowl XLVII title. He returned to start 10 games in 2013, but the Ravens cut him a couple of weeks ago for cap reasons. His best statistical season was 2011, when he had 84 tackles, a sack, two fumble recoveries, an interception and four pass breakups. Solid veteran who can start or rotate around situationally should someone like Williams or Paysinger show more next year than they have in years past.

The Giants are still looking for a cornerback, a wide receiver, a kick returner, a center, a tight end and probably a couple of reinforcements on the defensive line. But they appear to be all set at linebacker, for a change.

Drive of the Game: The defense holds

November, 11, 2013
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Had it covered one more yard, it likely would have been the drive of the game in an Oakland Raiders victory. But the 14-play drive with which the Raiders ate up the first 8:04 of the second half Sunday in MetLife Stadium resulted only in a field goal -- even after they had first-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Holding Oakland out of the end zone on that drive kept the New York Giants within one score and in position to turn the game around with another defensive play four minutes later.

The Raiders held a 17-14 lead at halftime mainly because the Giants had fumbled away the game's opening kickoff and because Tracy Porter had intercepted an Eli Manning pass and returned it for a touchdown late in the second quarter. They'd run the ball fairly well behind backup running back Rashad Jennings, but quarterback Terrelle Pryor had looked terrible on a bad knee and behind a bad offensive line. So the fact that the Raiders were able to move the ball 74 yards so methodically had to be a bit alarming for the Giants. The 10th play of the drive was a 5-yard Jennings run that set Oakland up with first-and-goal on the 1.

But Jennings got stuffed on the next play by Jacquian Williams and Jason Pierre-Paul. Pryor missed Denarius Moore in the back on the end zone on second down. A false start on third down moved the Raiders back to the 6-yard line, and Pryor's pass again fell incomplete, bringing Sebastian Janikowski on for the field goal.

The Giants did nothing with their next possession, but on the Raiders possession that followed, Terrell Thomas intercepted Pryor and ran it back to the 5. Two plays later, Andre Brown scored and a game that could have been 24-14 Raiders was 21-20 Giants instead.
Eli Manning and Charles WoodsonGetty ImagesEli Manning's Giants aim to maintain their momentum when Charles Woodson and the Raiders visit.
It will be a battle of teams looking to climb out of the cellar of their respective divisions as the 2-6 New York Giants host the 3-5 Oakland Raiders at 1 p.m. ET Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. The Giants have won two games in a row after an 0-6 start and are coming off their bye week. The Raiders just suffered their most embarrassing loss of the season, 49-20 at home to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Which last-place team will get the win Sunday at the site of Super Bowl XLVIII? ESPN.com Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez and Giants reporter Dan Graziano break it down for you.

Dan Graziano: Paul, I was a little surprised by how poorly the Raiders played Sunday. I knew they were a sub-.500 team, but I didn't think they were a terrible one. What was up with that defensive effort against Nick Foles and the Eagles?

Paul Gutierrez: Dan, you're not the only one who was surprised by what the Raiders in general, and the defense in particular, put on the field against the Eagles. Everyone from coach Dennis Allen to veteran safety Charles Woodson wondered out loud if the defense got caught reading its clips from the week before. After all, the Raiders' D was playing lights out and was the team's strength, entering the game with the No. 10-ranked defense, despite 10 new starters.

Like boxing, styles make fights, and the Eagles' high-octane offense worked to near-perfection and dropped Oakland early and often. The Raiders were a step behind all game long, especially top draft pick D.J. Hayden, who was given the Elvis "Toast" Patterson treatment (I'm sure that name will elicit varied responses from Giants fans) by Riley Cooper and DeSean Jackson and gave up three completions to the two for a combined 139 yards and two touchdowns. In short, it was a complete meltdown by the entire defense, which had been feeling itself a little too much.

The Giants, though, seem to be heading in the opposite direction after that ghastly start. Do you get the sense they have righted the ship, or is it fool's gold after beating the hapless Vikings and then-hopeless Eagles?

Graziano: It's unquestionably fool's gold. They beat the Vikings when Minnesota foolishly and inexplicably started an unprepared Josh Freeman at quarterback and beat the Eagles when they started a clearly injured Michael Vick and had to replace him with unprepared Matt Barkley. And it's not as though they looked especially good in either win. Eli Manning hit clumsy Minnesota defenders in the hands three times in that Monday night game and somehow still didn't get intercepted, and the Giants didn't score a touchdown in that 15-7 victory over the Eagles. They are a bad team with major problems at almost every position, and the fact that they've won two in a row after starting 0-6 doesn't make that go away.

That said, it's possible they'll get a gimpy Terrelle Pryor this week, right? (And maybe an Aaron Rodgers backup next week.) Pryor left against the Eagles with a knee injury. Do you expect that he'll play, and assuming he does, what kind of special problems does he present for a Giants defense that has been getting fat on the likes of Freeman and Barkley?

Gutierrez: Pryor said after the game that his knee was fine, that treatment and ice and the like were all "precautionary," that his knee was not "wobbly" or anything like that. The Raiders were going to take him out of the game for those last two series of a blowout anyway. While Pryor did not speak at the facility Monday, he was walking around the locker room and was not wearing a brace. He should be ready to go.

Then again, if there is even the slightest hitch in his giddyup, that could spell trouble since his running game is his strength. The problems he presents defenses are not unique for a team like the Giants, who already face the read-option from Washington's Robert Griffin III (when healthy). But Pryor's combination of size and speed is what makes him unique, or did you miss his 93-yard touchdown run against the Pittsburgh Steelers in which he looked like he was coasting but actually was pulling away from defenders? Earlier in the year, the Raiders' coaches wanted him to run more to take advantage of his strength. Now, Allen said Pryor has to trust the process more, from the protection to his reads. This should be interesting to see how Pryor soaks it all in.

Then again, it will be interesting to see how the Giants' defense responds to Pryor. The Steelers and Eagles had some success in keeping him under wraps by putting a spy on him, challenging him to beat them with his arm. Would the Giants employ such a tactic and who would that spy be, or would they rather play him straight up?

Graziano: It's a good question, though they don't seem interested in giving away the answer just yet. In the past year, they have played guys like Vick and RG III without a spy and have paid the price. Vick ran for 79 yards against them in the first half in Week 5 before pulling his hamstring.

If they do change it up and decide to spy Pryor, the most likely candidate would be linebacker Jacquian Williams, who has good sideline-to-sideline speed. They tend to like to use him to cover tough tight ends, but it's possible that the Raiders' receiving options will allow them to get everyone covered with their nickel-safety or nickel-corner package with Week 8 NFC Defensive Player of the Week Terrell Thomas covering the slot. That might free up Williams to spy Pryor, which I think would be a good idea. But the Giants can get stubborn at times, and it's possible they'll decide to play him straight up. I would like his chances of picking up yards on the ground on the outside if they did.

Manning hasn't thrown an interception in his past two games, but he still leads the league with those 15 he threw in the first six weeks. The Giants have been vulnerable to A-gap pressure due to the fact that they're using backups at center and right guard, and as a result, Manning has been uncomfortable in the pocket all season. The lack of a run game has hurt his play-action passing game too. Are the Raiders going to be able to pressure him better than they did Foles? Or will Eli have an easy day?

Gutierrez: Using the past-is-prologue approach and sprinkling in the notion that hindsight is always 20/20, the Raiders simply have to put pressure on Manning. Allen acknowledged the Raiders did not bring enough pressure to disrupt Foles, and when they did, he simply rolled out and found a target downfield. The Raiders seemed to have learned their lesson, but we'll see. Against the Eagles, they went away from being their normal, blitz-happy selves by rushing just three at times and sitting back in coverage. Foles ate them up. And Foles is no Manning. (You can't spell "elite" without "Eli," right?)

I would expect defensive coordinator Jason Tarver to dial up the blitzes again and send anyone at any time -- unless the Giants start running a no-huddle, hurry-up offense to rattle the Raiders. Keep an eye on right defensive end Lamarr Houston, who leads the Raiders with four sacks but was slowed by a right hamstring issue against the Eagles. In fact, 11.5 of Oakland's 23 sacks have come from their front four.

The Raiders -- Hayden in particular -- had problems in coverage against the Eagles. Whom would the Giants deploy to take advantage of Hayden, who usually plays on the outside in nickel packages? Might the Giants put the physically imposing Hakeem Nicks out there?

Graziano: Yeah, Nicks plays on the outside with Victor Cruz in the slot and Rueben Randle on the other side when they go three-wide. But Nicks hasn't been himself. He's still capable of outfighting defenders for the ball and could be a tough matchup for Hayden, but he doesn't seem able to separate anymore and has had uncharacteristic issues with drops. He won't admit it, but he's playing like a guy in his walk year whose long-term future is on his mind. It's been one of many problems the Giants didn't anticipate, and if he has a big game against the Raiders, it'll be his first. He still doesn't have a touchdown this season.

Anyway, nice chatting with you, Paul. Travel safely, and I look forward to seeing you at the game Sunday.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There are six quarterbacks in the NFL who have rushed for at least 250 yards already this year. The New York Giants have played three of them, and the other three are on the schedule. But the one with the most is the Oakland Raiders' Terrelle Pryor, and stopping him will be the Giants' assignment starting at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

"He's a 4.4 (40-yard dash) guy. He's built like the power forward on a basketball team. I'm impressed with him on tape," Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell gushed Thursday. "We're going to have to bring our A-game against this guy, because he can hurt you."

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsCan the Giants keep Raiders QB Terrelle Pryor from adding on more rushing yards to the 485 he has already this season?
Pryor was a surprise choice as the Raiders' starting quarterback in the preseason, but Oakland felt he had a higher ceiling and offered them the potential for more options on offense than Matt Flynn did. To this point, though the Raiders are a disappointing 3-5, the choice has looked like the right one. Pryor leads all NFL quarterbacks -- and all but 14 NFL running backs -- with 485 rushing yards this year on just 63 carries. Eight of those 63 carries have picked up 20 or more yards, including a 93-yard touchdown run on the first play of the Raiders' Week 8 victory over the Steelers. He's also, perhaps more surprisingly, completing better than 60 percent of his passes, though his nine interceptions to five touchdown passes linger as an indication of how raw he still is.

"He's not going to stay in the pocket for long," Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said. "He understands how gifted he is as an athlete, and considering that the people chasing after him aren't as fast as he is, he has an advantage and he's used it to pretty good success. I don't know if he's necessarily looking to run, but when the opportunity is there, he's not hesitating."

The Giants have performed well as a defense against between-the-tackles running backs, including some of the best ones in the league. But they have been vulnerable to running quarterbacks. Carolina's Cam Newton ran for 45 yards and a touchdown against them in Week 3. Philadelphia's Michael Vick picked up 79 yards on seven carries in Week 5 before pulling his hamstring in the second quarter. Kansas City's Alex Smith ran for 37 yards on seven carries. Even Chicago's Jay Cutler managed 20 yards on three rushes. Opposing quarterbacks are averaging 5.42 yards per carry against the Giants this year. Pryor is averaging 7.7.

"I don't really go into the game thinking about running," Pryor said Wednesday. "I saw that (NFL Network) special on Randall (Cunningham), and his coach was telling him to run first and pass second. I can't really go in thinking like that. If something happens where I have to get out and make a play, so be it. But I want to sit back and see if I can find some guys downfield and get some explosive gains in the passing game."

The Giants likely would be pleased if that was all they had to worry about with Pryor. No offense to his arm, which is formidable, but it's Pryor's footspeed that makes him a challenging matchup for a defense. Sometimes when they face running quarterbacks, the Giants will use a "spy," assigning one defensive player to account for the quarterback in case he takes off and runs. Sometimes they prefer to play it straight-up. The players this week made it sound as though they prefer and expect the latter.

"I don't think it's gotten that serious yet, to where we need a spy," cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "I like the way the guys in our secondary and our linebackers make adjustments, and I think we can trust ourselves to make the right ones."

If there is to be a "spy," a strong candidate would be speedy linebacker Jacquian Williams, who was a big part of the defensive game plan two weeks ago against the Eagles and is likely to be one again this week. Fewell called Williams "one of our better assets" against Pryor due to his speed, and Williams said it was a role he'd be happy to play if asked.

"Judging from film, he's a bigger guy and faster than the running quarterbacks we've seen so far," Williams said. "For me, being one of the faster players on our defense, that's something they could maybe look for me to handle. But whatever I'm called on to do, I'll be happy to try it."

Pryor's the kind of player who's likely to force the Giants to change what they do a lot during the course of Sunday's game. The key will be to stay fast and loose and alert, and try to limit the damage done by the big runs of which the Raiders' exciting young quarterback is capable.

Midseason Report: New York Giants

November, 6, 2013
11/06/13
9:00
AM ET

If you're the sort of New York Giants fan who likes to think only positive thoughts about the team and believe things are better than they seem to be ... well, you may want to read this post sitting down. The Giants went 2-6 in the first half of their season, losing the first six and then winning the last two against Vikings and Eagles teams that were effectively playing without quarterbacks. It has been grim, to say the least.

What's worse is that there hasn't been just one problem to which the Giants can point. Their failure is systemwide -- offense, defense and special teams -- with nearly every position group contributing in a significant way to the disappointing start. They have been outscored by an average of 10.25 points per game -- a higher figure than any team in the league but the historically dreadful Jaguars.

So as we go through, position by position, and assign grades based on 2013 performance to date, the best thing you can say is that there's plenty of room for improvement. For pretty much everybody.

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