New York Giants: Jacquian Williams

The New York Giants on Tuesday placed linebacker Jacquian Williams and offensive lineman James Brewer on season-ending injured reserve due to lingering concussion symptoms. The moves raise the total number of Giants players on injured reserve this season to an absolutely stunning 22 -- enough to field a full offense and defense (though they'd be without a quarterback, a tight end and a couple of other key positions).

To replace Williams and Brewer on their roster, the Giants promoted defensive tackle Dominique Hamilton from their practice squad and signed guard Adam Gettis from the Pittsburgh Steelers' practice squad.

Williams was the Giants' starting weakside linebacker and leading tackler for the first nine games of the season, but he never fully recovered from the concussion he suffered in the Week 10 loss at Seattle. He'd been cleared to return to the practice field a couple times since then, but he would develop symptoms again after practicing and had to be shut down.

Brewer was inactive for the first 10 games of this season but was playing right tackle in Week 13 in Jacksonville when he suffered his concussion.

The Giants also signed safety Thomas Gordon to their practice squad to fill Hamilton's spot.

Here's the full list of Giants on injured reserve:

CB Prince Amukamara

DE Robert Ayers

LB Jon Beason

OL James Brewer

RB Michael Cox

WR Victor Cruz

WR Marcus Harris

RB Peyton Hillis

KR Trindon Holliday

CB Travis Howard

WR Jerrel Jernigan

DE Mathias Kiwanuka

OL Troy Kropog

LB Terrell Manning

WR Mario Manningham

CB Trumaine McBride

OL Geoff Schwartz

OL Adam Snyder

S Cooper Taylor

CB Walter Thurmond

LB Jacquian Williams

RB David Wilson
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings missed a second straight day of practice Thursday with a sprained ankle, and the team appears to be preparing to play Sunday's game in Tennessee without him.

Rookie Andre Williams has been taking the first-team reps, as he did during the four games Jennings missed earlier this season with a knee injury. And recently signed running back Orleans Darkwa has worked his way into the mix as the top option behind Williams. It's possible Darkwa could play on passing downs if Jennings is out, as catching the ball is among his strengths (and not among Williams' strengths).

"He's been here a little while; he's smart, he's conscientious and we trust him," offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo said of Darkwa. "He has a little different flavor back there for us."

Asked to expand on what that meant, McAdoo started, then caught himself.

"He is a shiftier type of guy, and we like his..." McAdoo said, then paused. "Stay tuned. We'll leave it at that."

OK, then.

Jennings said Wednesday he was hoping to practice Friday, and that's still possible, though he'd have to show a lot in practice Friday in order for the team to play him Sunday. And even then, they might not be able to use him as much as they'd like to use him.

As for other Giants injury news...
  • Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, who might have to play some defensive end because of the season-ending Robert Ayers and Mathias Kiwanuka injuries, was a limited practice participant for the second day in a row and could return Sunday from his calf injury.
  • Linebacker Jacquian Williams had a recurrence of concussion symptoms following Wednesday's practice, so he was held out of practice Thursday. Expect him to miss a fourth straight game.
  • Linebacker Mark Herzlich and offensive lineman James Brewer missed practice again because of their own concussion symptoms.
  • Linebacker Jameel McClain was a limited participant due to his knee injury, and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was limited with back and shoulder issues.
  • Tackle Justin Pugh was a full participant and should return to the starting lineup at right tackle after missing the past two games with a quadriceps injury.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Lots of New York Giants showed up on Wednesday's pre-practice injury report, but there seemed to be more good injury news than bad.

The only Giants who didn't practice due to injury were guard Adam Snyder, who injured his knee in Sunday's game, linebacker Jameel McClain, who did the same, and defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, who has been practicing on a limited schedule all season due to a knee issue. Safety Antrel Rolle also missed practice, and the team said that was due to a personal matter.

Linebacker Jacquian Williams (concussion), tackle Justin Pugh (quad) and defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (calf), each of whom missed Sunday's game due to their injuries, were doing individual work at practice, which is progress for each of them. Guard Geoff Schwartz, who made his debut Sunday after missing the first 10 games of the season with a toe injury, was also a limited participant in practice.

And Odell Beckham Jr., the star of the week, was a full participant in practice in spite of the back injury he suffered at the end of Sunday's loss to the Cowboys.

"I was full-go today," said Beckham, who described his injury as "a bruise to the bone."

"It was sore after the game for sure and the next day and even yesterday, but it’s feeling a lot better today."

The Giants will have a practice Thursday morning before they're sent home to spend Thanksgiving with their families, then return for a full Friday practice before flying to Jacksonville on Saturday for Sunday's game there. At this point, the biggest question marks for Sunday are Snyder, Williams, Pugh and Jenkins, though the fact that the latter three are doing any work at all is encouraging.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Justin Pugh has started all 26 games at right tackle for the New York Giants since the start of his 2013 rookie season, but that streak looks likely to end Sunday night. Pugh, who came out of last Sunday's game against the 49ers with a quadriceps injury, missed practice for the second day in a row Thursday, and the team is preparing to play without him.

Options to play right tackle Sunday night against the Cowboys, assuming Pugh can't go, include Charles Brown (who took over Sunday with disastrous results), James Brewer and Geoff Schwartz.

Schwartz was signed in the offseason to play left guard but has yet to suit up for the Giants due to a late-preseason toe injury. He's eligible to play Sunday and has been working at guard and tackle in practice this week, but at this point he's not sure where or whether he'll play. Schwartz said he was still working on technique and conditioning following his long layoff, though his hope is to play a full game Sunday if they'll let him.

"I think I could do it," Schwartz said. "Until I do it, I don't really know. But I've done it before after being hurt. You just find ways to get through it. I'm a veteran and I could do it. The conditioning's the biggest thing. You have to find ways to make sure you don't get too tired in the first quarter."

Also sitting out practice Thursday were linebacker Jacquian Williams (concussion), defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (calf) and defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka (knee). Williams is unlikely to play Sunday, and Mark Herzlich should get a second straight start in his place. Jenkins says he's feeling better and has a chance to practice Friday and play Sunday. Kiwanuka has been resting his knee once a week for several weeks now and he should be fine to play Sunday.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It was lightning-quick, the drive of Monday night's game. It delivered the first touchdown in a game that, to that point, had offered little evidence that any were coming. It happened early in the second quarter and gave the Colts a 10-point lead. And while many more points would be scored by both teams, this mini-drive was the one on which the game -- and the New York Giants' season -- likely turned.

The Colts got the ball on their own 32-yard line after a monster 58-yard punt by the Giants' Steve Weatherford. They almost didn't get it at all, as Griff Whalen fumbled the return, but he fell on the ball, and quarterback Andrew Luck was in business. Former Giant Ahmad Bradshaw lost two yards on first down, but a face mask penalty against Giants linebacker Devon Kennard gave the Colts 15 yards and a first down at their 47.

On the next play, Luck hit tight end Coby Fleener for a 21-yard gain that looked, for a moment, as though it came with a question about whether it was complete or incomplete. Knowing this, Luck and the Colts hurried to the line of scrimmage to run their next play. Giants coach Tom Coughlin reached into his sock for the red replay challenge flag but struggled to get it out. The players on the Giants' defense, anticipating Coughlin's challenge, simply milled around while Luck got his crew set and snapped the ball. Coughlin didn't get the flag thrown until after the snap, which meant there was no challenge, and Luck hit Fleener for a 32-yard touchdown against a defense that didn't expect there to be a play.

"It's always tough to let an offense get something free," linebacker Jacquian Williams said. "That's a big teacher for us. A big teacher game."

Coughlin said he and his coaching staff preached all week about the Colts' ability to line up quickly and catch the defense napping. He also said (a) yes, he normally keeps the flag in his sock, (b) no, he didn't think he'd win the challenge and (c) he was just looking for a way to slow Luck down.

"Obviously, that didn't work," Coughlin said. "They were able to take advantage of us in that one circumstance. It's something they've done in the past after big plays, and we have worked on it. We just didn't line up as fast as we should have lined up."

The Film Don't Lie: Giants

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
A weekly look at something the New York Giants must fix:

The Dallas Cowboys have the No. 1 rushing offense in the league. They are averaging 160.3 rush yards per game, 10.5 more than any other team. Running back DeMarco Murray leads the league in rushing by 243 yards after only six weeks. In other words, Dallas likes to run the ball and is very good at doing so.

Although the New York Giants have a lot to fix after Sunday night's 27-0 loss in Philadelphia, the most important thing this week is their run defense. The Giants made a poor game-plan decision Sunday, and the Eagles took advantage of it. The Giants stayed in a nickel defense pretty much all night, which wasn't a problem in and of itself. But they uncharacteristically took their best coverage linebacker, Jacquian Williams, off the field far more than usual. They kept both safeties high for much of the game and relied on linebackers Jameel McClain and Jon Beason for run support, and LeSean McCoy had a field day while the Eagles' line blew the Giants' front four off the ball.

The Giants need to use safety Antrel Rolle in the box more than they did Sunday. They're better off when Williams is on the field to cover the tight end and the defensive backs help in run support. If they don't go back to that formula Sunday, they're going to have a tough time stopping Murray before he gets to the second level.
Thanks to all of you who keep coming up with New York Giants questions and sending them in via Twitter with the #nygmail tag. This weekly feature would, quite literally, not be possible without you.

@DanGrazianoESPN: Giants safety Stevie Brown was one of several culprits on Calvin Johnson's 67-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter Monday Night in Detroit, as he collided with cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and allowed Johnson to come wide open to receive the pass from Matthew Stafford. From what I could see on the play, it looked as though Rodgers-Cromartie let Johnson go anticipating the safety help from Brown, but Brown was coming up to play the quarterback scramble because it looked as though Stafford was going to try to run after he had eluded the Damontre Moore pass rush. If this is the case, it was a bad decision by Brown, as a run by Stafford in that situation is a far less damaging event than allowing Johnson to get open. Someone surely would have tackled Stafford if Brown didn't come up to do it. But once he let Johnson go by him, there was no one to stop the league's best receiver from going the distance. Brown in general was hit-and-miss in coverage in his breakout, eight-interception 2012 season. But he has looked more reliable as an all-around safety in camp and in the preseason. He can come up and play the run, and he can handle himself in coverage. I think he's going to be fine back there, but the breakdown on that play in particular was inexcusable.

@DanGrazianoESPN: You could make that case, but the Giants' defensive line wasn't happy with its own performance. The pass-rushers aren't satisfied with getting to the quarterback and hurrying him. They want to sack him. After collecting just 34 sacks last season, the Giants' pass rush is focused on bringing that number up, and they are not happy they only had one sack Monday Night. Jason Pierre-Paul was very good against the run, as were Cullen Jenkins and Johnathan Hankins on the interior of the line. But Pierre-Paul isn't satisfied with playing the run well. He wants sacks, and he wants Moore, Mathias Kiwanuka and Robert Ayers to get sacks, too. So if you want to say the defensive line was the Giants' strongest unit in the opener, I think I can agree with that. But I also think it's important to remember that (a) that's not necessarily a compliment, considering the way the other units looked and (b) the defensive line isn't going to be happy with its own performance unless the sack totals improve.

@DanGrazianoESPN: If the Giants stick to their plan of having Rodgers-Cromartie shadow the opponent's top wide receiver, he is going to go with the Cardinals' Michael Floyd this week. Floyd plays on the outside, and the Cardinals have been using Larry Fitzgerald in the slot. Floyd is, at this point, a bigger, faster, scarier threat than Fitzgerald, who is likely to draw Walter Thurmond if he stays in the slot. I'm more intrigued by the rookie, Arizona's John Brown, who plays on the side opposite Floyd. He is super-fast, and Prince Amukamara could have a hard time staying with him. Amukamara has looked fantastic through camp and the preseason, and I thought he looked good Monday. I wrote something in camp about how he feels faster this year because of new, lighter cleats he's wearing. So it's possible he can handle the speedy rookie. But the coverage situation will surely be worth watching, as Arizona runs a lot of four-wide and five-wide sets with empty backfields. You're likely to see a lot of nickel and dime packages from the Giants on Sunday, with Trumaine McBride coming in as a fourth cornerback in a lot of situations.

@DanGrazianoESPN: This question about linebacker Jacquian Williams obviously rises from the fact that Williams had a rough game Monday. But his case is an interesting one, as he did not come off the field for any of the team's 68 defensive snaps. Williams used to be a linebacker the Giants used on the weak side in their nickel package. But they believe he developed this offseason as a guy they could use on all three downs, and they backed that up Monday by playing him every play. His strength is supposed to be as a coverage linebacker because of his speed, and though he did struggle Monday, they are not giving up on him just yet. Expect him to stay on the field for much if not all of the game Sunday, especially because Arizona will use tight ends in the passing game and they believe Williams is among their best bets for coverage against tight ends..

Thanks for all of the questions. Enjoy the rest of your Saturday.

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
AM ET 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.