New York Giants: Ryan Nassib
Starter: Eli Manning
Backups: Ryan Nassib, Curtis Painter
Giants likely to keep: 2
The contest here is for the backup spot. Nassib, the 2013 fourth-round pick, worked as the No. 2 in minicamp, likely because they already know what Painter is and Nassib needs to get reps in order for them to figure out whether he's ready to ascend to the backup role. The Giants would like Nassib to win the job, because if he doesn't, they'll end up either having to cut bait with one of last year's draft picks or have to carry three quarterbacks again as they did last year. There is a school of thought that Nassib is better suited to the West Coast-style of offense the Giants will play this year than the offense in which they operated last year and for the nine years before that. But Nassib hasn't even suited up for an NFL game. So before making him the Week 1 backup, the Giants are going to have to either see something impressive from him in preseason games or be prepared to take a major leap of faith.
As for Manning, he's nothing short of the key to the whole team. The Giants were non-contenders last year as Manning suffered through the worst season of his career, leading the league with his career-high 27 interceptions amid an offensive line meltdown and other offensive calamities. His offseason ankle surgery appears to have been a minor hiccup and didn't cost him much if any spring practice time. So at this point, it's all about results. Manning's ability to master the new offense under coordinator Ben McAdoo and deliver a much higher level of on-field performance than he did in 2013 will go a long way toward determining whether the Giants can be legitimate contenders for a playoff spot in 2014.
@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.
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.
But, on the other side of the ball, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. -- the team's first-round draft pick -- was held out entirely because of a hamstring injury.
Beckham also sat out last Thursday's OTA, the previous one open to the media. But Beckham said he feels "a lot better" this week.
"I was running around today, running routes [on the side] and dancing in the locker room," Beckham said. "So I feel pretty good."
Giants coach Tom Coughlin said the team is just being cautious with Beckham, given the time of year. The wideout hopes to be cleared to participate in next week's three-day mandatory minicamp.
"I’m pretty sure next week I’ll be back up and running," Beckham said.
The other Peyton: Running back Peyton Hillis sat out Thursday with a muscle strain. Hillis said he suffered the injury during the team's first OTA, but tried to play through it.
"Strained [it] a little more this past Thursday," Hillis said. "But been getting better, been getting healthy, hoping to make it out there by minicamp."
Coughlin said Hillis is in "fabulous shape." He is one of six running backs currently on the roster, along with David Wilson, Rashad Jennings, Michael Cox, Andre Williams and Kendall Gaskins.
The 28-year-old is the most accomplished of the bunch, having rushed for 1,177 yards with the Cleveland Browns back in 2010. Hillis ran for 247 yards (3.4 yards per carry) in seven games with the Giants last season. The team re-signed him to a two-year, $1.8 million contract during the offseason.
O-line update: Charles Brown, Geoff Schwartz, J.D. Walton, Brandon Mosley and Justin Pugh was the team's first-string offensive line at the start of practice, from left to right.
Chris Snee was present and in uniform, but did not participate in team drills, with Mosley filling his spot at right guard. The same thing happened at last Thursday's OTA. The team is giving Snee some days off as he works his way back from offseason hip and elbow surgeries.
Mixed bag: Ryan Nassib continues to get most of the snaps after Eli Manning, with Curtis Painter just getting a couple here and there.
The second-year man from Syracuse has looked good at times, but Thursday was a day to forget.
Nassib threw three interceptions -- the first by safety C.J. Barnett, the second by cornerback Charles James and the third by safety Cooper Taylor.
On the bright side, Manning finished the day with a flourish, connecting deep with wideout Rueben Randle on the first play of a two-minute drill for a practice-ending touchdown.
But Manning had his forgettable moments as well, including a dropped shotgun snap, a pass batted down by defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and several incompletions.
Coughlin admitted that the new offense, under new coordinator Ben McAdoo, is still very much a work in progress.
"It's slow, to be honest with you. The progress is slow," Coughlin said. "But steady. There are some days, of course, which are better than others. But we're getting there. There's a lot of things that have to be converted in the guys that have been here's minds, and the new people who have not been in a system such as this have a lot to learn."
The Giants drafted Nassib in the fourth round in 2013 and, as planned, made his rookie season a redshirt one, leaving him inactive for all 16 games while Curtis Painter served as Manning's backup. Now, though, the Giants would like Nassib to progress this offseason and fight off Painter and newly signed Josh Freeman for the No. 2 quarterback spot.
"That's the goal right now, to secure that backup spot," Nassib said Tuesday. "We have a great competition going on in our room. We have so many great guys in there. We're all learning. We're all grinding right now, helping each other."
Nassib will get his reps this spring. Manning is recovering from ankle surgery and Painter is recovering from knee surgery. Manning has been on the field a bit doing some throwing, but mainly the quarterback reps right now are going to Nassib and Freeman. And the change in offensive coordinator from Kevin Gilbride to Ben McAdoo could work in Nassib's favor, since McAdoo's offense is similar to the West Coast style offense Nassib ran at Syracuse.
"There's some carryover from college to Coach McAdoo's system," Nassib said. "It's something I've done in the past and kind of got away from last year. Now that we're back in, the lessons I've learned in the past are kind of becoming relevant again. It's been nice to have that background now when I'm trying to learn something new. Getting the ball out quick, having a good running game and playing fast, which is something I think I do pretty well and that I fit pretty well into."
The Giants obviously aren't designing an offense around Nassib, since their hope is that he doesn't play a single snap for them this season. Manning hasn't missed a game since his rookie season in 2004, and the Giants expect him to remain their durable, reliable starter. But the extent to which Nassib can develop in a backup role could be helped by his relative fit and familiarity in the new system.
If Nassib does not win the backup job, the Giants will have to decide whether to keep three quarterbacks again and continue Nassib's development, or whether to cut the cord and move on. But that decision is a long way down the road.
But Manning isn't one to miss time, and if you figured it would be tough to keep him off the field, you were right.
"We haven't kept him off the field, to be honest with you. He's taken a snap here or there," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Saturday afternoon. "As long as he's feeling good and there is no setback, then in moderation, he's allowed to practice."
At this point in the offseason, the Giants' offseason program consists of offensive and defensive workouts on air -- as, in with no opponent on the field. The offense works out on its own, running its plays and drills without a defense trying to stop it. It's light stuff, and I imagine it's easy for them to take it very easy with Manning as he works his way back from the surgery. Things get a little more intense at the end of this month, when the Giants start OTA workouts, and then during their June 17-19 minicamp. But those things are both a ways off, and Manning's always been a quick healer. There may not be as many spring snaps for guys like Freeman and Ryan Nassib as was originally thought.
The Year 2 plan for Nassib is a bit different.
There is competition, to be sure. Last year's backup quarterback, Curtis Painter, is still on the roster (albeit recovering from knee surgery). Because of Manning's recent ankle surgery, the Giants signed former Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman, whose experience obviously makes him a strong candidate for that No. 2 quarterback spot. And after Painter hurt his knee, the Giants also signed former Titans backup Rusty Smith. So even with Manning (and Painter, potentially) out of spring workouts, there will be competition for snaps this offseason. And the Giants will be watching with an open mind about the identity of Manning's 2014 backup.
"There's competition at the No. 2 spot," Reese said. "Obviously, Eli has the ankle, so we wanted to have more competition in the spring and we think Josh is a talented player. We like Nassib. He hasn't really had a chance to do a lot for us, so we're going to take a real good look at him in the spring, but we think he's still a good player. He hasn't had a chance to really play yet, so he's going to get a lot of work this spring, and obviously he'll get a lot of work in the preseason, along with Curtis Painter and Josh Freeman."
How do we handicap Nassib's chances, having not seen him play? Some who evaluated quarterbacks prior to last year's draft believed Nassib's best fit would be in a West Coast-style offense, and new Giants offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo appears like to run something that fits that description. If that's the case, maybe there's reason to like Nassib's chances of moving up the depth chart into a No. 2 quarterback role.
On the other hand, Freeman's presence could make that tougher. Freeman's experience and physical ability are likely to help him look very good on the practice field this spring and summer. And if he can answer some of the questions about the extent to which he can be an asset in the meeting rooms as a backup, he likely would be considered the front-runner. It's not as though Nassib can claim familiarity with the Giants' offensive system, since he's learning it along with Freeman and everyone else.
And please forget the idea that the Giants might be able to trade Nassib. I have no idea who came up with this, but how in the world can he possibly have any trade value right now? He was the No. 110 pick in the draft a year ago and hasn't played a competitive football game since clobbering Geno Smith and West Virginia in the 2012 Pinstripe Bowl. Sure, if some team is willing to offer a pick better than 110 in this year's draft, the Giants would ship him off. I just can't imagine how a team could convince itself that this particular asset has appreciated over the course of the past calendar year.
No, this is about patience -- a clearly outdated concept when it comes to the NFL and especially quarterbacks. The Giants picked Nassib in the fourth round in April 2013 thinking that maybe he could develop into a useful quarterback. May 2014 is too soon to know whether they were right, and they knew it would be. They're hoping he gives them a little bit more information over the next couple of months so they can figure out whether it's worth it to spend more time on him. If so, great. If not, pfff. It was a fourth-round pick. If Nassib played any other position, we simply wouldn't be writing or reading about him right now.
The list of quarterbacks who can do that now reads as follows:
- Curtis Painter, their 2013 backup, who finished the shutout losses to Carolina and Seattle and played the second half of the Week 17 victory over Washington after Manning got hurt.
- Ryan Nassib, the 2013 fourth-round pick who was inactive for all 16 games in what would otherwise have been his rookie season.
- Josh Freeman, the 2009 first-round pick of the Buccaneers whose one start for the Vikings in 2013 was on "Monday Night Football" against the Giants was one of the worst games an NFL quarterback has ever played.
- Smith, a former Florida Atlantic standout who was taken in the sixth round of the 2010 draft by the Titans and played three regular-season games (one start) in four seasons in Tennessee.
Not exactly a murderer's row there, but such is the state of quarterback in the NFL in 2014. When presented with a list of substandard options, it's not a bad idea to sign a bunch of them and play the percentages. None of these guys costs the Giants much of anything to have on their roster this spring and summer. They will need to get their other offensive players as many reps as possible in the new offense, so the ability to run drills simultaneously with as many quarterbacks as possible is appealing. And who knows? If Freeman or Smith shows enough, it's possible that one of the newcomers could overtake one or both of the returnees for a regular-season roster spot as a backup quarterback.
So while yes, it seems silly to keep adding random quarterbacks willy-nilly off the street, there are reasons for the Giants to be doing it and, frankly, few reasons not to. I promise they won't still have five quarterbacks on the roster when they open the season in Detroit on Sept. 8. You can hold me to that.
UPDATE: Later in the day Monday, the Giants announced that Painter had arthroscopic right knee surgery Friday and would need about four weeks to recover. This almost certainly led to the Smith signing, as Painter may not be available for the start of OTAs either.
First round (19th overall): Justin Pugh, OL, Syracuse
Second round (49): Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
Third round (81): Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
Fourth round (110): Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse
Fifth round (152): Cooper Taylor, S, Richmond
Seventh round (225): Eric Herman, G, Ohio
Seventh round (253): Michael Cox, RB, Massachusetts
Still with Giants: All
Games played for Giants
Review: Pugh was drafted because the Giants believed him to be versatile enough to play several positions and they didn't know what their specific line needs were going to be in the future. They thought that maybe he could go to training camp and challenge David Diehl for the starting right tackle spot, but they were fine if he needed a year to develop. But injuries in the preseason elevated Pugh to starting right tackle, and he started all 16 games there and did a competent job. He projects as the starter there again this year and into the future, and there's even been some talk of possibly moving him to the left side if things don't work out with Will Beatty.
Hankins likely could have played more if the Giants hadn't had so much depth at defensive tackle last year, and he's slated to start there this year with Linval Joseph gone.
Moore could be a starting defensive end to replace Justin Tuck, but he'll have to beat out Mathias Kiwanuka and Robert Ayers for the spot. He's got the talent, and showed enough on special teams to get the Giants and their fans excited about him. He needs to show a more reliable understanding of his role on defense this spring and summer.
Nassib was drafted as a project and it's still too early to know what they have in him. He'll get more reps this summer, and he could conceivably win the backup quarterback spot, but there's no way to project. Taylor and Cox both helped on special teams, Cox as a return man.
All in all, one first-year starter and possibly three second-year starters make this look like the best Giants draft we've reviewed this week. It will come down to how good Hankins and Moore turn out to be, and if Nassib becomes a worthwhile player and/or trade chip, that could make this draft a whopper.
Grade: B+ (for now)
But because Manning is the most durable quarterback in the league, having not missed a game since he got the starter's job as a rookie in 2004, it's worth examining the concept of an Eli Manning injury in general. He doesn't, in any meaningful way, ever have them. Oh, sure, he has played through pain and maybe even an ailment or two that would have sidelined other quarterbacks. But an injury that forces Manning away from the field is not something the Giants have had to confront. Ever.
That's important. The Giants make their plans, every year, around the idea that Manning won't miss any time. He doesn't miss games, practices or offseason workouts. He is always there, without exception, and that and his two Super Bowl MVP awards are the reasons he's paid as one of the top quarterbacks in the league. The Giants don't really employ a backup quarterback in the fill-in-starter sense. What they look for in a backup is a good scout team quarterback. Curtis Painter isn't a real option to play if Manning has to miss a bunch of time, and Ryan Nassib remains what he was on draft day last year -- a long-range project who may or may not ever play for them. If Manning were to have to miss games, the Giants would quite honestly have little reason to show up for those games. He's as important to his team as any player in the league, and the key to that importance is the reliability of his health.
Which is why this is a faint-sounding, long-range alarm bell if not a short-range one. Manning is 33, which isn't old by modern NFL quarterback standards but certainly isn't young. There will come a time when he's not able to answer the bell for every single game and every single practice. Whether that time comes this year, next year or five years down the road, it is coming. At some point in the not-too-distant future, the Giants will have to answer questions at quarterback that Manning's reliability has kept them from having to address for the past decade. News that their indestructible franchise quarterback is having surgery is cause to appreciate what Manning has meant to the Giants, and a warning that he won't always be there for them.
Thanks as always for the questions. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.
Mel gave the New York Giants a C+ right after the draft and has revised that down to a C. He wrote at the time that he wasn't surprised, given their history, that the Giants didn't take a linebacker in the first round, but that he was surprised they didn't take one in any round. Mel's most recent 2014 mock had the Giants taking Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley at No. 12 overall, so it's clear that linebacker-as-significant-need for the Giants bothers Mel quite a bit. But while the fact that they needed to trade for Jon Beason a month into the season may back up the idea that they should have drafted one, the fact that they got Beason for a 2014 seventh-rounder backs up the team's opinion that they don't need to spend major resources to address the position.
As for the 2013 Giants draft in review, I think we've gone over the pertinent aspects more than once. First-rounder Justin Pugh looks like a long-term keeper on the offensive line. Second-rounder Johnathan Hankins looks like a starter-caliber player on the defensive line. And if third-rounder Damontre Moore turns into an impact player, this ends up looking like a very good draft. Heck, if fourth-rounder Ryan Nassib turns out to be worth anything, it looks like a fantastic one.
But it's those middle rounds where the Giants' recent drafts haven't held up, so time will tell whether this is another disappointing one or whether it helped them build back the roster depth that has begun to elude them.