NFC East: Ahmad Bradshaw

I credit New York Giants rookie running back Andre Williams for staying level-headed amid breathless NFL post-draft hype. Someone asked him Tuesday about whether he, Rashad Jennings and a healthy David Wilson could create a "three-headed monster" at running back. His answer was, basically, that everybody should slow down with that kind of talk.

"I can't really say they're going to build that three-headed monster," said Williams, the 2013 NCAA rushing yards leader the Giants took in the fourth round of the draft. "I'm not really too sure yet. I'm just getting here and learning as much as I can. I think each running back brings a lot of different specialties, and I'm just excited to see what we'll be able to do once we're out on the field."

Good for Williams for the straight talk. One of the things I hate most about NFL analysis is the extent to which it seeks examples from the past to cling to. The Giants won the Super Bowl at the end of the 2007 season with a "three-headed monster" of Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw at running back. In no way does that mean (a) that's the way they like to handle running back; or (b) that it can or should be expected to work again with the current group. None of the Giants' current running backs has accomplished anything close to what Jacobs and Bradshaw accomplished in their careers, and the plain fact is the Giants will be very fortunate if any one of them ever comes close.

No one knows if Wilson will ever play again following neck surgery. Indications are that he will, but no one knows for sure yet. Jennings hasn't been a full-time starter for an extended period of time in the league, and no one knows how he'll do in that role. And Williams is a fourth-round pick who needs to get used to the speed of the NFL game, his pass-protection responsibilities ... everything, really, as he appears to know. Peyton Hillis is likely still ahead of him on the depth chart and could stay there into the season. Williams has to earn his way up the ladder like any Giants rookie, and part of the point of having depth at running back is to make sure they don't need to rush him.

I had as much fun watching Williams as anyone did last year. I think Wilson is electrifying when healthy. And I think the Giants' reasoning on Jennings is sound, looking at him as a lightly used guy who could be about to hit his prime late, even if they did jump the market a bit to sign him. But man, there are still a lot of unknowns here. And the odds are nearly 100 percent that, however it works out, it will look different than any running back arrangement the Giants have used in the past. Heck, it's an entirely new offense this year, in case anyone forgot about that.

Let's let Wilson get healthy and let Williams develop along his own track and let Jennings be the lead dog, as he was signed to be, and see whether he performs in the role. If you followed the Giants last year, you saw tons of examples of things not going according to plan at running back. Don't be in a rush to anoint anyone anything. The Giants like their stable of backs, as long as they're all healthy, and they'll let it play out according to what they see. Not what they saw seven years ago.
Jerry ReesePat Lovell/USA TODAY SportsOf the 39 players drafted during GM Jerry Reese's first five drafts, only eight remain on the roster.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There are New York Giants fans reading this who aren't sure how to feel about this year's draft but assume it'll be all right because they trust GM Jerry Reese as a good drafter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bradshaw sympathizes with Nicks

April, 25, 2014
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Our Indianapolis Colts team reporter, Mike Wells, is busy these days helping out with NBA coverage. But he did recently have a conversation with Colts running back Ahmad Bradshaw about Colts wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, and Mike was kind enough to pass along what the one former New York Giants player said about the other.

Nicks
Bradshaw
The Giants let Nicks walk in free agency after an extremely disappointing season in which Nicks didn't catch a touchdown pass and his effort was questioned by the coaching staff. He signed with Indianapolis, where Bradshaw signed last year after the Giants released him. Bradshaw seems to think that Nicks' situation and his are similar, and emblematic of a perpetual desire by the Giants to churn their roster.

"I know how it is over there. How they work," Bradshaw told Mike. "It gets bad as you get more years in the league with Giants. You get the younger guys coming in. They visualize, and with me, they visualize me leaving and David Wilson coming in and being that guy. Andre Brown being that guy, and they had those two guys. They were like, 'Leave that money alone. Let him go, take care of the little guys.' That's how this league is becoming. As the year was going when I was with the Giants, my coach was like, 'They're just talking about younger, faster, healthy.' Nowadays these younger guys aren't as healthy. They come in and have some different stuff."

Bradshaw never could seem to stay healthy while with the Giants, and they cut him for money reasons and because they didn't feel they could count on him to stay on the field. (He played only three games for the Colts last year due to a neck injury.) They'd drafted Wilson in the first round in 2012 and were ready to roll with Wilson and Brown at running back in 2013, and Bradshaw had failed to seize the opportunity in 2012 to be the full-time starter.

Nicks' case is a bit different, as he was ostensibly healthy in 2013 but seemed to focus on staying healthy at the expense of being productive. The Giants went into last year hoping to re-sign Nicks, but by the end of the season they'd decided to move on. Bradshaw seems to think they did Nicks wrong.

"I've been there," Bradshaw said. "They try to make you feel like you're a cancer to the team. Different things. It's really they want to try to get the younger guys experience and sit you down. Not that you've done anything wrong. I've been there and I know where he comes from. He's telling me, 'They said I was cancer there.' I know how it was cause I was there. I've been through that."

For the record, I never heard anyone with the Giants claim that Nicks was a "cancer." Even through his struggles, he remained a solid presence in the locker room and didn't make waves off the field. The coaching staff was frustrated because it couldn't find any way of getting him to play better, and it felt it tried everything. The Giants' preference would have been for Nicks to have a good year, and they'd have tried to re-sign him. But that didn't happen, and they didn't. As was the case with Bradshaw, Nicks had a chance to convince the Giants to keep him around. He just didn't take advantage of it.
Justin Tuck and Matthew StaffordGetty ImagesJustin Tuck, left, and the Giants will be trying to end the playoff hopes of Matthew Stafford's Lions.
It is a battle of disappointments on Sunday at Ford Field: the New York Giants, who have been disappointing all season, against the Detroit Lions, who have been one of the more surprising teams over the second half of the season -- in a bad way.

The Giants have no playoff hopes. The Lions need to win their final two games and then hope for help (i.e., losses) from Green Bay and Chicago.

Taking you through Sunday’s matchup are ESPN.com NFL reporters Michael Rothstein (Lions) and Dan Graziano (Giants).

Rothstein: The Giants have struggled all season, and Eli Manning has been at the forefront of that. What has changed there?

Graziano: It's basically just a complete bottoming-out on all fronts, starting with the protection. A line that wasn't great to begin with is down two starters and has been playing a rookie at right tackle all season. The blocking help the line used to get from running backs and tight ends disappeared when the Giants let Ahmad Bradshaw and Martellus Bennett leave in the offseason. Hakeem Nicks has had a terrible year at receiver, playing like he is more worried about staying healthy in advance of free agency than trying his best to win. There has been no run game at all for long stretches. And Manning has failed to elevate above his miserable circumstances, missing too many throws and too often looking as though it has all been too much for him. It's been a total whitewash of a season for the Giants' offense. They are the only team in the league that has been shut out even once this season, and they've been shut out twice.

What is the deal out there in Detroit? To my eyes, the Lions should have put this division away by now with Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler having been out for so long. What is the main reason they seem to have squandered such a great opportunity?

Rothstein: I don't know whether there are enough words to describe all that has gone on, although the simplest way to put it would be consistent end-game meltdowns, either from turnovers, coaching decisions or a defense that suddenly faltered.

A lot of it has to do with Matthew Stafford, who has had accuracy issues in the second half of the season. Really, there have been issues everywhere but the lines, from turnovers to coverage breakdowns on defense.

This is a team that should be safely in the playoffs right now instead of needing to win out and get help.

That obviously leads to job-security questions for Jim Schwartz. Although that doesn't seem to be the case for Tom Coughlin, has this season given any indication as to how much longer he plans to be on the sideline?

Graziano: No, Coughlin is really a what-you-see-is-what-you-get sort of guy. He's completely believable when he insists he's focused on only this week's game and doesn't want to address anything beyond this season. People close to Coughlin insist he won't quit as long as he feels he can still do the job, and there is no indication he feels otherwise. He has as much passion and energy as anyone else in the building (and right now, more than most!). I don't think Giants ownership would fire him, and I'd be stunned if he got into the offseason and decided he was done. As one person close to him told me, "He has no hobbies. There's nothing for him to retire TO." At 67 years old, he understands why the questions get asked, but he doesn't view himself as near the end of a career, I don't think. As of now, he plans to be part of the solution here, and it would be a major upset if he wasn't back in 2014.

One of Coughlin's biggest immediate problems is keeping his quarterback from getting killed. How is that Detroit pass rush looking these days?

Rothstein: Eli, meet Ndamukong. He will be the guy tossing you to the ground today. In all seriousness, though, the Lions' pass rush has been interesting. The Lions have been great at applying pressure (other than against Pittsburgh) but don't have the actual numbers to show for it, which can be confusing.

What teams have done is bottle the middle on Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, and have either a tight end or running back help on either Willie Young or Ziggy Ansah on the ends.

So to answer your question, it has been OK, but not the consistently dominant force some were expecting.

That leads into my last question. The Lions' run defense, headed by that front, has been one of the best in the league this season. Have the Giants figured any way to solve their run woes?

Graziano: Andre Brown was hot for a while when he came back from his injury, and the offensive line was starting to block better for the run. But the past two weeks have seen a step backward, and the way the line is configured now, with starting left guard Kevin Boothe playing center and backups rotating in and out at left guard, has left it very vulnerable and one-dimensional. The Giants were able to take advantage of some good matchups with Brown running well, but against tougher fronts like the one they saw against Seattle last week, they struggle. I imagine they will struggle against the Lions' front in the run game as well.

Two straight disappointing games for Stafford and Calvin Johnson. Do you expect Megatron to blow up this week and victimize the Giants' secondary?

Rothstein: Kind of. As cornerback Rashean Mathis told me this week, if the Lions don’t find their urgency now, they’ll never find it this season. So I’d imagine you would see Johnson -- who is Detroit's best player -- at the forefront of that if the Lions have any shot over the next two weeks. Plus, those two drops he had against Baltimore will gnaw at him all week long. I expect he’ll have a big game.

Stafford, on the other hand, I’m not as sure about because he seems genuinely rattled this second half of the season. Detroit needs to find what was working for him at the start of the season and bring that back, otherwise its season is over.

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Twitter mailbag: A new starting corner?

November, 9, 2013
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- With Brandon Jacobs and Da'Rel Scott off to the side nursing hamstring injuries and David Wilson out in California getting his neck looked at and Andre Brown not eligible to play until Week 10, the New York Giants were a little bit thin at running back in Monday's practice. This fact was pointed out to a surprisingly whimsical coach Tom Coughlin.

"What do you mean? We had one. We're all set," Coughlin said with a broad smile. "We had [fullback] John Conner and we had Michael Cox. They had a pretty good practice, too."

The impact of Conner, who had a big night blocking for Jacobs on Thursday in Chicago, is not to be overlooked. And while Wilson could well be out for the season, Coughlin said the team was holding Jacobs out as a precaution and he believed Jacobs would practice Thursday. But if Jacobs can't play in next Monday night's game against the Vikings, the workload is likely to fall to the rookie Cox, who was the next-to-last pick in this year's draft. Coughlin said the Giants feel good about some things with Cox and not so good about others and "we're working on the not so." Reading between the lines, it sounds as though they want Cox to show he can handle himself in pass protection before they're willing to give him more carries.

"He's young, and it's sophisticated and complex, the things that are thrown at him, particularly in the protection area," Coughlin said. "So you've got to be careful."

This is not new, this concept. Pass protection concerns were the main thing that kept Wilson out of the lineup in his 2012 rookie season, and were as much an unspoken concern about him early this year as the fumbling problems were a spoken one. The Giants released Ahmad Bradshaw, the best pass-protection back in the league, in the offseason for cap reasons, and they believed Brown could fill that role until he broke his leg in a preseason game. They've struggled to fill the role ever since, and they've even hesitated to use Jacobs on third downs in spite of his extensive knowledge of the protection schemes.

"They're definitely harder here than in college," Cox said. "But I feel like I understand it now."

So while it might be easy to look from the outside at Cox and see an explosive young runner who deserves a chance to show what he can do in a lost season, it's not that simple for the Giants. Protection of quarterback Eli Manning remains a higher priority than rushing yards, and especially with the health and other issues they've had on the offensive line, that's not going to change any time soon.

If you see Cox in the game a lot Monday, it's almost certainly because the Giants had no other choice. But if he starts to earn a larger role even once Jacobs is fully healthy, that's how you'll know they've started to trust him more in pass protection. That's the only real clear path to carries for a Giants running back, and that's not new.

Assessing Jerry Reese's offseason

September, 30, 2013
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New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese continues to decline interview requests through the team's media relations department. The Giants insist they are not the sort of franchise whose ownership and management-level leaders hold running commentary about the season, and their 0-4 start is not going to make them be who they are not. That's fine. I can respect that. I disagree, because I think it would constitute a public show of leadership and support if Reese and/or John Mara were to talk publicly at the end of this September. But that's their way of doing business, and you have to stay true to yourself. All good. Long as they don't mind if I keep asking.

This also allows us to write whatever we want to write about Reese and the way he assembled the 2013 Giants roster, because he's not taking the opportunity to present his side of any of it. So with that in mind, I hereby present my wholly objective opinions on five of the significant Giants roster decisions Reese made this offseason.

Bradshaw
1. Releasing running back Ahmad Bradshaw

Why they did it: Cap room, and the belief that Bradshaw wouldn't be able to stay healthy enough to count on.

Were they wrong? No, not even in hindsight. Bradshaw's already hurt for the Colts, who have already spent their 2014 first-round pick on an upgrade. To look back now and call this a mistake would be an unjustified second-guess. It was time for the Giants and Bradshaw to part ways.

The impact: The problem is that Reese didn't work hard enough to replace Bradshaw (this is a recurring theme you'll see here). The thought was that second-year man David Wilson could be the primary ballcarrier and Andre Brown could handle pass-protection and goal-line duties. But Brown broke his leg in the preseason and Wilson fumbled twice in the opener, and the Giants were exposed as way too thin at running back with only Da'Rel Scott and Michael Cox on the bench. They had to go out and bring back Brandon Jacobs just to fill out the meeting room. Big mess. Where they really miss Bradshaw is in pass protection, where he's the best running back in the league at picking up the blitz. No matter who they brought in, it would have been tough for anyone to replace Bradshaw in that area. Brown was okay at it, but he has an extensive injury history that made him difficult to count on. Reese likely should have found a veteran pass-blocking back to fill out the roster in camp.

Beatty
Beatty
2. Signing Will Beatty to a five-year, $38.75 million contract.

Why they did it: The Giants gave Beatty his big deal right before free agency because they feared left tackles like Jake Long, Sebastian Vollmer and Andre Smith would push the tackle market through they roof. They had a 28-year-old who'd played well for them in 2012 and knew their system, and they got him on a cap-friendly deal before the market could act on him.

Were they wrong? Yes. The market for free-agent tackles didn't go where Reese expected it to go. Long broke the bank with the Rams, but Vollmer and Smith re-signed with their own teams for less than half of what Beatty got. And while those guys play right tackle and Beatty plays left, the difference is not what the contracts indicate. Had they waited, it turns out they likely could have had Beatty for less than they spent.

The impact: If Beatty plays like a franchise left tackle, as he did in 2012, the Giants won't regret the cost. But if he plays the way he's played so far this year -- overmatched physically and employing sloppy, inconsistent technique that's impossible for him to overcome -- then they have a long-term problem that would require him to be replaced and them to be overpaying a right tackle. Four games in, there's a question mark at a position that was supposed to be solved. And with the rest of the line looking like it needs to be addressed in the short- and long-term, that's no good. The issue on both lines is that there's too little in the pipeline -- that they haven't developed players to replace the ones they've lost. They paid Beatty as though he was the exception, and to this point he hasn't looked it.

Cruz
3. Signing Victor Cruz to a five-year, $43 million contract.

Why they did it: They view Cruz as a special talent and a long-term piece of their puzzle -- a slot receiver capable of catching the ball anywhere on the field and going all the way with it. Eli Manning trusts him completely, and he's a huge part of why their passing game works.

Were they wrong? No. They stayed patient and waited while Cruz sat out offseason practices in the hope that they'd raise their offer. Ultimately, he came to them and accepted the deal at the team's preferred price. They got the player at the cost they wanted, and it helps them as they deal with wide receiver Hakeem Nicks' free agency this coming offseason. They'd have been in a tough spot if they'd had to make decisions on both of them in 2014.

The impact: Cruz was the best Giants player on the field Sunday in Kansas City. He has scored four of their seven touchdowns so far this year. The answer to the question "Where would they be without him?" is obviously exactly where they are right now at 0-4. But they'd be there with one less bright spot to offer any hope for improvement. Cruz is a keeper.

Myers
Myers
4. Replacing TE Martellus Bennett with Brandon Myers.

Why they did it: Bennett got a four-year, $20.4 million contract from the Bears. The Giants, who have started four different tight ends the last four years, view the position as replaceable. As soon as he was getting multi-year offers elsewhere, Bennett was a goner. Myers, who caught 79 passes for the Raiders a year ago, was the most enticing of the veteran options remaining on the market.

Were they wrong? Absolutely. Not in declining to outbid the Bears for Bennett but in the steps they took to replace him. Rather than bring in Myers, who's a receiving tight end who can't block, they should have focused on replacing some of the blocking ability of Bennett, who (like Bradshaw) grades out as one of the best blockers at his position in the NFL.

The impact: It's being felt most in the run game, where the Giants are getting no effective blocking whatsoever at the point of attack. The glaring example Sunday was the third-and-1 David Wilson run to the right side where he was behind three tight ends and all three of them got smoked and Wilson couldn't get the yard. Myers is what he is, and it's not a blocking tight end. The Giants need one, and especially with Bear Pascoe having to play fullback in place of the injured Henry Hynoski, they really don't have one.

5. Drafting Justin Pugh, Johnathan Hankins and Damontre Moore in the first three rounds.

Why they did it: Pugh was the Giants' first first-round offensive lineman since 1999, and they picked him not with the idea that he'd start at right tackle this year but because they knew they had long-term offensive line needs at multiple positions and they saw him as a guy who could play tackle or guard. Hankins is a defensive tackle, and at the time of the draft they didn't realize they had two veterans in Shaun Rogers and Mike Patterson who would make their team at that position. They felt they were getting thin there, and that Hankins could help as a rotational player in his first year and a long-term piece. Moore was a pass-rusher they felt dropped too far, given his talent and his college sack numbers. They believed he could infuse the pass rush immediately, helping replace what was lost with the free-agent departure of Osi Umenyiora.

Were they wrong? Well, it hasn't worked out as anticipated. Pugh is the starting right tackle because David Diehl got hurt. Hankins has been inactive for all four games because he's fifth on the depth chart at defensive tackle. And Moore, who missed most of August with a shoulder injury, has had an impact on special teams but not yet on the defense.

The impact: Pugh is learning on the job, and it's costing the Giants in pass protection. He shows some good and some bad, as all rookies do, and at this point it looks as though he might be better off moving inside to guard. But they're right to try him at tackle to find out. He's surely not their only problem right now on the line. Hankins is developing in practice, and there's no way to know what kind of pick he'll turn out to be. But with 2011 second-rounder Marvin Austin having flopped and with Linval Joseph eligible for free agency after this year, they need Hankins to be a hit. Moore looks fast and athletic and could be a bolt of energy to the flagging pass rush, but as is the case with Wilson at running back, the coaches are hesitant to play him. The 2013 draft hasn't helped very much, which it's not necessarily supposed to in 2013. But the way the picks were made indicated that the Giants expected at least some help from the early-round guys this year, and it's possible they won't get much of it.
With all due respect to the established and comfortable structure of the in-season NFL week, I simply do not care what Carl Banks or Antrel Rolle or anyone else had to say when offered an opportunity to voice their frustrations about the New York Giants in their paid weekly radio appearances. "Giants unhappy because they lost and looked bad doing it" is not news. It's noise.

I personally believe it would be more interesting to hear from someone qualified to explain the root of the problems the Giants are having and to offer substantive thoughts on potential solutions. I think Giants GM Jerry Reese fits that profile, and I think it would be good for him to speak publicly this week. Not today, necessarily, with the organization supporting coach Tom Coughlin on the day of his brother's funeral. Some things -- many things, actually -- are more important than football, and certainly this can wait. But when we all go back Wednesday and Thursday for interviews and news conferences in East Rutherford, I don't think it's too much to ask for the team's general manager to come out and answer some questions.

[+] EnlargeJerry Reese
William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY SportsGM Jerry Reese has some difficult questions to answer concerning the Giants' early struggles.
Requests to interview Reese on Monday were declined, and it has been explained to me that he rarely talks in-season, with the possible exception of the bye week. The Giants' power structure is well established and respected by all involved. Reese's job is to put the roster together. Coughlin's is to coach the team. Reese giving all kinds of interviews in-season the way owner/GM Jerry Jones, for example, holds court in the locker room after every game would be unseemly given the separation of powers in the Giants organization. Fair enough.

But when the team starts 0-3 and there are legitimate questions being asked about whether it's actually built to win, it's time to consider making an exception. Accountability is always in-season, and there are questions that Reese is more qualified to answer right now than are the coaches and players who are giving interviews daily. Questions such as:

  • As an organization that believes in developing internal solutions to its roster issues, where on your roster do you believe improvements on the offensive line can come, in the short term as well as the long term?
  • Given the health issues he had last year and the surgery he had this spring, do you expect Jason Pierre-Paul to make a full return to the form he showed in 2011 and early 2012? And if so, how much longer do you expect to have to get by with this obviously diminished version of him?
  • Based on your pre-draft evaluations of him, and factoring in what you've seen on the field so far, do you believe Justin Pugh is ready for continued full-time duty as your right tackle? Or would he benefit from a move inside or even to the bench once David Diehl is ready to return?
  • Are there any external moves you believe can be made in-season to address the blocking issues still left over from the departures of guys such as Ahmad Bradshaw and Martellus Bennett?

Those are just a few samples, and I'm sure other people have others. And look, this isn't about assigning blame or railing that Reese didn't do enough. I've gone down that road before. Wrote that column in August 2011. I was wrong then, and it's entirely possible that those who want to hammer Reese now will turn out to be proven wrong months down the road. I'm not necessarily betting on it, but I've learned a lesson or two about rushing to conclusions that run counter to people's track records.

I don't think Reese was wrong to let Bradshaw and Bennett and Osi Umenyiora leave given what they would have cost him. I do think it's possible he didn't do enough to replace them, and that the Giants may be entering something of a rebuilding phase as a result. I'd like to get his thoughts on that. And I think if others in the organization are out there answering for the 0-3 start, it's not too much to ask the same of the man who assembled the so-far overmatched roster.

Why the Giants signed Brandon Jacobs

September, 10, 2013
9/10/13
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Here is what the New York Giants' decision to bring back RB Brandon Jacobs is and is not:

Wilson
IT IS NOT an indictment of David Wilson. The Giants were looking at veteran running backs last week, remember, before Wilson's tough season-opening performance against Dallas, and may have signed one of them if it hadn't been for a league rule that would have forced them to guarantee a full year's salary. They were thin at the position. Andre Brown's preseason injury left them with three tailbacks on the roster, all of whom are inexperienced (Wilson is in his second year). The Giants likely would have signed a veteran running back for depth reasons even if Wilson, who fumbled twice Sunday night, had played well.

Jacobs
IT IS a move that can help the Giants in a very specific way. Jacobs played for the Giants from 2005-11 and is familiar with the offense. In particular, he is familiar with the pass-protection schemes that Wilson has not yet mastered. It's understandable that Wilson hasn't mastered them; they're complex, and the standard that was set by his predecessor, Ahmad Bradshaw, was extremely high. If the Giants can deploy Jacobs on passing downs, as they had planned to do with Brown before his injury, he can pick up blitzers and help protect Eli Manning better than Wilson did Sunday night.

Jacobs is surely capable of carrying the ball and even catching it; they would not have signed him if they didn't consider him well-conditioned enough to do those things. But I wouldn't rush to add him to my fantasy team just yet. The odds are that he won't be getting too many touches right away, if ever.

IT IS NOT a sign that Wilson is going to stay benched or is "in the doghouse," to use a favorite cliché of Giants fans on this matter. If Wilson's fumbling issues continue, his playing time would of course be reduced. But the Giants are going to give Wilson an opportunity to prove that the fumbling was a one-game issue, and it's possible he will do so. He didn't lose another fumble last year after the one in the season opener, and who knows? It could be a Week 1 jitters thing. Could be a Cowboys thing.

Benching him last year, when he was a rookie backup, was one thing. But this year, there's no Bradshaw and no Brown, and Jacobs was sitting on his couch last week. Wilson remains the best running back on the roster, and the one they need to use if their offense is going to run the way they want it to run.

IT IS a move they believe will help Wilson. Jacobs is a respected veteran and a good locker-room guy, and part of the reason the Giants wanted him back was to tutor Wilson on the parts of the game with which he's struggling. The plan is still for Wilson to be the feature back long term, as soon as possible, and having Jacobs on the field and in the meeting room should be a benefit to Wilson as he continues the process of rounding out his NFL game.

Upon Further Review: Giants Week 1

September, 9, 2013
9/09/13
12:00
PM ET
An examination of four hot issues from the Giants' 36-31 loss to the Cowboys:

[+] EnlargeDavid Wilson
Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty ImagesGiants running back David Wilson lost two fumbles in Sunday's loss to the Cowboys.
David Wilson's fumbles. This isn't like last year, when the Giants could afford to stash Wilson on the bench after his Week 1 fumble against the Cowboys because he was a rookie and they had Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown in the backfield. Bradshaw is gone and Brown is out until at least Week 10 with a broken leg. Wilson is supposed to be the guy who breaks out in the Giants' run game this year and emerges as the big-play threat they drafted him to be. Even if they sign a veteran back this week, the Giants know they need Wilson to recover from Sunday's two fumbles and earn his way back into the lineup as the starter and lead runner. He'll have to get another shot, and soon.

The secondary. The defense was on the field too much and playing with too short a field as a result of the turnovers, but I thought the Giants' secondary covered well. Had a plan and executed it. The Giants shaded a safety to Dez Bryant's side all night, whether he was lined up on Corey Webster, Prince Amukamara or Aaron Ross. They kept Terrell Thomas in the slot on Miles Austin, and he purposely played off of Austin so as not to let him get behind him for a big play. It was probably a blueprint for next week's game against the Broncos (watch for Thomas on Wes Welker in the slot), though if Amukamara's concussion keeps him out of next week's game, using Ross at corner for a whole game could cost them.

Linebacker as a weakness. The Cowboys' plan was clearly to attack the middle of the field with short-range passes against the Giants' linebackers, which is a position of weakness for the defense. Tight end Jason Witten didn't have 18 catches as he did in the previous matchup, but he had eight and Austin had 10 in that part of the field as Tony Romo made a point of getting rid of the ball as quickly as possible. The Giants' pass-rushers must find a way to force quarterbacks to take shots deeper down the field. It will increase the chances for opponents' mistakes and reduce the Giants' dependence on the linebackers to handle the middle of the field so much.

High-octane receivers. If the Giants can get the play blocked (and there were issues with that Sunday night as well), their passing offense will keep them in games. Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks both looked healthy, and Rueben Randle had a 100-yard game as well. With that many options to throw to, Eli Manning could pile up yards this year. The key now is to make it so he's not always playing from behind.

David Wilson is ready for more work

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
3:12
PM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In the wake of Andre Brown's latest injury -- a left leg fracture suffered in the New York Giants' preseason finale Thursday night in New England -- running back David Wilson is prepared to work. Third-down carries, goal-line carries ... whatever they've got for him, Wilson wants it.

"I'm in shape, so I think I can handle it," the second-year back said Monday afternoon of the prospect of an increased workload. "Whatever they need me to do, I'll do. If they need me to kick a field goal, I'm going to go out there and give it 100 percent and try and make that field goal."

[+] EnlargeDavid Wilson
AP Photo/Julio CortezDavid Wilson will have to grind out tough yards for the Giants with Andre Brown injured.
It's not likely they'll need that, but Wilson could well get more touchdowns for whatever length of time Brown is out. Brown was the Giants' goal-line running back last year, collecting eight touchdowns in only 10 games before a more severe leg break ended his season early, and he was ticketed for that role again this year. But that assignment had more to do with how good Brown is at it than any concern over Wilson's ability to handle goal-line work.

"David Wilson, he runs in there hard," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "He's powerful. He's compact. He has tremendous leg strength. So for him to run the ball on short yardage and the goal line, I don't have any problem with that."

It's true that Wilson's electric speed and his relative short stature (he's listed at 5-foot-9, 205 pounds) contribute to a reputation that he's a finesse back. But when you watch him run between the tackles, it's easy to see that he runs with power.

"Don't get confused by my size," Wilson said. "I'm a physical guy. I'm from the country. I grew up chopping wood. I'm well put together."

So that shouldn't be an issue. The larger one is that Brown was the back the Giants were using on third downs and in critical pass-protection situations. The departure of Ahmad Bradshaw, who rates as one of the top pass-protection running backs in the league, has created a void in that area, and it seemed as though the Giants coaches were more comfortable with Brown picking up blitzes than they were with Wilson doing it.

But Wilson did a good job of that Thursday night, picking up a blitzing Patriots safety on a play that resulted in a 37-yard pass play from Eli Manning to Louis Murphy, and he said he's considerably more comfortable with the protection schemes than he was a year ago or even a month ago. He's been watching tape of Bradshaw and applying lessons Bradshaw and Brown have tried to teach him about blitz-pickup technique over the past year.

"He's done a pretty good job of that," Coughlin said. "The last couple of games, he's improved. He's a much improved player, much more aware of what he has to do to contribute in the entire pass-protection scheme."

Coughlin did say they wanted to monitor Wilson's snaps this year, and that there is a number they have in mind for him that won't change just because of Brown's injury. But it's possible the Giants could move more toward a "bell cow" running back scheme, with Wilson getting the vast majority of the significant carries while backups such as Ryan Torain, Da'Rel Scott and Michael Cox contribute when he needs a rest. Coughlin also said the team was awaiting the results of further tests on Brown's leg to determine how long he'd be out, and that roster cuts and the decision on whether to seek outside help at running back would wait until they had all of the information on Brown.

Meantime, Wilson is fine with whatever they throw at him. He wouldn't even mind if they gave him back those kick-return duties in which he was so explosive a year ago.

"We're still waiting for the verdict," Wilson said. "Michael Cox has been doing a pretty good job with it, so we'll see. I still want it, but if somebody's going to take advantage like he is, that's all right, too."
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- They put a brave face on it, and they will continue to do so, but the last thing the New York Giants wanted this week was to lose two starting offensive linemen to injuries. Starting center David Baas sprained his knee in Sunday's preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts and will be out three to six weeks. And veteran David Diehl, who was the starting right tackle before Baas' injury and was going to be the starting left guard after it, underwent thumb surgery Wednesday and is out for six weeks.

"We'll be fine," guard/center Kevin Boothe said. "Obviously, Dave's injury is a tough one, but we'll regroup. Unfortunately, we've had experiences with guys going down, so we'll respond."

Which is what you'd expect them to say, and to believe, because nobody ever won anything by moaning and groaning about the bad injury breaks they got. It's not for the players who remain healthy to ponder the potentially negative consequences of injuries. That's for those of us looking in from the outside. So here goes:

The problem with offensive-line injuries at this point in the offseason for the Giants is that they hit at the most significant question mark they already had on offense -- their blocking. Theirs was not a great offensive line to begin with in 2012, but it got by with help. Quarterback Eli Manning helped out, as always, with his quick release. Martellus Bennett performed up to his reputation as one of the best blocking tight ends in the league. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw contributed his usual hard-nosed brilliance in pass protection. Fullback Henry Hynoski had a big year opening holes in the running game.

[+] EnlargeJustin Pugh
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsThe Giants will need even more from rookie Justin Pugh on an uncertain offensive line.
But Bennett and Bradshaw are gone, and Hynoski is recovering from his own knee injury, and there's only so much Manning's quick release can accomplish on its own. The offensive line is going to have to be stout in 2013, and with two and a half weeks left before the Giants open in Dallas, it's getting thinner instead.

The Giants have an absolutely loaded offense from a skill-position standpoint. The tandem of running backs David Wilson and Andre Brown looks like a potentially explosive complement to Manning and the passing game. Top receiver Hakeem Nicks is healthy, Victor Cruz's heel injury should heal in time for the opener, Rueben Randle has had a big camp and new tight end Brandon Myers caught 79 passes with Oakland last year. Manning might have more weapons at the skill spots than he has had in some time, and if he has time to distribute the ball, the Giants should be able to score a ton of points.

But that's only if they can get the plays blocked, and right now that's looking like a mildly big "if." We've seen teams in recent years (the Dallas Cowboys come to mind) that had tons of skill-position talent but couldn't cash it in because of poor play on the offensive line. The Giants aren't worried, right now, about being one of those teams. They hope for big things from first-round rookie Justin Pugh, who's running with the first team at right tackle. They're hoping Baas can return for the opener. And they always believe someone from their stable of backups at any position will be developed enough and ready to take over in a case like this. Jim Cordle at center, or James Brewer at guard or tackle, perhaps, could fit that description.

The problem is that the line is the one area of the Giants' offense that carried question marks with it into training camp. And when injuries hit you where you're already questionable, then it's only natural to wobble a bit. The problem isn't that the Giants don't have a plan or the people to replace the ones who got hurt. It's that this week's injuries came at spots where the Giants weren't their strongest to begin with. So during a time of league-wide optimism, when teams are supposed to be fine-tuning for the start of the season, the Giants have a fresh cause for concern.

Stock Watch: New York Giants

August, 21, 2013
8/21/13
9:50
AM ET
A look at whose stock is rising and falling for the New York Giants during the third week of the NFL preseason.

RISING

Justin Pugh, OL. The knee injury suffered Sunday night by starting center David Baas led to a reshuffling of the offensive line. For practice Tuesday, Kevin Boothe moved from left guard to center, David Diehl moved from right tackle to left guard and Pugh, the Giants' first-round draft pick this past April, was installed as the starting right tackle. Baas said he believes he can be back in time for the regular-season opener Sept. 8, so the moves may be temporary. But it looks as though Pugh will get a chance to start at right tackle in at least Saturday's preseason game against the Jets. If he impresses, then it's possible he could keep Diehl's job even once Baas returns and Boothe goes back to guard.

[+] EnlargeAndre Brown
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesAndre Brown is stepping up his game in hopes of earning more playing time.
Andre Brown, RB. Sure, David Wilson is the 2012 first-rounder and the darling of this summer's fantasy drafts. But the Giants still list Wilson and Brown as co-starters at running back, and Brown was in the game for 18 offensive snaps Sunday night to Wilson's 21. More telling than that, Brown replaced Wilson as the halfback on every third down during the portion of the game the starters played, which indicates that the coaches trust him more right now in pass protection. (Brown also was in on goal-line situations, as he was last year when he was vulturing touchdowns from Ahmad Bradshaw.) Neither Wilson nor Brown was called upon much in pass protection Sunday, though Brown did have one play on which he picked up a blitzing safety. But the playing-time pattern portends a time share, and Brown continues to play well enough to demand to be a part of it.

Justin Tuck, DE. Yes, a hamstring injury forced him out of Sunday's game, but he was back on the practice field Tuesday, so it's safe to assume it wasn't major. Early in the game, Tuck looked fast, fearsome and energized, and if he's those things, the Giants have reason to be optimistic about a rebound for their pass rush after a disappointing 33-sack season.

FALLING

Mark Herzlich, LB. It seems as though the Giants would love for Herzlich to take a big step forward and claim the middle linebacker job, but it also seems he has not been able to do so. Dan Connor has been working with the first team this week and appears to be the leader in this competition. Teammates rave about Herzlich's knowledge of the defense, but he hasn't made enough plays.

Aaron Ross, CB. The play on which he lost the ball in the lights and turned an easy interception into a miracle Reggie Wayne touchdown was embarrassing, as Ross admits, but he was picked on all night and really struggled in coverage. Ross surprised with his performance as a starter when pressed into duty in 2011 after Terrell Thomas' injury, but it looks now as though he's more useful in specific packages, as opposed to as a replacement starter with Corey Webster hurt.

STEADY

David Diehl, OL. Yes, he had a bad game Sunday in pass protection. And yes, as we mentioned earlier, he could be in the process of losing his starting job to a rookie. But I don't think Diehl's stock is falling in the eyes of the Giants' coaches. They view him as versatile and reliable and willing to play wherever they need him to play. And the Giants are an organization that likes to reward those things with continued faith. Fickle fans may be sick of Diehl, but the Giants haven't soured on him. Pugh may not be able to handle starting tackle responsibilities just yet, and if he can't, the coaches will be very happy to know their old warhorse can step back in.

Programming note: 'NFL Insiders'

August, 12, 2013
8/12/13
12:30
PM ET
We have a new TV show here on ESPN called "NFL Insiders." It airs at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN, and my own personal debut on the show will be this afternoon -- just a few hours from now, along with Ed Werder, Suzy Kolber and former Browns GM Phil Savage. We're working on getting the show together now, and it's a fluid process, since part of the point of the show is to break and react to news as it happens. But some of the NFC East storylines you're likely to see if you tune in between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. ET include:
  • The relationship between Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan and quarterback Robert Griffin III as they continue to work to manage Griffin's recovery from his January knee surgery.
  • Wide receiver Pierre Garcon, his decision not to have surgery to repair his injured foot and its potential impact on the Redskins' offense.
  • Where things stand and what's important in the Philadelphia Eagles' starting quarterback battle.
  • The difficulty and significance of the transition the Eagles are trying to make on defense in a short period of time, and whether their performance in their preseason opener against New England is cause for concern.
  • The state of the New York Giants' running game as David Wilson and Andre Brown work to replace Ahmad Bradshaw's running and, perhaps more importantly, his ability as a pass protector.
  • What the Dallas Cowboys' new defensive coaches are doing in practice to try and make the forcing of turnovers a bigger priority for the players than it has been in recent years.

So tune in, please. It should be fun.

Camp Confidential: New York Giants

August, 6, 2013
8/06/13
10:00
AM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The buzzword around the New York Giants the past few years has been "consistency." As in, they need to find ways to be more consistent week-to-week, month-to-month in order to achieve their goal of making the playoffs. When they make the playoffs, the Giants are a threat to win the Super Bowl, as they showed two seasons ago. But in three of the past four seasons, they have failed to qualify for the postseason.

The issue, ironically, is that for all of their in-season inconsistencies, the Giants are actually one of the most consistent teams in the league year-to-year. Their regular-season win totals the past four seasons are 8, 10, 9 and 9. There are teams all over the league that would kill for that kind of consistency -- to stay annually in the division race deep into December and be in position to get themselves into what Giants general manager Jerry Reese calls "the tournament." But for the Giants, it's not good enough.

"I guess we are consistent when you look at it that way. So we need to be better," quarterback Eli Manning said before Giants training camp practice Friday. "We expect to be a team that can get 11 wins, that can get 12 wins in a season. So I think it's really just playing to our potential, is really what we're saying. We've got to avoid the bad games. We should be in every game we play."

There are multiple levels on which to attack the problem. Manning himself says he's working to improve his accuracy, especially insofar as it helps the Giants get back to hitting big plays in the passing game. Around him the offensive line and the receiving corps are working to get and stay healthy and be cohesive. The run game is transitioning to younger players. On the other side of the ball, the Giants hope the pass rush can rebound from a 33-sack season (the Giants' lowest team total in that category since 2009) and return to the dominant form that helped it win the Super Bowl two seasons ago. If that happens, they believe the secondary will play better and a defense that allowed the second-most yards in the NFL last year will necessarily improve its ability to control games and steer away from the annual potholes.

"Since I've been here, we've kind of fallen into that same trap. We've had that midseason letdown," said safety Antrel Rolle, who's entering his fourth season with the Giants. "And I'm not quite sure why that's happened, but we definitely need to break that mind frame and get above the nine, 10 wins, because we're better than that. Our standards are way beyond that."

The Giants are holding training camp this year at their regular-season practice facility, mere yards from the stadium in which the Super Bowl will be played six months from now. The view of hulking MetLife Stadium from their practice fields, along with the Super Bowl countdown clock Reese installed in the locker room, is making sure the Giants keep their very high goals in mind as they prepare for the 2013 season.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeDavid Wilson
AP Photo/Seth WenigDavid Wilson will now have the chance to be the lead back in New York's running attack.
1. Who will carry the ball? With mainstay Ahmad Bradshaw off to Indianapolis, the running game is in the hands of 2012 first-round pick David Wilson and Andre Brown, who was the Giants' goal-line back before an injury ended the 2012 season for him. Wilson has everyone excited because of his game-breaking potential, but it's clear that whichever of these guys shows the most as a pass-blocker will get the bulk of the carries.

"You really can't play unless you can protect the quarterback," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "Fortunately, those two young men as well as our other running backs have had the opportunity to look at Ahmad's film and get a better understanding of the complexities of our protection packages. Those two guys are very, very fast and very skilled, and we definitely believe in the balance theory. To play great football, we're going to have to run the ball."

Expect a carry split not unlike what the Giants have shown in years past. But if Wilson shows he can stay on the field for three downs, he could emerge as a star. No Giants back in recent memory has been as explosive a runner as he is.

2. Can they get to the quarterback? The pass rush is in flux as well. Osi Umenyiora is in Atlanta. Jason Pierre-Paul is recovering from back surgery and may not be ready for Week 1. Justin Tuck has 12.5 sacks in his last 32 games. Mathias Kiwanuka is moving back up to the line after a couple of years in the linebacking corps. And they only had 33 sacks last year. The Giants, historically, do not have the kind of success they intend to have without a dominating pass rush.

Tuck says he's rejuvenated after two tough years -- healthier than he's been in any camp since 2010. He's in the final year of his contract, and if he looks like his old self this year, he and the team will benefit dramatically. Toughening up inside at defensive tackle should help as well, and if Pierre-Paul makes a full recovery, this will be a driven unit capable of much bigger things.

3. Last stand for the old guard? "Me worrying about contracts or things that are going to happen in the future doesn't really help me in the present," Tuck said after practice last Friday. "I've never been a player that played the game for money or played for a big contract. If I did, don't you think I'd have been more inclined to play well the last two years and not have to worry about the contract now? I just want to go out there and prove to people that Justin Tuck can do still do his job very well."

Tuck's feelings echo those of teammates David Diehl and Corey Webster. All three are proud Giant champions who took a lot of criticism for their disappointing play in 2012. All three are determined to play better in 2013. All three are likely done in New York next year if they don't. The Giants are placing a big bet on the professional and personal pride of some of their title-team cornerstones. They're all talking tough in August, but it's got to translate into turn-back-the-clock production for the Giants' key veterans.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
AP Photo/Seth WenigEli Manning has plenty of offensive weapons this season and the unit will be capable of putting up a lot of points.
Manning is always the biggest reason for optimism in East Rutherford. Steady, reliable and capable of making every clutch throw there is, the Giants' franchise quarterback is the sun around which their current universe revolves. With Victor Cruz back in the fold after an offseason contract dispute, Rueben Randle looking good as he prepared for his second season, the young legs in the run game, and a new tight end in Brandon Myers who caught 79 passes in Oakland last season, Manning is surrounded by exciting weapons on offense. And if top receiver Hakeem Nicks can shake his latest offseason injury bout and stay healthy all year, this is an offense capable of scoring a lot of points in a hurry.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

The one issue on offense -- and it's a big one -- is the blocking. Bradshaw was a great blocking back, and as we've already discussed we don't know what Wilson and Brown can bring as blockers over a full season. Martellus Bennett was a great run-blocking tight end, and that's not a strength of Myers' game. Diehl is proud, determined and worthy of the benefit of the doubt, but he's coming off a bad season. Interior offensive linemen Chris Snee and David Baas have struggled the past few years with injuries. All of the skill-position talent is exciting, but it could be undone if the Giants can't answer some of their big blocking questions.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Rolle said that when Kenny Phillips went down with his injury problems last year, he had to play a lot in the box while fellow safety Stevie Brown handled the post safety role. Brown did collect eight interceptions in that role, but the Giants want him to be more versatile now that Phillips is gone and he's a full-time starter. Having a full training camp to work as a starter is helping Brown become the kind of interchangeable safety they need him and Rolle to be. "We already know he's a ballhawk and can go and he can go get the ball and do something with it once he gets it," Rolle said. "Now he's showing us that he can play in the box and definitely be a versatile safety."
  • They don't want to talk about it because they don't want to give away their plans, but the Giants have worked on some different alignments of the defensive front seven this camp. Usually a strict 4-3 team, the Giants have tried some 3-4 looks or some hybrid looks that ask their defensive ends to stand up and either play outside linebacker or at least look as though they might. The idea is to confuse the offense and possibly to be in better position to react to the run-heavy, read-option offenses in Washington and maybe Philadelphia.
  • Third-year cornerback Prince Amukamara is healthy and hoping to build on his solid second season. He said his goal is to play well enough that he's able to stay on one side and Webster on the other side of the field for the whole game, rather than having Webster assigned to the other team's No. 1 receiver regardless of where he lines up. The coaches say that's their goal for their cornerbacks as well, and Amukamara's strong camp is leading them to believe they can play that way.
  • Former Eagle Cullen Jenkins has worked some at defensive end as well as tackle. His experience playing different positions in 3-4 and 4-3 fronts could help the Giants if they plan to be varied and have multiple looks on defense.
  • Randle, the team's second-round pick in 2012, is a big-bodied outside threat who could keep Cruz in the slot where he's at his best. It's still premature to project Randle as Nicks' long-term replacement, but from what I saw he's a guy who knows how to use his size and his leaping ability to out-fight a defensive back for a ball in traffic. His speed becomes more of an asset the further he gets down the field, because of his long strides.
  • The biggest-impact 2013 draft pick could be second-rounder Johnathan Hankins, who looks like a valuable part of the rotation at defensive tackle. Third-rounder Damontre Moore is at least a situational pass-rusher at this point, and it's easy to see the way those playmaking instincts help him get off the ball and into the backfield. First-round pick Justin Pugh isn't running with the first team (and he's actually out right now with a concussion), but they have worked him at tackle and guard and they believe he's going to be a valuable long-term piece for them at some position on the line. Right now, though, he's clearly behind Diehl at right tackle.
  • We've come this far without mentioning linebacker, and I don't have much to report. Between their nickel packages, the three-safety looks they like so much, and the possibility that they might show some 3-4 here and there, it's just not a high-priority spot. Spencer Paysinger is making a push for the starting spot at weakside linebacker, with Keith Rivers on the strong side and Mark Herzlich in the middle at least so far. But I think the linebacker alignment could depend on who shows something on special teams.

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