NFC East: Cullen Jenkins

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. -- Running back Rashad Jennings has practiced all week with the New York Giants and is officially listed as probable for Sunday's home game against the San Francisco 49ers. After missing the last four games due to a knee sprain, Jennings looks good to return to the starting lineup for the Giants this week.

"It definitely feels good," Jennings said. "It's not fun when you're at home watching on the couch with your dog looking at you like you're crazy."

Jennings
Giants coach Tom Coughlin said earlier in the week that he didn't expect to give Jennings a full workload in his first game back. But reminded Friday that Andre Brown had 30 carries in his first game back from injury last year after Coughlin made a similar comment about him, Coughlin seemed to relent.

"And we won the game, right?" Coughlin asked rhetorically. "Maybe he gets 50 carries. Whatever it takes to get a win."

Jennings is on board. The Giants averaged 83 rush yards per game with him out and rookie Andre Williams starting. In the five games Jennings started earlier in the year, they averaged 121.

"If I'm out there, I'm going," Jennings said. "No hesitation, no restrictions. I can go as many as they need."

Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins has been ruled out with a calf injury. Jenkins injured his calf in Week 7 in Dallas and sat out the Week 9 game against the Colts following the bye. He returned to the field Sunday in Seattle but re-injured his calf late in that game and didn't practice this week.

Running back Peyton Hillis and linebacker Jacquian Williams, who both suffered concussions in Sunday's game, also have been ruled out for the 49ers game. The Giants will get Mark Herzlich and Spencer Paysinger more involved at linebacker to replace Williams, who has been their full-time starter on the weak side this year and whose speed has been an asset in coverage. With Hillis and Michael Cox (broken leg) both out, Andre Williams and newly signed Orleans Darkwa could see more action behind Jennings at running back. Fullback Henry Hynoski also could get some carries.

Defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, safety Nat Berhe, tight end Daniel Fells and defensive end Damontre Moore, all of whom were on the injury report at some point during this past week, are all listed as probable.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants' defense has moved on from its historically bad performance Sunday in Seattle, but they haven't forgotten it.

The Giants gave up 350 rushing yards to the Seahawks -- the third-worst total in franchise history. They were outrushed 350-54 -- a 296-yard difference, the largest ever in a Giants loss according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"That’s not the Giants standard, and that’s not the way football is played," linebacker Jameel McClain said Wednesday. "Nobody wants records set on them, and I hate it, it still makes me sick. So the idea that I get to go back out there and hit someone and make them pay for what happened last week, I love it."

[+] EnlargeLynch
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesMarshawn Lynch and the Seahawks outrushed the Giants 350 yards to 54.
Strong words, yes, but the task is more difficult than it sounds. The Giants' next opponent, the San Francisco 49ers, are ninth in the league in the rushing (122.2 yards per game). Running back Frank Gore is ranked 10th in the league (553 yards), and Colin Kaepernick is second among all NFL QBs in rushing yards (298) -- behind only the Seahawks' Russell Wilson (500), who ran for 107 against the Giants last week.

The Giants, meanwhile, are ranked dead-last in the NFL against the run (144.7 yards per game). In fact, they are dead-last in total defense, too (404.9 yards per game), a fact that was brought up to several Giants defensive players Wednesday.

"We know it, we’re aware of it, and we have to change it," said defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins. "We have to have pride, and it comes from inside. It’s something that we’re not gonna accept, we’re not gonna tolerate, and it has to come from the players -- we’ve gotta go out there and do it on Sundays."

The Giants' coaching staff, and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell in particular, have come under fire in recent days. But the players largely took the blame upon themselves Wednesday.

"We watch things on film, it’s simple -- details, minor things that we’ve been taught to do, we’re just not going out there and executing," safety Antrel Rolle said.

The Giants may be missing another key player on defense Sunday against the 49ers. Linebacker Jacquian Williams, the team's leading tackler, has a concussion and did not practice Wednesday. Williams has played 563 defensive snaps for the Giants this season according to Football Outsiders, or 93.8 percent -- second only to Rolle (595, 99.2 percent).

The team has already lost two starters, middle linebacker Jon Beason and cornerback Prince Amukamara, plus slot corner Walter Thurmond and his replacement, Trumaine McBride, for the remainder of the season.

"Jacquian I think he’s been playing good football, but right now with the injuries we’ve been hit with thus far, we’re kind of used to it already," Rolle said. "Next man up. We just gotta get ready."

The Giants have allowed 423 or more yards in four consecutive games for the first time in franchise history. They're giving up 9.1 "explosive plays" (rushes of 10-plus yards, passes of 20-plus yards) per game -- the worst single-season figure since ESPN Stats & Information began tracking that stat in 2001.

There's little reason for optimism, but the defensive players sounded upbeat Wednesday, for what it's worth.

"We made our beds, we gotta lie in them," defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said. "The bottom line is, we’ll dig ourselves out of that hole and make sure that this week is the start of getting out of there."

"We have to go out there and put out the best performance that we’ve had to date," McClain said. "I love the challenge of going out there, and I know my teammates look forward to the challenge. You get to see how people stand up at this point."
The New York Giants get back to work Wednesday afternoon to begin their short week of practice in advance of Sunday's game in Seattle. But running back Rashad Jennings is still not practicing, and it appears likely he will miss his fourth straight game due to a knee sprain.

"He has done some running, straight ahead," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said in a Wednesday conference call. "I think he's started to do some cutting, but I don't know if there's a full menu of that coming. He is running, though."

Which is improvement over where he was last week, but until Jennings can reliably cut and move laterally on his left leg, he's not going to be cleared to practice, let alone play. Jennings said last week that the Week 11 home game against the 49ers was a realistic target, so the hope is that he'll only have to miss this one more game.

Guard Geoff Schwartz, who's been on injured reserve since preseason with a toe injury and started practicing last week, is doing more this week, though it's unclear whether he'll be active for the Seattle game. The Giants have until the day after the San Francisco game to activate Schwartz or rule him out for the season.

Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, who missed Monday's game with a calf injury, was doing individual drills Wednesday and Coughlin said he was starting the process. It's possible he could return this week, though again, next week seems more likely.

Left guard Weston Richburg, who left Monday's game with an ankle injury, got good news from Tuesday's tests. Coughlin said Richburg is merely "day to day" with an ankle sprain.

Wide receiver Preston Parker (ankle), defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka (knee) and punter Steve Weatherford (ankle/back) were also on the pre-practice injury report. The "back" portion of Weatherford's status is new and worth keeping an eye on as he seemed to struggle physically early in Monday's game.
Injuries could force the New York Giants' defense to look a little bit different in the weeks that follow this week's bye. Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins strained his right calf in Sunday's loss in Dallas. Middle linebacker Jon Beason might need surgery to repair the toe injury that's been limiting him since June. And injuries at cornerback could lead the Giants to bring back the three-safety look they used on their way to their most recent Super Bowl title three seasons ago.

"The game plan last week was to have Stevie Brown in the game with the three-safety package versus certain personnel groupings," safeties coach Dave Merritt said Tuesday. "That worked out for us, because Stevie went in and did his job and did what we asked him to do. The fact that we used to play the three-safety package a ton back in the day was because of the fact that we had three veterans who were able to play. I'm talking about Kenny Phillips, Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant. Right now, we feel like we've tested the waters and we have the same right now in our camp here."

[+] EnlargeStevie Brown
AP Photo/Seth WenigStevie Brown could see more playing time as the Giants adapt to injuries in their secondary.
The plan coming into this year was to play three cornerbacks most of the time. The team signed Walter Thurmond to play the nickel spot, but he suffered a season-ending injury in September, and Trumaine McBride, who took over, suffered his own season-ending injury in Week 6. So they are down to their third-string nickel cornerback, Jayron Hosley, and they don't seem comfortable leaning on him to the extent that they leaned on Thurmond or McBride.

Brown entered the season as a starting safety, but he lost his job in Week 4 after a poor start to the season and was replaced by Quintin Demps. Coaches have been pleased with the work Brown has put in since the demotion, and they believe there are situations in which it's better to have him, Demps and Rolle on the field at the same time than it is to have three cornerbacks. This arrangement could force Rolle into the nickel spot, a position he has said in the past he's willing to play but prefers not to, but Merritt said they are comfortable with Brown in there as well.

On the defensive line, Jenkins' absence for at least a few weeks leaves the Giants thin at defensive tackle. But they have had success playing defensive ends Robert Ayers and Mathias Kiwanuka at interior positions in pass-rush situations this season, and they might decide to do that more going forward to augment the defensive tackle rotation. Rookie defensive tackle Jay Bromley likely will be elevated to the active roster in Jenkins' absence, but there's also a chance second-year defensive end Damontre Moore could get more looks on the outside when Ayers and/or Kiwanuka move inside.

"Damontre needs to continue to improve and stay focused on what we're doing on first and second down," defensive line coach Robert Nunn said. "He can do it. He's a lighter body, not ideal, but he can play it. He has to stay focused and continue to improve in that area, and he will get more at-bats. He's going to get more opportunities on third down, so he just has to keep coming along and improve on first and second down. If he does that, then he's going to get those opportunities in pass-rush situations."

Moore has shown exciting ability in pass-rush situations and on special teams. But he has yet to earn the complete trust of the coaching staff as a player who can stop the run (and avoid jumping offsides).

No trust issues at linebacker, though. When Beason missed time early in the season, Jameel McClain filled in for him in the middle. At the time, rookie Devon Kennard was hurt, so Mark Herzlich replaced McClain on the strong side. This time, if Beason is out a while, Kennard could be the one who sees more playing time.

"Now that he's healthy, he's contributing on special teams, and last week was able to go in the game and do some good things," linebackers coach Jim Herrmann said of Kennard. "It was good to see him get out and get some game experience, because that is invaluable for a young linebacker. The other guys love him. He's got a great personality, and he wants to be great. I think we'll see some really good things out of him."
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Most of the New York Giants' players finished up meetings Monday and headed out for a long midseason break. The Giants are on bye next week and don't play again until Nov. 3. So guys who want to shut it down, get out of town for a few days, go fishing, whatever, they all go their separate ways.

Some will have to be around the facility, however, to get treatment for various injuries. And there are a few significant Giants injuries to monitor over the next couple of weeks.

Jennings
Schwartz
There is some hope that the return of running back Rashad Jennings from the knee injury that has cost him the past two games and of guard Geoff Schwartz from the toe injury that has so far delayed his Giants' debut will help get the running game going again. But to hear coach Tom Coughlin tell it, neither of those players is a sure thing to return in Week 9. Due to his short-term injured reserve status, Schwartz wasn't even eligible to practice until last week, and all he's done so far is some light running.

"Schwartz has got a long way to go," Coughlin said.

Coughlin also pointed out Jennings is trying to work his way back from a pretty serious knee injury -- an MCL sprain he suffered in the Week 5 victory over Atlanta. Jennings said his goal is to get back in time for the Week 9 "Monday Night Football" game.

"That's what we're trying to get to," Jennings said. "We've got the bye week and we've got some down time, so I'm just working. Preparing my body so that when it heals I can pick up where I left off."

Jennings said he would do more running this week and then "eventually get into the cuts." Schwartz said the goal for him was to practice on the field with the team next week when they return from the bye week.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Giants are banged up as well. Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins left Sunday's game in Dallas in the first half with a calf strain. An MRI on Monday confirmed the strain and nothing more, but Jenkins was still on crutches and in a walking boot Monday and said it was "probably going to be at least a couple weeks" before he could play again.

Middle linebacker Jon Beason re-aggravated the toe injury that cost him all of training camp and three games earlier this season, and Coughlin said Beason likely would go back to see the same foot specialist he's seen a few times this year. It's possible the Giants will end up having to shut Beason down due to this injury, but Coughlin said that's not in the plans at this point.

And cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie plans to continue to play through the leg and back injuries that have been limiting him. "It's going to be a continuous kind of thing here," Coughlin said, though he's hoping the two weeks of rest will help.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul came out of Monday night's game briefly with a neck/shoulder injury, but he returned and finished the game. The Giants had some concern that the problem might continue into this week, but so far it has not. Pierre-Paul practiced with the team in full Wednesday and said afterwards that he had no limitations.

Pierre-Paul
"I feel good," Pierre-Paul said. "I'll be out there. Full go."

Not participating in practice were wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (hamstring), offensive lineman James Brewer (back), defensive tackle Markus Kuhn (ankle), punter Steve Weatherford (ankle), linebacker Devon Kennard (hamstring) and defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (hip).

The Weatherford, Kennard and Jenkins injuries all happened in Monday's game. Jenkins said he expects to play Sunday but couldn't be sure he'd practice Thursday. If he can't go Sunday, that would leave the Giants very thin at defensive tackle assuming Kuhn is still out.

Kennard said he pulled his right hamstring on the first defensive snap of the game (and of his NFL career) when he caught his cleat on the turf. He has no idea when they'll let him practice.

Weatherford got good news on his sprained ankle. He's got some torn ligaments but won't need surgery, and he's not ruling out the chance he can be on the field Sunday.

Beckham fielded some punts at the beginning of practice, which he didn't do last week, but he didn't run with them and continued to work off to the side while the team practiced.
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DETROIT -- The worst part for the New York Giants was that they didn't have anything they could feel good about. Week 1 is supposed to be about optimism and looking forward with hope. But after a 35-14 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Monday night, the Giants couldn't come up with anything positive to say about their performance.

"No excuses. We played very poorly," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "We don't have a lot to be proud of here. It was a nightmare performance."

Coughlin wasn't happy about the pass protection, as the Lions registered two sacks and nine hits of Giants quarterback Eli Manning. He was unhappy about a running game that gained 53 yards on 22 carries. He was upset about the breakdowns in pass coverage that allowed Calvin Johnson to perform like the video-game version of himself to the tune of seven catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns, and that allowed Golden Tate to gain 44 yards on a key third-and-11. He was unhappy about Manning's two interceptions and the inability of receivers Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle to make plays.

Everybody was unhappy. We even asked defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, who had a good game stopping the run, whether he felt good about that at least. He did not.

"Right now, I don't feel like I did a good job of anything," Jenkins said. "I feel like we could have made it a lot easier on our secondary if we'd played better up front."

Safety Antrel Rolle said "there definitely wasn't enough fight" in his team in its first game of the season. And after the mess they made of last season, all of the changes they made in the offseason and the grief they took from outside critics in the preseason, you would have thought that wouldn't be a problem.

Instead, those who endured last year's 0-6 start seemed to be experiencing a sick and familiar feeling as they dressed and packed and headed for the plane.

"We shouldn't be talking right now about comparing the way we lost to last year," Jenkins said. "We should be talking about what we learned from last year, and how that made us better."

But they weren't, and the reason was the familiarity of the overmatched feeling they felt on the field. The Lions came at them with star players at wide receiver, running back, defensive line and, of course, quarterback. The Giants looked like a patchwork science project of a team whose pieces aren't good enough on their own to scare anyone and don't yet fit together in any kind of productive way.

"How are guys that you don't know going to respond to adversity now?" linebacker and newly minted team captain Jon Beason asked. "We have a new group of guys here. Owning up to what you did wrong is the first step, and it's an important one."

Tuesday and Wednesday aren't going to be fun days for the Giants as they review what went on in their first game of the season. To make sure the feeling doesn't repeat itself, they must correct the mistakes and start playing better. The long-term problem is that they may not have enough quality players on this roster to allow them to do that. The short-term problem is that Monday night's opener didn't offer any evidence to the contrary.

Rapid Reaction: New York Giants

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
10:07
PM ET

DETROIT -- A few thoughts on the New York Giants' 35-14 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.

What it means: As we told you going into the season, the Giants' offense is not a finished product. Not even close. But the problems go well beyond whether they're picking up offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's new schemes. The Giants' problems are about personnel. The offensive line isn't good enough. They don't have enough at wide receiver, as Victor Cruz is easily erased from the game and Jerrel Jernigan and Rueben Randle aren't reliable. They have no dynamic tight end. And they didn't run the ball especially well Monday, either. Eli Manning's interceptions were bad, especially the second one, but the quality of the group around him needs to improve.

Stock Watch: The new Giants' secondary, DOWN. Yes, I know Calvin Johnson makes everybody look bad, but the breakdowns in the zones were terrible, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie made way too many mistakes, letting Johnson go into empty space on the first touchdown and letting Golden Tate get past him for a critical 44-yard catch on third down in the second half. The Giants aren't good enough on offense to allow for a leaky secondary. This is supposed to be the strength of the team, but it was a weakness Monday.

Line must improve: Pass protection was Manning's biggest problem last year, was a major issue in the preseason and was terrible again Monday night. Left tackle Will Beatty looks lost, and he and the rest of the offensive line need to figure out some things in a hurry if the Giants are to avoid a repeat of last year's offensive crater.

Game ball: Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins. The one bright spot, I thought, was the Giants' run defense, led by the play of the beefy defensive tackles on the inside. Especially with only three of them active for the game, Jenkins, Johnathan Hankins and Mike Patterson had to handle a lot of the load and held up well, limiting a talented Detroit running game to 76 yards on 30 carries. Jenkins made the plays that stood out most to me, so I pick him.

What's next: The Giants host the Arizona Cardinals at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Former Denver Broncos first-round pick Robert Ayers wasn't always thrilled with the way the Broncos used him. Drafted as a pass-rusher out of Tennessee, Ayers was asked by various Denver coaches and coordinators over the years to drop into coverage, to line up as a 3-4 defensive end ... to more or less do anything but rush the passer. Last year the Broncos used him where he was comfortable, and he ended up with 5.5 sacks, flashing what he could do as a key piece in the Broncos' run to the Super Bowl.

A free agent this offseason, Ayers signed with the New York Giants. So far in training camp and the preseason, the Giants have lined up Ayers at various positions on the defensive line. But whether he's played defensive end or defensive tackle, his mission has been the same: go get the quarterback.

"I can rush inside, I can rush outside," Ayers said this week. "When they signed me, they knew that's what I could do well. When I first came to the NFL, teams knew what I could do. The Giants are just using me to my strength."

[+] EnlargeBryant McKinnie
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesWhile with the Denver Broncos, Robert Ayers wasn't always able to do what he does best: rush the passer. He'll get a chance to do that with the Giants.
The Giants, who had a mere 34 sacks last season, are trying to replace longtime defensive end Justin Tuck, who had 11 of them and is now with the Raiders. Ayers is among the candidates to be that replacement, but so is longtime Giants defensive lineman Mathias Kiwanuka, who ranks first on the depth chart right now at left defensive end and believes it's his time to be the man opposite right defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.

"I look at it as, right now that's where I'm at, that's my position and I'm not going to relinquish it," Kiwanuka said. "But the main goal is about getting everybody involved, playing everybody as a group. Because you don't win with just one guy or just two guys. When you look at a defensive line, there's a rotation that has to be established early on so that guys understand how to play well with each other. That's how we've won championships."

Yes, the defensive line and specifically the pass rush have been staples of the Giants' Super Bowl title teams. Pierre-Paul and Kiwanuka were both on the last one, but they're the only ones currently in the defensive line room who were. So among them, Ayers, second-year end Damontre Moore and veteran Israel Idonije, who showed up as a bit of a surprise signing last week, the Giants are trying to piece together a rotation.

"You know, we're not here just to accept smaller roles," Ayers said. "We all want to be a starter. I definitely want to start. Mathias definitely wants to start. Damontre wants to start. Izzy is here now, and he wants to start. JPP wants to start. Everybody wants to be the lead dog. But the thing I like about it, it's all competition and it's all friendly. There's no bitterness, no rivalry or whatever. Everybody's here to work, and that's how we go about the business. If I'm not the starter, I'm not going to play any less hard."

That's partly because these guys all know they'll play no matter what. Ayers was lined up with Cullen Jenkins as the defensive tackles, for example, between Kiwanuka and Pierre-Paul when the Giants went to four pass-rushers on third down against the Steelers last weekend. Idonije has been getting looks at defensive end in practice with Pierre-Paul moving inside. The Giants are trying to figure out what their new defensive line will and should look like, and they're sorting through the pieces.

"We have a lot of people, you know," said Jenkins, who has experience at defensive tackle and at defensive end in different fronts. "Rob can play inside, Kiwi and JPP, they can rush inside as well. So along that front, adding Damontre to the mix too, we've got a lot of guys on the D-line that can rush all across. So I think it'll be a lot of mixing and matching this year."
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Damontre Moore is something of a wild card on the New York Giants' defensive line this year. The 2013 third-round selection played little on defense last year as he worked to pick up the playbook, but he was a terror on special teams, showcasing his athleticism while blocking punts and laying out return men.

Moore
If Moore can make a big jump this year as a pass-rushing defensive end, it would be a significant boost to a Giants pass rush that's working to replace stalwart Justin Tuck and the team-leading 11 sacks he had last year. Moore is in the mix with veteran Mathias Kiwanuka and free-agent signee Robert Ayers for the defensive end spot opposite Jason Pierre-Paul, but if Moore develops quickly he offers more explosiveness and a higher ceiling than Kiwanuka and Ayers do.

At least one of Moore's defensive linemates has noticed major progress.

"His athleticism is hard to compare," defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said. "But from where he was last year, technique-wise and some of the things he was doing to how he's come back in this camp, it's been amazing. How he's setting the edge in the run game. How he's transitioning to the pass, working on some of the techniques that he didn't have last year. He's really working hard and really improving."

That's the key for Moore, who's loaded with natural ability but needs to refine it if he's to be trusted with significant snaps on defense. What Jenkins said about setting the edge in the run game is especially important, since that was a huge part of Tuck's game and is also a strength of Ayers' game. If Moore is getting those techniques down, in addition to being able to fly to the quarterback, that could be a big surprise benefit.

"Yeah, he's taken a major step," Jenkins said. "He's just a lot more physical and holding his ground. You look at him now and he's a completely different player than you saw last year."

Could be just camp hype, but Jenkins volunteered this. He wasn't asked directly about Moore. Jenkins seems to legitimately think Moore stands out in terms of the amount of work he's done and the quality of it. Since those were the lingering questions about Moore after his rookie season, it has to be encouraging for the Giants and their fans to hear it.
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. 

You ask the questions (and use the #nygmail hashtag) on Twitter, I answer them here. And we all have a lovely weekend.
 
The Denver Broncos have won the offseason title and free agency is not even four days old.

John Elway signed safety T.J. Ward to a four-year, $23 million deal that guarantees him $14 million. He stole cornerback Aqib Talib away from the New England Patriots with a six-year, $57 million deal that guarantees him $26 million. Then he thanked the Dallas Cowboys for their cap woes and unwillingness to pay DeMarcus Ware and signed Ware to a three-year, $30 million deal that includes $20 million guaranteed.

Ware will make $250,000 more with the Broncos this year than he would have with the Cowboys.

Add those three to an offense that will still put up points even if Eric Decker leaves and Denver should be viewed as the favorites in the AFC.

In fact, they might look like a "Dream …" Sorry. Got something stuck in my throat. "A Dream …" Man, there it goes again.

One more time: A dream team.

Could the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles serve as a reminder that a "dream team" doesn’t mean a Super Bowl team?

To refresh: The Eagles loaded up with Jason Babin (five years, $28 million), Cullen Jenkins (five years, $25 million) and Nnamdi Asomugha (five years, $60 million). They traded Kevin Kolb and got Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in return. They added serviceable pieces in Ronnie Brown and Evan Mathis turned out to be a steal.

Then they signed Vince Young, who came up with the dream-team tag.

And Philadelphia finished 8-8.

The Broncos have Peyton Manning, so it’s hard to see an 8-8 season. But what happens if Manning gets hurt?
To me, Linval Joseph is the kind of player you work to keep. He's 25 years old. He's an accomplished run-stuffer who also can crash the pocket from the interior of the defensive line. He's a solid, well-liked teammate who carries himself like a pro and doesn't do anything to embarrass your franchise on or off the field. He's missed one game in the past three years. He's a Super Bowl champion. He was a second-round draft pick who really panned out.

Joseph
And yet, the New York Giants did not keep Joseph, who has agreed to a five-year, $31.5 million free-agent contract with the Minnesota Vikings. It doesn't even appear as though the Giants made a real effort to keep him, which I think was a mistake. I understand that they have a lot of needs and a fair bit of depth at defensive tackle, but Joseph strikes me as a player they will miss.

The plan for replacing Joseph is easy to figure out. The Giants drafted defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins in the second round last year and liked what he showed them as a rookie. They also still have Cullen Jenkins under contract and could easily bring back Mike Patterson, who performed well at the position in 2013. They need a pass-rushing end, a middle linebacker, a cornerback, a tight end, a center and a wide receiver -- even after the early signings they made Tuesday. So spending $6 million-plus per year on a defensive tackle likely didn't seem like a smart play. They looked into Arthur Jones, but he signed with the Colts for $6 million a year. It's possible they just don't want to be in the high-end defensive tackle market.

And who knows? Maybe they don't like Joseph as much as I do (or as much as the Vikings do). Maybe they have some reason to worry he'll break down, even though he won't turn 30 until the final year of this deal he just signed. We can't predict the future or how guys are going to play, and neither can the Giants' front office. All they can do is use the data they have in the present to make the best possible decisions and hope they work out. To me, though, it seemed as though the data on Joseph made him look like a player to bring back. I'm willing to bet they will miss him.

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