NFC East: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

Giants' secondary a mess so far

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Aggressive enough to be called for way too many penalties; not aggressive enough to force any turnovers.

This, through two weeks, is the New York Giants' secondary. A unit that was supposed to be the strength of this team has instead been one of the main culprits for their 0-2 start.

 You can't have both of these problems. If you're committing seven penalties on point-of-emphasis, downfield contact plays, five of which hand first downs to the opponent, then that aggressiveness needs to be paying off in the form of takeaways. The Giants are one of three teams in the league -- along with the Chiefs and Steelers -- who have yet to take the ball away from their opponent through the first two weeks of the season.

"The no takeaways is an issue now," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Monday. "This is something that every team counts on in the NFL -- getting an extra field position, bona fide field position from some type of takeaway, whether it be special teams or defense. And we have not had that."

Coughlin lamented a couple of plays from Sunday's game that he believed safety Stevie Brown and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie could have turned into interceptions, and he seemed to believe the issues were of technique and/or decision-making.

"You've got to be in the right position. Your eyes have got to be in the right spot. You've got to have a good feel for it," Coughlin said. I thought on a couple of occasions, the quarterback was actually staring the ball down where he was goingm and we still weren't influenced enough to go in that direction and be in position to make a play. We do have athletes. They are good athletes. A couple of years ago, we referred to Stevie Brown as kind of a ballhawking guy in center field when he had that opportunity. He's just not there yet. He's not back yet to where he was a couple of years ago, and let's hope he gets there."

In the meantime, the Giants' defensive backs need to keep their hands to themselves. They weren't called for many of those preseason-type downfield contact penalties in the opening-week loss in Detroit, but they had way too many of them on Sunday. And while fans and even some players and coaches may want to sit around and argue about the validity of the calls being made against defensive backs, they are being made, and defensive players have to adjust better than the Giants have done.

"We need to be smarter," safety Antrel Rolle said. "You can't hold a guy. Illegal contact, things like that are going to take place throughout the course of the game. But there are certain things we saw on film. When you're jamming a guy, and you're holding and you're looking at the quarterback, they're going to call that 100 percent of the time. So we have to be smarter."

It would be one thing if the over-aggressive play were leading to interceptions, but they don't have one yet. And while it's still early, this is a unit that needs to be setting the tone for the rest of the team. It's not going to get any easier with nickel cornerback Walter Thurmond out for the year due to a pectoral muscle injury, but the players who remain are good enough to cut down on the penalties and make some plays. At this point, though, the Giants would take just one of those things.

"Obviously, we're not as good at it as we should be," Coughlin said. "So we've got to sharpen it up."

No rest for DRC, Giants cornerbacks

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
Here's an examination of one thing the New York Giants must do after their season-opening loss to the Lions in Detroit:

The Giants' plan Monday night was to shadow the Lions' top wide receiver, Calvin Johnson, with their top cornerback, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. They offered Rodgers-Cromartie safety help on some plays but asked him to single-cover the game's best wideout on others. This is why they signed Rodgers-Cromartie believing they could use him this way. The results, as you know by now, were not positive, as Johnson caught seven passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns.

Johnson is the toughest test there is, so there's no reason to think the Giants will move away from that "shadow the best WR" plan with Rodgers-Cromartie. But the next opponent on the Giants' schedule is the Arizona Cardinals, and they bring with them a talented corps of wide receivers without an obvious top candidate for the honor of "best."

Is it veteran Larry Fitzgerald, who's in the top 30 in NFL history in catches and receiving yards? Is it the emerging Michael Floyd, who had five catches for 119 yards in Arizona's opener late Monday night and was targeted seven times versus Fitzgerald's four? Could it even be electric rookie John Brown, who also saw more targets Monday (five) than Fitzgerald and caught the game-winning, 13-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter?

My guess is Floyd will be Rodgers-Cromartie's man if the Giants go the same way they did in Week 1. But the broader point here is the Giants need to be open to rethinking their coverage plan with their cornerbacks.

As my colleague Herm Edwards is fond of saying on air, "A plan that can't be changed is a bad plan." The Giants might have signed Rodgers-Cromartie under the belief he was a shutdown corner who could match up with top wide receivers, but the fact is he has not been that, consistently, throughout his career. Prince Amukamara showed some good things Monday night and remains a quality option, as does slot corner Walter Thurmond. The Giants obviously need to play better in zone coverage than they did Monday.

Cornerback is the strongest position group the Giants have, on paper, but it didn't look very strong Monday night. They might need to make some adjustments to the way they're deploying these guys if they want to get the best out of them the rest of the way.
DETROIT -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the New York Giants' 35-14 loss to the Lions:
  • Giants coach Tom Coughlin doesn't sugarcoat. "No excuses," he said. "We played very poorly. We don't have a lot to be proud of here. It was a nightmare performance." Coughlin cited the pass protection and the lack of productivity by the run game as his top two concerns and told his team it was in for a tough, short week of preparation for Sunday's game against the Cardinals.
  • Weatherford
  • Punter Steve Weatherford had a walking boot on his left foot and said he would have an MRI on his injured ankle Tuesday. Weatherford was hit on a punt early in the game and stayed in to continue punting, but he said he "had to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to punt when I couldn't accelerate through the ball." Obviously, the Giants will have to bring in someone else if Weatherford's injury is serious.
  • The Giants' defensive game plan called for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to shadow Lions top wideout Calvin Johnson all game. Johnson had seven catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns. "He got behind the defense and made a play," Rodgers-Cromartie said of the 67-yard play that began the night's scoring. "I can't really speak on that." My sense was that Rodgers-Cromartie thought he had help on the play and didn't want to burn a teammate by saying it.
Today we release the No. 71-80 ranked players on offense and defense in our #NFLRank project, and checking in at No. 79 on the defense list is New York Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Based on what they paid to sign Rodgers-Cromartie for themselves and keep him from going to the Jets, the Giants hope he's considerably higher on this list next August.

Rodgers-Cromartie ranks 10th among NFL cornerbacks and 23rd among all defensive backs on our list, and he's already moving up. He was unranked when we did this project a year ago and he was coming off the Philadelphia Eagles' 2012 meltdown season. But after a strong year helping the Broncos reach the Super Bowl, Rodgers-Cromartie is seen as someone coming into his vast potential.

He's long been viewed as an extremely talented player athletically, but he hasn't always been consistent. The Giants signed him to a five-year, $35 million contract with $13.98 million guaranteed because they believe he's a shutdown cornerback capable of covering the opponent's top wide receiver every week. To this point in his career, he has not shown a consistent ability to be that, but that's the way they plan to use him and they believe he'll flourish in that role under the guidance of Giants safety and former Cardinals teammate Antrel Rolle (No. 83 on this list, as discussed Tuesday).

Can he do it? The answer will determine a lot about this Giants season and maybe the seasons to come. The Giants love him in coverage. He's aggressive but not overly so, and he uses his speed and athleticism to help himself correct mistakes. They're working with him on his press technique so he's stronger at the line of scrimmage (where you're still allowed to make contact with the receiver), and they believe he's coming along in that area. This could go either way, due to the nature of the player and the position. But my feeling is that Rodgers-Cromartie will either be much higher or much lower on this list when we do it again in 2015.

There's no shortage of poor personnel decisions that led the New York Giants to last year's 7-9 record and their subsequent roster rebuild, but signing safety Antrel Rolle to a five-year, $37 million contract in 2010 was among the better moves in recent franchise history.

We've ranked NFL players -- a top 100 on offense and another on defense -- and we're rolling out the results 20 at a time (10 on offense, 10 on defense) per day. Today brings us players No. 81-90 on either side of the ball, and Rolle checking in at No. 83 on defense offers a chance to reflect on just what he's turned out to be for the Giants.

Rolle is the No. 13-ranked safety and the No. 25-ranked defensive back on this list, but quibbling about whether he should be ranked ahead of Donte Whitner on the former list or Johnathan Joseph on the latter doesn't interest me too much. Rolle's value to the Giants has been diverse and significant, and it rises beyond stats and on-field performance.

Rolle arrived in New York at the age of 27 and chafed under coach Tom Coughlin's rigid, old-school structure. But he grew quickly, and he and Coughlin proved wise enough to realize they could be of great benefit to each other. Over the past three seasons Rolle has developed as a team leader, captain and spokesman, and he handles the role gracefully and naturally. Sure, he says crazy things on the radio sometimes. But these days they're almost always about how great he thinks his team is, and that's a perfectly acceptable method for a leader to try to keep his teammates in a productive frame of mind.

On the field, Rolle has played opposite three different starting safeties the past three years, and all three have flourished. He teamed with Kenny Phillips (who predated and helped mentor him as a Giant) in the Super Bowl season of 2011. Stevie Brown replaced an injured Phillips in 2012 and collected eight interceptions, roaming the post safety position while Rolle played up in the box because he knew how and Brown hadn't learned it yet. Will Hill replaced an injured Brown in 2013 and became one of the best playmaking safeties in the league by season's end before smoking himself out of a job this spring.

Rolle has been a constant in a Giants secondary that's seen its share of ups and downs over the past four years. And last year, largely freed from the nickel corner responsibilities he willingly assumed so often early in his Giants career, he flourished as a playmaker in his own right and earned a Pro Bowl trip to Hawaii. His coaches say he's just coming into his own as a safety, at age 31, because this is the first time since he signed with the Giants that he's been able to focus on the position exclusively. They believe he'll get the best out of his former Cardinals teammate Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, one of their big free-agent cornerback signings, and Rolle has a track record that backs up that belief.

One of the best 100 defensive players in the NFL? Nobody in the Giants' building would disagree. Rolle's as solid an acquisition as any they've made over the past 10 years.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Walter Thurmond says the New York Giants offered him a three-year contract, but he wanted a one-year deal instead. It's not as crazy as it sounds. NFL contracts aren't guaranteed to begin with, cornerback salaries are skyrocketing and the salary cap's going up again next year. Why not bet on yourself, have a big year in New York and really try to hit it big a year from now?

"Just kind of a prove-it situation," Thurmond said Thursday. "I don't want to say 'put pressure on myself,' because I like to think I thrive under pressure. But it's a situation where I just felt like I have stuff to prove, and it keeps me going."

Whatever he's doing, the Giants will take more and more of it. Thurmond is slated to be the Giants' nickel cornerback this year, with Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie starting on the outside. Anyone who watched the Seahawks last year during their Super Bowl run knows that Thurmond is an elite nickel corner. He could certainly handle outside responsibilities as well if one of the starters went down. But he enjoys mixing it up in the middle of the field.

"You're a cornerback, but you're also a linebacker and a safety," Thurmond said of the nickel role. "So you have multiple different role responsibilities that you have to accomplish while you're on the field. And that's why, sometimes, it's hard for a corner to transition from outside to going inside. But I love the job."

He's also not worried about the Giants or other potential future employers pigeonholing him as just a slot-corner type.

"Most definitely, I think I'm just an overall cornerback," he said. "I'm a person that can go outside, I can go inside, I can blitz off the edge, I can come in on run support, I can go play the half-field. We do so many coverages here. And I pride myself on that, because a lot of cornerbacks in this league can't do that. And being able to have that ability brings value to the team and also allows the defensive coordinator to be more creative."

So far in camp, Thurmond has delivered on all of that. Defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka was raving the other day about Thurmond, telling me he's never seen a cornerback better at transitioning with his hips from a backpedal into coverage. Thurmond laughed a bit when he heard that. He guesses it makes him something of a throwback.

"That's just being a cornerback," the 5-foot-11 corner said. "That's what a cornerback has to have, is fluid hips. Now, lately there's been a trend of having big corners, but some of the bigger guys don't have the fluidness of the hips just because of their center of gravity. But I've always prided myself on great technique and being fluid in my transitions, and that helps me do the job to the best of my ability."

Giants Camp Report: Day 15

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New York Giants training camp:
  • Rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. continues to make significant progress from the hamstring injury that has held him out of practice since the first day of camp. The team's first-round pick even took a couple of snaps Wednesday in 11-on-11 drills and caught a touchdown pass on one of them. Giants coach Tom Coughlin didn't even rule out the possibility that Beckham could play in Saturday's preseason game in Indianapolis, though I have to think that's a long shot and that next Friday against the Jets is more likely.
  • Coughlin said left tackle Will Beatty and cornerback Trumaine McBride, who have been practicing but didn't play in the first two preseason games as part of the plan for their recoveries from offseason surgery, would play Saturday. He said to expect Beatty to play about as much as a starting offensive lineman would play in a first preseason game of the year. For comparison's sake, Geoff Schwartz and J.D. Walton played 20 snaps in the Hall of Fame Game, and right tackle Justin Pugh played 24.
  • Cornerback Walter Thurmond continues to dazzle, and I have to think it will be a huge relief for Giants slot receiver Victor Cruz to go up against whoever the Detroit Lions are using as a nickel cornerback Sept. 8 in Detroit. Thurmond's highlight plays Wednesday included a pass breakup on which he had tight end Larry Donnell blanketed over the middle and a stop on running back Rashad Jennings when Jennings caught a pass in the flat.
  • Other highlight plays: Rookie linebacker Devon Kennard knocking rookie running back Andre Williams to the ground in the backfield on a run play; Rueben Randle's acrobatic catch in the corner of the end zone against Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in one-on-one goal-line drills; Rookie cornerback Bennett Jackson ripping the ball out of wide receiver Travis Harvey's hands at the end of a long pass play; Interceptions of Curtis Painter by Mark Herzlich and Chandler Fenner in early team drills.
  • Wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan was back at practice after sitting out Monday and Tuesday with a knee injury. New to the list of injured players sitting out practice was cornerback Zack Bowman (unclear what his injury was). Also sitting out were running back Peyton Hillis (ankle), tight end Xavier Grimble (hamstring), tight end Daniel Fells (knee), return man Trindon Holliday (hamstring) and defensive tackle Mike Patterson (shoulder).
  • Cruz, who had some knee issues in practice this week, seemed completely fine and appeared to do everything in Wednesday's relatively short practice.
  • Though they will continue to practice here next week as they have been, Thursday marks the final official day of Giants training camp. That means Thursday's 1:20 pm practice will be the final practice of the year that is open to the public. So take off work and come out to say hi. Tell your boss I said it was okay.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Reputations are funny things, and when a guy comes to you from the defensive backfield of the 2013 Seattle Seahawks, you expect ... well, you expect someone loud and maybe a little bit obnoxious. In that respect, cornerback Walter Thurmond has not been what the New York Giants expected.

"We call him the quiet assassin," defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said. "So he's more quiet than I expected him to be. But he's the assassin. He loves to compete."

There's not a player in New York Giants camp who's been more consistently impressive, day after day in practice, than Thurmond. The Giants signed him to be their slot cornerback, so when they run first-team vs. first-team he covers Victor Cruz, who has not caught very many passes this camp at all.

"Our secondary is really good, and I know this because they give me fits each and every day out here," Cruz sighed when asked about the new cornerbacks Wednesday. "It's good to go up against guys that are like that, because that's what we're going to face all year long. Guys are going to try to be physical and press us and things like that, and we have to be ready."

Practicing against Thurmond should help Cruz get ready, because it's no stretch to say that Thurmond is the best slot corner in the league. The Giants believe he can play on the outside if need be, and it's important to Thurmond that they and other teams see him as someone who's versatile like that. But in the slot, he's an elite player.

"We feel like we can use him on the outside, but boy I like him in the slot," Fewell said. "Just knowledge, know-how. It's the 'it' factor. People try to describe 'it?' He's got 'it.'"

If the Giants can keep Thurmond in the slot with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Prince Amukamara on the outside, they'll love their cornerback situation. They'll be able to keep Antrel Rolle, who always seems to have to spend part of the year in that nickel corner role, at safety full-time, which will make him happy and more effective. And as long as Thurmond is lined up against slot receivers, they'll feel they have an advantage against the opponent's passing game.

"I have the confidence in myself to believe I'm the best at what I do," Thurmond said earlier in camp. "And I think I bring that out onto the field with me every single play. To play cornerback, and to play that nickel spot, that's the way you have to look at it."

That's the way the Giants look at Thurmond, who has a chance to turn out to be their best value signing of the offseason.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants players have to watch where they're going if they're carrying something in this training camp. New cornerback Zack Bowman, formerly of the Chicago Bears, has convinced the Giants' defensive backs that it's a good idea to knock things out of teammates' hands. Pencils, books, footballs, water bottles ... nothing is safe. If you're walking past a Giants defensive back, there's a good chance he's going to try to knock something out of your hands.

"Bowman has brought that mentality from Chicago," Giants cornerbacks coach Peter Giunta said Tuesday. "They used to knock the playbook out of each other's hands walking to meetings. I think with the iPads now, we don't want to do that."

[+] EnlargeNew York's Zack Bowman
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsNew Giants cornerback Zack Bowman is trying to instill a turnover mentality.
No, probably not, but you get the idea. The Bears have been known in recent years as a defense built on takeaways. They preach and coach and practice forcing turnovers. By bringing in someone who played on that defense, the Giants (who had a middle-of-the-pack 17 interceptions and 12 fumble recoveries last year) hope their defense starts to feel more strongly the importance of getting turnovers.

"It's just having a mindset," said Bowman, who intercepted a pass in the end zone in Sunday night's preseason victory over Buffalo. "That's what they instilled in us in Chicago, just having a mindset of, 'Hunt the ball. It's all about the football.' So that's what I try to tell Prince Amukamara and the rest of our guys -- what you do in practice is going to carry over into the game. If you make plays in practice, it creates habit, so when you get into the game, you're used to doing it. I'm trying to bring that same mentality and that same attitude here."

Amukamara's on board. With only three interceptions so far in his three-year NFL career, collecting more turnovers has become a point of emphasis for him this year. He learned to juggle in the offseason to work on his hand-eye coordination. He was beating himself up so much about a deep ball he thought he should have intercepted Sunday night against the Bills that he stayed late after Tuesday night's practice and had Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie throw him deep passes so he could practice going up high to catch the ball.

"I think guys can learn to have ball skills, and I think some guys are born with it," Amukamara said. "I played offense in high school, and I played basketball. So I think I'm pretty coordinated with the ball. I think some guys are born with it and some aren't, but I think it's something that can be worked on."

Giants coaches told Amukamara prior to last season that his goal was to play all 16 games for the first time. He did that, and proved himself a solid technician in coverage. But he has yet to establish himself as the kind of cornerback who can make the big, game-changing play, and he's determined to do so.

"It's huge for him to be able to go out and play the ball in the air better, not wait for it to come down," Giunta said. "So he'll work on that in practice. But I think it's just confidence -- seeing it and doing it, seeing himself on tape, what position he's in, where the receiver was in relation to the sideline. He'll be able to do those things, go up and get it."

If he does, that will greatly enhance the ability of the Giants as a team to create turnovers. And once they get better at that, look out. Nobody will be able to carry anything around this building anymore.

Giants Camp Report: Day 10

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New York Giants training camp:
  • Cooper Taylor's missed block that led to a blocked punt Sunday night against the Bills annoyed Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who personally oversaw a punt-protection drill in the early part of Tuesday's evening practice and stayed after to watch Taylor work one-on-one with Mathias Kiwanuka on improving his technique. Funny thing about it is, Taylor has actually looked very good at safety this camp (as he did in Sunday night's game). On Tuesday, Taylor had a nice leaping interception of a Ryan Nassib pass. Later, on a play on which Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was covering Victor Cruz and let him go inside, Taylor did a perfect job picking up Cruz and covering him while Eli Manning went through his progression. Taylor can help as a safety, but he needs to get the special-teams work cleaned up if he wants to make the team.
  • Cornerback Prince Amukamara was upset that he didn't intercept a deep pass from Jeff Tuel to T.J. Graham on Sunday night, so he too stayed after practice to work on jumping and catching the ball at his highest point. He ran about a half-dozen plays, and his quarterback for the drill was fellow cornerback Rodgers-Cromartie, who doesn't throw a terrible deep ball and who showed Amukamara how it's done with an athletic leaping catch of his own at the end.
  • Rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who's been out of practice with a hamstring injury since July 22, did more on the field than he's done in two weeks. He stretched with the team and did a good deal of running on his own, practicing making cuts and running not at top speed but at something quicker than a jog. It's definitely progress, though there's no timetable for Beckham's return to the field.
  • Other injury notes: Running back Peyton Hillis left practice with a sprained ankle, but he was able to walk off and into the building on his own power. ... Guard Geoff Schwartz was in and out of team drills for some reason and could be seen flexing his left leg in discomfort on the sideline when he came out. I asked Schwartz after practice if he was OK and he said yes, but did not elaborate. ... Linebacker Spencer Paysinger (concussion), left tackle Will Beatty (illness) and cornerback Bennett Jackson (ankle) all returned after missing practice last week. Defensive tackle Mike Patterson (shoulder), return man Trindon Holliday (hamstring) and tight ends Xavier Grimble (hamstring) and Daniel Fells (knee) all sat out. Defensive end Robert Ayers (ankle) was limited.
  • Two little highlights: Tight end Larry Donnell made a nice high-point catch in coverage. And wide receiver Corey Washington caught a ball in traffic and, instead of stiff-arming defensive back Jayron Hosley, slapped him in the side of the helmet on the way by.
  • The Giants signed former Bears and Lions defensive end Israel Idonije and tight end Jerome Cunningham. To make room, they put David Wilson on injured reserve and waived defensive lineman Kendrick Adams.
  • The Giants practice from 5:40 p.m. ET to 7:50 p.m. again Wednesday, and this one is open to the public.

Giants Camp Report: Day 1

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of training camp:

Giants coach Tom Coughlin was not at all happy that four of his players had to leave the team's first practice of training camp with heat-related problems. Guard Brandon Mosley, who had been working at starting right guard in place of the retired Chris Snee, was carted off early in practice. The cart also came for linebacker Spencer Adkins and tackle Charles Brown for what Coughlin described as heat-related issues, and Coughlin made it clear in an interview with Sports Illustrated's Don Banks that he was not pleased about it. The Giants will look to make it all the way through their second practice Wednesday, when the high temperature is forecast to be 92 degrees. The high Tuesday was 89.

Linebacker Jameel McClain was also carted off, but that was due to a foot injury. X-rays on McClain's foot were negative, which is good news for the Giants as McClain is filling in for middle linebacker Jon Beason, who also has a foot injury but hopes to be back in time for Week 1. For what it's worth, rookie Devon Kennard continues to look good at linebacker. He worked on the strong side but has been mentioned as someone who could handle the middle linebacker responsibilities.

Rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., the team's first-round pick, pulled up short on a pass route in practice, leading to an interception of Eli Manning by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Coughlin seemed annoyed about that and said of Beckham, "He has a ways to go." Earlier in the day, Beckham told us he was planning to watch out for and be careful with the hamstring injury that held him back in minicamp. It's possible the incident here was an example of that, but Beckham's health and overall progress will be worth watching as camp goes along. He has obvious blazing speed and good hands, but he will need to run his routes and run them again if he's to advance to the point where he's a Week 1 helper in the new offense.

Manning shows absolutely no ill effects of the ankle surgery that sidelined him for a portion of his spring work. He's practicing as usual and seems excited about working in the new offense.

The Giants used rookie running back Andre Williams as the goal-line back during that portion of practice Tuesday. Williams likely could slide into that role right away while he works on the finer points of his NFL game as a rookie.

Giants' projected roster

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
Projecting the New York Giants' 53-man roster before training camp begins:

The Giants didn't like carrying three quarterbacks last year. They did so because they drafted Nassib as a fourth-round project with the thought that he wouldn't be active for any games as a rookie. But this year, they've come out and said that Nassib needs to win the No. 2 job. He worked as the clear No. 2 ahead of Curtis Painter in OTAs and minicamp, and I think he'd have to fall flat on his face in order to lose the job. If Manning goes down, the Giants are cooked anyway, whether it's Painter or Nassib behind him. So they might as well keep developing the kid unless he's totally incompetent.


Five running backs feels like a lot, so Hillis or 2013 seventh-rounder Michael Cox had to go. It's possible the Giants carry five and Williams could start out as this year's Nassib -- a fourth-rounder who's inactive for at least a little while as he gets his feet wet in the NFL with an eye toward a contribution further down the road. This list also assumes Wilson is cleared for contact by the neck exam he has scheduled for July 21, which is no sure thing. If he isn't, then Cox or Kendall Gaskins could find his way onto the team.


It's a camp battle between Hynoski and John Conner, but the Giants won't keep both. My hunch is that Hynoski has shown enough ability to produce with the ball in his hands that he'll get the edge in Ben McAdoo's new offense ahead of Conner as long as he's healthy.


Holliday is likely to make the team as a return man, though it's possible he could get squeezed out if the team decides Beckham, Quintin Demps and either Randle or Jernigan are enough to handle those responsibilities. The Giants signed Holliday before they drafted Beckham, after all.


In spite of the lack of quality experienced options, McAdoo's offense does appear to want to use the tight end a lot. Some Giants fans are hoping an outside name or two can replace some of the ones on this list, but as of now, this is what they have, and they'll hope something decent comes of it. They are eager to see what Robinson can do if he can ever keep himself healthy, and they love what Donnell showed them last year on special teams and think he deserves the reward of an opportunity here. Daniel Fells or Xavier Grimble could beat out Davis for that third spot without too much trouble.


There are injury and health concerns with Beatty, Jerry and possibly Snee that could knock a name or two off this list with an IR or PUP designation. The Giants signed Brown and Jerry as veteran backups. They like Mosley's upside, and he could have the edge over someone like Eric Herman or James Brewer.


I thought about undrafted Kelcy Quarles for one of the defensive tackle spots, and I guess it's possible he could beat out someone like Patterson in camp. But everyone else on here seems like a lock.


If Beason's foot injury isn't healed in time to allow him to start the season, someone like Terrell Manning or Dan Fox could sneak on here. More likely, the Giants would go with five linebackers while waiting for Beason and add someone on the defensive line or in the secondary.


It helps the numbers that Jayron Hosley will be suspended for the first four games of the regular season for a drug violation. If he does make the team, the Giants will have to clear a spot for him in Week 5. This group could also swell if the Giants decide they need to keep sixth-round pick Bennett Jackson and/or Charles James for special teams. It's going to be tough to make the Giants' roster as a corner this summer.


It's going to be tricky to get fifth-round pick Berhe on this roster, but the Giants like him enough to make room at the expense of someone like Brewer on the offensive line or Charles James at cornerback.


Special-teams coach Tom Quinn said there was a kicker competition between Brown and Brandon McManus, so flip a coin on that one. The other two spots here are in stone barring injury.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A year ago at this time, Jason Pierre-Paul was not on the field for New York Giants minicamp. He was in California, beginning a back-surgery rehab that would limit him throughout a disappointing 2013 season. Fully healed from that and from the shoulder injury that showed up halfway through the season on top of it, Pierre-Paul is feeling fantastic and rarin' to go.

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsNew York Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul says he's ready to put a disappointing 2013 season behind him and rebound with a "crazy" 2014.
"When your body's fresh, you can put all of that behind you and pretend it never happened," the Giants' defensive end said after minicamp practice Wednesday. "I've got something to prove this year. I want to shut a lot of people up. I know what I bring to the table. I know what I can do. It's going to be crazy."

Pierre-Paul has collected a total of two quarterback sacks in the Giants' last 23 games dating back to the middle of the 2012 season. That's a far cry from the 16.5 he turned in during the 2011 regular season en route to a Super Bowl title. But now that he's healthy, he says, "the sky's the limit" for what he can do. Which is a good thing for the Giants, because however much money they spend on cornerbacks this offseason, Pierre-Paul is still the most important defensive piece they have.

The organization that has lived by the idea that "you can't have too many pass-rushers" operated this offseason as though it didn't think it could have too many cornerbacks. The Giants said goodbye to 2013 sack leader Justin Tuck and defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who were their two best defensive linemen last year. The only replacement they signed was former Broncos first-round pick Robert Ayers, who's known as a strong run defender from the defensive end position. They spent big money on free-agent cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and also signed Walter Thurmond, Zack Bowman and Trumaine McBride to go along with incumbent starter Prince Amukamara at that position.

Now, cornerback looks like a strength of the roster, but the front seven looks a bit thinned-out. The Giants are basically counting on 2013 draft picks Johnathan Hankins and Damontre Moore to make big steps forward in 2014 to help fill the holes created by the departures of Joseph and Tuck. If not, they're going to test the old theory about how a strong pass rush helps the secondary more than a strong secondary helps the pass rush.

"We all work as one," Pierre-Paul said. "But they've been doing a great job, because we've been getting to the quarterback in practice."

That can work for a time, I think. And there are plenty of people out there who will point to the Seattle Seahawks having won the most recent Super Bowl with a strong secondary. But first of all, this group has a long way to go before it can claim it belongs in the same discussion as the one Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas are running out there in the Pacific Northwest. And second of all, too many people overlook the fact that Seattle's 2013 defense relied heavily on a strong and deep rotation of defensive linemen that wore out opposing offensive lines late in games.

For that reason, the Giants absolutely must play big and strong up front on defense. It starts with Pierre-Paul, who's the one player in their defensive front we've seen perform at a truly elite NFL level. But they will need to be able to rely on a rotation of Hankins, Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson, Markus Kuhn and maybe rookie Jay Bromley at defensive tackle. And they'll need to get contributions from some combination of Moore, Ayers and Mathias Kiwanuka at defensive end on the side opposite Pierre-Paul. If they don't -- if they get pushed around physically on the defensive line and can't force the action by invading opponents' backfields -- then quarterbacks are going to find open receivers against them downfield, no matter how good their corners are.

Pierre-Paul's bravado is fun in June, but it needs to turn into production -- for him and for his defensive linemates -- come September and October. That's the way they've always won with defense around here, and it's foolish to think the formula has changed.

Giants offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
May 22
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With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the New York Giants' offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeGeoff Schwartz
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsThe Giants knew they needed help on the offensive line, so signing Geoff Schwartz was a move in the right direction.
Best move: Signed to start at left guard after a season in which the interior of the Giants' offensive line crumbled completely and decimated the offense, Geoff Schwartz will be an immediate upgrade at a key position and should help the run game as well as Eli Manning's protection in the passing game. The Giants needed to make the offensive line a priority, and signing Schwartz at the start of free agency showed that they understood that.

Riskiest move: Letting defensive tackle Linval Joseph leave for Minnesota in free agency. Joseph is still just 25 years old -- younger than any free agent the Giants signed. He and Justin Tuck (who left and signed with the Raiders) were the Giants' two best defensive linemen in 2013. The Giants are hoping 2013 second-round pick Johnathan Hankins can fill Joseph's shoes, but letting him go risked leaving the Giants too thin on the defensive line -- a position of renowned strength during their last two Super Bowls.

Most surprising move: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and in general the amount of free-agent attention the Giants paid to cornerback. They spent big to acquire Rodgers-Cromartie and also signed Walter Thurmond, Zack Bowman at Trumaine McBride. They obviously needed to replace Corey Webster (who they should have replaced last offseason), but the extent to which they beefed up at the position was surprising for a team that appeared to need more help on offense than on defense.

Draft pick impact: First-round pick Odell Beckham Jr. has a chance to make a rookie-year contribution as Hakeem Nicks' replacement at wide receiver if he can learn the offense quickly. Ditto second-round pick Weston Richburg, who has a chance to beat out J.D. Walton for the starting center job. And fourth-round pick Andre Williams, who led all of college football in rushing yards last year at Boston College, could get into the mix early at running back. The Giants are counting on their draft picks to help fill holes on the offensive side.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Four weeks ago, at the New York Giants' first player availability of the offseason, Walter Thurmond boasted that the team's secondary could be better than the Seahawks' Legion of Boom, and Antrel Rolle said Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie could be the best cornerback in the NFL.

There were no such proclamations this Tuesday, during the team's second availability of the spring. But Rodgers-Cromartie did talk to reporters, and sounds bullish about the Giants' defense come this fall.

"It can be real good," he said. "Not even from just a secondary standpoint -- I look at going through these drills with the linebackers, they definitely understand the coverages and how to drop. So I think that'll be helpful, when your linebackers and secondary are of one accord."

Rodgers-Cromartie signed a five-year, $39 million contract ($15 million guaranteed) with the Giants back in March, after also meeting with the New York Jets, and said Tuesday that his decision was not an easy one.

"It was very difficult," he said. "You visit both teams, and both teams seem really, really interested in you. But at the end of the day, I felt comfortable coming over here just with the things that were being said and that were going to be done -- I just felt that would better help me as a football player."

It sounds like Rolle's influence was key. The two were teammates with the Arizona Cardinals in 2008 and 2009.

"He just hit me up and said a couple things that hit home," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "He was like, 'I think you can be this and that in our system, and the coaches and everybody else will help you get to it, just buy into it.'"

A former first-round pick back in 2008, with 19 interceptions in six seasons, Rodgers-Cromartie is now on his fourth NFL team -- and he's hoping to stay awhile this time around. He said he's been sitting next to Rolle in team meetings, to speed his learning of the new terminology.

He also admits hearing what Rolle said about him last month, and appreciates the compliment, but will let his play do the talking.

"Whenever you've got somebody that believes in you, you want to go out there and just go that much harder," Rodgers-Cromartie said, "kind of not be a letdown and hold up your end of the bargain."