NFC East: john jerry
Aside from obsessing over the World Series (he's a San Francisco Giants fan), Schwartz has been spending his bye week getting treatment at the Giants' team facility. He said Monday that he wasn't sure whether he'd be able to practice with the team next week when they all got back to work. A lot will depend on how that toe feels once he starts really testing it out. He did some running on the side during practices last week, but hasn't tried to block or punch anyone, and he doesn't know how his foot will hold up right now to the rigors of his position.
"I would think he's not going to stand on the sideline [once he's cleared]," Flaherty said. "But how much? Is he ready to play 75 plays? That's the question. If he's not, then he's got to play X number of plays, and we have to figure out when to insert him into the games."
They also have to figure out where. Flaherty said Schwartz looked good in the preseason making the transition to left guard after playing on the right side of the offensive line for most of his career. But it's hard right now to identify where the greatest need is on the offensive line. Rookie Weston Richburg has had his share of struggles at left guard since replacing Schwartz there late in camp, but John Jerry hasn't been Mr. Reliable over at right guard, either. The Giants might have to decide where they think Schwartz can best help them once they decide he's ready to help them.
"I'm really not closed-minded on one side or the other," Flaherty said. "I think wherever he fits and can help us, he can adjust, because he's had that versatility of playing on the left side and the right side. So at this point, I'm not sure what side it's going to be. We'll have to see how it unfolds as he progresses."
Williams has rushed for a total of 110 yards on 35 carries in the two games since Jennings got hurt. That's an average of 3.14 yards per carry. Jennings' average in the season's first five games was 4.35 yards per carry. Both of Williams' games have been losses, but that's no excuse, because as we've already discussed here, the Giants have been running ball even though they've been behind.
There are two key aspects to examine as we try to figure out why Williams hasn't been as effective as Jennings was as the Giants' lead back, and they are:
1. The offensive line has had two poor games. Jennings this season is averaging 2.53 yards per carry before contact, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Williams is averaging 1.31. That's a significant difference in the amount of room in which the Giants' backs can operate. And while it's possible Williams isn't identifying the hole as easily as Jennings was (and we'll get to that later), a stat like this is pretty much all on the offensive line.
"Yes, if that's a stat, then yes," offensive line coach Pat Flaherty said Tuesday. "The running game is a combination of the offensive line, the tight end, the fullback and the running back. And there's no question we need to be better at executing the schemes, better calls. But more so than anything, it is on the offensive line to make sure we have better holes to get our running backs through."
Each of the Giants' starting five offensive linemen has earned a negative run-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus in both of the past two games. During the three-game winning streak that preceded those two games, only right guard John Jerry (in Week 5 vs. Atlanta) had a single negatively graded game. The offensive linemen aren't beating the people in front of them consistently enough to open holes for Williams to run through. However...
2. Williams isn't always seeing the holes when they do show up. As a very successful collegiate running back at Boston College, Williams was used to power running schemes. The Giants' running schemes this season incorporate a great deal more zone running than Williams has seen before. Jennings, who'd been only a power runner in Jacksonville and Oakland before arriving in New York, struggled himself in the preseason with some of the zone concepts, and there were times when the film would show him almost inexplicably running into one of his blockers instead of hitting the hole. Williams is dealing with that now, at least to some extent, as his reps have increased.
"What he's going through right now, getting more carries, is timing and rhythm with the offensive line," running backs coach Craig Johnson said. "That's the bottom line. They block and a certain rhythm and a certain pace, he runs at a certain rhythm and a certain pace, and everybody's trying to mesh that together."
The problem, such as it is, is that Williams is learning on the job. Different players develop at different rates, and developing while starting in the NFL is no easy trick. The only way for Williams to master what Johnson is talking about is to keep at it.
"You have to learn the defenses, where their fits are going to be, and that's through film study," Johnson said. "And then you find out when can I set a good pace to the hole and then hit it. And how you do that is rep after rep after rep. It is a rhythm and a pace and a feel. And how do you learn that? You have more reps. The more reps you get, the more you get with your timing, the more your timing happens, the more you have a chance to have the big runs."
The Giants hope to get Jennings back in Week 9 after the bye. But the meantime has been a valuable learning experience for Williams, who'll only get better with time and practice and a bit better offensive line play than he's had since they gave him the starter's job.
It's unclear at this point how the Giants will make room on the roster for Snyder, but they need help at guard with Geoff Schwartz out with a toe injury and Brandon Mosley out with a back injury. They could put Schwartz (or, I guess, Mosley) on short-term injured reserve, which would require him to miss the first eight weeks of the season, and that would clear a roster spot. Or they could cut someone from the current 53-man roster to make room. The former option is more likely, but as of Tuesday night the Giants hadn't decided whether to make such a move with Schwartz.
Anyway, they need offensive line help, and this guy was out there and they apparently like him, so whatever. At this point, rookie Weston Richburg is slated to start at left guard in Monday night's season opener in Detroit and uninspiring veteran John Jerry is slated to start at right guard. So there are reps to be had at those spots.
"He's up and moving, so obviously that's a good sign," Coughlin said of Mosley, who's been the first-team right guard since Chris Snee retired on the eve of training camp.
The Giants got good news Tuesday when they learned Schwartz would not need surgery, but it remains unclear how much time they can expect him to miss.
"He's very optimistic, and hopefully that's going to mean the recovery will be as fast as possible," Coughlin said of Schwartz. "Obviously, we can't rush him back. It certainly would be good to get him back as soon as possible, but it's not going to be easy."
In other Giants injury news:
- First-round pick Odell Beckham Jr. and kick returner Trindon Holliday missed practice again with hamstring injuries. Tackle Charles Brown and tackle/guard James Brewer sat out with shoulder and back injuries, respectively.
- Cornerback Prince Amukamara is making good progress in his return from a groin injury, but he won't play Thursday night.
- Running back Peyton Hillis appeared to be practicing in full. Hillis missed a few weeks of camp with an ankle injury but has returned to practice this week. He made a nice juggling catch on a wheel route with Jacquian Williams covering him in practice Tuesday.
"He's not going to play," an obviously frustrated Giants coach Tom Coughlin said after Monday's practice, during which Beckham once again worked on a side field with the training staff. "Have you seen him practice? How about practicing first?"
Beckham's last full training camp practice was when he was still at LSU. He injured his hamstring in the first practice of Giants training camp July 22 and hasn't practiced in full with the team since. He returned to the field a bit a couple of weeks ago and was working his way into 11-on-11 drills, but then he hurt himself in practice again last Monday and hasn't practiced since.
"I think he's very frustrated," Coughlin said. "I think his whole personality's held in check because he's not able to do the things that he wants to do."
With Beckham out, the Giants have been using Jerrel Jernigan in his outside receiver spot. It's possible that preseason star Corey Washington could get a look there with the first team Thursday, but we thought that was possible last week and Washington didn't play until the fourth quarter against the Jets.
Obviously, Beckham's availability for the Sept. 8 "Monday Night Football" opener in Detroit is in serious doubt. The Giants don't like to rush rookies into action in the first place, and that's especially true when the rookie hasn't had a training camp.
In other Giants injury news:
- Guard Geoff Schwartz was seeing a foot specialist Monday to determine the severity of his toe injury. The Giants should have news on Schwartz at some point early this week, but it's safe to assume he'll have to miss at least the first few games of the regular season, if not many more.
- Guard Brandon Mosley missed a second straight day of practice due to a back injury and was getting examined by a doctor, according to Coughlin. John Jerry played with the first-team line in Mosley's right guard spot while rookie Weston Richburg manned Schwartz's left guard spot.
- Offensive lineman James Brewer remains out with a back injury, which could damage his chances of making the 53-man roster. Brewer was on the bubble to begin with.
- Return specialist Trindon Holliday also sat out of practice with a hamstring injury. Holliday did some individual work Sunday but did not appear to work at all Monday. With Holliday and Beckham both sidelined, the Giants are hurting at punt returner and may keep wide receiver Preston Parker because has experience in that role.
"His back tightened up," Giants coach Tom Coughlin explained after practice. "He came out here ready to go, but then he couldn't."
As a result, John Jerry worked at right guard with the first-team offensive line while Weston Richburg, the most likely long-term replacement for Schwartz, worked at left guard. The Giants have major problems in this area, as detailed here earlier Sunday. Coughlin offered no insight on how long Mosley could be expected to be out.
Some other notes from Coughlin and Sunday's practice:
- From the My God This Could Be Even Worse Than We Think Department: Coughlin was asked what he thought of left tackle Will Beatty's performance Friday and he said Beatty was working very hard every day in practice. Asked if he was happy with Beatty's work since returning from his injury, Coughlin said this: "'Happy' and 'satisfied' are not the words I would use to describe it, but I do recognize the progress and I do recognize that he's working hard at his trade." All righty, then.
- Matter of fact, let's just keep profiling Coughlin quotes. This one on rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who missed yet another practice with a hamstring injury: "I would like to see the young man practice before we start talking about him playing in the regular season. That would be a good thing."
- Running back Peyton Hillis returned to practice after missing a couple of weeks with an ankle injury, and Coughlin described him as "rusty." Return man Trindon Holliday also did some work in punt return and individual drills but remains hobbled a bit by his own hamstring problems. Cornerback Prince Amukamara worked on the side with trainers as he continues to deal with a groin injury.
- Yes, Ryan Nassib did work some at quarterback with the first-team offense in Sunday's practice. No, there's obviously no chance they're considering any kind of change. Nassib is certainly going to get a lot more work in Thursday night's preseason finale than Eli Manning is, and that's why he's practicing more this week. The third-teamers spent more time on the field Sunday than the first-teamers did for similar reasons.
They targeted Schwartz early and signed him as soon as free agency began. They viewed him not as a cure-all but as a foundation piece -- a reliable veteran whose presence at left guard would help make the rest of their line problems easier to solve.
So while injuries happen and you can't fault the Giants if Schwartz's toe injury keeps him out for a significant period of time, it is a major problem for them, and they may struggle more than you think to solve it.
"Oh, no," Richburg said Sunday morning. "If you're content with how you're playing, I think you're cheating yourself. I always want to get better. I made some mistakes in the last game that I know I need to correct."
He may have no choice but to correct them on the fly. The Giants don't like to lean on rookies as starters, but they showed last season with right tackle Justin Pugh that they will if they have no other choice. Pugh played well enough as a 16-game rookie starter that it worked out. Problem is, there's no guarantee that it will work out again. Even if Richburg is an eventual Pro Bowler, no one can be sure he'll develop as quickly as Pugh did.
"What I'm doing best right now is having a short memory," Richburg said. "If I make a mistake, just clap it off and go on to the next play and not let it affect me. I think I'm doing a good job of forgetting about it and just playing fast and continuing."
Great, but the issue is that the understandable rookie mistakes are happening, and that mistakes on the offensive line are hazardous to the health and effectiveness of Giants quarterback Eli Manning. This wouldn't be as serious a concern if left guard were the only spot at which there was concern. But the Giants have had pass-protection issues with Walton, Mosley and left tackle Will Beatty this preseason as well. Adding a still-green Richburg to the starting mix leaves Pugh as the surest commodity, and even he is a second-year player whose growing pains likely aren't all the way behind him. There are still talent evaluators around the league who view Pugh as a guard playing out of position and think the Giants' line will be better once he's moved inside, but at this point they don't have any better options at tackle.
No, the issue here continues to be depth, and that's a failing of the organization's offseason. They brought in John Jerry on the premise that he'd be a quality veteran backup should something happen at guard, yet after Chris Snee retired and Schwartz got hurt Jerry remains in a backup role while Richburg and Mosley line up with the starters. Charles Brown, signed as the veteran depth at tackle, played terribly in relief of Beatty early and is now hurt, which has resulted in Pugh having to take some left tackle snaps in practice with Mosley moved out to right tackle. Reserve guard/center Eric Herman is suspended for four games, and reserve guard/tackle James Brewer is hurt.
It's thin, folks, and it's still very thin at the interior positions that were supposed to be upgraded this year. There's a lot of book from last year on how easy and effective it is to pressure Manning from the A-gap, and if the Giants don't get things figured out in there, defenses aren't going to need to alter last year's plan very much to beat them. After all the work that was done in the offseason, the Giants' biggest 2014 problem may end up being exactly the same as the one that sunk them in 2013.
With starting left tackle Will Beatty sitting out those two games as part of his rehab from a broken leg, and Brandon Mosley still learning with the first-teamers at right guard, the Giants' pass protection in the early part of the preseason hasn't been overly reliable. Beatty's replacement, Charles Brown, has been a major problem when he's been out there. And with sacks and penalties backing the Giants up against their own end zone in the first and second quarter Saturday night against the Steelers, it's easy to understand why they might not want to take unnecessary chances with franchise quarterback Eli Manning on the field.
That said, Manning, coach Tom Coughlin and the rest of the Giants are eager to see some success by the first-team offense, even in a meaningless preseason game. So if Beatty returns to the starting lineup as expected Saturday, it's possible that could help. Beatty will surely be better than what Brown has shown, even if he's not all the way back to full strength. He's been practicing and performing well against tough tests from Giants defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Mathias Kiwanuka, and he seems motivated to put his poor 2013 (and his gruesome Week 17 leg injury) behind him.
As for Mosley, he played better against the Steelers than he did against the Bills in the preseason opener, throwing the key block on Rashad Jennings' long touchdown run and holding up more reliably in pass protection. The Giants have had Mosley take all of the first-team snaps at right guard since Chris Snee announced his retirement the day before camp started. And while veteran John Jerry was signed as Snee insurance and may eventually end up with the job, the Giants want to give Mosley every chance to claim it.
"He's had a pretty good week, I think," Coughlin said. "It's just being in the game and being as productive as you'd like and eliminating errors and just overall production, improving from that standpoint. He's a big, strong guy that has had lots of time in the classroom and some work on the field as a backup. We certainly would like to see him just kind of take off and be the player we hope he's going to be."
- Unfortunately, the news of the day was injuries, headlined by running back David Wilson's neck burner. The Giants sent Wilson to New York and the Hospital for Special Surgery for a full battery of tests because they want to be as careful as possible with his neck as he's coming off spinal fusion surgery and only last week was cleared for full practice. It's possible this turns out just to be a low-level scare, but it's important to take every possible precaution given the recent history with Wilson and his neck. By comparison, the nagging hamstring troubles that kept Odell Beckham Jr., Rueben Randle, Xavier Grimble and Trindon Holliday sidelined seem like minor issues.
- Interesting practice for Larry Donnell, who's still No. 1 on the team's tight end depth chart and possibly in the coaches' hearts. He fumbled a ball near the goal line after one catch, but then got back up and made a leaping, one-handed touchdown grab in the back right corner of the end zone on the next play. All of the tight ends (except the injured Grimble) are getting lots of run, and they're all getting their share of first-team reps. There are a lot of formations the Giants are using in practice in which two tight ends are on the field at the same time, and they're lined up all over the place. They really need one or two guys to step forward from this group.
- Jerrel Jernigan dropped three punts that my "NFL Insiders" colleague Field Yates and I counted during punt-return drills. That's not good, and with Beckham and Holliday unable to return punts we're seeing a lot of David Wilson (before he had to leave), Victor Cruz (who's not going to do it in games) and Charles James on the punt return unit. Maybe that's a way for James to sneak onto the roster, who knows? It was good to see Field, regardless.
- Humorous highlights included a halfback pass from Peyton Hillis to Donnell that, shockingly, fell incomplete and a Trumaine McBride interception of Curtis Painter that he ran back for a touchdown with fellow corners Prince Amukamara and Walter Thurmond rushing off the sidelines and accompanying him home. I also thought it was funny that Jason Pierre-Paul joined in the defensive backs' post-practice huddle but left because their motivational chants are growing too complicated. Pierre-Paul continues to look fantastic in practice, by the way.
- And I haven't been charting each and every rep, but it seemed to me that John Jerry got more time at first-team right guard Tuesday than he has been. Brandon Mosley's still the main guy there, and certainly has an opportunity to hold off Jerry and claim the spot for his own. But they do like Jerry and want to give him a look as his surgically repaired knee allows.
- The Giants are off Wednesday and return to practice Thursday.
@DanGrazianoESPN: Let's assume, for the sake of this discussion, that middle linebacker Jon Beason does not make it back from his foot injury to play for the New York Giants in Week 1 in Detroit. If that is the case (as seems likely), then Jameel McClain is the front-runner to start at middle linebacker.
At this point, the starters on the outside would be Spencer Paysinger and Jacquian Williams, but rookie fifth-rounder Devon Kennard impressed coaches in the spring program and could be in the mix to start on the strong side. What's interesting to me is that linebackers coach Eric Hermann had a lot to say Thursday about the improvement Williams has shown as a weakside linebacker in the Giants' base defense. They already love him on the weak side in their nickel package due to his speed and coverage ability. But if they like him there in the base as well, Williams might be ahead of Paysinger to start there even once Beason returns and McClain moves back to the strong side. So to answer your question, I'd expect to see McClain in the middle, Williams on the weak side and either Paysinger or, if he has a big camp, Kennard on the strong side in Week 1.
Giants coaches like his progress. Quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf on Thursday praised Nassib's intelligence and his ability to pick up the new system but said he's still got to work on his accuracy and his timing. Which is understandable, given that he's still a young quarterback who's never played in the league. It's clear they view him as the No. 2 right now behind Eli Manning -- or that they're at least giving him every chance to beat out Curtis Painter for that spot in camp. But no, if Manning got hurt, at this point the Giants would not have honest confidence in Nassib or anyone else who might replace him.
Manning costs the Giants 17 percent of their salary cap. He's the player around whom their team is built. If they don't have him, they simply won't be a remotely competitive team. Even if Nassib comes quickly in camp and becomes a viable No. 2, there's no chance that, in 2014, he offers anything close to what Manning offers as a starting NFL quarterback. All the Giants want from Nassib is continued growth and development, and their hope is that he's a decent backup/emergency option this year and maybe more down the road.
@DanGrazianoESPN: I agree that the Giants' defensive line is questionable behind the starters, and that there's a chance it could be a bad defensive line. They desperately need Jason Pierre-Paul to stay healthy and dominate from the defensive end position, because honestly they're not going to get much pass rush from the other side at this point. Mathias Kiwanuka and Robert Ayers are what they are, and they're not the kinds of defensive ends who are going to whip tackles regularly and pile up sacks. And Damontre Moore is still developing.
On the inside, you mention Cullen Jenkins, and I agree he's key because he's the one guy in there who's not a question mark. Coaches were raving this week about the development defensive tackles Johnathan Hankins and Markus Kuhn have shown, and if so then that's a positive thing for them and for the Giants. But there's no way to know until they can practice in pads and play against other teams what they really have in there. To me, the Giants are hoping a lot of people -- namely, Hankins, Kuhn, Moore, Ayers and Kiwanuka -- outperform anything they've yet shown in the league in order to make them strong on the defensive line. It's not nuts to think one or two of them will, but... all of them?
@DanGrazianoESPN: The first-team offensive line in minicamp was, left to right: Charles Brown, Geoff Schwartz, J.D. Walton, Brandon Mosley, Justin Pugh. Which, no, is not good. They believe Chris Snee could play right guard if he had to right now, but he's working his way back from elbow and hip surgeries and they're taking it slowly with him. And they're also hoping Will Beatty is healthy enough to play left tackle in training camp ahead of Brown, who was signed as a backup. Rookie Weston Richburg is in a straight-up competition with Walton for the starting center spot. So it's possible that by Week 1 it's Beatty/Schwartz/Richburg/Snee/Pugh, which would look a lot better than what they ran out there this week. But as of now, that's your starting five.
Mosley's an interesting case. They like him and think his development has been hurt by injuries. But the fact that Snee and John Jerry (knee surgery) haven't been able to get on the field helped Mosley get a lot of first-team reps this spring. And that can only help him if they need to turn to him to play a starting role in camp, in the preseason or in the season.
Thanks for all of your questions. Enjoy the first weekend of summer.
This means the Giants have fresh money to spend as of today, and I would expect them to add a player or two in the coming days or weeks. But don't expect them to go back to adding and spending the way they did in March.
First, and most importantly, there's very little left on which to spend free-agent money. Fans may want a big-name tight end such as Jermichael Finley or Dustin Keller, but both of those guys come with serious medical concerns that would have to be addressed first. And even if the Giants wanted to sign a player like that, it would be on a low-cost, low-risk deal that wouldn't likely require all of that fresh cap room.
Secondly, they're not required to use the cap room this year. The Giants' cash spend is sufficient to meet the CBA-imposed requirements for the salary floor (which is computed over a four-year period anyway), and they're allowed to carry forward cap room into next year if they want to. At this point in the market, that may be a better use of the cap room than overspending to add a summertime piece.
My guess is the Giants do find a player or two in the coming weeks. My first thought is they could add a depth piece on the defensive line, where they risk being a bit thin. But with John Jerry injured and Will Beatty still not practicing, I could see them adding a veteran offensive lineman as well. Those are just educated guesses, and obviously they could churn the roster a fair bit here with their new cap room. But I don't think they're out there planning to do that.
It doesn't sound as though the injury should keep Jerry out of training camp, which starts in mid-July. But all of the Giants' offensive players are learning a new system under new coordinator Ben McAdoo, and the lack of practice time could hurt Jerry's ability to pick up what he needs to pick up.
There also remains a possibility that Jerry could face a league-imposed suspension for part of the 2014 season as a result of his involvement in the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin bullying fiasco, though the Giants do not seem to believe he will. They signed him in case veteran offensive lineman Chris Snee couldn't make it back from his second hip surgery and because they felt they needed more experience in the backup offensive line positions than they had last year.
Some other news and observations from Thursday's OTA workout:
- Snee was out there practicing in full at right guard with the first-team offensive line. He said a few weeks ago that he feels great and hasn't been limited in any way.
- Left tackle Will Beatty, who broke his leg in Week 17 of the 2013 season, and wide receiver Mario Manningham, who's had all kinds of knee problems, were working off to the side during practice. Coughlin said they were both on track to be ready by fall, which I took to mean training camp but I guess could technically mean the regular season. Charles Brown took Beatty's place at left tackle with the first-team line Thursday. J.D. Walton worked as the first-team center, with Geoff Schwartz at left guard and Justin Pugh at right tackle.
- A variety of backup wide receivers got first-team reps with Manningham out and first-round pick Odell Beckham Jr. missing the day to attend the NFLPA Rookie Premiere event. Fourth-round pick Andre Williams also attended that event and was therefore absent Thursday.
- Safeties Will Hill and Stevie Brown both practiced in full, Brown with the first-team defense and Hill with the second. Brown is recovering from ACL surgery that cost him the entire 2013 season, while Hill is appealing what would be his third drug suspension in as many years. Coughlin said that waiting for a resolution on Hill's status is difficult and would continue to be, but that the team has no idea when they can expect one.
- Running back David Wilson was held out of any drills that may have resulted in contact, as he has yet to be cleared for contact following last season's neck surgery. Wilson said his next doctor's appointment is Wednesday. He says he feels no pain (and never did) and hopes to be cleared soon to practice with his team.
- Oh, and quarterback Eli Manning, seven weeks removed from ankle surgery, practiced in full for the second day in a row.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper's latest mock draft is up today here on ESPN.com. It's two rounds long this time, and you have to have Insider access to read it. His picks for the Giants are aimed at finding some help for quarterback Eli Manning.