NFC East: Antrel Rolle

2014 Predictions: New York Giants

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
7:59
AM ET
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ESPN.com New York Giants reporter Dan Graziano makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.

Week 1: at Detroit Lions

The Giants are coming off a mess of a preseason, undermanned and overwhelmed, with the offensive line still a mess and the new offense not clicking at all. No one will pick them to win this game. Except me. Prediction: Win


Week 2: Arizona Cardinals

This one's a comedown off the Week 1 surprise, as Arizona's banged-up defense still manages to flummox Eli Manning and collect a few interceptions. It's a bummer of a home opener as reality begins to set in. Prediction: Loss


Week 3: Houston Texans

Houston's defense is as liable as Arizona's to make life miserable for Manning and the offensive line. But Houston has bigger questions on offense than even the Giants, and this is a win for the New York defense against Ryan Fitzpatrick. Prediction: Win


Week 4: at Washington Redskins

The short week and Washington's stellar crew of offensive weapons prove too much for the Giants to overcome. Will Beatty still sees Brian Orakpo in his nightmares. Prediction: Loss


Week 5: Atlanta Falcons

The pattern continues, and the Giants overcome two Osi Umenyiora sacks to outscore the Falcons with a furious Manning comeback in the final minutes. The Giants poke their heads over the .500 mark as they make the turn into the most brutal stretch of their schedule. Prediction: Win


Week 6: at Philadelphia Eagles

The Giants don't have Matt Barkley to kick around this time when they visit the City of Brotherly Love. Chip Kelly and the Eagles show them what a truly innovative offense looks like. Prediction: Loss


Week 7: at Dallas Cowboys

The season-long debate about what gives when an anemic Giants offense meets a pathetic Cowboys defense tilts in Dallas' favor in the first meeting. Tony Romo & Co. have more than enough weapons to outscore Manning and his bunch, and the Giants hit the bye with a 3-4 record. Prediction: Loss


Week 9: Indianapolis Colts

After a long break before the Monday night home game, the Giants get taken apart by Andrew Luck, Hakeem Nicks & Co. at MetLife Stadium for a third straight loss. The offense is starting to run more smoothly, but it still doesn't have enough playmakers to outscore one of the league's better offenses. Prediction: Loss


Week 10: at Seattle Seahawks

You're kidding, right? Prediction: Loss


Week 11: San Francisco 49ers

The Giants have obviously handled the Niners in recent years and in some high-profile situations. But by this point in the season, San Francisco's defense is back to full strength, and the 49ers can't afford to lose ground to the Seahawks by failing to beat the team Seattle just beat the week before. Prediction: Loss


Week 12: Dallas Cowboys

A sixth straight loss is by no means out of the question here, as Romo and his crew still have the potential to outscore anyone in a given week. But from this far out, I'll forecast that something goes wrong for Romo late in this game, and the Giants get a gift. Prediction: Win


Week 13: at Jacksonville Jaguars

This is where the schedule starts to soften up, when the Giants start playing teams that insist on not starting their best quarterback. It's unfortunate they're 4-7 at this point and just about out of the playoff hunt, but they will get it going against the bottom-feeders. Prediction: Win


Week 14: at Tennessee Titans

I think the Titans are going to be dreadful this year, and by December they won't be very difficult for anyone to beat, even at home. A third straight victory keeps the Giants' hopes alive. Prediction: Win


Week 15: Washington Redskins

Have to be honest: The NFC East is so unpredictable that, when doing these predictions, I just decided to give the Giants a 3-3 division record with victories in all three home games and losses in all three road games. It's as fair a way as any to do it, I believe. Prediction: Win


Week 16: at St. Louis Rams

After moving back to .500 with four straight wins, the season falls apart at the hands of the St. Louis pass rush. An offensive line that has once again been the Giants' biggest problem all year can't protect Manning in a must-win game. Prediction: Loss


Week 17: Philadelphia Eagles

Tom Coughlin's teams can always find a way to play for pride. The Giants' playoff hopes are extinguished, but they still manage to end the season on a high note and with a .500 record. Prediction: Win


Predicted Record: 8-8

 

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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.
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. -- Of all the disappointments in the New York Giants' hugely disappointing 2013 season, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks may have stood out the most. The team's 2009 first-round pick went the entire year without a touchdown, got benched for a critical November game against the Cowboys and was allowed to leave as a free agent without any effort being made to re-sign him. An ugly and surprising end in New York for a Super Bowl hero who'd previously been counted among the hardest-working and productive on the team.

Nicks
Nicks landed with the Indianapolis Colts, and coincidentally the Giants are headed to Indianapolis for their next preseason game Saturday night. Nicks still has plenty of friends on the team, and they're looking forward to a reunion.

"Always good to see Hakeem," Giants safety Antrel Rolle said Wednesday. "And I think he landed in a blessed situation. Most important, alongside [veteran Colts receiver] Reggie Wayne. I'm a longtime friend of Reggie Wayne's, and I understand his work ethic and his craft. Hakeem having someone above him to lay down the foundation, lay the law down, is going to help him improve his game that much more."

Interesting point. Even once Victor Cruz emerged, Nicks was kind of the most seasoned and veteran receiver on the Giants during a time when he was still quite young. Heck, he's still only 26. Being part of a receiving corps that has the veteran Wayne and the emerging young T.Y. Hilton could be a benefit to Nicks if one of his problems last year was dealing with pressure.

Either way, as nice as it'll be for Rolle to see Nicks, he'll also be trying to stop him.

"I'm excited to see Hakeem, but there are no friends out there on the field, and I know he understands that," Rolle said. "I know he feels the same way about us. This is home for him. I'm just looking forward to the game. It's going to be a great battle."
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There was a day Stevie Brown remembers, back in January and February, when he was catching passes from New York Giants assistant trainer Leigh Weiss in the indoor facility here. Weiss threw one high, and Brown went up to catch it and came down hard on his left leg, which is the leg in which he'd had surgery last fall to repair a torn ACL in his knee. Brown landed hard and kept running as though nothing had happened, and when he looked up, Weiss was smiling.

"So," Weiss said. "I guess you're not worried about it anymore."

[+] EnlargeStevie Brown
AP Photo/Seth WenigStevie Brown appears to be back to full strength after an ACL injury cost him the 2013 season.
That's the moment to which Brown points when asked when he stopped worrying about his knee and knew he could once again be the player he used to be. The Giants' safety collected eight interceptions in a breakout 2012 season and was poised to begin 2013 as a full-time starter when he tore up his knee in a preseason game. After that, he said, he had to re-learn everything.

"You're forced to take a step back, and you have to rebuild your game as you're getting healthier," Brown said before Giants practice Thursday. "There are some things that I excelled at in the past that took a while to get back before I could just break-and-cut, break-and-cut. I had to start off with the little things -- coming downhill, addressing myself like I was going to be in the run game, just basic football patterns rather than going out right away and getting in deep thirds and breaking off. I had to start by making sure I could come to balance, breaking down in the tackling game, shifting one way, shifting the other way, things like that.

"Just a big, gradual process to get back to where I am now."

Where he is now is on the practice field, doing everything he would normally be doing to get ready for a football season if he'd never injured his knee in the first place. Brown said there's extra work that goes on off the field -- he has to do extra leg workouts to make sure to keep the muscles around his left knee strong. But once he's on the field, he said he believes he's able to do everything he used to be able to do.

"He worked really hard," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "He was here every day in the summer and throughout the entire offseason. So he's worked hard to get himself back on the field, and the work has obviously paid off. But the process of making him stronger, getting him to the games is still going to be important."

With Will Hill suspended and released, the Giants are a bit thin at safety. Brown and Antrel Rolle project as the starters, with Quintin Demps behind them and a pair of fifth-round picks from the past two seasons -- Cooper Taylor and Nat Berhe -- behind him. If Brown weren't able to play at full strength, the Giants would suddenly have a big problem at the position. Fortunately for them, at this point, he feels as good as ever.

"I'm able to do everything right now," Brown said. "No limitations to anything. I take all the reps that they want me to take and just go out there and do everything I need to do."

Giants Camp Report: Day 4

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
8:30
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New York Giants training camp:


  • Man, the Giants' offense looks like hot garbage right now. Eli Manning threw a ball so badly to Jerrel Jernigan that Antrel Rolle and Prince Amukamara almost killed each other as they collided to try to intercept it. Ryan Nassib (to Charles James) and Curtis Painter (to Mark Herzlich) also threw picks. There was a play in which Manning tripped over the feet of running back Rashad Jennings and fell to the ground. (He got right up, don't worry.) Kendall Gaskins fumbled a ball and coach Tom Coughlin began screaming and cursing at the top of his lungs, wheeling on the offensive players who were standing on the sideline and not in the drill and yelling, "Hang onto the [bleep-bleep] ball!" over and over. Mario Manningham beat Walter Thurmond on a slant route for a nice catch, but Thurmond stayed with the play and knocked the ball out of his hands. I mean, ugly. Still way early, but tough to watch.
  • This was the first day they practiced in shoulder pads, and the first thing I saw when I went out to the field to watch was rookie running back Andre Williams absolutely lay out linebacker Justin Anderson in a one-on-one kick-return drill. It was as though Williams was taking out all of his frustrations about Thursday's dropped passes on poor Anderson. But everyone was feisty. At the end of one drill, linebacker Dan Fox playfully tackled GM Jerry Reese, who was watching by the goal post.
  • Things that are real that you wouldn't have expected: Rookie linebacker Devon Kennard is a guy the coaches and other players continue to rave about, and Brandon McManus remains a threat to take the kicker's job from Josh Brown. McManus is 8-for-8 on field goals so far, was making them easily from long distance Friday and looks more powerful on kickoffs, which ends up mattering to coaches in a big way when these decisions are made. If it's close on the field goals, they take the guy who can kick it out of the back of the end zone. Field position matters.
  • Still no Odell Beckham Jr., and no word on when his hamstring will allow him to practice. Yes, the Giants are frustrated that their first-round pick is not on the field.
  • Keep an eye on Preston Parker, a third-year wide receiver out of Florida State who had legal trouble in college and has bounced around. The Giants are using him a lot with the first-team offense and on returns.

Giants roster preview: Safeties

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
12:00
PM ET
During the week of June 30, we took a position-by-position look at the New York Giants' offense heading into training camp. This week, we've done the same thing with the defense -- one position group at a time. Today, with a mere four days left until the Giants report for camp, is the final installment -- safeties.

Projected starters: Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown

Projected backups: Quintin Demps, Cooper Taylor, Nat Berhe

Others fighting for roster spots: Kyle Sebetic, Thomas Gordon, C.J. Barnett

Brown says he feels good coming off the knee surgery that cost him a chance to start alongside his Pro Bowl mentor Rolle in 2013. He's been eager for a while now to follow up on his breakout eight-interception 2012 season, and the Giants are hoping his knee allows him to do that. If it does not, thanks to the suspension and release of Will Hill, things could get thin here in a hurry. Demps was signed more as a kickoff returner than a safety, but at this point he's the clear No. 3 when they want to go to their three-safety defense, and he's the projected substitute starter if Rolle or Brown can't play.

Behind Demps are two recent fifth-round picks -- Taylor from 2013 and Berhe from this year. Given the Giants' numbers at cornerback, it's hard to see them carrying five safeties, so it's possible both guys can't make the team and they might have to try to put Berhe on the practice squad. They do like Taylor, who had injuries last season but has come back larger and stronger this year and could have an opportunity for more playing time if he shows he can handle it.

Camp preview: New York Giants

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation's Dan Graziano examines the three biggest issues facing the New York Giants heading into training camp.

The new offense: All eyes are on new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo and a Giants offense that's likely to look much different from the one quarterback Eli Manning ran for his first 10 years in the NFL. The fact that Manning was able to bounce back from his ankle surgery and participate in organized team activities and minicamp was a huge help to the learning process, but it's still an extensive and complex process that could conceivably linger into the season. Pay particular attention to the running game, whose concepts seem to be more complex than what the Giants are installing in the passing game. David Wilson said last month that the new offense gives the running backs the ability to "create and dictate" plays, but obviously a lot of that is going to depend on the ability of the offensive line to get the play blocked. There are a lot of questions to be answered on the offense: Who will the starting center be? Who will play tight end? Will Chris Snee be able to hold up at right guard? Can Will Beatty recover in time to start the season? Do the Giants have enough at wide receiver? Is Wilson healthy enough to be a factor in the run game? But central to everything is the ability of the players on the field to smoothly integrate themselves into a new system -- and to do so in time for the start of the regular season.

The defensive line. The Giants let 2013 sack leader Justin Tuck and top defensive tackle Linval Joseph go in free agency. They believe that Jason Pierre-Paul is healthy for the first time since October of 2012 and can dominate from the defensive end position the way he did in 2011. And they believe that young defensive tackles Johnathan Hankins and Markus Kuhn are ready to take the next developmental steps needed to absorb Joseph's workload and stuff up the middle against opposing run games. But they'll need Mathias Kiwanuka, Damontre Moore or Robert Ayers to emerge as a reasonable pass-rush threat on the other side to keep offenses' attention away from Pierre-Paul. And without injured middle linebacker Jon Beason around for camp and possibly the start of the season to get and keep things organized in the front seven, it would help if someone from the defensive line group could fill at least part of the vast leadership void created by Tuck's departure.

Team chemistry. The Giants don't go away for training camp anymore. They have camp right at the same East Rutherford, N.J., practice facility where they do their work during the regular season. They'll stay in a hotel as if they were away for camp, and they'll spend long days together in meeting rooms, on the field and in the cafeteria. But one of the big stories of this Giants season is the ability of the coaching staff to integrate a group of new players into the team culture and find leaders to replace guys like Tuck, Terrell Thomas, Kevin Boothe and David Diehl, who are no longer around to serve as locker room pillars. The Giants are counting on the ability of venerable head coach Tom Coughlin and his staff to do that, and they believe Beason and Antrel Rolle have emerged in recent years as big-time leaders on and off the field. But the vibe in the locker room is going to be different with so many new faces in place and so many familiar ones gone. It will be fascinating to see how that all comes together, and whether one offseason and one training camp is enough to make it all work.
One last New York Giants Twitter mailbag before I start a too-brief summer vacation ... @DanGrazianoESPN: Yeah, I think that's a fair expectation, and I think you saw the Giants lean that way last year with Terrell Thomas as the regular nickel corner. They signed Walter Thurmond to play that position, and he's as good at it as anyone in the league. And they're thin at safety with Will Hill suspended and released, Stevie Brown coming off knee surgery and Quintin Demps having been signed primarily to return kicks. They have been talking a lot about keeping Antrel Rolle at safety, rather than using him all over the field as they've done in years past, and obviously sticking with a three-cornerback look would help with that. I honestly don't see the need for the old three-safety package, especially if Jon Beason is back healthy at middle linebacker early in the season. It worked well during that 2011 Super Bowl season, but that year they were thin at cornerback and linebacker and deep at safety. You're right if your point is that the scheme should be based around the personnel, and right now cornerback is a Giants strength. @DanGrazianoESPN: With Beason nursing a foot injury, the starting middle linebacker in training camp (and probably for Week 1) is going to be Jameel McClain. He projects as the starting strongside linebacker if Beason's healthy, but he's taking over in the middle while he's not. Jacquian Williams is the front-runner for the starting weakside linebacker spot, and the strongside position should belong to either Spencer Paysinger or rookie Devon Kennard, who impressed coaches with his minicamp performance. As for receivers, that's an interesting case. My first thought is that they keep six -- Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, Mario Manningham, Odell Beckham Jr., Jerrel Jernigan and Trindon Holliday. But Holliday isn't really likely to factor as a receiver, as he's pretty much exclusively a kick and punt returner. So that would leave them with five real receivers (four if Manningham's knee won't let him answer the bell). That opens it up for someone like a Marcus Harris, Julian Talley or Corey Washington to possibly sneak onto the roster with a good camp, but that's a long shot. @DanGrazianoESPN: Based on my conversations with Giants people (and with Will Beatty himself) last year and this spring, I think the main reason Beatty struggled was technique. He's not a big, monstrous, mauling left tackle who relies on strength and an ability to overpower people. Beatty's success, when he's had it, has had more to do with quickness and athleticism. I was told last season while he was struggling that Beatty was playing with his hands too low, giving away leverage and hurting his ability to dictate his matchups. That sounds like an easy thing to fix, but bad habits are tough to break, and as the year went along the struggles got into Beatty's head. He admitted in December that he'd felt the weight of his free-agent contract and let the pressure get to him, and I think he was looking forward to an offseason to clear his head. The problem is that Beatty's offseason has been about recovery from that broken leg he suffered in the Week 17 game against the Redskins, and he hasn't had time to practice getting back into good habits. I agree that a Beatty rebound would have a positive ripple effect along the rest of the line, but at this point you have to consider him a major question mark, and not just because of the injury. @DanGrazianoESPN: The firing of their longtime tight ends coach does rank among the more surprising moves of the Giants' offseason. But when they hired young Ben McAdoo as their new offensive coordinator, it was only fair to assume he'd want to bring in a few of his own coaches and help construct the staff. During those discussions, it was decided that Pope's position would be one of the ones to turn over. They moved wide receivers coach Kevin M. Gilbride (the son of the former offensive coordinator) to tight ends coach, Sean Ryan from quarterbacks coach back to wide receivers coach and hired Danny Langsdorf as the new quarterbacks coach. Pope was a Giants icon, and the only person whose name is on all four of the franchise's Super Bowl trophies. But there was an effort to get a bit younger on the coaching staff this offseason. Tight end Adrien Robinson spoke during OTAs about how he's felt a different kind of connection with the younger Gilbride than he did with Pope, and if that's the case with the rest of the group it might answer your question. Thanks for all of your questions. If you need me, I'm on the golf course.
1. I've mentioned Washington Redskins outside linebackers coach Brian Baker a number of times and wanted to give you more of a feel for him as a coach, just by listening to him during practice with his players. A few things I noticed: He's constantly teaching and reminding players when what they've done is right or wrong. It's constant. He even chastised one player (wasn't quite sure who) for not having his eyes on him when he was speaking.

2. During pass-rush drills, he reminded the players, “don't let them control your body! Keep your elbows tight!” It's a point of emphasis. At one point, he told rookie Trent Murphy, “Give me one good one 93; I need one good one before we move on!” Murphy gave it to him. Baker worked with players on where their hands should be on the blocker at the snap (obviously not low, but he worked on getting the hands right before the snap, too). Baker: “You can't let him get into your chest. The closer you are the higher you put your hands.”

[+] EnlargeJay Gruden
AP Photo/Nick WassJay Gruden had his coaches concentrating on special teams during the Redskins' minicamp.
3. And, finally, I like that Baker does not have a one-size-fits-all approach to pass rushing. He worked with Brandon Jenkins on his footwork off the snap when positioned at right outside linebacker. It's a little different than on the right side and he wanted to make sure he stayed on the right path from the get-go. But he also told Jenkins, “You can't get it to look like everyone else. You've just got to get it right. Make it work for you.” He also worked with Jenkins on accelerating at the top of the rush -- it's where you win.

4. I don't know what sort of difference one outside linebackers coach can make, but I also know it can't be overlooked. He's a legit coach.

5. Redskins coach Jay Gruden incorporated more of his coaches in special teams drills. It's not as if other coaches in past years did nothing here, but it was noticeable this past week. Secondary coach Raheem Morris worked with the flyers in punt coverage while receivers coach Ike Hilliard showed them how to get off a jam. Baker helped with the tackling drills. Gruden said it enables special teams coach Ben Kotwica to get more out of his allotted 10-15 minutes. There is a definite increased emphasis on special teams, starting from early in the offseason.

6. The Redskins now know they'll face quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the season opener against Houston. Not sure it's a big surprise and not sure it really matters. Fitzpatrick was 9-5 as a starter from Nov. 14, 2010 to Oct. 30, 2011 -- that includes the 23-0 shutout of Washington. Since then, Fitzpatrick is 10-23 as a starter. Of course, his first NFL start came against Washington, a 24-9 loss while with Cincinnati in 2005. Fitzpatrick has thrown 106 touchdown passes to 93 interceptions in his career.

7. Three months later DeSean Jackson remains a big topic in Philadelphia. It started, again, with running back LeSean McCoy saying Jackson's release caught everyone's attention. It let them know if you don't buy in, you will be cut. Kelly refuted that notion. “I don't send messages to other players by how I deal with other players,” Kelly told Eagles reporters. “And how LeSean McCoy interprets things … LeSean has a beautiful mind. Sometimes trying to analyze that mind I don't wrap myself around that too much. Or bother myself too much with that. However LeSean interprets things is how LeSean interprets things.” The Eagles do think they have enough speedminus Jackson to still thrive.

8. There was a big to-do over the Patriots having a Jets playbook and that led to a discussion over whether it made a difference. Some who have covered the NFL a long time insist it means nothing; others who have covered it a long time insist it does. With players switching teams all the time, I doubt it's a big secret what's in various playbooks and coaches study so much tape that there shouldn't be many surprises. The bigger issue is when you know another coach's tendencies. I say that because some coaches here in the past felt that part of the success they had against Giants quarterback Eli Manning stemmed from having their playbook. But it also helped that they felt offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride didn't change a whole lot. Tendencies mattered more.

9. One player who must have a strong year for Dallas: cornerback Morris Claiborne. The Cowboys traded up to get him with the sixth overall pick in 2012, but his impact has been poor. Claiborne has picked off two passes, has battled nagging injuries and lost his starting job last year. This is the time of year for player optimism and Claiborne is no different. Everyone is saying the right things about Claiborne, as you would expect. But they like that he's competing. One nugget: Claiborne pulled a rookie corner off the field in order to face receiver Dez Bryant in practice. "Me and him talked about it before we even started up that we want to be the best and we want to go against each other," Claiborne said. "We feel like we both compete at a high level. I get good work when I go against him and it's vice versa. When I'm not up there, he's telling me to come. We're trying to help each other so we can be the best for our team."

10. The Redskins nearly had Antrel Rolle in the 2005 draft, but he went one pick ahead of them at No. 8 to Arizona, so they drafted Carlos Rogers instead. Rolle, a corner when he came out, continues to improve at safety. Giants safeties coach Dave Merritt said of Rolle, “Before, as far as formations, he didn't see formations. He didn't really see the route concepts. Now, the last two years, it's all coming together for him and he's feeling more comfortable. So with Antrel's ability to continue to learn and grow, he hasn't really scratched his ability as a safety yet. Last year was a glimpse of what Antrel could actually become."
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.

Rolle
Rodgers-Cromartie
"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."

Redskins mailbag: Part 2

May, 17, 2014
May 17
10:00
AM ET
For Part 2 of the Redskins mailbag, we're talking Robert Griffin III and the Hall of Fame (what!?), which offensive alignments the Redskins might favor, defensive sets against Philadelphia, the offensive line and more. Enjoy.

New York Giants draft wrap-up

May, 10, 2014
May 10
5:50
PM ET
NFC wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A wrap-up of the New York Giants' draft. Click here for a full list of Giants draftees.

[+] EnlargeWeston Richburg
AP Photo/G.M. AndrewsWeston Richburg, a center out of Colorado State, should be in a good position to compete for the Giants' starting job this season.
Best move: The Giants addressed an immediate and long-term need with the selection of Colorado State center Weston Richburg with the 11th pick of the second round. Richburg played multiple positions and in a variety of different offensive schemes in college, and his versatility, athleticism and intelligence make him a strong fit for the center spot in the Giants' new Ben McAdoo offense. I don't see any reason he can't beat out J.D. Walton for the job right away, and having a center who can handle a variety of responsibilities before the snap and after it should help the offensive line play on either side of him. Richburg's play can also offer the Giants a number of ways to jump-start a running game that never got going in 2013.

Riskiest move: The selection of LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. with the 12th pick of the draft isn't "risky" in the traditional sense -- meaning, I don't think he's a threat to be a bust. I think Beckham is likely to be a very good player for the Giants. But passing on offensive lineman Zack Martin for a potential game-breaking receiver was a risky move. The Giants have let the offensive line decay too much in recent years, and Beckham's ability to separate from defenders isn't going to help them much if the line can't get the play blocked and Eli Manning doesn't have time to get him the ball. The Richburg selection mitigates things somewhat, but adding a first-round talent to the offensive line mix was the best move the Giants could have made in this draft, and they chose not to make it. There's a decent chance that will come back to bite them.

Most surprising move: It was surprising that Boston College running back Andre Williams was still available for the Giants in the fourth round, but it's not surprising they took him. He'll fill a role right away as a power back who can fight for tough yards in the middle of the line -- doing the dirty work while Rashad Jennings and maybe David Wilson get the highlight-reel work. The biggest surprise was the selection of Syracuse defensive tackle Jay Bromley in the third round, with the No. 74 pick. This was a clear reach for a player who mainly had fifth- and sixth-round grades. And, although the Giants cited his 10 sacks from an interior line position in his senior season and the fact he was a team captain as support for the pick, even Bromley said he was shocked to be picked on the draft's second day.

File it away: San Diego State safety Nat Berhe was the Giants' pick in the fifth round, at No. 152. It's the second year in a row they took a safety with the No. 152 pick (Cooper Taylor in 2013). Berhe was also a reach but also a team captain/leader type, like almost everyone they picked. Scouting director Marc Ross said the Giants can envision Berhe as a hybrid safety in what Ross called a "Deon Grant role" in the defense. He wasn't necessarily talking about this year, but if Berhe develops, he could have a path to playing time. Taylor is the only Giants safety under contract beyond 2014 at this point. Antrel Rolle is in his final year; Stevie Brown is coming off ACL surgery; and Will Hill is facing a third drug suspension in as many years.
So New York Giants safety Will Hill could be suspended for the season as a result of his latest failed drug test. Or not. He could win his appeal and not be suspended at all. There's no way to know what's going to happen with Hill. That is his defining characteristic. It's why his very promising NFL career is unlikely to ever really happen.

The Giants love Hill's talent. He was the best player in their secondary for much of the 2013 season, and they were looking ahead to this fall with him penciled in as one of their starting safeties. But they also signed Stevie Brown and Quintin Demps, both of whom have starting experience, because the one thing they know for sure about Hill is that they can't count on him.

Four-game drug suspensions in 2012 and 2013 leave Hill teetering on the edge of the league's drug program, with the NFL likely to suspend him a full year for his next violation. That's a tough line for a team to walk with a player it likes but can't trust. Ideally, you'd like to make your plans around him, but you have to operate with the knowledge that you can't. Ideally, you want to support him as he deals with the difficult parts of his off-field life, but you can't follow him around every day of the year.

So Hill has failed another test, and even if his best-case scenario were to come true and he were to be exonerated and win his appeal, you have to think the Giants aren't going to put up with him much longer. Having to wonder every day whether you're going to get the call that tells you one of your starting safeties is suspended is a tough way to operate, especially when you're doing as much roster reassembly as the Giants are doing this offseason. If Brown is fully recovered from ACL surgery, they can go forward with him as the starter opposite Antrel Rolle, and address the position in the draft or next offseason for depth and for years beyond this one.

Hill is a very nice player, but there are good reasons he didn't get drafted. The Giants have always known he was a volatile commodity -- that they'd benefit greatly if he could stay out of trouble but that odds were he wouldn't. At this point, it's hard to say whether this latest bit of news is the one that pushes them to cut ties with Hill, but even if it's not, it's hard to shake the sense that the day is coming. And if it is, it would be tough to blame them.

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