Observation deck: Giants-Jaguars
August, 11, 2012
By Dan Graziano | ESPN.com
This was one of the preseasoniest preseason games any of us has ever seen. The New York Giants' 32-31 exhibition loss to the Jaguars in Jacksonville on Friday night was by turns sloppy, silly and downright ugly for both teams. Blown coverages, muffed punts and the sad struggles of the nervous, overmatched replacement officials made this a game that showed exactly why there's nearly a full month left before the start of the regular season -- because everybody needs that time.
All of that said, though, the Giants got some long looks at a few key players who are likely to factor into their 2012 regular season. And that's what this is all about. We draw no long-range conclusions from these ridiculous games. We merely observe, report and discuss. So please bear that in mind as you read.
1. There's lots to like about David Wilson. He's no threat to Ahmad Bradshaw's job security, but Wilson looks like a dangerous dude with the ball in his hands. His speed is legitimate, and likely the main reason he was used on kick returns. And it helped him break a few runs. He had a really interesting statistical night -- 43 yards on seven carries for an impressive 6.1 yards-per-carry average. But these were the lengths of his seven runs, in chronological order: 0, 26, minus-5, 17, minus-1, 6, 0. That's some variety right there, and it would appear to be evidence of a work in progress. Wilson is capable of big things as a first-rounder should be, but he has some things he needs to refine. The Giants have a high-caliber starting running back in Bradshaw, and right now Wilson may be behind D.J. Ware as well. But as he progress with his vision, his cuts and his pass protection, he should be able to move up quickly and maybe even become the Giants' No. 2 back at some point this season. He also caught two passes for 26 yards, which is important to note, as the Giants like to use their running backs as receivers in the screen game.
2. Prince Amukamara isn't all the way there yet. His highlight play was an outstanding forced fumble, which I really liked because he didn't just sell out for the strip, but actually had his other armed wrapped around the ballcarrier's shoulder. Going for the turnover without sacrificing tackling technique -- a rare sight and the mark of a sound and smart player. Unfortunately by that point in the game, Amukamara had already been burned twice in coverage, including for a touchdown, and coverage is the more important part of his game. With Terrell Thomas continuing to struggle with knee issues, Amukamara is a starting cornerback for the Giants right now, and needs to do better in the coming weeks if the Giants are to feel good about starting the year that way.
3. A Black Unicorn sighting. Tight end Martellus Bennett has made headlines since arriving in New York for the interesting things he's called himself in group interviews. But he caught all three balls thrown to him Friday night, including a 12-yard touchdown from David Carr. The Giants got him mainly to help as a blocker in the run game, and he (as well as fullback Henry Hynoski) offered plenty of proof Friday that they can help there. But if he can be a legitimate threat to catch the ball, that's a huge bonus for the Giants. We shall see. He had some big August games in Dallas, too. The more important thing is that he's always been a good blocker, and the run game needs that.
4. The No. 3 receiver battle. It was interesting that Ramses Barden got the start due to a Domenik Hixon hamstring injury. Whichever of these receiver candidates is working with Eli Manning on a given night is automatically going to have an advantage, and Barden was the lucky guy in this one. He had a 14-yard catch early in the game and looked good using his big body to shield the defender from the ball. Jerrel Jernigan might have had a touchdown catch, but his right arm was held by the defensive back and so he had to try (unsuccessfully) to catch the ball only with his left hand. And rookie Rueben Randle looked good late, using his size to gain an advantage in the end zone and corral a 6-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Perrilloux. It's worth noting that Isaiah Stanback, who's not in this mix but is trying to make the team, made a circus catch for a touchdown from David Carr in the second quarter.
5. Sloppy, sloppy. Hixon could be the No. 3 receiver if he can get on the field, but where the Giants really could have used him Friday was on punt returns, where both Jayron Hosley and Jernigan muffed punts. Shame about rookie cornerback Hosley, who was having a good game to that point with a good return and a sack.
6. Being physical. At times over the past few years, when the Giants' defense has underachieved from week-to-week, it's been because they were physically pushed around by other teams' offensive lines. This was the case for much of the early part of Friday's game. The Jaguars' first touchdown drive covered 89 yards in 13 plays and took 6:09 as running back Rashad Jennings and quarterback Blaine Gabbert were able to do whatever they wanted. I'm certainly not saying the Giants will play defense like that in the regular season, but we have seen that they can, and I'm sure the first-team defensive linemen weren't thrilled about the way their night went.
7. Miscellany: Adrian Tracy, who's being converted from linebacker to defensive end, looked athletic and able, if a little jumpy pre-snap. ... Marvin Austin continues to look rusty but has potential. On one play he got pushed back easily, on the next he collapsed the pocket to help Tracy get a sack. ... Mark Herzlich looked very good as he continues to push Chase Blackburn for that starting middle linebacker spot. ... Backup defensive lineman Dwayne Hendricks had two sacks and a nice overall game as a back-of-the-roster guy trying to stick. ... Steve Weatherford picked up right where he left off in the Super Bowl, nailing perfect punts. He even looked good compared to that punter the Jags drafted in the third round! But that guy's clearly awesome. He punts the ball so no one can catch it!
That's plenty from this game for me. What'd you guys see?