NFL Nation: Jerrel Jernigan

Rapid Reaction: New York Giants

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8

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

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

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

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

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

What's next: The Giants host the Arizona Cardinals at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
INDIANAPOLIS -- They said all the requisite things about how much fun it was to score 27 unanswered points in the fourth quarter and come back to beat the Indianapolis Colts 27-26 in Saturday night's preseason game. But the New York Giants still aren't happy about the way their first-team offense has performed this preseason, and honestly they shouldn't be.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesEli Manning will probably have just one more opportunity in the preseason to get the Giants' offense in shape.
"We are realists, and looking at what looked to be a very poor performance in the first half with the 1s that didn't really get a lot better once the 2s came in," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "It wasn't impressive at all. We didn't get a whole lot done. There's no production. There's nothing to look at from a production standpoint."

Quarterback Eli Manning was 1-for-7 Saturday night after going 0-for-2 in the preseason game a week earlier against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The first-team offense looked lost once again, with most of the short-range and mid-range passes missing their targets. They tried a few downfield shots with mixed results. Victor Cruz caught one but fumbled it away, and then the whole thing was nullified by a Colts penalty. Jerrel Jernigan seemed to have his man beat a few plays later, and Manning threw to him, but the defender caught up with Jernigan and knocked the ball away.

The run game didn't do much this time either. And in spite of the return of left tackle Will Beatty from his leg injury rehab, the offensive line looked once again like a group still working on coming together -- which is what it is.

"Still figuring out what's going to be our style of football, which concepts are going to work the best for us and all of those things," Manning said. "Each game, something comes up that's new, and we've got to make sure we're on the same page as [offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo] and we're seeing eye to eye."

Manning said he does see progress, even though it's not readily apparent to those of us watching from the outside.

"I think there's progress being made, just in understanding the offense," Manning said. "We made some checks and some calls today that got everybody on the same page. We've just got to execute it at a higher level. But the mental capacity of it, speeding it up, I think those things are getting better. I think we were just a few plays from being OK tonight."

The question is whether three more weeks will be enough to get the offense in shape for games that count. The Giants open the regular season with a Monday Night Football game Sept. 8 against the Lions in Detroit. Manning is likely to play somewhat extensively in Friday night's preseason game against the Jets, but perhaps not at all in the following week's preseason finale against the Patriots. So he has one more chance to show himself, his team, his coaches and the rest of the outside world the way that progress looks when it comes to fruition against a live opponent. Otherwise, it's going to be a leap of faith once the regular season begins.

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.

Giants Camp Report: Day 14

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New York Giants training camp:
  • Wide receiver Victor Cruz is worth watching over the next couple of days. He missed practice Monday with a knee issue, and while he returned to practice Tuesday, he went down in a collision with a defensive back in one-on-one drills and was limping a bit when he got up. He returned to practice and caught a long pass in double coverage a few plays later, but he wasn't on the field very much for the two-minute drill that ended practice on a field that was starting to get slippery due to light rain. It goes without saying that the Giants' wide receiver corps, which is littered with unproven entities, could not stand to lose Cruz.
  • Some injured guys are working their way back, though. Rookie receiver Odell Beckham made good on his promise to keep progressing from his hamstring injury. He worked in individual drills Tuesday and was the intended target on one of quarterback Eli Manning's interceptions in 7-on-7 drills. Also catching passes was tight end Daniel Fells, who'd missed some time earlier in camp with a knee injury. Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo named Fells and Larry Donnell when asked who among the tight end group has stood out so far. Donnell has been the No. 1 tight end on the depth chart all camp, but Fells has the best chance of anyone to overtake him from what I've seen.
  • Second-year safety Cooper Taylor continues to impress. He kept running back Rashad Jennings from getting around the corner on one run play I noticed in team drills.
  • Veteran defensive end Israel Idonije, who signed last week, could be getting a legitimate look for a roster spot. He's been getting some defensive end reps, and it helps his cause that Idonije is a player who can contribute at a high level on special teams, where he's been working a lot. Just something to keep an eye on.
  • Wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan (knee), return man Trindon Holliday (hamstring), fullback John Conner (concussion), running back Peyton Hillis (ankle), defensive tackle Mike Patterson (shoulder), cornerback Jayron Hosley (foot) and tight end Xavier Grimble (hamstring) all sat out. Coach Tom Coughlin said Conner looks as though he could practice this week and that Hillis' progress is "slow."
  • Former Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress was a guest at practice Tuesday and watched from the sideline.
  • The Giants practice from 1:20 pm to 3:30 pm ET on Wednesday. Practice is open to the public.

A quiet night for Eli Manning

August, 10, 2014
Aug 10
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants wanted quarterback Eli Manning to play about as many plays (16) or more Saturday night than he did in their first preseason game. He did not.

Manning was in the game for four offensive series but only 12 plays. He threw two passes and completed neither of them. He did not get as much work as they'd hoped he would, but his explanation for that was basically that it happens that way sometimes.

"We just had limited opportunities," Manning said. "So I think we'll try to learn from it and understand that it's the preseason and not everything is going to be perfect. We definitely have some stuff to look at and get better on a few things."

Manning opened the game with an incomplete pass to Jerrel Jernigan. The next play was a 3-yard Rashad Jennings run, then an offsides penalty cut a third-and-7 to third-and-2 but the third-down pass to Larry Donnell fell incomplete and they punted.

Surely, at that point, Manning believed he'd throw at least one more pass.

But the second possession was brief, as Jennings ran 73 yards for a touchdown on the first play. When the Giants got the ball back for their third offensive series, Manning was sacked for a loss of eight yards on first down and was all of a sudden backed up on the 4-yard line. At that point, and at that spot on the field, they didn't want to take any chances, so they ran it twice with Jennings and punted again.

On the fourth possession, the Giants opened with a run and got called for two holding penalties and a false start, which put them in second-and-28 from their own 11. Again, conservative runs to avoid disaster were the plays of choice.

Manning did switch the call at the line to a run play on Jennings' long touchdown run, which was a good play for him even though it doesn't go on his stats. He saw a double-team on the left side of his line and called a play that brought right guard Brandon Mosley around to pull. Mosley, left tackle Charles Brown and center J.D. Walton all delivered on their blocks and Jennings ran through a massive hole all the way to the end zone.

"It seems like we're getting good push, and whenever you have a running back break a long one for 70 yards or 80 yards, whatever it was, that's a great thing," Manning said. "Hopefully we can hit a few more of those and also be a little bit more consistent offensively."

As for that 0-for-2 stat line, it drew a patented Manning shrug.

"Preseason game? Yeah, I'm not totally shocked," Manning said. "Obviously, it's not the ideal situation, but when you only have two attempts, there's that possibility."

Manning is likely to see an increased number of snaps next Saturday night when the Giants play their third preseason game in Indianapolis against the Colts.

Giants Camp Report: Day 7

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New York Giants training camp:
  • 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.

Giants Camp Report: Day 4

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
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.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- People keep asking the same question: How will the New York Giants' new offense, under coordinator Ben McAdoo, look different from the old offense they ran for the past decade?

If the Giants get their wish, it's going to look very, very fast.

"We're pushing for 70 or more plays per game," Giants wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan said Thursday.

[+] EnlargeBen McAdoo
AP Photo/Seth WenigNew Giants coordinator Ben McAdoo is looking to speed up the pace of an offense that was among the slowest in the league last season.
In case you're wondering, that's a lot of plays. Last year's Giants offense -- admittedly, one of the worst in the league -- averaged 61.75 snaps per game. Only five teams averaged fewer. The Denver Broncos' record-setting offense, led by Eli Manning's brother, led the league with an average of 72.25 offensive snaps per game. The only other team over 70 was the New England Patriots at 71.12. Chip Kelly's famously high-octane Philadelphia Eagles offense averaged 65.88 offensive snaps per game, good for 13th in the league. The Green Bay Packers, of whose offensive coaching staff McAdoo was a part, averaged 67.12.

So plenty of questions remain about whether the Giants can learn all of the new schemes in time and whether they have the personnel in place to accomplish such a dizzying goal. But watching them practice, it's easy to see how they're trying to go about it.

"I'm still waiting for them to call up a huddle in practice," Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said. "The intention of this offense is to cause chaos."

Playing at a faster tempo is a boon because it can allow the offense to dictate the action to the defense. You can make your substitutions because you know what you're planning to run. But racing to the line and not huddling keeps the defense from having enough time to put the players on the field it thinks are best suited to stop what you're running. A faster pace could also help cut down on delay-of-game penalties. The Giants had seven of those last year, tied for the sixth-most in the league.

"We have the capability of running our entire offense through the no-huddle," running back Rashad Jennings said. "It's just a matter of how much we feel we need to use it per game, or how often the offensive coordinator feels we need to run it."

That pace, especially between downs, will put a premium on the ability of the players to communicate with each other and make sure they're all seeing the defense the same way.

"We have many ways to communicate," Jennings said. "Some of it is verbal, some of it is hand signals and things of that nature. And just being a student of the game, you understand down and distance and what you want to accomplish, and so it becomes second nature after a while."

The pace will be quick post-snap, too, as much of the offense is likely to operate near the line of scrimmage with a premium on getting the ball in the hands of playmakers and allowing them to do something with it. No longer will the passing game revolve around the deep ball, and on the ability of the wide receivers to choose the same read that Manning chooses from a complex pre-snap menu.

"On a couple of routes, you've got a couple of reads, but that's pretty much it -- about one or two reads," Jernigan said. "Not like the old offense, where we had three or four reads, reading the safeties and the corners and stuff. So it makes you play faster. Make one decision and go. Without a doubt, compared to our old offense, this offense helps you out. A lot simpler, nothing too confusing. Just basically run your route and go get it."

On the flip side, the running game could be more complicated than it used to be. You're going to see a lot more zone and stretch concepts than you've seen in the past, and if everything goes to play, the running game could change drastically from game to game, quarter to quarter or even drive to drive.

"It's different from last year, when we were very downhill-oriented, very iso, that type of thing," fullback Henry Hynoski said. "Don't get me wrong -- we have that in this offense. But there's a lot of outside stuff, a lot of zones, a lot of reading schemes as opposed to downhill. So that's where it changes up a little bit. It's a whole bunch of different things, and it really packs our arsenal with a lot of variety."

When they go to their stretch and zone concepts, the Giants will ask their running backs to dictate the action, making choices about where to make their cuts and when to break upfield. The idea there is, once again, to dictate the pace of the game to the defense.

"We have options every time we touch the ball," Jennings said. "We get to set up the tempo. We set the edge of where we want the defenders to actually hit, how the offensive linemen are blocking ... all of it's moreso in our hands as far as our angles."

The Giants want opposing defenses confused, and tired, and wondering what they're going to do next. It's a lot to take in, and they're still early in the process of learning and practicing it all. It may be the kind of thing that takes time -- and maybe more roster moves next spring -- before they have it down perfectly. But there's a chance it clicks right away and things change immediately for the better. They can't get worse than what the Giants put out there on offense last year.

"If it's anything like we see it on film of where Coach McAdoo has been in the past, and if we can instill some of that in our offense with our personnel, it can be a very high-powered offense," wide receiver Victor Cruz said. "We just all have to buy in and understand the playbook, and that starts here in camp."
All right. It's time. Well, it's not actually time, since NFL draft doesn't start for eight more hours and the New York Giants aren't likely making their pick at No. 12 for at least nine more hours or so. But it's time for me to tell you what I think will happen, for whatever that's worth.

My prediction is that the Giants will select Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin with the No. 12 pick in the draft.

Why Martin? I think he'll end up being the best player available, in their judgment, at No. 12. I think they see too many red flags with guys like Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan and North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron. I think they will decide (if they haven't already) that Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald is too small to play defensive tackle for them. I don't think they will or should be willing to pay what it would take to trade up for Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans. And while they went 13 years without drafting an offensive lineman in the first round before taking Justin Pugh last year, they recognize that they've let the offensive line erode to a detrimental extent. Martin is fine value at No. 12 and, like Pugh last year, can play a variety of positions along the line. So going forward, they can play him or Pugh at guard or center and the other at right tackle. Or if they decide to cut ties with Will Beatty next summer, they could play first-rounders Pugh and Martin at the tackle spots long term. The point is to load up on top talent at a vital and neglected position. Martin would represent the best player available at this point at a position of both short-term and long-term need for the Giants.

What if Martin is gone already? My sleeper pick for the Giants at this point is LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. I think that's the guy they'd take if Martin were taken in the top 11, and I think there's an outside chance they could take him even if Martin is still there. Beckham has incredible speed and is known as a playmaker with the ball in his hands. New offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo is installing a system that's likely to resemble Green Bay's West Coast-style offense and lean on the idea of getting its playmakers the ball and letting them function after the catch. Like current Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, Beckham fits this description and would be a fun toy for McAdoo and Eli Manning. I personally don't love the idea of Beckham at No. 12, since he seems a little too much like Cruz and Jerrel Jernigan. I think this is a very deep wide receiver draft and that the Giants could find good value at the position in the second or third round if they really want one, and that they would do well to draft one with size. Rueben Randle hasn't yet shown that he can handle the outside job full time, and Manning has shown in the past that he would benefit from a taller receiver on the outside. I think they need that more than they need a guy like Beckham. But that's just my opinion, not theirs.

What if they're both gone? I guess maybe Ebron, though I still don't think so. Maybe a trade down, though that's going to be tough at that point in the round with so many other teams thinking along the same lines. If they stay put at 12 and can't get either of their top two choices (assuming those are Martin and Beckham), your guess is as good as mine. But just to throw one out, I'll say Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Yes, I still believe they need to address offensive here. But Clinton-Dix would be good value at No. 12, and Cooper Taylor is the only Giants safety currently under contract beyond 2014. The Giants have taken a defensive back with their first pick in four of their last nine drafts, so it would also be in character, as fallback plans often are.

Victor Cruz, one year later

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
Victor CruzAP Photo/Bill KostrounVictor Cruz's consistent play in 2013 meant far more than his absence from voluntary workouts.
A year ago, as the New York Giants opened their offseason program, star wide receiver Victor Cruz was not present. Cruz and the Giants were working on a long-term contract extension, which they eventually would complete, and Cruz made the decision to stay away from the voluntary portion of the offseason program as long as the deal was not yet done.

This was Cruz's perfect right, as it is the right of every player this time of year not to participate in the voluntary workouts. The criticism of players for their personal decisions not to attend the portions of the offseason programs that aren't required of them is one of my least favorite things about the NFL. "Voluntary" means voluntary, and when coaches and writers and fans get on guys for taking the time off that's available to them, I think that's just plain lousy.

But it happened to Cruz, as everyone from Tom Coughlin right on down to the fan base made it clear they were upset with Cruz for not attending non-mandatory practices. There was concern expressed about his absence's potential effect on the season and what it said about Cruz as a person, a player and a teammate.

Well, the season was a wreck all the way around, and it's hard to say anything that happened in April or May was the reason. But here's what Cruz's absence from voluntary work a year ago said about him as a person, a player and a teammate: absolutely nothing.

As the Giants' mess of a 2013 season unfolded, Cruz was one of the few consistent positives. Yes, I am well aware he didn't catch a touchdown pass after September. But he was playing in an offense that was, in the words of the team's owner, broken. The line couldn't protect the quarterback; the quarterback couldn't stop throwing it to the other team; the running game didn't exist; and the top outside receiver didn't want to play. Once defenses realized Hakeem Nicks no longer cared about trying to get open, they double-teamed Cruz and took the Giants' passing offense's one remaining threat out of the game.

Cruz's reaction to this terrible situation was to continue to play hard, fight his way open whenever possible and work to improve the parts of his game that needed work. For example, Cruz was a liability as a downfield blocker in his first two seasons in the league but a vastly improved one in 2013. He went to his coaches in training camp and told them he wanted to improve that critical and often overlooked aspect, and he did it, earning praise from the coaching staff and teammates behind the scenes. He worked hard in practice, even helping mentor backup slot receiver Jerrel Jernigan and helping develop him behind the scenes to the point that Jernigan was effective in place of an injured Cruz in December.

The injury is the only thing that kept Cruz from a third straight 1,000-yard receiving season, and it came on an effort play as Cruz was leaping to catch a pass in the third quarter of a hideous 23-0 loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Seahawks. Not only was Cruz still trying to make something of a lost game and a lost season, there were times when it looked as though he was the only one who was.

Why bring this up now? Because it hasn't been brought up very much. And if Cruz had gotten his big contract and then loafed through the Giants' season -- especially after they started 0-6 -- that would have been brought up a heck of a lot, and in very damning ways. Cruz went the other way, though. He went through the negotiation dance this time last year and ended up getting his money, and he reacted by working even harder and trying to get better so that everyone could see he deserved it.

It bears mentioning that a player whose priorities and focus were being questioned this time last year ended up being one of the best and most reliable players on the team. Of all the things that happened last year, signing Cruz to a long-term contract appears to have been one of the few the Giants absolutely got right.

Giants looking at Jacoby Jones

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
The New York Giants' kick and punt return units were among the worst in the NFL last year, and improving them ranks among their priorities as they undertake a major offseason roster rebuild. According to ESPN's Josina Anderson, Baltimore Ravens free agent Jacoby Jones is scheduled to visit the Giants on Wednesday, and that could help solve this particular problem.

Jones would serve the dual purpose of solidifying the return game while also being able to help as a wide receiver. He wouldn't necessarily be a Hakeem Nicks replacement at receiver, but he could help add depth at a position that didn't offer much last year. (i.e., he probably offers more than Louis Murphy does)

Josina reports that Baltimore is still in the mix to re-sign Jones, so this isn't like the Geoff Schwartz or Rashad Jennings deals that are agreed to and need only signatures to complete. But if the Giants and Jones can come to an agreement, he'd be a nice pickup.

Jones ranked sixth in the league with 892 kick return yards last year and fourth with an average of 28.8 yards per kick return. He split punt return duties in Baltimore with Tandon Doss, but his 12.5-yards-per-punt-return average also ranked among the league leaders. He also caught 37 passes for 455 yards and two touchdowns in just 12 games as a receiver. He has at least 30 catches in four straight years, with his career high of 51 coming in Houston in 2010.

Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle and Jerrel Jernigan are the only two wide receivers on the Giants' roster right now for 2014. They're likely on the lookout for a top wide receiver in free agency or the draft, though it's possible that Randle could develop into Nicks' long-term replacement.
New York Giants coach Eli Manning doesn't know who his offensive coordinator is going to be next year. More than once, when asked about potential coaching staff changes Monday, Manning repeated the same line.

"I'm going to assume everything is the same until I hear differently," he said.

[+] EnlargeCruz/Manning
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesEli Manning wants to get in sync with his receivers this offseason.
Which is fine, and what he should be saying, since he's got to work with whoever ends up coaching him. But Manning did talk a little bit more about the Giants' situation at wide receiver, which was thorny all year and remains so as they head into the offseason. Victor Cruz played well before injuring his knee in Week 15, and Jerrel Jernigan performed well as his replacement in the slot. But on the outside, Manning struggled all year to find consistency from and with Hakeem Nicks and second-year man Rueben Randle, who said he thought Manning and the receivers were "not on the same page from time to time" in 2013.

Cruz and Nicks both missed offseason practice time last year due to the way they were handling their own personal health and contract issues, and both said that they would make sure to put in a full offseason this year (for Nicks, that assumes he doesn't leave via free agency). Manning said he'd appreciate that, no matter who his wide receivers are.

"I think the offseason is very important," Manning said Monday. "That’s where you kind of set your fundamentals and you get on the same timing with a lot of things. If there are things from the season before you needed to improve on, that’s the time where you kind of can dedicate those hours and you have time in the offseason to make those improvements, to talk things over and to make sure if you have bad habits, you can fix them. So I think that’s what the offseason is for because once you get into the regular season, everything has got to be in place. It’s got to be kind of set in stone. You can make little improvements here, but the practices are more. ... You’re going against the scout team and you don’t get as much live coverage like you do in the spring and during the offseason."

Nicks seems likely to leave as a free agent, but whether he's back or Manning's working with a new guy, he's going to need more consistency and reliability from the position as a whole if he's to rebound in 2014 from his very disappointing 2013.

Coughlin plans could fall apart over OC

December, 30, 2013
Kevin GilbrideAP Photo/Bill KostrounKevin Gilbride has been a member of Tom Coughlin's coaching staff for the past 10 years.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants headline of the day is that Tom Coughlin said he wants to stay on as coach and owner John Mara said he's told Coughlin he wants him back. And that all sounds very simple, especially because it's what was expected all along.

But while I still think the strong likelihood is that Coughlin returns to coach the Giants in 2014, I'm not all the way to 100 percent certain yet, and there are a number of reasons you shouldn't be, either.

First of all, no one actually said Monday that Coughlin would be back coaching the team next year. Mara and GM Jerry Reese both said they wanted that to be the case, and Coughlin did, as well. But all were careful not to say with certainty that it would work out that way. There are meetings yet to come about the length of Coughlin's contract, which has only one year left on it, and the makeup of Coughlin's coaching staff, which could be a major sticking point before this is all said and done.

I've spoken to multiple people in recent days who are close to this situation, and they have said they have found Coughlin to be unusually pensive and quiet about his situation lately. They also said that it would be very difficult for Coughlin if the team told him it wanted him back but that he had to make changes to the coaching staff. One of the people said there was "no way" Coughlin would agree to fire offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.

And that last part could be a major sticking point. Mara was crystal clear Monday in assessing blame for a 7-9 season he called "as disappointing as any in my memory."

"I think our offense is broken right now, and we need to fix that," Mara said. "We can't go into next season with the same personnel."

He didn't explicitly mention Gilbride, though he made some other pointed comments that could have been directed at the offensive coaches, including, "I'm not sure why it took us three years to figure out that Jerrel Jernigan can play." Mara spoke about the need to make the reconstruction of the offensive line the top offseason priority. And out of respect to Coughlin and the meetings they're all planning for later in the week, he declined to be specific about whether he expected or would demand coaching changes.

"I certainly have my opinion, and I'm sure Jerry has his and Tom has his," Mara said. "I'd like to think that, at the end of the day, we're all going to be on the same page. I don't think it will come to that."

But it could. If Mara's opinion is that the offense is stale and stalled and that Gilbride must go, how far will Coughlin go to stand up for a coach who was on his original 1995 Jacksonville Jaguars staff and has been on his Giants staff for every one of his 10 seasons here? If Mara insists that Gilbride must go, would Coughlin quit before agreeing to fire him? And if Coughlin insists that Gilbride must stay, would that jeopardize his chances to have his contract extended beyond 2014?

Mara could certainly tell Coughlin that he has the right to construct his own coaching staff but that the blame will fall on him if it fails again. He acknowledged that the Giants, as a rule, don't let their head coaches work on one-year deals, but he also said that could change.

"That has been our philosophy in the past, there's no secret about that," Mara said. "Whether it continues or not has yet to be decided."

Basically things sounded more ominous Monday about the Coughlin situation than I expected them to sound. I think there remains a chance this could still come to a head and that the end result could be a change at head coach for the Giants. I think the chance is a slim one, but I believe it exists. And I think Coughlin does, too.

"Everybody wants to know what's next for me," Coughlin said. "I hope it's coaching the New York Giants."

He did not sound like a man who was wavering. He was defiant in his defense of his record, which includes only one playoff appearance in the past five years. "How long ago was 2011?" he asked, referring to the Giants' most recent Super Bowl team. "Did the [defending champion] Ravens make the playoffs this year?" And he expressed clear support for his coaching staff without naming specific names.

"Everything will be evaluated, but I have great confidence in this group of men we have as a coaching staff," Coughlin said. "And I believe in them very strongly."

The problem is, it had been nine years since there was a losing season around these parts, and when losing seasons happen people demand change. NFL team owners demand change. As Coughlin spoke Monday, news was rolling in about head coach firings in Detroit, Tampa Bay, Washington and Minnesota, to go with those that already had happened in Cleveland and Houston. Coughlin has two Super Bowl titles and thus is something of a "made guy" in NFL coaching circles. He'll get to coach the Giants as long as he wants to coach them. But what if the landscape and the power structure shift just enough that he can't coach them on his terms? Will he then decide it's not worth it anymore?

Mara was asked whether and when it might be time to talk to Coughlin, who will be 68 next season, about what comes after him -- to make a "succession plan" of sorts for an inevitable coaching transition. Mara said it was a worthwhile thought, though not a realistic one.

"I'll probably have that discussion with him, but I'm not sure what value there is there," Mara said. "I don't know how much longer he wants to coach. I'm not sure he knows how much longer he wants to coach. It's very tough to have an exit strategy in the National Football League."

Which means things almost can't help but end ugly, no matter how great they have been in the past. Whenever it's time for Tom Coughlin to not be the Giants' coach anymore, the parting is likely to be awkward and uncomfortable. And while I still don't think it happens this week, it would be a mistake for anyone to hear what was said Monday and assume it can't.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- He would finish neither the game nor the second quarter. And the final pass of his season, just like the first, was intercepted. But Eli Manning's final touchdown pass of 2013 gave the New York Giants a 7-3 lead Sunday in a game that, to that point, hadn't offered even the threat of a touchdown. It was a 24-yard strike to Jerrel Jernigan that capped a six-play, 75-yard drive.

The Redskins converted an Andre Brown fumble into a field goal for the game's first points, and with 8:16 left in the first half, Michael Cox returned the ensuing kickoff to the 25-yard line. Manning threw incomplete to Hakeem Nicks on first down. On second down, Peyton Hillis (in at running back for fumbly Brown) ran 13 yards for a first down. Hillis got three more on the next play, then Manning hit Jernigan over the middle for a 30-yard gain that set the Giants up at the Redskins' 29. Hillis picked up five on the next play, then Manning threw a perfect laser to the end zone, where Jernigan outfought two defenders for his second touchdown catch in as many weeks.

Manning sprained his ankle later in the second quarter and left the game. Jernigan stayed in and picked up a 49-yard rushing touchdown in the second half to cap a stellar late-December turn as the replacement for an injured Victor Cruz in the Giants' offense. When Manning returns next year, he's unlikely to have Nicks, and it remains to be seen whether Jernigan can or will take a larger role in the offense. This could just have been a wild couple of plays at the tail end of a lost season no one wants to remember. But for this one drive, Manning and his makeshift offense clicked, moved the ball 75 yards and took a lead they would not relinquish.

Jerrel Jernigan stars in Cruz's absence

December, 29, 2013
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In a span of nine quarters, Jerrel Jernigan went from a draft bust to a potential viable receiving option for the New York Giants in 2014.

Jernigan continued his hot play since Victor Cruz was lost for the season by torching the Redskins for 147 total yards and two touchdowns in the Giants' 20-6 win over Washington on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Jernigan caught six balls for 90 yards and a score, and rushed twice for 57 yards and a touchdown.

[+] EnlargeJerrel Jernigan
AP Photo/Bill KostrounJerrel Jernigan scored twice against the Washington Redskins.
"I wouldn't say I proved anything but this is why the Giants drafted me here, they know what I can do, they seen me in college," Jernigan said. "That's why they drafted me to come here and make plays like this and it was just a matter of time before I get out there and proved to them I can do it at this level."

Before Cruz went down in the third quarter against Seattle on Dec. 15 with a concussion and a bruised MCL that would require surgery and end his season, Jernigan was more of a roster filler than a contributor during his time with the Giants. The 2011 third-round pick had just 10 catches on the season for 92 yards entering that game, and just 13 catches in his career. He had yet to find the end zone.

Once Cruz got hurt, the Giants plugged Jernigan into the slot, and he showcased some of the play-making ability that intrigued the Giants on draft day. He caught six passes in the fourth quarter against Seattle, and finished with a team-best seven catches for 67 yards against one of the best defenses in football. Last week in Detroit, he hauled in six passes for 80 yards and his first career touchdown.

Sunday, he had his best performance to date. He made a tough catch between two Washington players for a 24-yard touchdown in the second quarter to put the Giants ahead 7-3. On the final play of the third quarter, Jernigan took a handoff and broke tackles for a 49-yard score to put the Giants ahead 17-6.

Jernigan acknowledged the team probably looks at him in a different light for 2014 now than it did heading into the Seattle game, as he averaged 98 yards from scrimmage in the final three contests. Giants coach Tom Coughlin was impressed with what he saw from Jernigan to end the season.

"I was really pleased with him. The way in which he played and the way he finished," Coughlin said. "He grew into a guy that wanted the ball and did things with the ball when he got it. ... His play time increased and he responded very well to it and I was happy for him."

The Giants may have to replace Hakeem Nicks in the receiving corps next year, as he is a free agent, and the team will need Jernigan and Rueben Randle to step up if Nicks departs. Jernigan knows he will have his best shot at a bigger role, and he's ready for a grander opportunity.

The wideout suddenly might be a key fixture in the Giants passing attack.

"There's a big opportunity whether Hakeem comes back or not," Jernigan said. "I'm just out here playing, trying to let them know I can contribute to the offense next year with Victor coming back."