NFL Nation: spencer paysinger
- Cornerback Bennett Jackson, the team's sixth-round pick out of Notre Dame, could be the most serious one. He got his feet tangled up with those of wide receiver Corey Washington on a deep pass play and injured his ankle. The team sent him for X-rays, and coach Tom Coughlin said he hoped it was just a sprain. Washington also sat out the remainder of practice with a sore heel following that play.
- Defensive end Robert Ayers also injured his ankle during team drills and did not return, but that injury did not seem to be as worrisome as Jackson's.
- Left tackle Will Beatty left practice early, but the team said that was due to an illness, and nothing to do with the leg injury from which he's been working his way back since he broke his leg in Week 17 of the 2013 season.
- Defensive tackle Mike Patterson sat out practice with a shoulder injury.
- Guard John Jerry, who had been doing some first-team work lately at right guard, missed Thursday's practice entirely due to some soreness in his surgically repaired knee.
- Linebacker Spencer Paysinger sat out practice with a concussion. He has not practiced since Sunday.
- Wide receiver/kick returner Trindon Holliday missed another practice due to a hamstring injury.
- On the good news front, wide receiver Rueben Randle practiced in full two days after missing Tuesday's practice with a hamstring injury.
@DanGrazianoESPN: Let's assume, for the sake of this discussion, that middle linebacker Jon Beason does not make it back from his foot injury to play for the New York Giants in Week 1 in Detroit. If that is the case (as seems likely), then Jameel McClain is the front-runner to start at middle linebacker.
At this point, the starters on the outside would be Spencer Paysinger and Jacquian Williams, but rookie fifth-rounder Devon Kennard impressed coaches in the spring program and could be in the mix to start on the strong side. What's interesting to me is that linebackers coach Eric Hermann had a lot to say Thursday about the improvement Williams has shown as a weakside linebacker in the Giants' base defense. They already love him on the weak side in their nickel package due to his speed and coverage ability. But if they like him there in the base as well, Williams might be ahead of Paysinger to start there even once Beason returns and McClain moves back to the strong side. So to answer your question, I'd expect to see McClain in the middle, Williams on the weak side and either Paysinger or, if he has a big camp, Kennard on the strong side in Week 1.
Giants coaches like his progress. Quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf on Thursday praised Nassib's intelligence and his ability to pick up the new system but said he's still got to work on his accuracy and his timing. Which is understandable, given that he's still a young quarterback who's never played in the league. It's clear they view him as the No. 2 right now behind Eli Manning -- or that they're at least giving him every chance to beat out Curtis Painter for that spot in camp. But no, if Manning got hurt, at this point the Giants would not have honest confidence in Nassib or anyone else who might replace him.
Manning costs the Giants 17 percent of their salary cap. He's the player around whom their team is built. If they don't have him, they simply won't be a remotely competitive team. Even if Nassib comes quickly in camp and becomes a viable No. 2, there's no chance that, in 2014, he offers anything close to what Manning offers as a starting NFL quarterback. All the Giants want from Nassib is continued growth and development, and their hope is that he's a decent backup/emergency option this year and maybe more down the road.
@DanGrazianoESPN: I agree that the Giants' defensive line is questionable behind the starters, and that there's a chance it could be a bad defensive line. They desperately need Jason Pierre-Paul to stay healthy and dominate from the defensive end position, because honestly they're not going to get much pass rush from the other side at this point. Mathias Kiwanuka and Robert Ayers are what they are, and they're not the kinds of defensive ends who are going to whip tackles regularly and pile up sacks. And Damontre Moore is still developing.
On the inside, you mention Cullen Jenkins, and I agree he's key because he's the one guy in there who's not a question mark. Coaches were raving this week about the development defensive tackles Johnathan Hankins and Markus Kuhn have shown, and if so then that's a positive thing for them and for the Giants. But there's no way to know until they can practice in pads and play against other teams what they really have in there. To me, the Giants are hoping a lot of people -- namely, Hankins, Kuhn, Moore, Ayers and Kiwanuka -- outperform anything they've yet shown in the league in order to make them strong on the defensive line. It's not nuts to think one or two of them will, but... all of them?
@DanGrazianoESPN: The first-team offensive line in minicamp was, left to right: Charles Brown, Geoff Schwartz, J.D. Walton, Brandon Mosley, Justin Pugh. Which, no, is not good. They believe Chris Snee could play right guard if he had to right now, but he's working his way back from elbow and hip surgeries and they're taking it slowly with him. And they're also hoping Will Beatty is healthy enough to play left tackle in training camp ahead of Brown, who was signed as a backup. Rookie Weston Richburg is in a straight-up competition with Walton for the starting center spot. So it's possible that by Week 1 it's Beatty/Schwartz/Richburg/Snee/Pugh, which would look a lot better than what they ran out there this week. But as of now, that's your starting five.
Mosley's an interesting case. They like him and think his development has been hurt by injuries. But the fact that Snee and John Jerry (knee surgery) haven't been able to get on the field helped Mosley get a lot of first-team reps this spring. And that can only help him if they need to turn to him to play a starting role in camp, in the preseason or in the season.
Thanks for all of your questions. Enjoy the first weekend of summer.
McClain joined the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2008 and was one of their starting linebackers from 2010 until the injury knocked him out of Baltimore's run to the Super Bowl XLVII title. He returned to start 10 games in 2013, but the Ravens cut him a couple of weeks ago for cap reasons. His best statistical season was 2011, when he had 84 tackles, a sack, two fumble recoveries, an interception and four pass breakups. Solid veteran who can start or rotate around situationally should someone like Williams or Paysinger show more next year than they have in years past.
The Giants are still looking for a cornerback, a wide receiver, a kick returner, a center, a tight end and probably a couple of reinforcements on the defensive line. But they appear to be all set at linebacker, for a change.
The Giants made their position coaches available to the media Tuesday, during the team's bye week, meaning Herrmann had a chance to share his thoughts on his new starting middle linebacker.
"Obviously he's a Pro Bowl-caliber type guy and I think our guys like that in the room," Herrmann said. "It's different and new. He has a gregarious personality. He's very easy to get along with. You can tell why he's been a good leader."
But Beason's leadership at middle linebacker, said Herrmann, has been even more important.
"I've always been a firm believer that there has to be one voice on the field," Herrmann said. "Coaches are on the sideline, somebody has to be the voice on the field. When you have a guy like that, that one voice resonates to everyone on the field, and the results are you have 11 guys on the same page, which is good."
The Giants' linebacker corps had been heavily criticized this season, prior to Beason's arrival. It was a young, relatively inexperienced group. Mark Herzlich had failed to distinguish himself in the middle, and Keith Rivers hasn't done anything particularly noteworthy, either.
Herrmann said he has been impressed by Spencer Paysinger, however, the third-year pro in his first season as a full-time starter. Paysinger is fourth on the team with 39 tackles.
"I think Spencer has done a great job this year," Herrmann said. "He has developed into a good football player."
Herrmann also had praise for Jacquian Williams, who appears to be healthy at long last and made a key fumble recovery in last Sunday's win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
"I think he's learning the nuances of the game, the nuances of coverage and covering people in man-to-man. That comes with experience," Herrmann said. "You need to learn how to cover a guy and different nuances of routes and where he needs to be. The more he does it, the better he is going to be."
Herrmann is well aware of the criticism directed at his unit, but thinks they've been better than people think.
"As a group, I think those guys have done a good job," Herrmann said. "In today's world, it's about wins and losses. You don't win and you lose, somebody’s going to take the criticism. It's just part of the business.
"The biggest thing I tell them is, 'Look, at the end of the day, can you walk off the field, look in the mirror, and say I played my best today?' If you do that, then you can keep doing that and get better each and every week. You'll eventually be successful."
Jacobs and Rogers also sat out Wednesday. Webster participated Wednesday on a limited basis.
Coach Tom Coughlin said Webster did not have a setback. "He's an every-other-day kind of a guy," Coughlin said.
Jacobs did stretch with the team at the beginning of practice, while reporters were allowed to be present. "Plus he did some running on the side," Coughlin said, "so we'll see when we get in there what the deal is."
On the bright side, linebacker Spencer Paysinger (ankle) practiced on a limited basis Thursday, after sitting out Wednesday.
Cornerbacks Terrell Thomas (knee) and Jayron Hosley (hamstring), and tight end Adrien Robinson (foot) were also limited Thursday.
NEW ADDITION: Coughlin confirmed that the Giants have added offensive lineman Dallas Reynolds to the roster, replacing Davis Baas, who was placed on injured reserve Wednesday. Reynolds spent a few days with the team earlier this month before being cut.
"I like to play that way -- physical, up on the line, where the officials can see everything that's going on," Amukamara said Tuesday. "It's a fight all the way down the field, but I know I can play that way. And I'd rather play against guys like that than a guy like DeSean Jackson, who's just so fast it's amazing."
"He's the fastest receiver I've ever seen, by far," Amukamara said. "I just remember watching when I was in college -- and nobody around here will talk about this -- but that punt return against the Giants [in 2010]. And I remember wondering, 'How fast must he look on the field?,' and it's unbelievable."
Marshall has 31 catches for 378 yards and three touchdowns so far this season. Jeffrey caught 10 passes for a Bears-record 218 yards in Sunday's loss to the Saints. It's unclear how the Giants will deploy their cornerbacks against the pair, but Amukamara's a good bet to shadow Marshall, the veteran and the tougher of the two. The Giants' other starting cornerback, Corey Webster, is likely to miss a fourth straight game with a groin injury, and Trumaine McBride is likely to replace him.
Beason to be involved: Linebacker Jon Beason didn't have a chance to play defense in Sunday's game, since the Giants had acquired him in a trade with the Panthers just 48 hours before kickoff. But defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said Beason would definitely be a factor at the middle linebacker spot Thursday in Chicago.
The Giants have struggled at the middle linebacker position this year. Free-agent signee Dan Connor is on injured reserve. Mark Herzlich hasn't played as well as they'd hoped. And Allen Bradford didn't pick things up as quickly as they thought he might when they signed him. So enter Beason, who was miscast as an outside linebacker in Carolina (and, ironically, replaced by former Giant Chase Blackburn) but has middle linebacker experience at a high level. If he's over his knee issues of the past few years, he could be a find.
"I'm in the playbook heavy," Beason said. "It's different terminology, but I've played football in this league for a long time, so I feel pretty comfortable about it."
Outside linebacker Spencer Paysinger has been the one making the calls on the defense, which is usually the middle linebacker's job. Fewell and Beason both said they'd like Beason to take over some of those responsibilities, but that's not likely to happen right away this week.
New secondary alignment: Terrell Thomas served as the Giants' nickel cornerback for the first four games of the season but didn't play any defensive snaps Sunday, as Will Hill returned from suspension and played safety while safety Antrel Rolle moved up to play Thomas' slot position. Thomas said he believed that would change back, and that the arrangement Sunday was part of the maintenance plan for his surgically repaired knee, since the Giants are in a stretch of three games in 12 days. But Fewell indicated that the look Thursday would be similar to Sunday's.
"We try to strive for consistency as much as we can," Fewell said.
The Giants were high on Hill in the preseason and clearly had a plan for what they wanted to do when he returned from his four-game drug suspension.
Practice squad: The Giants signed cornerback Junior Mertile and linebacker Darin Drakeford to their practice squad. One of those spots came open last week when they promoted cornerback Charles James to the active roster, the other when the Buffalo Bills signed linebacker Ty Powell away.
On a related note: Earlier in the third quarter, the Giants had a third-and-1 at their own 45 and called a play on which running back David Wilson bounced out to the right behind three tight ends. But none of the tight ends could make a single block to free Wilson, who was tackled for no gain, and the Giants had to punt then too. Just another example of an offense that has no reason to feel it can get a yard when it needs to get one. The Giants were 1-for-14 on third downs.
Looks like a misprint, but isn't: The official stat sheet shows the Giants 0-for-0 on red zone attempts, and it's true. They didn't run a single play that began inside the Chiefs' 20-yard line. Other than Cruz's 69-yard touchdown catch, the closest they got to the end zone all day was the 26, from which Josh Brown missed a field goal at the end of the first half. Only eight of the Giants' 61 offensive snaps came in Kansas City territory.
How about the defense? The Giants did force three turnovers from a Chiefs team that had none in the first three weeks. But where's the pressure? Their one "sack" was a Spencer Paysinger tackle of Alex Smith at the line of scrimmage on a Smith scramble. They hit Smith just three times all game. Jason Pierre-Paul has one sack in his last 11 games. When the Giants don't pressure the quarterback -- and it's been quite some time -- they have a poor defense.
The offensive line is a shambles, with Jim Cordle starting at center and James Brewer at right guard for injured starters David Baas and Chris Snee. And it's not as though the healthy tackles are playing especially well. But it's not as bad as last week in Carolina, when the Panthers' defensive linemen were in the backfield instantaneously on every play, run or pass. Manning has faced significant pressure and been sacked twice, but he's actually been able to complete six passes to Cruz and three to Hakeem Nicks. When compared with last week's passing-game output, this is more or less the 2007 Patriots. And in the run game, they're averaging 4.7 yards per carry on their nine carries.
Defense? Again, nothing award-winning, but some stuff to make you not want to claw out your eyes. The Chiefs are picking on Aaron Ross like crazy, whether it's Dwayne Bowe or Donnie Avery lined up on him. And they did march an easy-looking 98 yards for their touchdown. But the tackling has been sound on the edge, with especially strong efforts by linebackers Spencer Paysinger and Mark Herzlich. And rookie Damontre Moore has been a disruptive tackling and punt-blocking force on special teams. The Giants even managed to collect the Chiefs' first turnover of the season, off a bad snap.
Oh, and the Giants get the ball back to start the second half.
So yeah, that's about it. I'm not saying it looks as though they'll win and everything will be okay from here on out. The odds are still that the unbeaten Chiefs can control the ball and the clock in the second half and win the game. But Kansas City's not the kind of team that runs away with the game. And the Giants have already shown today that they can hit a big play to keep themselves in it. If you came into this day thinking there was no way for the Giants to win, you now have at least some reason to feel otherwise.
And the way this September has gone, that's about all you can ask.
"We don't try to soft-pedal anything," Coughlin said. "This was a very, very disappointing loss for us. The messages are very strongly presented. I'm concerned that what we talk about here and the response to it are not necessarily one and the same."
It does not sound like it was a lot of fun to be in the Giants' meeting rooms Monday. Which is fair. That should reflect what went on Sunday, and it couldn't have been a lot of fun to play or watch that game as a member of the Giants' organization. Monday misery is fully justified in this case, and Coughlin knows how to deliver it.
"I'm always into Monday being a horrible day anyway," Coughlin said. "Win or lose."
The issue for the Giants is what the rest of the week is like. Right now, they are beaten, embarrassed and confused. But what they don't seem to be -- outwardly, anyway -- is angry. And if they're to get things turned around Sunday on the road against an undefeated Kansas City Chiefs team that will have had 10 days off and whose coach is 8-3 against them over the past five years, they could use a dose of anger.
"This is going to be a great week for us, to see what type of team comes out of this week," linebacker Spencer Paysinger said. "I know it's crazy, but it's kind of exciting to see what we're made of."
Not exactly a hard-edged perspective. From an outsider's perspective, I feel as Paysinger does -- fascinated to see how the Giants react to their predicament and whether they can upset the Chiefs and get people thinking once again that this season can be saved. But for that to be the perspective on the inside is, I believe, alarming. Not that I'm asking for this on a personal or professional level, but part of me expects the Giants to be ornery and nasty to the media this week. Part of me expects the Giants to be ornery and nasty to everyone with whom they come in contact this week. If they were, I believe, I'd feel differently about their chances to win.
Look at the team that just crushed them. The Panthers spent the past week furious about the way they'd lost their Week 2 game to Buffalo. They had the lead and let rookie quarterback EJ Manuel march down the field and throw a game-winning touchdown pass to a wide-open Stevie Johnson in the end zone. It was embarrassing, and as they spent the week answering questions about how they were going to overcome all of the injuries in their secondary, they seethed. They compared themselves to wounded dogs. Their defensive linemen took it upon themselves to make a mess of the Giants' offense -- to take out all of their frustrations by sacking Eli Manning over and over again and making the statement that they didn't like the way it felt to be run over by Buffalo.
When will the Giants play a game like that? This week? Next week? Ever?
"When we lose 38-0, anything you say about us probably deserves to be said," Manning said. "It's something we're not happy about as players. We're embarrassed about it. We've got to fix it. And the only way to get people saying something different is to go out next week and play better than we did last week."
This is the Giants. They're all about the even keel. They had a players-only meeting Monday to discuss all that went wrong, but they have one every Monday, win or lose, and the prevailing message that came out of this one was the one Paysinger articulated -- let's find out what we're made of. That's a nice, grown-up perspective on things, and that kind of cool has served the Giants well for most of the past decade. But it's fair to wonder whether a little dose of anger about the way they've been pushed around might serve them well if mixed in with the scientific curiosity.
Coughlin was asked whether his team had enough talent to turn around its season, and he said, "We're certainly going to find out. We're certainly hoping to be able to find out -- to go to whatever extreme we have to to find out whether we have the people who can help us win."
The answer to the question may well be "no." The Giants may not be good enough on the offensive or defensive lines anymore to be a serious postseason contender. Coughlin wouldn't say that, I don't think, even if he believed it. But we can say it. And if the issue is insufficient talent, then the Giants are going to need something else to push them to respectability. At this point, they might do well to take their cue from their Sunday conquerors and get angry.
"I remember watching and just thinking, 'That's it,'" Kiwanuka said after New York Giants practice Friday. "'They're going to retire No. 94 at Boston College, but it's not going to be for me.'"
The two are now Giants teammates. And while Kiwanuka is going to play defensive end this year, he spent the past two years as a linebacker, in the meeting room with many of the linebackers who are getting attention this summer for being ... well, not very exciting. The Giants' linebacker crew is something of a mishmash of undrafteds, underdrafteds and retreads out of which the team is hoping to find something reliable. But while the group may not look like anything special from the outside, there are things about each player that the team likes. So I asked Kiwanuka to break down some of the guys with whom he spent so much time the past couple of years, starting with his fellow Boston College Eagle.
"He's a very cerebral player, and I hate to say that about somebody, because then it sounds like maybe he's not as good of an athlete. But I went to BC and he wore 94, so I was tuned in the second he stepped on the field. He's every bit as good of an athlete as you're going to find on the field. The difference is that he has that middle linebacker mentality, meaning that when he goes in to study, he studies the entire offense and he studies what our defenses are and where we can be hurt, so he knows when he walks out there what the calls are and what the checks are going to be before he even gets the call a lot of the time. So he's a solid middle linebacker.
"Since I've been here, we've had Antonio Pierce and we've had Chase Blackburn, and I think Mark Herzlich is right in that same category. A.P. and Chase could tell you ... I'd say maybe 50-50 chance, but they could tell you a decent amount of what the play was going to be, run or pass. And in our division, I think they could tell you,like, which direction the run was going to go and what possibilities of which gap it was going to be through. And he's up there."
(Note: Herzlich is competing with Dan Connor for the starting middle linebacker job, but Kiwanuka didn't feel as comfortable breaking down Connor, since Connor wasn't on the team last year and he doesn't know him as well.)
"He's probably one of the faster linebackers out there. I think he's got the capability of playing nickel in some systems, so it gives us a lot of versatility in terms of what you can do, specifically, on passing downs. You leave him on the field, he can cover any receiver the offense is going to put out there. He also blitzes like a big-time linebacker and he can stop the run, too. I think he has Pro Bowl-caliber play in him. As long as he stays healthy, he'll be good.
"You can put him on your best pass-catching receiver or your receiving tight end and he'll more than hold his own. But what I'm saying is, you can also put him on a legitimate slot receiver and leave him out there and he'll do his job."
(So, what does Williams still need to work on?)
"It's just mental. He came in as such a good athlete that he could recover from a lot of situations that he found himself in, and as he gets older, he has to learn that people are going to read and scout him and he's going to be a focal point of who you need to beat in order to get get past the Giants defense. So people are going to be targeting him and he needs to be more disciplined in his reads, but he'll get there."
"Up and comer. I think maybe he didn't get as much time on the field last year, but he's a spectacular athlete. I think in his first preseason game you saw that he was all over the field. He's another one of those guys in the field that I think has it all put together, just needs to go out and do it on Sundays. Definitely the kind of guy who could be a three-down linebacker, for sure."
"He's a veteran. He's a speed guy. If you put him out there and somebody's going to try to turn that corner on him, you see the wheels turn. I think he's proven what he can do on the field. He was a high draft pick and this and that, so everybody knows he has the intangibles. It's more about fitting into the system and getting comfortable with it."
So there you have it. Take it for what it's worth -- this is a teammate, with an interest in pumping these guys up. But I thought it was worth finding out from someone on the inside what it is the Giants see in terms of potential when they look at their linebacker corps.
“I mean, it’s natural for fans to kind of fear the unknown,” Spencer Paysinger, currently one of the Giants’ starting outside linebackers, told the Daily News. “Obviously the Giants have a great legacy in terms of linebackers and this is kind of scary territory for them because they don’t have a big-name linebacker to come in and pretty much set the tone.
“But just a word to the public: We have some capable guys.”
Love it. I could see it as a new marketing slogan. "The 2013 New York Giants: We have some capable guys." Fans could get customized jerseys with the linebackers' numbers and the word "CAPABLE" across the back shoulders instead of the player's name. It'd be a thing, and if the Giants' linebacking corps were to end up having a big year, it'd be a fun running joke for years to come.
Truth is, though, linebacker is the most questionable position on the Giants' roster for good reason. They simply don't invest in it. As much time as they spend in nickel packages or three-safety looks, and because their defense is designed around the concept of generating a pass rush with the front four, it's not worth their top resources.
Of the seven linebackers addressed in Ralph's story, three were undrafted and another, Jacquian Williams, was a sixth-round pick. Dan Connor is a former third-round pick of the Carolina Panthers who came cheap as a free agent after a disappointing year with the Cowboys. Keith Rivers and Aaron Curry are both former top-10 overall picks who were on the market because their original teams (and, in the case of Curry, a second team) gave up on them.
So it's little surprise that there's not much about which to be fired up. And Paysinger's assessment is likely just fine. If the Giants can find three "capable" starting linebackers, then they'll be happy with that. It's all they really want out of the group. There's some upside potential, of course. Mark Herzlich was a brilliant college player before he was diagnosed with cancer. Curry was talked about as a possible top overall pick in his draft year. Williams was a valuable piece of the Super Bowl title team two years ago and has looked more than "capable" as a coverage linebacker when he's been healthy. But the Giants don't need their linebacking corps to carry on the great tradition of Giants linebackers of the past. The Giants defenses of the present are built on the line and the secondary. That's where they spend their money and their high draft picks, and those are the players who need to play like stars in order for the Giants to succeed. Any greatness they get out of the three guys in the middle of the defense is kind of a bonus.
The issue, ironically, is that for all of their in-season inconsistencies, the Giants are actually one of the most consistent teams in the league year-to-year. Their regular-season win totals the past four seasons are 8, 10, 9 and 9. There are teams all over the league that would kill for that kind of consistency -- to stay annually in the division race deep into December and be in position to get themselves into what Giants general manager Jerry Reese calls "the tournament." But for the Giants, it's not good enough.
"I guess we are consistent when you look at it that way. So we need to be better," quarterback Eli Manning said before Giants training camp practice Friday. "We expect to be a team that can get 11 wins, that can get 12 wins in a season. So I think it's really just playing to our potential, is really what we're saying. We've got to avoid the bad games. We should be in every game we play."
There are multiple levels on which to attack the problem. Manning himself says he's working to improve his accuracy, especially insofar as it helps the Giants get back to hitting big plays in the passing game. Around him the offensive line and the receiving corps are working to get and stay healthy and be cohesive. The run game is transitioning to younger players. On the other side of the ball, the Giants hope the pass rush can rebound from a 33-sack season (the Giants' lowest team total in that category since 2009) and return to the dominant form that helped it win the Super Bowl two seasons ago. If that happens, they believe the secondary will play better and a defense that allowed the second-most yards in the NFL last year will necessarily improve its ability to control games and steer away from the annual potholes.
"Since I've been here, we've kind of fallen into that same trap. We've had that midseason letdown," said safety Antrel Rolle, who's entering his fourth season with the Giants. "And I'm not quite sure why that's happened, but we definitely need to break that mind frame and get above the nine, 10 wins, because we're better than that. Our standards are way beyond that."
The Giants are holding training camp this year at their regular-season practice facility, mere yards from the stadium in which the Super Bowl will be played six months from now. The view of hulking MetLife Stadium from their practice fields, along with the Super Bowl countdown clock Reese installed in the locker room, is making sure the Giants keep their very high goals in mind as they prepare for the 2013 season.
THREE HOT ISSUES
"You really can't play unless you can protect the quarterback," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "Fortunately, those two young men as well as our other running backs have had the opportunity to look at Ahmad's film and get a better understanding of the complexities of our protection packages. Those two guys are very, very fast and very skilled, and we definitely believe in the balance theory. To play great football, we're going to have to run the ball."
Expect a carry split not unlike what the Giants have shown in years past. But if Wilson shows he can stay on the field for three downs, he could emerge as a star. No Giants back in recent memory has been as explosive a runner as he is.
2. Can they get to the quarterback? The pass rush is in flux as well. Osi Umenyiora is in Atlanta. Jason Pierre-Paul is recovering from back surgery and may not be ready for Week 1. Justin Tuck has 12.5 sacks in his last 32 games. Mathias Kiwanuka is moving back up to the line after a couple of years in the linebacking corps. And they only had 33 sacks last year. The Giants, historically, do not have the kind of success they intend to have without a dominating pass rush.
Tuck says he's rejuvenated after two tough years -- healthier than he's been in any camp since 2010. He's in the final year of his contract, and if he looks like his old self this year, he and the team will benefit dramatically. Toughening up inside at defensive tackle should help as well, and if Pierre-Paul makes a full recovery, this will be a driven unit capable of much bigger things.
3. Last stand for the old guard? "Me worrying about contracts or things that are going to happen in the future doesn't really help me in the present," Tuck said after practice last Friday. "I've never been a player that played the game for money or played for a big contract. If I did, don't you think I'd have been more inclined to play well the last two years and not have to worry about the contract now? I just want to go out there and prove to people that Justin Tuck can do still do his job very well."
Tuck's feelings echo those of teammates David Diehl and Corey Webster. All three are proud Giant champions who took a lot of criticism for their disappointing play in 2012. All three are determined to play better in 2013. All three are likely done in New York next year if they don't. The Giants are placing a big bet on the professional and personal pride of some of their title-team cornerstones. They're all talking tough in August, but it's got to translate into turn-back-the-clock production for the Giants' key veterans.
REASON FOR OPTIMISM
REASON FOR PESSIMISM
The one issue on offense -- and it's a big one -- is the blocking. Bradshaw was a great blocking back, and as we've already discussed we don't know what Wilson and Brown can bring as blockers over a full season. Martellus Bennett was a great run-blocking tight end, and that's not a strength of Myers' game. Diehl is proud, determined and worthy of the benefit of the doubt, but he's coming off a bad season. Interior offensive linemen Chris Snee and David Baas have struggled the past few years with injuries. All of the skill-position talent is exciting, but it could be undone if the Giants can't answer some of their big blocking questions.
- Rolle said that when Kenny Phillips went down with his injury problems last year, he had to play a lot in the box while fellow safety Stevie Brown handled the post safety role. Brown did collect eight interceptions in that role, but the Giants want him to be more versatile now that Phillips is gone and he's a full-time starter. Having a full training camp to work as a starter is helping Brown become the kind of interchangeable safety they need him and Rolle to be. "We already know he's a ballhawk and can go and he can go get the ball and do something with it once he gets it," Rolle said. "Now he's showing us that he can play in the box and definitely be a versatile safety."
- They don't want to talk about it because they don't want to give away their plans, but the Giants have worked on some different alignments of the defensive front seven this camp. Usually a strict 4-3 team, the Giants have tried some 3-4 looks or some hybrid looks that ask their defensive ends to stand up and either play outside linebacker or at least look as though they might. The idea is to confuse the offense and possibly to be in better position to react to the run-heavy, read-option offenses in Washington and maybe Philadelphia.
- Third-year cornerback Prince Amukamara is healthy and hoping to build on his solid second season. He said his goal is to play well enough that he's able to stay on one side and Webster on the other side of the field for the whole game, rather than having Webster assigned to the other team's No. 1 receiver regardless of where he lines up. The coaches say that's their goal for their cornerbacks as well, and Amukamara's strong camp is leading them to believe they can play that way.
- Former Eagle Cullen Jenkins has worked some at defensive end as well as tackle. His experience playing different positions in 3-4 and 4-3 fronts could help the Giants if they plan to be varied and have multiple looks on defense.
- Randle, the team's second-round pick in 2012, is a big-bodied outside threat who could keep Cruz in the slot where he's at his best. It's still premature to project Randle as Nicks' long-term replacement, but from what I saw he's a guy who knows how to use his size and his leaping ability to out-fight a defensive back for a ball in traffic. His speed becomes more of an asset the further he gets down the field, because of his long strides.
- The biggest-impact 2013 draft pick could be second-rounder Johnathan Hankins, who looks like a valuable part of the rotation at defensive tackle. Third-rounder Damontre Moore is at least a situational pass-rusher at this point, and it's easy to see the way those playmaking instincts help him get off the ball and into the backfield. First-round pick Justin Pugh isn't running with the first team (and he's actually out right now with a concussion), but they have worked him at tackle and guard and they believe he's going to be a valuable long-term piece for them at some position on the line. Right now, though, he's clearly behind Diehl at right tackle.
- We've come this far without mentioning linebacker, and I don't have much to report. Between their nickel packages, the three-safety looks they like so much, and the possibility that they might show some 3-4 here and there, it's just not a high-priority spot. Spencer Paysinger is making a push for the starting spot at weakside linebacker, with Keith Rivers on the strong side and Mark Herzlich in the middle at least so far. But I think the linebacker alignment could depend on who shows something on special teams.
Blackburn knows Perry Fewell’s defense perhaps better than anyone and Rivers, when healthy, can do some similar things to Boley. Jacquian Williams should be in line for a bigger role with Boley’s departure and could start. And Spencer Paysinger and Mark Herzlich could be in store for more opportunities as well. The Giants could add another veteran linebacker in free agency and perhaps draft one as well.
Salary cap situation: The Giants cleared some cap space by releasing Boley. Blackburn and Rivers are free agents but the Giants could look into bringing either or both back for cheap. While the Giants could sign a veteran free agent linebacker, it might be a bit of a surprise if brass went after a high-priced free agent. And while the Giants could draft a linebacker in April, Jerry Reese usually uses his first-round picks on other areas of the defense, especially defensive line.
Ohm's obviously hit the nail on the head there at the end. The Giants don't prioritize linebacker, and it remains to be seen who from that Williams/Paysinger/Herzlich group that all came into the league together in 2011 will be a long-term contributor. Williams has shown the most, standing out in particular during the Super Bowl run last year, but he had injury problems in 2012. Herzlich didn't show much in short stints in relief of Blackburn in 2012, but the team retains high hopes for him. I wouldn't be surprised to see Blackburn return, and if they do move Kiwanuka back up to the line full-time they'll have more room for Rivers if they want him back. But as for potential free-agent or draft targets, your guess is as good as mine. I have to believe Reese and his staff are more focused on making sure the pass rush stays strong.
The Giants have spent the week prepping their rookie linebackers for more playing time, which they say will help. Fewell also says he will have a veteran wear the helmet with a headset to relay plays into the huddle so that the rookies won't be overloaded.
Boley has had the headset in his helmet all year as he's been charged with relaying the defensive calls in place of injured middle linebacker Jonathan Goff. The only remaining veteran in the linebacking corps is Mathias Kiwanuka, who plays defensive end on passing downs and likely has enough about which to worry. So I wonder if the veteran who gets the headset might be a safety. The Giants have been successfully mixing and matching since the early part of training camp and believe they can figure it out.
But someone still has to play, and while rookies Greg Jones, Spencer Paysinger and Jacquian Williams have seen some playing time this year, the Giants are cognizant of not trying to give them too much responsibility too quickly. That's why they're likely to rotate snaps along with fellow rookie Mark Herzlich, whose playing time so far this year has come entirely on special teams.
If Herzlich plays at linebacker, it would be another milestone moment in his comeback from Ewing's sarcoma, a rare bone cancer he beat after missing all of the 2009 season at BC. "They are rotating a lot of guys in right now," Herzlich said. "I'm eager. It is all about getting that one shot and seizing it. Whenever that occurs for me -- I'm confident that will occur at some point -- I will be ready."
Herzlich was a dominating college player in 2008 before his illness, and the Giants signed him as an undrafted rookie in the hopes that he might someday be able to flash that ability again once he was back to full strength. It appears that Boley's injury might offer Herzlich a chance to show what he's got sooner rather than later. It's been a next-man-up kind of year for the Giants, and at 6-3 and with a depleted Eagles team coming to town Sunday night, there's no reason for them to think one or more of their rookies can't continue the trend.
Biggest surprise: Four rookie linebackers made the team. And yes, I know some of you were telling me that would happen Friday, but I expected Adrian Tracy to make the team and I was wrong. He was one of three 2010 draft picks -- including fellow linebacker Phillip Dillard and punter Matt Dodge -- among Saturday's cuts. But in part because of the way they played on special teams, rookies Mark Herzlich, Greg Jones, Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger all made the team. That's the corps of backup linebackers behind starters Jonathan Goff, Mathias Kiwanuka and Michael Boley.
Running backs D.J. Ware and Da'Rel Scott made the team while 2009 draft pick Andre Brown was cut. Devin Thomas made the team as a wide receiver over Michael Clayton based on a strong preseason showing. And the Giants basically keep three tight ends -- Travis Beckum, Jake Ballard and Bear Pascoe with rookie Henry Hynoski slated to be the starting fullback.
No-brainers: Dodge had a very good preseason, has a lot of talent and probably will find work somewhere. But once the Giants brought in Steve Weatherford, who's been one of the best punters in the league the past two years, Dodge's days were numbered. Weatherford will be the punter, and the bad memories of Dodge and DeSean Jackson can begin to fade. Health issues cost Sage Rosenfels the backup quarterback job, which goes back to David Carr.
What's next: I think they need to sort through the Eagles' castoffs. In particular, tight end Donald Lee and nickel cornerback Joselio Hanson make a lot of sense for the Giants, as the former would fill a huge hole and the latter would allow them to keep Antrel Rolle at safety. And personally I always think they need linebacker help, but they disagree and they like their rookies, so I guess we'll see.
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