NFL Nation: Will Hill

There's no shortage of poor personnel decisions that led the New York Giants to last year's 7-9 record and their subsequent roster rebuild, but signing safety Antrel Rolle to a five-year, $37 million contract in 2010 was among the better moves in recent franchise history.

We've ranked NFL players -- a top 100 on offense and another on defense -- and we're rolling out the results 20 at a time (10 on offense, 10 on defense) per day. Today brings us players No. 81-90 on either side of the ball, and Rolle checking in at No. 83 on defense offers a chance to reflect on just what he's turned out to be for the Giants.

Rolle is the No. 13-ranked safety and the No. 25-ranked defensive back on this list, but quibbling about whether he should be ranked ahead of Donte Whitner on the former list or Johnathan Joseph on the latter doesn't interest me too much. Rolle's value to the Giants has been diverse and significant, and it rises beyond stats and on-field performance.

Rolle arrived in New York at the age of 27 and chafed under coach Tom Coughlin's rigid, old-school structure. But he grew quickly, and he and Coughlin proved wise enough to realize they could be of great benefit to each other. Over the past three seasons Rolle has developed as a team leader, captain and spokesman, and he handles the role gracefully and naturally. Sure, he says crazy things on the radio sometimes. But these days they're almost always about how great he thinks his team is, and that's a perfectly acceptable method for a leader to try to keep his teammates in a productive frame of mind.

On the field, Rolle has played opposite three different starting safeties the past three years, and all three have flourished. He teamed with Kenny Phillips (who predated and helped mentor him as a Giant) in the Super Bowl season of 2011. Stevie Brown replaced an injured Phillips in 2012 and collected eight interceptions, roaming the post safety position while Rolle played up in the box because he knew how and Brown hadn't learned it yet. Will Hill replaced an injured Brown in 2013 and became one of the best playmaking safeties in the league by season's end before smoking himself out of a job this spring.

Rolle has been a constant in a Giants secondary that's seen its share of ups and downs over the past four years. And last year, largely freed from the nickel corner responsibilities he willingly assumed so often early in his Giants career, he flourished as a playmaker in his own right and earned a Pro Bowl trip to Hawaii. His coaches say he's just coming into his own as a safety, at age 31, because this is the first time since he signed with the Giants that he's been able to focus on the position exclusively. They believe he'll get the best out of his former Cardinals teammate Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, one of their big free-agent cornerback signings, and Rolle has a track record that backs up that belief.

One of the best 100 defensive players in the NFL? Nobody in the Giants' building would disagree. Rolle's as solid an acquisition as any they've made over the past 10 years.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens are banking on a different offensive coordinator and a new big-name target in the passing game to change their fortunes in 2014, but the jury is out because the offense has been up and down so far in camp.

The biggest reason the Ravens didn't defend their Super Bowl title and failed to reach the playoffs for the first time in coach John Harbaugh's six seasons is because of the fourth-worst offense in the league. Quarterback Joe Flacco threw the second-most interceptions in the league, running back Ray Rice averaged a career-low 3.1 yards per carry and the Ravens scored 20 or fewer points in all but one of the team's losses.

Flacco has looked inconsistent so far in camp while Rice appears to have regained his explosiveness after shedding 15 pounds.

The Ravens' offense will have a different look this season after hiring Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator and signing wide receiver Steve Smith in free agency. In Kubiak's system, Flacco will have to get the ball out his hands quicker, make shorter throws and run more bootlegs. The emphasis has been noticeable in drills as Flacco has tried to get rid of the ball after 3-5 steps.

How much improvement Flacco makes in Kubiak's system will likely determine how much improvement the Ravens make this season.

"The thing I like about what Coach Kubiak is doing, it’s a very straightforward offense. It’s very clear-cut," Harbaugh said. "That helps maybe get guys up to speed as quick as possible. But yes, there are always nuances, and you have to experience things sometimes. I’d like to think that we’ll be better at it a year from now than where we are this year, but we can’t be thinking about it that way. We’ve got to get great at it right now, because we’re going to be playing a football game very soon. It happens to be the Cincinnati Bengals, who won our division last year, so that’s what we’re looking at and that’s what we've got to be ready for.”

The football world hasn't been focused on the Ravens' new-look offense. The center of attention has been Rice, who was suspended two games by the NFL for his alleged domestic violence incident.

The Ravens want to get back to their roots of running the football again, and the key is getting Rice back on track. Can Rice have a productive season after such a tumultuous offseason? He certainly thinks so.

"The football field is my safe haven," Rice said. "Honestly, just coming here being a part of the offseason program, getting in shape, working and doing the things that I’ve always been doing on the football field, [I’m] feeling like my old self again. It’s given me some inspiration to go out there and not only just go out there and play football. It’s giving me inspiration to go out there and be the best football player I can be."

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeJoe Flacco and Gary Kubiak
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyOffensive coordinator Gary Kubiak has a proven record of success.
1. Gary Kubiak's track record. Kubiak brings a proven system and an impressive résumé. As head coach of the Houston Texans, the team ranked in the top 10 in offense in six of his last eight seasons. To put that in perspective, the Ravens’ offense hasn't ranked in the top 10 since 1997, when Flacco was 12 years old. From 2009 to 2012, the Texans ranked No. 7 in points scored (23.2). Over that same period, the Texans were one of three teams to rank in the top 10 in rushing and passing (the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles were the others). The players have praised Kubiak during camp for his direct approach which doesn't leave much gray area.

2. Aggressiveness on defense. The Ravens' offensive struggles last season overshadowed the shortcomings of their defense. In the second half of the season, the Ravens managed a paltry 12 sacks in eight games. Only the Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns had fewer. The relentlessly attacking style had disappeared. Based on what the Ravens have shown so far in camp, they want to get back to "in your face" defense. The Ravens certainly have personnel to get after the quarterback with Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil crashing the edges. Expect more blitzes and more press coverage out a Ravens defense that has its sights on becoming a top-five unit in the NFL again, and so far in camp a re-energzied Suggs has been leading the way.

3. Improved targets in passing game. Flacco has taken heavy criticism for the worst season in his six-year NFL career, and rightfully so. He made poor decisions that cost the Ravens some games. Let's just not put all of the blame on the former Super Bowl MVP's shoulders. By Week 2 last year, his No. 2 receiver was undrafted rookie Marlon Brown and his top tight end was Dallas Clark, who has since retired. This year, Flacco has two new experienced targets in Smith and tight end Owen Daniels. While Daniels hasn't looked explosive in training camp, Smith has quickly developed a rapport with Flacco. Don't forget about tight end Dennis Pitta, who is fully recovered after missing 12 games last season with a dislocated hip. This could turn out to be Flacco's strongest and deepest supporting cast.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. Lack of depth at cornerback. The Ravens have one of the best starting cornerback tandems in the league with Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith, both of whom are Pro Bowl-caliber defenders. The problem is neither has a history of staying healthy. Webb, who is already expected to miss two preseason games with a back injury, has torn two knee ligaments during his five-year NFL career and has started 16 games in a season only once. Smith has missed nine games in his three NFL seasons. After Aaron Ross suffered a season-ending Achilles injury before camp officially began, the Ravens have been left with inexperienced and unproven backups. Chykie Brown played 3 percent of the defensive snaps last season, Asa Jackson has never played a defensive snap in a regular-season game and Tramain Jacobs and Deji Olatoye are undrafted rookies. This is the Ravens' soft spot. Brown has struggled the most of any defender in camp and Jackson has had his share of struggles as well.

2. The progression of the offensive line. There's no doubt that the Ravens will have a better offensive line than last year. To be honest, it couldn't be worse. The line opened few holes in the running game and allowed too much pressure on Flacco. The biggest question on offense is whether this line has improved enough to the point where the Ravens can be effective. Through almost a dozen practices at camp, the line hasn't provided too many definitive answers. Guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele have been dominant. But left tackle Eugene Monroe has had struggles and right tackle Rick Wagner has been adequate. Center Jeremy Zuttah is athletic but he's not going to be considered among the top half at his position. The Ravens will learn more about their offensive line when the preseason begins.

[+] EnlargeBaltimore's Terrell Suggs
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyAn energized Terrell Suggs has looked like the best defender in Ravens' camp.
3. Age of key players. The Ravens are much younger than when they won the Super Bowl two seasons ago. That being said, the Ravens' hopes rest on aging veterans to rebound from disappointing seasons. Suggs, 31, failed to record a sack in seven of his final eight games in 2013. Steve Smith, 35, caught his fewest passes (64) since 2010. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, 30, hasn't reached 60 tackles in consecutive seasons. Defensive end Chris Canty, 31, finished last season with 30 tackles, the fewest for a full season in his career. Daniels, 31, was limited to five games last season due to a broken leg. The Ravens need to get more than leadership out of their older players this season. While Suggs and Smith have been among the top performers in camp, Canty and Daniels haven’t stood out.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • As camp reaches its midway point, Flacco gets a "C" grade. He's made his share of good passes, and there have been some throws that have made coaches cringe. His biggest improvements has been his play-action fakes and his cadence, which he has used to draw more defenders offside than any previous training camp.
  • It's hard to overlook Suggs because he's always trash-talking with players on offense. But he has stood out in this camp as the most impressive player on the defensive side of the ball. There have been times when he's been dominant. Offensive tackles Monroe and Wagner probably can't wait for the preseason to start, so they get a break from seeing an energized Suggs in front of them.
  • The Ravens have to feel like they got two first-round picks this year in inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan. Mosley is continually around the ball, and Jernigan is constantly in the backfield. If Mosley makes the same types of plays in the regular season, the Ravens' top pick has a shot at being the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Jernigan, a second-round pick, has been sidelined recently with a back injury. But it's not expected to be long term, which is a big relief for the Ravens.
  • Bernard Pierce has been the best running back in camp. He played in a similar running scheme in college, and he has had the best transition to Kubiak's stretch, zone-blocking runs.
  • Fulback Kyle Juszczyk has a chance to have a breakout season. While he isn't the typical physical blocker that the Ravens have at fullback, Juszczyk will make a much bigger impact in the passing game.
  • Will Hill looks to be the most talented safety on the roster. He's suspended for the first six games of the season, so the former New York Giants defender won't provide immediate help. Don't be surprised if Hill is a starter at some point this year for the Ravens.
  • The biggest surprise of camp has been wide receiver Kamar Aiken. He started camp as a long shot, and he has quickly worked himself into the conversation for one of the last spots at receiver. Aiken, who has been cut by three teams in his career, rarely drops a pass because of his strong hands.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There was a day Stevie Brown remembers, back in January and February, when he was catching passes from New York Giants assistant trainer Leigh Weiss in the indoor facility here. Weiss threw one high, and Brown went up to catch it and came down hard on his left leg, which is the leg in which he'd had surgery last fall to repair a torn ACL in his knee. Brown landed hard and kept running as though nothing had happened, and when he looked up, Weiss was smiling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I'm able to do everything right now," Brown said. "No limitations to anything. I take all the reps that they want me to take and just go out there and do everything I need to do."
Will Hill's former New York Giants teammates aren't thrilled that the team waived Hill on Monday. While everyone no doubt understands why the organization finally decided to act after Hill's third drug suspension in as many years, Giants players will miss what the talented safety meant to their defense in 2013. Cornerback Prince Amukamara told Newsday's Tom Rock that he doesn't want the move to come back to haunt the Giants:
“I realized how many times he saved our butts and how many times he came up big,” Amukamara said of Hill, the former Giants safety who was waived on Monday after being handed a third drug-related suspension in three seasons by the NFL. “It’s going to be a tough loss. Hopefully if he goes to a team, it’s not someone in the NFC East. He’s a guy you don’t want to face.”

It's
[+] EnlargeWill Hill
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesThe Giants waived Will Hill after he got his third drug suspension in the past three years.
no certainty that another team gives Hill a chance. He wasn't drafted, and the Giants were the only team that made him an offer as an undrafted free agent. Anyone who signs him would do so knowing he can't play the first six games of this year and that his next suspension is likely to be for a year or longer. So Amukamara's fears about Hill coming back down the road to beat the Giants are far-fetched at this point.

However, the sentiment behind Amukamara's point is that Hill was a star-caliber player in the secondary for the Giants last season and that he will be difficult to replace. Stevie Brown is the obvious replacement, but he's coming off ACL surgery and will have to be monitored closely in camp. Quintin Demps started a few games at safety for the Chiefs last year and will get more looks there now, but he was signed mainly for his abilities in the return game. It's unlikely that Cooper Taylor or Nat Berhe would be ready for a major role, and no, since many of you have asked, I do not see them (or anyone else, for that matter) pursuing Ed Reed.

Hill's departure likely means that the big three-safety look defensive coordinator Perry Fewell used to like to use is not much of an option this year. That may not matter much, since they're deep enough at cornerback to leave Walter Thurmond in the slot and since they have a bona fide three-down linebacker in Jon Beason, but it does reduce their options. And if Brown has any setbacks or problems with his knee, they're suddenly quite thin at safety.

We talked Monday about the $5 million in new cap room the Giants picked up this week once the post-June 1 release of David Baas became official, and it's possible they could use some of that to bring in a safety for depth now. But there isn't much left on the market at this point. And the premise behind Amukamara's quote is that replacing Hill isn't as simple as throwing another body in there. He wasn't just a starting safety for the Giants in 2013. He was, quite often, the best and most important player on their defense. Cutting him could not have been easy, however obvious the decision may have been from the outside. Replacing him will be even tougher.
If you read my morning post, you know I didn't expect the New York Giants to decide on Will Hill this quickly. But they have done just that, waiving their talented-but-troubled safety three days after it was announced he would be suspended for the first six games of the season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

The Giants have been discussing for weeks what to do about Hill, after the news broke that he'd failed another drug test and was facing a third drug suspension in three years. Apparently, they decided another suspension would be too much for them to overlook and they would cut him if/when said suspension was announced. Initially, it appeared Hill was facing a suspension of a year or longer; the fact that it turned out to be only six games seemed to indicate there had been some extenuating circumstances the NFL found plausible. But whatever they might have been, they weren't enough to convince the Giants to keep him around.

It might be tempting to laud the Giants for taking a stand against drugs or bad behavior in general. And if you're a Giants fan and you want to feel that way about your team, go right ahead. But it's worth noting that this was Hill's third drug suspension in three years, so if the Giants really were that hard-line on this issue, it's unlikely he'd have made it this far.

I don't think the Giants were opposed to standing behind Hill and helping him work through whatever issues he might have. What I do think is this has reached a point beyond which the Giants feel they can trust Hill enough to make it worth keeping him on the roster. It's one thing to know a guy has a drug problem and you're working to help him deal with it (which is what the Giants have been doing since signing Hill in 2012). It's another thing, in the cold, business world of the NFL, to keep using a roster spot on a player you can't rely on to be available for a whole season. Whether it's a guy who gets hurt all the time or a guy who gets suspended all the time, it's difficult to invest resources in a player who can't be counted on to play a full season.

Had the Giants decided to keep Hill, who was a good player for them and well liked in the locker room, they'd have done so knowing that future discipline against him was only going to get harsher and more extensive. They already knew he was more likely than not to keep getting in trouble. What happened Monday was they reached the point at which they could no longer tolerate the risk that he might disappear from their plans for a long time. For his first two years with the team, Hill's talent made him worth that risk. As of Monday, in their eyes, it no longer did.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Offensive lineman John Jerry, who was implicated in the Miami Dolphins' bullying scandal last season and signed with the New York Giants this offseason to provide insurance at guard, recently had arthroscopic knee surgery and will miss OTAs and minicamp. Giants coach Tom Coughlin revealed this information following the Giants' practice Thursday.

It doesn't sound as though the injury should keep Jerry out of training camp, which starts in mid-July. But all of the Giants' offensive players are learning a new system under new coordinator Ben McAdoo, and the lack of practice time could hurt Jerry's ability to pick up what he needs to pick up.

There also remains a possibility that Jerry could face a league-imposed suspension for part of the 2014 season as a result of his involvement in the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin bullying fiasco, though the Giants do not seem to believe he will. They signed him in case veteran offensive lineman Chris Snee couldn't make it back from his second hip surgery and because they felt they needed more experience in the backup offensive line positions than they had last year.

Some other news and observations from Thursday's OTA workout:
  • Snee was out there practicing in full at right guard with the first-team offensive line. He said a few weeks ago that he feels great and hasn't been limited in any way.
  • Left tackle Will Beatty, who broke his leg in Week 17 of the 2013 season, and wide receiver Mario Manningham, who's had all kinds of knee problems, were working off to the side during practice. Coughlin said they were both on track to be ready by fall, which I took to mean training camp but I guess could technically mean the regular season. Charles Brown took Beatty's place at left tackle with the first-team line Thursday. J.D. Walton worked as the first-team center, with Geoff Schwartz at left guard and Justin Pugh at right tackle.
  • A variety of backup wide receivers got first-team reps with Manningham out and first-round pick Odell Beckham Jr. missing the day to attend the NFLPA Rookie Premiere event. Fourth-round pick Andre Williams also attended that event and was therefore absent Thursday.
  • Safeties Will Hill and Stevie Brown both practiced in full, Brown with the first-team defense and Hill with the second. Brown is recovering from ACL surgery that cost him the entire 2013 season, while Hill is appealing what would be his third drug suspension in as many years. Coughlin said that waiting for a resolution on Hill's status is difficult and would continue to be, but that the team has no idea when they can expect one.
  • Running back David Wilson was held out of any drills that may have resulted in contact, as he has yet to be cleared for contact following last season's neck surgery. Wilson said his next doctor's appointment is Wednesday. He says he feels no pain (and never did) and hopes to be cleared soon to practice with his team.
  • Oh, and quarterback Eli Manning, seven weeks removed from ankle surgery, practiced in full for the second day in a row.
You ask the questions (and use the #nygmail hashtag) on Twitter, I answer them here. And we all have a lovely weekend.
 
The New York Giants made 18 of their players available for media interviews on Tuesday afternoon. Some faces were familiar, others were new. Here are four quick things I took away from the day:

1. Eli Manning's ankle injury may not turn out to be a huge deal, but it's not a small one either. Manning is getting around on crutches right now, though he ditched them before he came out to stand in a walking boot in front of cameras and answer questions Tuesday. (I don't blame him for that, by the way. I'd probably do the same.) Asked directly whether he would be ready for the start of training camp, Manning said, "I think I'm safe to say I'll be 100 percent by the start of training camp." Then he paused and made that face he makes when he's not all the way comfortable with something and said, "I would hope so."

Now, it's important to note that the Giants start training camp a week earlier than usual this year due to their participation in the Hall of Fame game. So it's possible that Manning would be ready by the usual start of training camp but not by July 22, when the Giants are likely to start this year. But regardless of those semantics, it definitely appears that Manning and the Giants are prepared for the likelihood that Manning will miss the on-field portions of OTAs and probably the June minicamp. Manning is a stickler for practice and never misses a chance to discuss the importance of everyone being on the field practicing together. So if his arrival on the practice field is delayed by a month or more, that has to have an impact on his mindset, if nothing else.

2. Chris Snee is a big wild card. We've been treating the Giants' veteran offensive lineman as a question mark, and until we see him back on the field and playing the way he used to play, we'll continue to do so. But Snee said his offseason program has been completely different from what it was last year -- that he's been able to do much more in terms of strength and conditioning work and that he's basically going through a normal offseason of preparation, ready for full practice when the time comes. The potential benefits of a fully healthy Snee to the Giants' offensive line simply cannot be overstated.

3. The new offense will be very new. Lots of talk about new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo and what he's installing. Everybody thinks it's going to look a lot like what they run in Green Bay, which is where McAdoo came from. Victor Cruz talked about the simplification of the passing game routes under McAdoo versus the option routes on which Kevin Gilbride's offense relied. There's a lot of learning to be done, and especially with Manning on the shelf you wonder how quickly they can become proficient with it. But the Giants are going to look a lot different this year when they have the ball.

4. They were on message on Will Hill. The Giants have a good media relations staff, and with the news breaking in the morning that safety Will Hill had failed another drug test and was in the process of appealing a potentially lengthy suspension, the players were prepared to answer questions about Hill. Everyone who was asked used the word "support" and talked about Hill as a good guy and teammate who needs help dealing with his issues. I question the characterization of a player who keeps getting suspended as a good teammate, since a good teammate is generally an available one. And I have my doubts about how far the Giants organization's "support" will extend if Hill loses his appeal. I have to think he's probably done here. But Stevie Brown is a question mark as an ACL recovery case, and Quintin Demps was signed more for his kick-return abilities than for his safety abilities. So it's possible they let this play out and see just how mad they want to get about Hill's latest headache.
So New York Giants safety Will Hill could be suspended for the season as a result of his latest failed drug test. Or not. He could win his appeal and not be suspended at all. There's no way to know what's going to happen with Hill. That is his defining characteristic. It's why his very promising NFL career is unlikely to ever really happen.

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

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

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

Hill is a very nice player, but there are good reasons he didn't get drafted. The Giants have always known he was a volatile commodity -- that they'd benefit greatly if he could stay out of trouble but that odds were he wouldn't. At this point, it's hard to say whether this latest bit of news is the one that pushes them to cut ties with Hill, but even if it's not, it's hard to shake the sense that the day is coming. And if it is, it would be tough to blame them.
So many things went wrong for the New York Giants in 2013 that some are easy to ignore. The offense bore the brunt of the blame for the 0-6 start and 7-9 season, and justifiably so. But the 2013 Giants were bad at many things, and the returning of kicks and punts was a significant problem that had to be addressed.

Demps
Enter Quintin Demps, who spent a good chunk of his early Sunday morning informing his Twitter followers that he'd agreed on a new contract with the Giants. Demps was a reserve safety and kickoff return man for the Chiefs in 2013. His kick-return average of 30.1 yards was third in the NFL behind Minnesota's Cordarrelle Patterson and Dallas' Dwayne Harris, and he did run one back for a touchdown -- the second of his career.

As a team, the 2013 Giants ranked 27th in the NFL with a kick-return average of 21.2. Obviously, more goes into it than the skills of the return man himself -- i.e., they need to block better in the return game. But Demps has blazing speed on returns and should definitely provide a boost to a unit that was a significant problem last year.

He's never returned a punt at the NFL level, so the identity of the punt returner remains in question. Cornerback Walter Thurmond, who also agreed to a Giants contract Sunday morning, was a punt returner in college but has only one punt-return attempt as a pro (and fumbled it). So that's to be sorted out yet. But they'd been looking for a high-octane return man, and after losing out on Jacoby Jones and Ted Ginn Jr. last week, they have locked up Demps for that role.

2012 first-round pick David Wilson was a tremendous kick returner for the Giants as a rookie. But Wilson is coming off of neck surgery, which means the Giants don't know whether they can count on him to play at all and likely will want to limit his exposure to danger if he does.

It's also worth noting Demps' potential value to the Giants at safety. He started six games there for the Chiefs last year, and with Stevie Brown returning from ACL surgery and Will Hill always a wild-card due to his off-field issues, depth at safety is something the Giants could use.
In his radio interview of WFAN in New York on Thursday, New York Giants owner John Mara referenced this annual study by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News, which shows that the Giants led the league in games lost by starters due to injury in 2013 with 91, including 26 on the offensive line. Mara was quick to offer the usual "that's not an excuse" disclaimer, and he's right. The teams that rank second and third on this list -- the Colts and the Patriots -- are playing in a second-round playoff game Saturday night. But the figure raises the question of whether the injuries stand as a legitimate reason for what went wrong with the 2013 Giants.

[+] EnlargeChris Snee
AP Photo/Bill KostrounLosing guard Chris Snee, 76, and center David Baas, 64, to injuries early in the season exposed the Giants' lack of offensive line depth.
First off, Gosselin's figures assign 16 lost games to Stevie Brown, who was projected as a starting safety before tearing his ACL in preseason and missing the entire season. The Giants ended up fine at safety with Antrel Rolle, Will Hill and Ryan Mundy, but Hill did miss the first four games because of a drug suspension, and it's reasonable to think Brown might have helped during that time, as the Giants lost all four of those games as well as the next two.

But the Giants' biggest problem all year was that offensive line, and the losses of David Baas and Chris Snee early in the season were damaging. The line wasn't a strength to begin with, and once the starters began to go down, it exposed the lack of depth behind them. That is why I continue to insist that the line needs to be a major priority in the draft this year, even if they have already addressed it in free agency by then. This team absolutely has to develop capable replacements for the long-term at these positions, because its inability to provide them in 2013 absolutely crippled the offense. If the Giants have a center or a guard or even a tackle they like in March, by all means, they should sign him and make the 2014 line better. But they can't assume that whoever it is will stay healthy or play effectively for years to come. They need to deepen their stable of capable linemen so that injuries along the line don't destroy everything they're trying to do in future years.

The Giants were spoiled in this regard for a long time. Everybody knows about that starting offensive line that held together for years without anyone missing a game. But Shaun O'Hara, Rich Seubert and Kareem McKenzie aren't walking through that door. The days when this wasn't a worry for the Giants are long gone, and now they're dealing with the same reality with which other teams deal. They need depth on the offensive line to combat inevitable injuries, or else nothing they do is going to work.

All-NFC East: New York Giants

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Teams: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

 
There are four New York Giants on this year's All-NFC East team, and it's no surprise that all four of them play defense. The Giants finished the year ranked eighth in the league in total defense and 28th in total offense. There was no offensive player on their team worthy of any consideration other than wide receiver Victor Cruz, and there's no way to argue that he should have cracked the division's top three ahead of DeSean Jackson, Dez Bryant or Pierre Garcon.

So the defensive players who made it were defensive end Justin Tuck, defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins and safeties Will Hill and Antrel Rolle. Unlike past years, when I ran the NFC East blog and picked the team myself, this year's team was voted on by the four team reporters who cover the NFC East's teams -- myself, Todd Archer in Dallas, Phil Sheridan in Philadelphia and John Keim in Washington.

I approve of the choice of Tuck, who had a fine year and finished with 11 sacks thanks to the six he got in December against the Redskins. And I voted for Hill and Rolle as the division's starting safeties. Rolle gets (and attracts) the attention and played well, but I think Hill was the better player this year once he was back from his season-opening four-game suspension. The two of them function very well together in the Giants' system at safety, and that was a concern after they let go of Kenny Phillips -- finding a partner who could switch off with Rolle during the games and depending on the situations. Hill has done it and done it well.

The Giants were very strong at defensive tackle this year, and Jenkins is a worthy pick. I think Linval Joseph is the better and more impactful all-around player at the position, but Jenkins played well all year against the run and helped with the pass rush. He should be back next year, and you can't say the same with certainty for Joseph as he hits the free-agent market. I can't make a case for anyone else on the Giants to have made this team except maybe Joseph.

Rapid Reaction: New York Giants

December, 22, 2013
12/22/13
7:45
PM ET
DETROIT -- A few thoughts on the New York Giants' 23-20 overtime victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Ford Field:

What it means: Anyone wondering whether the Giants have given up on their season or on their coaches has the answer. The Giants are outmanned and overmatched pretty much every week, and Sunday was no exception. But in spite of having their offense choked off after halftime, they pushed the game into overtime, where Josh Brown won it with a 45-yard field goal.

Stoch watch: Will Hill, up. After reportedly being arrested Friday night on charges related to child support, the Giants safety played in and changed Sunday's game. With five minutes left in the fourth quarter, Hill intercepted Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and ran in from 38 yards for a touchdown. The ensuing extra point tied the game. The Giants were doing absolutely nothing on offense in the second half behind a shredded offensive line, and scoring on defense turned out to be their best option.

Tough Tuck: Defensive end Justin Tuck appeared to injure his neck in the third quarter but remained in the game in spite of being in clear discomfort. It's worth pointing out that Tuck, who is free-agent-eligible at the end of the season, wanted to tough it out in a game like this with the Giants already eliminated from postseason contention. It backs up his team-first talk. Tuck's big second half of the season has helped his chances of returning next year.

What's next: The Giants mercifully close out their season with a 1 p.m. ET home game Sunday against Kirk Cousins and the Washington Redskins at MetLife Stadium. They beat the Redskins 24-17 in Washington in Week 13.
DETROIT -- New York Giants safety Will Hill is active and will play in today's game against the Lions. Hill was reportedly arrested Friday night on a warrant related to child support, but the Giants consider it a personal matter and not a behavioral misstep worthy of discipline. So Hill will start at safety as usual.

Headlining the inactives list, however, is veteran guard David Diehl, who will miss the game with a knee injury. That leaves the woefully inexperienced James Brewer and Brandon Mosley as the Giants' starting guards against a Lions defensive line whose interior pass-rushers are among the most fearsome in the league. It will take a supreme effort to keep Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley off of Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who has already absorbed a career-high 36 sacks this season.

Other inactives include wide receiver Victor Cruz (knee), defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder), safety Cooper Taylor (hamstring) and running back Peyton Hillis (concussion), all of whom were ruled out Friday. Linebacker Allen Bradford and third quarterback Ryan Nassib are the other inactives.

The Giants announced Rueben Randle as the starter at wide receiver in place of Cruz, and you should look for Randle and Hakeem Nicks when they're in two-receiver sets. But Jerrel Jernigan is the man who'll replace Cruz as the slot receiver when they use one.

Active for the first time this season is tight end Adrien Robinson, who if he gets on the field could be auditioning for a spot on next year's team. The Giants have had high hopes for Robinson since drafting him in the fourth round of the 2012 draft.

Superstar Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who has been dealing with a knee injury, is active for the game. There had been some question about that following an Adam Schefter report Sunday morning that Johnson would be a game-time decision.

I believe that, if the officials in Sunday night's game had stopped play to figure out and correct the down-marker error in the final two minutes, New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin would have been the one going ballistic on his sideline. The Washington Redskins had no timeouts, and after the game the officials explained that this was the reason they didn't stop the action. Doing so would have effectively given Washington a free timeout and created, as the officials said, an unfair advantage.

In the end, the Giants didn't care, because (a) they won the game, (b) they didn't think the Redskins had a first down anyway, so they believed the correct call was ultimately made and (c) play was not stopped and no unfair advantage created. But the NFL said Monday that play should have been stopped due to "obvious confusion," and I think I have to agree. Obvious confusion is always a good reason to stop, take a moment and look things over. This applies in our daily lives as well as in football, especially during this hectic holiday season. The NFL could call this the "Wait, wait, wait" rule and hail it as a rare bend toward common sense.

Anyway, the Redskins were probably right to be upset, since it's likely they'd have called their plays differently if they'd thought it was third and then fourth down as opposed to first and second. But it's all moot, since they converted the fourth down anyway only to see Giants safety Will Hill strip the ball from Pierre Garcon's arms and seal a Giants victory. "Obvious confusion" or no, bad things happen to you when you don't hold onto the ball.

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