EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Training camp finally got into full gear this week for New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin.
Guard Chris Snee and cornerback Terrell Thomas were activated from the physically unable to perform list Tuesday and returned to practice. Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks started to run routes after an injury-marred 2012 season. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul talked about being eight weeks into recovery after a back surgery that requires 12 weeks to recover, and he was running on the other practice field while teammates worked.
Still, there is no guarantee JPP will be ready for the start of the regular season.
The intensity level of practice increased. In team drills, there was some extra contact and hits. Coughlin even had to yell at a player or two to tone it down and prevent injuries.
Wow, how camps have changed. Coughlin is an old-school coach who goes back to the era of two-a-days, live scrimmaging and hard hitting. When Coughlin is seen jumping on a player for just the slightest extra hit, it shows how the game has changed, thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement.
It also shows how Coughlin has changed. He realizes players have to get into hitting shape, but teams can't afford unnecessary injuries in practice. He's adapted, which is why the Giants are always in the playoff hunt.
A constant breeze kept the practice field cool and comfortable Tuesday. Weather has been mild in the first week of camp, but Coughlin received some encouraging news. The heat and humidity was scheduled to increase by mid-week.
Coughlin couldn't be any happier. He's ready to heat up Giants training camp.
Here is what I learned at Giants camp:
1. Training camp position battles: Once again, it's a battle royale at linebacker. Every spot is open. Keith Rivers, Mark Herzlich and Spencer Paysinger are running at first team, but it's not out of the question that Jacquian Williams will work his way into a three-down role. He excels in pass coverage. Two free-agent acquisitions will be interesting to follow. Dan Connor, a former third-round pick of the Panthers, is competing at middle linebacker. Aaron Curry, a former high first-round pick of the Seahawks, is competing on the outside. Anything can happen here. Good battles are brewing for the backup cornerback spot. Prince Amukamara and Corey Webster are the starters. Thomas returns from the PUP list to compete against Aaron Ross, a former Giants mainstay who returned after going to Jacksonville last year. Another player to watch is Jayron Hosley, a third-round pick in 2012. The Giants are set with their top three receivers: Nicks, Victor Cruz and the rapidly improving Rueben Randle. Louis Murphy, Ramses Barden, Kris Adams and Jerrel Jernigan are fighting for the final two spots at receiver. Fullback is another story. Henry Hynoski is on the PUP list. Ryan D'Imperio was signed off the street to compete against H-back/tight end/fullback Bear Pascoe for the lead blocking job, but it's not out of the question for the Giants to sign another fullback off the street. Pascoe also has to worry about the backup tight end job because of Adrien Robinson. Inconsistent throwing is preventing fourth-round choice Ryan Nassib from competing against David Carr for the backup quarterback job.
2. Age-old problem along the offensive line: For years, the Giants have been looking for a youth movement along the offensive line. At first glance, they are still looking. The average age of the starting offensive linemen is 30-plus, a scary number. Left tackle Will Beatty, a second-round pick in 2009, is the first draft choice in years to crack the starting lineup, but Coughlin is still relying on a lot of veterans. Snee (31) and Kevin Boothe (30) are the guards. David Baas (31) is at center, and David Diehl (32) is at right tackle. The Giants invested a first-round choice this year in tackle Justin Pugh, but he is slowed by a concussion. With four starters in their 30s, you worry about them wearing out and getting injured. You can see changes are on the horizon. The Giants could be planning to move Pugh, fourth-round choice Brandon Mosley and James Brewer (a fourth-round choice in 2011) into starting roles in future years. At the moment, the Giants will rely on experience.
3. Youth movement at running back: Over the past two years, the Giants have gotten younger at running back. They let Brandon Jacobs walk in free agency last year, and they moved away from oft-injured Ahmad Bradshaw this offseason. That leaves 2012 first-round pick David Wilson competing against Andre Brown for playing time. Wilson looks good. He's quick and explosive. Wilson had an impressive 5-yard average last year, but he had only 71 carries. Wilson is a hard worker. He says he squats 610 pounds of weights to gain power and explosiveness. That's amazing when you realize he's 5-foot-9, 205 pounds. But he needs his strength to get more playing time. Coughlin isn't going to let him play in passing situations unless he shows he can protect Eli Manning is passing plays. The better he is as a pass-blocker, the more he plays. Brown is a seasoned pass-blocker and gives Coughlin and Manning confidence that a linebacker won't destroy the quarterback. Wilson handled being mostly idle well last year while rookies such as Trent Richardson, Alfred Morris and Doug Martin got more exposure. From the class of 2012, Wilson is the back who has a chance to shine this season.
4. Credit the Giants with finding receivers: A few years ago, the Giants were getting old at wide receiver. General manager Jerry Reese made the first big move in 2009, drafting a No. 1 receiving talent in Nicks. The next year he found one of the league's most talented slot receivers (Cruz) as an undrafted free agent. Reese may have hit pay dirt again with 2012 second-round pick Randle. Randle has had a great camp and has bought time for Nicks to ease his way back onto the field following his injury-troubled 2012 season. The key to the season, though, is Nicks. Knee problems plagued him last year, but he tried to keep on playing. One doctor told him to rest 6-8 weeks. On the field, Nicks looked slow because of the injury and wasn't the same player. The Giants know that when Nicks is right, he can catch 75-plus passes for more than 1,100 yards and plenty of touchdowns because of his ability to outleap defenders. The Giants aren't rushing Nicks this summer, and the prognosis is good.
5. Updating the pass rush: The Giants usually have had an abundance of pass-rushers, so it's stunning to see them come off a season in which they had only 33 sacks. Gone is Osi Umenyiora, who left for Atlanta. Pierre-Paul is coming off back surgery and is questionable for the first couple of regular-season games. It makes you wonder why JPP waited until 12 weeks before the start of the regular season to have the operation, but that's another story. With Umenyiora gone, Mathias Kiwanuka moves from linebacker to defensive end to help rush the passer. More pressure is possible from Justin Tuck if he can pick up his game. Tuck turned 30 in March, and he's coming off two seasons in which he had a total of nine sacks. Before then, Tuck had double-digit sack totals three times over four seasons. He's his toughest critic and knows he has to have a great season. A young pass-rusher who shows promise is Damontre Moore, a third-round pick this year.