The Giants begin three weeks of Organized Team Activity (OTA) practices today and give us a glimpse of what we can expect for the 2014 season. The disappointing 7-9 finish on the heels of a 0-6 start left the team with a lot of holes to fill and today is the first real opportunity to see how the off season changes will impact the on the field product.
What will the new offense look like? New Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo comes from Green Bay and favors a West Coast, quick passing game system that has been vogue in the NFL for the past thirty years. Representing a considerable change from Kevin Gilbride’s system that often stretched the field, it should improve Eli Manning’s completion percentage, cut down on the time the offensive line needs to hold pass blocks, and reduce turnovers. All three will be welcome changes for the Giants. Tom Coughlin has said that the team will not abandon the power running game that has served them well during his tenure as head coach. The new offense will be a blending of the two approaches. We get our first look at it today.
Who will the starting five offensive linemen be? The early favorites are Will Beatty, Geoff Schwartz, J.D. Walton, Chris Snee, and Justin Pugh. Rookie Weston Richburg, the team’s second round pick in this month’s draft will have a chance to unseat Walton or Snee if either is able to round back into form following injury filled seasons. Charles Brown, a free agent acquisition, and likely swing tackle, may open in Beatty’s slot as he continues to recover from a badly broken leg suffered in last season’s finale. Others that will get a look are John Jerry, who was last seen in Miami and was implicated in the Jonathan Martin incident, and holdovers Dallas Reynolds, James Brewer, and Eric Herman. The team should settle on a starting five by training camp to give them a chance to gel before the season opener on September 8th.
Who will replace Linval Joseph in the middle of the defensive line? The quick answer is Jonathan Hankins, if he is up to the task. Third round draft pick Jay Bromley will also be part of the rotation, but will need some time to adjust to the NFL before he is ready to see any significant playing time. If Markus Kuhn is going to have a NFL career, this is his time to step up. If he doesn’t show something between now and the end of August, he will be among the Giants cuts when the roster is reduced to 53 players. Mike Patterson, Cullen Jenkins, and rookie free agent signee Eathyn Manumaleuna will also get time in the defensive tackle rotation this spring.
How is Jason Pierre-Paul’s back? JPP says his back feels fine, but the back is always tricky, and playing in the trenches puts a lot of stress on it. If he is fully recovered from his surgery last June and his November shoulder injury, his return to dominance will be key to improving the defense. If his back doesn’t hold up, Pierre-Paul will become a highly paid situational pass rusher.
How dominant will the new look secondary be? The Giants invested a lot of money in defensive backs this off season. Today we get our first look at Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Walter Thurmond, Zack Bowman, and Quintin Demps wearing their Giants uniforms on the field. Stevie Brown is also back from his knee injury. They are joined by fifth round draft pick Nat Berhe and rookie free agent C.J. Barnett. With returning veterans Prince Amukamara, Trumaine McBride, Jayron Hosley, and Antrel Rolle, this unit has a chance to mold into a dominant NFL secondary. Or, like the Eagles dream team of 2011, they can be a collection of overpaid veterans looking lost on the field.
Who will step up at tight end? The candidates are Kellen Davis, Larry Donnell, Daniel Fells, Adrien Robinson, and rookie free agent Xavier Grimble. There is not much on the free agent market unless the team decides to take a chance on Jermichael Finley coming off an severe neck injury. That option seems unlikely. Troubled rookie free agent Colt Lyerla signed with Green Bay, a walking wounded of Finley, Dustin Keller, Fred Davis, and Kellen Winslow represent the best of the free agent market. One of the men on the roster will be the starter on opening day. Look for Robinson, if he stays healthy.
How is Eli’s ankle? Manning suprised everyone by taking snaps in the unit specific portion of OTAs earlier in the month. He is ahead of the norm in recovering from his ankle surgery (After hearing Bill Polian’s discussion of individual healing times on SiriusXM NFL radio last night, discussing a healing schedule is not appropriate. Those schedules are built on averages, and should not be used as schedules for individuals who heal at their own rate.). He will want to take all of the snaps in order to absorb the new offense and the team will have him on a restrictive pitch count. How he moves and throws will give us some idea of his recovery. Manning’s limitations will also give Ryan Nassib and Josh Freeman increased opportunities in their battle for the top backup spot.
The changes make the Organized Team Activities more intriguing than usual this spring. It’s been a winter of discontent and one loaded with questions. Today, as the team takes the field in non-contact 11 on 11 drills for the first time since December, we start of get some answers.
It’s nice to have some football back, even in a limited fashion.