The NFL preseason kicks off tonight at 8 PM when the Giants and Bills take the field in a Super Bowl XXV rematch in the Hall of Fame game. Don’t expect to see the starters for more than a few series before both coaching staffs begin liberally substituting to get a good long look at the 60 or so men that make up the bottom of the roster. The quality of play will be rough, but there are some things to Be On the Look Out for
Offensive Line: Although the starters tenure is short lived as a general rule, the coaching staff may keep the linemen in for longer to get them some playing time to develop cohesion. And while rookie Weston Richburg has a chance to crack the lineup, the starting five would appear to be, from left to right: Will Beatty, Geoff Schwartz, J.D. Walton, Brandon Mosley, and Justin Pugh. Beatty’s recent headaches will keep him sidelined tonight, pressing Charles Brown into early duty. Pay attention to the second team, as depth is critical – we saw that last season. Richburg will likely get time at both center and right guard. James Brewer will play some left tackle. John Jerry will be the primary back up at both guard positions. Dallas Reynolds plays both center and guard, but stands to lose his roster spot to Richburg. If any of these linemen play well in the early preseason games, it will earn them additional reps in practice and increase their chances of making the opening day 53.
Tight End: There are two battles going on at the tight end position, divided by experience. Larry Donnell and Adrien Robinson are duking it out in a battle of the younger players, with Donnell firmly in the lead. He is currently listed on the top of the depth chart and is making more plays in practice. Robinson is in danger of not making the team. Daniel Fells and Kellen Davis are locked in a battle of the veterans with Fells ahead at the far turn. Undrafted rookie free agent Xavier Grimble is nursing a sore hamstring and has not been practicing much. He is a candidate for the practice squad. The team would like one tight end to demonstrate the ability to both block and provide a down field receiving threat. The best way for one of these men to emerge is by excelling in the preseason games.
The Big Name Rookies: In addition to Richburg, other rookie to look for does not include, first round pick Odell Beckham, who is sidelined with a balky hamstring. But the super rookie from this year’s class, fifth round pick Devon Kennard, will be unleashed against an opponent he can hit at full speed for the first time. Kennard has been laying people out at camp daily, making us wonder what he will do in a game. Tonight we find out. Fellow fifth rounder Nat Berhe, a safety out of San Diego State, also has a reputation as a big hitter. A considerably rawer prospect than Kennard, his first action will likely come in the second half. Also highly skilled, but lacking technique, surprise third round pick, defensive tackle Jay Bromley should also see most of his action in the second half. Fourth round pick Andre Williams, a running back from Boston College, has been taking snaps with the first team in short yardage situations. A powerful runner with questionable hands in the passing game, Williams should get multiple carries this preseason. If he can start catching the ball with reliability, his role in the offense will increase. One undrafted rookie to checkout is defensive lineman Jordan Stanton, who has impressed with his pass rushing ability early in camp.
The Hurry Up Offense: It’s not just for the two minute drill any more. Eli Manning has thrived in the hurry up during his career and it’s surprising that Tom Coughlin has not looked to use it earlier in games prior to this season. Players have been dropping hints since the beginning of camp that the new offense will have a faster tempo and shorter time between plays. We get our first look tonight.
A Flag Festival: Preseason games are often painful to watch in the second half as fourth, fifth, and lower string players get their opportunity to impress the coaches. As we will certainly hear several times from Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels, it’s preseason for the officials as well, and a point of emphasis this season is illegal contact/defensive holding. A direct response to the aggressive play of the Seattle Seahawks secondary, veteran referees Ed Hoculi and Terry McCauly, in separate interviews, mentioned that flags will fly in the preseason to drive this point home. McCauly threw several in a practice visit to the Washington Redskins drawing the ire of defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. Haslett will not be the only defensive coach to complain this year.
Even though it’s of the exhibition variety in everything but the cost of a ticket, it’s nice to have football back again. But remember it’s preseason, and coaches are looking at players more than trying to win games. There are no game plans. The level of talent drops off considerably in the later portion of the game, meaning that a player who excels in the fourth quarter of this game might be quite ordinary when he moves up in class. Or he could be the next Victor Cruz. That’s the fun in watching these “meaningless” games.
News and Notes:
Late Friday, the Giants made a roster move, waiving/injured cornerback Travis Howard and signing cornerback Chandler Fenner. Howard was signed to the Giants practice squad last Christmas and offered a futures contract after the season. He injured his knee in practice earlier this week. Fenner, 6’1” and 214 pounds, was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Holy Cross in 2012 by the Kansas City Chiefs. He was waived by the Chiefs prior to the start of the 2012 regular season. The Seattle Seahawks added Fenner to their practice squad in early December 2012. He stayed with the Seahawks until this past week, when he was waived to make room for former Giants Terrell Thomas.
Giants kickers have not attempted a field goal shorter than 33 yards in camp to help prepare them for the extra point experiment in the early part of the preseason. Extra points will be kicked from the 15 yard line, instead of the traditional 2 yard line in an attempt to generate more excitement on the play. Having the kickers only try longer field goals is a prime example of Tom Coughlin’s attention to detail. Two point attempts will still be made from the two yard line.
While all members of the Giants filed into the Hall of fame induction for Michael Strahan, only three on the current roster actually played with him – Eli Manning, Zak DeOssie, and Mathias Kiwanuka. They joined the ceremony late after their private tour of the Hall of Fame.
Also in attendance was Broncos Coach John Fox, who was Strahan’s defensive coordinator from 1997 until 2003, when he left to become head coach of the Carolina Panthers. Joining Fox was Broncos assistant secondary coach Sam Garnes, a former Strahan teammate. Garnes played strong safety for the Giants from 1997 until 2001.
Strahan’s speech was a typical Hall of Fame induction speech, recognizing his parents, and those coaches and mentors that helped him reach the pinnacle of any NFL career. He had a theme throughout, of how “Improbable” his success has been, given that he lived in Germany, a product of his father’s army career and took up high school football late. Young Michael Strahan was sent to Houston to live with his uncle and play high school football as a senior, and took to the game due to his natural athleticism. It was a well thought out speech and given with Strahan’s natural charm and public speaking prowess.
When acknowledging teammates, Strahan saved Manning for last, and the camera focused on the Giants quarterback. Manning, equally well-polished in dealing with the media, tailored his facial expressions to Strahan’s speech, striking his trademark “Manning face” on cue and drawing laughter from the crowd. Manning is often under appreciated for his ability to handle the New York spotlight effortlessly.
Several Giants did not travel with the team due to injury, starting with wide receiver Beckham, who we were told would miss the game early in the week. The previously mentioned Beatty (headaches), Defensive tackle Mike Patterson (shoulder), cornerback Trumaine McBride (hip), defensive end Robert Ayers (ankle), wide receiver/kick returner Trindon Holliday (knee), linebacker Spencer Paysinger (concussion), linebacker Jon Beason (PUP list, toe), running back David Wilson (neck), Offensive tackle Eric Herman (undisclosed), Tight End Xavier Grimble (hamstring), and cornerback Bennett Jackson (ankle)
The game will be televised on NBC.