It was the talk of the off season, Victor Cruz returning to line up opposite Odell Beckham, jr. Naysayers talked of an impossible recovery from his torn patellar tendon, but today, on the first day of training camp practice, Cruz and Beckham lined up for some snaps with with Giants first team offense. The first touchdown of training camp was a diving catch on a slant by Beckham on a pass from Eli Manning. Fans yelled from the stands to be careful with Cruz if he was bumped by the defense, but the energy his return brought to the team and the large crowd that attended practice was evident on this warm July day.
As individual drills started, the familiar chant of “Cruuuuuuuuuuz” could be heard from the crowd when the sixth year wide receiver caught passes from Manning. Cruz looked good coming in and out of cuts and appears well on the way to a full recovery. Tomorrow will be a telling day, when the swelling in his surgically repaired knee is assessed by the Giants medical staff. Also impressive among the wide receivers was rookie Geremy Davis, the 6’2″ former Connecticut Huskie, who made a pair of acrobatic catches that drew applause from the crowd.
The first team offensive line was unchanged from minicamp, from left to right, Ereck Flowers, Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg, Geoff Schwartz, and Marshall Newhouse. Flowers made a crushing block on one of the running plays, while Newhouse was beating badly on a passing play. It’s too early to panic, but the team’s interest in Jake Long will intensify if Newhouse continues to struggle.
On defense, the first team line featured George Selvie and Robert Ayers lined up at the ends and Johnathan Hankins and Cullen Jenkins at tackle. Jon Beason took almost all of the snaps at middle linebacker, likely so he can get used to making the calls and adjustments in Steve Spagnuolo’s defense. J.T. Thomas and Devon Kennard were the other starters at linebacker.
The first team left and right safeties were also unchanged from minicamp, as Cooper Taylor and Landon Collins remained entrenched in those positions. Nat Berhe, his calf injury is fully and completely healed, didn’t appear in team drills until the third team took the field. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Prince Amukamara rounded out the starting secondary.
Later in practice, Manning bobbled a snap and lofted a seemingly desperate pass to Beckham, who caught it and zigzagged about 60 yards for another touchdown. It was a hopeful sign that when plays break down, the two most important Giants on offense can improvise and create magical plays.
Tight End Jerome Cunningham, one of the stars of the off season program, seemed to pick up where he left off last month, making a nice one handed grab and another for a touchdown on a pass from Ryan Nassib. Cunningham received some first team snaps during practice and is a player to keep an eye on as training camp progresses and during preseason games.
As practiced closed after one hour and ten minutes, the team stretched to cool down. Tight end Matt LaCosse, the rookie from Illinois, left the field early and went inside the training center to be examined. It was a productive first practice, and featured what everyone has been wanted for the entire off season – Beckham and Cruz lined up together.
After practice, Tom Coughlin said he was pleased to see Cruz out there working and enjoying himself. He doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about players getting injured and thinks it’s good to see them getting into some contact situations. Both Cruz and Beckham are on a “Pitch count” and are being monitored, but Coughlin doesn’t pay attention to it during practice. He watches the players that rotate in and out of the live drills.
Also on limited snaps are safeties Berhe and Mykkele Thompson, explaining their lack of significant presence on the field today. The safety position will be one of the most competitive in camp, but Coughlin wants to see a lot of positions with tough competition, but did concede that safety will be near the top of the list.
James Jones is expected to arrive tonight and will be on the field tomorrow if everything goes will. Coughlin complemented his skill, hands, and knowledge of the system, and expects the veteran to provide competition at a position where the Giants have a lot of talent. Asked why the team added him given their existing talent, Coughlin referred back to his previous statement about Jones.
Asked about Flowers, Coughlin reiterated that the rookie will be taking the majority of first and second team snaps at left tackle, but his practicing is not about logging time at the position, but rather about becoming the player the Giants know he can become. “We want him to take off,” said Coughlin, “He needs to grasp everything.”
Overall, the offensive line needs to work together and grows as a unit and “Sometimes it’s not pretty,” but they need the work, said Coughlin. He added that it’s important that the starting unit grow fatigued together and work through it as a unit. At some point, the starting five will emerge, Coughlin said, but it’s too early to be at that point. “When it happens, it happens,” the head coach added, “But we’re not there yet.”
Asked if plays like Beckham’s zigzag touchdown make him think prognostications of an explosive offense are accurate, Coughlin replied, “It’s the first day.” He went on to explain the practice plan is to push the team hard, back off, push hard again, perhaps for 2 or 3 days, then back off again, and repeat the pattern. He added that players were reminded to avoid other players legs, pile ups, and to stay away from the quarterbacks, or in other words, all the things that lead to unnecessary injuries.
Beckham, the Watcher
In a morning interview with the press, Beckham stated a simple goal for the season, “Win the Super Bowl.” He sees the championship trophies and memorabilia around the Giants facility and wants to be a part of a championship team. His hamstring feels fine, and Beckham believes he’s ready to go out and practice, but the training staff makes the decisions about when and how much he will practice.
Calling himself a “Watcher,” Beckham has studied Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, and Cris Carter, among others, to see what these all time greats did to be successful and attempts to incorporate it into his game. He also studies how Manning takes notes in meetings and how he uses those notes on the practice field and in games. It’s about constant improvement for Beckham, who plans to take his second season day by day and one step at a time and see how the 2015 season unfolds.
Asked if he is 100% healthy, Beckham said that no football player will every truthfully be able to answer yes to that question. He’s fully rehabbed, and has been training his muscles, his body, and pushing to see where it’s at, but cannot say he’s been “At 100%” since he started playing football. Last season was the first time Beckham missed practice time or a game in his football career and found it extremely frustrated. He hopes to never repeat the experience.
Jenkins, Team Leader
Jenkins has spoken with Jason Pierre-Paul, and said he’s in good spirits. Like the large majority of NFL players, Jenkins declined to comment on Pierre-Paul’s decision to exclude the Giants from his treatment on his injured hand and will not speculate on his situation. As a teammate, Jenkins said he hopes to have the sixth year defensive end back with the team, as the he believes the defense will be better with him on the field.
Asked if Pierre-Paul will be able to adjust to his amputated finger, Jenkins draws on his own experience playing with a cast on his hand, and said that he was able to make adjustments in his game and expects that Pierre-Paul will do the same.
Jenkins responded with amusement when asked about the Giants defense being written off in 2015, and said he prefers that the unit be viewed that way. Admitting that the team has a lot to do defensively, he compares the 2015 defense to the 2014 offense and points to the offense’s development as last season progressed. Jenkins expects the defense to step up and perform well as it learns the Spagnuolo system and comes together as a unit.
Seeing himself as a team leader, Jenkins says he will play where ever he’s needed, will help other players improve, and do whatever he can to make the defense better. Expected to play both defensive end and tackle this season, his flexibility will be an attribute appreciated by Spagnuolo and the defensive coaching staff.
Shane Vereen, A Complete Running Back
“Terminology,” was the answer Shane Vereen gave when asked what the biggest difference was between the Patriots offense and the Giants. He also sees similarities between his former quarterback Tom Brady and his current, Manning. “The are both masters of the game,” says Vereen. Citing a similar pedigree between the two veteran super bowl winners, Vereen notes that both are teachers in the meeting room as well.
Vereen is still uncertain how he will be utilized in the Giants offense, and expects his role will be carved out at the preseason unfolds. Seeing himself as a complete running back, Vereen knows he does every aspect of the running back role well and believe the Giants coaching staff will see that and adjust accordingly.
There is no competition with the defense, according to Vereen, as football is a team sport. He wants to see the unit come together and play well as that will help the Giants win games. The offensive players will do whatever they can to assist their defensive counterparts to improve their game.