On another warm, sunny, summer day, the Giants were fortunate to experience low humidity for their training camp practice. Music blared during warmups, and Jerome Cunningham and Preston Parker, both of whom were helped off the field yesterday with cramps, returned to practice. Geoff Schwartz did not, being replaced in the starting lineup by 2014 starter John Jerry. Schwartz came out to the practice field late, in uniform, helmet in hand, and in the company of a trainer, held out due to “soreness” in his left ankle.
Another lineup change took place at safety, where Bennett Jackson lined up next to Landon Collins with the first team. Cooper Taylor and Nat Berhe, the presumed starters prior to the NFL draft, were the second team safeties, as Jackson was rewarded for his early camp successes. Jackson was playing close to the line of scrimmage, while Collins dropped into coverage for the majority of plays.
Cunningham broke his seemingly endless string of solid practices by dropping consecutive passes, while Victor Cruz caught a touchdown pass from Eli Manning. He declined to salsa dance after the scoring play. Shane Vereen was the primary running back with the first team offense, but fumbled on his first carry, potentially lowering his standing on the depth chart moving forward.
Right tackle Marshall Newhouse was able to block Robert Ayers, but struggled in a goal line drill to contain Devon Kennard, getting blown up, resulting in an Andre Williams stuff for a loss. Brett Jones, the former CFL standout, has a good day at second team center, as he battles for one of the backup lineman spots on the team.
Larry Donnell took some first team snaps at tight end, and made some nice receptions, including a sliding grab for a first down. James Jones, still running with the second team, made a deep sideline snag over Prince Amukamara on a poorly thrown pass from Ryan Nassib.
Practice ended with the Giants linemen fielding punts. The defensive linemen won the competition, compelling the offensive linemen to do punishment pushups. Coughlin joked that he may have found “A new tight end” based on the defensive linemen’s performance shagging punts.
Jerry Reese: Defense will Rise
Giants General Manager Jerry Reese meets with the press six time per year. Today was one of those days and the first questions to Reese were about Jason Pierre-Paul, a favorite press inquiry to all of the Giants early in camp. Reese towed the company line, expressing concern about the defensive end following the tragic accident, wishing him a full and speedy recovery, and nothing but the best. He then deflected all further inquiries. It’s a strategy that seems prevalent throughout the Giants organization.
Concerns about the Giants defense is high among the press and fans alike, but don’t count Reese among those worried. He believes the team will surprise the season and that there are five defensive ends who will make up for Pierre-Paul’s absence. He mentioned Damontre Moore, Kerry Wynn, and Owa Odighizuwa by name, and pointed out that the NFL is about stepping out of the shadows when the opportunity arises. Reese expects the defense to improve from it’s abysmal 2014 season.
NFL rules favor the offense, Reese pointed out twice during his fifteen minute press conference, but that doesn’t mean that the Giants shouldn’t have a solid defense. Offense, however, is the order of the day, and the this roster is set up to have a good one. Reese expects that the team will need to score a minimum of 28 points per game to win consistently and that having Odell Beckham and Cruz healthy and paired on the field is a good way to get there.
Cruz is determined to make a full recovery from his torn patellar tendon, and Reese knows that he will work as hard as needed to make it all the way back. Coming to the Giants as an undrafted free agent from the University of Massachusetts, Cruz has already beaten long odds, so beating them again is nothing new. Reese knows he’s not yet 100%, but expects him to get there and cautions that we should not expect to see “The read Victor Cruz” until he takes the field in a game and his speed and elusiveness take over.
Competition at the wide receiver position will be fierce, and two names to watch are free agent acquisitions Dwayne Harris and Jones. Harris was signed in March and promised an opportunity to play wide receiver on offense with the Giants. Reese confirmed the truth of that statement, but cautioned that Harris will have to earn his chances in practice. Jones was signed as a veteran who knows the McAdoo offenses and is expected to compete for the third or fourth receiver spot on the roster. Reese sounded almost giddy talking about the competition in camp for receiver spots on the Giants final 53.
Asked about competition at other positions, Reese said is significant and mentioned safety, offensive line, tight end, defensive end, and running back as positions other than wide receiver that will see a lot of men competing hard for roster spots. Pressed about the offensive line, Reese mentioned that Justin Pugh could be moved back to offensive tackle, if needed, and pointed out several times that Will Beatty will be back, potentially as soon as October to bolster the unit. He also said free agent Jake Long is still a possibility.
Asked about the new starters on the Giants, Reese is not concerned. While saying that continuity is preferred, he cautioned that it’s difficult to maintain in the current NFL, and stated that young players have to contribute immediately. Reese expects his top three draft picks to play immediately, and hopes to find contributors in the later draft picks as well. He is pleased that the Giants two top pick in 2015, Ereck Flowers and Collins, appear on a path to start immediately.
Asked about free agent acquisition Jeromy Miles, Reese said he was signed for his knowledge of Steve Spagnuolo’s system and his experience. Seen as player who will increase the competition at the safety position, Reese likes Miles starting experience, but views him as a special teams player as well. When reviewing their lists of free agents, the Giants were surprised he was still available and decided to bring him in.
Jon Beason is healthy, according to Reese, and it will be a big year for him if he stays that way. Adding “pop” to the middle linebacker position, Reese views Beason as a high motor player and says it’s “So far, so good” on the injury front. Seeing the Giants league leading injuries for the past two seasons partly a function of bad luck, Reese points out that muscle tears and broken bones are hard to prevent. The team did make adjustments to the schedule, in the weight room, and in recovery times for players. He hopes that these changes and some better luck will result in a healthy Giants squad in 2015.
Reese is not feeling pressured by the high expectation put forth by John Mara, as he says they always exist with the Giants. He believe that the current roster is able to compete for the NFC East and earn a spot “In the tournament.” He’s also not feeling pressure to renegotiate with Manning, as he views his as under contract, and won’t discuss the negotiations.
Finally, Reese is not falling prey to over reliance on analytics. The team uses them, mostly to confirm what they see with their eyes. “It’s a part of the puzzle,” explains Reese, “But we believe what were see with our own eyes.” That’s how the Giants evaluate players, not with numbers and statistics on paper.
Rueben Randle: Have Fun and Make Plays
Rueben Randle sees himself getting better every day in his second season in the Ben McAdoo offense. His role in unchanged and he has a better understanding of what he needs to do. That makes it easier to work on improving in camp this season.
The wide receivers are a tight knit group, despite the intense competition for roster spots. Randle knows that McAdoo will spread the ball around and that the receiver are interchangeable. His goal is to go out, have fun, make plays, and get better every day.
Weston Richburg: Cerebral Adjustments Mixed with Brute Strength
Weston Richburg is extremely comfortable at his natural position of center after spending last season playing left guard. He appreciates the experience at another position, however, and believes it will help him in his leadership role on the Giants offensive line. Seeing things from a different perspective will allow Richburg to be more effective making line adjustments and “Help him help the guards.” Asked about being thrown into the left guard role in 2014, Richburg replied that it was the best way to learn the position, and how he prefers to do it.
Continuity on the offensive line is always preferred, but rare in the NFL. Communication between the men on the field is needed to make up for the lack of continuity, according to Richburg. “You want to bring out the same guys, if you can,” explains Richburg, “That would be ideal, but you need to have good communication no matter who is in there.”
The offensive linemen are looking forward to practicing in pads to gauge their progress, especially in the run game. Richburg said it’s hard to evaluate run blocking without hitting.
Richburg describes rookie Flowers as athletic, strong, smart, and possessing the right attitude to play offensive line. While quiet, Richburg says that Flowers is opening up as he gets to know his new teammates. Flowers is also a pretty good singer, jokes Richburg, explaining that Manning demanded that the rookie sing earlier today, and Flowers complied. Richburg was compelled to give a similar command performance last season and “Might have” sung poorly so the request would not be repeated.
Asked what he likes better about playing center, Richburg replied, “You have to be cerebral and make adjustment as well as have the brute strength to make blocks. I like the control I have and the mental aspects of making line adjustments with Eli.” As the offensive line gels this season, Richburg’s ability to make quick and correct line adjustments will be a big part of the reason.
Devon Kennard: Spagnuolo’s Defense is More Complex
Asked for his impression of Steve Spagnuolo’s defense, Kennard replied, “It’s more complex than last year,” a surprising statement given that Perry Fewell was frequently criticized for running one of the league’s most challenging schemes to learn. However, when he expounded upon his answer, it’s became clear that Kennard’s role will be more complex, with both blitz and coverage responsibilities. He was more limited as a rookie last season, and Kennard thought he was underutilized as a blitzer, at least early in the season.
Blitzing is one of the aspects of the game that Kennard enjoys, adding that “There’s nothing better than a sack and fumble.” But stopping the run will be the focus of the Giants defense in 2015. “It’s a mindset,” explains Kennard, “We can’t let people run the ball on us.” Linebacker responsibilities especially will focus on run defense first in Spagnuolo’s scheme.
Calling the defense “Hungry,” Kennard says the chemistry is especially good among the linebackers. Despite outside comments to the contrary, Kennard believe the team has a great linebacking corps and says he’s learning a lot from fellow starters Beason and J.T. Thomas.
Last season as a rookie, Kennard had no idea what to expect. Now, with a full season under his belt, Kennard is having fun, picking things up and learning, and getting better every day. As one of the potential impact players on the 2015 Giants defense, let’s hope he fully understand the complexities of his role in Spagnuolo’s scheme.