The weather remained hot, but turned decidedly more humid in New Jersey as the Giants took to the practice field for the fourth consecutive day. The team will have tomorrow off, as part of the re-designed program intended to cut down on injuries, and will therefore avoid the most hot and humid days of this week, but not today, which was a scorcher in the Garden State.
Geoff Schwartz, who was given yesterday off, with soreness in his surgically repaired left ankle, returned to practice and Steve Spagnuolo did some individual work with Jon Beason on the sidelines before the middle linebacker rejoined his position group for drills. It was announced that rookie left tackle Ereck Flowers has a hip flexor injury and is considered day to day, the first injury experienced by a starter in the 2015 training camp. When he was injured is not clear, but he will not practice today. Tom Coughlin described the injury as “Not too bad, that he was sore”, and hopes the rookie won’t miss too much time.
With Flowers sidelined, Justin Pugh slid out to left tackle and was replaced by Adam Gettis and Dallas Reynolds at left guard. Weston Richburg, Schwartz, and Marshall Newhouse remained as starters on the offensive line, although John Jerry switched off with Schwartz frequently at right guard. Flowers stood with the offensive line while plays were installed, taking mental reps with his teammates, despite being unable to participate on the field.
Schwartz also played some right tackle with Jerry sliding in at right guard. Brett Jones logged some time at left guard and looked good getting to the second level. Things appear to be starting to click for the rookie CFL refugee.
The shuffling on the line caused some confusing and when Devon Kennard and Bennett Jackson blitzed during team drills, Kennard got through easily, and stood by Eli Manning for several seconds before the whistle blew. The offensive line is still a work in progress.
Ryan Nassib had a rough series that featured a fumbled snap and a low pass dropped by Henry Hynoski. On an end around, George Selvie knocked Victor Cruz to the ground, but he got right back up and suffered no apparent ill effects.
The first scuffle of camp broke out between Pugh and defensive end Damontre Moore. Some punches were thrown and Pugh came away without a helmet. Coughlin was upset about the fight as he’s experienced first hand by a player breaking his hand in a training camp scuffle. He’d like to see players maintain their composure and control their tempers on the practice field.
The rotation of safeties continued, with Mykkele Thompson pairing with Jackson. Thompson bit hard on a pump fake and allowed Odell Beckham to get behind him for an easy 60 yard touchdown from Manning. Other players rotated through the first team defense today included Jonathan Casillas,
Chykie Brown left practice early with an undisclosed injury. Coughlin did not have any information on his injury other than it was something with his “Shoe or foot.” He added that Brown had flashed several times in practice, is highly motivated, and he would like to see him stay with it.
Bennett Jackson: Running Down and Hitting Someone
A year ago, cornerback Jackson was cut from the Giants roster, signed to the practice squad, and subsequently converted to safety. Identified as one of the players having a good early training camp, Jackson is playing for a starting job opposite Landon Collins. He sees things as going smoother, and himself playing faster and with more confidence than in the off season program practices, as he adjusts to his new position. Things are easier this season as he’s familiar with an NFL training camp and workout regimes.
At cornerback, you receive the checks (play changes), while at safety, you process the formation and make them, and ensure that everyone is lined up in the correct spot. That’s the biggest obstacle Jackson faces in his new role. He explains that Steve Spagnuolo’s defense relies heavily on the safeties and linebackers making the correct reads, but says the coaching staff is giving them all the information needed to succeed.
Without a veteran in the safety room to lean on, the young position group has become close knit and relies upon each other when there are questions. “If one guy does not know the information, then we ask another,” says Jackson.
Lining up with the first team motivates Jackson to continue to work hard and improve. He sees himself as having good ball skills, a fast player, and playing the ball well in the air. Jackson is confident that the coaching staff will play to his strengths and maximize his ability.
Asked the biggest difference between cornerback and safety, Jackson replied, “At safety, you get to run people down and hit them. You don’t do that a lot at corner.”
David Merritt, Safeties Coach: Starters are Wide Open
When looking over the safeties on the Giants roster, safeties coach David Merritt is identifying who the leaders are and those players who will best be able to make the calls on the field. It’s a matter of who makes the fewest mental errors, not where and when they were drafted. Recalling 2008, when Kenny Phillips was drafted in the first round, Merritt saw James Butler and Michael Johnson emerge as starters over the more physically gifted Phillips. “It’s wide open,” Merritt says about the identity of the starters.
The first two preseason games will be a big determining factor in who will emerge as the starting safeties, as will next week’s joint practice with the Cincinnati Bengals. Merritt expects seeing an opponent’s offense to be a big eye opener for rookies Collins and Thompson, who have only practices against their Giants teammates to date. He plans to substitute liberally, and believes the safety picture will “Clear up real quick,” when there is another offense on the opposite side of the field.
Asked about the only veteran in the group, recent free agent acquisition Jeromy Miles, Merritt cautioned that the Giants defense under Spagnuolo is different that the one Miles played in last season in Baltimore. “Spagnuolo wasn’t the coordinator,” said Merritt, “This defense is different. He (Miles) understand some of the techniques, but it’s different.”
Speaking of Jackson, Merritt was complimentary of his ability and said he’s been a player who “Sees the ball and goes and gets it.” Calling Jackson a self-starter, Merritt praised his play making in practice and said the converted cornerback is doing everything the coaching staff is asking him to do. His cornerback experience will also be utilized, as it will allow Jackson to cover slot receivers, if necessary, something he was practicing in 2014 Giants camp.
Expecting Jackson to be a “Productive member of the secondary,” Merritt stopped short of calling him a potential starter. He’s told Jackson what he’s said to every one of the safeties, “Once you step in with the first team, don’t give it back.”
Nat Berhe’s calf injury set him behind the others as he missed most of the off season program. Merritt says he is starting at the beginning, and making up some of his gap, but at a “Snail’s pace.”
Rookie Thompson has shown himself to be a potential leader, demonstrating the ability to take what’s learned in the classroom onto the playing field. Merritt expects him to eventually be able to control the coverages and be a “Quarterback on the field.”
Collins biggest edge comes from playing for former NFL head coach and long time NFL assistant Nick Saban at the University of Alabama. Merritt says it has given him the ability to receive more information rapidly and presented him as more pro ready than the other young safeties.
As both starting positions are “Wide open,” Merritt is trying out different combinations, with the Jackson/Thompson duo the latest. The team is also stacking the defenses on the practice field, so the young players get the most possible reps in the practice time allotted. This also allows the coaching staff to watch, evaluate, and identify who will be starting on September 13th.
Sean Ryan, Wide Receiver Coach: Consistency
Odell Beckham and Cruz go 100% effort for fewer reps in practice, and wide receivers coach Sean Ryan is happy to have them back on the field. They are getting all the mental reps they need in the meeting room, and picking things up nicely with the limited, smart training plan.
Ryan saw signs “Of the old Victor” as early as this past spring while he was still rehabbing with trainers. Cruz has regained his confidence, and Ryan sees that as the key to his recovering fully.
Beckham is a student of the game, something that was apparent as soon as he joined the Giants last season. “He is a football smart guy, and picks things up quickly,” explains Ryan. He added that he also steps up and makes big plays in big games, a sign of a truly great player, according to John Madden.
Beating the man press, improving the top of his routes, and finishing his plays are areas that Ryan has identified for Beckham to improve in his second season. It’s expected the Beckham will have more press coverage, and Ryan expects him to beat it with ease. “Defensive backs will have a hard time getting and keeping hands on him,” states Ryan.
Rookie Geremy Davis is serious about football, and takes great notes. A hard worker, Ryan is impressed by his high motivation level, especially for a rookie. Asked where he fits in the offense, Ryan pointed out that all receivers are expected to play every position, but conceded that Davis is best suited to play outside due to his height.
Rueben Randle has all the tools to be a capable NFL receiver, according to Ryan, but needs to be consistent on every play in practice and in games. That’s true of every NFL player, cautions Ryan, not just of Randle. A player that Ryan seeks out on game days, Randle usually sees things right on the field and can relay the information to Ryan with ease. His easy going demeanor can fool some people, and Randle is competitive. With the talent assembled at wide receiver, Randle should benefit from lack of coverage and could be in for a breakout season.
Free agent acquisition James Jones has impressed Ryan with his professional demeanor, presence in the meeting room, and the techniques he’s brought to the practice field. It’s obvious he has a wealth of NFL experience, says Ryan, and it will be of great benefit to the Giants.
Asked to identify the receivers who have impressed him the most, Ryan said Preston Parker’s work ethic and ability to make plays have continued to impress, while Corey Washington’s progress from his first season to his second has been substantial. Last season, Washington’s general knowledge of what he was seeing and processing from opposing defenses was lacking, but that’s changed in the off season. He’s worked hard, stood out in the spring, and that’s carried over into training camp.
Ryan doesn’t feel additional pressure due to the talent assembles at the position he coaches, as that pressure to excel and win is present for every NFL coach, but having players like Beckham and Cruz does make coaching more fun.
Jason Pierre-Paul Phones Home
After a much publicized declination to contact the Giants, Jason Pierre-Paul spoke with General Manager Jerry Reese yesterday. Details of the conversation have not been made public, but it’s been categorized as “Good” and is a step in the right direction. There is still no word on when Pierre-Paul might sign his franchise tender and report to the Giants. It appears that the defensive end is determined to stay away until he believes he can pass a physical and avoid the Non-Football Injury (NFI) list and collect at least a portion of this $14.8 million salary for 2015.