On another warm New Jersey day featuring low humidity, offensive linemen are dropping like flies at the New York Giants training camp. Left tackle Ereck Flowers (hip flexor), center Weston Richburg (knee tendonitis), and right guard Geoff Schwartz (ankle) were all missing from today’s practice. If you add in original left tackle Will Beatty (torn pectoral muscle), that’s 80% of the Giants presumed starting offensive line on the sideline in today’s fully padded practice. It’s the team’s second consecutive full contact day.
The “Starting” line for today’s practice, from left to right, was: Justin Pugh, Adam Gettis, Dallas Reynolds, John Jerry, and Marshall Newhouse. Disaster would not begin to describe the situation if this were the opening night line in Dallas on September 13th. Fortunately, none of the injuries, save Beatty’s, sound serious, and the player’s absences can be attributed to training camp conservatism. As we learned in 2013, offensive line issues can stymie and offense.
Joining the linemen on the sideline were safety Nat Berhe (calf), cornerback Prince Amukamara (groin), and linebacker Jameel McClain (stinger). While this sounds like an abundance of injuries, the Giants have avoided any of the season ending variety thus far, which is better than a lot of teams and puts them ahead of last season’s league leading 22 season ending injuries pace by a wide margin.
Victor Cruz dropped a pass in an early individual drill and went right back for another rep where he caught it, drawing cheers from the crowd. Later, in the team portion of practice, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie challenged Cruz on a play and the wide receiver was able to use his quickness to beat him. Making moves like that at this point in camp is a very encouraging sign from the still rehabbing Cruz.
Odell Beckham beat Rodgers-Cromartie on a play shortly thereafter, but the cornerback got his revenge, registering the first training camp interception of Eli Manning on a pass intended for Cruz. Considering that this is the sixth camp practice, it’s encouraging that Manning is protecting the ball so well. Scrambling right on the play, Manning appears to still struggle with his accuracy when on the move.
Bennett Jackson made his fourth straight “Start” at safety in today’s practice. The converted cornerback would appear to have captured the coaching staff’s eye and is making the most of his opportunities. Jackson registered a “Pick-6” on a pass from third string quarterback Ricky Stanzi as he logged some extra work with the reserves.
Owa Odighizuwa racked up a virtual sack, showing speed off the edge by beating backup (backup, backup) tackle Emmett Cleary and getting to Ryan Nassib before the ball was away. Michael Bamiro, the resident pugilist, was pushed into the backfield by Mark Herzlich, who then made a stop on a running play.
Damontre Moore beat Newhouse with pure speed consistently throughout practice, which is particularly concerning given that Newhouse is currently slated to be the opening day starter at right tackle.
Shane Vereen and Andre Williams alternated as the starting running backs with Rashad Jennings logging his reps with the second team. Vereen was sprung on a long run behind strong blocking by Henry Hynoski and Pugh
The minor injuries continue to mount as wide receiver Preston Parker is having his hamstring wrapped and tight end Adrien Robinson is flexing his left shoulder repeatedly. There is some good injury news, however, as tight end Larry Donnell appears to be moving well and recovering the the Achilles issue that has slowed him during the spring and early part of camp.
Practice ended with a field goal kicking competition between the offense and defense. The offense won this round, compelling the defense to do pushup before heading inside.
Tom Coughlin’s post practice press conference was an extended injury report given the rash of them that the team has suffered of late. Schwartz has a situation that will “Have to be managed,” said Coughlin, and he hopes that he will be able to practice hard a couple of days per week.
Jameel McClain will be out for a while, given the nature of his injury and his history. McClain has spinal stenosis, the same condition that forced David Wilson to retire before last season. Berhe has a torn muscle in his calf and Coughlin could not provide a time frame for his return.
Coughlin could not provide a time frame for Flowers or Richburg returning. He said, “When I hear day to day, I don’t know what to expect. They seem to be doing ok.” Coughlin noted that Flowers was running on the sideline and thinks he could be back soon. He also praised Dallas Reynolds for his work in Richburg’s absence.
Amukamara has a groin injury, and Coughlin said his return time frame is complicated by the position he plays. The good news among these reports was about Donnell, who Coughlin said is gaining mobility every day. He also noted that the tight end has been making some nice block, an area where he struggled last season.
Finally, Coughlin spoke about Eli Manning’s best football being ahead of him despite him being 34 years old. He bases this assessment on Manning’s off season, strength, the success he has in the spring, and his knowledge of the offense. The coach expects that 2015 will be Manning’s finest season.
Eli Manning: Feeling Good
Manning did not know what to expect from Cruz when camp opened, but is pleased with the receiver’s progress and says he looks great running routes and coming in and out of his breaks. Everything is not smooth, as Cruz is still learning Ben McAdoo’s offense, but Manning says their timing and communication is improving and he sees no issues with Cruz getting back into the flow of things.
Next week’s joint practices with the Cincinnati Bengals will be a great break in the monotonous training camp routing, and Manning is looking forward to it. Different from a game, because there will be minimal film study and no game plan, Manning knows that the Bengals have a strong pass defense and looks forward to facing it. “We will have to adjust based on what we see and what they do,” explains Manning. He is anticipating the new routing, the travel day, and even the bus rides. The pace of practice will also be picked up with different players on the other side of the field.
Manning is not concerned about his missing offensive linemen, saying the backups have done a good job with their assignments and picked up the blitz well. He’s focusing on making good reads and good decisions on a play by play basis and trust his linemen to handle the protections.
The return of Mike Sullivan as quarterback’s coach is just fine by Manning, who worked with him a lot when he was wide receiver’s coach, and developed a great respect for him during Sullivan’s first stint with the team. He did point out that the spring was a bit different when Manning has a better grasp of the new offense than Sullivan, but that the coach has caught up. Manning did reveal that there are times when both need assistance from McAdoo in understanding some nuances of the system.
Manning feels better now than he did at the same point last season, and credits a new nutrition and workout regime. He’s also focused on preserving his arm strength so it’s as strong in December [and January] as it is now. “It’s important not to get stuck in your ways,” says Manning, adding that Coughlin preaches that frequently. As he ages, Manning has been listening to his body and adjusting accordingly.
Johnathan Hankins: A New Leader Emerges
Listening to defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins speak, it’s easy to be reminded of George Martin, a stalwart of the great Giants defenses of the 1980’s. Talented, but humble, Hankins doesn’t take his position on the team for granted despite having a breakout season in 2014, where he recorded an impressive seven sacks from his defensive tackle position.
“Last season, I had to prove myself, and I think I had a pretty good year,” explains Hankins, “But this year, I still have to prove myself.” While Hankins is earning his spot on the roster, he’s also helping the new faces on the Giants defense assimilate. He’s sees camp as harder this season as the team is learning the Steve Spagnuolo defense and everyone is working together to get on the same page.
With the coaching staff trying multiple combinations to find the one that works the best, Hankins just wants to make the most of his opportunities and prove that he belongs on the field for three downs. Spagnuolo often moves defensive ends inside in passing situations, making Hankins compete with defensive ends, as well as tackles for playing time. He’d like Spagnuolo to know he’s up to the challenge of rushing the passer and allowing the ends to get additional rest in passing situations.
Asked about his 2014 season, Hankins said he thinks he did “Pretty good and held his own,” but when you look at the Giants defense’s ranking and statistics, it tells a different story. Measuring performance in the NFL is more than looking at one guy, explains Hankins, who wants to see the defensive line step up and stop the run more consistently this season.
Asked about Jason Pierre-Paul, Hankins says he will be missed as his mere presence on the field causes offenses to adjust. He texts frequently with his absent teammate because “He’s our
brother,” and Hankins wants to keep him informed about what’s going on with the Giants. It’s another way Hankins is stepping up as a team leader.
Pressed about his Pierre-Paul is faring, Hankins said he is doing well, rehabbing his hand, and he’ll be back when the time is right. As with seemingly all Giants players, coaches and staff, the message is the same, wishing the best for Pierre-Paul, hoping he’s back with the team soon, and reserving further comment.
Nat Berhe: A Frustrated Man
Berhe thought he was fully recovered from his spring calf injury and then when going through some drills realized something was still off. After consulting with trainers, he’s been out of practice for several days and has no idea when he will be able to return.
“You get frustrated,” says Berhe, about missing practice time, “Especially with this great opportunity that we have.” Berhe is referring to the open competition for starting roles at his safety position. By missing practice time, he falls further and further behind in his quest to secure on of the starting spots.
He know if he pushed too hard, he’ll have a setback, and Berhe said that his type of injury is not like a broken bone that has a set healing time. He plans on taking this day by day and seeing what happens. Meanwhile his frustration remains.
To keep his mind occupied and active, Berhe get a printout of the defense’s play sheet and follow along from the sidelines, offering teammates his observations and helping them if he sees something that they may have missed. The coaches are also asking Berhe to talk to teammates at times, keeping him mentally engaged while his calf heals.
Berhe has an MRI taken today, but is still awaiting the results.