Giants Training Camp Notes: July 31, 2015

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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.

Victor Cruz: A Giant Comeback in the Making

cruz

Victor Cruz passed another milestone in his remarkable recovery from a torn patellar tendon yesterday as he passed his training camp physical and conditioning test, avoiding the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. While not expected to be a full participant as practice commence this afternoon, Cruz will be taking part in individual drills, continuing to work with trainers, and be on the field with his teammates during training camp. It was a critical litmus test in a difficult road back for the sixth year wide receiver and bolsters hope that he will be on the field in Dallas on September 13th when the Giants take on the Cowboys on the NFL’s opening Sunday Night.

Cruz, wearing a throwback Michael Jordan 45 jersey, spoke with the press and estimates he is at 93% in his recovery. He points to the Giants training staff, and their collaboration with his personal trainers as critical steps in his recovery. Cruz is among those in the Giants organization who spoke about Jason Pierre-Paul, who has opted to keep the Giants out of his recovery from a July fourth fireworks accident that injured his right hand, and encouraged him to involve the team.

Beckham Also Passes Tests; James Jones Signs

Odell Beckham, Jr, who missed the Giants off season program with a hamstring issue, was a full participant in the conditioning tests and appears full recovered. He is expected to participate in team drills but will be limited as the team will be cautious with their top offensive weapon. Beckham caught 91 passes for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdown in 12 games in his rookie season.

The Giants are expected to sign veteran wide receiver James Jones today, pending his passing a physical. Jones, who played for the Oakland Raiders last season following seven with the Green Bay Packers, is familiar with offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo from the coach’s time in Green Bay. Seen as veteran insurance in case Cruz or Beckham are not full healthy when the regular season begins, has 383 career receptions for 4,971 yards, and 43 touchdowns. Early in his career, he was plagued with dropped passes, but he has improved on this issue his playing time increased. It’s expected that wide receiver Ben Edwards, who was placed on the PUP list yesterday, will be moved to injured reserve to make room for Jones.

Messages to Jason Pierre-Paul

Both John Mara and Tom Coughlin used their press conferences to sent messages to Pierre-Paul through the media. While both have attempted to contact the franchise tagged, but unsigned defensive end, expressed their disappointment with his decision to exclude the Giants from his treatment. Mara made it clear that the team has no idea of his condition and the he “Has no idea how many fingers he has.” He added that Pierre-Paul is getting bad advice from his agent and “That’s sad.”

Mara spoke highly of the Giants training staff, calling the the best in the league, but hedged his comments by expressing disappointment in the team leading the league in injuries for the past two seasons and said that some adjustments have been made to correct that issue. Mara added that Coughlin made some changes to the team’s procedures in the weight room. He stated at several times that Pierre-Paul would be better off consulting with the Giants training staff that not, and that the team is planning on moving forward without him at this point. Mara also made it clear that no negotiations will take place until the team can assess his condition. Asked if he has a message for Pierre-Paul, Mara said, “Come home. We miss you.”

Mara believes the Giants have the talent to contend for the playoffs and a championship despite injuries to Pierre-Paul and offensive tackle Will Beatty. He also believes that Eli Manning will sign a contract extension and finish his career as a New York Giant.

Coughlin was pleased with the reporting players weights and conditioning, and reported that everyone except Pierre-Paul came to camp on time. He added that the conditioning drills had “More teeth” than in previous years. Regarding Pierre-Paul, Coughlin stated that he texted him, but had not spoken with him, and had not received a response to his text. Pierre-Paul is welcome to come back to the Giants, and Coughlin remains “Concerned about him as a young man.”

Limitations on Cruz and Beckham were confirmed by Coughlin, who said he hoped that the team “Remains intact” during training camp practices. He wants to see the players buy into the team concept and move forward on a daily basis. All players will be monitored under the systems put in place last season as the team attempts to decrease injuries. Coughlin declined to comment on Walter Thurmond’s statement that he is not up to date on “Sports Science.”

Asked about free agent offensive tackle Jake Long, Coughlin said “He is a player coming off a serious injury. He’s making progress and that’s where it stands.” He added that the team will check out any player that might help the team.

The Giants will take the field for practice at 2:30 today. It’s open to the public at the Quest Diagnostic Training Center in East Rutherford, NJ. Check back here at Giants360 for updates.

 

New York Giants: Six Burning Questions as Training Camp Opens

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Training Camp Opens Tomorrow

The annual football drought that is the NFL off season ends tomorrow for New York Giants fans as veterans and rookie alike report to the Quest Diagnostic Training Center for the 2015 training camp. It brings more questions than answers as injuries, attrition, and a John Mara ultimatum hang over the camp like the dense New Jersey summer humidity. As July turns to August, Tom Coughlin and crew will start to get answers, but Giants Nation may not like what’s revealed.

New York Giants changing of the guard. A Pat Lamb Cartoon

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Lamb 10

See more of comedian/cartoonist Pat Lamb’s work on his web site www.patlamb.com

And connect with Pat on Twitter: @lambchops1

Changing Ballplayer Logic: A Pat Lamb Cartoon

Pat Lamb 08See more of comedian/cartoonist Pat Lamb’s work on his web site www.patlamb.com

And connect with Pat on Twitter: @lambchops1

Giants Linebackers: The Great Unsolved Mystery of 2015

Giants Linebackers

Lawrence Taylor, Carl Banks, Harry Carson, Brad Van Pelt, Sam Huff, Pepper Johnson, Jessie Armstead, and Gary Reasons are just a few of the names that roll off the tongue when discussing the rich history that is New York Giants Linebackers. The position group for 2015 will not have anyone approaching those hallowed names, but rather is the biggest mystery on the current roster. As with tight end in 2014, media and fans alike have started to panic when looking at this position, and one can rest assured that players will emerge. To find the athletes that will see playing time starting on September 13th in Dallas, Tom Coughlin and Steve Spagnuolo will have to solve several mysteries, as discussed below:

Giants Linebackers Mystery 1: Jon Beason’s Health

When Jon Beason was traded to the Giants from the Carolina Panthers in October 2013, his leadership and tackling prowess immediately stabilized a shaky defense. Expected to lead a continued resurgence last season, a toe injury limited Beason to just four games, and saw the Giants defense finish in the bottom half of the NFL rankings. Such has been the NFL life for Beason, who has not enjoyed a full 16 game season since 2010, having suffered Achilles and knee injuries in addition to the freak toe injury, suffered when he stepped on an in ground sprinkler during practice. The middle linebacker making adjustments is a key component to Spagnuolo’s defense, and an area where Beason will excel, if he’s on the field.

But should the Giants count on him? Jameel McClain saw the most playing time last season in Beason’s absence, and Devon Kennard has also played middle linebacker during his collegiate career at USC. Expect Spagnuolo to give both players some snaps in the middle during training camp as he tries out different linebacker configurations to see which one best suits his scheme.

Giants Linebackers Mystery 2: Devon Kennard’s Continued Ascent

Selected in the fifth round of the 2014 draft, Kennard was a pleasant surprise when he began making plays all over the field during training camp practices last August. He continued to show impact play making ability in the preseason games, but suffered a hamstring injury in the season opener in Detroit that kept him out of action for most of the first half of the season. When he was healthy and on the field, Kennard proved to be a play maker in the Giants linebacker tradition and if he remains healthy, should be a key component in Spagnuolo’s defense. NFL players make their biggest leaps forward from their first season to their second, so expect to see even better play from Kennard in 2015. Of all the players on the current roster, he has the best chance of joining those listed in the opening paragraph.

Giants Linebackers Mystery 3: The WILL

While Beason appears locked into the Middle, or MIKE linebacker spot, and Kennard the Strong side, or SAM, the identity of the Weak side linebacker, or Will, remains open to competition. While the SAM linebacker set up off the side of the offense where the tight end lines up, the WILL does not have that responsibility and is free to blitz more frequently and is primarily tasked with stopping the run. The SAM has to read the tight end and has more pass coverage responsibilities.

The Giants signed two linebackers on the opening day of free agency, J.T. Thomas from the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Jonathan Casillas from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Initially thought to be special teams players and depth signings, it was made clear that both men are competing for starting jobs on the base defense.  Thomas appears to have the inside track on the WILL spot on the Giants defense and in reviewing his ratings on Pro Football Focus, his best games have come when he’s played that position. In his free agency press conference, Coughlin maintained that Thomas was signed because he was a good fit for Spagnuolo’s scheme, and further research supports that assertion.

Casillas is a journeyman who has spent time with the Buccaneers, New England Patriots, and New Orleans Saints in his five NFL seasons. With experience playing all three linebacker positions, he has the versatility the Giants coaching staff covets, and is also a good special teams player. While Coughlin also said he will compete for a starting position, Casillas best role appears to be that of versatile backup and core special teamer.

Mark Herzlich was quietly shifted from middle linebacker to outside linebacker during the 2014 season. He is a lights our run defender who cannot cover backs or tight ends with any measure of certainty. There was multiple plays last season where Giants360 provided video clips of Herzlich appearing out of position or turned the wrong way in pass coverage, but he also made highlight reel run stuffing tackles in the backfield. This Jekyll and Hyde play making ability would seem to make Herzlich best suited to a run package role if he shows his historical special teams excellence, which was diminished as his base defense responsibilities increased.

McClain is also a consideration for the WILL position, which brings is to…

Giants Linebackers Mystery 4: Jameel McClain’s Role

McClain was brought in as a free agent from the Baltimore Ravens last season and was slotted to play strong side linebacker until Beason’s injury forced him to move to middle linebacker. He was a 3-4 scheme inside linebacker with the Ravens, and appeared to have difficulty adjusting to the Giants 4-3 defense. Another versatile linebacker, McClain played all positions for the Ravens and might be best suited as the fourth man up in the Giants scheme.

While his best position is the SAM spot, that is occupied by up and coming star Kennard, who at 24 is five years younger than McClain and on the upside of his career. McClain has played will on special teams when called upon and may need to do so more regularly in 2015 as he will not be a starter unless there is an injury on the defense. There is a chance he could beat out Thomas for the starting WILL position, but Thomas appears to have the advantage in scheme fit and played well in Organized Team Activities and Mini Camp.

Giants Linebackers Mystery 5: The Backups

The Giants will keep 6 or 7 linebackers on their final 53, and five of the spots are guaranteed to go to Beason, Kennard, Thomas, McClain, and Casillas, assuming all remain healthy. The finals spots will be a competition between Herzlich, veteran Victor Butler, and rookies/first year players Devin Unga, Cole Farrand, and Tony Johnson. Special teams play will determine the final few roster spots, and versatility on defense will provide an additional edge. Non-linebackers who can shift into those roles in packages include Owa Odighizuwa, Landon Collins, and Nat Berhe, with the latter two players able to play in the box in nickel packages. Odighizuwa played some linebacker at UCLA, however, the coaching staff may not want to overwhelm him with too many responsibilities as a rookie.

As the Giants lead defensive detective, Spagnuolo, continues to gather evidence when training camp opens on July 30th, he will unravel these mysteries and solve the Giants Linebackers enigma for the 2015 season. The talent may appear thin, but with some luck, and better health than least season, these men will play a vital role in a Giants defensive resurgence.

Victor Cruz: An Heavenly View on his Recovery

Victor Cruz

Victor Cruz

See more of comedian/cartoonist Pat Lamb’s work on his web site www.patlamb.com

And connect with Pat on Twitter: @lambchops1

Giants Tight End Battle Should be Highlight of Camp

Giants Tight End

Last summer, questions surrounded the Giants tight end position as no clear starter was on the roster when training camp opened in July. As the season progressed, Larry Donnell emerged as a receiving threat, but his development as a blocker did not meet the coaching staff’s expectations, and his playing time diminished as the season wore on. This year, Donnell enters camp as the presumed started, backed up by returning players Daniel Fells and Adrien Robinson. The Giants also brought a trio of high talented young players into the mix, and half of these men will make up what will be a much improved position in 2015.

Donnell impressed the coaching staff with his preseason performance and found himself the surprise starter early in the season, first splitting snaps with Fells, and then the primary tight end. His high water mark came in a week 4 Thursday night game against the Washington Redskins when he caught three touchdown passes, half of his full season production, as Donnell started 12 games, and caught 63 passes in 92 targets for 623 yards and 6 touchdowns. He vowed to improve his blocking during the off season, but his progress is an unknown as Achilles Tendinitis kept him out of the Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and mini camp. At 6’6″ and 265 pounds, Donnell is the biggest of the tight ends on the roster.

Fells missed the entire 2013 season by not catching on with a team after spending the 2012 season with the New England Patriots. The 31 year old, eight season NFL journeyman also spent time with the Denver Broncos and St. Louis Rams. Fells, 6’4″, 260 pounds, started 9 games in 2014, and caught 16 of 20 passes for 188 yards and 4 touchdowns. He was the best blocker among the Giants tight ends, and the most well rounded. Tom Coughlin commented that he provided veteran guidance in the meeting room, a role desperately needed with experience lacking among Donnell and Robinson.

Jerry Reese did Adrien Robinson a grave disservice when he referred to him as the “Jason Pierre-Paul of tight ends” after he was drafted in the fourth round out of Cincinnati in 2012. What Reese meant is that Robinson possessed raw tools, and 6’4″, 264 pound size, that needed to be developed, much like the Giants defensive end, but media and fans interpreted it to mean he would soon reach the heights that Pierre-Paul saw in 2011, and the often injured Robinson could not live up to the hype. After losing both the 2012 and 2013 seasons to a variety of injuries, Robinson saw the field in limited action last season, started one game, and caught 5 of 7 passes for 50 yards and a touchdown. They are the only NFL statistics on his resume. His talent is evident to the coaching staff, who have opted to keep him on the roster, but 25 year old is running out of time to make his NFL mark.

Jerome Cunningham was a camp body signed last August out of Southern Connecticut State University. His collegiate statistics were limited, 61 receptions, 690 yards, and 7 touchdowns, but his work ethic was top notch and his game well rounded. A raw Division II athlete, Cunningham impressed the Giants coaches in camp and made the practice squad. He continued to work hard, and was promoted to the active roster on December 17th. Although inactive for the final two games of the season, the promotion motivated Cunningham, who came into the off season program determined to continue his rapid progression. With Donnell out injured, Cunningham took some snaps with the first team and was one of the most improved, and impressive players in both OTAs and mini camp, catching everything thrown his way and showing blocking prowess. At 6’4″, 240 pounds, the 24 year old Cunningham is a strong contender to unseat Robinson for the third tight end spot in 2015.

Illinois values the run and blocking from the tight end position more than many modern day college programs, and Matt LaCosse spent a lot of time developing his blocking skills in his four season with the Illini. But it was his receiving ability that caught Tom Coughlin’s eye at the Giants post draft rookie mini camp and earned LaCosse a spot on the Giants 90 man roster. He also impressed with his ability to catch the ball in traffic during OTA and mini camp practices, and is the best blocker in the group, potentially earning LaCosse an edge in the third tight end competition. At 6’5″, and 261 pounds, the 22 year old undrafted free agent runs the 40 in 4.71 seconds. While not field stretching speed, LaCosse does have the ability to run effectively down the seam, which is all that is expected from a predominantly blocking tight end.

The fastest of the tight ends on the roster is Will Tye, a former Stony Brook team captain, who runs the 40 in 4.5 seconds. At 6’2″, 262 pounds, Tye is the smallest in stature, but comes with the best collegiate receiving statistics among the younger players, with 79 receptions, 1,015 yards, and 9 touchdowns for the Seawolves. His college coaches caution that those stats would be even more impressive if opponents has not keyed on Tye after early career success. Tye’s blocking ability needs to be further developed, something that will likely come on the Giants practice squad in 2015.

Watching these athletes compete in training camp and in the preseason games will be one of the joys of the summer as the battle for the three Giants tight end roster spots will likely remain open until the fourth and final preseason game. Barring an injury, Donnell will open the season as the starter, LaCosse will unseat Fells as the blocking tight end, and Cunningham will edge out Robinson as the third tight end on the roster. That’s the official Giants360 prediction, feel free to share your thoughts below.

 

Nat Berhe: A Giants Opportunity Lost?

Giants, Nat Berhe

Nat Berhe entered the Giants off season program penciled in as one of the starting safeties next to rookie Landon Collins. When the dust settled after mini camp ended, Berhe missed the Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and mini camp practices with a calf injury, surrendering his edge to third year player Cooper Taylor.

The 6’0″, 194 pound Berhe was a frequent contributor on special teams in as a rookie 2014 after being selected in the fifth round out of San Diego State. He played just 32 snaps on defense, despite the Giants glaring need at safety, but the coaching staff had been raving about his progress since December. The only thing that appeared to be holding him back is his similar playing style to this year’s second round draft pick, Collins, but as both safeties play similar roles in defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s defense, Berhe was candidate for the second safety spot. Then he hurt his calf, and the competition opened up again.

Taylor, also a fifth round pick from Richmond, in 2013, missed all of the 2014 season with a foot injury. at 6’4″ and 228 pound, he is the biggest of the safeties on the team, but has struggled to stay healthy during his short NFL career. He missed 6 games in 2013 with shoulder and hamstring injuries, the latter ending his season with a stint on injured reserve. When healthy, Taylor has shown flashes, and his strong play continues this spring as he teamed up with Collins to form an inexperienced but promising safety duo.

Selecting safeties in the fifth round seems to be a pattern for Jerry Reese, as Mykkele Thompson from Texas was the third straight such pick, in the 2015 draft. A surprise to the Giants faithful and television pundits alike, Thompson, 6’0″, 193 pounds, has impressed in early returns. A coach at Texas noticed that Thompson was not wearing his glasses on the field and inquired, turning his career around. Once his vision improved, his confidence and play improved, resulting in his surprise draft position. Thompson now breaks on the ball better and is in better position to make plays, both of which improved immediately upon his vision correction. He and Collins could form the Giants starting safety tandem for the next half decade.

Justin Currie, an undrafted free agent from Western Michigan, is a hard hitting 6’2″, 210 pound safety who started 37 games in his Broncos college career. While intercepting just five passes, Currie made plays from sideline to sideline, and often took over games, dominating from his third level position. At mini camp, Currie was given snaps with the starters and could be a dark horse for a roster spot in September.

Josh Gordy is a 5’11”, 195 pound journeyman who most recently played for the Indianapolis Colts. He’s also spend time with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Green Bay Packers, and St. Louis Rams. Playing both cornerback and safety, Gordy would seem best suited for a backup role with the Giants in 2015.

Bennett Jackson was drafted in the 6th round in the 2014 draft as a cornerback out of Notre Dame. He spent the 2014 season on the Giants practice squad until a knee injury ended his season. Converted to safety this year, Jackson is learning the nuances of the position and could wind up back on the practice squad this year.

The only certainly at safety for the Giants is that one of the starters will be Landon Collins. Training camp will feature an open competition for the second starter with Cooper Taylor opening as the leader. Nat Berhe, if healthy will have the first opportunity to unseat him, with Mykkele Thompson and Justin Currie needing to impress the coaches in both practice and preseason games in order to earn more regular season playing time.

Gians360 sees Taylor holding on the the second safety position as long as he remains healthy. The backup positions will go to Berhe and Thompson with Currie landing a spot on the practice squad. Seen as a position of weakness before the draft, Reese solidified it with two quality picks. These young players will grow together, mesh with Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and form a strong New York Giants secondary.

NY Giants Cheerleaders: Are They Closer Than You Think?

NY Giants Cheerleaders

When Ana De Villegas moved to New York to pursue a career as a dancer, she left behind a career in law and position as a Washington Redskins Cheerleader. Knowing that the career of a dancer can be limited, De Villegas drew on her love of football, professional experience, and a void on the sidelines of her favorite team, the New York Giants, to form the professional dance company, Gotham City Cheerleaders in 2011.

De Villegas is the founder of Gotham City Cheerleaders

De Villegas is the founder of Gotham City Cheerleaders

They dance in their tailgate area in the parking lot before game, interacting with fans, and raising the spirits of those who are preparing to watch the Giants play inside MetLife Stadium. There have been some discussions with the Giants front office about bringing GCC inside, but they have been minimal, and to date, only via telephone. De Villegas hopes that a halftime show would serve as an audition leading to a permanent gig on the sidelines during games.

More than just dancers, these women are knowledgeable football fans, who would prefer to be watching the game than working it, but, as De Villegas explains, “We do it for the fans De Villegas is the founder of Gotham City Cheerleaders, performing during the time outs and halftime. We want to be something the fans and the community can be proud of.”

The 22 woman troupe includes the reigning Miss New Jersey, two mothers, a scientist, college students, and accomplished professionals in a wide variety of occupations. They represent the GCC and by association, the Giants, in the community. De Villegas speaks with pride of the diverse backgrounds of the women in Gotham City Cheerleaders, and points out the growing role women have as fans of professional football.

“Just look where the NFL has gone with women; half of the fans are female, but the Giants have no representation of women in their sport. New York is also the entertainment capital of the world, and yet, we have an empty field where instead, local talent could have employment and we could create one of the best shows in the NFL! Other Cheerleaders are among GCC’s biggest fans, and support growing our industry in this market. Women, old and young, within our community and women have also reacted well to us,” says De Villegas.

Reactions have been positive from the start. Giants360 asked De Villegas to tell us her favorite parking lot memory from among GCC’s appearances at MetLife stadium, “It would have to be our first. Everything was new and we didn’t know what to expect,” begins De Villegas, “Many of the fans immediate reaction was ‘WHOA! Did we finally get cheerleaders?’ and they were pleasantly surprised how friendly and knowledgeable the girls were about the Giants.”

One group in particular, was quite skeptical. It was a veteran group of fans, older gentleman enjoying their beer before the game and not sure what to make of the cheerleaders who appeared in the tailgate section next to theirs. “They tested us,” says De Villegas with a laugh, ”On one side you have these older men holding their beers and on the other, cheerleaders with pom-poms, and a Giants trivia contest broke out.” GCC won them over with the knowledge of the team.

GCC's "You Down with JPP" Video went viral

GCC’s “You Down with JPP” Video went viral

You may already be familiar with GCC’s work and not realize it. Their “You Down with JPP” video tribute filmed with actor and comedian, Josh Hyman, went viral earlier this yearin 2011 before the Giants brought home the Super Bowl trophy. It trended on Twitter, had hundreds of thousands of hits on YouTube, and generated appearances for the squad on morning shows. The song was performed by Naughty-by-Nature at the Super Bowl Champions ceremony at MetLife Stadium.

Among the professional cheerleading experience on among the current and former Gotham City Cheerleaders, include De Villegas Redskins, and are former Eagles, Jets, current Cowboys, and Patriots dancers. It begged the question if all the team members are Giants fans. De Villegas said that if they didn’t join the team as Giants fans, they were quickly she converted them, and if they are not, she doesn’t know about it. On GCC, it’s Big Blue all the way.

As with any professional cheerleading team in the offseason, all the members have to re-audition for their spot on the team for 2015. The first audition was held in April and the second earlier this month. New team members have been in boot camp for about two weeks, and De Villegas reports that they are coming together nicely, and she is eager to introduce them to fans in July.

De Villegas knows that Giants fan hold much power and influence over the team and their decisions. The positive response to GCC has fueled their growth from a squad of 6 to their current 22 and see recognition for their charitable efforts. Performing squadat various events side by side with Giants players, performing overseas, on HBO and SNL, and even on the field for the Bruno Mars halftime show at Super Bowl XLVIII, the GCC has begun to see the fruits of their hard work. But they are still just the “Unofficial” cheerleaders of the New York Giants.

You can support their cause by buying a team calendar, which is released annually the weekend before the NFL season kicks off. You can get more information by following the links below.

As for getting them on the Giants sidelines, followers of the Giants360 Twitter account are aware that, although we appreciate their talent, we are not a fan of the G-Line drum corps. This drum line (or drum circle as we’ve referred to them) bring a collegiate atmosphere to a professional game. With experienced and talented cheerleaders just outside in the parking lot, John Mara and Bob Tisch need to make a swap. Drum circle outside, Gotham City Cheerleaders on the sidelines and then all will then be right with the New York Giants universe.

Connect with Gotham City Cheerleaders on social media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/gothamcitycheerleaders

Twitter: https://twitter.com/GCCNYCCoach

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYnn3ll5cnhPLkaYiUazDBw

And visit their Website for more information

You can also connect with Giants360 on Facebook and Twitter.

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