The New York Giants have been locked in and focused this spring—their first opportunity as a team since the COVI-19 pandemic began to receive in-person coaching from head coach Joe Judge and his staff ahead of the start of training camp.
As has been the case with everything Judge has done, he’s broken down the months-long off-season into smaller focal points, with the current one revolving around getting those players who have decided to attend the OTAs working on their fundamentals.
“The goal is the same this year for everyone, to develop their skills, functionalities and schematic and conceptual understanding of what we are doing,” Judge said last month of his intentions regarding the spring practices.
Soon enough, the preparatory phase will end, and it will be time for the players to put the pads on and start striving toward the unspoken edict from team ownership of playoffs or bust.
For that to happen, the Giants need the following to fall into place.
No. 5: Saquon Barkley gets up to physical speed as quickly as possible.
Running back Saquon Barkley’s season-ending torn ACL was a huge gut punch to the Giants' offense.
But what people don’t realize is just how big of a gut punch it was. Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett and head coach Joe Judge won’t admit it but losing Barkley had a significant ripple effect on the offense and how they planned to run it.
Although the Giants running game managed just fine from a statistical perspective without Barkley, that doesn’t mean that the Giants didn’t miss Barkley’s versatility and elite talents that create matchup nightmares against defensive backs and linebackers.
The good news is that Barkley is on the road to recovery and is expected back on the field this coming season. But what no one on the Giants can answer is when that might be and when Barkley will have any remaining medical restrictions lifted from what the coaches can ask him to do in terms of a workload.
The sooner Barkley gets the green light to do everything—including taking 85% or more of the snaps every week on offense, the better.
No. 4: The free-agent investments must produce a significant return.
The Giants invested over $125 million in four big-money contracts signed by receiver Kenny Golladay, cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, tight end Kyle Rudolph and defensive lineman Leonard Williams.
Three of those four players—Golladay, Jackson, and Rudolph—are coming off injuries, making the signings something of a risk for a Giants team that during the 2020 free agency period went for productive players coming off relatively healthy seasons.
While the Giants medical staff felt comfortable enough with the team going ahead with the deals, a comfort level that’s no doubt partially due to the low first-year investment in those contracts
While some might say the Giants overpaid (isn’t that usually the case in free agency?), the Giants didn’t spend that kind of money simply because they were feeling generous.
The team has expectations—maybe not specific statistical expectations. Still, certainly, they’re looking for their big-money guys to help their respective side of the ball to become top-10 units which usually translate into wins, the ultimate goal.
No. 3. Evan Engram finally comes of age.
Last season, tight end Evan Engram took a significant step forward in one key area: availability. Unfortunately, his lack of production, as highlighted by his case of the yips, left people wondering if the Giants would be better off without him.
The Giants don’t agree that they’d be better off without Engram, and with good reason. A quality tight end can be a quarterback’s best friend, yet Engram, who has caught 64% of his pass targets from Daniel Jones over the last two seasons, but who also has recorded just four touchdown passes and 11 dropped balls, has been anything but a best friend to his quarterback on the field.
As previously noted, Rudolph is coming off an injury that required off-season surgery. And the Giants don’t appear to have anyone else on the roster at the tight end position with Engram’s skillset or talent, which is why they’re going to hold on to Engram for the time being despite his $6+ million salary cap hit.
The coaching staff can do its part in taking better advantage of Engram’s strength, specifically sending him down the field and up the seam rather than having him come back for the ball on shorter routes where the yips were most noticeable.
But Engram has to do his part by actually putting himself in the conversation for the league’s best tight ends by playing a more intuitive game and cutting down on the dropped passes.
No. 2: The offensive line makes the Giants’ brass look like geniuses.
The Giants' management has insisted that they’re fine with the offensive linemen they have on the roster, and hey, if anyone still has doubts about that, look no further than the fact that the Giants didn’t trip over themselves this past off-season to add talent to the unit.
Despite the Giants' attempts to assuage concerns, many people outside of 1925 Giants Drive have their doubts. The unit once again is going through a tweaking, specifically on the right side where their two starters at guard and tackle from last year (Kevin Zeitler and Cam Fleming) are no longer with the team.
The Giants counter that argument by pointing out that the projected starters at right guard and right tackle—Will Hernandez and Matt Peart—were with the team last year as part of a group that worked together and gained valuable on-field experience.
However, this is also a unit with a new position coach that probably has a specific teaching technique.
It will be interesting to see how much Rob Sale changed in terms of the offensive linemen's technique and how quickly the linemen can establish a comfort level.
No. 1: Daniel Jones takes that big leap forward.
This is it; there are no more excuses for quarterback Daniel Jones' performance or, as the case has been so far, lack thereof. Jones now has play-makers at his disposal.
He has as good of an offensive line (at least in the organization's view) as he's going to have, and he's entering his second year in this offensive system which means he should have a really good grasp of the concepts.
Simply put, it's time for Jones to transform from being a game manager into a game-winner. Jones has shown he can make all the throws, including the deep passing game.
He's also cut down on his turnover issue, throwing just one interception in his last six games of 2020 and losing two fumbles in that same period.
For Jones to transform from game manager to game-winner, he needs to speed up his mental processing and stop holding on to the ball longer than is needed.
Comfort in the system and trust in the offensive line and his play-makers will go a long way toward making that happen and finally putting to rest any questions about Jones's qualifications as the Giants' franchise quarterback.
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