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Seven Things to Watch in New York Giants' Preseason Opener vs. Patriots

The Giants face the New England Patriots in their preseason opener Thursday night. Here is our list of seven things that will be high atop the "must watch" list.

The New York Giants begin a new era Thursday night when they travel to Foxborough to take on the New England Patriots in Week 1 of the preseason. Head coach Brian Daboll said he anticipates everyone that is healthy enough to play in the game.

With new offensive and defensive systems in place, this will be a great opportunity for players on both sides of the ball to play against a team other than themselves and to show the coaching staff via live competition how far along they have come.

There will be much to take in when the Giants hit the field, but here is our list of the top five things we want to see from the Giants in their first preseason game.

The Offensive Line Play

The Giants offensive line has been in shambles for years. This offseason, general manager Joe Schoen prioritized adding pieces that will help this offense function properly. Those additions include veterans Jon Feliciano at center and Mark Glowinski at guard, who were signed in free agency; and right tackle Evan Neal, the second of the team's two first-round draft picks this year.

They will join holdovers Andrew Thomas at left tackle and Shane Lemieux at left guard. Thomas's stock has been on the rise despite his struggles with an ankle issue that required off-season surgery, while Lemieux is 200 percent recovered from a season-ending knee injury from last year.

On paper, the Giants have a solid offensive line, but then again, the same was thought the last few years. And there is still a matter of the Giants figuring out their depth along this unit. This process has been made more complex thanks to the injuries that have popped up of late to now-former tackle Matt Gono (neck) and, more recently, rookie draft picks Marcus McKethan (ACL) and Joshua Ezeudu (unknown).

If this offense is to improve, it goes without saying that the offensive line better prove to be steamrollers in the run-blocking game and brick walls in pass protection, regardless of the personnel combination on the field.

The Pass Rush

The Giants have some solid depth at the edge rusher position for the first time in a while. All eyes figure to be on first-round pick Kayvon Thibodeaux, who has been simply dynamic in camp so far. But behind him are Elerson Smith, Oshane Ximines, Jihad Ward, and Quincy Roche, who have been holding down the rusher spot while Azeez Ojulari sits on the NFI list with a hamstring strain.

While it's unclear how much defensive coordinator Wink Martindale plans to blitz in the preseason, the Giants need to start getting to the quarterback more. Per ESPN, the Giants were 30th in the league last year with a 34 percent pass-rush win rate and ended the year with 34 sacks.

Thursday night will be a good chance for Thibodeaux and company--including defensive linemen Lenard Williams and Dexter Lawerence, who can push the pocket as well--to start imposing their will on opposing quarterbacks.

Daniel Jones

Daniel Jones is arguably the most polarizing name on the Giants roster. Some believe he can flourish under head coach Brian Daboll. Others think he's simply the placeholder in the offense until the team can dip into next year's quarterback-rich class for the franchise quarterback Daboll and general manager Joe Schoen want.

Jones, who has had an up and down training camp so far, can end any talk about his Giants demise by stringing together solid outings filled with solid decisions.

Whether it's a check-down or a deep pass, Jones needs to get the ball out of his hands quickly and get it to the right spot.

And in an offense where the receivers have options to adjust based on what the defense is showing, being on the same page is imperative for a quarterback whose post-snap processing hasn't been a strength so far.

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The Defensive Secondary

After parting with safeties Logan Ryan and Jabrill Peppers and cornerback James Bradberry, the Giants defensive secondary's depth took a bit of a hit.

The good news is that the starters--corners Aaron Robinson and Adoree' Jackson; safeties Xavier McKinney and Julian Love; and slot cornerback Darnay Holmes have all had strong camps.

The problem lies behind these players. Once the starting secondary comes off the field for the final time on Thursday night, who will replace them? Andrew Adams is back with the Giants after being cut in 2018 and is currently the oldest player in the defensive backs room.

Rookie third-round cornerback Cor’Dale Flott is currently listed as the backup nickel corner but could see time on the outside on Thursday, depending on if Martindale wants to go that route.

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Plus, New York adds reinforcements at defensive back and receiver to their practice squad.

Undrafted free agent Yusuf Corker is having a great camp so far and has been calling defensive plays with the second and third team in practice. Dane Belton, the rookie fourth-round pick, broke his collarbone and won’t play Thursday, but he has been seen in some three-safety sets with McKinney and Love and would be nice depth.

Other than that, the Giants currently have Khalil Dorsey, Zyon Gilbert, Michael Jacquet III, Trenton Thompson, Darren Evans, Gavin Heslop, and Nate Meadors as depth pieces. If any of them want to push for a roster spot, they will have to stand out on special teams and must ensure the defense doesn’t fall apart when they are in coverage.

"I love our first group of secondary players, and now we’ve just got to keep building on depth of that secondary," defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said this week.

"I love how they compete; I love how they practice, and I’m excited to see them play against another team. It’s going to be fun to watch. That’ll be a process, and I’ll keep you all up to date on that. I love how they compete."

The Inside Linebacker Competition

Blake Martinez is back after tearing his ACL in Week 3 last season. Tae Crowder, who had to step in for the injured Martinez, is currently the incumbent.

But this position is far from being settled, according to Martindale.

"It’s an open competition," he said. "Someone needs to go up and grab that spot. I’ve been happy with what Tae has done because he’s had the most reps. He knows what he needs to work on, but he’s standing out as far as running the football.

The rookies are rookies. It’s one of the toughest positions to play coming in. As a rookie, especially the MIKE-backer, where we are putting (Darrian Beavers) DB at right now whenever Blake’s reps run out. They’ve accepted the challenge and accepted me. That’s a position I’ve coached in this league forever, so I’m the toughest one."

Saquon Barkley

It's been a long three years for Barkley, who dazzled as a rookie in 2018 but then went on a three-year odyssey in which injuries began to rob him of his special skillset that helped make him the second overall pick in the draft.

These days, Barkley not only looks healthy and spry now that he's two years removed from a torn ACL, but the new offensive system also seems to be a much better fit for him because it helps get him into space where he has a better chance of winning his one-on-one matchups.

Barkley, who is playing for his next contract, is having fun so far, something that maybe he couldn't say was the case as he was going through his comebacks from injuries.

"I get to come in and play for the New York Giants and play the game that I loved as a little kid. Sometimes you can lose sight of that with the ups and downs, with the injuries or whatever is being said about you," he said.

"At the end of the day, if you keep the main thing the main thing, you can go out there and perform at a high level and be who you are and let your true talents show. ... We’re just trying to build every single day."

Edge Kayvon Thibodeaux

Since training camp began, rookie edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux has kept his head down and has worked hard at his craft to become a better player.

So far, so good, as the first-round pick has arguably been one of the defensive stars in camp.

"I think he’s come in and went to work," said Martindale. "That’s what impresses me the most. He’s just gone to work, and it’s all about football, and he is very smart, football-wise.

"I’m just excited to see where his growth takes him. He’s got to keep working on his techniques and fundamentals. You see (Outside Linebackers Coach) Drew (Wilkins) over there working with those guys daily, and he’s not afraid to repeat a drill once, twice, sometimes four times. He knows he wants to get better and where he wants to be. I’ve been pleased with him."

Thibodeaux has been a constant presence in the offensive backfield, where he's made life uncomfortable for the quarterback.

Thibodeaux, at least early on, looks like he's going to be a major headache for opposing offensive coordinators to deal with if he can keep building on his solid start. 

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