New York Giants Notebook | Who's at Center, Who's at Corner and More

Jackson Thompson

NFL football officially returned on Thursday, a serendipitous moment for the sports world and America.

The return of football brought forth a slew of emotions by fans, players, and everyone in between. Giants running back Saquon Barkley, as one of the game's biggest stars, is directly engaged in the public reaction to football's return, and he has been moved by how the happiness people feel to see the game return amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I see memes and stuff all the time on social media of players crying and stuff like that and realizing it’s the last Sunday or Thursday that we’re going to go for a very long time without football," Barkley said.

"Football is a special sport. It’s a special sport. It brings people together. You get to go out there and see 11 guys put it on the line every single play.

Barkley will get the opportunity to make his return to the football field on Monday at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers. While there won't be any fans at MetLife Stadium to cheer for him and his teammates in person, he will take solace knowing they are watching him and is determined to give them something special to watch.

"I think it's going to be amazing," Barkley said. "For us to be able to go out there and put on a show for everyone and all the fans, obviously, we wish that they were there in the stands with us, but hopefully soon in the near future, they are. But still able to watch on TV and we’ll go out there and show them all the hard work that we put in."

Why Devante Downs is Starting

Linebacker Devante Downs has three career tackles to his name. Yet, the Giants have reportedly penciled him in as the projected starting inside linebacker to play next to Blake Martinez for the Giants' Week 1 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Downs, a seventh-round pick by the Minnesota Vikings in 2018, is heading into his second year with the Giants with a much more significant role.

Downs hasn't seen much of the field beyond special teams so far in his career, but defensive coordinator Patrick Graham has faith that Downs has the right build and fits into the Giants' system to make an impact in 2020.

"The one thing that showed up with him that stuck up is his athletic ability, the ability to play on his feet, not be on the ground, have some good speed, some good burst," said defensive coordinator Patrick Graham.

"When we got a chance to meet him, he had the right demeanor that you're looking for in a linebacker—just building his confidence that he can do this.

"This guy has worked his tail off its camp leading into the first week of the regular season and I'm talking about everything we've asked him to improve on, eh's worked really hard at. He still has a ways to go, but there's been steady improvement in terms of reachable goals."

For Blake Martinez, next to whom Downs would like up if he does indeed start, Downs is a player that brings a sense of personal chemistry beyond just their shared time on the Giants this year.

"It’s kind of a funny story, my wife’s brother played with him in college. So I kind of got an early kind of synopsis of him just personality-wise," Martinez said.

"I knew he was a great guy. Football-wise, he has kind of shown up every single day. Whatever it is, run, pass, blitzing, communication-wise, it’s been awesome to work with him this camp."

Center-stage

Head coach Joe Judge claims the team hasn't made a final decision about who will start at center and will give it another day of competition before naming who, of Nick Gates or Spencer Pulley, will be the starter.

"We’re going to give it another day or so. It wouldn’t be much fun for you guys if you just knew the answer right away," Judge said. "We’re going to see how today’s practice goes and hopefully we have an answer by tomorrow."

Gates has been very impressive during camp, and the Giants have to feel optimistic about a young homegrown player potentially emerging as the starting center.

Meanwhile, Pulley's experience can be an asset to both him and Gates, and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett believes that the competition at center is a good thing for the offensive line as a whole.

"Nick’s done a great job, as has Spencer Pulley," Garrett said. "That competition throughout training camp has been good for us, and those guys have embraced their reps and their opportunities playing in there. We’ll get those guys ready, and everybody across the board, that’s what you’re trying to do all week long.

"Communication is a big part of it. In relation to the offensive center position, obviously, that’s a leadership position on the offensive line. Those guys have to be great communicators and do a great job identifying the front, potentially the linebacker, a MIKE ID, if you will."

Ongoing Cornerback Competition?

Second-year cornerback Corey Ballentine was listed on the team's first unofficial depth chart as the second starting cornerback opposite James Bradberry. The Giants also added Isaac Yiadom just last week via trade from the Denver Broncos.

With the Pittsburgh Steelers bringing a powerful wide receiver tandem that includes JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, and Diontae Johnson, the Giants' corners will have their work cut out for them.

Graham didn't give any definitive answer as to who will be lining up where, but assures that the cornerback situation is a competitive one in the days leading up to the game.

"We have a good competitive situation at the outside corner spot," Graham said. "Corey has been here every day working hard, showing physicality in the run game, showing the ability to play press coverage or off-coverage in the passing game, and I like where he's grown.

"[Isaac] just got here and the thing that stands out about him is he's long, he's physical, he can run, so we got a pretty competitive situation."

Graham said that the nature of the Steeler's deep arsenal of fast skill players means that there won't be one answer for how the team deploys their corners on Monday. That includes Bradberry, who is penciled in as the Giants' top corner, but that doesn't necessarily mean he will spend the whole game lined up on the best receiver.

"When you think about that, game plan wise, over the history of the defensive schemes I’ve been in, I think it’s a week to week basis what you want to do. I think it’s my job to put our guys in the right spots to be successful," Graham said.

"The good thing about our guys, we talk about it all the time, we want guys to put the team first. We’ve been lucky to have all the guys on the roster from Darnay [Holmes] to JB (James Bradberry) to [Isaac Yiadom, Corey, [Brandon Williams], all the guys here, they are selfless guys. I can’t speak for them but whatever we think is best for the team, I think they are willing to do that."

Play Calling Division of Power

Giants head coach Joe Judge claimed in his introductory press conference that he would be a CEO-style coach and delegate play-calling duties to his coordinators.

Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, who served as a head coach himself for nearly ten seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, once had to give up offensive play-calling duties himself. But on Monday night Garrett will be reprising offensive play calling for the first time since 2012.

"We had a couple of different coordinators, play-callers, since then. Scott Linehan and Kellen Moore, guys who came in and did it for us," Garrett said. "There has never been any role that I’ve had that I haven’t tried to embrace and try to grow and develop in.

"That’s really my mentality now as the offensive coordinator. Obviously, a lot of responsibility, big picture responsibility, on the offensive side of the ball. But also some hands-on coaching opportunities."

Garrett also believes that Judge's decision to defer play-calling duties to his coordinators is the right all, just as he did during his stint in Dallas.

"As a head coach, you want to be involved in all aspects of your team on all three sides of the ball, if you will," Garrett said. "Certainly, I was still involved with the offensive side of the ball even as Scott and Kellen were calling the games."

Graham is also a supporter of the play-calling dynamic that Judge has established. While Graham is grateful for the opportunity to run the Giants' defense, he still believes it's his job to carry out Judge's vision and values Judge's input and will depend on it Monday night.

"His input is priceless," Graham said. "Whether it’s specifically making a play call or not, I don’t know. His input is priceless because I want it to be reflective of what he wants. That toughness that we talk about in the area, especially when you are talking about dealing with the Pittsburgh Steelers, a tough football team.

"Being the visionary that he is, Joe has probably outlined that from the jump, knowing where we had to get to for this game.

Giants Release Montre Hartage

The Giants released defensive back Montre Hartage from the injured reserve list with an injury settlement. Hartage suffered a hamstring strain in the last week of training camp and was placed on season-ending injured reserve due to the initial roster cuts to get the team to 53 men.

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