Top Questions Ahead of Giants Training Camp

Patricia Traina

Training camp 2020: It’s on!

Not that there was much doubt, even with there at one point being a report that the owners were contemplating shutting things down if the league and the NFLPA couldn’t reach an agreement regarding some remaining procedurals and the financials. 

Although it might have been touch and go there for a bit at the end of the day there was just too much at stake for both sides not to get an agreement done so that training camp could get started.

That’s where things currently stand. The Giants, whose rookies have already undergone their two rounds pf COVID-19 testing, and up next the Giants veterans, who report to camp on Tuesday for their 

1. How quickly can the team jell on the field?

Joe Judge has been a good sport about the unusual twists and turns his first season as a head coach has unwinded, realizing that he can only control certain things and thus, resolving to make lemonade out of the lemons.

To that end, Judge has stated right from the start that a well-perpared team starts with each member having an expectation of what his role in the big picture is. Judge began that process with laying down expectations for his assistant coaches and then designing a virtual program in which emphasized player engagement rather than an old-fashioned—and attention losing—lecture.

Make no mistake; some of the fundamentals might be off in the early part of training camp since there was no on-field work this spring, but hopefully whatever sloppiness does ensue is something that drills and coaching can clean up in a hurry.

2. Can Daniel Jones Take the Next Step in His Development?

The Giants did well to hire Jason Garrett, a former NFL quarterback, as their offensive coordinator, and Jerry Schuplinski as the quarterbacks coach, two men who are going to be instrumental n overseeing Year 2 of the Daniel Jones development project.

‘In case you’re still not sold on these hires, consider that Jones really didn’t have a dedicated position coach last year—then offensive coordinator Mike Shula and former head coach Pat Shurmur tried to fill in those roles, but they also held other responsibilities and I always thought it was a mistake to not have a dedicated coach working with Jones.

The Giants have also made sure to put solid depth behind Jones to replace the now-retired Eli Manning. Colt McCoy, who has been around and has some live playing experience as both a starter and backup, will be a great sounding board for Jones while Cooper Rush, who lacks McCoy’s experience, can help with the intricacies of Garrett’s system.

Jones, to his credit, appears to have done everything he can to make sure his second year in the NFL is light years ahead of where he was as a rookie. But with quarterbacks, it’s all about making snap decisions, something Jones struggled with, and simulating that game speed can be tricky even in the most carefully planned workouts. 

3. Who Starts at Cornerback?

With DeAndre Baker officially headed for the Commissioner's Exempt List, the Giants have an opening at perimeter corner.  

Will it be Sam Beal, the talented third-round supplemental draft pick from 2018 who has struggled to stay healthy in his first two NFL seasons?

Will it be Corey Ballentine, who last year was tried, unsuccessfully, in the slot? Or will it be rookie Darnay Holmes, this year’s fourth-round draft pick, who did pretty well in the role at UCLA?

Draft pedigree isn’t necessarily going to give one guy the advantage over another, so this competition is definitely going to be a key one for the Giants this summer.

4. Who Will Be the Center?

The popular belief, based on logic, is that the starting center will be Spencer Pulley. After all, it makes too much sense—Pulley is the only center on the roster who has done the job in a live NFL regular-season game and has enough experience to help a second-year quarterback whom we don’t yet know how much better he’s become at making protection calls navigate through that part of the job.

With COVID-19 wiping out the valuable OTA and minicamp practices, the common thinking is that now is not the time for players to cross-train or attempt to learn a new position. 

But when you look at Nick Gates, whose name has come up several times in the discussion at center, remember that Gates has been practing at the position going back to last year, so it’s not as though he just recently decided to start learning it.

Gates might very well find himself winning the competition with Pulley—a long shot because of, again, the line protection calls combined with the second-year quarterback. 

And rookie fifth-round ick Shane Lemieux, who has also been mentioned as a possible candidate for the center spot, figures to be at least a year away from being ready.

Regardless, the Giants will need to beef up the depth at center by preferably adding another veteran with experience just in case.

5. Can They Finally Generate a Pass Rush?

Ah, the multi-million dollar question. General manager Dave Gettleman has admitted in the past that the team doesn’t have the blue-chip pass rushers of yore—think Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Mathias Kiwanuka, and Jason Pierre-Paul—but he, as well as head coach Joe Judge, believes that a pass rush can be had via a group effort through a scheme.

But one man from that group of Giant pass rushers thinks that the Giants aren’t being honest with themselves if they believe that they can generate a pass rush via a scheme.

“I feel like those, those things being said, because that's what they have,” Umenyiora told me by phone. “You have to go to war with the soldiers that you have; you can't manufacture it.”

Umenyiora believes that the Giants can develop pass rushers—he cited second-year man Oshane Ximines as one promising young pass rusher whose name could end up in future discussions when people talk about the franchise’s more productive pass rushers.

But this notion that the scheme is going to be the answer? Umenyiora disagreed with that. 

“Do I think would they, would they love to have some true blue-chip pass rushers? Absolutely. The fact that maybe they don't have them is making them say some of the things that they're saying.” 

6. How--and Where--Will All Those Linebackers Fit?

Before this year, when they drafted five linebackers in the sixth and seventh rounds, the Giants, between 2012-2019 drafted the following linebackers: Devon Kennard, BJ Goodson, Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines and Ryan Connelly

Of those, only Carter, Ximines and Connelly remain; otherwise, the Giants’ approach has been to fill the linebacker role through free agency, an approach that maybe for the exception of Markus Golden, who, once he signs his UFA tender will be back with the Giants for another season, hasn’t really worked out.

So this year they enter training camp with the aforementioned three young players plus the four rookies—sixth-rounder Cam Brown, and seventh rounders Carter Coughlin, TJ Brunson, and Tae Crowder—on the heels of adding Carter, Connelly and Ximines.

That’s in addition to free agent acquisitions like Blake Martinez and Kyler Fackrell from the Packers, Golden, holdover David Mayo (acquired off waivers from the 49ers last year), and 2019 undrafted free agent Josiah Tauefa.

The competition will ultimately sort everything out, but an early guess will see Connelly and Martinezz as the inside linebackers and Fackrell and one of Carter, Ximines or Golden on the outside, leaving one to wonder where the rookies are going to fit in as far as the sub packages go. 

The bottom line is the Giants have quantity at this position, they have. But do they have quality? That’s one of the big questions that will need to be sorted out. 

7. What (if any) Mental Distraction Will the Coronavirus Create?

If we’ve learned nothing else about the novel coronavirus, it’s that it doesn’t discriminate against who it infects. There have been positive cases of people as young as school-aged children as well as those with no prior health conditions being affected just as there have been positive cases of those who are older and of a higher risk.

Many of those folks have recovered. Some have not. And then there are those who were stricken with the virus who say they still have lingering health issues that they didn't have prior.

So I can’t help but wonder how many players, either consciously or subconsciously won’t have it in the back of their mind that each time they set foot on the field for a game or a practice, that they’re at risk.

It's kind of like driving. You can trust yourself to do the right thing and be safe, but you can’t necessarily trust the other drivers around you to not do something stupid that can have significant consequences. And the problem is if you let that worry overtake you, that’s not good.

So I’m curious to see how football players, who are required to have undivided attention when it comes to this sport, react. Will there be reluctance to jump in piles during games because you don’t know how well your opponent has been adhering to the rule set forth, or will guys put that aside and play recklessly?

The answer to that could very well play into how the season—if we do get a full season—plays out. 

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