Five Questions The New Giants Need To Answer During Training Camp
No one affiliated with the New York Giants has put a number on the win total the team is seeking. Still, all eyes within 1925 Giants Drive are focused on earning a playoff berth—and preferably as a division winner.
The Giants, 6-10 last year and in second place in a dismal NFC East division, will need a lot more than six wins to accomplish both objectives. And they’ll get things started on Tuesday when the entire team checks in for the start of training camp with a lengthy to-do list they’ll need to complete if they want to reach their postseason goal.
Here are five questions the Giants will need to address before the curtain rises on their 2021 regular season.
Narrow Down Saquon Barkley’s Status
Every member of the Giants is important, but perhaps none more so than running back Saquon Barkley, who continues his rehab from a torn ACL and reconstructive surgery.
Neither Barkley nor anyone affiliated with the Giants has put a timetable on when the star running back will be cleared to return. The likely reason is they don’t want to put added pressure on Barkley to rush himself back before he’s ready, thus risking a setback.
In the meantime, not having a rough time frame could potentially affect how the Giants build their initial 53-man roster. Although the Giants list five running backs on the roster besides Barkley, what they have is a collection of players who can do parts of what Barkley brings to the table all by his lonesome—and not necessarily as well as a healthy Barkley can.
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If the Giants do have to go a few early season games with Barkley limited or sidelined, they’re going to want to have a plan in place to ensure that any limitations they have with such an integral part of their offense isn’t impacted.
Sort Out the Pass Rush
Perhaps no other position on the team other than the cornerbacks received as much talent pumped into it as the pass rush.
And with good reason. The Giants, despite finishing 12th in the NFL last year in sacks (40), ranked 19th by Pro FootballFocus, who noted, “One of the more bizarre stats to come out of the 2020 regular season was that the Giants’ top four pressure marks all came from interior defensive linemen. Leonard Williams (62 pressures), Dexter Lawrence (29), Dalvin Tomlinson (28) and B.J. Hill (22) all produced more quarterback pressures than New York’s top mark from an edge defender — Kyler Fackrell with just 19.”
If the Giants defense wants to enter top-10 territory, it will need some of its outside edge-rushing talent to step up this season.
The team added Azeez Ojulari and Elerson Smith in the second and fourth rounds of the draft to go along with unrestricted free-agent signings Ifeadi Odenigbo and Ryan Anderson, and holdovers Oshane Ximines and Lorenzo Carter.
The quantity is there—but is the quality? The Giants are going to find out soon enough.
Settle the Offensive Line
One can talk about quarterback Daniel Jones and how he has to make that quantum leap from Year 2 to Year 3 all they want. However, it won’t matter much if the offensive line in front of Jones, which Pro Football Focus ranked dead last in its pre-season rankings and which Pro Football Network ranked28th, isn’t a lot better.
Other than for a few additions for depth, the Giants, such as interior linemen Jonotthan Harris and Zach Fulton, didn’t add to the group in a significant way. Instead, they appear to be counting on several intangibles to help the unit, which will have a new right side, be better.
Those intangibles include the additions of coaches Rob Sale and Pat Flaherty and the fact that the group is entering Year 2 of the same offense with most of the same faces from last year.
But there are still question marks. Will Hernandez, who lost his starting left guard job to rookie Shane Lemieux last year, is moving to right guard, a position he’s thought to have never played before.
And Matt Peart, who last year flashed early on but who struggled mightily down the strength against better defenses like the Ravens, is projected to be the starting right tackle.
Can they, along with left tackle Andrew Thomas, Lemieux, and center Nick Gates—all of whom are entering their second seasons at their current position, by the way—become a well-oiled machine by opening day?
The offense’s success—and the team’s—depends on it.
Fix the Special Teams
One of the most significant and disappointing developments of last season was that the Giants special teams weren’t as good as they had been the previous seasons, despite the addition of Judge and his special teams background.
In 2019, the Giants ranked fourth (9.8 yards) and 10th (23.5 yards) in punt and kickoff returns, respectively, and tied for fifth (5.7 yards) and ranked first (18.1 yards) in punt and kickoff coverage.
Those rankings fell across the board, with the Giants finishing sixth (11.4 yards) and 16th (21.9 yards) in punt and kickoff returns, and 21st (9.3 yards) and 16th (22.2 yards) in punt and kickoff coverage.
The problems with special teams weren’t necessarily the result of scheme changes. The Giants punt coverage unit, for example, never got consistent presence of performance from its gunners.
Punter Riley Dixon was inconsistent with his directional punting, and the Giants never really had a solid core special teams group from week to week.
With special teams being one-third of the game—and an important one in setting starting field position—you can bet that fixing this unit across the board is one of Judge’s top priorities this summer.
Evolve The Offense
Last year, the Giants, like every other NFL team, didn’t have a traditional off-season or a slate of preseason games. This made it more challenging for brand new coaching staffs such as the Giants’ to get a good handle on what players could do well and what they couldn’t, a process that offensive coordinator Jason Garrett alluded to at least twice last year.
This year, things were more back to normal for teams across the NFL. And with the Giants having brought in some new playmakers such as tight end Kyle Rudolph and receiver Kenny Golladay, Garrett, whose design of the 2020 Giants offense often left something to be desired, should have a better idea as to the players’ individual strengths and weaknesses.
And if he doesn’t cash in on all the talent assembled, don’t be surprised if Judge looks to go in another direction after this season.