New York Giants Training Camp concludes with what promises to be a brief walk-thru this morning at the University at Albany. The team will then head down the Thruway to New Jersey for Saturday's preseason game with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and will conclude preseason practices from the Meadowlands.
This also means, sadly, my access to the team on any type of regular basis has also come to an end.
With that in mind, I thought I would offer some final impressions of the team and the now-concluded 2010 Giants Training Camp.
The Star of Our Show
Victor Cruz, of course. The undrafted rookie free agent wide receiver from UMass, a Paterson, N.J., native, has been the biggest breakout player in camp. He has also become a media darling, partially because he is a local kid. Also, though, he has a great smile and he seems to have handled all of the unexpected attention well thus far. It would be a stunner if he does not make this team and, if he somehow does not, Rex Ryan indicated the Jets would snap him up. I am sure the Jets are not the only team hoping the Giants let Cruz slip away.
It has been anything but a smooth camp for the unit that was the bright spot in the Giants' dismal 2009 season. Injuries, of course, have been a big part of slowing the progress of this group. First to the offensive, then the tight ends and now the quarterbacks. Kevin Gilbride's offense has rarely been whole throughout camp, and there is little doubt that the progression of the offense has been slowed due to all of its missing parts.
Still, camp has begun to reveal some things about this year's offense.
The big question has been the offensive line, and the big worry right now has to be the condition of All-Pro right guard Chris Snee's knee. Snee has not practiced in about a week, and the Giants running game really feels his absence. He is their best lineman, and the guy the team likes to run behind when they absolutely need to make a play, and if he is limited -- or unavailable -- that is a huge problem.
One thing we have begun to see with the offensive line is that it is looking more and more like Will Beatty is going to be the starting left tackle, with David Diehl moving inside to left guard in place of Rich Seubert. Beatty had a rough start to camp, but played well Monday against the New York Jets. During his meeting with the media Thursday, Gilbride was effusive in his praise of the second-year player from UConn. Another telling sign is that Beatty has taken almost all of the reps at left tackle this week, and Seubert worked exclusively with the second and third groups on Thursday.
Tight ends -- Bear Pascoe was the only healthy tight end for a while, and it will be an incredible upset if he does not open the season as the No. 2 tight end. Kevin Boss missed some time with a hamstring injury, but both his hamstring and his surgically repaired ankle seem to be better and he looks to be moving well again. Travis Beckum has been nearly invisible this camp and how -- or if -- the Giants can find a role for him is debatable.
Wide Receivers -- Camp, of course, has been the Victor Cruz Show as the undrafted free agent from UMass has made a huge impression on coaches, teammates and fans. That, however, does not mean Cruz will be taking playing time from the top three receivers -- or even that he is a complete lock to make the team. There are still three exhibition games to be played.
We know about Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham. Derek Hagan has had an excellent camp, and right now is likely the fourth receiver. Ramses Barden has been good at times, bad at others and now he has a back injury and the Giants don't know how long he will be out. The Giants really seem to want the big guy to be an important part of their offense, but whether that will happen remains to be seen.
Quarterbacks -- Forget about Eli Manning missing this weekend's game. The big injury for the Giants right now is the shoulder problem sidelining backup Jim Sorgi. He will miss the rest of the preseason and maybe longer. By the end of the preseason the Giants should know if a) Sorgi will be available this season and b) if Rhett Bomar can be the No. 2 guy if Sorgi can't. If Bomar isn't ready and Sorgi isn't available, the Giants will be looking for a veteran backup.
This is the place where all of the focus, and all of the questions were at the start of training camp. In reality, those questions are still there -- even if it looks like we have begun to get some answers from Perry Fewell's group.
Secondary -- Aaron Ross is healthy, Kenny Phillips looks like he will be able to contribute, Deon Grant and Antrel Rolle are as advertised. This group is much, much better than what the Giants fielded last season.
Linebackers -- An ongoing battle for the middle linebacker job between Jonathan Goff, who had a good camp, and veteran Keith Bulluck. Odds are Bulluck eventually wins the job, but Goff is not simply stepping aside. Michael Boley is healthy and has looked explosive on the weak side, particularly in pass coverage. Quiet camp for second-year strong side linebacker Clint Sintim, and both Gerris Wilkinson and rookie Phillip Dillard have begun to get some reps over there. Sintim is not a lock to keep that job. Have not seen Mathias Kiwanuka at linebacker for a while, but I suspect we will see some of that -- especially in run situations -- during the season.
Defensive line -- Really, nothing but good news here. Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora look healthy, and Osi has had some truly excellent moments in camp. Kiwanuka looks ready for a big year. Chris Canty has been healthy all camp and looks like a force. He might not make a lot of tackles, but he is hard to move and requires a lot of attention in the middle. Rookies Jason Pierre-Paul and Linval Joseph have both shown why the Giants used their first two picks on them. Joseph, as advertised, can be a dominant run defender.
A mixed bag here.
The good is that Lawrence Tynes had a terrific camp. He nailed a 52-yard field goal on his final kick of camp Thursday, and throughout camp and Monday's first exhibition game his kickoffs were better than they were in 2009. He finally seems done monkeying with his mechanics, and he is kicking the ball with more consistency.
Consistency, though, is not a word you can attach to rookie punter Matt Dodge. His kicks were all over the map during camp, and his performance against the New York Jets was terrible. He has shown a very strong leg and a terrific work ethic, though, and we just have to wait and see if he can begin to hit the ball with more consistency. If not, well, there will be lots of veteran punters available in a few weeks.
I watched Monday's game and saw that the Giants still have not figured out how to return a kickoff. On each return you could see that there was no chance of a big play by the time the returner got to the 15-yard line. Thursday, speedy undrafted free agent Tim Brown was getting reps as a kickoff returner for the first time. Punt and kickoff returns might be the diminutive Brown's way onto the roster.