Training Camp Preview: 3 position battles to watch on defense

Elsa

The defensive tackle rotation, middle linebacker and nickel cornerback are three position battles to keep an eye on during training camp.

The New York Giants underwent a major makeover on defense this off-season, losing the likes of veteran stalwarts like Osi Umenyiora and Chase Blackburn and giving younger players like Mark Herzlich an opportunity to start.

Among the position battles set to take place during training camp and the pre-season will be the defensive tackle rotation, the middle linebacker spot and nickel cornerback. All three will go a long in determining whether or not the New York Giants can bounce back defensively in the coming season.

Defensive tackle rotation

Clogging up holes on the interior defensive line this season will be the veteran Linval Joseph, as well as Cullen Jenkins, the team’s biggest free-agent acquisition of the off-season.

Joseph was the team’s best tackle last year. Jenkins, on the other hand, is coming off a disappointing campaign with the Philadelphia Eagles and is hopeful of bouncing back in a new system. He’ll look to fill the void left by Chris Canty, now a member of the Baltimore Ravens.

While Joseph and Jenkins will likely draw start, rookie Johnathan Hankins is waiting in the wings.

The Giants’ second-round draft pick out of Ohio State will likely have the first chance to steal playing time should Jenkins struggle.

Behind Hankins are veterans Mike Patterson, also a former Eagle, and Marvin Austin. Austin must contend with Shaun Rogers, Frank Okam and Markus Kuhn for a roster spot. Kuhn, coming off knee surgery, could be headed to the PUP list to begin the season.

Middle linebacker

Arguably the biggest position battle on the team will be between Herzlich and Dan Connor to see who earns the right to man the middle.

Thus far, it’s been Herzlich taking snaps with the first team throughout OTAs and mini-camps, earning praise from defensive coordinator Perry Fewell for accepting a leadership role on defense.

Though Connor is a veteran, he does have a track record of injuries. It’s definitely a sign that the coaching staff elected to go with Herzlich to begin off-season activities, and given the edge entering training camp, it appears to be the former Boston College standout’s job to lose now.

Slot Corner

It appears it’ll be Corey Webster and Prince Amukamara manning the top two cornerback spots, leaving the door open for a battle between the incumbent, Jayron Hosley, and a familiar face in Aaron Ross vying for this spot. Terrell Thomas might also fit here if he can stay healthy and prove that he still has the ability to deserve a spot on the 53-man roster.

As a rookie, Hosley racked up 40 tackles, five passes defensed and an interception.

Ross, who left the G-Men prior to the 2012 season for a payday with the Jacksonville Jaguars, returns to New York where he played six seasons prior to his one-year hiatus. Ross started nine games for the Jags last season, finishing with 46 tackles and three passes defensed.

It’s a battle between potential and experience, with Hosley – in my view – holding the edge. Hosley knows Fewell’s system and proved he can effectively shadow slot receivers last year as a rookie. Tom Coughlin will elect to go with who gives the team the best shot to win, which at this point is Hosley.

Follow Sam on Twitter @SamSpiegs


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