The New York Giants wrap up their five-game preseason on Thursday night when they host the New England Patriots at MetLife Stadium. The 4-0 Giants will be looking to complete a perfect preseason, but that is not important. What will be important is whether or not the Giants show improvement on offense, and which players step forward in the competition for the final contested spots on the 53-man roster.
"The only thing that matters is the regular season. What is important about preseason is improvement, production and feeling like people are in the right spots," head coach Tom Coughlin said during the week. "That is the only thing I can attest to."
With that in mind, here are five things to watch during Thursday's game.
First-Team Offensive Line
With Geoff Schwartz (dislocated toe) and Brandon Mosley (back) out, there is a new configuration in the line and it is the one that figures to open the regular season. Rookie Weston Richburg is at left guard and former Miami Dolphins starter John Jerry is now at right guard. Watch to see if blitzes and stunts are picked up -- something the Giants have struggled with. Watch the run blocking to see if there are holes for Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams. Most of all, watch to see if this group can keep Eli Manning from running for his life.
Wide Receiver Competition
The final few spots at this position remain unsettled. Marcus Harris probably would have had one of the wide receiver spots on the 53-man roster, but he is now on IR with a torn labrum in his hip. Here are some thoughts on some of the players competing for roster spots.
Mario Manningham has done little in the four preseason games, but the Giants keep running him out there and hoping that he can regain the form that once made him an explosive weapon for the Giants before a major knee injury derailed him.
"He has had some spurts the last couple weeks where he has done some real good things on the practice field. It hasn't carried over to the game field yet. He will have another chance," Coughlin said.
Corey Washington has excited everyone with fourth-quarter touchdown catches in every preseason game, three of those game-winners. Despite that, and despite his having size at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds that no other Giants receiver has, Washington is probably not a lock for the 53-man roster. Whereas Harris had shown a value on kick coverage teams Washington has yet to do that. As a reserve wide receiver Washington will have to play and contribute on those teams.
Preston Parker has shown versatility as a receiver and a returner. If he makes the team Parker is probably going to open the season as the punt returner.
Trindon Holliday has yet to play in a game and almost certainly won't play Thursday due to his lingering hamstring issue. You have to wonder why the Giants are keeping him around.
Jerrel Jernigan has drawn mixed reviews so far this preseason. Despite his current status as a starter in three-wide sets, some think Jernigan is on the roster bubble.
This is going to end up sounding like we are talking about a rookie or second-year quarterback. What should you look for from Manning? How about some ball security? How about tucking the ball away when he's out of the pocket instead of exposing it in one extended hand? Better yet, how about the slow-footed Manning just go down and accept a sack rather than make a bad play worse by trying to run around like Michael Vick? How about getting through a few series without forcing throws and making bad decisions that should result in turnovers?
Who Plays, Who Does Not
Want a hint as to who will make the 53-man roster and who will not? Look for a disparity in the snap counts among some of the 'bubble' players. In most cases, guys on the bubble who barely play at all in the final preseason game will be the ones dropped when final cuts are made on Saturday.
Damontre Moore has 14 tackles and a team-high four sacks in the preseason. Can he continue to impress? Will the Giants even bother to risk playing him extended snaps Thursday night? Moore's progress has been fun to watch.