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Giants training camp: Are they better on special teams?

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The Giants placed a heavy emphasis during the offseason on improving their special teams personnel. Did it work?

Tom Quinn
Tom Quinn
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

How does New York Giants special teams coordinator Tom Quinn still have his job? That question seems to get asked every year, make that every month, maybe every week around here. Maybe we should just say the question comes up every time we have a special teams discussion here at Big Blue View.

Quinn has been special teams coordinator for the Giants since 2007, and has been on the staff since 2006. During his time running the special teams there have been some highlights. The punting of Jeff Feagles and Steve Weatherford has, at times, been outstanding. David Wilson shattered franchise kickoff return records in 2012. Placekicker Josh Brown had an outstanding season in 2014. Brown's predecessor, Lawrence Tynes, kicked the Giants into the Super Bowl twice.

There have, however, almost always been some issues. There have been some major gaffes, which we won't mention because you likely already know what they are, you still feel the pain and, well, we really don't need to re-visit them. Some years the kick or punt coverage has been suspect, some years those have been fine. Finding quality return men has been a constant struggle.

Will the Giants be better on special teams in 2015 than they were last season? Let's break it down and see if we can make an educated guess on that topic.

Key special teamers lost: LB Spencer Paysinger, CB Zack Bowman, KR Quintin Demps RB/KR Michael Cox

Key special teamers gained: KR Dwayne Harris, CB-S Josh Gordy, S Jeromy Miles, LB Jonathan Casillas, LB J.T. Thomas III.

It was obvious in everything the Giants did this offseason that improving the special teams play was at the top of their list of priorities. Many of the free agents the team signed not only could have positional value for the Giants, but also have been successful special teams players. Many of the players they drafted, including safety Landon Collins, defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa, safety Mykkele Thompson and especially rookie Geremy Davis will be looked at as key special teams contributors, and were drafted in part for that reason.

Let's look at three reasons the Giants should be better on special teams in 2015.

The presence of Dwayne Harris

The Giants were roundly criticized when they handed Harris a five-year, $17.5 million contract, $7.1 million of which was guaranteed. They hope that Harris, not often targeted as a wide receiver while with the Dallas Cowboys, will earn some of that money by becoming a valued addition to the passing game. They already know, however, that Harris will earn his keep as one of the league's best, most multi-talented special teams performers.

"We thought the guy was kind of a four- to five-tool type player for us. We thought we were getting a lot of players out of one position," GM Jerry Reese said of Harris. "We played against him for a long time and he has been a good player for [Dallas]. Hopefully he will bring it over here to us and he will play for us in those capacities."

Former Giants scout and current Scouting Academy Director Dan Hatman recently broke down some film of Harris to help us understand all of the ways he can help the Giants. If you haven't read that piece and want to know what the Giants see in the ex-Cowboy, please do. Suffice it to say here, however, that Harris is one of the league's best kickoff and punt returners, an outstanding gunner on punt coverage and an excellent outside contain man on kickoff coverage.

"He is going to be a ‘big four' player, so he will be on all four of the teams and he will make a very good contribution," Quinn said. "His coverage skills are equal to his return skills, so that is the nice thing about getting this kind of player."

His presence alone gives the Giants an opportunity to bet better both returning the ball and covering kicks.

Better depth

As WFAN and Giants.com reporter Paul Dottino so eloquently pointed out during a recent appearance on the 'Big Blue Chat' podcast with Pat Traina (Bleacher Report/Inside Football) and myself, it takes more than one outstanding special teams player to actually be good on special teams.

For years, the Giants have been fitting square pegs into round holes on special teams. Or, because of injuries have been picking guys up off the street, throwing them out there on specials and hoping for the best. The results have been obvious. They hope the free-agent acquisitions and draft choices they made this time around change that.

"It's not just one guy, it's a whole bunch of guys. There's always that one super-duper special teams guy, either the return guy or the gunner, who kind of stands out but he needs four or five or even six other guys on special teams who do their job really well," Dottino said. "That's been a problem with the Giants for the last several years.

"Not only do you need the stud return guy and the stud gunner, but you need three, four, five other guys. You've gotta be deeper. It's not good enough to say, well Paysinger's pretty good, Herzlich's pretty good, DeOssie's pretty good. That's not enough, you've gotta have more.

Dottino believes, as do I, that the increased attention on bringing in players with special teams skills and backgrounds, will pay dividends.

"I really believe that the specials will be improved this season. That's again another reason why when you enhance field position you can feel the Giants will be an improved club," Dottino said.

A healthier Steve Weatherford

Everybody loves Giants punter Steve Weatherford, and yours truly will be the first to admit he is one of the players in that locker room I always look forward to seeing. That said, let's be real about the punter's 2014 season. It was gutty, gritty work typical of what you would expect from him, grinding his way through all 16 games despite tearing four ligaments in his left ankle in the season opener vs. the Detroit Lions, but it wasn't his best work.

Weatherford's numbers look OK, even if his 45.5 yards per punt average was the lowest of his four seasons with the Giants. He had a punt blocked for the first time in his nine NFL seasons, there were times when head coach Tom Coughlin said he felt the ball was coming out too slow (perhaps due to Weatherford needing to take extra care with an injured plant foot), there was a sideline confrontation with Quinn and too many low, wobbly punts that didn't go where they were intended to go.

All of that said, a healthy Weatherford is one of the game's best punters. There are punters who kick the ball farther, although it is a testament to his work ethic that the four best seasons of his career in terms of average yards per punt have been Weatherford's seasons with the Giants. Weatherford may not be as precise with his directional punts as ex-Giant Jeff Feagles, thought of as the best the NFL has ever seen in that category, but he is among the NFL's best n that department.

Weatherford is an excellent holder for Giants' placekicker Josh Brown. He is an excellent example for his younger teammates of what it takes to become, and continue to be, a successful player and quality representative of the Giants' franchise.

A healthy Weatherford should make an excellent contribution to the Giants, and help them improve in their punt coverage.