During preseason you look for signs. Signs that certain players may be able to help more than you anticipated. Signs that clue you in that perhaps some guys aren't going to give you what you hoped for. Signs that your young players are catching on. Signs of what your team's strengths and weaknesses are. Signs that your team is getting better as the regular season approaches.
Amidst all the negativity being spewed by some in the fan base, the fiasco that has become the Jason Pierre-Paul situation, the befuddling injuries that seemingly won't go away no matter what the Giants try, there has been one very good sign for the future of the franchise. The top three picks from the team's 2015 NFL Draft class are all showing signs that they will reward the Giants faith in them by turning into quality NFL players.
Let's take these in reverse order. Defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa, the teams's third-round pick (74th overall) received what passes for effusive praise from head coach Tom Coughlin on Sunday. So, we will start there.
Perhaps because he spent much of his time at UCLA as a 3-4 defensive end where his responsibility was anchor against the run first and make plays later, Odighizuwa does one thing well that seems to be a foreign concept to several Giants edge defenders. He can set and contain the edge vs. the run, a critical component to slowing the run games of opposing offenses.
With veteran George Selvie and Robert Ayers out Saturday vs. the New York Jets, and Jason Pierre-Paul in South Florida doing whatever he is doing there. Odighizuwa has taken full advantage of the opportunity.
"He has done a good job to this point in time and we are obviously thinking more and more about how we might be able to utilize him to a further extent, so he is a young man that we have high expectations for," Coughlin said when asked about him.
Typical of Coughlin, he pointed to the fact that Odighizuwa has been able to participate in every training camp practice.
"Well obviously he has had a chance to practice and he has had a chance to learn more in the system and look at himself on tape and his coach has been able to make the corrections with him," Coughlin said. "Again, that accumulative effect is what you are trying to accomplish in professional football even throughout the course of the entire season so he definitely has improved -- there is still of course a lot of work to be done but he has improved."
Without Pierre-Paul, the Giants have a collection of players at defensive end who are capable of excelling in at least one facet, but no single player who really has the capability of being a plus defender vs. both the run and the pass. Except perhaps Odighizuwa
At the moment, Odighizuwa is a good run defender and a developing but not yet consistently effective pass rusher. If he continues to impress and improve he could end up a major part of the Giants' defensive end rotation much sooner than anticipated.
Second-round pick Landon Collins started Saturday vs. the Jets and had three tackles (two solo) in in 25 snaps. It was his first action since suffering an MCL sprain against the Cincinnati Bengals in the preseason opener. Coughlin said that Collins "had some nice plays and some hits. He made a nice tackle."
Collins said he "felt confident" that his knee would be fine.
"I did all that [testing the knee] in practice and if I couldn't do it in practice, I wasn't going to try to come out and push it in the game," Collins said. "They're telling me don't make a stupid choice and try and just push through it, just come out there and be smart. All the cutting I needed to do in practice, I felt confident in that and came out here and did the same thing."
The Giants traded up to get Collins with the 33rd overall pick of the draft. He has been expected to start since Day 1, and nothing has yet changed that perception. Safety was a weak link for the Giants last year (apologies, Antrel Rolle fans). If Collins is the real deal, the safety position will be improved regardless of who lines up next to him.
When the Giants selected Ereck Flowers ninth overall, many analysts were aghast because of what they saw as technique flaws that would be exposed quickly and easily at the NFL level. That hasn't been the case. Flowers and the left side of the offensive line haven't been what has concerned the Giants. The issue has been on the right, where things remain unsettled.
Flowers has been a better run blocker than pass protector to this point (-4.6 in pass blocking, +1.5 in run blocking per PFF). He has, however, shown enough that there is optimism he can be adequate on the blind side of Eli Manning. Here is Chris's recent assessment of Flowers:
Flowers almost looks like a different player from the physically talented but technically flawed player he was at Miami and throughout the draft process. His footwork here is that kind of gliding typewriter movement you want to see from a left tackle. His feet are always underneath him and his steps are crisp. His hands, which had a nasty tendency to flail widely are now under much more control. The combination of improved hands and feet are letting Flowers mirror defenders while also bringing his full power to bear.
As unsettled as things obviously are with the Giants currently, these three offer reason for optimism. With these players, and guys like Odell Beckham Jr., Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg, Devon Kennard, Johnathan Hankins and other youngsters, the Giants may painstakingly be laying the foundation for a better future.