Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines 'Evolution' as:
A process of continuous change from a lower, simpler, or worse to a higher, more complex, or better state. A process of gradual and relatively peaceful social, political, and economic advance.
"Evolution, not revolution" was what Ben McAdoo promised when he was promoted, or hired, to replace Tom Coughlin as the head coach of the New York Giants. Not, of course, that he has ever elaborated on what that evolution will entail, or what will be changing. And why would he? While it might sate the appetite for insight among fans, all it would really do is give his opponents a head start in game planning against the Giants.
But that shouldn't stop rampant speculation about what the team could look like under McAdoo. Since both he and Coughlin are "offensive minded" coaches, it makes sense to start with the offense.
There are a number of players who are likely on the roster bubble and we won't know the final roster for months yet. However, we can make some educated guesses as to who stands the best chance. There is a give and a take between roster and scheme. Coaches try to build a roster that fits their schemes and philosophy, but they also can't help the hand they're dealt. McAdoo has -- thus far -- shown the flexibility to adapt his scheme to the available talent.
QB - Eli Manning, Ryan Nassib
Offensive Line - Ereck Flowers, Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg, John Jerry, Marshall Newhouse, Bobby Hart
Wide Receiver - Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, Dwayne Harris, Victor Cruz
Tight End / Fullback - Will Tye, Will Johnson, Jerell Adams
Running Back - Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen, Andre Williams, Paul Perkins
* There will, of course, be more than 19 players on the offensive players on the offensive side of the ball. There will be more offensive linemen, at least one more receiver, and possibly another tight end, but those are all camp battles at this point.
How They Could Be Used - Scheme and Formation
Eli's Gonna Eli
Eli Manning is not Joe Montana, Steve Young, or Aaron Rodgers. Now, that might sound like a slight towards the Giants' quarterback, but it really isn't. It's simply an observation on Eli's strengths and weakness as a quarterback. For all we joke about you just can't teach Eli's speed, he is not in the same class as the "prototype" West Coast Offense quarterbacks as far as mobility is concerned. However, he still took to the West Coast ethos of "You don't go broke making a profit" like a slightly goofy and awkward duck to water.
But, Eli will always Eli. He will take chances, he will attack the defense deep, and he will, on occasion, refuse to give up on a play when a play needs to be made -- which usually happens when nobody else on the team is making plays and is when "Bad Eli" rears his ugly head.
That cold-blooded confidence and gunslinger's reflex aren't going anywhere, and are a big part of what makes Eli the quarterback he is. The Giants' offense will continue to be based on West Coast principles, but it will also have vertical elements. Eli is simply too good at throwing the deep ball -- and quietly aggressive -- for that aspect of the Giants offense to go away with Coughlin.
Wide Receiver Shell Games
In 2014 and 2015 the Giants played a game of "find the Ace" with Odell Beckham. What everyone notices about him is that rare combination of speed, quickness, explosiveness, and body control that allows him to be the NFL's human highlight reel. But there are plenty of phenomenal athlete in the NFL. What truly makes Beckham special and frightening to defenses is his ability to run every route from every position but tight end. Beckham plays from all of them and offenses have to account for him on every play.
"We teach them all the spots," offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said. "The more we can make our system schematically friendly so that guys aren't necessarily locked in and dimed with this player or that player but just think big-picture so they have that versatility, it helps. Because ultimately, when guys start to become a factor, you move them around. Odell is a great example of that."
It's a trait that the Giants are looking for from their other receivers as well. Dwayne Harris played well at slot, but he has also played out of the backfield and should be able to play outside. Rookie Sterling Shepard was primarily a slot receiver in 2015, but he can -- and has -- played wide receiver for Oklahoma, and Sullivan has said that Shepard will be taught all the receiver positions.
That ethos is being employed elsewhere as well. Will Tye and Will Johnson both have experience lining up as classic in-line tight ends, as industrial-sized slot receivers, or in the backfield as lead blockers. Matt LaCosse was used in a similar way in college, which could help his case for making the final roster. Rookie Jerell Adams was used both as an in-line tight end and as a slot receiver at South Carolina.
While the Giants freely moved Beckham around to create (and exploit) match-ups in the previous two years, the versatility of the offensive players the Giants are bringing in could allow them to play a five-man version of 3 Card Monte. With a variety of players with diverse skill sets, the Giants could (potentially) field a "multiple" offense that can change formation and alignment on the fly without slowing down or changing personnel.
Under Coughlin, the Giants generally had two offensive formations: The I formation with 11, 21, 12, or 22 personnel (1 running back and 1 tight end, 2 running backs and 1 tight end, 1 running back and 2 tight ends, or 2 running backs and 2 tight ends), or the Shotgun formation, usually with 11 personnel.
When McAdoo became the offensive coordinator, the Shotgun grew in importance, and the Giants began using it as more of a base formation -- rather than just on third downs or in the two minute drill -- but the team still was generally in the "I" or the Shotgun.
But early in his tenure as the Giants' offensive coordinator, McAdoo showed a willingness to use more "exotic" offensive looks.
This play was from McAdoo's very first game as the Giants' offensive coordinator. On the surface it's a pretty routine spread formation, a shotgun with "10" personnel. But take a closer look at the numbers on the back of the jerseys. At "Wide Receiver" are tight ends Larry Donnell and Daniel Fells. At "Slot Receiver" are running back Rashad Jennings and offensive lineman Dallas Reynolds. Next to Manning at halfback is fullback Henry Hynoski. The play was ultimately a fade to Donnell in the corner of the end zone, which would have been successful if he had gotten his second foot down in-bounds. The formation, personnel, and play call are all at odds with each other. It's undoubtedly a heavy personnel, which should signal run, but it is also a spread formation. What's more, it's a back-shoulder fade to the corner of the end zone, which is generally not a play that goes to a tight end, but tight ends generally don't get lined up at wide receiver.
Formations and plays like these were parred out of the Giants' offense after the second week of the 2014 season, as the offense largely spun its wheels and needed to get "back to basics" with the new scheme and terminology. But that McAdoo would consider it at all means that unconventional looks are on his radar, in his notebook of ideas that he had been building throughout his travels with Mike McCarthy.
While we don't know what McAdoo will draw up -- if anything -- one formation I will be looking for is the Pistol formation.
The Pistol Formation is an evolution of the Shotgun formation. Like the Shotgun, the Pistol features the quarterback standing three to four yards behind center. But unlike the Shotgun, the running back is behind the quarterback, much like in the "I" formation. The Pistol has become synonymous with the "Pistol Offense", a variation of the read-option, or spread-option that is run out of the Pistol formation. However, the formation itself doesn't mean that the quarterback will be running. For the Giants' purposes it offers the same speed and opportunity to scan the defense as the Shotgun, while offering similar advantages in the in the running game as the "I" formation.
I'm highlighting the Pistol as a possibility for two reasons. First, because it was used effectively by the Green Bay Packers and Denver Broncos over the past two years, especially when the mobility of Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning were compromised by injury. While Eli Manning is certainly more mobile than a hobbled Rodgers or even a healthy version of his older brother, that the formation was effective in offenses with similar concepts to McAdoo's could pique his interest.
Secondly, McAdoo praised running back Andre Williams on a pair of occasions this offseason, chiding fans and reporters for giving up on him too quickly. The "problem" with the Williams we saw the previous two seasons is that he is ill-suited to running out of the Shotgun formation. He is powerful and surprisingly fast for a big back, but physics still has its say and he needs more room to get up to speed than the Shotgun affords him. He has been considerably more effective running out of the I formation, giving him more time to read his blocks and hit the line of scrimmage at speed. If McAdoo does have a role in mind for Williams, incorporating the Pistol formation could put him in the best position to succeed while keeping much of the rest of the offense unchanged.
We'll have to wait until training camp and preseason to get our first good clues as to how McAdoo's promotion will change the offense. Truthfully, we won't really know until sometime in the regular season, when games actually count and teams fully open up the play book.
But that can't stop us from looking at the roster taking shape and the trends from the past, and making some guesses.
If you're looking for radical changes, you might have to wait a while, but there will be changes. McAdoo isn't Coughlin, he comes from a different brand background and came of age in a different era of football. He also isn't Mike McCarthy, and has admitted to accumulating his own notions and ideas about football throughout his career as an assistant.
One of the more exciting aspects of the 2016 season is the opportunity to find out what kind of coach he is, what his philosophies are. The Giants have a young team, with young players and a rookie head coach so change is inevitable, and how the team evolves might be the biggest storyline to follow throughout the 2016 season.