Throughout the 2016 offseason the expectation has been that the New York Giants' high-powered offense, which ranked eighth in yards and sixth in points in 2015, would have to carry the team while the defense clawed its way back to "mediocre."
However, things rarely work out as expected, and that high-powered offense can hardly afford to rest on its laurels. That side of the ball needs to continue to improve, to work every bit as hard at gaining ground on the rest of the NFL as the maligned defense.
The offensive line has been one of the most talked about subjects in Giants-land. We know the Giants tried to work out a trade deal with Baltimore for Eugene Monroe, and that they remain interested after Monroe's release. We will certainly circle back around to this when Monroe chooses his next team, but there's plenty to watch on the offense until then.
Who's Calling The Plays?
There are several head coaches who double as play callers. Ben McAdoo's own teacher and head coach of the Green Bay Packers, Mike McCarthy, is among them and one of the best offensive play callers in the league. So that means that McAdoo will be keeping direct control over the offense, right?
Not so fast.
The Giants have been coy on that front, something Mike Sullivan was asked about on the second day of the Giants' mini-camp. Sullivan said
"Nothing has really changed since the last time we talked about it, and we're still trying to get a sense of what's going to be best for us and getting to know each other. At the end of the day, we're going to do what is going to help us win, and there will be 100 percent support from me no matter what happens, and I think Ben will feel the same way, and again, all we care about is wins."
The New Guy -- One of the more lighthearted moments from the Giants' mandatory minicamp was the Giants players asking who the "New Guy" was playing receiver. That new guy was, of course, Victor Cruz, easily the longest-tenured offensive player not named "Eli Manning." As has been well covered, how Cruz comes back from his latest rehab could have a major impact on the Giants' season. Football is a game of matchups, and at its core is about having more good offensive players than the defense can match is how you go about winning. That math propelled the Giants to the Super Bowl in 2011 when defenses just couldn't contain Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, AND Victor Cruz.
The Giants have to be hoping that a successful return by Cruz puts the numbers in their favor again. Part of that return is getting back into the flow of the offense, and Sullivan complimented him on it, saying "Victor has done a great job, being unable to participate, in terms of his focus in the meetings and being able to stay attune with what we're doing. I know he was excited to get back out there. It's good to see him. He didn't miss a beat with regard to assignments, and so it's just a matter of us doing all things we need to do to make sure he's in the best position to be healthy and be ready and come and help us be the best that we can possibly be in training camp."
The Young Guys -- The Giants have their superstar in Odell Beckham, a dependable option in Dwayne Harris, and (hopefully) a returning veteran in Cruz. However, their receiving corps will have to be filled out by youngsters stepping up as well. From the start of OTA's to the end of mini-camp, Sterling Shepard, Geremy Davis, and Roger Lewis.
Davis was complimented by Eli for his improvement and mental processing, and has gotten the opportunity to practice with the first team. He made the most of it, making the highlight catch of the second day of minicamp.
The selection of Shepard by the Giants in the second round of the 2016 draft was universally lauded, and he has garnered rave reviews from players and coaches alike. Steve Spagnuolo said that he remarked while watching film that the defense needed to do a better job covering Odell Beckham, then realized that he was actually watching Shepard. Spags' offensive counterpart has seen a similar spark of "something else" from Shepard, saying "I always have critical eyes as a coach. But Sterling, in all seriousness, is a young man that has demonstrated a suddenness, an explosiveness, an ability to make contested catches, to separate from defenders, and something else that's jumped out is we've thrown an awful lot at him and as we've gone through the later OTAs and through the minicamp we're giving him more repetitions with Eli and holding him to a high standard. And the thing is, he's a rookie, he's making mistakes, but he doesn't make a lot of the same mistakes. He tends to be a quick study, and so I think that I'm excited where he's headed and glad that he's here."
At the other end of the spectrum, undrafted free agent Roger Lewis is making waves as well. When asked about Lewis, Sullivan said Lewis has "shown an ability to make the tough catches. He separates, he competes well. He's made some mistakes, like they all do just coming in — there's a big huge learning curve from the system he was in in college to what he's asked to do here ... We've seen some good things from Roger and I'm excited to have him in the mix."
Lewis is far more talented than his undrafted free agent tag would indicate, but character questions torpedoed his draft stock. And as Sullivan said, he faces a large learning curve transitioning from Bowling Green's simplistic offense to the Giants' sophisticated scheme. However, Lewis should be a player to watch in camp next month.
The running back position was crowded in 2015, probably too crowded. However, that's nothing compared to the position heading into training camp. In addition to Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen, Andre Williams, and Orleans Darkwa (currently injured), the Giants have added free agent Bobby Rainey, draftee Paul Perkins, and undrafted free agent Marshaun Coprich.
Sullivan was asked about the crowded depth chart at running back, and he believes that it's a good problem to have, saying:
"When you look at the running back situation, unfortunately, Orleans [Darkwa] has not been able to participate this spring, and of course Paul Perkins — being at UCLA — kind of hard to really see exactly where he's at, you know being limited. And so we have Andre [Williams] and Rashad [Jennings] and, of course, Shane Vereen who have been able to do the things that we like them to do. Rashad has picked up right where he left off — he's had good reads, he's been very decisive, he's improved his pass protection, and really he's improved his receiving ability. I think Andre, a little bit lighter, is hitting the holes better and we want to see where he progresses once we get into training camp. Shane is a dynamic pass receiver, and we've done some things offensively to try and pinpoint him or target him, if you will, to get him the football. And then Bobby Rainey is a young man to keep an eye on. He's done a lot of good things both from a running standpoint — he has good vision, good acceleration — and he's an excellent receiver, so it gives us some good problems to have in terms of saying who's going to be the individual or individuals who are going to carry the football."
Perkins' situation, being unable to attend OTAs until his college class graduated, was unavoidable and put the rookie behind his teammates. However, the Giants did what they could to make the best out of a bad situation. "You know," Sullivan said "there's no substitute for the reps. I know there was communication — you try to coach him up as best you can while he's finishing school in California — but obviously if guys could just get it off of the film or off of the book, then I wouldn't have a job ... so he needs to be out there and get those reps. And he's a young man that we're very excited about— glad that he's here, glad that he's a member of the Giants — he just needs to get those reps and it'll be great to have him go full-speed ahead for us in training camp."
Finally, Williams was mentioned earlier in the offseason by Coach McAdoo as a being overlooked. "I do know he has lost some weight. He does look quicker," Sullivan said. "He's worked very, very hard, but again there's a lot of young men in that room and it's going to be a very good competition. I'm excited for us — it's a blessing for us as coaches to see how it's going to pan out."
Finally we come to the tight ends, a position that Sullivan hinted could figure prominently in the Giants' offense in 2016. Asked about free agent acquisition Will Johnson, Sullivan pointed to the former Steelers versatility, and how important that was to the offense. "He's done some things inline as a tight end. He's done some things moving into the backfield. You know, the more versatile our tight ends can be, that really helps our offense, whether they're able to stretch the field vertically and do things in the passing game," Sullivan said.
And after having the best receiving season of any rookie tight end in 2016, Will Tye has had himself a good off-season, once again practicing as a starter. He was joined by Matt LaCosse, another undrafted rookie tight end who impressed in the summer of 2015, before losing most of his rookie season to injury.
With Tye and Johnson on board, a returning Larry Donnell, LaCosse, and rookie Jerell Adams -- who was both the fastest tight end in the draft and the best blocker -- the Giants' tight end group will certainly bear watching come training camp.
The Giants' offense as a whole has plenty of openings for, and really is counting on, young players to step up and take roles for themselves. Perhaps more than anything else, that's what we should be watching for this summer.