This week of practice is a big one for the New York Giants. Not only are they coming off an absolute stinker of an offensive performance against the Buffalo Bills — with a bevy of problems to correct — but they need to get Victor Cruz ready for what the hope to be his long-awaited return to the football field.
So to say that offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan has a lot on his plate is putting it mildly.
While making progress and fixing the mistakes that sunk the offense against Buffalo is the Giants’ number one priority, it was Cruz who was at the fore of everyone’s mind.
Victor looked great
"Victor looked great." Sullivan said, when reporters asked about the receiver. "He has had two strong days, got a lot of balls thrown to him, getting him back into the mix of things. I'm excited about where he is at, and hopefully he will have his opportunity against the Jets."
Reporters present at Giants’ practice on Tuesday said that it was the best Cruz had looked since before his torn patellar tendon in 2014, and coach Sullivan concurred.
"There were a couple clips yesterday that jumped out," he said. "And I haven’t had a chance to look at the tape yet for today, where his release versus press -- there was the suddenness, the explosiveness, the things that I have in my mind, visions of 2011 in terms of that type of quickness. So obviously that is something to be excited about, and again, we're just progressing and hoping for the best. We're not trying to get overly excited or put too much pressure, just taking it one day, one rep at a time; and he's certainly shown some flashes over yesterday."
Perhaps best of all, the Giants aren’t going easy on Cruz. Sullivan also said that he had a lot of reps the last two days, and a lot of balls go his way Wednesday. He said that being out in the heat was a "healthy, old-school training camp type of day" and Cruz had "a lot of work".
The Giants know what they need to fix
"It's no mystery," Sullivan said. "It was very disappointing in a lot of areas the last time we were out. We haven't determined the exact number of plays the first offense will have, but they'll certainly see the most action that they have had. I think the important thing is that we identified those areas, and the breakdowns of what happened. Where were we short in the run game. Certainly the ball security has got to improve. We have to eliminate the self-inflicted wounds. But we really had the emphasis out there today, again as you saw, it was a long and healthy practice in full pads and really trying to address those areas so we can get the run game where we want it to be, get the pass protection where we want it to be, get the timing down in the pass game. So long way of answering your question, but very important and excited to see us take the mistakes that we've made, learn from them, work on them and have them transferred into the game."
In addition to the blocking along the offensive line, the blocking from the tight ends was an issue as well. Interestingly, Sullivan said that the tight ends had begun cross training with Mike Solari and the offensive line to work on their blocking fundamentals. "Certainly the other day was very disappointing in all aspects," Sullivan said of the blocking from the tight ends, "There is a litany of areas where we need to improve as an offense and that's certainly going to be one of them. In terms of what we do, what we control in terms of how we prepare, I think you saw it out there today. Being in full pads, we had an inside drill, we had a combo drill, Kevin took time from his individual period. Rather than catching passes with the quarterbacks, he was over there working with Mike Solari. So we just invested every amount of time that we have to try and improve on those fundamentals. Keep showing them, there is no magic potion, there's no formula. It's just hard work, what's here in front of our face, we're going to keep marching forward and get them better. "
Evaluating the young guys
The Giants have a lot of young talent on their roster. The competition in the running back and wide receiver groups is especially fierce. The hope is that the best players can separate themselves on the field during preseason games. However, thanks to the poor blocking from the offensive line, they simply haven’t had the opportunities they need.
That’s making life difficult on the coaches who will soon have to make cuts.
"That is where I think we really have to take a hard look at where we are in terms of training camp and knowing that even some those situations where there is no pass rush, and seeing how they execute the fundamentals." Sullivan said when asked about evaluating the young receivers. "Which as you mentioned, nothing beats an opposing jersey, another team, and seeing how they perform. There is still is going to be those opportunities. We can still look at, it’s not like every single play was down and out, no protection, or a bad read, or a bad throw by the quarterback. There is going to be those opportunities, and like anything else, as we are getting further into the preseason, guys have to make the most of their opportunities when their numbers are called. It's not a whole lot of room for error."
On the running backs, Sullivan said, "I think what you have to look at first and foremost are we putting the football on the ground from a ball security stand point. There are things that we have to improve, that has been disappointing. When guys have had the opportunity when there is a hole, are they hitting it full speed? How are the reads, how are the finishes, so there is enough still there. It's kind of a little bit like the questions as far as receivers. You'd love to be able to have a situation where you have 600 yards of offense and there are all kinds of holes to run and we can evaluate each player in the run game. But you have to sort through. There are ways, and we have to be able to get a feel for it. I think we feel pretty confident about where we are at in the evaluation process; again it's still early, no final decisions or anything are being made. Let's see what happens this weekend."
The Giants aren’t panicking over Ryan Nassib
The Giant’s blocking hasn’t helped the coaches’ evaluate their young players. Neither has the play of backup quarterback Ryan Nassib. Many observers are fretting over his mistakes and errors, but Sullivan isn’t one of them. At least not in public.
"Well, Ryan has been here, he’s going into his fourth year," Sullivan said when asked if he was close to pressing the ‘panic button’ on Nassib, "He's had a lot of preseason experience, he's played in games, he's been with us in the offseason. We know him, we know he knows the system very well, so I don't think there is going to be any rush to say that a couple of bad series or a bad game in the preseason of 2016 is going to water down or take away from his cumulative body of work. Having said that, I think like all of our players, time is running out, we have to make sure we make the most of the opportunities and he'll have his opportunities, both with this game and the following game after that so hopefully he prepares the way he is capable. But in terms of you asking for a set threshold, I wouldn't be in a position to say. He's done an awful lot more than these two bad performances, or performances that are below his standard if you will."