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OTA preview: Position battles to watch, storylines as Giants hit the field

Let’s take a look at what to expect as OTAs unfold

NFL: New York Giants-Rookie Minicamp Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY SPorts

The New York Giants begin OTAs on Monday, the on-field phase of their offseason program. Let’s break down what to expect as rookies and veterans practice together for the first time, and some of the storylines worth following.

The schedule

OTA Offseason Workouts: May 21-22, May 24, May 29-31, June 4-7
Mandatory Mini-camp: June 12-14

Phase Three consists of the next four weeks of the program. Per the Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams may conduct a total of 10 days of organized team practice activity, or “OTAs.” No live contact is permitted, but 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills are allowed.

Position battles

No positions will be won or lost in a single OTA, or probably for that matter during the entirety of the offseason program. Players, though, can make an impression and put themselves in good or bad positions to get reps once training camp begins. Here is a look at some of the most intriguing, and important, position battles that will play out from now until the end of the preseason.

Backup QB/heir apparent

Combatants: Davis Webb, Kyle Lauletta

Everybody loves the backup. Especially if that backup is a young quarterback with potential. The Giants have two of those.

Webb is the 2017 third-round pick. He is in the awkward position of having been drafted by the previous regime, and not having played a single snap to put anything on film to show the new regime.

Webb has done everything he can possibly do to show his new bosses that he is up to the task, or at least serious about it. He has worked out and studied diligently throughout the offseason.

Head coach Pat Shurmur has noticed:

“What I’ve learned is he cares, what I’ve learned is he is an extremely hard worker, what I’ve learned is he is very smart, he listens to what Eli (Manning) says, he listens to what all his coaches have been telling him. You can tell that he has learned things as time has gone along,” Shurmur said before last month’s voluntary veteran mini-camp.

Lauletta is the new kid on the block. Drafted in the fourth round, he and Webb give the Giants to shots at finding a successor to Eli Manning, thus avoiding what GM Dave Gettleman calls “quarterback hell,” without staking a first-round pick on the position.

Lauletta perhaps has the advantage of having been scouted and selected by the current Giants regime. He has the disadvantage of being a rookie, never having thrown passes even in practice against veteran NFL defenders, and being behind Webb in terms of learning the playbook.

How will this play out? Monday will offer our first glimpse.

Right tackle

Combatants: Chad Wheeler, Ereck Flowers, To Be Determined

If I had to handicap this one right now, I would think the odds would favor Wheeler winning this job. I would, though, call the second-year undrafted free agent from USC a “soft” favorite for that spot.

Wheeler is probably ahead at this point because the month he spent studying the playbook and working with the team gives him a jump on Flowers. The Giants are saying all the right things about wanting to work with Flowers, believing he has a chance to be their right tackle, etc. Still, there can be no way to know for sure if the Giants truly intend to keep Flowers or if they only hope to boost his potential trade value. That may depend on what kind of effort Flowers gives them throughout the remainder of the offseason. It is common knowledge at this point that they were willing to trade him during the 2018 NFL Draft.

“To Be Determined” is, of course, a veteran tackle currently on someone else’s roster. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he shows up in Giants’ camp eventually.

Defensive line

Combatants: B.J. Hill, R.J. McIntosh, Robert Thomas, A.J. Francis, Josh Banks, Kristjan Sokoli, Kerry Wynn, Tyrell Chavis, Jordan Williams

Damon Harrison, Dalvin Tomlinson and Josh Mauro (after he serves his four-game suspension) are likely the first three defensive linemen. Draftees B.J. Hill and R.J. McIntosh probably make the 53-man roster. After that? Anybody’s guess, though perhaps veteran run stoppers like Thomas and Francis have an early edge.

GM Dave Gettleman has made no secret of his desire to build depth and competition along the defensive line, trying both to bring out the best in each player and give them an opportunity to stay fresh enough during games to perform at their peak.

“The problem you get into, and I’ve seen it a number of times, you have a really good 11 or 12 guys and you don’t have quality depth behind them. What happens is the coaches, and rightly so, don’t want to put in the backups that aren’t very good. Okay? So, what happens is, guys end up playing 95-98 percent. In the fourth quarter, their tongues are hanging out. They are gassed,” Gettleman said. “Let me tell you something right now, you see teams that consistently blow fourth quarter leads. Obviously that’s on the defense. I promise you they’ve got no depth. They’ve got no depth. You have to have quality depth.”

Slot/backup cornerback

Combatants: William Gay, B.W. Webb, Teddy Williams, Chris Lewis-Harris, Mike Jones, Grant Haley, Aaron Davis, Curtis Riley, Tim Scott, Donte Deayon

This is hardly the first time I have written this, but look at the Giants’ cornerback depth chart beyond Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple at your own risk. It’s a scary place. Jenkins and Apple as the top two corners gives enough pause to begin with after last season. Beyond them? Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates — no one has any idea what the Giants are going to get.

Gay is a 12-year veteran and has been a good player for a long time. Is he, though, a has been? Gay started only one game for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season and played just 27.1 percent of the defensive snaps.

Deayon? I root for the kid, but he’s still a miniscule 5-foot-9, 165-pound corner who has played four games over two years and landed on IR both times.

After them the Giants have a collection of journeymen and undrafted players. One of those UDFAs, Grant Haley, impressed during rookie mini-camp. Going from that to being a dependable NFL slot corner, though, is a long road.


Combatants: Aldrick Rosas, Marshall Koehn, To Be Determined

Rosas made only 18-of-25 field goal attempts in 2017, his 72 percent success rate being 31st of the 32 kickers who played in at least 10 games. Only 41.94 percent of his kickoffs went for touchbacks, 28th of the league’s 32 teams.

“I see a kid that was a rookie last year and like most rookies in this league, they’re inconsistent,” said new special teams coach Thomas McGaughey. “It’s rare where you see a rookie that just comes in and just rips it up just walking through the door. He’s young and like Dave Gettleman always says, we’re not going to give up on talent. He’s a talented guy and there’s some things that he can do that a lot of people can’t do and I think there’s some talent there and we’re going to work with that talent.”

Koehn, 25, kicked in one game for the Cincinnati Bengals last season and made his only extra-point attempt.

“To Be Determined” is on the list because it should surprise no one if the Giants bring in a veteran kicker for competition at some point.

Free safety

Combatants: Darian Thompson, Andrew Adams

After missing most of his rookie season with a foot injury, Thompson started all 16 games last season. The ball-hawking player who intercepted 19 passes in four years at Boise State was missing, though, as he had only one interception. More distressingly, Thompson struggled to tackle ball-carriers in the open field. He ended up with a 52.2 Pro Football Focus grade, in the “poor” category.

In 2016, Adams started 13 games after Thompson’s injury. As an undrafted free agent, he played better than expected. Last season. his opportunities were limited but his PFF grade was 70.1.

It seems unlikely that a new regime would simply cede the job to Thompson because of his status as a drafted player.

Third wide receiver

Combatants: Cody Latimer, Roger Lewis Jr, Travis Rudolph, Khalif Raymond, Hunter Sharp, Alonzo Russell, Marquis Bundy, Jawill Davis, Amba Etta-Tawo, Keeon Johnson

I put all of the receivers on the roster other than Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard here. In reality, though, this is probably match play between Latimer and Lewis. “To be Determined,” either a current free agent or a veteran receiver currently on someone else’s roster, is lurking in the background.

In four seasons with the Denver Broncos, Latimer never really played up to his status as a second-round pick. He did, however, have a career-best 19 receptions a season ago and caught 61.3 percent of the passes thrown in his direction. At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds with elite measurables, the Giants have to be hoping last season was a sign that he is finding his way as a receiver.

Lewis caught 36 passes and made a few splash plays. The problem is that only 50 percent of the passes thrown his way were completions. As a rookie in 2016, only seven of 19 passes thrown to him (36.8 percent) were completions. Could that be an indication he has difficulty getting open or perhaps hasn’t been precise enough in his route-running to be where Eli Manning has expected? Don’t know, but that rate of production isn’t good enough.

There is much talk still about free agent wide receiver Dez Bryant. He has the big name and the big reputation, and had 69 catches last season. Over the past three seasons, though, Bryant has caught only 150 of 300 passes thrown to him, an even 50 percent. If reports that Bryant turned down an offer of $7 million annually from the Baltimore Ravens are accurate, that is an indication Bryants wants to be paid like something he really isn’t any longer — an elite player.

Monday storylines

There will, of course, be a few things worth focusing on Monday, once of the days media has access to practice and players.

  • Odell Beckham Jr. will be in attendance, but how much will he actually do on the field?
  • How will Ereck Flowers look at right tackle? Will Flowers, notoriously media-resistant, talk to the press?
  • As mentioned above, can Haley build on a strong rookie mini-camp?
  • Lauletta vs. Webb. I’m sure we will be keeping score, watching every throw and counting every interception. After one day, I’m also sure some will have already anointed one or the other as the “leader” for the backup job.
  • It’s a small thing right now, but considering that kickoff rules could be changing I’m curious to see if the Giants even both practicing that facet of the game.