There are 99 days left until the 2018 season kicks off, something ESPN reminded us on Wednesday with its look at 99 players teams and themes that will impact the upcoming season.
I am not even going to pretend to try and come up with 99 things to discuss about the upcoming season for your New York Giants. Since nine is today’s key number, though, let’s see if I can do that. Here are nine key things that could impact the outcome of the upcoming season for the Giants.
- The health, and happiness, of Odell Beckham Jr. — Coach Pat Shurmur said Tuesday that Beckham is ‘pretty close” to being cleared for full activity following last season’s fractured ankle. Will he be the same incredible, explosive player he was before the injury? There’s really no reason to doubt it, but we — and the Giants — need to see it. His happiness? That might depend on whether or not he gets the new mega-contract he wants. With each passing day you wonder if the Giants are going to make Beckham get on the field first and show them he’s still a player worthy of getting a $100 million contract.
- The productivity of Eli Manning — The new Giants regime has pushed its chips to the center of the table and bet that the 37-year-old Manning, coming off a terrible statistical season, is still a winning quarterback in the NFL. If he is, and the Giants are a contending team, they look great. If he’s not, the Giants flop and they land in what Dave Gettleman calls “quarterback hell,” well, then they don’t look so hot.
- Is Saquon Barkley the real deal? — Shurmur said Tuesday that to this point the rookie running back “hasn’t disappointed us one bit.” The Giants can’t afford to have the No. 2 overall pick in the draft disappoint them at all. They need production — lots of it — right away.
- Shurmur’s calming influence — When the Giants hired Shurmur as head coach, Gettleman said part of the reason was that he was an “adult.” The Giants were in complete chaos last season under Ben McAdoo. This year? Much different. The Giants are a seemingly happy bunch, and Shurmur has a lot to do with it. His press conferences provide a glimpse of why. Where McAdoo obviously didn’t want to be there and challenged or ignored questions he didn’t like, Shurmur is even-keeled and polite, He gives full answers to questions, perhaps gently letting media know if it’s a question has answered previously or is getting tired of. He’s an adult who treats other professionals like the adults they are.
- Special teams — The Giants traded for punter Riley Dixon. They added quality special teams players in Cody Latimer and Michael Thomas, along with other players who have experience in that part of the game. “It is very clear what they are thinking on special teams. I am excited to be a part of that. I don’t think having that low standard on special teams is going to be acceptable here,” Thomas said on Tuesday. “That is how we want to be a team that goes out there, puts in the work. Learn together and grow together. We are going to set the tempo. I love that.”
- Pass rush — James Bettcher is bringing an aggressive style of defense to the Giants which should include lots of pressure packages. The Giants will likely need them, as they are probably going to have to scheme pass rush. Olivier Vernon is the only accomplished pass rusher on the roster, and he has just one double-digit sack season in six years.
- The continued growth of Eli Apple — I said a couple of months ago that Apple is a talented player who needs to learn to get out of his own way to maximize that talent. Signs this spring have been that Apple, still only 22, is getting there. Here is Thomas on Apple: “I have heard things about it [last season]. But I see a talented, young kid. Personable. One of the dudes I have connected with. I haven’t seen what I heard about last year. When you are losing, I don’t care what team you are on, it is tough. It is tough. True colors come out and some things get blown out of proportion. He is a dude that is going out there competing and making plays. He is willing to get better. I have heard from a bunch of teammates that he is willing to get better. Last year, he would not have done that. He is really getting better. That is what I have seen so far.”
- Good health — That should go without saying, but last year was a great example of how injuries can help destroy a season. Gettleman has done a lot to re-construct the roster, but there are still trouble spots and a lack of depth in some areas. If the Giants key players remain healthy, they should be competitive. If not, who knows.
- The offensive line — The Giants have revamped it. Have they improved it? I believe they have, with Nate Solder, Will Hernandez and Patrick Omameh. Still, only the games will tell us for sure. Will Ereck Flowers hold up at right tackle? Will Brett Jones handle the center spot? If they have injuries do they have adequate depth?