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Giants at Lions: 11 Giants with the most to prove on defense

Roster spots, starting jobs are available — which players will grab them?

NFL: Cleveland Browns at New York Giants Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants and Detroit Lions have been practicing together all week and on Friday they’ll take it to the real field for Week 2 of the preseason. Despite having the worst running games in the league for seemingly forever, the Lions are continually one of the better overall offenses in the league year-after-year (passing is more important than rushing). Last year the Lions were 12th in offensive DVOA and they return just about every important piece, possibly upgraded at running back, and kept offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter through the change at head coach. Now we don’t know how much the starters will play on Friday night, but the effectiveness of the Lions offense could be a tough task for the Giants defense, whether it’s against the ones, twos, or threes.

Sections of the defense struggled against the Cleveland Browns in the preseason opener and with roster spots and starting gigs still up for grabs, the upcoming game against the Lions should be a good place for some players to separate from the pack, whether that be in a positive or negative way.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at few players on the defense who have the most to lose or gain Friday night in Detroit.

Eli Apple

Apple’s starting job isn’t in question, but that’s kind of the point. It’s shouldn’t be a stretch to consider Apple as one of the most important players on this year’s defense. The Giants went through the entire offseason basically guaranteeing Apple a starting spot as the No. 2 corner, believing a “fresh start” was all that was needed for the former first-round pick to turn the corner after two years of disappointing play.

Throughout the early parts of training camp, Apple was getting rave reviews. But it’s been more up and down lately and his showing against Cleveland’s No. 1’s was not a positive. Detroit can go four deep at wide receiver, so this should be a good test for Apple in whatever time he sees on the field Friday night. Without a clear No. 3 corner, there’s no one to take Apple’s place as a starting outside corner, so if Apple’s inconsistent play continues through the rest of the preseason, the defense could in a real bind sooner rather than later.

All of the slot corners

Let’s talk about that No. 3 corner spot. It’s still wide open and to this point no one has taken place as the favorite. Here’s how playing time broke down for this battle against the Browns:

Cornerback snaps vs CLE

Player Snaps Def %
Player Snaps Def %
Chris Lewis-Harris 74 74%
Leonard Johnson 45 65%
B.W. Webb 34 49%
Grant Haley 32 46%

Now let’s do a brief breakdown of each player in this competition.

Chris Lewis-Harris: Lewis-Harris is a journeyman cornerback who has been in the league since 2012. He was not on a roster in 2017 after he was cut by the Denver Broncos before Week 1 last season. Lewis-Harris got run with the second-team defense and stayed on until the end of the game. He was mostly fine, but was beaten on a back shoulder throw from Baker Mayfield to Rashard Higgins for 26 yards in the second quarter.

Leonard Johnson: The former Panther played more than half the game after being with the team for a week. Johnson played for the Bills last season, but his charting metrics were poor and let’s just say people talk about Tre’Davious White and the safeties on that defense more for a reason. Against the Browns, he had a nice pass deflection against Higgins on a third down from the slot at the end of the second quarter, but also allowed undrafted wide receiver Da’Mari Scott to run uncontested in the middle of the field for a 20-yard pass in the third.

Grant Haley: The undrafted free agent out of Penn State was the most impressive player of this group against Cleveland. He played tight coverage which forced Mayfield off his prefered read a few times during the game, he came off his receiver to pick up a tackle for loss against the run, and had a pass breakup later in the game. Despite his 5’9” frame, Haley got run as an outside corner, where he played most of his snaps (61.8 percent) at Penn State last season. Though he did allow less than 50 percent completion percentage when he played the slot and just 4.0 yards per pass attempt when targeted.

B.W. Webb: If there is a favorite here, it might be Webb. He’s been working his way up the depth chart and had been a thorn in Davis Webb’s side during some practices — frequently on the other end of Webb interceptions. Webb gave up two completions on some tough coverage asks against Cleveland. He couldn’t stay with Antonio Callaway on a drag route across the field and lost Higgins on a bit of a scramble drill on a play when Mayfield left the pocket.

William Gay: Gay has been the forgotten member of this group, mostly because he hadn’t been on the field to make an impression. He missed the game against Cleveland, but returned to practice earlier this week. Prior to his injury, Gay was also getting run with the first-team at safety. That could make him more valuable to James Bettcher as a hybrid slot-safety, something Bettcher used with Tyrann Mathieu and Budda Baker in Arizona.

Lorenzo Carter

The Giants knew Carter was going to have to develop a little more to become a refined edge rusher. In his first action against the Browns, Carter struggled in one-on-one matchups against Greg Robinson. Now Robinson is a former second-overall pick, but hasn’t played up to that status. The Lions said no thanks to him as a starter after trading for him last season. Getting Carter more snaps so he can work on his development will be an important part of the preseason, especially with the lack of depth at the position. He played 55 percent of the snaps against the Browns and that number should increase against the Lions.

Safeties, non-Landon Collins edition

As we did for the cornerbacks, here’s how often the safeties played in Week 1:

Safety Snaps vs CLE

Player Snaps Def %
Player Snaps Def %
Andrew Adams 38 55%
Sean Chandler 35 51%
Michael Thomas 23 33%
Darian Thompson 11 16%

Darian Thompson got the start, but he suffered an injury during the game and his stock has fallen a bit since then. Curtis Riley may be the new favorite to take the job, but that’s still a very loose term, and he missed the Browns game with a hamstring injury. He could have the most to gain with a good game against Detroit. Andrew Adams was the standout of the game against the Browns with a team-leading seven tackles, including one for a loss, though his course to playing time might hinge more on the overall plan at safety. Adams, like Collins, is fit more to be a downhill player than a centerfielder, which works better when there’s also an additional safety on the field who can take those deep responsibilities. However his coverage metrics — 56 percent success rate and 5.6 yards allowed per pass according to Football Outsiders Almanac — were the best among Giants safeties last season, though on a small sample of 17 targets. Michael Thomas appears to be set for depth behind whoever the starters may be and a key special teams piece.

Alec Ogletree

Ogletree was supposed to be the answer at linebacker. It might be too early to panic — unless you had doubts from the start — but early returns haven’t been great in coverage. He miscalculated his angle to tight end David Njoku on the tight end’s 36-yard touchdown reception and on the highlight play Saquon Barkley pulled a hamstring on, Ogletree was steps behind the running back on a wheel route. He profiles as a player who looks the part, but doesn’t always play it. His 7.0 yards allowed per pass play last season ranked 45th among linebackers, per FOA. If the starters get a little more run against the Lions, seeing a bit more consistency from the quarterback of the defense would be a nice thing to see.