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Giants vs. Browns: What to watch when the Giants have the ball

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What should we watch on the Giants' offense in Thursday’s preseason opener?

NFL: New York Giants-Training Camp NorthJersey.com-USA TODAY NETWOR

It’s finally here. Real, honest to goodness (preseason) football is here!

We will finally get a chance to see the new-look 2018 New York Giants in action when they take on the Cleveland Browns in one of the very first games of the preseason. Of course, this is just an exhibition game and is really about nothing more than setting a baseline for both teams as they ramp up toward the regular season. But still, it’s football and there are so many questions for which we have been (im)patiently awaiting answers.

We won’t be getting in to specific match-ups in these posts until the regular season starts — that’s just silly with pre-season games. However, we will be using these to keep track of roster battles and positions of interest.

Offensive line

There are a trio of story lines to watch here.

  • The starters - The perception has been that the Giants “fixed” their offensive line, but this is the first time that assertion will be tested. Despite completely reconstructing the line, questions abound. Three of the five starters haven’t played their positions at the NFL level (Will Hernandez, Jon Halapio, and Ereck Flowers) — How will they fare? The fourth, Patrick Omameh has bounced around the league and hasn’t played right guard recently, and the fifth (Nate Solder) has to prove that his massive contract wasn’t a bad investment. The Giants’ offensive line has been under siege in training camp, and they will need to show that they are building the chemistry and cohesion necessary to be a functional unit over the course of preseason — and the regular season.
  • Jon Halapio vs. Brett Jones - The camp battle that took everyone by surprise. It was expected that Jones would be the Giants center going forward after playing well enough to allow the Giants to let Weston Richburg leave via free agency. However, Halapio Has been taking the majority of the first team snaps this summer. The battle will be won on the field in the preseason, and it is far too early to name either the starter (even though I just did above). This will be one of the main battles
  • The depth? - Do the Giants have any? They should he reasonably solid on the interior with players like John Greco and whoever doesn't win the starting center job. However, the edges are much shakier. Chad Wheeler flashed a bit as a rookie, but needs to show much more for the Giants to feel comfortable with him as their primary backup tackle. Likewise, John Jerry is playing for his job with the Giants, and maybe his career.

Quarterbacks

Eli Manning only played sparingly in the previous two preseasons, but that could change under Pat Shurmur. Manning has reportedly been sharp in camp, and the Giants hope that continues once the hitting is for real.

But the player to watch here is back-up quarterback Davis Webb. Webb has worked his tail off throughout the off-season and has largely drawn rave reviews for his showing in the spring and summer. He will almost certainly be the Giants’ primary back-up quarterback and could be in line to be the heir to Eli Manning. The Giants know he is a great athlete with a massively powerful arm, what they want to see is him come out and execute the offense efficiently. Interestingly, Webb will possibly be matched up against the only quarterback the Giants couldn’t have drafted at number two overall. Will Webb begin to validate not only Dave Gettleman’s decision to forego a quarterback at the top of the draft but Jerry Reese’s conviction to draft him without consulting Ben McAdoo?

Wide receivers

The top of the Giants’ wide receiver depth chart is pretty much set with Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard. Assuming Beckham plays (a coin flip as I write this, considering Beckham is coming back from injury and Gregg Williams’ defenses have played on the ragged edge of “dirty” with Beckham the last two times he has seen them), it will be worth watching how and how much the Giants use Beckham. He and Shepard have been moved all around the Giants’ offense in training camp, will that continue in a game?

Behind them, Cody Latimer is in line to be the third wide receiver, and the Giants could use his size, athleticism, and body control — both in the red zone and blocking down the field. Second year player Amba Etta-Tawo has been impressing throughout camp, and could be competition for Latimer.

Alonzo Russell, Marquis Bundy, and Russell Shepard all have size that the Giants have lacked in the past, and could be in the running to help fill out the Giants’ depth chart.

Meanwhile, Roger Lewis Jr. and Travis Rudolph are fighting to prove that they still deserve roster spots, and could have to carve out roles on special teams as well as show their offensive worth.

Finally, Hunter Sharp distinguished himself in the spring program while Kalif Raymond came on strong once camp opened. They are likely competing with each other as the team’s primary returner and could fill the same role.

Rookie watch

  • Saquon Barkley - Let’s face it, SaQuads is the reason why many people are watching this game. How much work will he get? Will he make any highlight-reel plays? Will he live up to the hype? We can’t expect Pat Shurmur to unveil any of the tricks hidden up the Giants’ offensive sleeve, but it will be interesting, and enlightening, to see how Barkley is used, how he runs, and what kinds of plays are called for him.
  • Will Hernandez - Nate Solder got the big contract, and Barkley might get all the hype, but Hernandez could prove to be the cornerstone of the Giants’ offensive line. He was considered a steal, falling to the second pick of the second round. The Giants are hoping that he plays up to his first round hype, but it is a hell of a jump, going from a winless UTEP squad to the NFL.
  • Kyle Lauletta - Lauletta isn’t under any pressure right now. However, down the road his competition with Davis Webb could determine the future of the Giants’ franchise. He comes out of Richmond with a reputation for a quick release, accuracy, anticipation, and good decision making. On the down side, he struggled to generate velocity in college and his flat ball trajectory led to a surprising number of batted balls. The Giants will want to see how good of a first impression Lauletta can make.
  • Robert Martin - Martin signed with the Giants as an undrafted free agent out of Rutgers after an impressive performance at the Giants’ rookie mini-camp. He has raised some eyebrows and caught the eye of beat writers over the course of the spring and summer, and this is his chance to show that Barkley isn’t the only rookie running back on the Giants’ roster we should be watching. He has an uphill battle to make the final 53, but a strong game is the first step.
  • Jawill Davis - A sleeper prospect, Davis signed with the Giants out of Bethune-Cookman. He wasn’t invited to the combine, but Davis is an explosive straight-line athlete. His 4.38 sec 40 yard dash and 39 inch vertical would each have landed him in the top three at Indy. He likely won’t see the field until the latter stages of the game, but his athleticism gives him the chance to make a splash. With the Giants’ receiving depth chart unsettled behind Beckham and Shepard, a splash could be what he needs. Interestingly (though perhaps unsurprisingly), Davis cited Beckham as the model for his game coming out of college.
  • Nick Gates - The Giants’ offensive line depth chart is as unsettled as any on the roster, and they could desperately use a young lineman to step up and seize the swing tackle position behind Solder and Flowers. Gates has played both left and right tackle in camp, but reports have both he and second-year tackle Chad Wheeler struggling against the defense. This will be his first chance to prove that the Giants’ defense is just that good.
  • Evan Brown - Another lineman with the opportunity to step up, Brown has a harder path to the final 53. The Giants are relatively stacked along the offensive interior, so Brown might just be playing for a spot as a back-up center/guard on the Giants’ practice squad.