When the New York Giants played the Cleveland Browns Thursday night, the most important part for the team as a whole was setting a baseline as they ramp up for their Week 1 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. They clearly established, particularly on offense, that they still have a ways to go in that regard.
For the players, this game had a much more immediate impact as the players finally got the chance to play out their position battles at full speed and against players wearing other uniforms.
With the first pre-season game in the books, let’s check in on some of the biggest roster battles.
Center - Jon Halapio vs. Brett Jones
Based on the first half, the first round probably goes to Jones. Halapio had a couple nice blocks in the run game, but looked lost when the Browns brought the A-gap blitz and gave up a sack to Eli Manning.
Jones was solid playing for the second team. He played a role in their success on the ground, and the Giants had solid protection in the passing game.
Offensive line depth
Winners: Chad Wheeler, John Greco, Malcolm Bunche
Wheeler had solid play at both left and right tackle, largely holding up well in both pass protection and as a run blocker. The time spent in the weight room showed up as he buried a defender on one big run.
Greco played well at both right guard and center. It’s assumed that the loser of the battle at center would be the team’s primary backup guard and center, but Greco could provide a reliable third string — as well as veteran presence — at the position as well.
Bunche showed up in the third quarter with some solid play at left tackle. Listed on the Giants’ roster as a guard, the 6 foot, 5 inch, 320 pounder might be able to force his way on to the field as a utility player.
Loser: John Jerry
Jerry did not play poorly. But playing just right guard and not standing out, he might have been eclipsed by other players.
Defensive line depth
Winners: A.J. Francis, Kerry Wynn, Robert Thomas
Francis showed up both as a pass rusher and in the run game. He got a hit on Baker Mayfield to force an inaccurate throw and a run stop at the line of scrimmage to start the second half. Francis looks both powerful and athletic.
Wynn played both defensive end and defensive tackle, consistently getting a good jump off the snap and spent a lot of the game in the Browns’ backfield. Wynn also continued to prove his worth on special teams by forcing the fumble on a punt return which lead to the Giants’ first touchdown.
Thomas had a largely quiet game at nose tackle, before busting through the Browns’ offensive line for a huge sack of Baker Mayfield to take the Browns right out of field goal range.
It is difficult to name a loser in the Giants’ defensive line. The unit played well all game, largely suffocating the Browns’ run game and getting quite a bit of pressure on Browns’ quarterbacks.
Winners: Russell Shepard, Wayne Gallman
Of the wide receivers, Russell Shepard was the leader through the first part of the game. Running back Wayne Gallman, however, was the team’s best receiver. The Giants will frequently use their running backs in the passing game, and Gallman looked like a viable weapon as a runner and receiver.
Losers: Travis Rudolph
The melee at safety
Winners: Michael Thomas, Andrew Adams
Thomas and Adams both flashed on the field, both coming up to make stops in the run game and appearing active in coverage.
Losers: Curtis Riley
Riley did not play in the game due to the hamstring injury which kept him out of practice in the past week. Riley has been running with the first team throughout the Giants’ offseason and training camp, so this likely doesn’t threaten his roster spot, but he could get passed on the depth chart.
Cornerback depth chart
Winners: B.W. Webb, Grant Haley
Webb got into the game with the second team, and almost immediately saved a touchdown. It was a savvy veteran play, staying in the receiver’s hip pocket and squeezing him into the sideline without interfering with him.
Haley flashed coming downhill to stop running back Nick Chubb (who outweighs him by 30-40 pounds) in the backfield. He was also routinely avoided in coverage, with Baker Mayfield consistently looking to other receivers.
Loser: William Gay
Gay is simply a loser here because he was unable to play due to injury. While he hasn’t done anything wrong, it does give other players a chance to show out.