Preseason games don’t count, but that doesn’t mean they don’t matter. There is a tendency to dismiss the preseason exhibition games as either meaningless at one extreme, or to read too deeply into anything that happens and to live and die by them at the other extreme.
The preseason has plenty of value for the coaching staff as well as much of the roster — and it also has plenty of value for those of us on the outside. So here are a few things I’m going to be watching in the first preseason game.
We say this every year, but the number one goal of every team in every game of the preseason is to emerge healthy. When you get right down to it, football is a game of resource management — every team gets the same amount of cap dollars, the same number of roster spots, the same number of practices, the same size field, and the length of games is rigidly regulated — and for the most part they average around the same number of plays per game.
Generally speaking, the teams that do the best are the ones who are able to use those resources the best. A big part of that is keeping the team — and the starters in particular — healthy.
Having your best players available while other teams deal with injuries is a big . After all, the 5-win Giants were able to scrape out a victory over the 12-win Chicago Bears while Mitchell Trubisky and Khalil Mack were on the bench.
The first thing we should all be watching, and hoping, for is that the Giants are as healthy Friday morning as they are Thursday morning.
A good baseline
The preseason is all about a gradual building over the course of four (three) games in preparation for the regular season in September. The first preseason game is always a vanilla affair, and the fact that the Giants and Jets will play later this year only reinforces that. Neither team is going to even think about anything that might be hint towards their schemes or planned for the coming year. The respective coaching staffs are going to play their cards as close to their as they possibly can. It would be something of a stunner if we got anything like a glimpse into how the Giants are going to deploy Evan Engram and Saquon Barkley, or how the defense will use Jabrill Peppers.
Instead, I am looking see a good solid baseline.
I don’t expect the players to not screw up, mistakes are part of the learning process and the important part is that the players don’t make the same mistakes twice. If the players can execute the fundamentals of their positions — blocking with good technique, running good routes and catching the ball cleanly, recognizing coverage and going through progressions at the quarterback position — that’s enough for this game. The next step will be building on that in weeks two and three when the coaches begin to add in and game plan as if it was a regular season game.
Offensive line depth
There are few, if any, offensive lines that can survive the more than one injury. Depth at the offensive line is a rare thing league-wide and all it takes is one or two injuries to turn a good unit into a bad one. The Giants’ depth along the offensive line looks scary at the moment. I’ll be looking to see if any of the players down the depth chart can give us some sense of comfort if a starter has to come out of the game.
Perhaps we might even get lucky and have a future answer at one of the positions already on the roster.
Who’s gonna be the one?
Which of the Giants wide receivers are going to step up? While the Giants play one of the highest percentages of 12-personnel (two tight end) packages in the league, the three receiver set is still the base formation for offensive football at the NFL level. Right now the Giants hope to have Sterling Shepard back for the of the season, but right now the opportunity is there for players down the depth chart to get significant snaps and seize a larger role for themselves.
Cody Latimer has the inside track a starting job with Corey Coleman on the IR, but there is also opportunity for players like Reggie White Jr., Amba Etta-Tawo, Alex Wesley, Alonzo Russell, or TJ Jones to make plays and impress.
For me, one of the best parts of preseason is seeing which players can force the coaches’ hands with respect to roster decisions.