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‘Things I think’ as Giants begin training camp

Saquon Barkley is the big story, but not the only one

NFL: New York Giants OTA USA TODAY Sports

With NFL training camp officially opening on Tuesday, July 27 football season is back! Here are some ‘Things I think’ about your New York Giants as a season that will include the return of fans to MetLife Stadium begins.

Saquon will be THE story

I think Saquon Barkley will be the story of camp. And, he might be that without ever setting foot on the practice field. Or, more precisely, he might do that because he could go the entire training camp without ever setting foot on the practice field.

Barkley enters camp basically nine months removed from the surgery to repair his torn ACL and partially torn meniscus in his right knee. He also had MCL damage.

Barkley has been non-committal about a potential return to practice or even whether he would be ready for Week 1. I think much of that is by design. Player after player last season said they were not allowed to discuss injuries. When Daniel Jones admitted before the Week 17 game against the Dallas Cowboys that his hamstring injury kept him in the pocket and he was “not able to do a lot of the things I’m used to doing,” Judge wasn’t thrilled. Judge said Jones was “probably a little more forthcoming than I would have been.”

I’m speculating here, but the message to Barkley has almost certainly been don’t make promises you end up not being able to keep. Under-promise and try to over-deliver.

You have likely seen those Twitter or Instagram videos of Barkley running and cutting. He sure looks healthy. There is, though, a big difference between running drills at something less than full speed vs. trying to avoid tackles and taking punishment from NFL defenders.

Barkley was injured Sept. 20 of last season, and the damage to his knee was extensive. Would it be a total shock not to see him on the field until, say, Sept. 26 (Week 3) against the Atlanta Falcons? Maybe not.

Jones-ing for answers

It is no secret that the biggest variant, aside from injuries, for the Giants in 2021 is what kind of quarterback Daniel Jones is going to be. Emory Hunt of Football Gameplan told me over the summer that, after doing his series of positional videos on the Big Blue View Youtube channel, he sees the roster as a 7- to 9-win one. I think that’s fair, though I would be disappointed if this team wins only seven games. If the Giants are reasonably healthy and turn out to be more — or less — than that, Jones’ progress or lack thereof is likely going to be the biggest reason.

We keep hearing about Jones’ leadership, about how his teammates respond to him, his stellar preparation. He proved his toughness by playing several games on one leg at the end of last season, a sitting duck for hungry pass rushers much of that time. He’s got the requisite physical skills, even if he doesn’t quite throw like Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen or run like Kyler Murray or Russell Wilson.

What he has not had yet are the results. He has probably shown enough to think he is capable of an Andy Dalton-esque career. That isn’t, though, what the Giants drafted him No. 6 overall in 2019 for. They want — no, need — more.

Much of my offseason has been devoted to gathering opinions on Jones, and on what the Giants have done to try and help him. The quote that has stuck with me came from former New York Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum during a ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast appearance.

“At some point greatness is gonna show up. Let’s go! Take the team over and show that you’re a great quarterback,” Tannenbaum said. “There’s always going to be excuses … I think he’s flashed, but at some point we need to see it multiple weeks in a row.”

Tannenbaum also said “boy, you want to bet on this guy.”

Yes, you do. And, yes the Giants have. Now, we need to know whether they rolled snake eyes or a pair of 6’s.

The adventures of Kadarius

Let’s just say the NFL career of Giants’ first-round pick Kadarius Toney is not off to an ideal start. Cleat issues at rookie minicamp. Bypassing voluntary OTAs. Failing to finish the first practice of mandatory minicamp. Now, Toney is missing practice reps after being placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.

There are cliff-jumping fans already labeling him a “bust.” That, I think, is ridiculous. Nothing that has happened makes him a bad guy. Nothing that has happened indicates he is a bad football player. All of it, truthfully, could have happened to anyone.

It is just weird that it has all happened to Toney before he has really even gotten a chance to get his NFL career off the ground.

Yes, my antenna is up when it comes to Toney. Yes, I wonder if all of this is going to slow his development or limit his usefulness to the Giants this season. I think, though, it’s far too early to jump to the conclusion that he was the wrong player for the Giants to select at No. 20.

Roster battles

As we have gone position-by-position through the roster in our series of ‘Better or worse’? posts, I have become convinced that the roster is improved from a season ago. It isn’t an overwhelming, star-studded roster with proven Pro Bowl players at every position. It is a roster filled with some intriguing upside, and featuring a decent modicum of depth across the board.

These are the three positions I think feature the most interest competitions for roster spots heading into training camp.

  • Wide receiver — Four spots are locked in, with Kenny Golladay, Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard and Kadarius Toney. That leaves perhaps two openings on the 53-man roster. Any combination of John Ross, Dante Pettis, Austin Mack, C.J. Board and perhaps even David Sills could emerge with those spots.
  • Edge defender — With Lorenzo Carter, Azeez Ojulari, Elerson Smith, Oshane Ximines, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Cam Brown, Ryan Anderson and Niko Lalos there are more capable players at this position than the Giants can possibly keep.
  • Cornerback — The backup spots are anybody’s guess. Is Isaac Yiadom on the bubble despite starting 10 games a year ago? How is Sam Beal still on the roster and does he have an actual chance of sticking around? What’s going on with rookie Aaron Robinson? He did not participate in mandatory minicamp and is now on PUP with a core muscle injury. That’s concerning. If you are interested, you can read more about core muscle injuries here and here. Where does Madre Harper fit? Sixth-round pick Rodarius Williams? Are veterans like Quincy Wilson, Joshua Kalu and Chris Milton legitimate competitors for roster spots? Is Jarren Williams destined for the practice squad again? Does Julian Love fit into the cornerback picture at all?

No fans at camp

I think — actually, I know — this is a bummer.

There are 13 practices at Quest Diagnostics Training Center before the Giants head to Ohio for joint workouts with the Cleveland Browns, followed by joint workouts in Massachusetts with the New England Patriots the following week. Twelve of those could possibly be open to the public — there is a ‘Guns N’ Roses’ concert at MetLife Stadium Aug. 5 that would cause practice to be closed.

The only one open to the public will be the Aug. 11 ‘FanFest’ at MetLife. There have been years since training camp unfortunately but understandably moved from Albany to East Rutherford where fewer than 12 practices have been open to fans. So, I’m not buying the idea that there aren’t enough practices to bother with bringing in temporary bleachers and whatever else needs to be done to accommodate fans.

More likely, this is probably about the pandemic. I get it and I understand it, but it’s unfortunate.

Roster rules changes carrying over

As had been expected, the league has announced that the more flexible roster rules and increased practice squad size implemented a season ago due to COVID-19 will carry over to 2021. I think that is fantastic news.

As a resfresher, here are those changes:

  • Expansion of practice squads to 16 players, including up to six who have more than two accrued seasons.
  • The ability to protect up to four practice squad players per week from being signed by other teams.
  • Elevation of up to two practice squad players to the active roster, without removing any current players, before 4 p.m. ET the day before a game.
  • Elevation of an additional practice squad player within 90 minutes before kickoff in the event of a late COVID-19 positive test result.
  • Players placed on injured reserve can return after three weeks, rather than six as in normal seasons.
  • Removal of the limit for how many players can be activated from injured reserve.

I have long been in favor of rules loosening the restrictions on players returning from IR. I think the product is better when healthy players who belong in the league are on the field near the end of the season rather than street free agents who have not been on a team and probably shouldn’t be in the league.

I think that, and the expanded practice squad rules, are important. That is because the pandemic is still a real thing — just ask the New York Yankees — and the 17-game season means added chances for injury.

Quick hits

  • I am really looking forward to finding out how big a role Ojulari will end up with.
  • I am looking forward to getting a chance to talk to Will Hernandez. He might not be forthcoming about it, but I would love to know what really happened to him last season.
  • Beginning Wednesday, media gets in-person interviews with Giants coaches and players. We haven’t had those since Joe Judge’s introductory press conference and Eli Manning’s retirement announcement.
  • A quick tease. I had an opportunity to speak 1-on-1 with Judge over the weekend. For full disclosure, several other writers covering the Giants did, as well. Results of my conversation with the Giants coach will be posted Monday on Big Blue View.