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Giants at Browns: ‘Things I think’ after Giants fall to Browns

Roster battles intensify, offensive line holds up well, more

New York Giants v Cleveland Browns
Rysen John makes a catch on Sunday.
Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Here are a few ‘things I think’ after the New York Giants 17-13 preseason loss to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

Pass rush showing good signs

There has been a great deal of worry in Giants Nation about the team’s pass rush, especially from the edge. Well, Lorenzo Carter didn’t play on Sunday but reports were that Carter was dominant throughout the joint practices.

Oshane Ximines was dominant as a pass rusher during the game Sunday with a sack and three quarterback hits. Carter Coughlin, aligning as an inside linebacker, continued to show pass rush chops. He had a sack and a quarterback hit.

Azeez Ojulari, who didn’t play with what head coach Joe Judge called a “nick,” flashed during joint practices.

I think the Giants may not have a single dominant pass rusher this season, but there are a number of pass rushers who should help them.

Backup offensive line impresses

In our ‘5 things to watch’ before Sunday’s game, one of the big things yours truly focused on was the offensive line. Could some of the backups show that they belonged on an NFL roster? I think we saw that, as backups played the entire game.

Here was the lineup:

LT Jackson Barton
LG Kenny Wiggins
C Jonotthan Harrison
RG Ted Larsen
RT Chad Slade

Jake Burton played a lot at right tackle, and Brett Heggie took over at a guard spot for Wiggins with Larsen switching sides.

The line held up well. The Giants averaged 5.2 yards per play, including 4.8 rushing the ball. There were two late sacks of quarterback Brian Lewerke, but the pass protection was pretty solid.

It was great to see Harrison, the veteran who has missed much of training camp, play so much — and play well. I don’t know how well Larsen will grade, but he’s a veteran who can play multiple spots and knows what he’s doing.

The Giants still need to look for upgrades, but overall I feel better about the offensive line depth after watching Sunday’s game.

Running back developments

Devontae Booker finally showed some of what the Giants like about him. Booker ran well with six carries for 27 yards and a touchdown. He had two receptions for 13 yards, including a swing pass where he made a defender miss and earned a first down.

Here is what offensive coordinator Jason Garrett told me during the week about Booker:

“We think he’s a good player,” Garrett said. “When he’s gotten opportunities as a runner, as a pass receiver, as a protector during his career he’s done a good job ... He’s just one of those guys you want to see play, and we’re comfortable putting him in any situation right now.”

On Sunday, Booker showed some of that.

Something else of interest is that the Giants used fullback Elijhaa Penny as the lone running back on a number of plays. Penny ran twice for 16 yards, caught a pass and had a third nice run nullified by penalty.

It’s going to be interesting to see a) how the roster shakes out at running back and b) if the Giants actually intend to involve Penny more in the offense as a ball handler/receiving target this season.

Backup quarterbacks played well

I’m being kind when I say that veteran backup quarterback Mike Glennon has been erratic throughout training camp. To be brutally honest, a loooong time ago as a pitcher for my high school JV team I started a game and walked nine straight hitters (the umpire was terrible! I swear I got squeezed!). That’s kind of the way Glennon has performed.

When he has thrown the ball it’s been anybody’s guess if it would end up anywhere near its intended target.

Sunday, Glennon was efficient. He missed one throw he probably should have completed, but ended up 10 of 13 for 86 yards. He was solid. He protected the ball. He moved the chains. He played the way a backup quarterback is supposed to play.

Now, let’s give some props to Brian Lewerke. This is a kid who took the field and played the second half after having just three practices. He went 11 of 19 for 108 yards and a touchdown, and had a chance to be a hero on the game’s final play. As I was watching the broadcast, Lewerke drew a ton of praise from Carl Banks. That’s good enough for me.

The young man isn’t unseating Glennon, but he deserves props. That was a heckuva performance for a kid who just showed up.

It’s Matt Cole’s world

I don’t know if this undrafted free agent who got cut two weeks ago by the woeful New York Jets can make the roster, but he can play on my team.

Cole was tremendous as a punt gunner on Sunday, ending up with two tackles. Phooey on the stats — I think he made more plays than that. He can play wide receiver. He is getting a look at kickoff returner. Knowing the Giants were short on cornerbacks heading into the game, the Giants gave Cole a crash course at the position on Saturday night. Without any practice, Cole went out and played representatively there for much of the second half.

“I’m proud of the way Matt competed,” coach Joe Judge said. “He’s been a guy since he’s gotten here whether it’s special teams, offense or defense he just says ‘ yes sir’ and goes out there and plays at a hundred percent.

“One thing that impressed us, he didn’t blink. He went out there, got the ball thrown at him a couple times, made a nice tackle.”

Wide receiver competition

We have already talked about Cole. He has put down his “I’m going to be tough to cut marker.”

So has David Sills. Sills had three catches for 31 yards, including a contested touchdown catch on a back shoulder throw from Lewerke. Sills did commit an offensive pass interference penalty.

Damion Willis also made two catches for 21 yards.

I think the last couple of wide receiver roster spots are going to depend upon whatever skill sets the Giants think they need. I also think they will try to get several receivers to the practice squad.

These guys aren’t making it easy

I think I can’t remember a year where it was so difficult to predict the initial 53-man roster. That’s partially because Judge’s intent is hard to read sometimes when it comes to certain players or decisions. It’s also because a number of players I would not have thought could make the roster at the beginning of camp are pushing — hard — for spots.

“There’s a lot of push on the roster at different positions,” Judge said. “Trent [Harris], [David] Moa, a lot of those guys [are] really showing up.”

Add Sills and Cole at wide receiver, how the Giants will construct the running back room, how they will fill out the offensive line depth, which edge defenders are going to be left out, how many tight ends will be kept and how the running back room will look and the 53-man roster is insanely difficult to get a handle on.

This was a really good week

The Giants got two excellent days of work against the Browns in joint practices. Then, they got a game on Sunday in which they got a long look at many players who are fighting for roster spots.

This was a good week for the Giants as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.

“I think our entire roster got better this week. We had great quality work against a quality opponent,” Judge said. “I thought the practices were exactly what we needed. Come out here with high intensity, high volume.

“I thought seeing those young guys play in competitive situations throughout the entire game today, seeing them really play for 60 minutes that gives you a really good, extended view of these players.”

This will be a big week for Saquon

Saquon Barkley did not play Sunday. He did individual drills but did not participate in any of the team periods during joint practices. Judge hinted that the Giants might ramp up Barkley’s work this week when they head to Foxborough, Mass. for joint practices with the New England Patriots.

“We’re going to talk to the doctors as we get closer,” Judge said. “We’ll definitely be increasing what he’s doing. I can’t tell you exactly what that’s going to be.”

Judge said “I don’t have a crystal ball” when asked if Barkley would be ready for the season opener. He would not, though, eliminate the possibility.

Ryan Santoso getting attention

There was a report from Ian Rapoport over the weekend that Ryan Santoso, the Giants placekicker who is blocked from the 53-man roster by Graham Gano, was drawing interest from placekicker-needy teams in a potential trade.

Santoso handled all of the kickoff and extra-point duties on Sunday. I think it’s apparent that the Giants a) really like Santoso and b) wouldn’t mind boosting his trade value at all.

“This guy’s had a tremendous camp for us,” Judge said. “Really wanted to make sure that we reward him and got him out there in position to have some kicks. We’re happy to have Graham, Graham’s a phenomenal kicker. If we didn’t have Graham this guy would be our kicker.

“This guy deserves to be one of 32.”

Bummer for Rysen John

Just when I was starting to think I might have to figure out a way to squeeze John, the former Division II wide receiver, onto the 53-man roster, he pulled up lame late in the game. That was a non-contact injury and after tearing my own Achilles tendon twice, I will be surprised if that’s not an Achilles injury for John.

Yes, he walked off the field. I distinctly remember, though, being able to walk on my own for a while after suffering my own Achilles injuries. Once the numbness sets in, that changes.

Hopefully, it’s just an ankle sprain. To me, though, it sure didn’t look like it.

One positive note at tight end is that Judge indicated Kyle Rudolph (foot) could come off PUP this week.