As New York Giants training camp rolls along, let’s open the Big Blue View Mailbag and see what questions we can try to answer.
Jeff Drummond asks: Can you identify or write about one more position group? Gunner. It seems every once in a while a player makes the final 53 based on that skill set alone. Rarely if ever see them on the field except to cover returns. Quite a few posters talk about Gunners, and the associated skill set. I’m wondering who, if anyone would be in that position this year.
I understand that literally anyone can be out on special teams in a given circumstance, but every year the Gunners seems to get some specific attention beyond the normal, K, P, LS, R positions. Who are the candidates and where do they fall out on the various charts above? I confess, I watch the games and rarely know who is out there on the end of the line during returns.
Ed says: Jeff, thanks for the question. When it comes to punt coverage, the two gunners — the players split far to the outside — are the most important players on that unit. They are expected to beat their blocker or blockers (they are often double-teamed), be the first ones down the field to challenge the punt returner, squeeze him so he can’t get to the outside, make a tackle if they have the opportunity and be in position to down the ball on punts inside the 20-yard line.
In old days of the Giants, a player like Reyna Thompson was fantastic in this role. Dwayne Harris excelled. Two years ago, the tandem of Cody Core and Antonio Hamilton gave the Giants a tandem of gunners that was among the best in the league.
One player to watch in that role this season might be wide receiver C.J. Board. You need quickness, aggression and strength to defeat immediate blocks. You need the willingness and ability to tackle. You need speed to get into position. You also need good enough hands and instincts to make plays on the ball near the goal line.
The Giants seem to think linebacker Cam Brown can play that role, though using a linebacker that way is unusual. Generally, gunners are backup receivers, cornerbacks and maybe running backs.
Special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey gave a really good answer this week when asked about what it takes to be a good gunner at the NFL level. Here it is:
“It’s a great question. At that position, you have to have — obviously, the first thing is speed, you have to have some savvy at the line of scrimmage because a lot of times you’re getting double-boxed. When you get an opportunity to put that speed on the field, use it, and obviously you have to be able to tackle in space. All these guys are working at it, they’re all getting reps. Our guys (Assistant Linebackers Coach/Special Teams Assistant Anthony) Blevins and (Defensive Backs Coach) Jerome (Henderson) and (Assistant Defensive Backs Coach) Mike Treier, all these guys are working with these gunners and they’re doing a heck of a job of bringing them along. The maturation process of a gunner is not easy. It’s not just speed – speed helps, but what happens when they get a good jump? What happens when they trap you? What happens if a guy gets his hands on you? What’re you going to do? We’re working on all those things and getting better at them and making sure that C.J. [Board] and all the rest of the guys get better every day.”
Matt Totaro asks: Ed, if you were the GM and had the opportunity to make a trade for that one player that would almost guarantee a Super Bowl, maybe Aaron Rodgers or someone else, for the franchise but you are going to give up so much that you would be in purgatory of mediocre to a bad team after for the next 5+ years, would you make the trade? Or would you rather have a team that constantly is on the cusp with a chance year after year. Think Peyton Manning to Denver, but instead of being a free agent they needed to send a massive haul of picks/players for him and now their current state since they won the Super Bowl.
Ed says: Matt, with where the Giants are right now absolutely not. If the Giants were a consistent playoff team on the cusp of being a Super Bowl contender, maybe. That’s not where they are. If you are all in to win a title in the next year or two because that is how your roster is set up and you just need that superstar quarterback, sure. The Giants are still building, though. They aren’t in that window. They need to keep adding talent across the roster. That’s why getting picks next year in the trade down from No. 11 to No. 20 was so valuable. The Giants aren’t a “final puzzle piece” away. As optimistic as many want to be about this season, the Giants are still several pieces away from being a top tier team.
Billy Pilgrim asks: I really wish I could drink the blue kool-aid and be more optimistic on this year’s Giants team like many fans and media are. Many feel that this team has the potential of a 10-11 win playoff team. The “only” way I can see this team being a playoff team is if Jones blossoms into a top 10 QB. I like Jones, he sounds like an outstanding individual and teammate, but I see nothing demonstrated in his college and pro career that would justify anything close to a Josh Allen 3rd year transition. He was 19-19 (with a 7-17 (.292) conference record) in 3 years at Duke and 8-19 (.296) in 2 years in the NFL. The only thing I see that’s consistent in those 5 years are the plentitude of excuses as to why he couldn’t win at both levels. Maybe these excuses are warranted and he’s been unlucky for 5 years and this will be the year, but my common sense and realistic practicality gets in the way. Tell me why I should start sipping the kool-aid, and if the Giants are picking in the top 10 again next year do you think there will be a new GM and a new QB drafted.
Ed says: Billy, first of all no one should EVER drink Kool-Aid. I haven’t done so since I was a kid. It’s disgusting.
Now, to answer your question. I think Joe Judge is the biggest reason to be optimistic about the Giants’ future. Some might bristle at his old-school methods, but players have bought in, they seem to both like and respect the man. I think he could be Giants head coach for a long run.
I think this roster is the best one the Giants have put together in a while. There are questions and they still need to keep adding to it, but I look at it and I see players at every position who are at least capable NFL players.
The defense has a chance to be really good. If the offense improves from 31st lat year to league average or slightly better this season the Giants should have opportunities to win more games than they lose. Honestly, I don’t think that’s a big ask.
Much is riding on Daniel Jones, as we have said many times. I don’t think he has to be Josh Allen. What Allen did last year is kind of an outlier, I believe. Jones, I think, just needs to be good.
If the Giants are a sub-.500 team again, I don’t know what will happen. Co-owner John Mara says he likes the way Judge and Dave Gettleman work together and believes they are the right pairing to go forward with. I don’t believe that’s just lip service. Still, if the Giants are a five- or six-win team I don’t know if Gettleman will be back.
As for quarterback, again it’s a deal where we have to see what happens. Jones has the backing and respect of players, coaches and the organization. He is going to have to be awful to lose it. Right now, I would say the Giants would much prefer to use those two first-round picks they have next year to build around the quarterback rather than to trade up and go get a new one. That, though, could change.
We are depleted on our OL. Who is still available for us to pick up via free agency or trade?— Ervin Abreu (@AbreuErvin) August 6, 2021
Ed says: Ervin, former Kansas City Chiefs center Austin Reiter is still a free agent. He started for Kansas City the past two seasons. There were reports before Joe Looney signed that the Giants were talking to Reiter. Maybe that rekindles.
A name I keep coming back to is former Giant D.J. Fluker. He was just released with an injury settlement by the Miami Dolphins. Problem is, Fluker just underwent meniscus surgery and could be out as much as eight weeks.
Here is a list of available offensive linemen. There really isn’t a whole lot there. I would expect the Giants to be scanning the waiver wire and looking for help as teams cut down their rosters before the season starts.
Here is what Joe Judge said Friday about needing to add depth to the offensive line after Looney and Fulton retired:
“I always say all the time, whether it’s a veteran or a young guy, the important thing is to add a good football player that can help this team. We’ll work with anybody. If they’re going to come in here and they’re going to give it their all and they’re going to do what we ask them to do, that’s a critical part of it right there. It’s important to bring in the right kind of people for the program. We’ve done a good job of bringing in guys who are good, solid people into the locker room and that always helps going forward. In terms specifically of the age, we’re just hung up on getting quality players in here. We’re not overly concerned with their years of experience in the league.”
One of the big questions for JG is how to best utilize all the offensive weapons. Specific to the backfield, will we be seeing Saquon & Toney lined up together behind DJ? Also, will Booker be the short yardage specialist we’ve been missing in recent years?— Tony Faske (@Faskie) August 6, 2021
Ed says: Tony, we’re all anxious for the answer to how the Giants will use Saquon Barkley and Kadarius Toney. Unfortunately, it’s not a question we can answer right now. Barkley isn’t practicing. Toney is just returning to practice and still not taking full reps. So, we haven’t seen any indication of how that will unfold, and won’t for a while. As for Devontae Booker, the Giants look at him as a three-down back and not a short-yardage guy. He may end up in that role, but I don’t believe that is the current intent.