New York Giants head coach Brian Daboll said Monday that it is “too early to tell” if injured players Xavier McKinney, Adoree’ Jackson, Leonard Williams and Ben Bredeson will be able to return to action this week against the Washington Commanders.
The Giants could, of course, use all the reinforcements they can get for Sunday’s critical game. Let’s take a brief look at how the Giants have tried to replace those four starters, and what each could bring to the lineup.
The talented third-year safety has not played since fracturing fingers on his left hand in a bye week accident in Mexico. He has now missed five games.
Julian Love has taken over as the defensive signal caller, and second-year player Jason Pinnock has emerged over the past three weeks as Love’s every down partner at the back of the Giants’ defense. Also a core special teamer, Pinnock has played well. He has 21 tackles over the past three weeks.
Veteran Tony Jefferson has replaced rookie Dane Belton as the Giants’ third safety in sub packages. Jefferson missed time earlier this year with a foot injury.
McKinney, who would likely play with a club on his surgically-repaired hand if he is activated from IR, would almost certainly go back into the starting lineup with Pinnock, a 2021 fifth-round pick of the New York Jets who was claimed on waivers by the Giants, becoming the sub-package safety.
McKinney said last week that he still believed he could play again this season, but was not sure when. He said playing while wearing a club to protect his hand is something he believed he could do.
“I said that when it first happened,” he said. “I played with a club before in college in a couple practices, so I know what it feels like. So, I think I can play in a club for sure.
“Obviously, it’s harder. But I don’t mind it. It’ll be harder for sure because you can’t really catch the ball. But you can always body catch, too. That’s what a lot of people do anyways.”
The Giants’ best cornerback suffered a sprained MCL returning a punt Week 11 against the Detroit Lions. A number of Giants have suffered that injury this season — Kayvon Thibodeaux, Evan Neal and Bredeson among them — and based on the recovery timelines of those players a return Sunday night against the Commanders, four weeks from the time of the injury, would seem just a bit early.
The Giants’ starting cornerbacks without Jackson have been Fabian Moreau and Nick McCloud on the outside with Darnay Holmes in the slot. Rookie third-round pick Cor’Dale Flott has been the fourth cornerback, with rookie Zyon Gilbert and second-year player Rodarius Williams also getting opportunities.
Moreau, a sixth-year player with his third team, played well early in the season after taking over for the injured Aaron Robinson. In recent weeks, though, penalties have been a problem. He has committed three in the last two games, and four four in the last five.
McCloud, a second-year player who entered the league last year with the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted free agent, has become an every down player the last three weeks.
McCloud has impressed defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, and perhaps could see more time in the slot or as a sub package linebacker whenever Jackson returns. He could perhaps even take Moreau’s starting spot.
“He’s just a football player, because it’s not just number two corner. We play him everywhere. If you look at it, on third down, he goes inside, outside, doesn’t matter just wherever we want that matchup,” Martindale said last week. “He is a football player. You can count on him, you can trust him, he works at it, he studies, he asks all the right questions. I’m really excited for this kid and his career.”
Bredeson split time at left guard with Josh Ezeudu the first couple of games, but won the job outright. He started the first seven games before suffering the dreaded sprained MCL and landing on injured reserve. This is the final week of Bredeson’s 21-day practice window after the Giants designated him to return, and it seems almost certain he will be activated. Whether he steps back into the lineup, though, is uncertain.
In Bredeson’s absence, Ezeudu, Shane Lemieux, Jack Anderson and Nick Gates have all started games at left guard with varying degrees of success, or lack of success.
Gates has started the last two games and played well enough to settle the position down. Even if Bredeson returns the Giants might not want to upend the continuity on the left side. Bredeson, though, figures to at least be upgraded depth and an option as a jumbo tight end.
Williams left midway through the Washington game two weeks ago with a neck injury. He did not play Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Undrafted rookie free agent Ryder Anderson started in his place and got his first career sack. Aside from Dexter Lawrence, the Giants also have Justin Ellis and Henry Mondeaux on the 53-man roster and veteran Vernon Butler on the practice squad.
Williams and Lawrence as a tandem, though, are among the best interior defensive linemen in the league. The Giants can’t replace what Williams does, and the attention he draws. Without him, Lawrence had his least impactful game of the season on Sunday against the Eagles, with only one assisted tackle and one quarterback hit.