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Big Blue View mailbag: Guardian Caps, Evan Neal, surprises, more

The mail’s here!

The New York Giants are now through two weeks of training camp, with their first preseason game coming up Thursday vs. the New England Patriots. With that in mind, let’s open the Big Blue View Mailbag and answer some questions.

Gino Phillips asks: The new regime, through the draft and free agency, has added a half dozen or so new starters to the roster and improved the quality of depth. In your opinion, what are the greatest injury liabilities to the current roster? Injuries to what position on each side of the ball would be the most devastating to the overall strength of the team?

Ed says: Gino, this is a roster that will suffer if any of the top players are lost. It’s a work in progress. Still, there are two positions that leap to mind.

Center is one. We have seen the Giants have extraordinary difficulty getting the ball snapped with Jon Feliciano sidelined. To the point where left guard Shane Lemieux has taken some snaps at center with rookie Joshua Ezeudu at left guard. Could Lemieux be the long-term center somewhere down the line? Maybe. For now, though, his use there illustrates a current problem.

Cornerback is the other. I think Adoree’ Jackson, Aaron Robinson and Darnay Holmes could be — at least — adequate as the starting trio. I have no idea what the Giants are going to do behind them.

Randy Tatano asks: Just curious… what’s the story on those weird looking practice helmets? I’m assuming they’re for safety, but just wondering about the design and who invented them.

Ed says: Randy, they are called ‘Guardian Caps’ and you can read our story on them here. Basically, they are soft anti-concussion shells the league is requiring all offensive linemen, defensive linemen, tight ends, and linebackers are required to wear in practice through the second preseason game. The research shows at least a 10 percent reduction in severity of impact if one player is wearing the cap, and at least a 20 percent reduction in impact if two players wearing them collide. Here is an NFL video about the caps.

Pierre-Yves Bianchi asks: My question may seem naive (I’m French and still learning this fascinating game) but I wonder whether the defense in training camp has access to the playbook of the offense. As far as I know, in regular games, the defense has to guess what’s coming to them, so it would make sense to have the same situation in camp, but how do we know players don’t talk between each other about it?

Same question in reverse, do offense players know the defense playbook?

Ed says: Pierre, thanks for reading Big Blue View. No, the offensive and defensive players do not have access to each other’s playbooks. What can happen in a training camp environment is that, because you are practicing against each other every day, you can look at formation or situation and begin to predict what is coming.

Now, each practice is designed to work on certain narrow situations. So, in that sense each side may have a general idea what it coming.

While these practices are in a controlled setting, the coaching staff wants to see players read and react the way they would have to in a game situation.

Edwin Gommers asks: Reading your coverage of training camp, Evan Neal pops up and not necessarily for the best of reasons. It seems he’s regularly losing 1-on-1 matchups against what will probably, at best, be back up/rotational pass rushers on the Giants D like Ximines who may not even make the roster. In your opinion, has Ximines made a huge leap, is this going to be an adjustment year for Neal where he has to adjust to playing in the NFL vs college like Thomas had last year (first half) or do we as fans need to temper our expectations/get worried as it seems Neal is pencilled in for the starting RT job. However based on the reports on BBV it seems Neal still has quite a way to go.

Ed says: Edwin, Neal has undeniably had a couple of rough days in the 1-on-1 drills. He lost multiple reps to Oshane Ximines on Monday (and, no, Ximines has not made a huge leap). He lost a 1-on-1 rep Wednesday to Quincy Roche and had a very clear holding penalty vs. Kayvon Thibodeaux during an 11-on-11 session.

The thing that has bothered me the most is that Neal ended up on the ground on two of those reps. Now, I will let Nick Falato or Chris Pflum break down the reps and tell you why, but offensive tackles landing face first in the grass is not ideal. In pre-draft scouting reports, I did read that an area of concern for Neal was a tendency to lean, thus getting off balance. Perhaps that is part of what we’re seeing.

This came from a Pro Football Network scouting report:

The Alabama OT is partial to lunging at opposing defenders. This causes Neal to throw his weight over his toes, unbalancing him and making him susceptible to pull moves. There are multiple examples of him hitting the deck when this occurs, both at tackle and guard.

Neal is seven practices into his first NFL training camp. It’s not going to be perfect. I think Andrew Thomas faced a lot of adversity as a rookie due to the apparent power struggle between Joe Judge and Marc Colombo, and the midseason switch to Dave DeGuglielmo as offensive line coach — Gugs being a man who said bluntly that he had no use for rookies.

Neal will have rough patches, and right now I would guess that it is the balance issue being exposed, but I don’t think we will see anything near what we saw with the struggles Thomas had as a rookie.

Kolnerbigblue asks: Who are your three most significant surprises so far in training camp? This could be players or staff.

Are there any significant disappointments or is it too early for that assessment?

Ed says: It’s still so early, but here are some thoughts. I won’t put tight end Jeremiah Hall or wide receiver Richie James in the “surprise” category, because I expected both to make strong roster bids. They are.

I would go this way:

  • Seeing Shane Lemieux get center reps. I didn’t see that coming, and I wonder if it might have long-term implications.
  • Seeing how well Darnay Holmes has been playing.
  • Here is a darkhorse we haven’t talked much about. Sixth-round pick Darrian Beavers has gotten some first-team reps in run situations.

A disappointment? I’m bummed by the injury to rookie Dane Belton. I think the Giants had, and still have, big plans for Belton.

Taj Siddiqi asks: Some recent articles quoted Daboll sounding like tackling drills are not being worked on so far in the training camp. Also he was quoted that he might use second and third level players for those drills in the next couple of weeks. I use to think tackling drills are one of the most essential part of training camps. Why not put starters through tackling drills? Is it a new strategy that all NFL teams are adopting to avoid injuries? What are the pros and cons of this strategy in your opinion?

Ed says: Taj, I think you are misunderstanding what was said here. NFL teams generally do not tackle in training camp. You rarely see that nowadays. I might have seen Joe Judge put players through a live tackling drill once, but I’m not certain. Very few teams do that any longer as keeping players healthy is the major priority. Even in 11-on-11 work during padded practices, defenders will ‘thud’ ball carriers or wrap them up. They will not bring them to the ground.

Now, does that mean teams don’t do tackling drills? Absolutely not. There is work on tackling technique, positioning, etc. You just aren’t going to see drills where guys drive ball carriers to the ground. Coaches generally freak out when defenders take ball carriers to the ground. They want players staying on their feet.

Daboll did say that he might have the second- and third-team guys go through some live tackling drills. Perhaps that would be in preparation for preseason games in which they will play the bulk of snaps. You will not see anyone take Saquon Barkley to the ground on purpose in practice. Ever.

I do believe that you have to practice real tackling to get better at tackling, which is why I also say that tackling is something that generally can no longer be taught at the NFL level. If you aren’t a good tackler in college, you aren’t going to be a good tackler in the NFL. Practice structure nowadays just doesn’t allow it, for better or worse.

That’s why when you read a scouting report on a draft prospect that says he is a questionable tackler, you maybe should hope your team shies away from drafting him.