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Big Blue View mailbag: Wink Martindale, running backs, Guardian Caps, more

The mail’s here!

It is the morning after the New York Giants played their first preseason game of 2023. Yet, we have a Big Blue View mailbag full of questions that came in before the game was played. Let’s get to them.

Eric Chavis asks: One of my friends and I were talking about those giant helmet protectors that we see all the players wearing at camp. Do you know much about them? They look goofy but I imagine they are for head injury protection. But then we started thinking, if they are for head injury protection, why don’t they wear them during games? If it’s just because they look goofy, seems like a weird reason to not wear them during games to limit head injuries.

Ed says: Erick you answered your own question. They look goofy. How is the league going to market oversized Guardian Caps that look like some sort of space helmet and cover up the team helmets that look good on TV and can be sold to fans?

The league won’t tell you that’s the reason, but that’s the reason. Do you really want to watch games for three hours with players wearing those?

Marc Milord asks: Is it just the Giants or has the whole league moved away from the days of a traditional FB on the roster? For this coming season, who do you seeing filling that responsibility (an extra OL, extra TE, an RB)? Is that what most other teams do?

Ed says: Marc, I don’t mean to be a jerk here, but where have you been for the last 15 years or so? The use of a fullback by NFL teams has been declining for a looooong time. Only 17 teams rostered a fullback at any time during the 2022 season. Only five fullbacks played more than 200 offensive snaps, and the average NFL team had nearly 1,100 offensive snaps in 2022. So, that’s not a lot. Only two fullbacks, Patrick Ricard of the Baltimore Ravens and Kyle Jusczyck of the San Francisco 49ers, played more than 50% of their team’s offensive snaps.

As the league has gotten more pass-heavy and teams spread the field with more wide receivers, fullbacks are being pushed aside. They aren’t extinct, it’s just that many teams don’t use them at all.

The Seattle Seahawks used a fullback for 22 snaps last season. The Washington Commanders used one for 4 snaps.

Teams use a tight end, sometimes with two guys inline, sometimes with a tight end lined up a blocker in the backfield, sometimes with the tight end on the move. Sometimes an extra offensive lineman. Sometimes they just use an extra wide receiver to spread the defense and go without the added blocker.

ctscan asks: Hey Ed, read the piece about Anthony Barr visiting. So, Anthony Barr or Jaylon Smith who knows the system? What upside does Barr offer that offsets Smith’s experience? frankly, I’m a little surprised that Smith is not in camp.

Ed says: You’re surprised that Jaylon Smith wasn’t invited to camp? I’m not Smith has been bouncing around looking for jobs for three seasons now. Yes, he found one for parts of the last two seasons with the Giants, but that says more about the Giants’ weakness at off-ball linebacker than it does about Smith.

The Giants did not offer Smith a contract before the 2022 season. Neither did anyone else. They only brought him in during the season because injuries and poor performance made them desperate. Yes, Smith had 88 tackles in 13 games but our Nick Falato will tell you he guesses a lot and is often out of position. Which likely contributed to the Giants being terrible against the run last season.

It is the middle of training camp and Smith, again, does not have a job. The Giants want to be better at inside linebacker, they don’t want to just keep beating their heads against the wall with the same inadequate group. That’s why they signed Bobby Okereke. That’s why they drafted Darrian Beavers and Micah McFadden.

Maybe Jaylon Smith is better that undrafted free agents Troy Brown and Dyontae Johnson. My take is simply that the Giants have seen 17 games of Smith over the past two seasons, and that’s been enough to convince them they would rather try someone else if possible.

Smith, incidentally, found a job this week with the New Orleans Saints.

Brian Hsu asks: It’s great that Saquon has put contract issues behind him and has gotten busy preparing for the season - and it sounds like he may be poised for a big year in a more diverse offense. However, given that Saquon has a history of missing games due to injury and isn’t exactly known for pounding it out between the tackles on short yardage situations, I’m curious to get your assessment on Big Blue’s depth at running back. In particular I haven’t heard a peep about how Eric Gray is doing - do you think he has a shot at displacing Matt Breida this year? And if so, do you think that Breida would likely get cut as a result?

Ed says: Brian, I do think that Eric Gray, the Giants’ fifth-round pick, has an opportunity to earn a role on offense. Will that be as the No. 2 running back, which was Breida’s role a year ago, or as the No. 3 back and the team’s kick/punt returner? It’s too early to know.

I don’t think Breida would get cut. He’s a useful player, in my view still better than Gary Brightwell, Jashaun Corbin, and James Robinson. The cap savings from releasing Breida would only be $900,000, so it isn’t all that significant.

Jim Gallo asks: Ed, I have been really excited following all the Giants camp coverage. Day after day Jones looks great, Waller, Hyatt, Campbell and the rest of the receivers are stretching the field in a way we haven’t had since Beckham. Even the new additions on defense like Banks, Hawkins and Okereke look like a major improvement. But every major NFL analyst is basically saying the Giants are a 6 or 7 win team. Am I just seeing them through my Giants colored glasses? Or is there enough evidence from your perspective that maybe the so called analysts are overlooking this team’s potential. What is your take on the subject?

Ed says: Jim, maybe you have Giants-colored glasses. That’s OK. You’re a fan. You should be looking for the bright side.

I don’t know about “every major NFL analyst,” but I know there are many people expecting regression, at least record-wise, from the Giants. This year’s team is a more talented one than the one the Giants finished last season with. That does not mean it will win more games.

The Giants won a lot of one-score games last season. I think they were 8-4, and only the Minnesota Vikings were better. That type of success in those types of games does not happen every year. The Giants won despite not creating many turnovers, mostly because their red zone defense was excellent. Again, not a sustainable formula. They won without big plays — worst in the league in that category. Not sustainable, and a situation they have tried to remedy.

The schedule, whether you want to look at last year’s opponent’s winning percentage, the rest advantage opponents will have on the Giants this year, or 2023 expected victories, is a difficult one.

The Giants could be better, talent-wise, and not win as many games. I could see a seven-win season. I could see a 10-win season. We’ll find out.

Mark Cicio asks: As I read Big Blue View, each time Wink Martindale talks to the media, it seems he gives a classic quote, like yesterday’s description of standing near Jordon Riley “as going to California and standing next to a Redwood”. Very Parcells like to me. It’s a shame that it appears he may never get a head coaching chance, being as teams seem to like young up and coming over older experienced coaches.

Have you had this “Big Tuna” impression of Winks? His players seem to love him and would run through walls for him, just like the old Parcells days. I think he’s great.

Ed says: Mark, I have never thought of Martindale as a Bill Parcells type. That said, I do believe NFL teams are missing the boat by not giving Martindale a chance to be a head coach.

Would he succeed? That would likely depend on the opportunity he was given, and the quality of coaching staff he was able to bring with him. I think, though, that Martindale has two characteristics that NFL teams should value highly — and probably don’t value enough.

First is leadership. Plain and simple, players play for this guy. He relates to them, he cares about them, and they give him their best. To me, ability to lead should be way above ability to scheme an offense or defense on the list of requirements for a head coach.

The other thing is I think Martindale has the ability to represent an organization. A head coach is the front man for an entire organization. He has to be able to carry that responsibility. He has to relate not only to players, but to staff throughout an organization. He has to represent the organization to the media and the public. Listen to Martindale speak, and I think he understands and can do that.

I hope someone gives him a chance to run his own team. I doubt, though, that it will happen.

Matt Smith asks: I have not seen much feedback or reporting on RBs not named Saquon so far this preseason. Any impressions from watching practice or perhaps any feelings from coaches you have talked to?

Also- much has been made about Darnay Holmes and his 2.7m cap hit. If we released him I have read we would “save” that, but isn’t that misleading? Wouldn’t a portion of his salary we “saved” be allocated to the next man up in the top 51?

Ed says: Matt, I’d say watch the preseason games when it comes to the running backs. There isn’t enough contact in practice to tell all that much.

As for Holmes, I understand that he has to be replaced on the roster. So, in that sense, saying the Giants save $2.7 million in cap space could be considered misleading. What are we supposed to do, though? His contract reads that the cap savings from cutting him is $2.743 million, so that is the number you hear reported. If he is replaced, we don’t know what the salary of that replacement will be.

We could go through this every time we talk about cutting a player. That player obviously has to be replaced by another player who is being paid something.

One other thing. The top 51 rule only applies through the end of the preseason. Once 53-man rosters are set, all players on the 53, the practice squad, and injured reserve will count against the cap. So, every penny saved is going to matter when a team is tight against the cap — which the Giants are.

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