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Giants position battles: Updating roster competitions before second preseason game

Giants face tough decisions at almost every position

New York Giants vs Detroit Lions
Carter Coughlin is one of many bubble players fighting for a spot on the Giants’ 53-man roster.
Photo by Amy Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

It is getting to be crunch time for NFL teams in terms of setting initial 53-man rosters, with the deadline for setting that roster on Aug. 29 at 4 p.m. ET. The New York Giants have difficult decisions to make across the roster.

Having had the opportunity to hear from offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, and several position coaches this week, let’s update some of the position battles heading into Friday’s preseason game against the Carolina Panthers.

Offensive line

The Giants have not admitted it, but the center spot appears to be settled. That job belongs to rookie second-round pick John Michael Schmitz.

The guard spots seem to be a different story.

The Giants have used Ben Bredeson, Joshua Ezeudu, and Mark Glowinski in those three spots, with Ezeudu at left guard, Glowinski at right guard, and Bredeson bouncing to both sides. In Wednesday’s practice, reporters on the scene said the Giants went to the extreme of shuffling those three players on every play.

Offensive coordinator Mike Kafka said on Tuesday that “ideally” the Giants would like to have a core group, but that they “just want to find the best five.”

The Giants used a third-round pick on Ezeudu a year ago, and because they used that premium asset to acquire him there is a natural assumption that the organization would like to see Ezeudu become a starter.

Asked about that on Wednesday, offensive line coach Bobby Johnson said, “I think you’re reading into it.”

Johnson said Ezeudu is showing typical first- to second-year improvement.

“It’s not exclusive to Josh. I think you see a natural leap in players from Year 1 to Year 2,” Johnson said. “He is showing those same things.”

Bredeson has been asked to be the most flexible, working at center as well as both guard spots. He started eight games for the Giants at left guard a year ago.

“Ben’s just doing what the job entails,” Johnson said. “He’s a guy of high character. He works hard at it. That’s what’s expected, you’re a pro. That’s your job. He does his job at the highest level that he is capable of doing, and that’s all I can ask any guy.”

Could the Giants end up with a rotation at the guard spots?

“If it’s the best thing for the team then that’s what we’ll do,” Johnson said.

Rotation or not, it is still hard to see the Giants benching Glowinski. In his ninth season, Glowinski has been a full-time NFL starter at right guard for the past five years. It may not play out this way, but the Giants could be prepping Bredeson as a player who slides across the three positions if needed.

The real competition still appears to be Bredeson vs. Ezeudu at left guard.

At offensive tackle, the Giants have Tyre Phillips, Matt Peart, Korey Cunningham, and newly-signed Julie’n Davenport as potential swing tackles. If the Giants keep two, Phillips and Peart would be the leaders for those jobs. Cunningham had a disastrous performance against the Detroit Lions in the Giants’ first preseason game, and Davenport is a journeyman whose performance has never matched his athletic traits.

Wide receiver

If everyone, including Wan’Dale Robinson, is available to start the season, the Giants appear to have five receivers who should be locks to make the roster. Those are Isaiah Hodgins, Parris Campbell, Darius Slayton, Jalin Hyatt, and Robinson.

They have three accomplished veteran receivers in Cole Beasley, Sterling Shepard, and Jamison Crowder. NFL teams often keep six wide receivers on their 53-man roster — the Giants began last year with seven.

Even if they keep seven again, someone from that trio is likely to be left out.

Here is wide receivers coach Mike Groh on the 34-year-old Beasley:

“Very instinctive and crafty player. Guy that can create separation in a small space and be able to burst away and make first downs.”

Here is Groh on Shepard:

“When he’s been out there he’s done a really nice job.”

One of the biggest issues for Shepard is, of course, availability. After missing most of the last two seasons with a torn Achilles and then a torn ACL, the longest-tenured Giant is adhering to a limited practice schedule.

“I think you’ve seen him be able to get out there and separate,” Groh said. “He’s always had really reliable hands, does a great job attacking the football, and is a high-energy player.”

Groh knows his room will be minus some good players once cuts to 53 are made.

“The tough part about this business is you’ve gotta let some good players go, and good people go,” he said. “It’s been very competitive. Competition’s good for everybody in every profession.”

Tight end

If the Giants keep three tight ends, we know they will be Darren Waller, Daniel Bellinger, and Lawrence Cager.

What if they keep four?

If the Giants do the extra spot seems likely to go to Tommy Sweeney. He caught a touchdown pass from Tommy DeVito in the preseason opener and has been showing up during practices more often than Chris Myarick or Ryan Jones.

Defensive line

Five interior defensive linemen seem like the right number to expect the Giants to keep on the 53-man roster. Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, and A’Shawn Robinson should occupy four spots.

It seems likely at this point that seventh-round pick Jordon Riley, a massive 6-foot-5, 325-pound double-team swallowing nose tackle will be the fifth one. Especially with Ryder Anderson (triceps) still missing time and D.J. Davidson working back slowly from his torn ACL.

“He’s [Riley] a large man, and he’s very confident,” said defensive coordinator Wink Martindale. “Now, he’s green, and he’s got a great room, Dex and Leo, A’Shawn and Nacho. Players know players, and they know he can help us, and they’re helping him every day.”

Defensive line coach Andre Patterson said Riley has “bought in from the day that he showed up ... was willing to make changes in his game.”

Defensive backs

Secondary coach Jerome Henderson believes this is the deepest group of cornerbacks and safeties he has had in his career.

“Usually in training camp, I’m used to having a couple guys, quite honestly, who you think probably aren’t quite good enough,” Henderson said. “Everybody in that room really is. Everybody potentially has a place, but that’s not this league. Everybody can’t stay.”

Players like safety Bobby McCain and cornerbacks Rodarius Williams and Amani Oruwariye seem like obvious bubble guys among the experienced players. Perhaps that applies to Aaron Robinson, who remains on PUP.

Inside linebacker

Martindale said this week that Micah McFadden is leading the competition with Darrian Beavers for the second starting inside linebacker job.

The big question for the Giants is which players among Cam Brown, Carter Coughlin, rookie Dyontae Johnson, and newly-added Ray Wilborn make the roster. Or, whether they turn to the waiver wire once cuts are made to supplement this position.

Edge defenders

We keep discussing the Giants’ need to add an experienced, productive veteran to this group. Second-year player Tomon Fox, a former undrafted free agent, has been the best of the group of players trying to prevent the Giants from doing that. Journeyman Tashawn Bower made some plays against the Lions in last week’s preseason game. Oshane Ximines has had a non-descript summer to this point.

Running back

How many the Giants keep is still to be determined. With the Giants seemingly determined to make rookie Eric Gray their punt and kickoff returner that might be bad news for Gary Brightwell. So, too, might be that he has been sidelined recently by an injury.

The best thing Brightwell has going for him at this point, in addition to his ability to play special teams, is that neither Jashaun Corbin nor James Robinson has stood out.