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Giants vs. Panthers: 5 things to watch Friday night

What can we watch for in the Giants’ second preseason game?

NFL: Carolina Panthers at New York Giants Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants will play the Carolina Panthers in their second preseason game on Friday night

This game is pretty widely expected to be the closest thing we get to a “dress rehearsal”, and it might be the only time we see the Giants’ main core of starters before Week 1.

There’s only so much we can take away from a pre-season game, and we know that the coaching staff will be looking to test the team in specific situations. So we should be careful in what we take away from the game.

But with that in mind, what can we watch for?

How long will the starters play?

Last week the question was whether or not we’ll see the entrenched starters on the field. As it turned out, the answer was “mostly no”, though the important rookies played. Players like Joshua Ezeudu, Ben Bredeson, Isaiah Hodgins, Daniel Bellinger, and Matt Brieda saw reps to start the game as well.

This game, the question isn’t whether or not we’ll see the Giants’ starters — we will, at least most of them — but rather how much of them we’ll see. As of this writing, all reports indicate that the starters will take the first snap of the game. But just how many snaps will they play? The Giants need to balance getting their starters live reps in preparation for the regular season with limiting their potential exposure to injury. They also need to balance reps for veterans with opportunities to evaluate young or fringe players in a real game situation.

The flow of the game will likely be the most significant factor. The plan might be for the starters to play two drives each (for offense and defense), but a long, well-executed drive by the offense or a dominant 3-and-out by the defense could be all the coaches need to see.

I’ll also be interested to see how much players like Parris Campbell (who was reportedly managing tendinitis) and Sterling Shepard play. The Giants have a lot of receivers on their roster and Shepard is likely competing with Cole Beasley and Jamison Crowder for one roster spot.

As always, we should try to avoid reading too much into the results of a preseason game.

Both teams are going to be working on specific coaching points and neither will be scheming to beat the other. For instance, the Giants’ second possession against the Lions came when the Lions a failed fourth-down conversion attempt on their own 32-yard line. It’s very unlikely that a team would do anything other than punt from their own 32-yard line and with 11:41 still remaining in the first quarter. But the Lions’ coaches were clearly interested in working on fourth-and-short situations.

The offensive line

Everyone will be watching the Giants’ offensive line. As of this writing, we haven’t gotten definitive word on whether right tackle Evan Neal will play. He cleared the concussion protocol on Wednesday and was a full participant in practice. However, the Giants have been very careful with player health. If Neal plays, this will be our first chance to see him after a rocky rookie season. Everyone will be eager to see if he’s able to hold up against the Panthers’ pass rush and Brian Burns in particular (if the two match up).

Beyond Neal, there’s plenty of intrigue surrounding the interior offensive line. I feel pretty safe in assuming that John Michael Schmitz will be the starter at center, but I’m significantly less sure about the guard positions. The fact that Mark Glowinski didn’t play against the Lions would bode well for him ... Except for the fact that the Giants have been freely rotating guards throughout practice. The rotation got so active that Josh Ezeudu, Ben Bredeson, and Glowinski were changing positions on every snap this week. Will that continue? Could we see them rotate guards every snap, or every drive in the preseason?

And then, how will the three potential starting guards play? Neither Ezeudu nor Bredeson fared particularly well against the Lions’ second-string players, and Glowinski wasn’t great in 2022. This position is unsettled and we should be watching to see if there’s any clarity revealed during the game.

How much of the offense will we see?

This is a question I’m monitoring throughout the preseason. Last week we saw the Giants use a pretty familiar offense that used a lot of the same levels and clear-out concepts that made up the bulk of their passing game a year ago.

We also didn’t see any plays for Lawrence Cager (a Darren Waller analogue) and Jalin Hyatt only had one target, which resulted in a catch for -4 yards. Even in situations where I expected the Giants to use play-action and air the ball out, they didn’t. Granted, Waller, Parris Campbell (who has reportedly been managing tendonitis), and Darius Slayton all had the night off against the Lions. Hyatt said that part of his role is to stretch the field and create space in the underneath area of the field.

I don’t expect to see a sophisticated offense against the Panthers, nor do I expect the Giants to suddenly become an Air Coryell team. This might be the closest thing to a regular season dress rehearsal that we get, but it’s still just the preseason. But I’ll be interested to see if the Giants go beyond the quick, safe passing attack that defined their offense a year ago, or if they show a bit more with their faster players on the field.

Who’s in the slot?

I don’t have too many questions about the defense.

Frankly, I would be surprised if the Giants’ starting defense didn’t look pretty spectacular against he Panthers starting offense. After all, Wink is gonna do Wink things and the Panthers are starting a rookie quarterback behind a suspect offensive line.

The big question I have is in the secondary and how they line up in nickel situations. The Giants have been deploying Tre Hawkins III as a starting outside corner and moving Adoree’ Jackson into the slot in standard nickel packages. In fact, they’ve been relying on it even more over the course of training camp — particularly after Hawkins played well against the Lions. I fully expect to see that package this game, and it would be very interesting if Jackson starts the game as the slot corner.

Beyond that, I want to see who the second slot corner is. Will it be Darnay Holmes — who was the starting slot corner last week — or will it be Cor’Dale Flott?

I suspect the Giants will want to play Holmes against the Panthers’ better players as they try to decide whether he’s worth more on the field than his potential cap savings. That said, it would be a bad sign for Holmes if Flott gets on the field before him.

Special teams

The Giants’ special teams continues to be frustrating. I mentioned after the Lions’ game that I was all set to write about how refreshingly boring they were ... Then they gave up a 94-yard punt return for a touchdown.

I’m not looking for spectacular highlight reel plays from the Giants’ special teams. I just want them to calmly go out and execute. I’m looking to see them be consistently boring on coverage teams and have acceptable returns on kick-offs and punts. Creating turnovers, big returns, or delivering crushing hits are all well and good — and they can help fringe players make the team — but I’m just looking for the Giants’ special teams to be refreshingly boring. There’s a difference between getting to talk about them and having to talk about them.

There are going to be several players who will have to make the roster through special teams play, and just doing their job will count in their favor.