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Giants vs. Panthers: 5 players to watch Friday night

Here are several Giants to pay attention to in second preseason game

New York Giants v Detroit Lions
Eric Gray
Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Let’s piggyback on the ‘five things to watch’ in Friday night’s New York Giants-Carolina Panthers preseason game by drilling down a little deeper. Let’s look at five players to watch for the Giants in their second preseason game, honing in on individual performances.

Evan Neal

You had to know I was going to start here. The second-year right tackle is a player everyone who follows the Giants is curious about. Can he improve from a miserable rookie season? Friday night will be the first chance to see him in game action after an offseason spent changing his stance and his body to be better able to handle quality NFL pass rushers.

Here’s the thing about Friday night for Neal, though. I don’t want to offer him a built-in excuse, but Neal wasn’t cleared from the NFL’s concussion protocol until Wednesday. He has had one practice in the last two weeks. That’s no way to prepare to face NFL competition.

Everyone wants — and needs — to see Neal play better than he did in 2022. I’m just not sure there should be great expectations under the circumstances.

Micah McFadden

The second-year linebacker played well in 14 snaps last week against the Detroit Lions. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has been singing his praises, saying McFadden is “definitely leading” the competition with Darrian Beavers for a starting inside linebacker spot.

Then, news broke on Thursday that after flirting with him for a week the Giants had four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Anthony Barr in for a visit. If the Giants sign Barr, he likely would end up in the spot next to Bobby Okereke on the Giants’ defense.

If McFadden wants to prove to the Giants that a Barr signing is not necessary, he needs to play well Friday night.

Eric Gray

The Giants are determined to make the rookie running back their punt and kickoff returner. He received six of the seven return opportunities against the Lions, and the Giants have indicated he will continue to get most of the work.

It would be nice to see Gray break a return or two, and it’s a bummer that his 36-yard kickoff return against Detroit got wiped out via penalty. Still, what is important will be Gray’s decision-making and ball security.

There were a couple of adventurous plays last week. The Giants will want to see what types of decisions Gray makes against the Panthers.

Sterling Shepard

I don’t know for certain that Shepard will play against the Panthers, but I suspect he will get on the field for at least a few snaps.

With him trying to come back from major leg injuries the past two seasons, the Giants have limited Shepard’s practice schedule. When he has been on the field, he has looked good — albeit mostly against second and third-team defensive backs.

Shepard, Cole Beasley, and Jamison Crowder might be competing for two spots. So, this would be more than a get-some-work-in appearance for Shepard. He still needs to show he can get open against front-line defensive backs.

Is there also a sentimental reason for putting Shepard on this list? Maybe. Let’s say the Giants don’t play Shepard next week against the New York Jets, then end up cutting him. Could this be the last time we see Shepard in a game for the Giants?

The guard triumvirate

OK, I’m cheating. By framing it this way I get to add Ben Bredeson, Joshua Ezeudu, and Mark Glowinski to this list. I turn five into seven.

Seriously, though, what the Giants have done so far this summer with their rotation of those three players at the two guard spots has been fascinating.

Is Glowinski, established as an average NFL starter at his position, in danger of losing the right guard job? I still doubt that, but I have been wrong before. Which player — Ezeudu or Bredeson — is the best option at left guard?

Offensive line coach Bobby Johnson bristled recently at the suggestion that the Giants are giving Ezeudu — the one player of the three whom they drafted — every chance to win a starting job. Still, that suggestion doesn’t seem wrong.

So far this preseason, Ezeudu does not seem to have played as consistently as Bredeson.

Still, what happens here is one of the most intriguing storylines of the summer.