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Giants "need better" on special teams, and they are trying to find it

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Big Blue was aggressive this year in trying to find players who could help them get better on special teams. Will it pay off?

Dwayne Harris
Dwayne Harris
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Without dredging up the memories of specific plays (because we know you are already well versed in them) let's just say that every New York Giants fan knows that the special teams play has been, well, anything but special for the Giants in recent years.

There have been bright spots like Josh Brown's record-setting 24-of-26 season kicking field goals in 2014. Far too often, though, special teams play has hurt the Giants more often than it has helped them.

Difficulty covering punts and, at times, kickoffs has been a constant irritation. There has been a continuing struggle to find quality kickoff and punt returners. Constant juggling with young, inexperienced players who were either ill-suited for, or unaccustomed to, special teams work, didn't help.

Complaining about long-time special teams coordinator Tom Quinn is like a favorite (least favorite?) pastime for Giants fans. Quinn may deserve some of the blame, and at times I have been among his critics. He hasn't, however, been dealt a great hand in many cases. When you have to do things like try the 250-pound Damontre Moore as a punt gunner or use Odell Beckham Jr. as a punt returner you are grasping at straws.

Forget getting help from special teams. In recent years it has too often been considered a "win" for the Giants when they simply did not get hurt by those groups. Football Outsiders has a statistic called "Hidden Points" that it uses in its ratings of special teams, based largely on field position generated. The Giants finished 30th in that category. That, of course, indicates that the Giants spent much of their time playing on a field tilted in favor of their opponents.

Quinn, much to the chagrin of many Giants fans, is still the special teams boss man. The Giants stayed with the beleaguered Quinn, but they were also aggressive in trying to give him better tools to work with in 2015.

The two major, noticeable moves the Giants made were the signing of special teams ace Dwayne Harris, who excels both in coverage and as a a returner, and replacing popular punter Steve Weatherford with former Pittsburgh Steelers punter Brad Wing.

Head coach Tom Coughlin admitted during the past week that the Giants have "put a high regard on special teams" and that "people are here [on the roster] because of special teams."

During an interview with Giants.com, Coughlin was asked about the increased emphasis on adding special teams players, Harris in particular, to the roster.

"Yes, and we need that. We need better," Coughlin said. "That's why we brought Harris in here, for that reason. He's the leading tackler on special teams (last season for the Cowboys). Their punt return team and their kickoff return team, I think, were 13th in the league. Well, we need a top 10."

Harris will handle kickoff and punt return duties for the Giants, just as he did for Dallas. He will also play on both kickoff and punt coverage teams.

The Giants replaced Weatherford a year after he struggled with his directional kicking, largely a result of punting through torn ankle ligaments and eventually suffering a back injury. Those struggles appeared to continue during training camp, and the Giants ultimately traded a conditional draft pick to the Steelers for the left-footed Wing.

The Giants also kept several other players on the roster with special teams at least partially in mind. Those would include fullback Nikita Whitlcok, linebacker Uani' Unga, linebacker Jonathan Casillas and wide receivers Geremy Davis and Preston Parker.

Can the Giants finally turn a liability into a strength? They will need to if they are serious about making run the playoffs this season.