EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The Giants began the offseason with a heartbreaking playoff loss that left them with mixed feelings. They were crushed that they blew an 11-5 season and a terrific opportunity. But they were hopeful that they were on the verge of being a true contender again.
Everything they did this offseason was with that in mind. There's still a lot of work to be done when training camp opens on July 27, of course, and a lot can change between now and Opening Day on Sept. 10. But for now, here are five things we've learned about these Giants as their "offseason" officially comes to an end:
1.Their offense will be more diverse, which in theory should make it better
The most disappointing thing for the Giants last season was that their offense plummeted from the Top 10 to 25th and they didn't even average 20 points a game when they were expecting more than 30. Some of that was due to predictability -- lining up about 90 percent of the time in the same "11 personnel" grouping (three receivers, one tight end, one running back). Much of that was due to the personnel they had. They didn't have many other options.
Now they do. The addition of big receiver Brandon Marshall, who replaces Victor Cruz, and the additions of tight ends Rhett Ellison and first-round pick Evan Engram, as well as the return of Shane Vereen, all add to what offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan can design (and what head coach Ben McAdoo can call). "Just to have those different groupings gives the defense more to prepare for," Sullivan said. "(It) will give us that balance that we want, run and pass, (and) we have a few more options."
That, he said, could lead to more play-action passes, more deep shots down the field. His point is that injuries, the struggles of Cruz, and the poor play at tight end all limited the Giants' options last year. Now they have a lot more to work with and -- at least in theory -- a lot more potential variety in their plays and their scheme.
2.Their offensive line is still a huge concern
It's nice that Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart stayed in New Jersey to work out this offseason (as if they couldn't work out somewhere else), and that they're in great shape (who isn't this time of year?) and everyone has great hope that they'll be much improved. But file this under "Believe it when you see it." Until the pads are on and games start, no one knows anything about how they'll play.
All we do know is that the Giants' biggest weakness last season was the offensive line, and somehow they did nothing to upgrade it this offseason. They return the same five starters who started the majority of games for them last season. They did add veteran D.J. Fluker, who apparently will back up at guard, and several late-round or undrafted free agent rookies. So maybe the depth is better. Maybe.
Until proven otherwise, though, the poor blocking, broken plays and rushed throws everyone saw last season are in danger of happening again this season. All the new weapons will help, but they won't be enough if Eli Manning is constantly on the run, on his back, or being forced to spike the ball or throw it away to avoid a sack.
Rather than improve the personnel, the Giants decided to bank on the hope and faith that their current personnel will be much better. Maybe they'll be right, but it was a very risky play.
3.The Giants defense, dominant at times last season, might be even better
A defense that finished 10th overall last season, second in scoring, and was absolutely smothering in some games, returns almost everyone, which is amazing in itself. But remember, last season they didn't have a fully healthy Olivier Vernon until the end, and by then Jason Pierre-Paul was headed for groin/hernia surgery. If they can stay healthy, that could give this defense a huge boost. They also will likely get back a healthy safety in Darian Thompson, who had won the starting job before he injured his foot last year.
And the only losses were linebacker Kelvin Sheppard and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins. OK, Hankins could be a significant loss, but remember: He was the Giants' fourth-best defensive lineman, so they certainly have the talent up front to compensate for him. And they believe they found an adequate replacement in second-round pick Dalvin Tomlinson.
As for Sheppard, even last year the Giants were hopeful that B.J. Goodson would claim the starting middle linebacker job before injuries hit in training camp and essentially ruined his rookie season. Now the job is his, and the reviews so far have been outstanding.
4.Manning will have more help (and fewer excuses)
Last year was not Manning's finest season, though to be fair he didn't have a lot of time or room to operate behind that offensive line. Yes, the line is still a big question, but there were more problems last season. With Cruz struggling, the tight ends struggling, the running game struggling, and far too many receivers dropping passes, the entire offense at times seemed to be Manning-to-Odell Beckham, Jr. And when that didn't work? Well, try it again.
This year, Manning has some much more reliable options and something he really hasn't had much of over the last few years -- big targets. The addition of the 6-4, 230-pound Brandon Marshall is … well, huge. Last year's receiving trio of Beckham, Cruz and Sterling Shepard averaged 5-11 and 198 pounds. Adding a talented receiver with size and long arms opens up a lot of options on the sidelines and over the middle.
And don't forget, Engram is 6-3, 236. He's actually taller and leaner than last year's tight end, Will Tye (6-2, 262), and he's so much better at catching the ball that some scouts think he's more of a receiver than a tight end.
So Manning's completion percentage should go up, along with all his other stats. If it doesn't, he might not have anyone to blame but himself (or his offensive line).
5.Depth is a problem at most positions, so the Giants better stay healthy
It's probably true for a lot of teams, but it's really problematic for a contender. The Giants were relatively healthy last season -- and remarkably so for them, given their previous few years. But for the most part, when someone got hurt there was an enormous drop-off.
It could be the same this season. Obviously it's hard to tell about the rookies right now. Who knows, for example, if sixth-round pick Adam Bisnowaty or undrafted free agent Chad Wheeler will develop quick enough to fortify the line depth. If not, beyond Fluker, the Giants don't have much. They are just as thin at positions like defensive tackle and even cornerback, beyond the top three.
With depth, you never really know until you need it. After all, the Giants plucked Andrew Adams off the street to fill in at safety for Thompson last season and he far exceeded expectations. That can always happen. But it's a leap of faith to suggest the Giants could withstand injuries at a few key positions. And don't even get me started on what happens if Manning were to finally get hurt.