The Giants finished up OTA’s last week. Tomorrow brings a new, slightly more important slate of team workouts: a three-day, mandatory full-squad minicamp. This will be the team’s last full-squad workout before training camp begins on July 26.
It’s been a long, fun-filled offseason for these defending Super Bowl champion Giants, replete with Osi’s contractual posturing turned anger turned contentment, a parade, White House visit, ring reception ceremony and a contract extension for their seemingly ageless head coach. But now it’s time to put aside the post-Super Bowl celebration period and focus on football, which, you know, kinda matters, a lot, especially if they want to finish this season the same way as the last. If all goes well, the Giants will replicate last year’s postseason success and finish with a better regular season record, one that won’t require every game after week 12 to be an angst-inducing, must-win fixture with no margin of error. In order for that to happen, though, there are hugely important questions that need addressing before the all-important Wednesday night season opener (Sept. 5). Even in this three-day minicamp, we may get some answers, or at the very least, a hint of things to come in July and August.
Here are three things to watch for at this week’s minicamp:
Who will step up at wide receiver in Hakeem Nicks’ absence?
Let’s get this straight: Nicks is in no danger of losing his starting spot, and we should assume—barring a significant setback in his recovery—that his foot will be healed for that week 1 showdown with Dallas. This question mostly concerns the non-established wideouts, guys who need to prove themselves at this minicamp and in training camp to earn playing time and, more importantly, Kevin Gilbride and Eli Manning’s trust.
Rueben Randle turned heads with his speed, and fluid route running during OTA’s and I fully expect him to lock up the No. 3 wide receiver slot later this summer. The futures of Ramses Barden, Jerrel Jernigan and Domenik Hixon, however, hardly carry the same level of certainty. Barden and Jernigan, two third round picks, have severely underperformed throughout their NFL careers, so they will both need inspiring performances to prove they are deserving of larger roles. Hixon is the surest bet of the three to make meaningful contributions this season, either on special teams or offense, if only because he has the speed and elusiveness to make plays when he gets the ball in space.
Who will step up at running back?
For all his off-field blather and constant nonsensical bickering, Jacobs was an effective short-yardage power back in his six years with the Giants. Not even $3.36 and a wholly endearing note from a 6-year-old Giants fan was enough to reverse Jacobs’ decision to take his bruising, bulldozer running style to San Francisco.
His departure could strike a major blow to Big Blue’s offensive game plan next season. Ahmad Bradshaw is now the only Giants player to rush for more than 200 yards in a season, and with his injury history, there’s no reason to expect him to be an every-down, bellcow back in 2012. Which leaves Danny Ware, Andre Brown, Da’Rel Scott, Joe Martinek and David Wilson. Ware is the most proven of the bunch, but he may not be ready to take on a significantly larger number of carries, having only played a minor complementary role in recent years.
Big Blue will be counting on Wilson, this year’s first round pick, to spell Bradshaw and provide a reliable second option on running plays. His speed and big-play ability are second to none, but whether he can develop into a consistent between-the-tackles runner is a question that will remain unanswered until the fall.
Who will emerge at linebacker?
Keith Rivers brings speed, range, toughness and the kind of sound, well-principled tacking ability that will fit perfectly in Perry Fewell’s 4-3. My guess is Rivers and Mathias Kiwanuka will line up outside, while Michael Boley will man the middle, giving Big Blue one of the better starting units in the NFC. Further, the Giants have enough depth to survive any injury, slip-up or string or poor performances from one of the starters.
Jacquain Williams, Mark Herzlich, Chase Blackburn, Greg Jones and even Spencer Paysinger are all capable of making major contributions this season. But as this lengthy list suggest, playing time will be sparse, which means that minicamp and training camp reps will go a long way towards determining the pecking order on the lb depth chart. My money is on Herzlich and Williams to distinguish themselves amongst the others.