5 Biggest Questions Heading Into Giants Training Camp And Saquon Barkley on Expectations And What He Has in Common With Models (Video)Read Now
The New York Giants open training camp today in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Owner John Mara and team brass hope this is the first training camp of a new winning era for the franchise. Last season the Giants were a miserable 3-13, the locker room was toxic and void of leadership. The end of last season and subsequent offseason brought a lot of change. GM Jerry Reese and head coach Ben McAdoo are gone, in their place Dave Gettleman and Pat Shurmur. Sources close to the team are saying good things so far about the change in leadership. There is talk about restoring tradition and the “Giants way.” All that is good and well, but talk is cheap as a former Giants head coach was fond of saying. OTAs and minicamps are over. Today marks the start of the heavy lifting, where we will see if the Giants have the requisite talent, coaching, and leadership to shake off the stench of last season and become a playoff team and a title contender before some of their notable players’ windows close.
Here are the 5 biggest questions the Giants hope to have answered by the end of camp and start of the season:
What does Eli Manning have left in the tank?
The 37-year-old, signal caller is entering his 15th season in the league. While he’s certainly on the back nine of his career. The Giants hope he has another few years of play left in him. But, what level of play should they expect?
Manning has a career 59.8% completion percentage and is turnover prone. His accuracy is what it is, and with his second offensive system in three seasons, we shouldn’t expect a leap to the mid-60s in completion numbers. He is your textbook hot and cold quarterback. If his skill position guys can stay healthy and if he can stay upright, he should have a bounce-back season.
He will also want to put last year’s weird and embarrassing benching behind him and show that he can still play like a 2x Super Bowl MVP under the right circumstances. Ben McAdoo routinely threw Manning and other players under the bus during post-game interviews last season, and while he would never admit it publicly, Manning was happy to see him go.
Here is something interesting to consider. These are Eli Manning’s stats over the past three seasons with one variable changed:
The top line splits are considerably better than the bottom line. Do you know what the variable is?
What’s up with Odell Beckham Jr.?
If you didn’t put 2 +2 together from the end of the last question, OBJ is that variable. In common NFL parlance, it is said the team only goes as far as its quarterback can take them. While that is true, the Giants best player is OBJ, and make no mistake about it. Despite his – at times – immature behavior, this team goes as far as OBJ allows them to. There is a reason he wasn’t traded this offseason.
OBJ is coming off a broken left ankle in week 4 of last season. Judging by his Instagram account he appears to be healthy and ready for action. However, he wants a new contract and the Giants are in no rush to sign him to one, given the aforementioned injury and concerns about his maturity.
If he isn’t the best wide receiver in the NFL, he’s no worse than top 3. The man is electric and forces defenses to game plan specifically around him. If the Giants didn’t draft him in 2014, where would Eli be right now? For that matter, how about the franchise?
He says he will be at the start of camp today, but the longer he and the Giants go without a deal this will linger over their heads.
Have the Giants solved their offensive line issues?
This unit was horrendous last season. Manning had the worst average time to throw (2.4 seconds) of all starting quarterbacks in the league. They were so bad, Eli was seeing ghosts. The run game was no better, as it ranked in the bottom quarter of the league with an average 3.9 ypc. If this unit is even 30% better than last season that would be huge.
They signed veteran New England Patriots left tackle Nate Solder. We know the Pats are good at getting rid of guys before their career starts trending in the wrong direction. But Solder definitely won’t be worse than Ereck Flowers. The former #8 overall draft pick will try to salvage his career on the right side of the line this season…
They also drafted Will Hernandez from UTEP in the second round who was involved in several fights during OTAs in June. Described by Shurmur as “cranky” and “nasty”, this is a good sign. Players on the line need to be bullies and have that type of disposition on the field. It will be critical in opening up running lanes.
Are the Giants playing a 4-3 or 3-4 defense?
New defensive coordinator James Bettcher is a 3-4 guy, but the early word is he won’t be rigid in the team’s base formation. The looks will be multiple, but pressure will be a constant. Sounds good in theory. Can they apply it in practice?
The best defensive teams have an identity and pressure is often that identity or a large part of any good unit’s makeup. Ex-Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, had Bettcher as his defensive coordinator and told Giants.com the following:
The biggest thing is you start with pressure. He’s going to go after people. He’s going to put pressure on the quarterback in all situations. Very, very hard to run the ball against this defense, having gone against it myself for five years [in practice]. So it’s going to be pressure. It depends a lot on the corners – how much man-to-man versus zone because we played both but we had drafted our guys to play man-to-man and not let a quarterback dink and dunk us. So, yeah, I think there’s going to be a lot of pressure. He can switch. Even in the base front, our 3-4 becomes a 4-3 a lot of times easily, and that’s the hard thing. They have so many multiple fronts that he can play and utilize that personnel they have up there.
Players like the newly signed Alec Ogletree and Connor Barwin, and the thus far disappointing, Olivier Vernon have experience with multiple base defenses and will be relied upon to be leaders. BJ Goodson must find a way to stay healthy and “Snacks” Harrison must be a monster on the interior again this season.
In the secondary, Eli Apple needs to have a big rebound after last year’s tumultuous season and the starting safety next to Landon Collins needs to be sorted out. This is a unit that has potential, but Bettcher needs to harness it and maximize each player’s ability.
Is Saquon Barkley ready to be the next big thing?
The #2 overall pick in this year’s draft has had a dream offseason. He’s been in magazine shoots (more on that shortly), done lots of interviews, and just signed a 4 year $31.2 million contract that is fully guaranteed. The deal includes a $20.76 million signing bonus with $15 million paid out immediately. This makes Barkley the 4th highest paid running back in the league.
With his financial situation set, Barkley will have to start paying returns immediately. He must show the ability to pick up NFL blitzes and be the type of “game-changing” dynamic back the Giants need to infuse some life into their putrid running game.
Barkley has all the physical tools necessary to be a star in this league. We were part of a small group of reporters that spent time with him at the ESPN Body party last month in NYC. He has the charisma and all the necessary attributes of what a star athlete in this city needs. All he has to do now is show up and do it on Sunday’s. Oh and the occasional Monday, Thursday or Saturday…
There is talent on this roster and if healthy the Giants boast some of the best skill position players in the entire league. But, there are depth questions and it will take some time adjusting to the new systems. The culture appears to be headed in the direction the team’s brass wants and that’s a good first step. Today and the rest of training camp will be vital to determining who fills out the rest of the depth charts, which is key to any team’s success.
Finishing 3-13 last season was a bitter pill for a lot of these veterans to swallow. Anything north of 7 wins has to be seen as a huge improvement. With improved play and a couple lucky bounces, they could finish 9-7, though 8-8 is more likely. Neither will be good enough to make playoffs, however.
Check out Saquon Barkley’s interview at the ESPN Body event in NYC last month. He talks expectations and what he has in common with models.