EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Not long after the New York Giants finished their conditioning tests Thursday afternoon, dark clouds rolled over the Quest Diagnostics Training Center. The wind picked up, and it seemed a nasty storm was imminent.
But the heavy rains never materialized. The summer thunderstorm missed the Giants and failed to ruin the opening day of their 2016 training camp.
Maybe it was appropriate. Maybe it was a sign that the distractions and storms that have ruined the Giants’ past two seasons will finally be diverted as they look to end a four-year playoff drought. So far, they appear to be in much better shape.
At this point last year, the Giants were already without left tackle Will Beatty because of a torn pectoral muscle; wide receiver Victor Cruz, who was recovering from a torn patellar tendon; and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who was away from the team with a mangled hand as the result of a fireworks accident he'd had during the Fourth of July weekend. The previous year, they had rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dealing with a tender hamstring while starting middle linebacker Jon Beason nursed a broken foot.
In retrospect, you could say the Giants were basically doomed before they even started the season's six-month grind. They were an incomplete team with some serious injury problems. Nobody can survive 20-plus players finishing the season on injured reserve.
But this year, the Giants are relatively healthy and controversy-free entering training camp while the rest of their division keeps taking hits. The Dallas Cowboys seem to have their entire defense suspended, the Washington Redskins just lost one of their top pass-rushers before training camp even began, and the Philadelphia Eagles are dealing with their second arrest of the summer and uncertainty at quarterback.
Maybe, just maybe, the magic is working in the Giants' favor. Maybe they can minimize the injuries and distractions, and maybe they have learned the secret formula for closing out games.
Look, I’m not generally a superstitious fellow. I don’t align my pens and notebooks in a specific order because that's how they were when I broke a story in the past. But a little luck can never hurt and, for once, the Giants seem to have it on their side after a few rough seasons.
New coach Ben McAdoo has close to a full team and the entire summer to work his program. He has talent at his disposal after an offseason spending spree aimed at restocking a thin defense.
"It’s huge. We’ve had no distractions coming into this season," starting left guard Justin Pugh said Thursday after Giants players reported to training camp. "If you look at our defense, we’ve signed some big-name guys. Some guys that have played some high-quality football. So I’m excited to see our defense go out there and play and wreak some havoc on some offenses."
The Giants might not be the most talented team in the league, but they are finally trending in the right direction. It would've have been hard to say that with a straight face the past four years. Now, they have a top-10 offense with nine returning starters. They have a defense that ranked 32nd in the league last season, but they have added proven players such as defensive end Olivier Vernon, defensive tackle Damon Harrison and cornerback Janoris Jenkins. There is nowhere to go but up, and that is what they are expected to do.
"I liked the look in their eyes. They were hungry to get going," McAdoo said. "They’re champing at the bit to get going, just like I am, and it’s a good place to start because I’m ready to go."
If you’ve followed my Giants coverage the past couple years, you know I’ve never been Johnny Sunshine. I’ve never been overly optimistic about the Giants’ chances, and I have yet to pick them to finish with a winning record. This year could be different. Everything seems to have a different feel.
Sure, it’s still early, but the Giants are healthier, more well-rounded, plagued by fewer question marks, and facing a more favorable schedule. Even the news on Cruz is promising so far. They are also competing in a division that isn’t exactly stacked, as it seems there may not be a 12-win team in the bunch.
Just like last year, opportunity will present itself in the NFC East. But this time, the Giants seem better situated (at least in the summer) to take advantage.