EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants are 11 days and eight practices into training camp. They’re off on Sunday.
As they take their day of rest, here are five thoughts on the state of the team.
1. They’re healthy
Sure, it’s just over a week into camp. Sure, there are four preseason games remaining before the season opener more than a month away. But the Giants are already way healthier than they were at this time last year, when starting defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (hand), left tackle Will Beatty (torn pec), wide receiver Victor Cruz (knee), offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz (foot) and safety Nat Berhe (ankle) were among those either injured or not with the team. Combined, those five players appeared in 11 games in 2015.
Right now, the Giants' only real injuries belong to linebacker J.T. Thomas (hamstring) and defensive tackle Jay Bromley (ankle). Part of the reason for the Giants' health is new coach Ben McAdoo’s overall program and schedule, which has been designed to minimize the risk of injuries with the institution of half-line running drills and a heavy emphasis on recovery. Part of it is the new strength and conditioning program the team installed this spring. And part of it is simply luck. None of the Giants players did one too many reps in the weight room or were careless with fireworks this summer.
Cross your fingers. Knock on wood. Bring the four-leaf clover to the Quest Diagnostics Center until the Sept. 11 opener against the Dallas Cowboys. The Giants can only hope this relatively clean injury report remains that way.
“We're early. we're early,” McAdoo said. “ Don't jinx me.”
2. Draft class looks promising
First impressions are often spot on, and the Giants' top picks have done nothing but impress since arriving in April. It has carried over into the summer.
I had my reservations about first-round pick Eli Apple. Before training camp I went over my notes on the Giants' draft class, and one NFL talent evaluator said Apple was talented, but wouldn’t be ready to play in Year 1.
After watching the cornerback early in camp, I’m not buying that. His early returns have been encouraging, significantly better than anticipated at a difficult position where rookies often struggle. Apple will find his way onto the field this year.
“We’ll get him in there,” defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. “There’s a lot of downs in this league now with three wide receivers, four wide receivers, so I don’t anticipate that being a problem.”
Wide receiver Sterling Shepard isn’t just going to play, he’s likely to start. The second-round pick out of Oklahoma has been that good in training camp. In fact, he’s probably been the single most impressive player through the first week of camp.
Third-round pick Darian Thompson also has looked capable and competent as the first-team safety. Don't think there has been a single deep ball completed behind him at practice. That's a huge win after how the Giants safeties performed last year.
Overall, the early returns for this year’s draft class are positive.
3. Middle linebacker remains a mystery
The Giants still have no idea who is going to be their middle linebacker, the leader of their defense. Linebackers coach Bill McGovern reiterated that this past week.
“Wide open,” McGovern said. “Everybody is competing. Obviously we have three guys primarily that we are looking at, but all those guys will have opportunities to play going forward.”
This isn’t just coachspeak. The Giants are rotating linebackers endlessly at practice. It’s to the point that it’s hard to figure who is playing where and when.
The three primary candidates to start at middle linebacker are Jasper Brinkley, Kelvin Sheppard and Keenan Robinson. Each brings a different skill set to the table. Fourth-round pick B.J. Goodson is a fourth option.
But are any of them good enough to fill such a vital role and position on a full-time basis? I still have my doubts.
4. Right side of O-line is what it is
Middle linebacker is at the top of my concerns in part because the early days of camp have quelled fears about the right side of the Giants offensive line. John Jerry at guard and Marshall Newhouse at tackle isn’t the greatest combination, but it’s something the Giants can work around (they did it last year), especially with their quick-hitting pass attack and if their running backs play better.
Jerry and Newhouse have shown early in camp they’re not a liability the offense can’t overcome. They’ve played relatively well early this summer.
5. Running back position remains muddled
Ah, about those running backs ... The Giants have a crowded backfield with Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen, Andre Williams, Orleans Darkwa, Paul Perkins, Bobby Rainey and Marshaun Coprich splitting reps. Each brings his own strengths and weaknesses. After watching the early part of camp, in my estimation Darkwa remains the best natural runner of the group. He just seems to know how to find a hole and hit it hard and fast.
What this really validates is the opinion of many that the Giants don’t have a true featured back on their roster. It could spawn another running-back-by-committee, although likely with two or three members instead of three or four.