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Giants insist run game, O-line have made strides, but how much?

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Tuesday’s practice pretty much summed up the status of the New York Giants' offensive line and running game. There were signs of hope, but there also were moments that make you wonder whether they’re really improved.

The Giants struggled to protect quarterback Eli Manning last season and finished 29th in the NFL with 88.3 rushing yards per game. Plenty of questions remain about whether the Giants will really be improved in either category.

They return the same starting offensive line but released running back Rashad Jennings and elevated Paul Perkins into a bigger role. They also signed tight end Rhett Ellison as a free agent.

There were moments Tuesday that were encouraging. Perkins had a solid run on a draw play to the left side against the Giants’ first-team defense during team drills. Orleans Darkwa later found a hole on the right side for a touchdown during a red zone drill.

But a later series against the second-team defense (which had several third-team players filling in because of injuries) was equally as troubling as the previous plays were encouraging. Rookie defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson blew up a run with inside penetration on the first play of the series. Linebacker Deontae Skinner flew into the backfield on the next play for a significant loss. Left tackle Ereck Flowers later was beaten clean on the same series off the edge by rookie Avery Moss for what would’ve been a sack.

It all leaves uncertainty about whether the Giants are really improved in either area. They should receive a better indication Friday in the preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“It’s very important. We want to set the tone so we can open up other things,” center Weston Richburg said. “We have lots of weapons that we want to be able to use, and if we get the running game going, that opens that up to be a little dangerous.”

The Giants have weapons in Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram. It’s a matter of whether Manning will be able to utilize them. The lack of a running game and time to throw the football spoiled the Giants’ offense last season, when they averaged just 19.7 points per game.

Richburg and coach Ben McAdoo mentioned the tight end group as a reason for hope. McAdoo said they are “improving.” Richburg noted they are doing a “great job” in the run game. They certainly appear to have made upgrades.

The Giants added Ellison, Matt LaCosse (who missed all of last season), Engram and undrafted rookie Colin Thompson at that position this offseason. Ellison and LaCosse both should be assets in the running game.

They are one of several reasons McAdoo is optimistic.

“The offensive line is developing confidence in each other. They’re coming off the ball. The tight end group is improving. That helps,” McAdoo said. “Perkins is a young back who has grown. We have some other young backs who aren’t afraid to hit the hole. There have been some shots of the offense knocking a hole through the defense and that is encouraging.”

Having all five starting linemen back should, in theory, also be a positive. Richburg noted that, in his estimation, the biggest problem last season was missed assignments. The Giants are hopeful that continuity will help limit those this season.

But in the end, their success running the football will depend on everyone, including the wide receivers. Marshall is expected to help with his size and blocking ability replacing Victor Cruz.

“In the game, it’s going to take all 11 [offensive players],” Richburg said. “So I think we’ve done a better job of all 11 guys being on the same page, and we’ve just got to continue with that consistency and carry that in through the preseason and regular season.”

As training camp has shown, there is reason for optimism, but there also remains room for concern.