EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants take on the New York Jets in their third preseason game Saturday night, and Victor Cruz's return is the main attraction. But it’s not the only relevant Giants storyline.
Here is a position-by-position look at what to keep an eye on.
Eli Manning and the first-team offense looked awful last week in Buffalo. They couldn’t run the football and produced one first down with Manning under center. It was only one game, but everybody would be able to sleep better at night if Manning completed a few passes to Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard and the first-team offense enjoyed some success. They should play together for at least a half.
"As a general proposition, we would like to take our starters into early in the third quarter," coach Ben McAdoo said. "We will evaluate it at halftime and see how it goes. ... We may give a little bit more or give a little bit less, too."
Backup Ryan Nassib is another story. He'll likely enter the game in the second half. Nassib has four turnovers and no touchdowns in the first two preseason games. He needs to show something before the preseason is over for the Giants to retain confidence in his ability. To date, they maintain there is no reason to panic.
Andre Williams and Orleans Darkwa are the players to watch. They could get sprinkled in with the first-team offense to see what they can do. Williams has received a majority of the work this preseason, but Darkwa is a staple on special teams.
The day is all about Victor Cruz. It will be his first game action in 685 days. The key here is simple: Cruz needs to play and prove his legs can hold up to the rigors of live action. The Giants will be watching Cruz closely in a game that means more to him than a normal preseason game.
"This game is more for me to get hit, have that opportunity to get that game rep, have those game-like actions with Eli, being on the same page, all those things that you look forward to as a player," Cruz said.
Behind Cruz, there is a fight for the fifth or sixth wide receiver spots. It’s likely going to come down to Roger Lewis and Tavarres King. Their production in these last two preseason contests could be the difference.
Starters Will Tye and Larry Donnell had an embarrassingly bad afternoon blocking in Buffalo. The Giants need better. Right now, their options are limited with Matt LaCosse (knee) and Will Johnson (stinger) dealing with injuries.
The line struggled against the Bills. It couldn’t run block or protect. If the Giants don’t see any improvement against the Jets, they could be pressed into making a panic move. All eyes will be on right tackle Marshall Newhouse and left tackle Ereck Flowers. It’s imperative they inspire some confidence after the shaky performance against the Bills.
Free-agent acquisition Olivier Vernon has a sack and three quarterback hits in limited playing time this preseason. It’s another chance for Giants fans to see exactly what the team purchased this offseason. The results so far are encouraging.
Second-year defensive end Owa Odighizuwa has also done well. He’ll receive a bigger workload against the Jets that could provide a more accurate appraisal of what he can bring to the table.
The lesser-known Romeo Okwara and Stansley Mopanga continue their fight for the fifth defensive end spot.
The issue isn’t with the starters. Damon Harrison and Johnathan Hankins are fine. It’s the depth at this position that comes into question. Jay Bromley needs to show something after being sidelined early this summer with an ankle injury, and Louis Nix III, Davon Coleman, Jermelle Cudjo, Montori Hughes and Greg Milhouse are battling for that final spot. Not sure anyone has grabbed hold of it yet.
The middle linebacker competition is far from over. Jasper Brinkley and Kelvin Sheppard are neck-and-neck, according to defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. If either make noise on Saturday, it could be the difference.
Keenan Robinson can also solidify his spot on the roster by playing well in the first-team nickel defense. The Giants are hopeful he can be an upgrade at linebacker with his pass coverage.
First-round pick Eli Apple will take snaps with the first team. The Giants are trying to determine how ready he is to play immediately and want him to receive significant playing time. Apple missed last week’s game with a leg/knee injury suffered in the preseason opener. This will be his first real test in game action against a top receiver like Brandon Marshall. How ready is Apple?
Nat Berhe will start in place of injured rookie Darian Thompson. This is his chance to really solidify his standing as the third safety for a group that Spagnuolo said is in “flux.” Justin Currie and Cooper Taylor should also get some snaps at some point. And don’t be surprised to see cornerback Leon Hall slide into a safety role at times. Spagnuolo plans to use Hall in a lot of ways and positions.