Victor Cruz and Giants WRs among 10 must-watch items at training camp

Talent not the issue for Giants' defense (0:45)

Antonio Pierce thinks if the Giants' defense is going to excel this season, playing together as one is going to be the key. (0:45)

The gates to New York Giants training camp officially open Thursday morning. Players will report for work and undergo physicals and conditioning drills before practicing for the first time this summer Friday morning.

It’s the beginning of a six-month (and possibly longer) grind. The Giants are trying to end a four-year playoff drought. They spent a boatload of money this offseason to improve the talent pool, especially on the defensive side of the ball. They’re expected to be improved.

But all those high-priced acquisitions didn’t solve everything. Ben McAdoo enters his first training camp as head coach with more than a few unknowns and uncertainties. Ultimately, they could determine the fate of the franchise at the start of the post-Tom Coughlin era.

The Giants have areas on both offense and defense that will require intense inspection throughout the summer. That’s what I’m here for. It’s my job to be at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center every day to serve as your eyes and ears.

Here’s what I’ll be watching most closely:

1. Victor Cruz: It has been almost a full year since Cruz has started and completed a practice with his teammates because of a calf problem that followed a devastating knee injury. It has been seemingly forever since he’s appeared in a game (Oct. 12, 2014). Every step the wide receiver takes this summer will be scrutinized. First, he has to complete a practice. Then he has to put together back-to-back practices. Then he has to play in a preseason game. All of this will help determine whether he can resemble the Pro Bowl player he once was.

2. The new coach: For the first time since 2003, when Kerry Collins was the team’s quarterback, Coughlin isn’t the Giants' head coach. This is McAdoo’s team now. Already, plenty has changed. What else is in store? And will it be well received by the players?

3. JPP’s hand: The goal is for defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul to play this season without a glove after a horrific fireworks accident last summer. It’s one thing for Pierre-Paul to train and practice without pads. It’s another to bang that hand in full-contact drills against 300-plus-pound men. Let’s see how the hand holds up and how much of a limitation it remains.

4. Odell Beckham Jr.: What Beckham does in training camp is mostly inconsequential. Everybody already knows he can play, and do so at an exceptionally high level. Still, you can never take your eyes off the dynamic playmaker because you never know what he’s going to do next.

5. The other wide receivers: This is an interesting group that includes this year’s second-round pick, Sterling Shepard, and last year’s sixth-round pick, Geremy Davis. Shepard has to show he was worth all that spring hype, while Davis must prove he can create consistent separation. I have some doubts about the latter. The Giants also have some intriguing undrafted free-agent options, beginning with Roger Lewis and Darius Powe.

6. The middle linebacker mix: It’s a four-man competition to start at middle linebacker and be the leader of the defense this summer. Jasper Brinkley, Kelvin Sheppard, B.J. Goodson and Keenan Robinson all have a legitimate chance to earn the job. The Giants desperately need one of them to shine at such an important position.

7. How Eli Apple is utilized: The Giants used the No. 10 overall pick on Apple. It just may not yield immediate dividends. Apple spent most of the spring rotating with cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartiee and Janoris Jenkins on the outside. The rookie was used sporadically in the slot, a position he rarely played prior to joining the Giants. It will interesting to see how defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo decides to use Apple this summer after spending the spring analyzing his options in the slot.

8. Running back competition: The Giants enter training camp with a crowded backfield. Everyone from Rashad Jennings to Andre Williams to Orleans Darkwa to Bobby Rainey needs to prove themselves in order to secure a spot on the roster. This could be the most intense competition this summer, and could turn out different than most expect.

9. Offensive line: Are the Giants really going into this season with John Jerry at right guard and Marshall Newhouse at right tackle? Maybe second-year lineman Bobby Hart is a realistic option or someone is added from the outside. Also, will last year’s first-round pick, Ereck Flowers, be improved working with a new line coach?

10. Overall health: The Giants entered the 2015 season opener with their starting left tackle and middle linebacker, their best pass-rusher and their No. 2 playmaker injured. They also had four safeties out for the season. There is no way to survive that type of summer carnage. McAdoo has designed a training camp program with the hope of keeping his players healthier than they have been over the past three years, when the Giants were the most injured team in the NFL. Will it work?