EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- After reviewing the tape from Friday’s preseason opener and talking with the coach and players, let's update where everything stands defensively for the New York Giants after the official final day of training camp. (Here’s the offensive rundown.)
Jason Pierre-Paul is healthier and playing without a club. Olivier Vernon has showed at training camp why he’s worth $52.5 million guaranteed; he’s dominated offensive lineman Ereck Flowers. Those are the starters. Owa Odighizuwa is the clear-cut third option. He looks greatly improved in his second season and had some really good snaps against the Dolphins. Odighizuwa is overpowering linemen on a regular basis at practice as well. Behind those three, it’s a crapshoot. Romeo Okwara and Mike Rose are names to watch -- they’ve opened eyes recently. Stansly Maponga has also done some nice things as a pass-rusher, and Kerry Wynn was playing well (including as an interior rusher) prior to a minor groin problem.
Damon Harrison and Johnathan Hankins have looked impenetrable this summer. They dominated in their limited time against the Dolphins. After that, it’s up for grabs. Jay Bromley (ankle) just returned from the physically unable to perform list. Undrafted free-agent Greg Milhouse has impressed the coaching staff and teammates. Montori Hughes and Louis Nix were buried to start the summer, although they had some quality snaps in the preseason opener. So did Davon Coleman and Jermelle Cudjo. Bromley, Coleman and Milhouse are likely the favorites to stick right now.
It’s a four-man race for playing time. Jasper Brinkley remains in the lead because of his ability to play the run. Keenan Robinson and Kelvin Sheppard will have their opportunities. Robinson, who missed the preseason opener, needs to prove he can play the run. Rookie B.J. Goodson is the wild card. He made a lot of tackles and a bunch of plays against the Dolphins, but he also had some bad snaps (missed tackle, blown coverage, etc.), which is common for a rookie. The Giants might not make a decision at this position until after the fourth preseason game. “We're going to use all the information that we can get,” Giants head coach Ben McAdoo said. “So we'll let that play itself out.”
Devon Kennard is the starter and has stayed healthy this summer, but it appears he’s destined for a two-down role. Mark Herzlich played well against the Dolphins and is more likely to keep his spot than not. Brad Bars is pushing Herzlich but had a key missed tackle Friday night. Ishaq Williams is also an interesting prospect who has flashed. He could be destined for the practice squad.
It's looking like Jonathan Casillas will be the Giants’ only three-down linebacker. His coverage ability was on display in the preseason opener. J.T. Thomas (hamstring) hasn’t been able to get on the field, which makes him expendable until further notice.
This has quickly become a deep and intriguing unit with the drafting of Eli Apple in the first round and the signing of Leon Hall as a free agent. Apple had a surprisingly strong camp despite reports of him being a raw talent. He had some good snaps in his preseason debut, and his physicality showed. Apple’s presence has put Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (still the starter on the outside) in the slot plenty this summer. Janoris Jenkins is locked in as the starter at right cornerback, and even though he’s had trouble covering Odell Beckham Jr. -- who hasn’t -- Jenkins has been as advertised. Undrafted rookie Donte Deayon has played his way into roster contention, and Trevin Wade remains up and down and is now on the roster bubble. The rest of the group (Leon McFadden, Matt Smalley and Michael Hunter) has struggled this summer.
Rookie Darian Thompson has quickly made his mark in the secondary, cementing himself as a starter by impressing with his smarts and cover skills. Thompson played well with the first-team defense against the Dolphins. “He was 100 percent in his assignments, or close to it,” McAdoo said. “He communicated well.” Landon Collins is the other starter, and early indications are he will be used closer to the line of scrimmage with more regularity this season. Finally healthy, Nat Berhe is next in line. He made several plays near the line of scrimmage in the preseason opener, and his summer has been promising. Cooper Taylor has worked himself back into the mix after being buried last season, and Mykkele Thompson has blended in, for better or worse, most of the summer after an Achilles injury. Bennett Jackson has been mysteriously buried on the depth chart, receiving limited opportunities and splitting time with undrafted rookie Andrew Adams, who struggled in his first NFL action.