EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants finished 11-5 last season and made the playoffs for the first time since 2012. It was a successful season -- even though it ended poorly with an ugly playoff loss at Green Bay -- that left the team and its fans optimistic for what's to come.
Well, the future might just be now.
The Giants enter 2017 overflowing with optimism. They think they’re an even better team this season. The reasons:
The Giants signed wide receiver Brandon Marshall and tight end Rhett Ellison. They took tight end Evan Engram in the first round of the draft to add to a group that already included wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard.
Quarterback Eli Manning has some serious weaponry at his disposal. After a season where the Giants struggled to score points and achieve consistency on offense, the belief is they should improve drastically.
“I never hold my tongue. I’m expecting big things.”
Safety Landon Collins
“On offense they have all the keys now. The offensive line has picked it up, they’ve been blocking well. They’ve got the keys for Eli to be making all those passes to all the guys who can get open.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan
“From a personnel standpoint, I think there are some additions that we have to our team who are blending in nicely. There is added experience. Some guys have another year under their belt. So, there have been some improvements with those who were on our team last year. So, I think you combine those two factors and we have a reason to be optimistic.”
The Giants played almost exclusively last season in 11 personnel, the term for three wide receivers, a running back and a tight end. They used that personnel grouping for more than 90 percent of their offensive snaps, and it made them predictable.
They're trying to be less predictable. They have a fullback on the roster and added Ellison as a blocking tight end. It should provide some schematic flexibility and offer new looks to opposing defenses.
The Giants are expected to use more two-tight-end sets and run some plays with a running back and fullback in the backfield together. It will give defenses something else to think about.
“Last year everybody knew what we were running. If you look at it, it was, what, 95 percent of the time? It was tough because we lost guys to injury and we were still able to go 11-5. So I’m going to be excited to see what we can do when we have a full offseason, with some good guys who can do really good things.”
“When you have a fullback on your roster, that enables you to have an additional personnel grouping that gives some different runs and different passes and that gives the defenses more they have to prepare for. It’s been time and time again about the 90 percent 11 personnel that we were last year, and I think when you have some additional personnel groupings, it just gives the defense a few more things they have to prepare for, it gives us a few more options, and the versatility is always going to be to our advantage, so that is something we are excited about.”
The Giants made a splash in last year’s free-agent market to bolster their defense. Defensive end Olivier Vernon, cornerback Janoris Jenkins and defensive tackle Damon Harrison signed lucrative, long-term deals. With so many new faces on defense, it took time for the unit to come together. The Giants were much better in the second half of the season than the first. They allowed 20.5 points per game in the first eight games, 15 over the final eight.
With another season under their belt. there is a belief that the defense can evolve from a really good unit to either great or special. Even first-year starters B.J. Goodson at middle linebacker and Darian Thompson at free safety are in their second seasons with the team. They were 2016 draft picks. The Giants defense has had a chance to digest and master coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's system.
“Just basically that we’re all in tune. We know the defense now. Most of the guys third year in the defense, some second into it. There is more knowledge of it. We can be more flexible and play faster by knowing what we are doing.”
“I think it’s just the obvious stuff. We’ve been together for three years now -- not everyone -- but this is our third year going into the defense. The familiarity for the guys that have been there is at an all-time high, camaraderie is at its highest point since I’ve been here. Everybody likes each other in the locker room and if we don’t shoot, we fight it out in practice and hug it out everywhere.”
RB Shane Vereen
“I think as a team we’re starting to jell. We’re starting to become a real team, not that we weren’t last year. We’re just closer this year. It’s kind of like when you go to a family reunion and you just know everybody is your family because they’re there, you’ve seen them before, you know they love you, you know they’re looking out for you. It’s kind of like the same thing here. I walk into the locker room and I know everyone in here. I know they have my back, I’ve got their back and vice versa. We just grow closer and closer together.”
Building off last season
The Giants gained playoff experience in 2016. They got a taste of some success, but have made a concerted effort to not be content with winning 11 games and being bounced in the first round of the playoffs.
Coach Ben McAdoo
“Again, we are taking it week by week. We have one game to get ready for and it’s this week. 2016 is over. 2017 is here. We’re just going to take it one day at a time, one play at a time, one week at a time."
“We’ve got a bunch of guys who aren’t comfortable with what they’ve done last year. Whether it be [defensive tackle] Robert Thomas, or Landon Collins. Nobody is happy, or satisfied, or content -- whichever word you want to use -- with what they’ve done last year. Last year doesn’t matter anymore.”
And how does Harrison know they're not content?
“Just the way they work. When nobody’s watching, when the camera’s not here, when the coach is not watching. I was here with [defensive tackle] Jay Bromley. I’ve seen Robert Thomas working, I’ve seen Landon working. And that right there, that’s all you need to know about a guy: how hard he works when the cameras aren’t there.”