The New York Giants are a little over a month away from the start of training camp and there are a lot of questions surrounding a team that finished 8-8.
With owner John Mara setting the tone for the offseason by putting everybody in the organization on high alert, as Antonio Pierce would say, the Giants enter one of the most important offseasons in the Coughlin era. On Tuesday, the Giants open their veterans' mandatory mini-camp looking to take another step toward answering many of the questions that linger from last season.
Here are five things to look for in mini-camp.
The Middle Linebacker Race: The most watched competition in Giants camp is at middle linebacker. Who will emerge to replace Antonio Pierce? While things really won't get cooking until training camp in August, the MIKE candidates need to continue to show new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell they have a grasp on his defense and command of the huddle. Fans will get their first chance to see who will be in the middle on Tuesday when the team holds an open practice at the new stadium. Jonathan Goff, rookie Phillip Dillard, Gerris Wilkinson and Chase Blackburn all have a chance to make one more impression on coaches and teammates before going to Albany. Goff is the early leader having started with the first team in OTAs (organized team activities). Dillard has worked with the second team and Wilkinson, ready to turn his injury-marred career around, has been operating with the third team.
The Defensive Ends: The second-most anticipated competition this summer will be between Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka. Umenyiora wants his old job back. Kiwanuka wants to start in the last year of his contract. The battle to see who starts opposite Justin Tuck will be compelling. Umenyiora said back during Super Bowl week that he would rather retire than not start. However, outside of a lingering hip issue, Umenyiora -- who thought he would be traded after the Giants drafted defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul -- has been engaged, happy and focused during OTAs. Pierre-Paul also gets an opportunity to show the Giants what he can do.
Minister of Defense: Fewell has three consecutive days to see how players are learning his schemes and how all the pieces fit together. How will he use the plethora of defensive ends at his disposal? During one OTA, he used Tuck, Kiwanuka and Umenyiora together with Kiwanuka inside on a few snaps. Fewell will use these three days to teach his defense how to play his multiple-look scheme in different situations. He also will get a better look at some position competitions such as the battle at cornerback between Aaron Ross and Terrell Thomas. And rookies like Pierre-Paul and massive defensive tackle Linval Joseph will continue to try to impress Fewell.
Earth, Wind and Fire II: The Giants' running game sputtered last season due to injuries. Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw underwent offseason surgeries, and both are ready for a bounce-back season. Jacobs says he has been a full-go for some time. Bradshaw, who underwent surgery on both of his feet and an ankle, says he feels like he is running on new feet again. The Giants opted not to draft another running back with the confidence that either D.J. Ware or Andre Brown will be healthy and effective enough to emerge as the third running back. Brown, who is coming off a season-ending Achilles injury during training camp last year, has been able to cut effectively during OTAs.
Safety Dance: Kenny Phillips is still on the mend and won't be ready until training camp. New additions Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant have been running the back of the defense. Fewell wants his safeties to be vocal while actively disguising and camouflaging the defensive plan. The veterans have provided the Giants experience and a major upgrade after last year's disastrous safety play. Rolle could become one of the team's vocal leaders by the end of training camp this summer. Rookie Chad Jones still needs to shave a few pounds, according to assistant coaches, but his size, athleticism and hands are hard to ignore.