Giants preview: Make-or-break stretch

August, 27, 2014
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The New York Giants play all three of their division road games in a four-week stretch on the schedule from Sept. 25 to Oct. 19. They're at Washington, home vs. Atlanta, at Philadelphia and at Dallas, which leads right into their Week 8 bye. Because what ensues is a Colts/Seahawks/49ers meat grinder, it's crucial for the Giants to play well on the road against their division opponents before the bye if they want to avoid getting buried in the standings for the second season in a row.

Complete Giants season preview.
Our man Mike Sando polled 30 NFL "insiders" -- coaches, GMs, personnel directors, etc. -- and ranked the 32 NFL head coaches . New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin came in at No. 5 on the list:
"He is every bit as solid as Belichick," said a former GM who placed Coughlin in the top tier. "He has done it over time and been very consistent. You can say he is old-school, but I think he appeals to young guys. He is very sound. Nothing falls through the cracks. These guys at the top, if I were with them, I would spend not a single minute worried about whether we were coached right or had everything covered."

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You can go look at the list if you like and quibble about whether Coughlin should be ranked higher or lower. But the ranking and assessment are both high compliments and Coughlin deserves to be considered one of the very best in the league. Coughlin's presence as the Giants' coach is, in fact, the main thing holding me back from making a truly dire prediction about the Giants' 2014 season.

As bad as things may look from a personnel standpoint on offense -- and they do look bad -- I think 2013 proved that the Giants' floor is pretty high as long as Coughlin is the coach. They started 0-6 last year and still managed to finish 7-9, mainly because Coughlin managed to keep them focused and intense at a time of the year when other teams who were out of it had given up. They won games in November against teams that had to play backup quarterbacks against them, and they won games in December against teams that had quit.

Now sure, when they ran up against contenders like Seattle and San Diego last December, Coughlin's Giants were completely overmatched and got crushed. They simply weren't good enough to compete with those teams. But in weeks when their roster was good enough to compete with its opponent, they more or less won the game. And I think that's a testament to coaching.

So as you head into 2014 as a Giants fan, worried about any number of justifiably worrisome things, one of the aspects of the team that should give you hope that it can't possibly be a total disaster is the head coach, who remains one of the best in the business.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Mario Manningham was not one of the 15 players on the cut-down list Tuesday when the New York Giants reduced their roster from 90 to 75 players, but that doesn't mean he's making the team. The Giants still have a lot of sorting out to do at the wide receiver position before final cuts are made Saturday, and Manningham and his balky knee still have to show they belong.

Manningham
"He's had some spurts the last couple of weeks where he's done some things on the practice field, but it hasn't carried over into games," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said after Tuesday's practice. "He'll get another chance."

The Giants used Manningham a fair bit with their first-team offense in Friday night's preseason game against the Jets, and they're likely to give him a good look in Thursday's preseason finale against the Patriots. First-round pick Odell Beckham Jr. missed all of training camp with a hamstring injury and is unlikely to be ready for the Sept. 8 season opener, camp star Marcus Harris was placed on injured reserve Tuesday and there remain some open spots on the roster at wide receiver.

"Any of the guys who are left know it goes from 75 to 53," Coughlin said. "You're ending up in a numbers game, and it is competitive."

Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle and Beckham are sure things to make the roster at wide receiver. Jerrel Jernigan, who's been running with the first team in Beckham's place all summer, looks like a strong bet as well, especially since he's Cruz's primary backup at the slot receiver position. Undrafted rookie Corey Washington has caught a touchdown pass in each of the Giants' first four preseason games and has obviously helped his cause. Preston Parker, who caught 40 passes for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2011 but was out of football last season, appears to be the primary punt returner right now with Beckham and Trindon Holliday hurt, and that could help him earn a spot as a wide receiver as well. Julian Talley also survived Tuesday's cuts and therefore remains a candidate to be kept.

The Giants are likely to keep four tight ends when they cut the roster to 53 on Saturday, which might make it tough to keep six wide receivers, but if they need Parker for punt returns (or as a reserve wideout) while Beckham gets healthy, they may not have a choice.

Regardless, the numbers game doesn't seem to favor Manningham unless he blows the Giants away with a strong showing Thursday night. Maybe the fact the opponent is the Patriots, the team against which Manningham's career highlight came, will inspire him before it's too late.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin said rookie Weston Richburg and veteran John Jerry would start at left guard and right guard, respectively, in Thursday's preseason finale against the Patriots. Richburg is replacing Geoff Schwartz, who will miss at least a few weeks, if not more, with a toe injury he suffered in Friday's preseason game. Jerry is replacing Brandon Mosley, who has missed the last three days of practice with a back injury.

"He's up and moving, so obviously that's a good sign," Coughlin said of Mosley, who's been the first-team right guard since Chris Snee retired on the eve of training camp.

Jerry
Mosley's injury has offered a fresh chance for Jerry, who missed the start of camp following spring knee surgery and hasn't shown much. If he looks good Thursday night, there's certainly a chance he could steal the job from Mosley. It's also possible that Richburg will lock down left guard in Schwartz's absence and that Schwartz could play right guard upon his return.

The Giants got good news Tuesday when they learned Schwartz would not need surgery, but it remains unclear how much time they can expect him to miss.

"He's very optimistic, and hopefully that's going to mean the recovery will be as fast as possible," Coughlin said of Schwartz. "Obviously, we can't rush him back. It certainly would be good to get him back as soon as possible, but it's not going to be easy."

In other Giants injury news:
  • First-round pick Odell Beckham Jr. and kick returner Trindon Holliday missed practice again with hamstring injuries. Tackle Charles Brown and tackle/guard James Brewer sat out with shoulder and back injuries, respectively.
  • Cornerback Prince Amukamara is making good progress in his return from a groin injury, but he won't play Thursday night.
  • Running back Peyton Hillis appeared to be practicing in full. Hillis missed a few weeks of camp with an ankle injury but has returned to practice this week. He made a nice juggling catch on a wheel route with Jacquian Williams covering him in practice Tuesday.

Giants keep Brown, trade McManus

August, 26, 2014
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[+] EnlargeJosh Brown
AP Photo/Matt RourkeJosh Brown won the New York Giants' battle at the kicker spot.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Josh Brown will be the New York Giants' place-kicker for the second year in a row, and Brandon McManus is headed to the Denver Broncos.

The 35-year-old Brown won a training camp competition over McManus, who was traded Tuesday by the Giants to the Broncos for a conditional seventh-round pick in the 2015 draft.

The 23-year-old McManus, a strong-legged rookie, will serve as a temporary replacement for suspended Pro Bowl kicker Matt Prater. The Broncos waived rookie kicker Mitch Ewald after announcing the trade.

"I think Brandon will kick in this league," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Tuesday. "He's a very powerful young man. Needs a little bit of work on the finer kicks, but certainly he demonstrated his ability to kick it through the back of the end zone."

McManus looked good on kickoffs during the preseason, but Brown did nothing to lose the job with the Giants. He was 23-for-26 on field goal attempts for the Giants last year, including 8-for-10 on kicks of 40 yards or longer.


(Read full post)


New York Giants cut-down analysis

August, 26, 2014
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Most significant move: Marcus Harris had done enough to make the New York Giants at wide receiver, but he suffered an injury in Friday's preseason game and has been placed on season-ending injured reserve. The Giants and Harris said Friday his injury was to his shoulder, but in placing him on IR on Tuesday they announced it as a hip injury. Harris will have to miss the entire 2014 season. The injury and resulting move open up a spot for someone such as Corey Washington or Preston Parker to make the team at receiver. Veteran wide receiver Mario Manningham, who continues to struggle with a knee injury, also survived Tuesday's cuts, though he remains likely to be cut when the roster is reduced to 53 on Saturday.

Injuries change the plan: Usually, players cut in this first wave aren't practice squad candidates, but guys such as Charles James and Jerome Cunningham could be exceptions. The Giants certainly didn't want to cut James on Tuesday. But they've had so many injuries on the offensive line in the past week -- Geoff Schwartz, Brandon Mosley, James Brewer, Charles Brown -- that they find themselves having to keep back-of-the-roster offensive linemen (A) so that they have enough to use in Thursday's preseason finale and (B) in case one of them (Rogers Gaines?) ends up having to be on the final roster. So there could be an offensive lineman or two cut Saturday who's a less likely practice squad candidate than someone who was cut Tuesday.

Giants' cuts: K Brandon McManus, CB Charles James, TE Xavier Grimble, TE Jerome Cunningham, LB Spencer Adkins, DE Emmanuel Dieke, LB Justin Anderson, S Kyle Sebetic, CB Ross Weaver, WR Travis Harvey, OL John Sullen, S C.J. Barnett, DT Everett Dawkins, S Cooper Taylor (placed on season-ending injured reserve), WR Marcus Harris (placed on season-ending injured reserve).

Giants get good news on Geoff Schwartz

August, 26, 2014
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants announced Tuesday that left guard Geoff Schwartz, who dislocated his right big toe in Friday night's preseason game, would be in a walking boot for seven to 10 days and then begin rehabbing the injury.

"After that," the team's news release said, "he will be evaluated on a week-to-week basis regarding his ability to return to football activities."

This qualifies as good news on Schwartz, as there had been some fear he could be lost for a period of months or perhaps the entire season if surgery was required. He'll obviously miss the regular-season opener, which is only 13 days away, and likely at least another game or two after that. But Tuesday's news is based on Monday's examination in Charlotte by Dr. Robert Anderson and gives Schwartz and the Giants hope that he could return at some point early in the season.

"This is just a minor setback," Schwartz said in a statement released by the team. "I plan on attacking the rehab program so I can get back on the field as soon as possible with my teammates and help us win games."

In the meantime, rookie Weston Richburg has taken over at left guard. It's possible Richburg could make that spot his own during Schwartz's absence and that Schwartz could be asked to play right guard upon his return. The Giants have struggled at right guard since Chris Snee retired just before camp. Brandon Mosley had been playing there but has missed the past two days of practice with a back injury, and John Jerry is handling the spot this week.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin said quarterback Eli Manning and the rest of the starters would play about 15-18 snaps in Thursday's preseason finale against the New England Patriots. It will be the fifth preseason game for Manning and most of the starters, who have spent this offseason trying to learn a new offense with so-far disappointing results.

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"Sounds right," Manning said after Monday's practice. "I hadn't heard a number yet, so just preparing for them and for however much he wants to keep us in. But we expect to go out there and try to move the ball and see if we can do something. See if we can get into a good rhythm early in the game instead of having to wait until later."

The Giants' offense has struggled all preseason, and Manning hadn't thrown a touchdown pass until his final play of Friday night's preseason game against the New York Jets. That 15-yarder to Rueben Randle capped a successful two-minute-drill drive at the end of the first half of that game and left the Giants encouraged about their progress on offense.

"I think everybody knows what to do. It's just the pace it needs to be done, and everything done precisely," Manning said. "So every day we're trying to get better at that. We're making small steps. We're probably not all the way where we need to be, and I think there'll always be things we're going to improve on. It's not something you're going to master in four weeks. As the season goes on, we'll know what we do well, we'll progress, we'll put different things in."

The idea that the Giants will arrive at the regular season in two weeks without a full command of their new offense isn't shocking. It's even understandable. What's more alarming is the current state of the offensive personnel. Injuries on the already-questionable offensive line this week have resulted in new starters at both guard positions, and it's difficult for Manning to know for sure which five guys will be lining up in front of him two weeks from now in Detroit.

"Those might be the guys who are playing for us, so the more reps they can get together, the better it'll be," Manning said of the newly configured line, which has rookie Weston Richburg at left guard and John Jerry at right guard at the moment. "Making calls, guys communicating. We don't know who's going to be there that first game, so we've got to be ready and get a lot of guys ready to play. So it'll be good to work with this group. The more options we can have at offensive line to step into different roles, the better off we'll be."
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It's now been a week since the setback that wasn't a setback, and New York Giants rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham still isn't practicing with the team. Obviously, this means the team's first-round draft pick won't play in Thursday's preseason finale against the Patriots, which means he won't have played in any of the Giants' five preseason games.

"He's not going to play," an obviously frustrated Giants coach Tom Coughlin said after Monday's practice, during which Beckham once again worked on a side field with the training staff. "Have you seen him practice? How about practicing first?"

Beckham's last full training camp practice was when he was still at LSU. He injured his hamstring in the first practice of Giants training camp July 22 and hasn't practiced in full with the team since. He returned to the field a bit a couple of weeks ago and was working his way into 11-on-11 drills, but then he hurt himself in practice again last Monday and hasn't practiced since.

"I think he's very frustrated," Coughlin said. "I think his whole personality's held in check because he's not able to do the things that he wants to do."

With Beckham out, the Giants have been using Jerrel Jernigan in his outside receiver spot. It's possible that preseason star Corey Washington could get a look there with the first team Thursday, but we thought that was possible last week and Washington didn't play until the fourth quarter against the Jets.

Obviously, Beckham's availability for the Sept. 8 "Monday Night Football" opener in Detroit is in serious doubt. The Giants don't like to rush rookies into action in the first place, and that's especially true when the rookie hasn't had a training camp.

In other Giants injury news:
  • Guard Geoff Schwartz was seeing a foot specialist Monday to determine the severity of his toe injury. The Giants should have news on Schwartz at some point early this week, but it's safe to assume he'll have to miss at least the first few games of the regular season, if not many more.
  • Guard Brandon Mosley missed a second straight day of practice due to a back injury and was getting examined by a doctor, according to Coughlin. John Jerry played with the first-team line in Mosley's right guard spot while rookie Weston Richburg manned Schwartz's left guard spot.
  • Offensive lineman James Brewer remains out with a back injury, which could damage his chances of making the 53-man roster. Brewer was on the bubble to begin with.
  • Return specialist Trindon Holliday also sat out of practice with a hamstring injury. Holliday did some individual work Sunday but did not appear to work at all Monday. With Holliday and Beckham both sidelined, the Giants are hurting at punt returner and may keep wide receiver Preston Parker because has experience in that role.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants' hope, when training camp began, was that someone from their group of unproven tight ends would emerge as a clear starter -- a do-it-all tight end who could be used in a variety of roles.

That has not happened.

"I really think that there'll be a group of guys that'll play that'll help us in different situations and will be matched up according to the circumstance," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said after practice Monday. "I think that's where it's going to go. I think there's a lot of roles for that spot."

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The four tight ends likely to make the final roster are, in no particular order, Larry Donnell, Adrien Robinson, Daniel Fells and Kellen Davis. Donnell was the nominal starter for much of camp, but Davis was the starter in Friday's preseason game against the Jets. Robinson played every snap of the successful two-minute drive at the end of the first half. Fells has returned from a knee injury to take a larger role in practice recently.

"I think it's very close," Coughlin said. "I think, some days, it's very difficult to see who has done what better than someone else."

Coughlin and the Giants won't say this publicly, but the reason for this is that there isn't a strong option in the group. As a result, an offense that wants its tight end to play a large role will have to shuffle players in and out at the position depending on whether they need a run blocker, a receiving option, an H-back ... whatever role a certain play, opponent or situation calls for.

"That's not necessarily what the play was, but the plan has evolved to that," Coughlin said. "People can be utilized for their skills in different ways."

The Giants open the regular season in two weeks in Detroit against the Lions.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Down seven spots from No. 34 to No. 41 in our annual ranking of the top 100 offensive NFL players, New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz nonetheless enters 2014 as one of the few sure things on a New York Giants' offense with tons of question marks. My question is whether Cruz can be productive enough in the Giants' new West Coast offense to move back into the top 40 next summer.

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The first-blush answer to that is yes. Cruz looks to be playing the Randall Cobb role if you compare this offense to that of the Green Bay Packers, which is new coordinator Ben McAdoo's former team. In Green Bay, Cobb lines up in the slot (or sometimes in the backfield) and catches a ton of passes, mainly at short range, and is asked to make plays with the ball in his hands. Cruz profiles as a player who fits that role nicely, and in theory it should mean great things for him.

The rest of the Giants' offense, though, makes you wonder if things can possibly go according to plan. If Cruz is in the slot, are the wide receivers on the outside good enough to make it all work? Can they find a representative tight end who can function as a complementary target to Cruz over the middle and in short range? Do they have enough depth at running back? Can the offensive line keep quarterback Eli Manning upright long enough for the offense to get into a rhythm?

You got a glimpse, during that two-minute drill at the end of the first half of Friday night's preseason game against the Jets, of the manner in which the Giants will use Cruz if things are going well. And if your fantasy draft was Thursday night and you ended up with Cruz, that drive likely made you feel pretty good about the possibilities. He's the No. 15 wide receiver in this year's #NFLRank poll, and he will be playing in an offense that should help his numbers justify that position or even better. As long as enough other things go well around him.

Cruz will be the last Giants player to appear on the lists, as they have no one who ranked in the top 40 on either offense or defense.

Giants on 2014 ESPN #NFLRank lists

WR Victor Cruz, No. 41 offense

DE Jason Pierre-Paul, No. 48 defense

QB Eli Manning, No. 62 offense.

CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, No. 79 defense

S Antrel Rolle, No. 83 defense
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- When we ranked the top 100 defensive players and the top 100 offensive players in the NFL last summer, Jason Pierre-Paul's brilliant 2011 season was still fresh in our minds. Even his 2012 season, without the prior year's gaudy sack totals, was an impressive one from the standpoint of disruption and quarterback hassle. The New York Giants defensive end ranked No. 13 among defensive players in last year's poll.

But the 2013 season was downright damaging to the perception of Pierre-Paul as an elite pass-rusher, and he tumbled 35 spots to No. 48 on defense in this year's rankings.

We have been over this before, and it stands as one of the most important questions the 2014 Giants face: Now fully healthy for the first time since mid-2012, can Pierre-Paul return to his 2011 form and play like one of the best defensive players in the league? He's still just 25 years old, not yet in his prime, and he's motivated to (a) prove last year was an injury-caused fluke and (b) that he deserves a huge new contract in free agency next year.

If Pierre-Paul returns to dominant form, the Giants have a chance to be a very good defense this year. Which would be very important, since the offense clearly remains a work in progress at best. But if Pierre-Paul muddles through another average year, whether for health reasons or other reasons, the pass rush and the defense as a whole will struggle. He's the most important player on the Giants' defense and the one on whom the most pressure rests.

So my prediction is this: If Pierre-Paul isn't much higher on this list next year than he is right now, he won't be a Giant anymore, and neither will a lot of other people.

New York Giants' projected roster

August, 25, 2014
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One final projection of the New York Giants' 53-man roster before the final cuts are made Saturday:

QUARTERBACKS (2)
Nassib's performances in the past two preseason games make the Giants far more confident about keeping him -- and only him -- as the backup to Manning.

RUNNING BACKS (4)

Hillis' sprained ankle could help Gaskins and Michael Cox make the team if it lingers, but if they're picking between Cox and Gaskins for that fourth spot, Gaskins looks like the better player so far in camp. Tom Coughlin also keeps saying that the fullbacks can play running back, and they have been using Henry Hynoski all over the formation in practice, so it's possible they could carry just three here, especially if they can get Gaskins on the practice squad.

FULLBACK (1)

It's a camp battle between Hynoski and John Conner, and I don't think the Giants will keep both. There was even some talk early in camp that they could go without a fullback, but the continued poor showing by the tight ends likely has put that to bed.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
Marcus Harris is ahead of both Washington and Parker, but he injured his shoulder Friday night and is likely to miss the start of the season, if not more. Parker sneaks onto the list this week because (a) with Beckham's hamstring injury continuing to be a problem, they may need to carry six wide receivers just to have five and (b) Parker is the primary punt returner right now with Beckham and Trindon Holliday laid up.

TIGHT ENDS (4)

Donnell, Davis and Robinson each got exactly 14 snaps in the first half Friday night, and Robinson was the only tight end in the game on the successful two-minute drill at the end of the first half. What's it all mean? Really just that no one has separated himself in this group. Davis was the starter ahead of Donnell for the first time Friday, but there's still no clarity on this situation.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
Geoff Schwartz's injury has created a real mess here, as he projects to miss a significant amount of time due to a dislocated toe. The most likely scenario is that Richburg ascends the starting left guard role, but Mosley remains a question mark at right guard, which is why Reynolds (who can play center or guard) enters the picture here. Jerry could claim one of the starting guard spots, but at the very least, he becomes a more valuable reserve. Brewer, who once appeared gone for sure, becomes more valuable as an all-around backup. And the missed opportunity for Eric Herman, who's suspended for the first four games for a drug violation, looms even larger.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9)

Very few changes here, though if Kuhn's leg injury ends up costing him practice time, it could open up a spot for someone like defensive end Kerry Wynn to make the team. Bromley has looked surprisingly good in games so far and could slide in for Kuhn in the defensive tackle rotation for the short term.

LINEBACKERS (6)

Kennard has been so good so far that, if they only keep five, you wonder about Paysinger's spot a little bit. Williams is the starter at the weakside spot, even in the base defense, as long as he can stay healthy. And Kennard is a first-teamer right now on the strong side, with McClain manning the middle in place of the injured Beason. I wonder if Kennard could keep the spot ahead of McClain even once Beason comes back. Herzlich is on the squad for special teams, where he has great value.

CORNERBACKS (5)

It helps the numbers that Jayron Hosley will be suspended for the first four games of the regular season for a drug violation. If he does make the team, the Giants will have to clear a spot for him in Week 5. This group could also swell if the Giants decide they need to keep sixth-round pick Bennett Jackson and/or Charles James for special teams. It's going to be tough to make the Giants' roster as a corner this summer, though recent injuries to Amukamara and Bowman could result in a short-term spot opening.

SAFETIES (4)
Cooper Taylor's toe injury is serious enough to keep him out for a long time, possibly even the whole season. That's unfortunate for Taylor, but it helps Berhe and likely helps someone at another position, such as Charles James at cornerback or Adrien Robinson at tight end. The Giants like to have a balanced roster -- 25 offensive players, 25 defensive and three specialists -- but that's not a requirement.

SPECIALISTS (3)

Brown isn't home-free yet, as Brandon McManus is hitting bombs in practice and has shown well in games. But Brown hasn't done anything to lose his spot, and as long as he remains reliable, my bet is he keeps it.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Two days after losing left guard Geoff Schwartz to a toe injury, the New York Giants practiced Sunday without starting right guard Brandon Mosley.

"His back tightened up," Giants coach Tom Coughlin explained after practice. "He came out here ready to go, but then he couldn't."

As a result, John Jerry worked at right guard with the first-team offensive line while Weston Richburg, the most likely long-term replacement for Schwartz, worked at left guard. The Giants have major problems in this area, as detailed here earlier Sunday. Coughlin offered no insight on how long Mosley could be expected to be out.

Some other notes from Coughlin and Sunday's practice:
  • From the My God This Could Be Even Worse Than We Think Department: Coughlin was asked what he thought of left tackle Will Beatty's performance Friday and he said Beatty was working very hard every day in practice. Asked if he was happy with Beatty's work since returning from his injury, Coughlin said this: "'Happy' and 'satisfied' are not the words I would use to describe it, but I do recognize the progress and I do recognize that he's working hard at his trade." All righty, then.
  • Matter of fact, let's just keep profiling Coughlin quotes. This one on rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who missed yet another practice with a hamstring injury: "I would like to see the young man practice before we start talking about him playing in the regular season. That would be a good thing."
  • Running back Peyton Hillis returned to practice after missing a couple of weeks with an ankle injury, and Coughlin described him as "rusty." Return man Trindon Holliday also did some work in punt return and individual drills but remains hobbled a bit by his own hamstring problems. Cornerback Prince Amukamara worked on the side with trainers as he continues to deal with a groin injury.
  • Yes, Ryan Nassib did work some at quarterback with the first-team offense in Sunday's practice. No, there's obviously no chance they're considering any kind of change. Nassib is certainly going to get a lot more work in Thursday night's preseason finale than Eli Manning is, and that's why he's practicing more this week. The third-teamers spent more time on the field Sunday than the first-teamers did for similar reasons.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As the regular season approaches, it becomes more and more apparent that running back Rashad Jennings could be the most important part of the New York Giants' offense.

Jennings
 At least at the start of the season, while they sort out the offensive line and Eli Manning and who they have at wide receiver and tight end, the Giants' offense is likely to flow through Jennings, who is pretty much all they have at running back at this point. Rookie Andre Williams may eventually be an excellent player, but it's clear that his game still has a lot of room for improvement, and initially his most important role will be to help give Jennings a break when he needs it.

Jennings showed the breadth of his value Friday night, when he delivered a couple of big blocks in pass protection during the Giants' two-minute drive at the end of the first half. The Giants signed him because they believed he could be a complete back -- run the ball, catch the ball and pick up the blitz -- and he has shown he has the ability to do all of those things.

"Being a student of the game is something every player has to do," Jennings said Sunday. "Studying tape and understanding the overall picture of the protection, the routes and where you fit into the triangle of it. In the pass protection, Eli always puts us in a good position. The line communicates well, and everyone is on the same page. But as far as coming across and going backside, that's just a part of playing football, and it comes from repetition."

Jennings should expect to get a lot of repetitions once the season begins. As a guy who's played in power run games throughout his NFL career, he still struggles at times to hit the right hole at the right time in all of the zone and stretch runs the Giants are installing this season, but he should develop better consistency along those lines without too much trouble. It's the first time a team has asked him to be the No. 1 guy for a full season, so until he does that, we don't really know whether he can. But there appears little doubt that he'll get the opportunity to do it if he can stay healthy. With David Wilson having retired due to neck injuries and Williams still a work in progress, Jennings is pretty much all they have. If he can, in fact, do it all, they will ask him to do just that.

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