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Training Camp Preview Report: Special Teams

Posted Jul 25, 2016

Giants.com previews the Special Teams unit ahead of 2016 Training Camp: 

The players arrive for training camp on Thursday, and while most fans in attendance will be focusing on the sessions featuring the offense and defense, Tom Quinn will be focusing on something else altogether: Special Teams.

This is Quinn’s tenth season as the team’s Special Teams Coordinator, and every season he has to prepare players that spend far more time in offensive and defensive meetings to get ready to play special teams.

“If they are hungry you can work with them,” Quinn said.  “If they are smart you can work with them and if they have the passion to play you can work with them, so it is always exciting getting new guys in and seeing how they fit in to the team.”

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NFL rosters, especially the bottom halves, turn over so much ever season as players move from team to team and draft picks join the team. Usually, a lot of the players are special teamers.

The Giants do have a number of veterans returning that are considered core special teams players. Those are players that serve on all the special teams units, whether coverage or return. Last year, they helped the Giants rank 7th in the league in kickoff coverage, and 11th in punt coverage.

“Mark Herzlich has been with us for a while,” Quinn said. “He has a done a really good job. Jonathan Casillas, J.T. Thomas, those have been the core guys. Then you have Orleans Darkwa, Nikita Whitlock, Dwayne Harris, those tops of guys on offense, so they are good, they help the younger guys and some of the older vets coming in to get acclimated to what we do.”

Many of the younger guys who were stars in college weren’t asked to play special teams as collegians, but it becomes a necessity at the pro level. Playing well on special teams can often be the difference between a young player making the roster or finding himself without work come September.

“There are 46 guys active on game day and we need everybody’s help so we can distribute the playing more time evenly,” Quinn said.  “So if you aren’t a starter, you are going to play on special teams. We say that from  day one, make a big point of emphasis and they get it, whether they have played a lot of special teams or not, it doesn’t really matter, once you get to this level if you are not a starter you are going to be playing.”

Dwayne Harris is the perfect example for those young players to follow. He is the rare player that can not only return kicks and punts, but also cover both kickoffs and punts. Last season, Harris was often asked to play starter’s snaps on offense, which limited what he could do ono special teams.

“Well, we saw the returns which yielded some really good results for us,” Quinn explained. “But we didn’t really get the coverage that we wanted from him because he saw a lot of plays on offense, so hopefully with some of the new acquisitions on offense we can get a little more coverage because I think that is what he does best. He is excellent at returning, but he really is one of the best coverage specialists in the league.”

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The Giants topped the league last year at 29.5 yards per kickoff return. Harris also returned both a kick and punt for a touchdown last season, the first time a Giants accomplished that since Jimmy Patton in 1955. The only other Giant to do it was Hall of Famer Emlen Tunnell back in 1951. Harris was brought in during March of 2015 as a free agent, but the Giants waited until September to acquire Brad Wing from the Steelers for a conditional draft pick. Wing was extremely consistent in his first year wearing blue, with a net punting average of just under 39 yards. With another year of experience, Quinn thinks he can still improve.

“Just trying to take what he does best, which is directional punting and make that the best we can with him,” Quinn said.” Make sure the protection matches with what he is giving us punt wise and he has done a very solid job this offseason, so we have been very pleased with him. Also him being an Australian growing up with the foot coming off his ball being very natural for him, so you can have some different kinds of shots.”

Last year, 33 of Wing’s punts were downed inside the twenty yard line thanks in part to the backspin put on the ball from the commonly called “Aussie kick”. Wing was recently signed to a contract extension that will keep him with the Giants through the 2019 season.

Wing also serves as the holder in the field goal battery with veteran place kicker Josh Brown and long-time snapper Zak DeOssie.

The Giants re-signed Josh Brown this offseason after a year that he connected on 30 of 32 field goal attempts and 44 of 45 extra points. DeOssie was brought back this offseason as well, after serving as the team’s long snapper since 2007. They are as dependable as players come.

There are differences between spring and summer practice that Tom Quinn is looking forward to seeing from his special teams units.

“Once we get to training camp we will get the pads on,” Quinn said. “A lot of times in the spring and in the offseason the guys look really good in shorts, but when you put pads on they look a little bit different. Conversely, some guys don’t look good in shorts, but they look great in pads, so that is really what we look for --- who can block, who can get off blocks, who can finish and make plays, so we will be excited to get some pads on and see who rises to the top.”

The Giants hope they can continue their success on special teams from a year ago, and continue to improve in 2016.