Question 2: How many undrafted rookie free agents make this roster?
SCHMEELK: I'm going to go with one. I don't think that there will be many roster spots available with so many second and third year players who have promise taking up roster spots. It will be hard to cut some of those guys or trustworthy veterans for undrafted free agents you might be able to sneak onto the practice squad when all is said and done.
SALOMONE: If we counted players who have been on practice squads and have not accrued an NFL season yet, you're possibly looking at a handful. But since we're not, the spaces are going to be pretty limited for undrafted rookie free agents, given the quality of youth being brought along in the organization. So I'm going with two. That seems to be the number of players who stand out on average, and, unfortunately, much of this depends on health as much as training camp and preseason performances.
MEDOW: In the last four seasons (2011-2014), two undrafted free agents have made the roster in each campaign with the exception of 2013 when none made the roster. Last season, Corey Washington and Kerry Wynn both survived the final cut, but this season I think only one undrafted free agent will make the roster.
Question 3: Who will lead the Giants in special teams tackles?
SCHMEELK: I'm going to go with newly-acquired special teams ace Dwayne Harris, who plays on both punt and kick teams. His role should give him a ton of opportunities to rack up some tackle stats. He was always among the leaders in special teams tackles in Dallas and it should be no different with the Giants.
SALOMONE: This is a tough one because we don't know yet what role safety Nat Berhe will have on defense a year after he led the Giants in special teams tackles as a rookie. The same goes for wide receiver Dwayne Harris on offense, but I'm going to go with the former Cowboy who was second in the NFC East in special teams tackles in 2014. He's a "big four" player, as special teams coordinator Tom Quinn calls him, and his coverage skills are just as good as his return ability, which is saying something.
MEDOW: Last season, Nat Berhe and Spencer Paysinger tied for the team lead in special teams tackles with eight. This season, I think a newcomer to the Giants will finish atop the list: Dwayne Harris. In 2014, he led the Cowboys with 18 special teams tackles and in four seasons in Dallas, he proved to be very effective as a gunner. One of the reasons the Giants signed Harris was to bolster both the return and coverage teams, and I think they'll get a nice return on that investment.
Question 4: Will the Giants go for more two-point conversions this year than any other year in their history?
SCHMEELK: I don't think the longer extra point will motivate the team to try a substantially larger amount of two-point conversions. Other teams' errors, however, might motivate the Giants to go for two in some situations to put the lead or deficit in a more advantageous spot. I'll go with yes, but not as many as some people think.
SALOMONE: If they do, I think it would just be a matter of the situation calling for it. I don't think it will be because of the new rules. The Giants have a reliable and seasoned kicker in Josh Brown, and Tom Coughlin isn't one who easily gives away points.
MEDOW: No. Other than some late game situations that call for a two-point conversion, the only other time teams usually go for two is if they have concerns about their kicker's accuracy. Even with the extra point now a 33-yard kick, that's not the case for the Giants. In his two seasons with Big Blue, Josh Brown hasn't missed an extra point (75-75) and is 16-17 on field goals between 30-39 yards. Based on those numbers, I don't see the Giants going for two more often than they've had at any point in franchise history. In the last six seasons (2009-2014), the Giants have attempted just eight two-point conversions with half of them coming in 2011 alone. Considering Brown has been one of the most accurate kickers in the NFL and the line of scrimmage for the two-point conversion isn't changing, I'd be surprised if the number of attempts skyrocket.
Question 5: How will the new extra point rules affect the kicking game's consistency on extra points?
SCHMEELK: For the first time in a long time, the Giants will miss an extra point. There is simply less room for error at the longer distance and something is bound to go wrong at some point, right?
SALOMONE: I think it will affect the Giants the same way it will to the 31 other clubs: coaches will lose sleep thinking of what will happen in the cold weather and if the team commits a penalty. That's why the Giants are glad to have veteran Josh Brown, who was one of five kickers to be perfect from 30-39 yards last season.
MEDOW: From the Giants perspective, I don't think the new rules will impact the kicking game's consistency on extra points. Josh Brown is one of the most accurate kickers in the NFL and hasn't missed an extra point (75-75) in his two seasons with the Giants. The distance is changing to 33 yards but over the last two seasons, Brown has been consistent on field goals between 30-39 yards (16-17) so that shouldn't alter his accuracy.
Question 6: How many turnovers will the Giants force this year?
SCHMEELK: Last year, the Giants finished with 26 takeaways, tied for tenth in the league. Perry Fewell's defense was takeaway oriented, but players think they might have more opportunities to make plays on the ball this year thanks to some of the disguising principles of Steve Spagnulo's gameplan. I think in the end the team will have a similar number of takeaways as they did last year, so I'll go with 25.
SALOMONE: If I knew, I'd go play the lottery instead. I think they'll be in the mid-20s again like last year, but remember, a defense is just as effective when it's suffocating and not necessarily turning the ball over. Just look at Seattle, which was middle of the pack with 23 turnovers on defense last year. So for the Giants, I'll go in between Schmeelk and Medow and say 27.
MEDOW: Takeaways are such a fluky statistic because more often than not it comes down to a player being in the right place at the right time. With that being said, I'm going to apply some basic math to come up with my prediction. Over the last six seasons (2009-2014), the Giants have averaged 30 takeaways per season (three years above 30, three below). The high was 39 in 2010; the low 24 in 2009. Last season, they tallied 26. I'll go with 28, just below the average.
Question 7: Will the Giants improve on their sack total from last year?
SCHMEELK: Last year the Giants finished with 47 sacks, good for 4th most in the NFL. That number, however, did not tell the whole story. The team was often slow in getting to opposing quarterbacks and when they did pressure it was inconsistent. I think this year the total sack number will decrease, but the team will put more consistent pressure on opponent quarterbacks. I expect Steve Spagnuolo to run more blitzes with linebackers and defensive backs throughout the season to keep opposing offenses guessing.
SALOMONE: In short, yes. That's what Steve Spagnuolo, among other things, brings to the table as defensive coordinator, right? The Giants overcame an early drought last season to finish fourth in the NFL with 47 sacks, which is pretty much what the defense averaged in 2007 and 2008 during Spagnuolo's first stint (they led the league in 2007 with 53 and were sixth in 2008 with 42 for a 47.5 average). But with the potential breakouts for defensive ends like Damontre Moore, Kerry Wynn and rookie Owa Odighizuwa and an emerging pass-rushing linebacker in Devon Kennard, I think they will top their 2014 total.
MEDOW: Yes: Last season, the Giants finished fourth in the NFL in sacks with 47. Keep in mind, that number was boosted thanks to a very strong finish. They collected 28 sacks in the last five games combined compared to 19 in the first 11. Assuming there's more consistency this season, the Giants should be able to tally more than 47 in 2015. In Steve Spagnuolo's first stint as defensive coordinator, the Giants ranked first in the league in sacks in 2007 (53) and sixth in 2008 (42). Yes, the players have changed so you can't assume they'll be in that ballpark again but given Spags' aggressive approach, some depth on the defensive line and Devon Kennard's ability to get to the quarterback, I think they'll be consistent from game to game.
Question 8: What defensive statistic is it more important for the Giants defense to improve on this season?
SCHMEELK: The Giants allowed 79 plays of 20 or more yards last year, one of the worst numbers in the NFL. They gave up way too many big plays, which often put the team in a very big whole that they couldn't get out of. The defense must keep offensive players in front of them more. Big plays can change the character of a game in a snap of the finger and the Giants need to do a better job avoiding that.
SALOMONE: Middle linebacker Jon Beason said this week that right after Steve Spagnuolo introduced himself to the players, the new defensive coordinator gave them one number and told them to write it down: 1,507. That's the number of yards after contact the Giants allowed last season. Beason went on to say that the defense can go from 29th in 2014 in total yards "right into the early teens, close to a top-10 defense, just based on getting guys on the ground." Fix that area, and the rest will follow.
MEDOW: Earlier in this series, we were asked what offensive statistic is most important for the Giants to improve on this season. My answer: running the football. On defense, it's stopping the run. Last season, New York ranked 30th in the NFL against the run, allowing 135 yards per game. It also surrendered a league worst 4.9 yards per carry. The roughest stretch came in the middle of the season when the Giants allowed their opponents to showcase a 100 yard rusher four times in six games. When you stop the run, you put your opponent in tougher third downs and place more pressure on the quarterback. It's also a huge benefit to the pass rush. That's why improving the run defense has to be priority number one this season.
Question 9: Besides Landon Collins, what Giants safety will have the most starts this season?
SCHMEELK: This is another great question, and despite the fact he didn't practice much in the spring I'll go with Nat Berhe. In his limited time on the field last year I feel like he showed a little bit more than what we've seen from the other safeties on the roster. He will have to prove at camp that he can do it and earn that spot. It will not be handed to him.
SALOMONE: At this point, I'm saying Cooper Taylor. He was part of the top safety tandem with Landon Collins throughout organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp. Taylor missed all of last season with a foot injury, but he knocked off the expected rust in the spring, setting himself up for a chance to earn a starting role in training camp. Saying otherwise right now would be speculation. Nat Berhe will have to catch up after being out with a calf issue. Let's see him get on the field first, and we'll go from there.
MEDOW: The injury bug hasn't cooperated for Nat Berhe this offseason but I still believe he'll make a strong enough statement during training camp and the preseason to start next to Landon Collins this season. Last year's fifth round pick seems to have a chip on his shoulder with many questioning the youth and inexperience on the safety depth chart. When the team returned for offseason workouts, Berhe's response was "I wouldn't be here if I couldn't play." He also added, "Everybody gets caught up in seniority and things like that, but if you make plays, I mean there's no reason why you shouldn't be starting." If those words translate to the field, he'll be starting throughout the season.
Question 10: What Giants safety is best suited to play single high safety?
SCHMEELK: Can I answer "I don't know?" Probably not? No, didn't think so. Landon Collins didn't play in that spot much at Alabama, nor did we see him do it a ton in the spring. Cooper Taylor was back there more, but I need to see him do it in a game. I haven't seen enough of Nat Berhe to give him my vote, either. Mykkele Thompson is just a rookie. I'll go with veteran Josh Gordy since he probably has more experience doing it than the other safeties on the roster.
SALOMONE: I'll go with rookie Landon Collins. You have to hesitate when you're talking about someone who hasn't even played in a game in the NFL -- let alone a padded practice -- but Collins isn't an average rookie. He's a unanimous All-American and national champion out of Alabama, one of college football's best programs, especially on defense. Labeling him as just a "box" safety was mostly noise during the draft process because he proved his versatility with the Crimson Tide. Talent is talent, and Collins was brought in to contribute immediately as an all-around starting safety.
MEDOW: Most observers labeled Landon Collins as a "box" safety coming out of Alabama, but the numbers tell a different story. According to Pro Football Focus, Collins last season lined up as a high safety for 490 snaps or over a slot/split WR for 215 snaps. So for 705 of his 916 snaps in 2014, Collins was in coverage. Based on that breakdown, his experience in that role and his physical characteristics, I'd say this year's second round pick is best-suited to play single high safety.
Question 11: What Giants cornerback will have the most interceptions?
SCHMEELK: I'm going to go with Prince Amukamara. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie hasn't had more than three interceptions since 2009 when he had six with the Arizona Cardinals. He is such a good cover player that many times quarterbacks don't throw in his direction. Prince is coming off a career-high three picks last year, and in the spring he showed a great knack for reading the quarterback and jumping routes.
SALOMONE: This could be the year for Prince Amukamara. The fifth-year cornerback, who is becoming a strong leader in the secondary, was off to his best start in 2014 with a career-high three interceptions in eight games before suffering a season-ending injury. Heading into this offseason, he did not shy away from stating his lofty goals, which include Pro Bowls, All-Pro, being the best corner on the team and someday in the entire NFL. Additionally, he also said what's separating himself from the premier players is the interception total. He likes Steve Spagnuolo's aggressive defense, and Amukamara could be on his way to better numbers, especially given his performance in organized team activities and minicamp.
MEDOW: If OTAs and minicamp are any indication, I'm going with Prince Amukamara. This offseason, during every practice, he's been like a magnet when in the vicinity of the ball. Last season, Amukamara led all corners on the team with three interceptions and that was in just 8 games. Assuming he stays healthy, with an improved pass rush, that total should increase in 2015.
Question 12: Who will be the nickel corner when the team plays its first regular season game?
SCHMEELK: The only logical answer would be Trumaine McBride. He did an excellent job when he was healthy last year, and he took first team snaps as the nickel in the spring. There are a myriad of guys behind him: Chykie Brown, Jayron Hosley, Mike Harris and Josh Gordy. This will be one of the great battles to watch play out in the summer but, in my opinion, it is McBride's job to lose.
SALOMONE: New defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was frank early in the offseason and said that's a position they're feeling their way through. But I think when it's all said and done by the time Week 1 rolls around, it's always a good bet to go with the most experienced player, which is Trumaine McBride. This will be his third year with the Giants now, and he's proven he can play that role in the past.
MEDOW: Trumaine McBride has to be considered the frontrunner. After thriving in that position in 2013, last season he was limited to just six games due to a thumb injury. Now that he's healthy, he's in the perfect position to reclaim his old spot. Mike Harris and Jayron Hosley are also in the mix, but McBride has the most experience in this group and Hosley has to prove he can stay healthy after dealing with multiple injuries.
Question 13: How many linebackers will the Giants keep on the final 53-man roster?
SCHMEELK: The Giants will keep five linebackers, and all will be able to contribute at all three linebacker positions and on special teams. The Giants teach their players all the position spots and all the linebackers on the roster can play inside and outside. Linebackers are also essential to special teams play, and the Giants backers on the roster will be no different.
SALOMONE: I'm going with six. This could fluctuate depending on health, but that's the number they went with last season when they kept Jon Beason, Jameel McClain, Jacquian Williams, Devon Kennard, Spencer Paysinger and Mark Herzlich. After parting with Williams and Paysinger this offseason, the Giants added J.T. Thomas and Jonathan Casillas to bolster those spots both defensively and on special teams.
MEDOW: There's no trend here given that the number of linebackers the Giants have kept over the last few seasons has fluctuated. Last season, they kept six. In 2013, it was five, and in 2012 and 2011, the total was seven. I'm going with six. Three starters and three reserves should be sufficient considering Devon Kennard, Jameel McClain and J.T. Thomas can play multiple positons. Plus, who knows how many downs Steve Spagnuolo is going to use three linebackers. The league has changed a lot since his first stint as defensive coordinator and if the Giants are going to rely on an extra corner or safety more often than not, keeping an extra linebacker on the roster may be a luxury they can survive without.
Question 14: Who will the team's three starting linebackers be in Week 1 at Dallas?
SCHMEELK: I'm going to count on Jon Beason being healthy, and he's the gimme starter at middle linebacker. J.T. Thomas was brought in this offseason to play, and he is a perfect outside linebacker to run sideline to sideline. Devon Kennard could be the real difference maker in this group if he continues to progress after a special rookie season. He is strong at the point of attack and showed the pass rush skills he honed at USC when he rushed off the edge. He could be a real weapon in Steve Spagnuolo's defense.
SALOMONE: Barring any setbacks, Jon Beason will be the man in the middle looking for a comeback season in Steve Spagnuolo's defense. On the outside, J.T. Thomas could prove to be a key free-agent acquisition, while Devon Kennard, who excited everyone with his physical play as a rookie, mans the other side. But Jameel McClain will keep things interesting. The veteran has not started fewer than 10 games in the NFL since 2009. There's a reason for that.
MEDOW: During OTAs and minicamp, the most common trio that worked with the first team was Jon Beason, Devon Kennard and J.T. Thomas. Barring injury, I don't foresee that group changing for Week 1. Beason will assume the role Antonio Pierce played during Steve Spagnuolo's first stint as defensive coordinator, and Kennard and Thomas provide versatility on the outside. If there's any additional player that could break into the starting lineup, it would be Jameel McClain, who started 14 games last season, his first with the Giants.
Question 15: Who is more likely to improve from their prior season, Jay Bromley or Damontre Moore?
SCHMEELK: The easy answer here is Damontre Moore, except his offseason development was hampered by a shoulder injury that limited his participation in spring workouts. He needed to get stronger to become a two-way player, and I'm not sure how quickly that will happen because of the injury. Jay Bromley looks the part of a defensive tackle, and he has the quickness to penetrate, but the team needs him to be more consistent against the run if he wants to get regular snaps at tackle. Since Moore did put up 5.5 sacks last year, I think Bromley will have a bigger jump in production.
SALOMONE: Strictly looking at the jump from year to year, I'm going with Jay Bromley, just because he wasn't asked to do much as a rookie last season. In other words, he has the most room to grow after suiting up for just eight games and recording five tackles. Meanwhile, Damontre Moore has already raised his bar by notching the first 5.5 sacks of his career in 2014. I'll be very interested to see what the team has in store for Bromley, especially after witnessing what fellow defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins was able to do in his second season. They drafted Bromley in the third round for a reason.
MEDOW: This really comes down to who you think will get more opportunities/reps. Based on that thought process, I'd lean toward Damontre Moore. Steve Spagnuolo will likely rotate defensive linemen throughout games to keep them fresh, but I think Moore will get the edge in playing time. If you look at his production in his first two seasons in the league, the former third round pick doubled, even tripled, his stats in just about every category from 2013 to 2014. He should continue that trend with more opportunities to contribute in 2015. Jay Bromley was limited to just 8 games as a rookie and this is going to be the second straight offseason that he's learning a new defense while still adjusting to the pace of the NFL game.
Question 16: Who will be the four defensive linemen on the field on third and long?
SCHMEELK: Jason Pierre-Paul is the team's best lineman, so he will be on the field. Damontre Moore is one of the quickest Giants players off the snap and a natural pass rusher, so I think he will be at the other end. I'll slot in Robert Ayers at the three technique defensive tackle position. I think the team will leave Johnathan Hankins on the field in many of those situations as well for a power rush up the middle to collapse the pocket from the inside. Two sleeper players to watch on third down: Owa Odighizuwa and Kerry Wynn.
SALOMONE: We know the Giants like to use as many defensive ends as possible in these situations, so you'll see the top three of them in addition to Johnathan Hankins, a defensive tackle who proved last season that he is more than a run-stuffer. Meanwhile, defensive ends like Robert Ayers and Kerry Wynn have shown they create pressure from both inside and out.
MEDOW: There are a number of candidates to choose from, so, unfortunately, one or two are going to be omitted. I'll go with Jason Pierre-Paul and Robert Ayers on the outside and Johnathan Hankins and my wildcard, this year's third round pick, Owa Odighizuwa, on the inside. Last season, JPP and Ayers, before suffering a season ending injury, were the most consistent pass rushers at defensive end, combining for 17.5 sacks, and Hankins impressed many with his knack for getting to the quarterback by collecting seven sacks. I'm going with Odighizuwa as my fourth lineman because of his versatility at UCLA, where he was used both on the outside and inside.
Question 17: Who will be the defensive tackle starter next to Johnathan Hankins?
SCHMEELK: The technical starter will be Kenrick Ellis, since in Week 1 against Dallas the team will be doing everything they can to stop the Cowboys running game on first down. Ellis might also get the most snaps there, but the player who will be Ellis' greatest competition will likely be Cullen Jenkins. He can still play the run and pass, and the coaching staff trusts he will always be where he needs to be. Expect Robert Ayers to take a ton of snaps at tackle on third down, and watch for a breakout for second year player Jay Bromley.
SALOMONE: It's Cullen Jenkins' spot to lose right now as he and Hankins have the most experience playing with each other. Jenkins impressed defensive line coach Robert Nunn this spring after the 12-year veteran suffered a calf injury last season.
Nunn said that he was never the same in 2014 after the injury but that Jenkins came into the offseason program healthy and in a good frame of mind to ramp up for another season.
MEDOW: The two strongest candidates are Cullen Jenkins and Kenrick Ellis, who spent the last four seasons with the Jets. Jenkins has been a mainstay at defensive tackle since he joined the Giants in 2013, and defensive line coach Robert Nunn mentioned during minicamp that Jenkins is fully healthy and refreshed after dealing with a nagging calf injury in 2014. Jenkins will enter training camp as the incumbent given his experience with the team and comfort playing alongside Johnathan Hankins. Until someone else emerges, I'm leaning towards Jenkins lining up next to Hankins Week 1 against the Cowboys.
Question 18: What specific statistic on offense is it most important for the team to improve this year?
SCHMEELK: I'm going to go with yards per carry. The Giants were the third worst team in the NFL last year averaging just 3.6 yards per carry. They failed to keep opposing defenses honest, and too often had to rely on Eli Manning's arm to get anything done. If the Giants can run the ball with more consistency, put the team in better third down situations, and control the ball it will take pressure off the offensive line to protect and the defense from being on the field too much. Tom Coughlin wants a balanced offense and the only way you get there is by averaging more yards per carry.
SALOMONE: I think it's clear that the Giants have to improve the ground attack, specifically yards per carry, where they ranked 30th in 2014 at 3.6 yards. In order for the offense to take another step this year, they will have to be balanced. Over the last three non-playoff seasons for the Giants, the offense has finished 27th in yards per rushing attempt. Nothing gets you through the NFC East better than a consistent run game.
MEDOW: The one statistic that jumps out to me from 2014 that is crucial to improve on is 3.6 rushing yards per carry. The Giants were 30th in the league in that category and, as a result, they ranked 23rd in rushing yards per game with 100.2. In order to have a balanced offense, the Giants will need to win the battle in the trenches and be more productive on the ground. Last season, they averaged eight runs per game for five yards or more but also six runs for no yards or negative yards. Those essentially cancel each other out making it very difficult to collect big chunks of yards with the running game.
Question 19: The Giants offense will gain more yards than it did last year? (10th in the NFL, 367.2 yards/game)
SCHMEELK: I think the Giants will be a top five offense this year, which would put them at over 390 yards per game if the yardage totals of the top five teams remain similar to last year. What might deter the Giants from such lofty numbers is an improved running game, which would lead to elongated drives and fewer possessions to stockpile numbers. In the end, the Giants will have to score points, however, and Eli Manning will get the Giants close to 400 yards per game of total offense.
SALOMONE: The arrow is only pointing in that direction. Overcoming some early growing pains in Ben McAdoo's first season as offensive coordinator, the Giants climbed to finish in the top 10. That's a remarkable improvement from finishing 28th the year before. Now with another strong draft, key free-agent additions, a year under the belt for the offense, and players coming back healthy, they can surely improve those numbers even further.
MEDOW: Yes: Quite impressive to finish tenth in the NFL in yards per game even though Odell Beckham Jr. missed four games, Victor Cruz ten and Rashad Jennings five. Plus, the Giants ranked 23rd in rushing yards. With those three players returning to full health, the addition of Shane Vereen and an improved running game, it's fair to say New York will gain more yards than it did in 2014.
Question 20: Will Justin Pugh play the entire year at guard?
SCHMEELK: The offensive line of every NFL team is often in flux for much of the season due to injury and other unforeseen circumstances. When you are a player like Justin Pugh who is capable of playing every line position except for center, you are bound to be moved around at one point or another. The way the Giants used David Diehl is the perfect example. I bet Pugh will play at least one game at tackle, and probably start more than one.
SALOMONE: I'm going with "yes" just as a default answer. While you want everyone to be comfortable playing multiple positions, you need consistency when it comes to Sunday. Offensive line coach Pat Flaherty said that he likes Pugh there next to rookie left tackle Ereck Flowers to be the bridge of communication as a young veteran. But you know the instant anything unforeseen happens, Pugh can slide right over to wherever the team needs him.
MEDOW: Yes is the only logical answer to this question unless you have a crystal ball and can predict injuries or other issues at tackle. Justin Pugh has already made the transition from right tackle to left guard and I don't see the Giants playing a game of musical chairs with him.
Question 21: Will the five starting linemen in minicamp (Flowers, Pugh, Richburg, Schwartz, Newhouse from left to right) be the starters on opening night at Dallas?
SCHMEELK: I'm going to say no, but I don't have a good alternate scenario for you. So much can happen on the offensive line in a month of preseason football that things are just likely to change before the regular season comes. The Giants have so many versatile offensive lineman, changes become easier and more feasible since so many players (like Push and Schwartz) can play different positions.
SALOMONE: Especially when it comes to the offensive line, everything is so fluid right now. We saw that configuration for most of spring, but that doesn't mean it will stay the same for Week 1 or even training camp and preseason. So much can change over that course, and unfortunately health always plays a factor. Let's wait to see once they get the pads on.
MEDOW: Yes: Continuity and consistency is so important to the success of the offensive line and that's what the Giants are striving for this season. You can never control the injury bug but since Will Beatty was sidelined, this has been the group they've used during OTAs and minicamp. The only way for the o-line to be on the same page and develop comfort as it moves closer to the start of the regular season is for the same five players to have defined roles and remain in those spots. I'm sure they'll experiment a bit during training camp to expose players to different positions but, barring an injury, I'd be surprised if a different alignment is showcased in week one given their roles have been laid out. Ereck Flowers replaced Beatty, Justin Pugh officially moved to left guard, Weston Richburg reclaimed the position he played in college, during offseason workouts, Geoff Schwartz told the media, for now, he's been penciled in as a guard and Marshall Newhouse has starting experience at tackle. There has been speculation that perhaps a free agent could be signed during training camp and claim a starting role but all five of the previous named players have a significant advantage over a late arrival: they know the system and they know each other's tendencies.
Question 22: Who will be the most common combination of TE's on the field when the Giants are in 12 personnel?
SCHMEELK:It's hard to argue anything but Larry Donnell and Daniel Fells since they provide the best combination of veteran know-how, pass catching and blocking. Look out for undrafted free agents Will Tye and Matt LaCosse to make some noise, and this could finally be the year Adrien Robinson seizes some playing time.
SALOMONE:Despite Larry Donnell dealing with Achilles tendinitis that cost him all of spring, I think it will be him and the veteran Daniel Fells, who re-signed with the Giants in March.
Donnell will have to get the fumbling issues under control, but he proved to be a dynamic player with 63 receptions, 623 yards, and six touchdowns in a breakout 2014 campaign after there were plenty of questions surrounding the position heading into the season. Meanwhile, don't forget that Fells had a career-high four touchdowns last year, all coming before the bye.
MEDOW:Barring an unforeseen development during training camp and the preseason, the most common combination of TEs will be Larry Donnell and Daniel Fells, who give the Giants some versatility with receiving and blocking options respectively. That was the most common duo last season and until someone else moves up on the depth chart, I don't see that combo being disrupted.
Question 23: Will Odell Beckham Jr lead all Giants in yards from scrimmage this year?
SCHMEELK:This is an easy yes, unless you think he will miss significant time with an injury. I expect Giants running backs to split carries keeping their total numbers down. Beckham will be the team's main weapon down the field, and I think he'll run away with this one.
SALOMONE:Yes. His 1,340 yards from scrimmage (1,305 receiving and 35 rushing) last year were 402 more than the second-place finisher, Rueben Randle. And keep in mind that was for a rookie who missed the first four games of the season. People might be reluctant to say that Beckham can put up similar numbers again because of the increased attention from defenses, but in reality, they all knew who he was by the third quarter of last season, which is when he did his real damage. The Giants will keep being creative by lining him up all over the field, including the backfield, to keep defenses on their toes.
MEDOW:Yes: Odell Beckham Jr accomplished that feat last season with 1,340 yards and he only needed 12 games. He'll likely see different coverages this season to limit his production but let's not forget, during the course of his rookie season, he became a household name and defenses were very much aware of what he could do and made adjustments yet he still put up impressive numbers late in the year. Beckham is an explosive player and that's the type of athlete who is in the best position to lead the team in yards from scrimmage. The running backs will likely split the workload eating into each other's production and while Larry Donnell is coming off a breakout season, Beckham and Rueben Randle still outgained him in yards.
Question 24: Where has Rueben Randle improved the most since he got into the league?
SCHMEELK:It is hard to focus on one area, but I'm going to go with consistency since it encompasses so many different areas. His hands have become more consistent. So has his route running. So has his focus and work ethic. He is growing up before our eyes and could be a huge X-factor the team this year.
SALOMONE:On this one, I'll defer to Victor Cruz, a fellow wide receiver who knows him better than anyone at the professional level. In a recent interview with Giants.com, Cruz was asked this same question and said Randle, who was one long play away from 1,000 yards last season, has grown exponentially over his three full seasons in the league. "I think he understands what his role is in the NFL and on this team, and he gets it," Cruz said. "And now it's good to see him flourish. It's good to see him be comfortable. You can see he's really comfortable out there right now, and I'm excited to see him grow."
MEDOW:Rueben Randle's statistics have improved in each of his first three seasons in the league, so he has clearly made strides in becoming a more consistent weapon for Eli Manning. Last season, he had eight games with at least five receptions. To put that in perspective, he had just three games that meet that criteria in his first two seasons combined. With injuries to Odell Beckham and Victor Cruz, Randle took advantage of his opportunities and he needs to continue to have that mindset moving forward. It seems that his biggest improvement has come in the mental game by having a better feel for the offense and understanding the nuances of the NFL.
Question 25: How many preseason games do you think Victor Cruz will play in?
SCHMEELK: I'm going to go with two. I'm not sure the Giants will want him on the field during live practices against the Bengals. That would knock him out of the first game. I think they would want more than a week of practices for him doing full team stuff before he plays in a preseason game, so that knocks out the second one. I expect significant playing time in game 3 and a spot appearance in game 4.
SALOMONE: I'd say he plays one of the final two, if not both of them. While Tom Coughlin said after minicamp that it wasn't the "intent" for Victor Cruz to start training camp on the PUP list, they'll take every precaution with the wide receiver to keep him on track for Week 1, which is the top priority. Plus, we know how much Cruz likes games -- preseason, as well as regular season -- against the Jets, whom the Giants play in the second-to-last tuneup.
MEDOW:I think Victor Cruz will play in, at most, one preseason game. He's certainly made progress throughout the offseason with respect to his route running, but the Giants have a track record of not trying to push players too hard, especially those coming off major injuries. With Cruz coming off a serious injury (torn patellar tendon), I think the Giants will follow a similar script and, perhaps, allow him to have one tune-up before the start of the regular season.
Question 26: There's a chance the Giants keep five running backs on their roster?
SCHMEELK: I don't think the Giants will keep five running backs unless someone comes out of nowhere on special teams and earns an extra roster spot. Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen and Andre Williams along with Henry Hynoski give the Giants everything they need at the position. Look out for Orleans Darkwa and Akeem Hunt as the potential dark horses.
SALOMONE: Having five is probably too many. Having four has been pretty standard for the Giants when the final rosters are set. Also the depth at wide receiver will really make the numbers game interesting and could cut into the backfield.
MEDOW:Last season was actually a rare occurrence in which the Giants kept three running backs. Four has been routine. Five is a luxury and, given some injuries and youth at other positions, I don't see them keeping that many running backs. You can pencil in Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams and Shane Vereen. Last season, Orleans Darkwa impressed on special teams, which is what you have to do if you're the number four running back, and Akeem Hunt and Kenneth Harper are two young backs who stood out during rookie minicamp. I could see one of them making the roster but not more than that.
Question 27: Will the Giants use the fullback more or less this year than last year?
SCHMEELK:I think they will use the fullback less. The Giants will use a lot more 4 wide receiver personnel this year, and even though that group accomplishes different things than 21 or 22 personnel, it will push Henry Hynoski off the field a little bit more. The Giants will run the ball more but it will be primarily out of two tight end and spread sets.
SALOMONE:One of the questions heading into Ben McAdoo's first season as offensive coordinator was what role the fullback would have. But now that we've seen it, I don't think there will be a drastic change. Coughlin will always want a bruising fullback on his roster, and Henry Hynoski has been the man for the past four seasons. What was interesting, though, Hynoski had a career-high seven carries in 2014 after having none in 2013 and 2011. Conversely, he had no receptions for the first time in his career.
MEDOW:I'll say about the same. Last season, Henry Hynoski had just seven carries and no receptions. His production could go up slightly but, with the versatility of Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams and Shane Vereen, I don't see his usage changing dramatically. A lot of people point to John Kuhn's role with the Packers as perhaps a sign of what Ben McAdoo has in store for the position but most of Kuhn's assignments will likely fall on the shoulders of Jennings, Williams and Vereen. Williams has proved he can handle short yardage and goal line situations and Jennings and Vereen are more than reliable in passing downs.
Question 28: Will Rashad Jennings' injury issues last year make the Giants more likely to split carries at running back a little more?
SCHMEELK:Regardless of Jennings' injury history, the Giants are going to split carries because they have three very talented running backs that all deserve to touch the ball. I expect Jennings to be the bell cow with help from Williams, Vereen to be the third down back, and for Williams to get a lot of goal line and short yardage carries.
SALOMONE:Regardless of any injuries, I think the running backs are all going to see a fair share of carries
this season because they all bring something a little different to the table. Jennings is an all-around back, Andre Williams is a bruiser, and newly-signed Shane Vereen is a third-down threat out of the backfield.
MEDOW:The Giants will likely split carries at running back a little more this season but I think it has more to do with the depth in the backfield than Rashad Jennings' injury issues in 2014. With Andre Williams coming off a productive rookie campaign and Shane Vereen adding some versatility and veteran experience, those two will take away some carries from Jennings just like Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw spread the wealth in 2008.
Question 29: What improvements are most important for Ryan Nassib to make in his third year?
SCHMEELK: Speaking to Ryan Nassib after minicamp, he told me his focus is on making calls at the line of scrimmage. He wants to constantly get the team into a better play, even if it isn't the perfect play. We heard the same from Eli last season as he learned the offense. Consistency is also important for young players to improve on, as is decision making for young quarterbacks.
SALOMONE: It's all about commanding the offense. And the best way to do that is by getting more
experience in live action. Heading into his third season behind Eli Manning, Nassib not only has been a true pro as a backup, but he has also improved every year. People haven't seen it on Sundays, but his teammates and coaches see it every day on the practice field, in the weight room and in meetings. Earlier in the offseason, coach Tom Coughlin said he believes Nassib could be a starter at some point. It's just a matter of getting on the field.
MEDOW: Ryan Nassib has seen very limited action since he entered the league in 2013 so it's an extremely small sample size to use for evaluation purposes other than preseason games. He's appeared in four regular season games, all last season, and has attempted just five passes. Like most young quarterbacks, improving on his footwork, decision making and accuracy are most important. Another preseason in which he'll get plenty of reps and extensive work should help that cause.
Question 30: Will Eli Manning set career highs in passing yards and touchdowns this year?
SCHMEELK:Yes. This Giants offense is set to explode with the return of Victor Cruz, growth of Rueben Randle and star power of Odell Beckham Jr. A solid run game will keep opponents offense, and the offensive line will be good enough to keep opposing pass rushers under control in a quick release offense. He will finish with 4,150 yards and 33 touchdowns.
SALOMONE:I was going to say one or the other, but I don't see any reason why he can't do both. After a down year in 2013 when he threw 18 touchdowns to 27 interceptions, he essentially flipped those numbers last year in Ben McAdoo's first season as offensive coordinator. Manning posted career highs in attempts, completions, and completion percentage while recording his second 4,000-yard, 30-touchdown season. Add in improvements on the offensive line, getting Victor Cruz back, free-agent signings like Shane Vereen, and his arm looking as strong as ever this spring, and he could be well on his way to another career year.
MEDOW:No: Eli Manning set a career high in passing yards in 2011 with 4,933 and threw for a career-high 31 touchdowns in
2010. In his first season running Ben McAdoo's system, Manning threw for 4,410 yards and 30 touchdowns. While it's fair to say those numbers will improve in year two given he's more comfortable running the offense, I think they'll actually go down because the offense will be more balanced. Last season, the Giants ranked 23rd in rushing yards per game with 100.2 and Manning attempted a career-high 601 passes. Assuming the former's production improves, the latter will go down meaning the ball won't be in the air as much. Case in point, the last time the Giants rushing attack ranked in the top 15 in the league in 2012, Manning threw for 3,948 yards and 26 touchdowns.
With his 160th start this Sunday, Eli Manning will hold the record for the most starts as a Giants QB in franchise history. We look back at the Top-30 Games of Eli's Career in Throwback Thursday is presented by Taco bell