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Mailbag: Azeez Ojulari & Giants' EDGE competition


Vince in Florida: With Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines coming back from injury, and the drafting of Azeez Ojulari, who would start in Week 1?

John Schmeelk: The competition at edge rusher is going to be one of the most enjoyable to watch throughout training camp. The Giants have 10 players who will likely be part of that group: Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines, Azeez Ojulari, Ryan Anderson, Ifeadi Odegnibo, Carter Coughlin, Cam Brown, Trent Harris, Devante Downs and Niko Lalos as players who can line up on the edge. Who will start? It might not matter since there will be a heavy rotation at the position. If Carter is recovered from his season ending Achilles injury, he's likely to be on the field more often than not. The second answer is trickier, but Ojulari probably gets the call in a passing situation with Odegnibo going against the run.

Ian in Pennsylvania: Do you think rookie Elerson Smith should start out on the practice squad? There, he can work on his strength and weight conditioning, and develop as a pass rusher. And if Saquon Barkley is not ready by the start of the season, would Devontae Booker be able to be the No. 1 back and Kadarius Toney as part of the mix?

John Schmeelk: Elerson Smith would never make it through waivers and onto the practice squad when teams cut down to 53 players. There's also no sense of this year's practice squad protection rules after they way they changed during the pandemic in 2020. Smith's length and athleticism should allow him to help as a designated pass rusher on obvious passing downs as a rookie.

There's no doubt that Booker would be the next man up if Barkley cannot start the season, which is an unlikely scenario. All signs indicate Barkley is on track to return for the start of the season. It's unlikely Toney would be in the running back rotation, so there would be competition between Gary Brightwell, Taquan Mizzell, Elijhaa Penny, Jordan Chunn and perhaps Sandro Platzgummer. And maybe even a veteran free agent might come in.

Frank in New Jersey: What happened to Will Hernandez? As a rookie he looked okay and I saw a lot of positives views on his play. He seemed to play less last year? Was it because of protocols, an injury or a discipline problem?

John Schmeelk: Hernandez contracted COVID-19 last year and there's no way to know how much that diagnosis took out of him or impacted his play. He was the starter at left guard until he had the COVID issue. It was not injury or discipline related. While he was out with COVID, rookie fifth-round pick Shane Lemieux stepped in and showed he could handle the position from a toughness and intellectual standpoint and Hernandez got trapped behind him and RG Kevin Zeitler. Zeitler was let go this off-season, so Hernandez should have a real chance to win a starting spot at left or right guard. He still has a lot of talent as a second-round pick who started all 16 game in each of his first two seasons.


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