James Bettcher isn't just helping the Giants' defense. His multiple fronts are serving as good practice for the offense.
After three seasons with the Cardinals in which his defense finished fifth, second and sixth in yards allowed, Bettcher was hired by new head coach Pat Shurmur to be his defensive coordinator in New York. Over the spring, Shurmur's offense had more than a dozen practices against Bettcher's aggressive scheme, which should only help when the season rolls around. The Giants open against the "Sacksonville" Jaguars on Sept. 9.
"I think that a lot of the defenses that teams are playing, they always have that front on first and second downs and under front and things that they do," center Brett Jones said. "I think that it's good for us to see that all the time, and it's easy to adjust to a team that plays [it] four downs. So I think that that's good practice for us and I think it's only going to help us as the season goes on."
His quarterback agreed.
"I think the defense has been great," Eli Manning said. "They have some great stuff. It is great for us going against this style of defense. We get up and make calls. Our signs are being tested every day, trying to read the coverages and the disguises. I think we are getting in great work. The defense is making some plays. They have some talented guys on the other side. It is competitive."
Speaking of competition, there is one going on right in front of Manning. The Giants parted ways with center Weston Richburg, who signed with the 49ers as a free agent, and brought back Jones and Jon Halapio. That was a strong vote of approval from general manager Dave Gettleman, who liked what he saw at the end of last season with Jones at center and Halapio at right guard.
The arrivals of veteran Patrick Omameh and rookie second-round pick Will Hernandez shored up the guard position, moving Halapio into a competition with his "best friend" at center. By the time minicamp wrapped up, Halapio was taking the majority of first-team reps.
"Pio is very smart," Shurmur said. "He's got good instincts – he snaps the ball well, which is a really refreshing thing for a center. That was supposed to be humorous (laughs). But no, he does all of those things well and he's very competitive and he knows how to play the game. I think Jonesy is doing the same thing. They're just in there competing. I wouldn't over-evaluate who is getting the first-team reps, but I think if you're talking about Pio specifically, he has really sort of opened his eyes that he has a chance to play."
Jones jumped on an opportunity just like that in 2015. Named the Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman of the Canadian Football League in 2014, he signed with the Giants the following February. After an injury set him back a season, Jones played in 14 games with one start at left guard in 2016. Last year, he played in all 16 and made 13 starts, including the final 12 at center.
On the other hand, Halapio was originally a sixth-round draft pick by the Patriots in 2014, bouncing around from New England to Denver, to Arizona, to the Fall Experimental Football League's Brooklyn Bolts, back to New England, and then to the New York Giants. He never played in an NFL game until last season, when he appeared 10 times, including the final six weeks starting at right guard.
"Nothing is going to change between us," Jones said. "We're still going to be friends. It's just different when you're out there now with the competition. We're always going to be sharing what we're working on, what we can help each other out with. That's not going to change. We're just out there competing, which we always do. I'm undrafted, he's a late-round pick, so we're used to the competition. We're trying to go out there and just push each other and try to be the best players we can be."
Jones also knows that in order for him to be at his best, he needs to be in pads. Those will come on at training camp, which begins July 25 for the entire team.
"I think that that's a big thing for me," Jones said. "Once the pads come, that's when football really begins for a guy like me. I don't necessarily show as well in shorts and a T-shirt, so I'm excited for the pads to come on and increase the physicality and show what I can do as a football player. I just can't wait for the fall and just ready to prove myself like I've done each and every year and just can't wait for the opportunity."