Following Friday night's Blue-White Scrimmage, the Giants returned to the Quest Diagnostics Training Center for practice Sunday to begin preparation for Thursday's preseason opener in New England.
Head Coach Brian Daboll spoke to reporters in the morning to recap the scrimmage and preview today's session. Following practice, DB Yusuf Corker and OL Jon Feliciano met with the media.
The Giants had another special visitor at practice, as Hall of Famer Michael Strahan stopped by to watch from the sideline. Two-time Super Bowl Champion Kevin Boothe also returned to the facility to catch practice.
Here is what we learned:
1. Giants ramping up ahead of preseason opener
With only four days to go until the preseason opener against the Patriots, the Giants are ramping things up in terms of reps and conditioning. Daboll said there would be a period during the session where the offense would take a play in the red zone and once it's over, turn around and sprint to the other red zone before running another play. With the season inching closer and closer, Daboll wants the team to stay ahead of the curve in terms of its conditioning.
"The intensity, the effort, the energy has been good. We're just going to increase it a little bit relative to reps or extra conditioning, if you will, in between," said the head coach. "You'll see one, we're going to do a red zone period today at some point, and then we're all going to sprint to the other end of the field and keep the same group on and day two more plays in the red zone. Or we might sprint a little bit – some quick sprints before a period – and then have another period right after that. So, all part of the plan in terms of the offseason and talking with the sports science and the trainers. And you tweak things here and there. But that's kind of where we planned to be this week…
"We're really focused on us right now and improving our fundamentals and techniques and execution and assignments and conditioning. That's where we're at. That's where we're going to spend the next three days, on really focusing on what we can do better collectively: coaches, players, staff. That's where we need to be."
2. Feliciano impressed with Neal's work ethic
The Giants were ecstatic when they were able to select Evan Neal with the seventh overall pick in this year's NFL Draft. Neal has been lining up at right tackle with the first team offense, and has gotten some great reps against fellow first-round pick Kayvon Thibodeaux in practice.
Now entering his eighth season in the NFL, Jon Feliciano is the veteran on the offensive line. The 30-year-old signed with the Giants in March, representing his third team since he was drafted in the fourth round by the Raiders (2015). Feliciano, who recently returned to practice following some heat-related issues, explained how he has been very impressed with the rookie tackle, both on and off the field.
"Evan and AT (Andrew Thomas), I've been around some good tackles in my career and I've never seen a rookie in Evan be a vet so early on," Feliciano said. "That dude is, after every meeting, at night we walk by the weight room and he's foam rolling or doing something. He's well beyond his years in that regard of taking care of his body and having AT back out there, in OTAs he wasn't there, is great. He's a really good young player and it's kind of my job to make sure that all they have to worry about is blocking the guy in front of them and not thinking about things."
Neal is going to play a crucial role in the success of the offensive line this season, as will Feliciano. The veteran is confident in his unit's ability to thrive, but admitted the key will be to get more reps together in order to master the communication along the line.
"We got a lot of work to do. I think we can be; the thing is I think we can be really good," said the veteran lineman. "It's all about getting our reps together and getting our verbiage the same. Early on, it's just like guys are saying things but they're saying things from different systems, or in the heat of the moment, we got to get our communication down the best we can."
3. Corker ready to showcase skillset
Yusuf Corker had one of the plays of the day during Friday's Blue-White Scrimmage, intercepting a tipped pass and returning it 60+ yards the other way. Corker had another nice play during today's practice, getting into the backfield to stop a run play several yards behind the line of scrimmage.
The undrafted rookie played well at Kentucky last year. In 13 starts, he led the Wildcats with eight pass breakups while registering a career-high 81 tackles (3.5 tackles for loss). Corker has taken advantage of his opportunities during training camp, but can't wait to showcase his skills in the preseason, starting Thursday.
"Some of my goals for preseason is to show the team that I'm a good tackler, a smart player, and hopefully get some more turnovers during the preseason…" Corker stated. "Basically, I'm just a guy that comes in every day and works hard. I'm studying right now trying to learn a different position. I feel like right now I'm doing a good job of just learning my position safety, but also just trying to show my versatility at other positions. Also, just learning the whole scheme of the defense and the whole scheme of the special teams."
View the top photos from Sunday's training camp practice at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
4. Observations from practice: strong day for Saquon
Toward the start of practice, the Giants had the wide receivers line up against the defensive backs for a two-on-two period near the goal line. On one of the first plays, Adoree' Jackson intercepted a tipped pass in the end zone. Davis Webb threw touchdown passes to Austin Proehl, Richie James, Kadarius Toney, Wan'Dale Robinson and Alex Bachman during this period. Khalil Dorsey got his hands on a ball to break up a pass, before Daniel Jones came in and threw a TD pass to James. A few plays later, Xavier McKinney had a nice pass breakup in the end zone. The period concluded with Jones throwing touchdown passes to C.J. Board and Bachman.
During 11-on-11s, Daniel Jones scored a touchdown on the ground on a designed run from 5+ yards out. Saquon Barkley and Gary Brightwell were also able to punch it into the end zone during this period, while newcomer Nate Meadors had the only turnover of the team drills with an interception in the end zone. Barkley had a nice day today with a couple of strong runs, including two that went for touchdowns. Tyrod Taylor also had a few touchdown passes, including one to TE Jordan Akins and another to WR Keelan Doss.
On the defensive side of the ball, both Tae Crowder and Darrian Beavers made nice plays to get into the backfield to stop a run play behind the line of scrimmage, as did Justin Ellis. Jihad Ward got pressure on the quarterback on a few plays, including one that led to a Julian Love pass breakup.
5. Update on McKethan; Giants will look at options
The Giants were dealt with their first major injury blow over the weekend, as fifth-round guard Marcus McKethan was placed on injured reserve with an ACL injury. It was a tough blow for the rookie, who suffered a non-contact injury during Friday's Blue-White Scrimmage. With McKethan now out and Matt Gono on the exempt list, Daboll is confident in Joe Schoen and the front office's ability to help shore up the depth on the O-line.
"I think Joe and his staff – the scouting department – are going to look at every avenue to try to improve that situation," Daboll said. "You obviously can't, you don't have a crystal ball when that stuff happens. And it's too bad, by the way, about Marcus. I spoke to him yesterday. For a young player to have a non-contact injury, it was tough. But he's in good spirits. So, he'll have to start rehabbing. But we'll try to do whatever we need to do. Whatever it needs to do, we're going to try to do."
One player that has gotten a lot of practice reps in training camp, due in part to Feliciano's temporary absence last week, is third-round guard Joshua Ezeudu. The rookie, who was teammates with McKethan at North Carolina, saw some time at LG with the first-team offense while Feliciano was out and Lemieux moved over to center. Ezeudu has been used at several spots across the line, as the Giants continue to look for positional flexibility among its offensive linemen.
"I think we've put him in a lot of different spots early on in camp, and that's not always easy for a rookie," Daboll exclaimed. "But we're going to need him to be flexible. You'd like him to be able to let him sit at one spot as a young player, but where we are, and he did a good job in spring and up to this point right now of being able to play both spots. We'll need him at each spot."