Following an off day on Thursday, the Giants returned to the Quest Diagnostics Training Center Friday for final preparations ahead of this weekend's season opener against the Titans.
Coach Brian Daboll spoke to the media two days ahead of his head coaching debut, before the team took the practice field. Running back Saquon Barkley then met with reporters in the locker room following the session.
Here is what we learned today.
1. Good competition at LG
With Shane Lemieux on injured reserve for at least the first four games, there has been competition to see who will start at left guard. On the first unofficial depth chart of the regular season, Ben Bredeson manned the spot - with rookie Joshua Ezeudu behind him. Bredeson was the team's highest graded linemen in the preseason with his 88.8 overall grade from PFF, including an elite 91.5 grade on 23 run block snaps, against the Patriots. Ezeudu was a third-round selection in this year's draft, and is currently listed as the backup at both left guard and left tackle.
"We'll let it go here again today," Daboll said before today's practice. "I think both those guys, Bredeson and Ezeudu, have done a good job all week. So, we'll practice today. We'll reconvene tomorrow morning with the coaching staff and watch practice today and then decide which way to go with it."
2. Who suits up?
The Giants have had four players listed on the injury report throughout the week – S Dane Belton (Clavicle), OLB Azeez Ojulari (Calf), WR Sterling Shepard (Achilles) and OLB Kayvon Thibodeaux (Knee). All four were limited participants at practice throughout the week. Ojulari and Thibodeaux are listed as doubtful on the final injury report, while Belton is questionable. Shepard is not listed on the final report.
"We have the same four guys limited as they were the last couple days; we'll just try to take it right up to game time as long as we can to see who's going to be active and who's not going to be active," Daboll said. "So, that'll be really the next 48-hours if you will – let it go as long as we can let it go."
Belton has been out since suffering an injury toward the start of training camp. The rookie safety recently returned to practice, and while he's been donning a red jersey, the head coach said "it's more of a precaution than anything else."
3. Saquon 'excited to get out there'
While injuries derailed his previous two seasons, Saquon Barkley enters the 2022 campaign fully healthy. The fifth-year running back saw preseason action for the first time since his rookie season and played two series against the Patriots, gaining 21 yards on five total touches. After learning a new system under coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, Barkley is ready to get the season going.
"I'm excited to go out there. Not only myself, all of us put a lot of hard work in this offseason from spring to camp to now," said the running back. "My mindset is to just go out there Week 1 and be Saquon Barkley. Whatever the team, and whatever Coach Dabs and Coach Kaf need me to do, to go out there and execute – whether it's catching the ball, running, pass pro – whatever they need me to do. My biggest thing I want for this week, not only for myself but for the team too, is just continue to fall in love with the process, don't get too overconcerned with the results. No matter if we win by 40 or we lose by 40 there is going to be some sort of over reaction to this week. Whether I go for 200 yards or say I go for 10 yards. There's going to be over reaction. I'm just going to continue to have that mindset of staying in the moment, taking it day by day and getting better."
Barkley's counterpart on the Titans' sideline also dealt with the injury bug last season. Derrick Henry put together consecutive stellar performances in 2019 and 2020 before a foot injury forced him to miss the final nine games last year. Barkley did not shy away from praising one the league's best players.
"He's definitely one of the guys when you're on the sideline, you're going to look up at that scoreboard to see what he's able to do because of how special of a player he is," Barkley said about the 2020 Offensive Player of the Year. "He's been very dominant for a very long time in this league, especially last year how he was able to lead the league in rushing for five weeks after he hurt his foot – that's pretty impressive. I've talked to him multiple times. When I've been injured, he's reached out, got in contact with me and gave me some words of encouragement. I'm excited to see him go out there and hopefully he has a great year but this game right here, he's not the Derrick Henry that we know. We just have to go out there, execute in all three phases of the ball and come out with a win."
4. Giants preparing for everything in opener
Following an off-season and summer of preparation, the Giants are set to take the field at Nissan Stadium for the true start of the Brian Daboll/Joe Schoen era. Although the team has been getting ready for this moment for months, the head coach admitted that you can't predict what is actually going to happen once both teams take the field.
"I don't think you ever really know, no matter where I've been, how opening day is going to go, whether it's been a team that's won a Super Bowl or a team that hasn't won many games," said the head coach. "I think you do your best job to prepare the players both mentally and physically and do everything you can do to go out there and put your best foot forward and then go play a good game and not focus on 'What if this happened' or 'this bad play happened.' Just be very positive in your approach, be real, and go out there and trust your preparation."
The Giants performed well in the preseason as they went 2-1 and had one of the league's most efficient offenses over the three-game stretch. But it's another story once the games actually count, something Daboll acknowledged in his weekly exclusive sit-down with Giants.com.
"You'd like to think you're as prepared as possible and that you've conditioned them the right way, that you've worked on your systems enough throughout training camp," Daboll told Giants.com. "But the opening week, really the early part of the season, is you're getting a feel for your team. You might think they do something well in practice, and then it turns out in a game you've got to adjust it. I'd say there's a lot of adjustments going on in the first few weeks of the season, regardless of where I've been."
5. Titans update; five players questionable
The Titans have had five players on the injury report this week, four of who are on defense. Defensive backs Lonnie Johnson and Elijah Molden have sat out practice this week due to groin injuries. Inside linebacker Chance Campbell is dealing with a knee injury, while outside linebacker Ola Adeniyi has a neck injury and offensive tackle Jamarco Jones has a triceps injury.
Here is the Titans final injury report:
Questionable: OLB Ola Adeniyi (Neck)
Out: DB Lonnie Johnson (Groin), DB Elijah Molden (Groin), LB Chance Campbell (Knee), OL Jamarco Jones (Triceps)
All five of those players are listed as backups on the Titans' unofficial depth chart. Jones is behind Aaron Brewer at left guard, while Johnson and Molden find themselves behind safety Amani Hooker and cornerback Kristian Fulton, respectively. Campbell is listed as the second-string linebacker behind David Long Jr. and Adeniyi is the second-string linebacker behind Denico Autry.
Speaking of Hooker, the Titans announced a multi-year extension for the safety Friday morning. The 24-year-old has played 44 games with 15 starts since being taken in the fourth round of the 2019 draft. In 12 starts last season, Hooker finished with 62 tackles and one interception. His 85.9 overall grade from PFF ranked third among all safeties, while his 86.9 coverage grade ranked fifth.
View photos of the projected Week 1 starters for the Tennessee Titans based on their unofficial depth chart.