Reporters discovered this week that Pat Shurmur doesn’t like the words “unsettled” or “dress rehearsal.” Unfortunately for the Giants’ head coach, they are part of the NFL lexicon when it comes to talking about the third preseason game. The good news is he won’t have to hear either until next August.
Sparked by big plays on special teams, the Giants defeated the Jets, 22-16, on Friday night in the 50th consecutive preseason meeting between the two sides. Starters played an entire half, the most you will see of them until the Sept. 9 season opener vs. Jacksonville. The extended look provided Shurmur and his staff the opportunity to settle some outstanding competitions ahead of next week’s roster deadline. All clubs must get to 53 players by 4 p.m. ET on Saturday, Sept. 1.
Chief among the “unsettled” positions was finding a partner for two-time Pro Bowl safety Landon Collins. Coming out of Friday night, the Giants have a better idea after Curtis Riley made his second consecutive start.
“I thought the guys that played in there yesterday did a good job,” Shurmur said. “I thought that Curtis Riley did a nice job at the free safety spot and William Gay got in there at the end, Double A (Andrew Adams) was in there playing, so we got to see them play quite a bit and show what they can do. Obviously, I thought Landon was pretty solid. We were able to see more and help us decide as we go here who that free safety is going to be.”
Meanwhile, Darian Thompson, who played the most snaps of any player on defense last year and started all 16 games at safety, has not been cleared to return with a hamstring injury. Shurmur said they are “hopeful” he will be able to return this week with Giants set to wrap up the preseason at home against the Patriots on Thursday night.
“It’s hard to say (if Thompson will return this week),” Shurmur said. “I think it’s pretty well documented that he has a hamstring (injury). This thing on him, it’s really lingering, so we’ll just have to see when we start practicing again tomorrow.”
Another area that gained some closure last night was the return game, which goes hand-in-hand with the wide receivers. Hunter Sharp had a 55-yard punt return touchdown, and fellow wide receiver Kalif Raymond added a 35-yarder. The Giants came three yards shy of tying the 148 punt return yards they had all of last season. Cody Latimer also had the lone kick return of the night for 23 yards.
With the good came the bad, though, for Sharp. While he lifted the Giants on special teams, he admittedly had no excuse for drops in the passing game. Shurmur was asked whether he would carry a player purely as a returner.
“Yeah, we could carry a returner certainly that if he’s dynamic enough where he can change the game by being a returner,” Shurmur said. “Certainly all returners fit into some personnel or position group. I was in Minnesota with Marcus Sherels, he was a returner and he was a corner but really didn’t play corner all that much. It may have changed this year, but at least when I was there that’s what he did.”
Those are all decisions to be made over the next week. Time is running out for players like Sharp, and they have one last chance in the preseason finale. The upside is they will likely have the stage to themselves with starters resting until the regular season.
“Here’s there deal. There will probably be some guys that won’t play in this game, and it goes without saying,” Shurmur said. “What’s important is we’re still in training camp, so what we’re going to do is, the guys that we know are going to play in the game, and I’m not going to talk about who they are or who won’t play, but the guys that are going to play in this game, we’re going to use a portion of practice to get them ready to play the Patriots. It’s important that some of the guys that might not be playing in this game, it’s like training camp, so the padded practices are important and the work that we do is important, especially the Giants-on-Giants phase of things. It kind of runs parallel, so we will structure the practice sessions to reflect that.”
*Shurmur updated the status of tight ends Evan Engram and Rhett Ellison, who both exited Friday’s game. Engram is in the concussion protocol. “We’ll just see where he’s at,” Shurmur said. “I really don’t want to add anything to that, but nothing’s really changed from last night. We’re moving him through the protocol.” Meanwhile, Ellison’s blurred vision was the result of migraines. “He’s better today,” Shurmur said.
*It’s rare for Shurmur not to be asked about backup quarterback Davis Webb in a postgame press conference, but the backup quarterback’s name never came up on Friday night. That was rectified Saturday afternoon on Shurmur’s conference call. “I thought it was solid,” he said of Webb’s performance, which included five completions on 11 attempts for 73 yards. “Even when you have some good plays, most quarterbacks will come back and there’s a handful of things you want to do over for whatever reason. I think that’s fair to be said for his performance.”
*With injuries at running back, including rookie Saquon Barkley’s tweaked hamstring, the Giants signed Jhurell Pressley on Monday. By the end of Friday night he was the team’s leading rusher with 71 yards on 12 carries. Pressley entered the NFL as a rookie free agent with the Minnesota Vikings in 2016, when Shurmur was on the coaching staff. So the head coach was not surprised by what he was able to do in the game.
“No, I know what his skillset is and I thought (running backs coach) Craig Johnson did a great job of getting him up to speed,” Shurmur said. “He was probably able to connect the dots a little faster than some because we had some history together, but really it was just based on the amount of work he and Craig did, getting themselves ready to go, and then (offensive coordinator) Mike (Shula) certainly directing me toward the plays that he was comfortable running. Then I think when you’re a running back, you get the ball, (and) you sort of do what you do. He had a couple of nice, long runs there that really helped us end the game the right way.”
*After going through his share of growing pains in his first NFL season in 2017, kicker Aldrick Rosas has done all that he can to clean the slate this preseason. With four more on Friday night, he is perfect on all six of his attempts this year, including a career-high 55-yarder. “It was terrific,” Shurmur said. “When you make your field goals when we’re stalling out like that and you get points on the board, it’s huge. I think sometimes we forget if you miss those kicks, then they’re presented with immediate good field position going the other way, so I was very pleased with that. His kickoffs were good and solid; he’s a big, strong guy. I think both of our specialists Riley Dixon and then Aldrick, they look like football players to me. They’re big strong guys and I thought they executed kicking and punting very well.”