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Cover 3

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Cover 3: Biggest preseason surprises

For established veterans and undrafted rookies alike, months of hard work boil down to what happens at 4 p.m. on Sept. 1. That is the NFL deadline for teams to reduce their active rosters to 53 players in advance of the 2018 season opener. In this week's Cover 3, we discuss the biggest surprises from the beginning of the Giants' offseason to now.

JOHN SCHMEELK: My surprise of the offseason is the emergence of Curtis Riley. I admit I didn't know a ton about Riley when he arrived here, but he has come a long way to seize control of the starting safety spot next to Landon Collins. Riley was undrafted in 2015 and didn't play his rookie season after an offseason injury landed him on injured reserve. In his next two seasons, he played in only 11 games, starting none of them. In the Giants' safety competition, he has been competing against a group that includes Darian Thompson and Andrew Adams, both of whom have starting experience with the team. William Gay, who has moved from corner to safety, is in his 12th NFL season. Michael Thomas, also acquired this offseason, has much more experience in the NFL (56 games, 25 starts) than Riley. Yet, Riley, the least experienced of the five players, has found himself on top of the depth chart due to his ability to communicate and direct the secondary. It is quite an accomplishment.

DAN SALOMONE: Look no further than the man at the center of this weekend’s trade news – Jon Halapio. Brett Jones, Halapio's "best friend" and main competition for the starting center job, was traded in the middle of Sunday's practice to the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for a 2019 draft choice. Upon hearing the news, Halapio said he is still going to compete like he doesn't have the job until he lines up for the first snap of the regular season on Sept. 9 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. In reality, though, the move all but set in stone his place on general manager Dave Gettleman's rebuilt offensive line. That is a long way from where he was a year ago and even just a few months ago when players reported for the offseason workout program in April. Jones looked like the incumbent at that point, but Halapio eventually showed enough for the coaches to put him in a back-and-forth competition. And by the end of spring practices, Halapio moved to the first team. It now looks to be permanent.

"I'm fine with guys that have got some scars, and some adversity, and they push through it," coach Pat Shurmur, a former center, said. "One thing about guys that push through adversity, they develop a mindset to handle adversity when it comes down the road. Sometimes, guys that haven't had to face much, and then all of a sudden they're faced with a third-and-five in the stadium, you don't know what their mechanisms are."

LANCE MEDOW: Defensive tackle A.J. Francis entered the league in 2013 as an undrafted free agent out of Maryland. Since then, he has suited up for six different teams either during the offseason, on the practice squad or 53-man roster. The Giants may be the latest 53-man roster he makes. While the Giants have bolstered the depth on the defensive line, I think Francis quietly has been a consistent force in practice and in preseason games. His numbers may not jump off the page, but based on the eye test, Francis has shown he has a knack for getting in the backfield to stop the run and put pressure on the quarterback. That's why I've been pleasantly surprised with his play.

With B.J. Hill, Damon Harrison and Dalvin Tomlinson in line to be the starters on the defensive line, the coaching staff is going to have some difficult decisions to make with respect to the depth chart. Kerry Wynn and Robert Thomas have both had impressive camps in addition to Francis. It goes without saying you need playmakers in your starting unit, but teams that make deep runs into the postseason also have substance on the bench and Francis could very well fit that bill.

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