What is the first thing you would tell a Giants fan to look for at this year’s training camp?
JOHN SCHMEELK: Paul Dottino prowling the sideline! Look for the hyped-up bronze guy shining like the sun with a huge smile, wearing the quintessential Dad Nikes and walking faster than any normal human. Oh wait, you mean the players? Pardon, let me start over.
Full pads practices won’t be until next week, but that’s when you start figuring out what’s real and what’s not. I’ve seen players dominate in t-shirts and shorts only to disappear when the pads come on. Whether a player can play through contact in full gear is essential to being a NFL player. It is the closest the team gets in practice to simulating game action.
It is especially important for the players up front. Until the pads come on, there is little worth in who is winning battles between offensive and defensive linemen. The full strength of the players in the trenches is not unleashed until the pads come on. Once they do, you can start figuring out who is going to be a potential impact player on Sunday afternoons in the fall.
Even on the perimeter, things can change really fast for wide receivers and cornerbacks when defensive backs are allowed to be physical and use their hands at the line of scrimmage. Getting open with free releases versus facing contact at the line of scrimmage are completely different animals.
LANCE MEDOW: If you asked me which side of the ball has more question marks or more intrigue, then it’s the defense. There is a bit of an unknown with this group. There is youth at corner and unproven commodities in the pass rush. That’s why I would tell a Giants fan to look at who’s active on defense, regardless of the position. With James Bettcher entering year two as the defensive coordinator and some of the players having more familiarity with the scheme, that unit is now looking for consistent playmakers to take the defense to a new level. Well, there are plenty of candidates, which means you have numerous players to choose from to observe.
At corner, newcomers DeAndre Baker, Sam Beal, Julian Love and Corey Ballentine are all competing for roles, while Grant Haley is looking to hold off the competition and build off a solid performance in the second half of last season. Then there are the battles up front. Who will emerge as the leading pass rusher? Last season, the Giants collected just 30 sacks and the player who led the team in that category and was responsible for nearly a quarter of the sacks, Olivier Vernon, was traded to the Browns this offseason. When you look at the makeup of the current roster, there are 24 front-seven players with a combined 53.5 career sacks. Ten of the 24 players account for 34.5 sacks with no one having more than 6.5. Markus Golden makes up the rest with 19, including a career-high 12.5 in 2016. I’d look to see who is most effective against the offensive line and who consistently makes plays and is disruptive throughout the course of practice.
While Golden is certainly a player to watch given his track record, let’s not put the success of the defense solely on his shoulders. Keep close tabs on Lorenzo Carter, who showed some flashes as a rookie, and this year’s third-round pick, Oshane Ximines. How those two players perform this season could tell a lot about the ceiling of this Giants’ defense.