The New York Giants are a dozen practices into training camp and will open the preseason on Thursday night against the Jets. In this edition of “Cover 3” on Giants.com, we pick one player to watch in the game based on what we’ve seen so far at camp.
John Schmeelk: How can I say anyone but Daniel Jones? Jones might not be the present, but he is certainly a cornerstone of the Giants’ future. This will be the first chance to see Eli Manning’s eventual successor on the field in a Giants uniform in a game situation. There’s been unending debate and discussion about Jones’ career at Duke, when he was selected, how he’ll play in the NFL and how he has done in practice in both the spring and summer.
None of that matters anymore. At all. The only thing that matters now is how Jones plays when he is getting chased around by players in another jersey who want to bury him in the dirt. While his first regular season game will be even more significant, this preseason game is when the fun starts.
It will take time for Jones, as it does for almost all rookie quarterbacks. Regardless of how he plays, it will not define his career. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t great anticipation to see how he looks. The most important things to look for are comfort level in the offense and doing the mechanical things a quarterback needs to do to be successful. Does the team get lined up properly? Does he keep the team playing at a good pace? Does he set up protections well? Is he on the same page as his teammates? How does he handle pressure? Does the game look too fast for him?
These are really simple things that will show how much Jones has picked up thus far and whether he can quickly transfer it to a field in a game situation. While fans will be excited to see his physical skills like his arm and mobility, it’s more significant to observe how quickly he is able to process what the defense is doing and whether he delivers his passes to the right people on time. Those are the most important things any quarterback, young or old, has to do.
It will be a good early test for Jones against Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who runs a 4-3 defense (Jones has only seen 3-4 defenses in practice) and will not hesitate to show exotic looks and send complicated blitzes, even in the first preseason game. It will be fun to see how Jones reacts and deals with it. Spring and summer practices have presented reasons to be optimistic, but his first test is Thursday night.
Dan Salomone: The trio of rookie cornerbacks has stolen the show for the defense in training camp, and no one has made more big plays than Corey Ballentine. Drafted by the Giants this past April behind fellow corners DeAndre Baker (first round) and Julian Love (fourth), Ballentine (sixth) already has three interceptions in camp in addition to a handful of other pass breakups. He is also a remarkable story considering what he’s been through in the past four months. Hours after the draft, Ballentine was the victim of a tragic shooting in which his best friend was killed and he was wounded. He missed some time in the spring but has more than made up for it this summer.
“He is getting a lot of opportunities, and I think he’s made steady improvement since the spring,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “It took him a little while to get going because of the accident he was involved with. But he’s made steady improvement. He’s a very competitive guy, he gets his hands on balls, he has good instincts, he’s working as a returner, and we feel like he’s getting a little bit better every day.”
Furthermore, Ballentine is an interesting option for returning kickoffs, a void on the roster after Corey Coleman suffered a torn ACL. Veteran wide receiver Cody Latimer is the first man up right now, but Ballentine, who doubled as a track star at Washburn, will likely get a good look on Thursday night.
Lance Medow: There are several players I’m interested to see in action Thursday night against the Jets, but when you take into consideration the competition across the roster and what I’ve seen so far at camp, I’m putting Julian Love atop the list. The team’s fourth round pick is in the mix for the nickel corner job, as well as a role at safety. Playing nickel is one of the most difficult positions in the NFL because there is so much going on in the middle of the field and, unlike on the outside, there is not as much space to work with. It will be interesting to see how the rookie fares in his first professional game.
Love has been moving around during practice and the fact that the coaching staff has put him in those various positions speaks volumes of the potential they see. It has been baptism by fire for the former Notre Dame standout, and now Love has a great opportunity to make an early statement in the competition for the nickel role, a job Grant Haley has no interest in surrendering. With NFL defenses relying more on extra defensive backs, Love has the chance to make an impact in his first year in the league. Showcasing his versatility in the first preseason game will help his cause to carve out a prominent role in James Bettcher’s defense.
Keep an eye on these five players during Thursday's preseason opener against the New York Jets.