With the calendar flipped to July, Giants.com asks 20 important questions heading into the team's 2020 training camp at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
For the next 20 days, a member of the Giants.com crew will answer one question about the roster, coaching staff, schedule, and much more.
No. 9: What are your expectations for QB Daniel Jones?
Lance Medow: For any quarterback entering his second year in the league, the expectations are pretty simple: show improvement across the board. Evaluating a signal-caller isn't just about fantasy football numbers, so I certainly won't dedicate the bulk of my response to a mathematical equation. As it goes without saying, the Giants want to see his stats trend upwards. Case in point: Eli Manning, who played in slightly fewer games than Daniel Jones during his rookie year in 2004, improved his production in just about every statistical category in his second year in the league. But there's one notable difference between year two for Manning and Jones. Manning had the same head coach and play-caller.
Why do I bring up the changes on the coaching staff? Well, that ties right into expectations. For the bulk of the roster, this will be the second or third new scheme players are learning in as many seasons, and when you have a young roster, you never know how the learning curve will play out. This will be Jones' third offense in three years, and now he is adjusting to Jason Garrett's scheme during a virtual process with no on-field work up to this point. This isn't to say that Jones can't handle a new system. How young players deal with change is a true test and can be a challenge. That's something to watch as the season progresses and something to keep in mind when placing expectations on a player.
If there's one stat to watch, it's Jones' fumble rate. He fumbled the ball 18 times (and lost 11) in 12 starts or 1.5 fumbles per start. Ball security is critical for all players but even more important for quarterbacks, who touch the ball on every play. Jones obviously knows this better than anyone and made it his focus this offseason. If both Jones and the offense want to make strides in 2020, they have to maximize possessions and avoid cutting down on the volume of opportunities, or what I like to call at-bats.
View photos of Giants quarterback Daniel Jones
Dan Salomone: There are three tenets of being a physical football team. The first two – stopping the run and running the ball – are agreed upon by every head coach. The third can be debated. Some say rush the passer; Joe Judge says it is covering kicks. That is the Nick Saban and the Bill Belichick in him. That is the longtime special teams coach, the three-time Super Bowl champion and two-time college football national champion in him.
"Those are three things you need to do to be a physical team, and you can't win in this league without being a physical team," Judge said during this offseason. "You look at the teams every year whose seasons extend longer than other teams. They do certain things in common. That always kind of goes back to the same traits."
Judge's first task as head coach was putting together a staff which, after a methodical search, included six members who were with the Giants last year. Of those, two coach special teams. Thomas McGaughey returns for his third season as special teams coordinator, and he's assisted by his predecessor, Tom Quinn, who was the Giants' special teams coordinator from 2007-17.
"The experience is important, but the success is more important," Judge said. "They've been doing it at a high success rate for a long time. The fact that they had a relationship working together already, I had a relationship with both guys from going against them and have known them within the profession for some time now. T-Mac and Tom do a tremendous job. I love the way they relate to the players, I love the way they coach their guys. You know when you go against their units that they're going to be sound and they're going to play hard, and that's critical. I have a lot of respect for both of them."
In 2019, the Giants' kickoff coverage team led the NFL by allowing an average return of just 18.1 yards while the punt coverage team finished tied for fifth (5.7 avg.). Conversely, the Giants' return squads were fourth and 10th, respectively, on punts (9.8) and kickoffs (23.5).
In other words, Judge liked what he saw.
The unit should only be stronger with the addition of Judge's expertise and the host of players the Giants signed or drafted this offseason. Most notable is Nate Ebner, the lone player to participate in the Olympics (rugby) and win the NFL championship in the same year. Ebner played in New England from 2012-19, the same eight years Judge was either a Patriots special teams assistant or coordinator. Ebner had more than 10 special teams tackles in six of his eight seasons, and the Patriots won all three Super Bowls in which he played (Ebner was sidelined for New England's loss to Philadelphia in Super Bowl LII after tearing his ACL while running for 14 yards and a first down on a fake punt vs. Miami on Nov. 26, 2017).
The Giants also signed Pro Bowl long snapper and former Bronco Casey Kreiter to take over for two-timer Super Bowl champion and two-time Pro Bowl veteran Zak DeOssie, who remains a free agent. Meanwhile, the team selected four linebackers on the final day of the draft, so you know they will have to learn their stripes on special teams.
"No one really looks at those intricacies as much as they do offense or defense, but they're out there and they're happening every game," Ebner said. "In the kicking game, just as well. Those finer points can be the difference-maker, especially in a phase of the game that's a one-play series. You don't get four downs. You don't have a bunch of opportunities. You get one chance. Sometimes, those opportunities can be game-changing opportunities.
"Those details matter, and I think having played as long as I have, I, hopefully, can kind of build on what I've experienced. That's why I love the kicking game. It's a one-play series that's balls to the wall for the entire time. It's not like you get an incomplete pass and you're back in the deep part of the field, and not covering grass and it's a run play or something like that. Every single play in the kicking game is absolutely full speed and a dog fight. Every single one of them. It's fun."
It also wins games.
John Schmeelk: Since we haven't seen this defense in a practice setting, I can only go based on the limited info that has been mentioned by the players and coaches in their off-season interviews. Head coach Joe Judge indicated it would look similar to what Patrick Graham did in Miami. If so, here are some characteristics Giants fans should expect to see:
Plenty of man-to-man
Only Matt Patricia's Detroit Lions played more Cover 1 than the Dolphins last year, according to Pro Football Focus. Detroit spent 516 of their 1144 snaps playing man-to-man with a single-high safety, while the Dolphins used that scheme on 491 of their 1116 defensive snaps. The Patriots and Giants were tied for the fourth-most plays in Cover 1. Coaches from the Bill Belichick tree like to play man-to-man and there's no reason to think the Giants won't do the same in 2020.
High blitz frequency
The Dolphins blitzed on 35.1% of their defensive snaps last year, which was the seventh-highest frequency in the NFL, according to PFF. The Giants blitzed about 30% of the time last year, which was just above the league average. Without a proven pass rusher, Miami used many players standing up at the line of scrimmage to confuse quarterbacks. There were many third-and-longs characterized by several players standing near the line of scrimmage to disguise who was blitzing and who was dropping into coverage.
3-4 base defense
I think Graham will use a 3-4 as his base scheme, but he and Judge have indicated the team's basic fronts can change week to week to counter their opponents.
An amoeba defense
Belichick's defenses have always liked to shift their schemes from week to week or series to series, depending on the opponent's offensive scheme. Judge and Graham have been forthright that they plan on having their defense look very different each week. Shifting schemes like this can make it difficult on opposing offenses to prepare for the Giants' defense.
View photos of every roster addition made by the Giants this offseason.