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Cover 3: Overlooked storylines for 2020


In this week's edition, three writers discuss storylines that people might be overlooking this offseason.

John Schmeelk: If I'm to judge by the calls coming into "Big Blue Kickoff Live" and twitter comments, fans are very interested about the pass rush, the young defensive backfield, Daniel Jones' turnovers, and that a young team is heading into a season with a new coach and very limited offseason work.

I am looking forward to seeing how Daniel Jones plays in a new offensive scheme that may emphasize different routes and use different reads than last year's offense. Given his intelligence and diligence, there shouldn't be any doubt Jones can learn the new language and playbook. But learning those things on paper is different than executing them on the field. This is more than just limiting turnovers. It is about efficiency and production.

The other part of the equation is that other teams have 12 full games of 2019 tape of Jones to watch and form defensive strategies to slow him down. Last year, for example, analytics show he played much better versus man defense than zone coverage. Will more teams employ zone this year? Will his effectiveness against man and zone be impacted by the new offense? We don't know the answers to any of these questions, and we won't until the real games start in September.

His track record indicates he will be able to handle the transition. But it doesn't mean there won't be some bumps.

The opposition coming out of the blocks after an offseason of limited on-field work will be challenging. The Giants open with games against:

Pittsburgh: 4th ranked pass defense in 2019 (yards per play)

Chicago: 8th ranked pass defense in 2019 (yards per play)

San Francisco: 1st ranked pass defense in 2019 (yards per play)

The Rams: 11th ranked pass defense in 2019 (yards per play)

The Rams defense might be even better this season since they will have Jalen Ramsey on the roster for the entire season. The Giants' next three games in October are against their NFC East rivals, which are always difficult games.

How a quarterback starts a year can set the tone and ultimately how the 2020 season is viewed.

Dan Salomone: At their core, I think Giants fans appreciate linebackers more than any other position, so this offseason was for them. Inside and outside, old and new, the team added several intriguing players to the unit.

In free agency, Blake "The Tackling Machinez" Martinez and Kyler Fackrell, who has a double-digit sack season on his resume, came over from Green Bay. In the draft, the Giants used 40 percent of their 10 picks at the position: Cam Brown (Penn State), Carter Coughlin (Minnesota), TJ Brunson (South Carolina) and Tae Crowder (Georgia). That's six new pieces right there for defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, inside linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer, and outside linebackers coach/senior assistant Bret Bielema.

"I think it says a lot more about how our defensive scheme fits together, that we are going to play with a lot of linebackers throughout the game," coach Joe Judge said. "You build your defense to build two-thirds of your team, that's really your defense and your kicking game for covering kicks. These guys have a lot of impact across the board right there."

While we're on the subject, don't overlook the return of linebacker Ryan Connelly, who was on his way to being the steal of the 2019 draft. The fifth-round pick out of Wisconsin recorded 20 tackles, two interceptions and a sack in the first four games of his rookie year, but then it abruptly ended due to a torn ACL. He was also high school teammates with Coughlin in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Connelly, then the quarterback, helped the school to three Minnesota Class 6A football state championships.

That's not exactly the type of versatility that Judge has spoken about since he took over – I don't think Connelly is throwing a pass anytime soon – but the linebacker corps has a little bit of everything to make it dominant once again.

Lance Medow: I have mentioned this a number of times on our daily talk show, "Big Blue Kickoff Live," and I think it is overlooked on a larger scale. 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. Case in point, this will be Daniel Jones' third offense in three years. In 2018, he was at Duke, last season worked in Pat Shurmur's system and now he'll be adjusting to Jason Garrett's scheme. For Saquon Barkley, it's his third different offensive system in four seasons and the fourth for Evan Engram in his five years. On the defensive side of the ball, Dexter Lawrence, Oshane Ximines, Ryan Connelly, DeAndre Baker, Julian Love and Corey Ballentine are all in the same boat as Daniel Jones. B.J. Hill, Lorenzo Carter and Sam Beal are all digesting their third new scheme in four years.

This isn't to say that the players mentioned can't handle a new system. It's simply to point out that in a very short period of time, there has been a great deal of turnover. And this entire offseason has been a virtual process with no on-field work. Players and coaches are creatures of habit. Stability and routine are important. How young players deal with constant change is a true test and can be a challenge. That's something to watch as the season progresses. One example I always bring up is Redskins quarterback Alex Smith, who I'm glad to see is making progress in his recovery from the gruesome leg injury he sustained in 2018. After Smith was drafted by the Niners with the first overall pick in 2005, he wound up working with six different offensive coordinators (Mike McCarthy, Norv Turner, Jim Hostler, Mike Martz, Jimmy Raye, Greg Roman) in his first seven seasons in the league. It's no coincidence that his career didn't take off until 2011 when Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman arrived and provided some stability. Now, that's an extreme example of constant change, but it shows you never know how players will adapt to new schemes and new coordinators.


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