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Cover 4: What the preseason opener told us about the Giants

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The Giants.com crew breaks down the preseason opener and what it means for the Giants with the regular season less than a month away:

John Schmeelk: The Giants rested a lot of their veteran starters on Friday night, but they did give their rookies a significant amount of playing time. First-round pick Deonte Banks and sixth-round pick Tre Hawkins III both started at outside cornerback and played 37 snaps on defense. Banks played nearly all his snaps as the right outside cornerback, while Hawkins stayed on the left side.

According to Pro Football Focus, Banks was targeted three times but didn't give up a catch. Hawkins, meanwhile, was targeted six times but only allowed 30 receiving yards. Keep in mind that those numbers are estimates since player assignments can never be determined with certainty, except for the coaches who called and designed the called defenses.

Wink Martindale called a blitz on 13 of their 23 first half coverage snaps, with many of those featuring man defense with little help. In other words, he was throwing his rookies into the fire by putting them in isolated situations that forced them into tough coverage assignments. For the most part, Banks and Hawkins handled them well.

The next step in the progression will be the two rookies lining up against the true top starters for an extended period of time. The Lions played mostly backups in the game.

Dan Salomone: Brian Daboll is always reserved when he publicly talks about rookies as he wants his staff to avoid being "instant evaluators" – whether it's good or bad. But, after reviewing the tape, Daboll did have some glowing things to say about rookie center John Michael Schmitz Jr.

"He did a good job of communicating with his linemates and down the line of scrimmage, and with the snap, it was good," Daboll said of the second-round draft choice and former All-American. "It was actually pretty loud at times in there. So, for his first outing at center for us, I was pleased with the progress that he's made throughout camp, and I was pleased with his first game, and we've got to build on from that."

Schmitz will go a long way in determining the future of the draft class and team as a whole.

View photos from the Giants' preseason opener against the Lions in Detroit.

Lance Medow: If there's one position the Giants are looking for someone to emerge, I'd put the third pass rusher right atop the list. With Kavyon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari in the mix, New York has two young bookends off the edge, but most teams that have a knack for getting after the quarterback and consistently pile up sacks, showcase a reliable third option. In Saturday's preseason opener, we got a taste of some potential options: Tomon Fox, Oshane Ximines and Habakkuk Baldonado.

Last year, Fox was in Baldonado's shoes as he was fighting to solidify a roster spot as an undrafted player out of North Carolina. Thanks to several flash plays during the preseason, he picked up where he left off in 2022 with a hit on Lions quarterback Nate Sudfeld that led to Jason Pinnock's interception on the very first play from scrimmage. Fox led the way with two quarterback hits as he once again proved his ability to record hustle plays, and Baldonado finished with a sack, quarterback hit, tackle for loss and pass defensed. He was in position for another sack but was called for roughing the passer. Regardless of the penalty, there's evidence that Baldonado can navigate traffic and win his battles en route to the signal-caller. The former Pitt standout produced nine sacks in 2021, so he clearly has what it takes to rush the passer. If that rawness can translate to the NFL, he could be a player to watch, much like Fox last season.

The last player worth highlighting is Oshane Ximines, who re-signed with the team this offseason after playing in at least 15 games for the first time since his rookie year in 2019. Ximines has battled injuries in his career, but the third pass rusher role is very much up for grabs, and it didn't hurt that he collected a quarterback hit in the preseason opener as he looks to hold off the competition.

Matt Citak: While many starters on both sides of the ball did not play, the game still featured young players who are currently slated to see extended playing time this year, one of which was safety Jason Pinnock. When the team released its first unofficial depth chart earlier in the week, Pinnock was listed as the starting strong safety. How did the 24-year-old respond in his first game action? He intercepted Lions quarterback Nate Sudfeld on the very first play of the game. He then followed that up with a three-yard tackle for loss of running back Jahmyr Gibbs, the 12th overall pick in this year's draft, on his next snap. A couple of plays later on fourth down, Pinnock broke up his second pass of the night to force a turnover on downs. While the first depth chart is unofficial, Pinnock made a strong impression on the coaching staff in his pursuit to solidify his spot in the starting lineup.

"He's athletic," coach Brian Daboll said about the young safety after the game. "He's explosive. He was a good addition to our team last year. He played a bunch of special teams, but I think he's done a good job here in camp. Made the most of his opportunity in the short amount of plays, keep grinding along with him. But he's done a nice job for us."

Pinnock wasn't the only young safety who stood out Friday night. Right behind him on the strong safety depth chart is Dane Belton. The second-year player out of Iowa was one of last year's training camp standouts before a clavicle injury sidelined him for over a month. He picked up right where he left off last summer as he registered the defense's second turnover of the game with another interception of Sudfeld. Belton was on the field for just 39 percent of the team's defensive snaps in 2022 and 34 percent of the special teams snaps. And yet, he still finished the season in a tie for the team-lead with two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. The two young safeties showed us Friday that they could both play a big role in the defense's success this season. Between Pinnock, Belton, Adoree' Jackson, Deonte Banks and Xavier McKinney, among others, the secondary could turn into one of the unit's strengths in 2023.

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