Fact or Fiction: Breakout players of spring

1. The makeup of the offense has changed more than the defense since this time last year.

John Schmeelk: Fiction -- The defense is almost unrecognizable from this time last year. The entire cornerback corps except Janoris Jenkins has changed. The two starting safeties, Jabrill Peppers and Antoine Bethea, are new to the roster. Markus Golden and Oshane Ximines have been added as edge rushers. Dexter Lawrence will be a huge part of the defensive line, with RJ McIntosh, who didn’t participate in the offseason program last year, also getting a lot of reps. Some of the biggest names from last offeason are no longer here. The offense looks intact by comparison.

Dan Salomone: Fact -- Don’t forget at this time last year Brett Jones was the starting center, Odell Beckham Jr. led the receiving corps, and Patrick Omameh and Ereck Flowers manned the right side of the offensive line. You also had a new head coach/offensive play-caller who was just getting acquainted with his team. Since then, three-fifths of the offensive line changed, Golden Tate is the most experienced receiver, and the team drafted the eventual successor to one of the most important players in franchise history.

Lance Medow: Fiction -- I don’t think it’s even close. The defense has, by far, changed much more than the offense. The Giants have two new safeties in Antoine Bethea and Jabrill Peppers and have added numerous new faces at corner, including rookies DeAndre Baker, Julian Love and Corey Ballentine, as well as Sam Beal, who didn’t play last season and wasn’t selected until last July in the Supplemental Draft. With the exception of Janoris Jenkins, every other starter in the secondary will likely be someone who wasn’t on the 2018 roster. At linebacker, Markus Golden and rookie Oshane Ximines are now in the mix and rookie Dexter Lawrence will help bolster the defensive line. I listed nearly ten new players and that’s not even everyone who could potentially contribute to the defensive side of the ball. Have things changed on offense? Absolutely, but the nucleus hasn’t been tweaked as much with Eli Manning, Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram all returning, plus the left side of the line and Jon Halapio, who was with the team last year during OTAs and is once again competing for the starting job with Spencer Pulley.

2. The offensive star of OTAs and minicamp was wide receiver Darius Slayton.

Schmeelk: Fiction -- Slayton might have been the biggest surprise or most improved player from OTAs, but I can’t say he was the best offensive player on the field. I’ll tip my cap to Sterling Shepard in that regard. He is a consistently tough cover for defensive backs and gets in and out of his breaks at the top of his routes more suddenly than anyone else on the roster. To put it simply: he knows how to get open and is elusive once he has the ball in his hands.

Salomone: Fact – It’s one thing when a reporter asks about player X and the head coach gives a response. It’s another when he brings up a name unprompted. Pat Shurmur has done that a few times now with Slayton, who certainly improved the most from rookie minicamp to the 10th and final OTA. The most impressive part of what he did this spring was not flash his speed, which he did, but he proved to be adept in his route-running. He could be the steal of the draft for the Giants.

Medow: Fact -- On multiple occasions while addressing the media throughout the offseason, Pat Shurmur has spoken very highly of Darius Slayton. After struggling with drops at the start of rookie minicamp, he has made the most of his opportunities when mixed in with the vets and hasn’t looked back. Based on his improvement and how far he has come since rookie minicamp, it’s more than fair to say Slayton has been the offensive standout.

3. The defensive star was safety Jabrill Peppers.

Schmeelk: Fiction -- Peppers was active and made plays. Of the players up front, I think Oshane Ximines was in the backfield more than anyone, but without pads or contact, I can’t give the award to an edge rusher. Instead, I’m going to go with DeAndre Baker. His play elevated him to the first team across from Janoris Jenkins. Despite practice rules forcing him to play off-coverage, negating his strength of being a physical player, he did not allow many catches. He looks ready to be an impact player as a rookie. Janoris Jenkins, who had a strong spring, is in the conversation here, too.

Salomone: Fact – One of the biggest takeaways from the offseason program was the competitive level of practices. Saquon Barkley said at the team’s annual Town Hall event that the energy was “way better” than it was compared to his rookie season. A lot of that is due to Peppers, who matched the offense’s energy and dished out his share of trash talk to make for a spirited spring. More importantly, he was productive on the field. He made plays all over the field. Peppers, the Giants hope, was just scratching the surface in his time in Cleveland.

Medow: Fact -- In our most recent edition of Cover 3, we were asked: “Which new Giants player has impressed you the most this spring?” My answer was Jabrill Peppers and even if you throw in the returning players, I still stand by that response. In his limited time with the Giants, he has made quite the impression. Peppers has been extremely active, lining up all over the field, intercepting passes and fielding punts and kickoffs. In addition to him showcasing his versatility, I give him bonus points for some trash talking. It’s more than fair to say Peppers was the true defensive star because of everything he brings to the table, including entertainment value.

4. The player you are most excited to see in pads at training camp is defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence.

Schmeelk: FICTION SLAM! Lawrence is second for me. I do want to see him use his rare combination of size, strength, power and quickness when he works on his inside pass rush during training camp. You can’t appreciate his game without pads and contact. In a close third place is Kevin Zeitler, who has the thickest torso I have ever seen. I want to see him match power with Lawrence and see how he moves people off the ball in the run game. My number one guy? Oshane Ximines. I am just as excited about him now as I was watching tape of him prior to the Senior Bowl. He had a quiet week in in Mobile and my excitement was tempered. It’s back, but I want to see him work in pads against offensive linemen who are able to bring their full strength and physicality. With both Nate Solder and Mike Remmers likely back as first or second team tackles, Ximines will no longer be facing the third string tackles he played against in OTAs. It will be the true test to see how he might perform in NFL games come September.

Salomone: Fact – It’s going to be like Christmas in July when the Giants can unwrap Lawrence, plug in the batteries, and let him rip in training camp. Shaun Rogers has long been the largest human to come through here since I’ve been covering the team (slightly ahead of Linval Joseph), but Lawrence might take the cake. He is also incredibly athletic. Lawrence is going to have a major impact because pass-rushing comes in many forms. It’s not just about the outside linebackers screaming off the edge; you need interior pressure. I can’t wait to see him go against the likes of Jon Halapio, Spencer Pulley, Will Hernandez and Kevin Zeitler this summer. That’s a lot of power right there.

Medow: Fiction -- Dexter Lawrence is right near the top of the list, but I’m actually going to go with another first round pick: DeAndre Baker. The former Georgia standout is known for his strength as a press corner, but with no contact allowed during the offseason program, he hasn’t been able to showcase and test his skillset in that department. That’s one of the reasons why I’m anxious to see what he can do in pads. Baker is the favorite to line up opposite Janoris Jenkins and once he puts the pads on, he’ll have a chance to separate himself from the rest of the pack.

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