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Fact or Fiction: Giants vs. Bears Preview

1. The offensive player you’re most interested to see on Friday is quarterback Daniel Jones.

John Schmeelk: Fact – It’s the boring answer, but it is still the correct answer. Jones is one of the most important pieces of the Giants’ long term future, and while it was fun last week to see him go 5-5 for 67 yards and a touchdown in eight snaps, the sample size was extremely small. The fact he looked comfortable and in control was a good sign, but let’s remember, it was preseason game one. Every time Jones goes out there, we’ll learn something else about him, and this is another opportunity. How will Jones handle pressure in the pocket? Will the Bears throw a more complicated scheme at him? How does Jones react when things go poorly? I’m excited to see it.

Dan Salomone: Fact – Last Thursday was a good first step, but the hardest thing in the NFL is to be successful week to week. Let’s see if he can do that. Good or bad, you knew there would be an overreaction to his NFL debut and those of the rest of the rookie quarterbacks around the league. But the people that matter aren’t making too much of one series in a preseason game. Coach Pat Shurmur cautioned everyone to “slow your roll” after the game. Team president John Mara said, “So far, so good. He’s everything that we thought he would be. He’s been terrific on the practice field, did a good job the other night. I think people need to temper their enthusiasm a little bit. It’s one preseason game, one series, but so far, so good.” And last but not least, Jones had this to say: “I think it’s the same process in preparing for this week as it was last week. I don’t think letting that affect your preparation is—I think that’s part of being consistent, is having the same urgency to prepare every week, and I’ve certainly tried to do that so far.”

Lance Medow: Fiction – No disrespect to Daniel Jones but given the overreaction to the one series he played in the first preseason game, at this point I’d choose just about any other offensive player to watch. Jones had a solid debut and I’m certainly interested in seeing him continue to develop, but for the sake of slowing the hype machine down a bit, I’m anxious to see another rookie who didn’t play against the Jets: fifth-round pick Darius Slayton. The former Auburn standout returned to practice this week after nursing a hamstring injury and he now has a great opportunity to emerge in a deep wide receiver competition. Considering Slayton is a vertical threat and brings something different to the table than the rest of the receiver corps, that’s all the more reason I’m interested to see what he’ll do in a game against an unfamiliar opponent.

2. The defensive player to watch against the Bears is rookie linebacker Ryan Connelly.

Schmeelk: Fiction – I want to see more of Dexter Lawrence, who played only six snaps in the first preseason game, tied with Dalvin Tomlinson for the fewest on the defensive side of the ball. Lawrence was moved around on a couple of double teams in the run game, but I saw his power pushing the pocket in the pass game. I want to see how he adjusts after getting a feel for what a real NFL game is like. Connelly is the second guy on my list, especially since he will likely get the start in place of the injured Alec Ogletree. Connelly made some nice plays in the run game last week, including two very aggressive plays on outside runs. I want to see how he does in coverage against a Bears team that uses a lot of pre-snap motion and loves to throw to their running backs.

Salomone: Fact – Giants fans are thirsty for a homegrown linebacker, and the rookie fifth-round choice is the next batter up. He is coming on strong in the dog days of summer and will have a major opportunity this Friday night when linebacker Alec Ogletree sits with a calf injury. “I think he’s shown us that he belongs on the field,” Shurmur said of Connelly, who can make the calls on defense. “Like any young player, when somebody goes down ahead of you, you get in there and take advantage of the reps you have.”

Medow: Fiction – Like Daniel Jones, fifth-round pick Ryan Connelly had a strong preseason debut, tying for the team lead with five tackles against the Jets. With that being said, I’m interested in watching what fellow rookie Corey Ballentine can do for an encore. This year’s sixth-round pick did a little bit of everything in Week 1 with an interception as well as a 40-yard kickoff return. He also was called for pass interference oninterplay challenge by the Jets. It was a great learning experience for the D-II standout and I’m anxious to see what adjustments he makes heading into the second game, especially when it comes to his one-on-one battles down the field.

3. The biggest under-the-radar competition right now is at running back behind Saquon Barkley.

Schmeelk: Fact – Very few people are talking about what’s happening behind Saquon Barkley, but this week will be interesting to watch. Wayne Gallman missed practice on Tuesday and Wednesday with a foot problem, and there is no guarantee Barkley plays at all in the preseason, which means Paul Perkins and Rod Smith will both get a lot of playing time on Friday night. Perkins did not help himself last week with a fumble and dropped pass, but it was his first game in more than 18 months. Smith has impressed in camp as a power runner, and can catch the ball and play fullback in a pinch. Their performances against the Bears could go a long way to determining which one makes the 53-man roster.

Salomone: Fact – The fact that we’re all agreeing has me thinking this isn’t so under-the-radar, but I’ve certainly had my eye on it. The Giants like what Wayne Gallman brings to the table and have a package for him to spell Barkley. Paul Perkins has an uphill climb after missing all of last season due to injury. Rod Smith, the former Cowboy, is intriguing and has looked good in the spring and summer. Rutgers product Jon Hilliman has also done enough to keep himself around. And then there’s Eli Penny, a fullback who can also get some touches. It will be interesting to see how the numbers game plays out between this position and the tight ends.

Medow: Fact – When you look across the roster, there’s been a lot of talk surrounding the wide receivers, given the injuries and Golden Tate’s four-game suspension, and the cornerbacks because of several new faces in the mix opposite Janoris Jenkins. The running backs have taken a back seat and part of that is because of all the heavy lifting Saquon Barkley did in 2018. If the Giants keep just three running backs, that means four players are competing for two spots. Wayne Gallman is looking to hold onto the backup spot and expand his role, Paul Perkins is in the mix after missing all of last season because of a torn pectoral muscle, Rod Smith is the new kid on the block after spending his first few seasons in the league with the Cowboys and Seahawks, and undrafted rookie Jon Hilliman hopes to flash enough to move ahead of those veterans. At this point, I don’t think one back in particular is running away with things, meaning the remaining preseason games will separate the men from the boys. No doubt it’s a competition that Pat Shurmur and the rest of the coaching staff are anxious to see play out.

4. When the 53-man roster has to be finalized on Aug. 31, the toughest decisions will be on the offensive line. 

Schmeelk: Fact – For the first time in a long time, the Giants have very few doubts who will comprise their starting offensive line. Spencer Pulley seems very secure with his spot on the roster as the backup center and guard, given how he performed as a starter last season and has carried it over to 2019. Who the backup guards and tackles will be is a tougher question. Chad Wheeler (who has been dealing with some minor bumps and bruises), Brian Mihalik (out with a stinger) and George Asafo-Adjei (concussion protocol) are all strictly offensive tackles. Their injuries have opened opportunities for Nick Gates and Chad Slade, two players that play both guard and tackle. Evan Brown, someone who can play center or guard, is also in the mix. Gates and Slade will have plenty of chances to earn their way onto the roster.

Salomone: Fiction – I think the secondary has been a free-for-all in a good way. From top to bottom, everyone in the group has made plays. Injuries have also led to some moving pieces and bigger opportunities for guys. Players like Sean Chandler and Antonio Hamilton are coming on strong. Then there is some flexibility with players like Julian Love, which causes a chain reaction elsewhere. The young defensive backs aren’t making it easy for the decision-makers.

Medow: Fiction – I’m going to go with a position related to the offensive line: tight end. Last season, the Giants kept four tight ends when they announced their 53-man roster but ultimately had three once they made six waiver claims and released Jerell Adams. If the number is three again, that means the team will have to determine whether it’ll stick with last season’s main group of Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison and Scott Simonson or will C.J. Conrad, Garrett Dickerson or new addition, Jake Powell, warrant spots. Dickerson split last season between the practice squad and active roster, and Conrad has shown some flashes during training camp. You also can’t overlook how the fullback position impacts the tight end competition, considering Elijhaa Penny proved to be a valuable player in 2018. They’ll have some decisions to make on the offensive line, but the starters are essentially set and most teams keep as many backup offensive linemen as tight ends.

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