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Fact or Fiction: Intrigue of Giants' defense


The most intriguing side of the ball heading into OTAs is the defense.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - There you go using that tricky word "intriguing" again. I'm going to go "fact" here for a couple reasons. First, Odell Beckham Jr. is still rehabbing and won't be participating, which makes the offense less interesting. Without pads on and no one hitting it is also difficult to judge the offensive line or running back Saquon Barkley. I am desperate to see the team throw down the field a little more. The defense, on the other hand, is fascinating. We'll be able to see how William Gay covers in the slot, and whether anyone else steps forward to grab the other cornerback jobs. We'll also be able to see how B.J. Goodson covers as one of the two nickel linebackers. Both Andrew Adams and Darian Thompson will have a chance to get starting snaps at safety with Landon Collins rehabbing. Finally, you'll also be able to see some of the creative stuff James Bettcher might have planned in terms of formation and scheme. I'm intrigued.

DAN SALOMONE: Fiction - The new head coach is an offensive guy, so that is going to be the engine that makes this team go. Eli Manning, whom the new regime believes has years left in his career, is learning a new system for the second time since 2014. Odell Beckham Jr. is on the comeback trail. The general manager rebuilt the offensive line, which will pave the way for one of the best running back prospects in a generation. Pat Shurmur wants to be balanced and unpredictable after the Giants sagged to just 15.4 point per game in 2017. We'll start to see what that looks like on Monday.

LANCE MEDOW: Fact - He There have certainly been some personnel changes on offense and Pat Shurmur is implementing a new scheme but most of the key players are returning, including Eli Manning, so while it will be interesting to see how the offense produces, there is somewhat of a sense of familiarity given Shurmur's west coast offensive roots. On defense, not only do you have a new scheme under James Bettcher but you also have several players moving to new positions like Olivier Vernon and the uncertainty of who will play what role within the defense. Filling the voids left behind by Jason Pierre-Paul (team-high 8 sacks) and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will be crucial as will the overall depth of the defense given the numerous injuries the Giants had to deal with in 2017.

Keep an eye on these five players as the Giants begin OTAs on Monday.

The biggest competition to watch at OTAs is safety.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - Right tackle is the easy answer here, but with the contact restrictions in OTAs you can throw that out the window. That leaves the Giants' third wide receiver, depth at cornerback and the nickel linebacker spot. I think Goodson has a leg up for the nickel linebacker spot so I'll take that off the table. I'm going to go with the cornerback position. William Gay is the veteran with the most experience to be the nickel corner, but guys like Chris Lewis-Harris, Mike Jones, Grant Haley, Aaron Davis, Teddy Williams, BW Webb, Curtis Riley, Tim Scott, and Donte Deayon will all have the chance to challenge Gay or pull away from the group and establish themselves as favorites to be the fourth or fifth cornerbacks. You need numbers at cornerback and the Giants need to find the right guys.

DAN SALOMONE: Fact - He With Landon Collins on the mend, there is going to be plenty of mixing and matching at one of the most important positions in James Bettcher's defense. He values versatility, which players like Darian Thompson (incumbent starter) and Andrew Adams (started 13 games in 2016) will try to show at OTAs. Meanwhile, newcomers Michael Thomas (veteran free agent from the Dolphins) and Sean Chandler (undrafted rookie from Temple) will throw their hats in the ring. Watch out for Chandler, who made a good first impression with an interception at rookie minicamp.

LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - I think the biggest competition to watch is in secondary but not at safety, instead at corner. While you can certainly make the argument the other starting safety job next to Landon Collins is far from locked up, as of now, there are only six total safeties on the roster and four of the six are at least entering their third seasons in the league. Aside from Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple, even though he's technically looking to prove himself once again, multiple spots on the corner depth chart are up for grabs and outside of Jenkins and Apple there are 11 other players at that position in the mix. Given there's no live contact during OTAs, seeing how the corners match-up with the receiving corps would be an area of the field I'd keep close tabs on.

The player to watch on offense is running back Saquon Barkley.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - I'll go "fact" by default here, even though I don't get a lot out of watching a running back play his position when guys aren't trying to tackle him. There are a couple things I want to see out of Saquon Barkley. The first and most important is decisiveness. With no pads on there is no reason for him to be dancing in the backfield. He should just put his foot in the ground and get up field once there is room. I also want to see how they use him in the passing game, and how much Pat Shurmur and Mike Schula line him up outside as a receiver.

DAN SALOMONE: Fact - He At the end of the 2014 season, Giants president John Mara said the following about Odell Beckham Jr.: "You would have to go back to 1981 before we were that excited about a rookie coming in and what he could possibly mean to this franchise." It was a reference to the year the team drafted Lawrence Taylor. In 2018, the Giants held their highest draft pick since then. And they used it on a running back, not a quarterback, named Saquon Barkley. So, yeah, I'll want to watch him at OTAs.

LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - We already got a taste of Saquon Barkley at rookie minicamp and while it will be important to see how he meshes with the veterans for the first time, I don't think we're going to learn many new things about the Giants first round pick that we don't already know. I'm much more interested in focusing on the battle for the third receiver spot. That's why the player to watch on offense is Cody Latimer. He was mainly a special teams player during his four seasons in Denver and only played as many as 34% of the offensive snaps in 2017. Latimer has the potential to fill the void left behind by Dwayne Harris but I can see him playing a bigger role on offense similar to what Harris did in 2015 when he set career highs in receptions (36), targets (57), receiving yards (396) and receiving touchdowns (4). Latimer has been working with the first team during previous offseason workouts and the opportunity is there for him to carve out a significant role on offense.

The player to watch on defense is linebacker Alec Ogletree.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction -Even though watching Ogletree ply his trade as a leader will be fun, I can't put this on top of my list. I know he is the three-down MIKE linebacker. I'm going to go with Olivier Vernon and the other pass rushers to see how James Bettcher will rotate them and use them as rushers in both base defense and sub-packages. He moved his guys in Arizona around an awful lot, and had them rush from four-, three- and two-point stances from the edge and inside. I want to see how Bettcher will try to generate some pass rush with his group through scheme.

DAN SALOMONE: Fact - He won't be flowing sideline-to-sideline and making tackles in non-contact OTAs, but you want to see how the quarterback of the defense leads his side of the ball. There are a lot of moving pieces in Bettcher's scheme even when it is not being installed for the first time. Ogletree will have to be an extension of him on the field and get everyone lined up and playing together. The Giants have been looking for an impact linebacker who can stay on the field.

LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - Alec Ogletree is a strong candidate to put at the top of the list given he's one of the new faces on defense but I actually think there's another linebacker to watch closely and that's B.J. Goodson. Not only is he coming off an injury plagued season that limited him to seven games in 2017 but he's also adjusting to a new scheme and will have to work in conjunction with Ogletree to man the middle. I always like to watch players coming off injuries during OTAs because, with no contact during this period, you can at least see how well they're moving around, lining up and adapting to the scheme. Last season, Goodson flashed in Week 1 against the Cowboys with a team-high 18 tackles but he wasn't able to build off that impressive performance due to various injuries. Now he has a great opportunity to regain that form.

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