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Giants Now 8/20: Takeaways from camp look-ins

Things we've learned thus far from Inside Look

With fans not being able to attend training camp this year, Giants.com decided to bring training camp to you. Throughout camp in the buildup to the Sept. 14 prime-time opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, "Inside Look" provides fans unique access to practice, featuring real footage from practice sessions, as well as analysis from Carl Banks, Shaun O'Hara, Bob Papa, Paul Dottino and others. Be sure to keep your eyes open for each episode of Inside Look, available exclusively on all Giants platforms.

In case you missed the first two episodes of Inside Look (watch: Episode 1, watch: Episode 2), here are some of the things we've learned through the first few padded practices of training camp.

OL coach Marc Colombo is not afraid to mix it up

Offensive line coach Marc Colombo spent a decade in the NFL as a tackle, so he knows what it takes to succeed at this level. Colombo has talked about using his experience to show his unit exactly what he's asking for in every drill and play. This has been put on display, with the 6-foot-8 coach jumping right into the fray with his unit.

"His entire philosophy, as he's presented it to us, is to be rough and tough and rugged and physical, bringing a Cowboys' offensive line mentality to the Giants," Dottino said.

"When you think about the Cowboys' run game over the last seven years, DeMarco Murray led the league in rushing years ago, then it's been Ezekiel Elliott," offered O'Hara. "He led the league in rushing a few years ago and he's been Top 5 I think every year in the league. How does that happen? It's culture, it's mindset, it's being tough up front and having good technique."

Evan Engram looks ready to go

Evan Engram enjoyed a strong start to the 2019 season. The tight end began his third year in the NFL by catching 11 of 14 targets for 116 yards and a touchdown in the season opener against the Cowboys. Two weeks later, he caught six passes for 113 yards and Daniel Jones' first career touchdown strike (a 75-yard catch-and-run against the Buccaneers).

A foot injury derailed the second half of the season for Engram, forcing him to miss the final eight games. The 25-year-old finished the year with 44 receptions for 467 yards and three touchdowns in eight games (six starts). After undergoing surgery on his foot late last year, Engram has arrived at training camp fully healthy and ready to roll.

Although Engram's abilities as a pass-catcher have never been questioned, he has admitted in the past to wanting to improve as a blocker. Heading into this season, he looks ready to contribute to the run game in a big way.

"I think Evan Engram - it's all about effort with him. He cares about (blocking)," O'Hara said. "You show me a player that cares about getting better at something, and the sky is the limit. Evan Engram has all the athleticism, he's strong enough. He looks stronger now than I think I've ever seen him coming into training camp. No doubt, (the tight ends) are an extension of the run game. If you want to run the football well, you better be able to have guys that can block on the perimeter, on the edge."

Competition is on for starting center position

The competition for the starting center position will likely be one of the biggest battles at training camp this year.

The Giants have several players vying for the starting role. Spencer Pulley, entering his fifth-year in the league, is the veteran of the group with 26 starts at center over the last three seasons. Nick Gates played in all 16 games (three starts) for the Giants last year, but has not seen any game action at center. He and rookie Shane Lemieux both spent the off-season training at center, hoping to compete for the starting role.

The battle is wide open, but O'Hara believes Pulley has a slight advantage over the two young linemen due to his experience at the position.

"I think he has a huge lead on the young guys, guys like Shane Lemieux and even Nick Gates, who is more of a tackle/guard and is learning to play center as well," the former Giants Pro Bowl center. "I say that because mentally, there are so many things you have to do as a center before you even snap the football. That responsibility is something you have to really work at. You have to be on the same page as the quarterback, see the same things he's seeing. You can't wait for him to tell you everything because he has his own stuff going on.

"The communication aspect is big, too. You have to be able to communicate and talk to your guards and tackles and tell them what's going on if you have to change something. That part of it, Spencer Pulley can handle. He and Daniel Jones have played together before so he has a leg up, no doubt, on the young guys."

Young corners ready to step up

The Giants are going to need some of the young corners on the roster to step up this year following the loss of depth at the position over the last few months. According to Carl Banks, fans should watch second-year pro Corey Ballentine.

Ballentine played in 13 games (two starts) for the Giants last season, finishing with 26 tackles (21 solo), one quarterback hit and two passes defended. He added 10 kickoff returns for 256 yards (25.6 yards per return).

"Another name that you should keep an eye on is a guy by the name of Corey Ballentine," Banks said on the second episode of Inside Look. "He's got the height, he's got the speed, he's got the range. Now that he has coaching and some turbulence behind him, he had some off-season issues last year, now he's back. He's in a football frame of mind. I think you're going to see a lot of improvement and some big steps forward from him." 

Another player who has a great opportunity to earn significant playing time early is fourth-round pick Darnay Holmes.

Holmes was a consistent force in UCLA's secondary for three seasons. He started 33 of 35 games and led the Bruins in interceptions each season. Holmes ended his Bruins career with eight interceptions ( two returned for touchdowns), 17 passes defended, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and three tackles for losses. He was named All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention in 2018-19.

"He's going to be a good player once he gets the speed of the game," Banks explained.

Kyler Fackrell brings football IQ to the edge rushers

One of the Giants' key free agent signings this off-season was outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell.

Fackrell spent the beginning of his career with the Packers where, after missing three games during his rookie year, he went on to play all 48 games over the following three seasons. His breakout campaign came in 2018 when he racked up 10.5 sacks and 12 tackles for losses despite starting only seven games. Fackrell was buried on the depth chart last season after Green Bay signed Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith, but the 6-foot-5 edge rusher still managed to rack up 10 quarterback hits. 

"He's another guy that brings a lot of experience, he brings depth, he's gotten a lot of snaps and brings football IQ to the table," Papa said.

View exclusive photos of the New York Giants from their 2020 Media Day.

Andrew Thomas, Lorenzo Carter lead parallel lives

Lorenzo Carter and Andrew Thomas have led reasonably parallel lives.

They were standout football players at the University of Georgia – their home state university – where Carter played outside linebacker and Thomas both left and right tackle. They each played all 15 games for the Bulldogs in 2017, when Carter was a senior and Thomas a freshman who started every game. Each was an all-state football player in high school who also distinguished himself musically: Carter played the tuba and cello in the Norcross High School band and orchestra, while Thomas, a drummer and pianist, was a member of the concert band at Pace Academy in Atlanta.

The similarities have extended to their professional careers, where each is being counted on to contribute significantly to a Giants revival under coach Joe Judge. A third-year pro, Carter is one of several players the team expects to consistently pressure quarterbacks. Thomas, the fourth overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, is expected to hold down one of the starting tackle jobs.

They collided yesterday in practice, when Carter got the best of Thomas in a one-on-one pass rush drill. But the rookie didn't let it bother him and held his own for the remainder of the challenging and physical drill.

"That's just the mentality," Thomas said. "It was a great rep by Lorenzo. Honestly, it's the next play mentality. I have to come back and do my best to win the next rep."

Giants sign kicker Graham Gano; Cody Core to IR

Two years ago, Graham Gano kicked the longest field by an opponent in Giants history.

Now he might have an opportunity to set records for them.

The Giants today announced they have signed the free agent kicker, who last played in a regular-season game on Dec. 2, 2018, his seventh season with the Carolina Panthers. He missed the final four games of that year and the entire 2019 season because of injuries to his left (plant) leg. Gano was released by the Panthers on July 30.

The second transaction revealed by the Giants was not as pleasant. Wide receiver Cody Core, who led the Giants with eight special teams tackles in 2019, was placed on injured reserve after tearing his Achilles tendon running a route during an 11-on-11 drill late in practice yesterday. He is the first Giants player to go on I.R. this year.

The 33-year-old Gano played for Giants general manager Dave Gettleman when the latter held the same position in Carolina from 2013-17.

Gano has had a distinguished career. He kicked 236 regular-season and postseason field goals for Washington and Carolina from 2009-18, the longest a 63-yarder with one second remaining to give the Panthers a 33-31 victory against the Giants on Oct. 7, 2018 in Charlotte. It is two yards longer than any other field goal ever kicked against the Giants (61 yards by Philadelphia's Jake Elliott on Sept. 24, 2017). In addition, it is one of six kicks tied for the second-longest field goal in NFL history, it was the longest game-winning field-goal in league history and was the longest field goal in Panthers history. The only longer field goal was kicked by Denver's Matt Prater vs. Tennessee in Week 14 of the 2013 season (64 yards).

View photos from the career of kicker Graham Gano.

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