Much is made about the third preseason game in the NFL. That goes double when it comes to Giants vs. Jets. Inside the Quest Diagnostics Training Center, though, Pat Shurmur simply sees it as another opportunity to get better and evaluate personnel.
“It’s part of it,” the head coach said before the two teams that call MetLife Stadium home kick off on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. ET. “It’s one of the four games we look at. It’s just like any other game. I think you’ve got to put equal stock in all the games. It’s not like old Catholic school, you know. You can’t throw out your worst test. They all count, everything counts. What you hope to see is players play better as they go. If they played quite a bit at this point, and they’ve kind of had a good performance, you like to them play better.”
Unsurprisingly, quarterback Eli Manning doesn’t get caught up in the whole talk of is it or isn’t it a rivalry.
“No, in all honesty,” he said. “I look at it as the third preseason game and a chance for us to go out there and play for an extended period, against a good defense and a good team. You want to go out there and execute well and feel good about where you are.”
Here are five storylines to follow during Friday night’s game:
1. Armstrong, Webb move up the defensive depth chart. In last Friday’s victory against the Lions, linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong grabbed an interception off a tipped pass that led to quarterback Kyle Lauletta’s touchdown run for the ages. Armstrong also added two tackles in Detroit, leading to a promotion this week to the first-team nickel defense. Whether or not it is a permanent gig remains to be seen, but coach Pat Shurmur likes what he has seen lately from the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Armstrong. “As a linebacker, he’s long and he can cover,” Shurmur said after Sunday’s practice. “He’s what linebackers should look like and he’s made progress.”
Meanwhile, Davis Webb has been much talked about this preseason, but there is another Webb to keep in mind. B.W. Webb has put himself in position to be the third cornerback, a significant role and essentially a starting job in today’s NFL with offenses playing three wide receivers for the majority of games. Originally a fourth-round draft choice by the Cowboys in 2013, Webb has bounced around the league with the Steelers, Titans, Saints, Bears, Browns, and the Giants as of March. After not playing in any games in 2017, he might have a home as the Giants’ slot corner.
“He’s done a really good job covering,” Shurmur said. “He covered pretty well outside against Cleveland [in the first preseason game]. He’s done a nice job in the slot as well.”
B.W., who has five tackles and a pass defensed in two preseason games this year, has played in 49 regular-season games with 10 starts in his career. He also has the benefit of learning from newcomer William Gay, the longtime Steeler with 176 games under his belt. Just like Curtis Riley at free safety, Webb has another chance to secure a starting gig.
Keep an eye on these five players as the Giants take on the Jets Friday night
2. Saquon returned to practice and other injury notes. Running back Saquon Barkley was cleared and returned to individual drills on Wednesday. The second overall draft pick had been sidelined since he tweaked his hamstring while stretching out for a long reception in practice on Monday, Aug. 13. Later that day, the team left for a week of joint practices in Detroit leading up to their preseason game. Barkley made the trip but did not participate in practice, something he has been unable to do until now.
“Personally, the way I feel, my body feels, I’ll be honest, I feel good, feel pretty good,” Barkley said. “I’ve been moving pretty well, but that’s what the trainers get paid for. They tell me stories all the time and I talk to other guys, even guys like O (Odell Beckham Jr.) that hurt their hamstring before. It’s when you feel 100 percent and that’s when you give it that push, boom, and it happens again as a setback. I don’t want any setbacks at all, so that’s why I’ve been trying to be a team player there. Just listen and follow the instructions and I know they have a great game plan set out for me and when it’s time for me and when they feel I’m ready, that’s when I’ll be ready.”
As for Beckham, the three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver continues to practice but has yet to play in a game since his season-ending ankle injury. Shurmur was asked how important it is to see Beckham in the preseason.
“We try to be smart with it,” Shurmur said. “He’s gotten so much work behind the scenes, we’ll just have to see how it plays out. Manning was not concerned either about that “because we got years of experience and you get a lot of reps in practice, which is important and nice. We’ve had game experience together.”
3. Roster cuts loom heading into Sept. 1 deadline. Gone are the days when NFL teams would first cut their rosters to 75 players before getting down to the 53-man limit. Since owners changed the rule last year, teams now go directly from 90 to 53 on the deadline, which this year falls at 4 p.m. ET on Sept. 1.
“Where the challenge really is, is for the personnel people,” Shurmur said. “Now the market is flooded with players as opposed to in segments where you can decide if the guys that were cut fit your roster or would upgrade your group. Now there is just a lot of players all out there at one time.”
4. Offensive line coming together in more ways than one. Shurmur, a former center at Michigan State, re-arranged the long, oval-shaped locker room at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center when players came back this spring. He did so by position to keep them closer together.
“I think you should sit with your position groups,” he said. “We’re going to go as far as that line will block for us. I think it’s important that they’re together in everything that they do. Even if they’re sitting next to one another, they may talk about something that happened in practice or in a meeting that they wouldn’t shout across the locker room about, so I think it’s smart to sit with your position groups.”
The Giants have new players at all five positions on the offensive line (Ereck Flowers moved from left to right tackle and Jon Halapio switched form guard to center), which is similar to what Shurmur went through last year as the Vikings’ offensive coordinator. Less than three weeks away from the season opener, Shurmur was asked about the realistic expectations for the group right now.
“They should be in a position where they block well, run and pass, that’s what we are looking for,” he said. “The amount of training we have to together, it is what it is. We all have the same. We’re not the only offensive line with changes. We probably have more than some places. We went through this a year ago in Minnesota; it can be done. We have got players that are playing hard, and they’re playing together. We’ll just expect that they are going to do a good job blocking.”
5. Giants vs. Jets turns 50. The Giants will be the visiting team this year in the annual MetLife Bowl against the Jets, who selected quarterback Sam Darnold one pick after Big Blue drafted Barkley second overall. This is the 50th consecutive summer the teams meet since the series began in 1969. The Giants won last year’s meeting, 32-31, their second consecutive one-point victory against the Jets. The Giants trail in the annual preseason series, 25-23-1, with the tie coming in 1972.
It was also a fitting week for Super Bowl XLVI champion wide receiver Victor Cruz to announce his retirement. Cruz made an NFL name for himself in the 2010 preseason opener against the Jets, a game in which he caught six passes for 145 yards and three touchdowns. A year later, he scored on a 99-yard touchdown late in the regular season, igniting the Giant’s championship run.
“Yeah, obviously Victor had a terrific career and a great Giant, and a guy who kind of exploded onto the scene in this preseason game versus the Jets coming up in 2010,” Manning said. “He kind of got injured, missed that whole year; 2011 is when he came on and really just had a great feel for the offense, for his routes in that slot, and he was tough to cover. Running down the field, breaking in, we gave him a lot of options. He mastered some of those concepts and gave him a great opportunity to get open and make big plays for us.
“Tremendous player, and a great guy. He was in the locker room a few weeks ago. I got to talk with him and hang out with him. Obviously, I wish him all the best going forward. I think he’s gone to the dark side and has gone into the media. I wish him all the best going over there.”