The New York Giants open the 2021 preseason against the New York Jets on Saturday night at MetLife Stadium. After having no warm-up games in 2020 due to the pandemic, the NFL expanded the regular season to 17 games this year while reducing the number of preseason outings from four to three.
Joe Judge, who is entering his second season as the Giants' head coach, said he will treat the preseason opener much like the traditional fourth game, which typically means limited action for starting players. He took it a step further and announced that quarterback Daniel Jones will not play as the team looks to evaluate the whole roster before the first round of cuts from 90 to 85 players on Tuesday.
"We look at it from a standpoint of trying to evaluate everybody, let everyone be out there and function," Judge said. "So, if you're trying to evaluate a receiver, the offensive line blocking for the quarterback will get evaluated. … Everyone has to function as a team. You do consider that in terms of when you put certain players together or who's having a little chemistry together in practice, or maybe certain units that haven't clicked quite yet. You want to kind of keep ourselves out of a position where you can't evaluate a player properly on the field. The ultimate goal is to evaluate our players."
While established veterans may not play much – if at all – there will still be plenty of players out there looking to carve out a role on the roster. Here are the ones to watch:
CB Rodarius Williams
Facing the first team? Doing it in front of fans? The rookie hasn't backed down from a challenge in his first training camp, and he stacked on another encouraging performance at Wednesday's Fan Fest in front of the home crowd. The sixth-round draft choice from Oklahoma State has drawn praise from coaches and veterans alike for his fearlessness in addition to the plays he has been making on the field.
"I feel like in this game, you definitely have to go out there and show guys you're not scared," Williams said. "You go out there quiet as a mouse, they're going to feel like they've got the upper hand on you, so I'm definitely going out there even though I'm a rookie and showing them, like, you've got to beat me at the end of the day."
Williams is known as "Lee Lee" to his friends and family. His middle name is Lee, which his aunt doubled up one day. And, well, it stuck.
"I like his game, what he brings, his enthusiasm, his competitiveness," fellow cornerback Adoree' Jackson said. "He's a dog out there, man. Every day at practice, I say, 'You know who I came to see.' I come to see him work, see him play. I watch him and everything that he does. I'm just trying to improve and see what he does, and I try to add it to my game, so I appreciate having him. It keeps everybody on edge. He's talented player. He's special. I just like seeing him go out there and competing."
WR David Sills V
Sills shadowed Daniel Jones throughout the off-season. If the quarterback went to work out in his home state of North Carolina, Sills was there. If Jones sat courtside at a Knicks game, Sills was next to him. The bonding on and off the field has paid off at training camp. Sills has flashed at practice, which is an encouraging sign after he missed all of 2020 with a fractured foot that he suffered in training camp.
"Sills is a guy who does everything you ask, and he does it 100 percent," Judge said. "He's definitely a guy you've got to tell, 'Hey, slow it down a little bit.' This guy's commitment off the field in terms of what he's done in the off-season, basically this guy followed (Quarterback) Daniel (Jones) around the country. Wherever Daniel was, he was going to be there to catch passes. That's someone who you can tell has really invested in himself to give every shot he has. Last season in terms of him being on the IR deal, the message is that he's got to stay positive. You know, we're going to work with you, get you healthy, get you back on the field, give you an opportunity to compete, stay mentally engaged, stay involved with the team, keep being a good teammate and that's something that he definitely did. He was in here every day with the strength staff, the rehab staff, smiling, good energy, challenging other guys. I know it hurt him because of the work he put in on the front end to get out here and compete. He did a good job for us. It was very unfortunate the way it happened last year. Based on the way he's playing, we'll keep him going forward."
View photos of the Giants' first unofficial depth chart of the 2021 season.
S Xavier McKinney
The last time he played in a game, McKinney made a game-winning interception against the rival Cowboys to keep the Giants' postseason hopes alive heading into the 256th and final game of an unprecedented 2020 NFL season. The former second-round draft choice is looking to pick up where he left off after he came on strong down the stretch of his rookie season, which began with an injury. McKinney is another piece in a loaded secondary that has an internal competition to see who can be the best.
"We keep tally of it," McKinney said. "We try to keep that within the DB room, but we definitely keep tally of just who's out there making the most plays and we make sure to just keep it going because the more plays we make, the better it is for our team as a whole. That's just what we do."
CB Darnay Holmes
Holmes, another member of the 2020 draft class, has made plenty of plays at camp. He has stood out by making a handful of interceptions, but the next step is doing it in a game.
"Camp has been an ongoing process for me," Holmes said. "I've been in the slot more, and they're throwing new things at me, so I've got to be able to respond to different things."
Although we'll wait until early Saturday evening to see who is suiting up, the offensive line is the position to watch. The Giants released their first unofficial depth chart of 2021 earlier this week, and from left to right, the starting lineup is Andrew Thomas, Shane Lemieux, Nick Gates, Will Hernandez, and Matt Peart. The latter two are part of an intriguing competition on the right side of the offensive line.
Hernandez, who made all 39 of his previous starts at left guard, has moved to the right guard spot and is slotted as the starter for now. He is backed up by Chad Slade and undrafted rookie Jake Burton.
As for right tackle, Peart landed first on the depth chart. The second-year pro is backed up by Nate Solder, who is also the backup to Thomas at left tackle. Solder opted out of last season due to pandemic concerns and rejoined the team this off-season.
View the best photos from the Giants Fan Fest on Wednesday night at MetLife Stadium.