Preparations for the regular season continue on Saturday night as the Giants kick off the preseason with a matchup against the New York Jets.
The NFL shortened the preseason slate this year, decreasing the number of games by one with the expansion of the regular season schedule. This contest will begin a stretch of three consecutive weekends with preseason games for the Giants, who will then get a weekend off before beginning to prep for their Week 1 battle against the Denver Broncos.
Here are the things to watch in the preseason opener against the Jets:
State of the O-line
Head coach Joe Judge has said this game will be treated like the fourth preseason game was in previous years, meaning to expect a lot of action for the younger players. We may not see many of the starters against the Jets, although Judge stated Thursday that a decision had not yet been made regarding the O-line.
Based on the first unofficial depth chart released earlier this week, RG Will Hernandez (fourth NFL season) is the most experienced lineman among the starters. RT Matt Peart, LG Shane Lemieux and LT Andrew Thomas are entering their second season, while C Nick Gates is in his second campaign at center (and third year overall). Coach Judge did not rule them out for the opener, but chances are a lot of the playing time will go to the reserves.
Undrafted rookie Brett Heggie may get the start at center, with Jonotthan Harrison having only limited availability at practice. Expect to see a lot of Chad Slade, Kenny Wiggins, Jackson Barton and Kyle Murphy at the two guard positions. Thomas and Peart could see some time at the two tackle spots, but Barton also appears to be in line there.
Rookies chance to shine
It remains to be seen how much the 2021 draft class will play. Third-round pick Aaron Robinson is still on PUP, while fourth-round pick Elerson Smith has not practiced much due to what GM Dave Gettleman said was a hamstring injury. Kadarius Toney could see the field, although the team has been bringing the first-round pick along slowly, and the team has been also monitoring second-round pick Azeez Ojulari's reps.
That leaves the team's two sixth-round picks, Gary Brightwell and Rodarius Williams, likely to be in for a big workload. Brightwell is currently in a battle for one of the backup running back spots. Meanwhile, Williams has been one of the stronger performers in camp.
"I'm definitely not where I want to be, but we definitely take it each day at a time and get better," Williams said recently. "Each day, I go in the film room and I don't only watch the good plays, I watch every play that my technique is bad and stuff like that. There's mental errors. Just learning from (CB) James (Bradberry) and learning from (CB) Adoree' (Jackson), small technique issues that I'm working on every day."
Figuring out the OLB depth
The depth at edge rusher has been one of the more interesting story lines to follow this summer. Several new faces were added to the mix - Ojulari and Smith in the draft and Ifeadi Odenigbo in free agency. In addition, Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines are set to return following season-ending injuries last season. However, this group of pass rushers may not see the field much (if at all) this weekend, with Carter already being ruled out. This paves the way for others to see some serious playing time.
Trent Harris appeared in four games (two starts) last season while rookie Cam Brown registered 12 tackles (eight solo), three quarterback hits and a forced fumble on just 93 defensive snaps. Undrafted free agent Niko Lalos made a strong impression once activated from the practice squad following the bye, recording a turnover in each of his first two games.
View photos of the Giants' first unofficial depth chart of the 2021 season.
Will a young WR break out?
Going up against the Jets in the preseason brings up memories of 2010, when undrafted rookie receiver Victor Cruz exploded onto the scene. Cruz caught six passes for 145 yards and three touchdowns in his first NFL action, a performance that launched a legendary career. Could this Saturday's game do the same for one of the team's current young receivers?
Looking at the depth chart, David Sills V. is one name that sticks out from the rest of the bunch. He has been one of the stars of training camp, seemingly catching touchdowns every other day at practice. After spending the entire 2020 season on injured reserve, Sills trained with Daniel Jones throughout the off-season, and the hard work appears to be paying off in the eyes of his head coach.
"This guy's commitment off the field in terms of what he's done in the offseason, basically this guy followed Daniel [Jones] around the country," Judge said last week. "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."
Playing in front of Giants fans
The Giants got a taste of playing in front of the home crowd at Fan Fest on Wednesday, but Saturday will be the team's first chance to do so in a game setting since the end of the 2019 season. The players did not hide their excitement when talking about the home crowd this week.
"I can't wait, honestly. Honestly, I can't," tight end Evan Engram said. "That's been circled on my calendar. I do miss the fans at training camp every day like in the past. Just being back in the atmosphere and kind of getting a taste of what it's going to be like come Sept. 12th, I'm definitely looking forward to it and can't wait…
"Football is football, but just our fans, how passionate they are, and every Sunday before last year that stadium was rocking. We feed off that. We feel like we've improved as a team and we're ready to put the product that we've been working for and building for on the field for our fans."
Saturday marks the first of two home preseason games for the Giants, with the Patriots coming to MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Aug. 29 for the final tune-up before the start of the regular season. Big Blue will then get the regular season started Sept. 12, when the Denver Broncos come to town.
"I would say that obviously when I became involved with this job, you start thinking about the history of this organization and the area of the fan basem" Judge said. "There's a reason this is such a paramount organization in the National Football League and that really starts with the fans. I mean, the game is about the players, it's about the fans, that's really what the connection is…
"There's a natural demeanor in this area of the country, specifically in North Jersey and New York of – look, it is a mentally tough area. That's the way it is, that's the way it's supposed to be and that's the way we've got to train our team to be, and I like that atmosphere. I like coming to the stadium and people expect to see excellence, and that's what they deserve for the money they spend. That's the product we have to work to give to them."
View the best photos from the Giants Fan Fest on Wednesday night at MetLife Stadium.