With many Giants defenders injured, the newly signed Giants must step up:
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –Steve Spagnuolo didn't pass out name tags this week, but he did spend part of his time in Giants practices getting to know his new players. And he had quite the influx of newcomers.
The Giants signed five defensive players to their roster. On Monday, when they placed four players on injured reserve, the Giants added linebackers Jeremy Cash and Ray-Ray Armstrong. Tuesday, they signed defensive backs Brandon Dixon, who was signed off the Giants' practice squad, and free agent Darryl Morris. Wednesday's arrival was defensive tackle Khyri Thornton.
All five players are eligible to make their Giants debut on Sunday in Oakland against the Raiders.
To Spagnuolo, the practices this week have been roughly akin to those in a spring minicamp, when he spends time learning the names and abilities of the players on the field.
"Well, obviously, I know who they are," Spags said this week. "There are some guys I haven't seen a lot, but hopefully there are guys that we brought – the scouting department did a great job getting some guys in here, and hopefully we can fit some pieces where we need. It's always hard when you talk about corners and being an inside guy and an outside guy and where they play. So we're trying to figure that out a little bit. But, we've got guys right now. Hopefully, if we keep everybody healthy, knock on wood, that have played a little bit for us. I mean, a little bit has been dictated by what (the Raiders) do, what they put out there. They are a team in the past that has had a lot of four wide receiver sets. I don't know what it will be like now, but we have to prepare for everything."
To the defenders who have staffed the defense for a while, the influx of new blood so late in the season is out of the ordinary.
"It's a lot," linebacker Devon Kennard said. "Some of that happens every year, but this year it seems like it's a lot more than usual. I get to know the guys pretty quick when they come in. But it is kind of crazy the first couple of days at practice, having a couple of teammates this late in the season that I don't know. I'm trying to go and introduce myself, because I have no idea who this guy is."
"That's the crazy part, you see new faces," cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. "You generally don't see that many new faces like that. The season is long and there are guys coming in, but they're coming in from everywhere."
Asked if he sometimes looks at a new teammate on the field and asks himself, "Who is that guy," safety Landon Collins said, "Oh yes, all the time. We've been switching in and out at linebacker, so I'm always asking, 'Who is this,' and making sure I got the name right and making sure I got the number right, so I can make sure we have the communication right." Spagnuolo essentially has two choices with so many newcomers. He can scale back his defense to help them catch up, or he stays with what he's been calling and hopes they've retained enough to contribute without holding back everyone else.
"I think it's a combination of both," Kennard said. "We got to stay true to who we are and what we do, but at the same time, I'm not sure if we're going to unleash our entire playbook on a guy who has been here for three days. But at the end of the day, we got to do what we do."
This week has also been one of subtraction on defense. The biggest loss was Pro Bowl cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who was placed on injured reserve after undergoing ankle surgery. Another cornerback, Donte Deayon, went on I.R. with a fractured forearm, as did linebackers Deontae Skinner (hamstring) and Curtis Grant (knee).
"It's a big loss, it's a tough loss," Collins said of Jenkins. "And we're going to have to see. He's a difference maker, he's a game changer and we definitely need him. It's going to be a big difference on the field."
Spagnuolo won't say who will replace Jenkins, who has returned two interceptions for touchdowns this season. Eli Apple, Ross Cockrell and one or two of the newcomers could be factors.
"We're going to miss their presence, but the guys that are here are going to have to step in" Spagnuolo said. "Our guys that have been here that know what we're doing, some guys that are new are going to have to learn real quickly. Who knows what's going to happen in the game. We might get another shoulder, an ankle or something. Somebody's got to go in there. So, we fight through that like every other team does."
*Only four players appeared on the Giants' final injury report of the week, and just one of them was declared out of the game: linebacker and defensive captain Jonathan Casillas, who has neck and wrist injuries.
Offensive lineman Justin Pugh is doubtful with a back injury. Defensive tackle Damon Harrison (elbow) and cornerback Eli Apple (hip) are questionable.
Linebacker B.J. Goodson, who has missed the last four games with an ankle injury, is not on the list. His return would provide a big boost for the defense.
"He runs real well," Spagnuolo said. "He's a sideline to sideline guy. We've seen that ever since we moved him to Mike linebacker. I thought he did a great job of that in the Dallas game with all the tackles (18) he got. Then he got slowed down by the injury. I forget what it was after going into the Detroit game (it was a shin), but we lost him there. But I think he runs real well. He's a physical guy. We need all that with this particular run game we're going to face."
*The Raiders officially declared wide receiver Amari Cooper out of the game with a concussion and an ankle injury. They will also be missing their other standout wide receiver, Michael Crabtree, who will serve his one-game NFL suspension after being ejected for fighting with Denver's Aqib Talib last week.
Keep an eye on these five players as the Giants get set to face the Raiders, presented by Microsoft Surface