EAST RUITHERFORD, N.J. - Offensive lineman Nick Gates played his first game of the season on Oct. 20 in Seattle. Matt Peart made his season debut last week vs. Houston. Shane Lemieux could suit up for the first time Sunday, when the Giants host the Detroit Lions. Evan Neal and Ben Bredeson should soon recover from their knee injuries and be healthy enough to play.
When they do – and if everyone else remains healthy - the Giants will have 11 available offensive linemen, a position group in which eight players usually get a uniform on gameday. That will give the coaches plenty of options.
"What we'll truly have is competition," offensive line coach Bobby Johnson said. "And that's what this is all about. It'll make us better. When you have to compete for your opportunities or maximize your opportunities, it makes the whole group better. We've been preaching that since the day we got here. When I say that to guys in the meeting rooms, they don't flinch at it. They actually welcome it, and that tells me we're heading in the right direction from a culture standpoint. When they get back, just competition. I'm very transparent about it because Dabs (head coach Brian Daboll) is very transparent about it. Every day, you've got to compete. When they all come back, it's just more competition. Like I said, that's a good thing for the room. It's the best thing for the team. And ultimately, it's team first."
Football coaches often say they let competitive situations play out in practice before choosing who will play in a game. Johnson offered a different take.
"To be honest with you, they'll make the decision for us, and that's what I tell them," Johnson said. "This is something I tell them at the beginning of training camp – I have never cut a player. Players cut themselves. And they look at you kind of strange, but what I mean by that is if you don't capitalize on your opportunities, you will cease to get opportunities. So, we really don't make a decision at the end of the week. They make a decision based on how they handle their opportunities. And that's really what it is.
"We're very transparent about it. We're very clear about it. If a guy ever has a question, we'll give him the straight scoop on it. Sometimes they might not like it, but they respect it. Sometimes at the end of the day, if you handle that man-to-man, face-to-face and the guy's not getting the answer he wants, I think he knows deep down there might be something a little bit different he can do to change the outcome. And if that's the case – if the guy knows that and understands that – I think you're headed in the right direction because they can say, 'Next time, I'm going to do this a little bit differently so that I come out ahead.' And that's all we can ask for."
View photos from practice as the Giants prepare for their Week 11 matchup against the Detroit Lions.
*Four weeks into the season, wide receiver Darius Slayton had one catch for 11 yards. In the five games since, he's totaled 18 catches for a team-high 316 yards and two touchdowns. The fourth-year pro has also provided an example of how to respond to adversity and maintaining a positive attitude.
"His demeanor has been the same," receivers coach Mike Groh said. "He's been the same guy every day, regardless of circumstance or the situation he found himself in. He kept his head down, went about his business, gone to work, and was ready when his number was called. His team needed him. And he's seen his opportunities expand and grow."
"It's tough for these young guys that go through some tough spells," Daboll said. "It's tough for everybody, everybody wants to play. You love as a coach to play everybody, but he wasn't playing a lot early, he was inactive (in the season opener). He just kept a very positive attitude, attentive, knew what to do, was ready when his number was called and then he had some opportunities. He made the most of them and he's earned the right to play and be a starter for us."
*Defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson spoke about the loss of safety Xavier McKinney (who suffered a hand injury during the bye week) and the response from fellow starting safety Julian Love, who assumed both the signal-calling and most of the free safety duties.
"Obviously, not having him (McKinney) is a big loss to the defense," Henderson said. "He plays so many roles for us and can do so many things really well that what we've done trying to replace him, we've got multiple guys playing pieces of what he did. And trying to spread the responsibility around.
"Julian has done a phenomenal job adjusting and playing where we need him to play based on the situation, based on the call, based on time of the game and even adjusting that in game when we need to. He's been phenomenal for us that way."
*Rookie tight end Daniel Bellinger is the only Giants player declared out of the game Sunday against Detroit. He has not practiced since he was inadvertently punched in the left eye in Jacksonville on Oct. 23.
Evan Neal, a rookie who started the first seven games at right tackle, is doubtful with a knee injury, also suffered in Jacksonville. He returned to practice this week but has been limited.
"He's done some movement things and moved around, and I think (that's) kind of the next step for him coming back," Daboll said. "But he's made strides each day."
Five players are questionable: defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence (back), wide receivers Kenny Golladay (hamstring) and Wan'Dale Robinson (hamstring), safety Dane Belton (clavicle) and offensive lineman Joshua Ezeudu (neck). They were all limited in practice.
Kicker Graham Gano did not practice due to illness.
View rare photos from the all-time series between the New York Giants and Detroit Lions.