EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Close, but not quite ready to play.
Those six words summarize the status of linebacker Olivier Vernon, who today was declared out of the Giants' road game Sunday against the Panthers in Charlotte.
Vernon sprained his ankle in practice on Aug. 26 and on Sunday will miss his fifth consecutive game to start the season. The Giants now hope Vernon can make his 2018 debut Thursday night at home against the Philadelphia Eagles.
"I'm optimistic," coach Pat Shurmur said. "I felt really good about this week, too, so we will just have to see."
Tight end Evan Engram is the only other player who definitely will not play because of injury. He will miss his second straight game since injuring his knee at Houston on Sept. 23.
Vernon did not practice today after he was limited the previous two days.
"(He) had a really good week, he was close, but not quite close enough," Shurmur said. "So we backed off just a little bit today to give him some rest. I think you probably saw that he wasn't out there with a helmet on, so that's really what happened. Best week, no setbacks, just we felt like here at the end of the week, because he did so much more and he was involved in team activity, just give him a little rest moving forward."
Vernon missed four games last season with an ankle injury and finished with 6.5 sacks, the highest total among the Giants' returning players. His ability to harass opposing quarterbacks has been missed by the Giants, whose five sacks tie Oakland for the NFL's lowest total.
Defensive tackle Damon Harrison was asked what it will mean to get Vernon back.
"It's everything, man," Harrison said. "That's the terminator. O.V. can do it all. Can provide some much-needed pass rush, as well as be strong on the edges. I think that's not a discredit to the other guys. O.V. is just a different animal."
"Getting O.V. back on the field would be a boost," linebackers coach Bill McGovern said. "We all are looking forward to him getting back on the field; but again, you want disruption, you want the quarterback affected. We're looking for more in everything that we do in our run defense, our pass defense. In all phases, we're just trying to get better, but obviously disruption and affecting the quarterback is one of the major issues.
"Obviously, O.V. was having a great preseason and everything else, and we're just excited when he gets back on the field when he's healthy, when he's right, when he's back on the field. We're excited to have him. Obviously, he has shown the ability to make plays and you always want a playmaker out on the field."
Vernon is tired of watching games and is aching to return to action.
"Anybody can watch the game and say you could've made that play, but it's not really what it is," Vernon said. "You just see a lot of guys that are trying to make plays and a lot of young guys just out there getting the experience, and they're trying to make plays as well. All you could do is mentally prepare yourself to come back and be able to contribute.
"I'm just excited for when I finally can get on the field and be able to contribute. That's what I look forward to and everything else, we just got to take it day-by-day."
*Vernon and Engram are the only players on the Giants' final injury report of the week. Cornerback Eli Apple (who missed two games with a groin injury) and wide receiver Cody Latimer (who sat out the New Orleans game last week with a knee injury) are expected to return.
*Like McGovern, tight ends coach Lunda Wells is without a key member (Engram) of his unit.
"Obviously, not having one of the guys that you depend on, not having him kind of brings you back a little bit as a whole, as a room, as a team," Wells said. "But the guys that are in that room are plenty capable of doing the things that we them to do. We've just adjusted and kept moving forward."
Without Engram, the active tight ends are Rhett Ellison, Scott Simonson and rookie Garrett Dickerson, who did not play last week, his first game in uniform.
"I'm pleased with the progress with them," Wells said. "They've gotten better at some things that we've strategically tried to improve from Week 1, and they consistently continue to get better at those things. We're not where we want to be at. I'm always going to say that. We're always shooting for perfection, and achieve excellence. We're always trying to continue to progress with the things that we're doing, but I'm pleased with the progress in terms of them being able to adapt and get better at the things that we're emphasizing each week."
*Running back Saquon Barkley can join Adrian Peterson and Kareem Hunt as the only players in NFL history to start their careers with at least 100 yards from scrimmage in at least five consecutive games. But that doesn't mean his transition to the NFL has been easy.
"Biggest lesson I've learned by the NFL is, the difference in college was your first five games, four games, I don't care if you're in the SEC, Big 10, or wherever you play, there's going to be some cakewalks in there," Barkley said. "There's going to be some games where you should dominate the team, and I think you look so far in the NFL, every team that's played has been mostly a close game. That's when we've got to find a way to separate ourselves. We can't almost win these games, we can't make those mistakes to lose those games, we've got to find a way to win that game. We got up against Houston, and Houston made a great comeback and they pushed in the second half, but we found a way to finish that game and win that game. That's the difference in college and the NFL, every single week is going to be a dog fight no matter if the team is 0-7 and 7-0, this is their job. This what they get paid to do."