With the calendar flipped to July, Giants.com is counting down 20 important questions heading into the team's 2020 training camp at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
For the next 20 days, a member of the Giants.com crew will answer one question about the roster, coaching staff, schedule, and much more. Let's begin.
No. 1: What are the top competitions to track during training camp?
John Schmeelk: Since we haven't seen any team practices, thanks to OTAs and minicamps taking place remotely, it is very difficult to tell where the coaching staff stands each position. Therefore, this is going to be a longer list than usual.
It appears to be a three-way battle for two starting spots between veteran Nate Solder, newcomer Cameron Fleming and fourth overall pick Andrew Thomas. Solder hasn't played right tackle since he was a rookie. Thomas played right tackle three seasons ago as a sophomore, but has played on the left side the last two seasons. Fleming has played the right and left side over the course of his career, but has spent most of his recent seasons on the left (backing up Tyron Smith in Dallas). If I had to guess, with Solder more comfortable on the left side, he winds up there - with Thomas winning the right tackle spot. Nick Gates and third-round choice Matt Peart are dark horses in this competition.
Fifth-year pro Spencer Pulley is the only player on the roster with starting experience at center, with 26 starts over the last three seasons with the Chargers and Giants. His main competition will be from rookie guard Shane Lemieux, who never played center in a game at Oregon, but worked there at practice. Nick Gates, a 2018 undrafted free agent, is a potential candidate despite not having played there with the Giants. He started games at right guard and right tackle last season. Finally, there's Jon Halapio, who is unsigned and recovering from an achilles injury he suffered late last December. The Giants have indicated he could be re-signed and enter the fray, if he is healthy. Only because of his experience, Pulley would have to be considered the leader in the clubhouse.
Edge Rusher/3-4 Outside Linebacker
The Giants are returning one of their starters at this position in Lorenzo Carter. He will have to compete with newly arrived Kyler Fackrell and second-year edge rusher Oshane Ximines. There is also a chance that Markus Golden, the team's sack leader from last season, returns given his unrestricted free agent tag. The question for this group is: Who can consistently set the edge and, more importantly, win with some level of consistency against offensive tackles while going after the quarterback. If Golden doesn't re-sign, Carter and Fackrell (10.5 sacks in 2018), seem like logical choices here. I expect this battle to be close and for all of them to rotate, regardless of who starts. Rookies Carter Coughlin and Cameron Brown are the dark horses.
View photos of the Giants' active roster as it currently stands.
If the Giants play a base 3-4 defense, they need a second inside linebacker to play next to Blake Martinez. They also will probably need a second off-ball linebacker on passing downs. They could use safety Jabrill Peppers in this role, but it's uncertain if that's being considered. Ryan Connelly is entering his second year and coming back from a torn achilles tendon injury and David Mayo was strong against the run last year. Rookies TJ Brunson, Tae Crowder, and 2019 undrafted free agent Josiah Tauaefa could also play themselves into some reps. There's also a possibility Cam Brown or Carter Coughlin move inside to claim one of these roles. Mayo is a reasonable choice on run downs, but the second off-ball linebacker in passing situations is wide open.
James Bradberry is secure in his starting spot on one side, but who plays opposite him? The Giants have invested multiple draft picks at the position in the last few years and each of them - DeAndre Baker, Sam Beal, and Corey Ballentine - will have a chance. Baker is dealing with off-the-field issues, and coming off an up-and-down rookie season as last year's third first-round pick. Beal (shoulder, hamstring) has been unable to stay healthy over his first two seasons after being drafted in the third round of the 2018 supplemental draft. Ballentine struggled playing inside as a rookie but didn't have much of an opportunity to play outside, where he excelled in college and during training camp. One sleeper to watch is Montre Hartage, who was an undrafted free agent with the 2019 Dolphins and bounced between their roster and practice squad under defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. This could be the most important position battle of them all.
Grant Haley, a 2018 undrafted free agent, is the incumbent, with 12 starts at nickel in his first two seasons. Corey Ballentine started two games at the end of last year but had never played inside prior to arriving with the Giants. In April, the Giants drafted Darnay Holmes, an extremely athletic 5-9 corner from UCLA in the fourth round. His athletic package profiles as someone who should succeed playing inside, where he excelled at the Senior Bowl. It would not surprise me if the rookie figures out a way to win this battle by the end of camp or a few games into the regular season. There's also a possibility that second-year pro Julian Love gets time at slot corner, a position he sometimes played in college. Seventh-round pick Chris Williamson is an under-the-radar player who could compete here.
I feel fairly confident that Jabrill Peppers will be one of the starting safeties in their base defense. It makes sense to think that second-round pick Xavier McKinney will be the other starter, but Julian Love (a former fourth-round pick) may have something to say about that. All three of these players are versatile, which should give Patrick Graham a lot of options to move them around. This is less of a competition and more of an opportunity to see how he will use their respective talents. I expect all three to be frequently on the field together.