With players reporting to training camp this week, the Giants.com crew discusses the biggest storylines heading into the season.
John Schmeelk: Which young cornerbacks are going to step up? Aside from James Bradberry, no one knows who the other outside starter is going to be or who will handle the nickel. A team needs a minimum of three starting-caliber cornerbacks, if not more, to account for the inevitable injuries that come during a 16-game football season.
The Giants have a number of players who will compete for snaps at these positions who have a realistic chance of winning starting jobs. Sam Beal was a 2018 third-round supplemental draft pick, but injuries to his shoulder and hamstring have kept him off the field for much of his first two seasons.
Corey Ballentine was a sixth-round pick last year from Division II Washburn, where he played outside. Late in the season, he got playing time at nickel, a position he hadn't played before. He should have an opportunity to compete in both spots in his second season.
Montre Hartage, a 2019 undrafted free agent, played for Patrick Graham in Miami last season, spending time on the practice squad and 53-man roster. His familiarity with what Graham wants from his players in his system may help Hartage in a shortened off-season.
Grant Haley returns for his third season with more experience at nickel than anyone else on the roster. He will try to fight off rookie fourth-round pick Darnay Holmes from UCLA. Holmes played primarily outside in college, but played well inside at the Senior Bowl and has the size and athletic profile to excel there.
The success of the Giants' season will depend on how quickly the young cornerbacks get up to speed and are able to cover in Graham's man-to-man heavy scheme. They will be challenged at every practice by the likes of Darius Slayton, Golden Tate and Sterling Shepard. Their ability to cover in practice could offer hints as to how much the defense can improve.
Additionally, the NFL placed DeAndre Baker on the Commissioner Exempt List. As per the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy, a player who is placed on the Commissioner Exempt List may not practice or attend games, but upon request and with the club's permission may be present at the club's facility on a reasonable basis for meetings, individual workouts, therapy and rehabilitation, and other permitted non-football activities.
Dan Salomone: The following is an excerpt from an April 15 conference call with Joe Judge, roughly one month into the shutdown of NFL facilities and four months into his first year as a head coach: "I think the advantage goes to whoever is best prepared from this point forward. I don't think any established program is at an advantage over anybody else. It's how you can find a way to communicate with your players and deliver a message. Whether you've been in the program for years or not, everyone has changes to their system, everybody has changes to what they're going to be doing in the off-season."
Specifically from a football standpoint, team-building was the biggest challenge in this unprecedented off-season and, therefore, remains the dominant storyline heading into training camp. How does it all come together? There were no OTAs. There was no minicamp. There will be no preseason games. Sure, some people like to write off those things as meaningless – until they're gone. Just think about this: The most hands-on a coach could get this off-season was for him to step back from the computer and demonstrate a technique on the floor of his basement. Without Spring football, the Giants missed an opportunity to grow as a team on the field.
But everyone has been in the same boat. And that was part of Judge's point in mid-April. And no professional sports league turns over like the NFL. Every season is a blank slate, and that's why teams go from worst to first as easily as first to worst.
View photos of the 2020 New York Giants coaching staff
Lance Medow: There are so many different directions you can go with this answer. How Joe Judge manages the team during such a unique off-season? Which tackle spot does Andrew Thomas assume on the offensive line most often? Who will emerge as the nickel cornerback, etc.? I can give you a laundry list of topics, but here's one that should not be easily overlooked: How much work do undrafted rookies and late-round picks get in practice?
With no preseason games expected, the window to evaluate talent will be significantly smaller. When it's all said and done, each team may only have two weeks worth of padded practices leading up to Week 1 of the regular season. If you need to get your team ready for a meaningful game and have no exhibition contests to rely on, who do you think you'll be giving the most reps to during practice? Most likely, the players you expect to make the final roster and play significant snaps in Week 1. It's no different than what happens during a typical practice week leading up to a game. The starters get the bulk of the reps and the backup quarterback (along with some practice squad players) make up the scout team. Well, this year, more than any other, the practice squad is going to have an immense amount of value.
Normally, a coach has to worry about losing players due to injury over the course of the season. This year, you have to take the coronavirus into consideration. Your depth chart is the key if there's going to be that much more turnover on the roster. That's why I think the biggest storyline is how much work the undrafted rookies and late-round picks get during camp - how are they utilized and evaluated and who jumps out as potentially contributors. Typically, we're able to see these players on the preseason stage, for multiple quarters. But with that no longer an option, coaches will have to prioritize reps during practice and that means these players could be spectators more so than in previous years. How do you a get team prepared to play meaningful competitive games while also evaluating the back end of your roster, which could end up moving to the front of the pack, depending on how the team's health plays out.