Nine Giants training camp practices are in the book, so I think it’s a good time to take a look back at what has happened so far and give some credit to the guys that have stood out the most.
I do want to stress something, and this should apply to everyone’s analysis of what happens at practices: the only people who know exactly how any player is doing at practice are the coaches and his teammates. If a player misses an assignment or makes a mistake that isn’t obvious near the ball, it’s going to be hard for anyone else to see it.
It is also difficult to evaluate an individual player in regards to his overall play, unless you single him out and watch him on every rep. It’s possible, but that means you are going to miss everything else that happens on that rep. I write about what I notice and I’m not going to notice everything on every play and no one else does, either. Without practice film to review, there is really no other way to do it.
With all that said, here are some players who have jumped out to me thus far:
WR Sterling Shepard: Shepard has been the star of camp offensively, in my opinion. His route running is superb and I haven’t see anyone successfully cover him in the slot. His suddenness at the top of his routes is superb. Last year an ankle injury and then the general deterioration of the offense short-circuited a potential breakout season. I think it comes this year. He’s also gotten more opportunities to line up as an outside receiver.
“Sterling is a good football player and he’s a gritty guy and is as equally engaged as Odell,” head coach Pat Shurmur said. “I really appreciate what he brings to the table, he’s a football player. You have much more history as reporters than I do with him, but I am gaining a real appreciation for him.”
LB Olivier Vernon: Vernon has been nearly unblockable as an edge rusher. He has always been a great practice player, and that hasn’t changed this season. His combination of quickness, bend, speed, power and hand use has been difficult for offensive linemen, even veteran Nate Solder, to handle. The Giants will need him to bring his skills as a dominant pass rusher into regular season games.
“We all know he is a dynamic pass rusher,” Shurmur said. “But he does a very good job playing the run as well. He was here all spring really engaged in everything we’re doing, learning the new defense. I have a great appreciation for what a pro he is.”
RB Saquon Barkley: You can only see so much from a running back when there is no tackling to the ground, but Barkley has flashed the whole package during practice. What has jumped out to me the most dating back to the spring are his third down skills. He is willing and smart enough to pick up blitzes. His route running and hands are both extremely advanced. There was a play last week where he separated from Janoris Jenkins on a slant after being split out wide. He is going to be a multi-faceted weapon for the offense.
“He understands protections,” running back coach Craig Johnson said. “When we went through the process before he got drafted here, we asked a lot about that and I think they really did a good job (at Penn State) with teaching him. Like all players, when they come to the NFL, you have to have more protections, but the bottom line is that he understands the general concepts and then he has to understand what we call versus what he learned in college.”
CBs Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple: Both of the outside cornerbacks have excelled throughout camp. James Bettcher plays a scheme with a lot of press and man-to-man coverage, which fits both players’ skill sets. They are physical with the wide receivers and stick close enough to them to make plays on the football once it is in the air. Apple has shown enthusiasm and confidence in his eagerness to embrace the challenge of covering Odell Beckham Jr. and the Giants’ other receivers.
“I just think that, first and foremost, he is a fierce competitor,” defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo said about Janoris Jenkins. “You ask what made him so good, he’s an elite athlete, and so when you have those two things together – he doesn’t want to lose Jacks in the locker room, you know? He’s that guy. So, I think, does he have a chip on his shoulder? I’m sure – I don’t want to speak for him, but he’s looking to put his best foot forward, he feels like he’s 100 percent healthy, and I know he said the other day. He’s a true professional, a true football player in the time that I’ve been here. He’s been great.”
WR Odell Beckham Jr.: Beckham hasn’t had that many jaw dropping plays in team portions of practice, but he looks healthy and that’s why he is on my list. You never know how a player is going to recover from a serious injury like the one Beckham had last season, but he looks like the same player to me. He moves extremely well, is explosive in and out of his breaks, and catches everything. I also love how he is being moved around more and lining up in the slot. The Steelers use Antonio Brown inside a lot and it works great for them. Beckham also seems to be at peace mentally, which is good to see.
“I had been feeling it as I was working out, and it’s kind of like over the last month I’ve taken a huge stride,” Beckham said about his ankle. “I remember maybe two months ago, it wasn’t as smooth and I wasn’t getting out of cuts, and you kind of get that frustration and just you want to get back to where you were at. But now that I’m here, like I said, it’s been a lot of hard work put in, lot of doctors, lot of treatment, lot of rehab, lot of pain you went through. It’s nice to be here now.”
OG Will Hernandez and Patrick Omameh: You don’t get a true feel for offensive linemen until you get into preseason games, but Hernandez is off to a good start. You knew he was going to be strong, powerful, and nasty enough, but you didn’t know how his technique would hold up against speed rushers inside. So far in one-on-ones, he has really held his own against some very athletic defenders like B.J. Hill.
“The guy will be one hell of a player in this league,” All-Pro nose tackle Damon Harrison said of Hernandez. “You can see him working out there, and I’m sure you guys have seen it. It’s one thing to do it in college, but to do it at the NFL level is a totally different thing, and I’ve had an opportunity to watch him firsthand, and I think he’ll be a really good player in this league.”
As for Omameh, he is as solid as a rock in there. He is a smart player that is always in the right place at the right time. Like Hernandez, he has done a good job holding his own in pass rush one-on-one drills as well.
DL B.J. Hill: What has impressed me most about Hill is how he has quietly moved into the starting lineup. He looks like a veteran out there, a player you don’t have to worry or think twice about. I’m not sure there is any greater compliment than that. He is strong and has a great first step at the snap. He should be an impact player as a run stopper and pass rusher, no matter where they line him up on the line of scrimmage.
“B.J., he’s an interesting character, man,” Harrison said. “I don’t know if you guys have been watching, but he’s probably the most athletic defensive lineman that we have, and that says a lot. He can do a little bit of everything, which is encouraging to see, so I’m excited to get a chance to go out there preseason game one and beyond it and actually see what he can do during game day.”
CB Donte Deayon: Even though he has missed a handful of practices with a hamstring injury, Deayon has made more plays on the ball than any other cornerback in the slot or otherwise. Despite his diminutive size, he gets his head around, locates the ball and high points it before it gets to the receiver. If he can get healthy, he has a real shot at winning the starting slot cornerback spot.
OLB Connor Barwin: The veteran Barwin has a lot of gas left in the tank. He has shown an array of pass rush moves and is a true professional. He consistently works with the younger guys after practice. He will be a nice addition on and off the field.
RB Robert Martin: Much like with Barkley, without tackling it is hard to get a real feel for Martin, but I like what I have seen. He can catch the ball out of the backfield and has shown nice burst, quickness and athleticism in the hole.
WR Kalif Raymond: Raymond has been making a ton of plays throughout training camp. He has great quickness and has gotten a lot of separation on passes down the field out of the slot. If he can also contribute in the return game, he has made a case to be part of the team when the regular season starts.