New York Giants Practice Report: Mandatory Minicamp Day 1

Spring football practices generally don’t yield much in the way of answers, but a couple of key New York Giants players who had gone missing over the three-week stretch of 10 OTAs finally showed up and broke their silence about their absences.

Those key Giants are defensive end Olivier Vernon and receiver Odell Beckham Jr., both of whom re-joined the team for the mandatory minicamp. Both players addressed the media, offering insight into why each chose to work out on his own during the OTA period.

Vernon, the quiet one who didn’t have reporters trying to outshout each other to get questions in, revealed it’s something he’s always done going back to his days with the Miami Dolphins (though he was at all the Giants OTAs last year, his first with the team).

“I just wanted to stick to it,” he said of his practice. “If it ain’t broke, then I’m not fixing it.”

Beckham, the lightning rod for media attention whose press conference at times resembled a free-for-all with all the rapid-fire questions about his contract (he said it was a non-factor), said he used the time away not only to train, but to also reflect on where he stood as both a person and as an athlete.

“Really, I was just taking the time to train, make sure that I get proper training and really growing and maturing yourself,” he said.

“You just have time to reflect on life and be able to learn new things, so it was a great process for me and I definitely enjoyed it.”

With order restored in the Giants universe and the great missing player caper finally put to rest—even the absence of defensive end Owa Odighizuwa was semi clarified by head coach Ben McAdoo, who said the young man was excused to tend to a personal sitaution—the Giants got down to business with the first of their three mandatory minicamp practices in blistering hot weather.

ben mcadoo

Benny with the new hair (Patricia Traina | Inside Football)

“It was good to get out here in the heat,” said McAdoo, sporting a fresh new haircut for the occasion.

“We haven’t had a practice like that in a while. It was good to get on and off to build it up for (Wednesday); we’ll be about two hours and ten minutes tomorrow and have a chance to push it a bit. But it was good to get out here, get on and off the field to build up for tomorrow.”

With the temperatures expected to hover around 80 degrees, it will be interesting to see and hear what kind of jump they make.

Injury Updates

Cornerback Eli Apple, who tweaked his hamstring in the team’s third OTA practice two weeks ago, and safety Darian Thompson, who spent last Friday sidelined, were not present on the field. Head coach Ben McAdoo said both players were dealing with an illness and hence were excused.

Tight end Rhett Ellison (calf) did some running on a side field, along with receiver Kevin Snead (hamstring). Linebacker J.T. Thomas (knee) continues to be “limited” per McAdoo.

Ellison, per McAdoo, is getting closer to returning, though that return probably won’t be during this camp.

“He’s pushing. He’s chomping at the bit to get back,” McAdoo said. “I anticipate him for training camp.”

No word yet on Snead, but considering he hasn’t been waived/injured like other undrafted free agents before him is a good sign in two regards: a) that they like him and b) they don’t think his injury is going to be a long-term affair.

Left guard Justin Pugh was present but didn’t work in Tuesday’s practice. McAdoo said Pugh was sore, but did not elaborate about what was causing that soreness.

Pugh wasn’t at the last two OTAs (no. 6 and No. 10) that were open to the media, but his absences aren’t believed to be due to whatever injury he is nursing.

And although not an injury note, defensive end Owa Odighizuwa has been excused by McAdoo to attend to an undisclosed personal matter.

McAdoo didn’t say if Odighizuwa would be back for training camp, but it’s important to note that with the Giants excusing Odighizuwa to tend to whatever it is he has going on, the young man avoids a fine.

Lineup Notes

Adam Gettis filled in for Pugh at left guard once again. Newly signed defensive end Devin Taylor took some snaps at defensive tackle, where he put his 6’7” size to good use in batting down passes.

Receiver Darius Powe did some work with the tight end groups during an individual drill portion later in the practice session.

Powe joins Jaron Jones (defensive line to offensive line) and Mark Herzlich (linebacker to tight end) as the latest player to be looking at a position switch on the opposite side of the ball.

“The more you can do in this league, the greater chance you have to stick,” McAdoo said when I asked him if there was a greater emphasis on cross-training players on both sides of the ball this year. “We’re giving players the opportunity at the end of practice to grow and play multiple positions. We call it our position flex period and they’ve taken to it.”

Romeo Okwara continued to get snaps with the first-team defense, as the coaching staff seemed to limit Olivier Vernon’s snaps. This was Vernon’s first time back with the team after missing all 10 OTAs, so they likely wanted to work him into the mix slowly so he could get back up to speed.

Odell Beckham Jr. also had his snaps limited somewhat, again likely due to his needing to get back up to speed with the new stuff added in by the coaching staff.

Nat Berhe and Andrew Adams split first-team reps at free safety, alongside of Landon Collins. 

Practice Observations

Practice was once again held on the dreaded back field—I saw dreaded because that’s where the media gets stuffed into a corner which makes watching the action at the far end of the field difficulty, especially when there is a line of bodies blocking the view. Hopefully Wednesday’s practice, which is scheduled to run just a sneeze over two hours, will be on a closer field.

Odell Beckham Jr. was limited in his first day back. By limited, I mean he was used in spot situations with the first team.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing as it gave others like Sterling Shepard, who has really had a strong spring, a chance to shine, which he did in this practice in making several nice catches over the middle from the slot and from the outside receiver spot.

Getting back to Beckham, he managed to get two hands on a pass, but the ball hit the ground. there was some debate as to whether it was a dropped pass, but count me among those who thought cornerback Janoris Jenkins did a nice job of breaking up the pass.

Beckham also caught a couple of balls during red-zone drills. After practice, McAdoo, asked if he purposely limited Beckham and defensive end Olivier Vernon, said, “We were smart with everyone today, we were on and off the field pretty quickly.”

Some of the running backs had some issues with hanging on to passes. Wayne Gallman had a drop in the 10th OTA and another that hit him in the hands during this practice. Gallman looked to simply take his eye off the ball for a split second, a common mistake. And rookie free agent hopeful Khalid Abdullah dropped at least one that hit him in the hands in this practice.

Nice heads-up play by safety/linebacker Eric Pinkins, who picked off a pass off a deflection by Jadar Johnson. Pinkins looked like he had room to run with the ball, but he instead took it out of bounds as he began to hear footsteps.

Newly signed defensive end Devin Taylor, who worked some inside at defensive tackle, had a nice practice. He came close to recording a “sack” off the edge and then when moved inside to defensive tackle, he got his hands up in the air to deflect a pass.

Avery Moss knocked down a pass at the line too. One thing we continue to see which I think was really emphasized from last year is that the defensive linemen are being coached to get their hands up into the passing lanes, particularly if they get stonewalled.

Another day another solid showing by defensive end Evan Schwan. I’ve said this before in other reports, but this kid has a lightning-quick first step off the line that takes the offensive tackle by surprise. He’s currently working with the third-string defensive line, so I wonder if he’ll eventually get a crack at working with the second-string this camp.

During offensive line drills, I had a chance to watch Jessamen Dunker. He has some decent footwork in his back pedal and doesn’t appear to waste much motion. Obviously all and any opinions on the offensive linemen now are incomplete until the pads go on, but it was good finally get a look at him during drills.

After defending his blocking abilities at the team’s 10th OTA, tight end Evan Engram got some snaps with his hand in the dirt. Again, there’s no contact in these drills, so you can’t draw any concrete conclusions, but it was good to see the coaches give him an extensive look-see in this role.

Bobby Hart also continues to show quicker feet in retreating for the pass block. Hart has really looked nimbler this offseason, the work he put into the weight room really starting to show.

Darius Powe, who as I noted above did some work with the tight ends, came up with several nice receptions early in the practice, before hitting a dry spell with two dropped balls in a row. One pass, from Davis Webb, looked like it was airmailed in, but still, it looked like a catchable ball.

Dwayne Harris had a reception in the open field and sought to turn it up field. Harris, who was banged up last year, looks like he still might be rehabbing some of his lower body injuries.

Geno Smith isn’t full-speed just yet, but in some passing drills, he showed that he still has a strong arm. He was tossing some intermediate length passes and each one had just enough zip.

Smith still looks a bit clunky in his drop back, perhaps due to his healing knee, but he sure does look as though he’s going to make it a true competition with Josh Johnson for the backup quarterback spot.

“He’s progressing,” McAdoo said. “We braced him up today. We put him out there, we had him do 7-on-7s with the half-line rush just to get some work against the rush so if he has to move and has to reset in the pocket, he has some experience doing that before we come back in training camp. It’ll boost his confidence.”

Kudos, by the way, to native Floridian Ereck Flowers. Despite the temperature being in the 90s–at times it felt even hotter in the sun–there was Flowers dressed in a hooded sweatshirt under his practice jersey. That’s certainly one way to ensure you keep your weight down, right Coach McAdoo?

“I don’t mind guys getting in a lather, but maybe it’s a little too toasty for that today,” said the coach who usually dons long pants and either long sleeves or three-quarter length sleeves as his practice attire of choice.

“It was a quick on and off, and I think Ereck knew that.”

Tight end Matt LaCosse continues to turn heads. With each practice, he looks to be more and more comfortable. In this one, he caught a pass over the middle in stride, never once stopping his feet as he churned up field for about seven yards after the catch.

“I think Matt has done a good job over the years and he is a smart guy. He knows what he is doing and, he is just very precise with his routes and in his decision-making and he has worked extremely hard to come back from his injury, and he is making plays,” said quarterback Eli Manning.

“You can trust him and he is doing things the right way and that’s a lot, I think, about a tight end being on the same time as the quarterback and doing the right things–being very precise with your body language, and he is doing all those things.”

Call for Mailbag Questions

I’ll be doing one last mailbag to wrap up the spring. If you have a question you’d like to ask, please send it below. The mailbag will publish Friday late afternoon, so please get your questions to me no later than noon Friday.