Just like that, spring football—the offseason weight training, OTAs and mandatory minicamp—are in the books.
While the team is still a long way off from being a finished product, there were still some revelations to come on the various practices, headlines and such.
So let’s run down some of what we learned about the developing 2017 New York Giants team.
Bobby Hart and Ereck Flowers Have New and Better Attitudes
No, this isn’t about either player, especially Ereck Flowers, becoming best pals with the media.
In the past, these two young talents had the skill and the measurable to become solid NFL offensive linemen, but apparently didn’t want to put in the extra work that separates the haves from the have-nots.
This past offseason the light switch went on for both, as they threw themselves into a daily workout program designed by team strength and conditioning coach Aaron Wellman to help them get leaner, improve their durability and stamina and, hopefully lay the ground work for an improvement in their respective techniques.
We won’t know for sure if the hard work paid off until the pads go on, but in watching Hart and Flowers, there’s no question that their footwork and had punch when doing blocking drills against the sled were noticeably sharper.
The Giant Have a Battle at Free Safety
If you thought that Darian Thompson, who last year won the free safety job within the first few days of training camp, was an automatic to win it again this year, well, not so fast.
Safeties coach David Merritt told reporters that Andrew Adams, who filled in for Thompson last year while he was dealing with what turned out to be a season-ending foot injury, is very much in the mix.
“I can’t sit here and take away from what Andrew Adams has done,” Merritt said. “I think they’re all competing for a starting job. That second safety has been illusive for us. To have two guys that can step in there and hold down the position–hopefully we will find that solid piece this year but we need four good guys. If we can get four good guys, it’s going to be great.”
Matt LaCosse Made the Tight End Battle More Interesting
It’s rare that a team hangs on to an undrafted player who doesn’t make it out of training camp because of injury. But the Giants obviously saw something in third-year tight end Matt LaCosse to keep him around and during the spring, he showed why.
The 6-5, 261-pound LaCosse was brilliant as a receiver. The former Illinois standout is also said to be a better-than-average blocker, making him as close to a complete old-school tight end as you’ll grind.
If LaCosse can stay healthy this year—he told reporters during the OTAs that he changed up how he trains and is getting more preventive therapy to make sure his body doesn’t get out of whack to where he’s compensating for one side—his presence is going to make an interesting tight end race even more so.
Odell Beckham Jr.’s Absence from OTAs Was NOT About His Contract
While certain media folks were drooling over the potential of spending the entire summer debating whether Odell Beckham Jr. would show up at the team’s facility, he not only came to the mandatory minicamp, he drenched those fires with a 10-minute, candid media session.
Beckham said he planned to be at training camp and stressed that his decision to stay away from voluntary OTAs was more of a chance for him to get the training he felt he needed (which the CBA likely prohibits NFL teams from delivery in the spring) and to reflect on how last year came to a crashing halt.
And if anyone is concerned that Beckham might change his mind and hold out when the team reports to camp on July 27, he had this to say about the matter.
“I have seen the whole holdout and all of that stuff and I have never really seen that work, so that was never in my mind, to not go to OTAs to get a new contract. I don’t really think that proves a point in my opinion.”
Although the Giants did a fairly good job last year at avoiding major injuries to key players before training camp, this year there are a few that bear watching.
The first is the calf ailment that sidelined tight end Rhett Ellison for part of the second phase of the offseason program right through to the end of minicamp. Ellison told reporters that he didn’t believe his injury was related to the torn patellar tendon he suffered in the 2015 regular-season finale while a member of the Vikings, and perhaps he’s correct.
But then again, the Giants were also telling reporters two years ago that the calf ailment that former receiver Victor Cruz suffered was due to dehydration only to have it later come out that it was a result of Cruz’s overcompensating for his knee.
The other head scratchers were the absences of cornerback Eli Apple and safety Darian Thompson from the mandatory minicamp.
Head coach Ben McAdoo said both were missing due to illness. However, it’s worth wondering how much Apple’s tweaked hamstring, which he suffered in the third OTA and Thompson’s undisclosed tweak which landed him on the bike toward the end of the OTAs factor into the equation.
Evan Engram Appears to be the Real Deal
Although the practices were only run in shorts and shells, the hype about first-round draft pick Evan Engram appears very much to be real.
Engram lined up all over the place for the team, including as an in-line blocker where tight ends coach Kevin M. Gilbride described him as functional” in that area.
“He shows a very much so willingness to block and to finish and strain the way we’re asking our guys to strain,” Gilbride said.
“Again, that’s not pads so that’ll change things to an extent, but I don’t see him backing down. He has a toughness and a willingness to go against anyone on our defense and I’m hoping that remains through the course of this season.”
The rookie also exasperated some of his veteran defensive teammates who tried to cover him in practice.
“I am not a college football guy; I don’t really watch that much football, so to see him come in and they tell you that you got a tight end in the first round and then just to see him get out there and put it together – he can play,” said cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. “He can go-go.”
Is Engram fast enough to hold his own in a race against the veteran cornerback?
“He is fast, but he is not that fast,” Rodgers-Cromartie deadpanned.
The Starting Middle Linebacker Job Appears to Be One Man’s to Lose
Back in March, McAdoo said that second-year man B.J. Goodson and veteran Keenan Robinson would be among those competing for the middle linebacker role vacated when the team chose not to re-sign Kelvin Sheppard this offseason.
So far though, it’s bee all Goodson, who has benefited from the presence of former middle linebacker Antonio Pierce serving as a coaching intern this spring under Steve Spagnuolo, his former defensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008.
“He has been great,” Spagnuolo said of Goodson, who last year only played 13 snaps on defense. “He has really taken this thing on, it is important to him and he takes it seriously.”
Having Pierce around to provide that firsthand experience also helps.
“The things that Antonio can give a guy like B.J. go far beyond what the coaches can give.” Spagnuolo said. “Antonio has experienced it; he is in the middle of it. He used to do it when he played – he sees things that other people miss because he is detailed guy and knows how to breakdown film.”
Goodson’s teammates have also seen his growth, particularly in the huddle where the middle linebacker serves as the defense’s quarterback.
“He takes control,” said linebacker and defensive captain Jonathan Casillas. “He is a great communicator. It is hard to tell playing in the interior in the run–playing in our underwear, as they call it. So we will see come training camp and definitely in the preseason against other opponents how well he does because at the end of the day that is what you’re judged on.”
The Giants Might Have their Kicker of the Future
If you never heard of Aldrick Rosas before this year, it’s because his only NFL experience to date has bene a brief cup of coffee with the Titans, whom he was with last summer.
But so far Rosas has been drawing high praise from special teams coordinator Tom Quinn, who has described the 6-2, 195-pound kicker as “very coachable” and who has seen him improve every week.
“Aldrick has done well. He’s really progressed from when we first put hands on him and started working with him. He’s gotten better every day, so that’s really been encouraging,” Quinn said. “He’s been consistent. Big guys we try to tighten them up a little bit and he’s done really well. Very strong leg, and he’s had good accuracy this spring.”
The next step for Rosas is going to be how he handles pressure situations. whether it’s kicking a long-distance field goal that saves his teammates from having to run sprints during the dog-days of summer or gets them out of meetings, Rosas, who comes across as a cool customer, is about to be dunked in boiling hot water.
And yes, he’s ready.
“When I go out there,” he told Inside Football, “I don’t think about anything else but the goal posts. It’s me versus the goal posts, and my goal, if you will, is to split them in half every time, no matter what the circumstances.”
If he can do that during the random challenges the coaches are cooking up for him this summer, he’s going to become very popular with his teammates.
The Giants Are Going to Be More Diverse on Offense
Not only can you expect to say good-bye to seeing defenses successfully deploy Cover-2 to stifle the giants passing game, you can also probably say goodbye to the constant presence of 11-personnel on offense.
That’s all due to the addition of tight end Evan Engram and receiver Brandon Marshall. If healthy, those two players, along with the anticipated contributions of tight end Rhett Ellison and the improved running game, should take the Giants offense which last year was as one-dimensional as a crude cartoon drawing to a whole other level.
“I think that the personnel groupings are at a point now where we can have more multiplicity,” said offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan.
“We were at a high percentage of the Zebra personnel–11 personnel, with 3 wide receivers, 1 tight end and 1 back, as people call it. With those additional tight ends and with having a couple of fullbacks that we’re taking a look at, just to have those different groupings gives the defense more to prepare for and in terms of trying to do things that will give us that balance that we want, we have a few more options.”