You want to see some battles this summer at New York Giants training camp? Well then fasten your seat belts, because you’re going to get your wish.
Besides the various position battles such as Darian Thompson vs. Andrew Adams for free safety; Jay Bromley. Robert Thomas and Dalvin Tomlinson for the starting 3-technique; and so on, some of the more intense battles will pit offense versus defense.
As the old saying goes, “Iron sharpens iron,” so in breaking down the following training camp battles, we’ll look at the key offensive vs. defensive battles to keep an eye on.[table “20” not found /]
LT Ereck Flowers vs. RDE Olivier Vernon
Last summer, Vernon, fresh off signing his new five-year $85 million contract, more often than not ate Flowers for lunch when the two clashed heads.
A big part of the issue was Flowers’ inconsistent and at times poor technique that cost him leverage against his teammate, the same poor form that Flowers unfortunately took with him into his second season.
This winter, Flowers did something about his technique issues. He lost weight. He increased his stamina, and he has become stronger.
Despite all that, the coaching staff said it was too soon to tell if all the hard work Flowers did will transfer to his technique when the darts start flying for real.
Still, there’s a lot of optimism that this year, Flowers, who last year allowed the second-most total pressures (59) behind Houston’s Chris Clark (67) might give Vernon, who finished with the most pressures (86) among 4-3 defensive ends in 2016 a better run for his money this time around.
RT Bobby Hart vs. LDE Jason Pierre-Paul
On the other side of each line is a young player entering his third season following two rocky seasons (Bobby Hart) who will mainly square off against an accomplished veteran pass rusher (Jason Pierre-Paul).
Although Pierre-Paul had his 2016 season cut short due to a core muscle injury, he still managed to finish tied for the 10th most pressures among 4-3 defensive ends (with Seattle’s Frank Clark), recording 54.
Hart, meanwhile, wasn’t quite as bad as Flowers in total pressures allowed, but his 46 did count as the 13th most among offensive tackles last year.
Like Flowers, Hart spent the offseason in East Rutherford, locked into improving his strength and stamina. And like Flowers, we won’t know just how much improvement he’s made until the pads go on.
Giants running game vs. Giants run defense
Last season, the Giants run defense allowed opponents an average of 88.6 rushing yards per game, tied for third lowest (with the Patriots) in the league.
The Giants made over their running game, swapping Rashad Jennings with Paul Perkins as the starter. They added Wayne Gallman and are getting back Shane Vereen from a season-ending triceps injury. And they’re likely looking at either Shaun Draughn or Orleans Darkwa to round out the unit.
Beyond the running back spot, the Giants are optimistic of having an improved offensive line, which last year per Football Outsiders, ranked 24th in run-blocking.
The addition of blocking tight end Rhett Ellison should also help, but if Ellison’s calf injury forces him to open camp on the PUP list, the Giants have a couple of fullbacks in camp this year, plus they appear ready to unwrap linebacker Mark Herzlich as more of a tight end to help with run blocking as necessary.
All the upgrades made to the Giants running game should make the unit better. But then again, with the Giants returning three of their four starting defensive linemen, led by Damon Harrison, who is widely regarded as one of, if not the best run stopper in the game—last year he easily outclassed his fellow defensive interior linemen league wide by finishing with 49 stops for a run-stop percentage of 15.8%, it’s still going to be a fun battle to watch once the pads go on.
TE Evan Engram vs. the linebackers/safeties
All spring long we’ve heard about how rookie tight end Evan Engram can present a potential mismatch against the smaller, more athletic linebackers and safeties that he’ll likely face.
While we got some glimpses of that in the spring, once the pads go on, expect the competition levels to really crank up.
If Engram continues to come as advertised, he’ll provide a nice challenge for the two safeties competing for the starting free safety role, Darian Thompson and Andrew Adams.
It will also be fun to watch if he has to go against linebackers Keenan Robinson and Jonathan Casillas, the Giants’ two best coverage linebackers last year who combined for an NFL rating of 69.3, neither allowing a touchdown pass to be completed last year.
WRs Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Brandon Marshall vs. CBs Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple
Last year, the Giants’ top three cornerbacks—Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie—allowed just 54.9 percent of the collective pass targets thrown at them to be completed for eight touchdowns. The trio also accounted for 10 of the team’s 17 total interceptions.
Altogether, that’s a very impressive 54.9 NFL rating (remember, the lower the better when talking about a defender in coverage).
Whereas in the past the Giants passing offense was pretty much Odell Beckham Jr. and not much else, this year the addition of Brandon Marshall along with the anticipated improvement of Sterling Shepard should make for some fun battles between the receivers and the cornerbacks.
Beckham finished last year with a team-best 105.3 NFL rating on passes thrown his way, while Shepard finished with an 88.0 rating. Add in veteran Brandon Marshall, who has a career 61.7 NFL rating on balls thrown his way, and there are sure to be a lot of “oohs” and “aahs” when quarterback Eli Manning attempts some of the deep passes.