The Giants' defense is an open book right now. DC Perry Fewell was out on the patio at Quest yesterday telling reporters he's got competition at every position. Throw in players coming back from - and going down to - injuries and you're looking at an amorphous group of bodies attempting to converge to form a cohesive unit three weeks from opening day...
Jason Pierre-Paul and Markus Kuhn are out, Justin Tuck is already hurting and now Damontre Moore has a shoulder problem. That's the bad news but it's going to get better, so don't worry. One positive is that the Giants' biggest free agent addition, Cullen Jenkins, is off to a good start. He's a DT by trade, but the Giants like the fact that they can plug him in anywhere.
"We’re going to take advantage of his versatility," said Fewell. "He’s very explosive. He’s much stronger than I initially thought he was and he is violent in his reactions and so that’s a good thing for us and it’s very pleasing."
The other former Eagle the Giants picked up, Mike Patterson, looks healthy and will be hard to cut. The depth means Linval Joseph is finally free to take some plays off and should be more effective this year. Shaun Rogers is healthy, and when that happens. you're assured a quality two-down stopper at DT. Rookie Jonathan Hankins has impressed the coaches, but it's a former second rounder - Marvin Austin, that Fewell is curious about...
"I thought Marvin performed well this past Saturday. He’s progressed each week in practice. He’s had a full offseason with the OTAs, which he didn’t have in the past. I look for good things from him this Sunday in the football game. This will be a really good opportunity for him to showcase his quickness and his abilities. I think Pittsburgh is really a big massive offensive line. Indy, they’ll play more to the strengths of Marvin and so it will be exciting to see him in this game Sunday."
So, who makes this roster? At DE, you have JPP, Tuck, Moore, Mathias Kiwanuka and Adrian Tracy. There may be room for one more. Take your pick out of Adewale Ojomo, Justin Trattou and Matt Broha but keep in mind that Jenkins is getting looks at DE ahead of those three already...
DT is where some surprises may come. On the roster because of guaranteed deals are Jenkins, Joseph and Hankins. They'd make it anyway. Rogers and Patterson should also make the roster but Austin will be afforded every opportunity to make the team. Frank Okam is a big, physical player that the Giants may keep close by because DTs are prone to injuries and they'll probably be needing a body at some point. Kuhn looks as if he'll stay on PUP into the season.
Fewell has a lot of decisions to make here. The players who will make the team are basically set, but who will start and where they will line up is still wide open.
"I think we’re working together as a linebacking corps very well," said Fewell. "There is no standout. I think they worked together well as a group. I like the combinations that we use in practice and that we’ve used in the game and I hope we can continue to grow and build in that respect."
The tempest brewing right now is the heated competition in the middle between Mark Herzlich and Dan Connor. Herzlich was the favorite going into camp, but Connor has outplayed him thus far.
Fewell is not sure who will start a this point and who will wear the headset. Tom Coughlin said he felt comfortable with Herzlich, but Fewell likes what he sees in Connor, too:
"Both players are outstanding players in my opinion, and both bring different things to the table for us. We’ll work both combinations. For instance, the first play of the ballgame on Saturday, Mark did a great job of taking the guard on. He was very physical in the football game. He ran through the guard that he could have made the tackle. Dan did an outstanding job in taking on blocks. He shedded some blocks well. He made some plays. He did well in coverage. So I like the combination of both those guys in our defense and I’m happy that we have both of those guys."
That will play itself out as time passes, but the other positions are still open as well. At WLB, Spencer Paysinger and Jacquian Williams are in a battle. Paysinger looks to be much improved and WIlliams is fully recovered from the knee issue that ruined his season. Fewell is thankful for that.
"I’m pleased that he (Wllliams) is on the field each and every day practicing. For us last year, he wasn’t on the field in training camp. He gives us some versatility. He gives us some flexibility because of his coverage skills and so he’s a big part of our puzzle in helping our pass defense. I’m very pleased with what he’s doing on a daily basis and if he continues to improve for us we can be better as a pass defense."
At SLB, a couple of retreads - Keith Rivers and Aaron Curry - are hoping to rekindle their careers. Rivers is still quick and has very good pass coverage skills. His issue have always been health related. Curry is trying to overcome a disappointing start to a promising career. He has shown flashes of what he can do.
"Very strong at the point of attack. I like him as an on the line of scrimmage linebacker," said Fewell of Curry. "He’s shown really good leadership in our room and with the linebackers and he is working hard to return to form."
So who makes this team? All six of them. Like Fewell said, they are all working together. The question remains who will start. I'm sure there will be enough situational and package assignments to keep all of these guys busy. There could be room for a seventh LB depending on how the roster shakes out in other areas. If Kyle Bosworth keeps up the aggressiveness in scrimmage and on special teams, he's going to be hard to cut. Jake Muasau and Eteinne Sabino could be headed to the practice squad.
Prince Amukamara is one starter. Corey Webster is the other starter and Aaron Ross is the first man up. From there you go to a group of Jayron Hosley, Terrence Frederick, Trumaine McBride, Charles James and Junior Mertile. All have competed well this summer. It's actually allayed the fears of many who have been watching training camp. This group has looked better than it has in years.
The wild card here is Terrell Thomas, who is gradually working his way back after missing two years to knee injuries. If he can make it back, he will give the Giants an astute presence that has a proven track record of production.
"Yesterday, he (Thomas) received about 50 percent of the reps that we were wanting to give him. I thought he responded extremely well," said Fewell. "There were two situations he was in man coverage and he did an outstanding job, in my opinion. He showed burst. He showed the ability to come out of a break when he was covering in man coverage. So we’re going to take it day by day with him. We’re going to bring him along as the trainers and as Terrell speaks to us about how he feels on a daily basis, but it was exciting to see him back in action."
Prince has been nothing short of solid. Webster is nursing a hamstring, but he appears to over his horrific 2012. Ross comes in without the pressure he had hanging over him the first time. He's looked impressive. Jerry Reese might be right about Hosley. He's great in zone play. Good anticipation and quickness. The others have all shown they can play in the NFL. Frederick was here last year and knows the defense. McBride has been better than expected. Mertile is in the mix, too.
Who makes this team? Prince, Webster, Ross, and Hosley for sure. James may be kept because he can return punts. Frederick, McBride and Mertile will be tough cuts but the team probably can't keep them all, especially if Thomas is kept. Laron Scott will probably end up on the practice squad id still eligible.
Antrel Rolle is the top dog here, but his sprained ankle has set Plan B into motion. Fewell considers him the leader of the defense:
"He’s one of the building blocks. He’s a brick. He’s always there. He’s tough. He’s the motor that sails us. His presence is always valuable for us..."
Rolle's duties will be assumed by free agent Ryan Mundy, who has drawn rave reviews from the coaches...
"A sound football player, a smart football player. I’m happy that he’s with us. He’s very conscientious and physical," said Fewell of Mundy. "He is very knowledgeable, as far as the defense is concerned. He does not have the experience and the background that Antrel has because he hasn’t been in the system as long, but he’s very conscientious and working with Stevie Brown, he’ll be fine."
Brown is the other big play safety on the Giants' roster. We know he can pick it and then roll, but he's looking to build on last year's success.
“I’m trying to get better at man-to-man techniques, the running game, blocking, etcetera,” Brown told Anita Marks of Giants.com. “I’m just trying to build up all the other areas of my game so I can be everywhere.”
The other safety spot is an open competition. Tyler Sash, Will Hill and David Caldwell are all vying for the job. So is rookie Cooper Taylor, who is currently sidelined with hamstring. The skinny here is that Hill is suspended the first four games, so he's not going to be counted in the final 53, but is going to be looking for his spot back come October.
Sash must know the pressure's on. He romped in last Saturday's game vs the Steelers, both on defense and special teams - a performance that may secure him a roster spot.
So, who makes the team? Rolle may miss the first week, or two, but that won't determine who makes the roster. Brown and Mundy are in, and Sash will be hard to cut, especially if he keeps the intensity up. Hill will be activated after four weeks and a roster decision will have to made then. Taylor needs to get back on the field, or he could end up on IR. The Giants aren't cutting him. Caldwell will probably be a casualty as will Alonzo Tweedy, unless he can win the gunner job on special teams.