With OTAs beginning to get underway in the NFL, here is a look at some key position battles to watch for this offseason…
5. 4th Wide Receiver: Jerrel Jernigan vs. Mario Manningham
Players like Randall Cobb, James Jones, and Jarrett Boykin all started as fourth wide receivers and now they are household names. Giants’ new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo (formerly of the Packers) is expected to implement an offense that will get this position more touches. Thus the fourth wide receiver is now a more intriguing competition than it normally would be at training camp.
Victor Cruz, Odell Beckham and Reuben Randle are expected to fill the first three slots, but the fourth position is still open. Manningham has more versatility and can play both in the slot and on the outside but while he was in San Francisco he spent most of the time on injured reserve. Jernigan on the other hand was largely ineffective for the better part of three seasons. Down stretch last season Jernigan was productive, but before that it seemed unlikely that he would make the team in 2014. Basically, it is unknown what either player will bring to the table this upcoming season. If Manningham returns to the form he was in while with the Giants he will win the job, but the coaches will likely give Jernigan the nod so they can see what he can do on a larger scale.
4. 2nd Runningback: Andre Williams vs. David Wilson
In today’s NFL most teams rely on two back systems, and while the winner of this competition will be second on the depth chart he will be heavily utilized. Of course, this is only a competition if David Wilson is 100% healthy, which he is expected to be. Wilson is a former first rounder with lightning quickness and breakaway speed that is unmatched by anybody else on their roster. However, if injury doesn’t keep him off the field his fumbling problem will. Even before he injured his neck, Tom Coughlin benched him for fumbling twice in the opening game against the Cowboys.
Andre Williams is rookie who is a completely different style of running back. He prefers between the tackles running and staying behind his blockers so they can open up room for him to run downhill. Williams is not afraid of contact, or taking on heavy work load. His keen pass blocking ability should also help him get on the field in his first season. His one weakness is catching the ball out of the backfield. However if Williams can improve this he will likely win the job. Along with Rashad Jennings, the Giants could have three players at running back, which could be a lot like the old earth, wind and fire from 2007.
3. Starting Weak Side Linebacker: Jacquian Williams vs. Spencer Paysinger
Both of these players were a big part of the Giants defense last season. Williams finally shook his PCL injury and appeared in all 16 games and started in a career high eight games. At just 224 pounds he is severely undersized but he is an excellent man to man pass defender. His smaller frame gives him more speed which should make him valuable when playing against pass catching tight ends or running backs like LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles. His inability to break free of bigger offensive lineman makes him a non-factor as a run defender however.
Paysinger, who appeared in all 16 games and started in 11, is probably the better every down linebacker. He lacks William’s pure athleticism, but his smart and consistent play more than likely make him the better choice to start along side Jon Beason and Jameel McClain.
2. Starting Center: J.D. Walton vs. Weston Richburg
Richburg was the Giants second round pick was highly regarded as the best center in the draft. The Giants liked him because he can also play other offensive line positions, particularly guard. He could even possibly be the eventual replacement for Chris Snee.
J.D. Walton, like Manningham, has had similar issues staying healthy in the past two seasons. Walton was selected in the third round of 2010 draft, and started for just over a season in Denver. When he suffered a dislocated ankle in week 4 of the 2012 season, he was waived by the Broncos. He spent 2013 in Washington but never was able to step on the field. However, he does have NFL experience and that is what the Giants need.
This will be the tightest competition during camp but if Walton stays healthy he will likely start. The Giant will keep Richburg on the bench because if Will Beatty struggles once again, they can move Geoff Schwartz over to tackle and slide him into the vacated guard position.
1. Starting Tight End: Adrien Robinson vs. Kellen Davis
This is essentially Adrien Robinson’s job to lose, but the fact the Giants signed three free agents, including Davis, to compete shows they do not trust Robinson enough. Robinson has never lived up to his, “JPP of tight ends” moniker given to him by Jerry Reese, as he has spent most of his career sidelined with a foot injury. Last year he finally did get on the field but only made three appearances.
The only reason Kellen Davis will likely not win the starting job is because he is mainly a blocking tight end. Yes, it is a priority to keep Eli Manning upright next season, but McAdoo will need a more athletic, pass catcher to run the offense he wants to run. The Giants neglected to draft a tight end, but did sign Xavier Grimble as an undrafted free agent out of USC and he could make a bigger impact than expected. Right now, however, the Giants are hoping Robinson emerges into the player they thought he was when he was drafted four seasons ago.
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