Five things to watch for as the Giants face the Steelers in preseason opener

Aug 20, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New York Giants tight end Jerell Adams (89) against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field. Bills beat the Giants 21 to 0. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants play their first preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers Friday night at MetLife Stadium.

On one hand, it’s the Giants’ first action since losing to the Green Bay Packers in the final game of Wild Card Weekend seven months ago. At the same time, it’s the first game of the preseason. Many of the players who will take the field are trying to make the team so there will be little familiarity for most of the game.


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In spite of that, here are five things to look for when watching this game:

1. The backup quarterback

Eli Manning will not play in the preseason opener. The battle between Josh Johnson and Geno Smith officially gets underway.

Johnson has the inside track. He was Manning’s backup last season and is in reasonable health. Smith hasn’t taken the field since tearing his ACL last October as a member of the New York Jets.

Manning will start his 200th consecutive game when the Giants open the regular season but the NFL’s iron man quarterback is 36 years old. His practice and playing time will be monitored like never before.

The role of the Giants’ backup is more important than it ever has been in the nearly-13 years since Manning took over for Kurt Warner. The backup will be called upon to sustain victories, assuming the Giants blow out their opponents. Johnson is a journeyman quarterback whose overall career resume leaves much to be desired. Smith did have his moments with the J-E-T-S but if he would still be with Gang Green if he was that good.

Rookie Davis Webb, who is still learning the ins and outs of an NFL offense, should also get some valuable time in a game situation.

2. The offensive line

The Giants’ offensive line is the most maligned unit of the team. General manager Jerry Reese did very little to bolster a line that only allowed a little more than 88 yards per game in 2016.

Ereck Flowers, the most criticized member of the offensive line, and Bobby Hart spent the entire offseason working out at the team’s facility. Both players come into 2017 leaner and quicker. Flowers, however, is struggling with the technique problems that plagued him last season.

Head coach Ben McAdoo said the offensive line has improved since last season. The Giants did add free agents Rhett Ellison and D.J. Fluker to help with the blocking and drafted Adam Bisnowaty. Ellison spent his NFL career helping to create openings for Adrian Peterson with the Minnesota Vikings. Bisnowaty is said to play with the mean streak required of the position.

The only way to gauge the progress of the offensive line is in a game. They will definitely be a focal point Friday night.

3. The wide receivers

Odell Beckham Jr., Tavarres King, Sterling Shepard will not play Friday night. We will see other members of the Giants’ receiving corps in their absence.

Free agent Brandon Marshall will play very little, if at all. This will give Roger Lewis and Darius Powe opportunities to make an impression.

Lewis caught seven passes in 2016 but two of them were for touchdowns, including Manning’s 300th career touchdown pass. Powe was one of the final roster cuts but earned a spot on the practice squad.

This summer, Powe (pronounced pow) has shined while Lewis has had a mediocre camp. The wide receiver position is crowded at the top. These preseason games will be crucial in deciding who stays and who goes.

4. The placekickers

Believe it or not, the battle between the veteran Mike Nugent and the undrafted Aldrick Rosas is worth paying attention to.

Nugent was a two-time All-American at The Ohio State University who owns NFL records. Rosas came from Southern Oregon, an NAIA school, and lost an NFL kicking competition last season.

Nugent’s leg has been on point since joining the Giants but Rosas, according to head coach Ben McAdoo, “hasn’t flinched”. Rosas has never kicked in the NFL but Nugent has only made 80 percent of his field goals in the last three seasons.

Both players will get a chance to kick against the Steelers. It’s the ultimate case of experience versus youth.

5. The tight ends

We already know free agent Rhett Ellison and first-round selection Evan Engram will make the team. The other spots are up for grabs.

Will Tye needs to show he can rebound from a dismal 2016 campaign. Matt LaCosse missed last season with injury but has been making plays in training camp. LaCosse’s biggest issue, obviously, is health. There’s also Jerell Adams and the undrafted Colin Thompson nipping at their heels.

Ellison was brought to block and Engram to make plays in the passing game. It will be interesting to see where the other four tight ends fit in and how they will contribute.

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