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The feeling I get from the Super Bowl champion New York Giants camp is that this team again has what it takes to be in the mix for the playoffs.
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Offensively, they're working hard to fix a running game that was last in the NFL in 2011. As with every team in the league, there are questions, so let's get to them:
Five questions about the Giants
1. Should the Giants bring back Deon Grant?
The Giants have two solid safeties in Kenny Philips and Antrel Rolle, but are taking a long look at Tyler Sash and Will Hill, among others, as a third safety. But that's not necessarily the only backup safety spot. Last season, Deon Grant played 80 percent of the plays, and the "Big Nickel" package was critical in the successful Super Bowl run. The Giants face plenty of teams with flex tight ends and running backs who have legitimate receiving skills, and the three-safety package solves those matchup problems. Some players told me that Grant also was a very positive force in the locker room, especially when the club was 7-7 and needed to regroup. Look for the Giants to bring Grant back in the next few weeks if Sash and Hill struggle in the preseason.
2. Is there a tight end who controls the deep middle?
WR Hakeem Nicks (foot) is progressing in his rehab and GM Jerry Reese is confident he will be back for the opener. Nicks moved fairly well during my visit, so I agree with the GM. The issue I have even when Nicks returns (along with WR Victor Cruz) is this: Is there a tight end who can hold the safeties from jumping the two wide receivers in coverage. The Giants believe Martellus Bennett is athletic enough to do that. I see the 285-pound tight end as more of a run blocker with some short to intermediate receiving skills. There's a chance rookie Adrien Robinson could grow into the role but he looked like a lost rookie at practice and is going to need time. To open the season it looks like the Giants are going to need a third wide receiver to split the field. However, a third WR means nickel defense and that defeats the purpose of what a vertical threat tight end can do in the 21 personnel situations (two RBs, one TE, two WRs). Travis Beckum (ACL tear) is on the PUP list, and it looks like there is a void left by Jake Ballard's departure. Keep an eye on the effectiveness of the tight ends in the passing game this preseason.
3. Is there an issue at left tackle?
David Diehl is the offensive line's universal answer to most issues. He was the starting left tackle for both Super Bowl wins. He has started at left guard and now he's penciled in as the starting right tackle. The left tackle job was given to Will Beatty in hopes that he's the starter for years to come. Beatty is athletic but has struggled with power rushers and has only started 16 games in his three seasons with the Giants. He gave up 3.5 sacks and was whistled for three holding calls and a false start in 10 games before being sidelined because of an injury last season. The Giants would love for second-year tackle James Brewer to compete for a starting job. "It's time for Brewer to play," coach Tom Coughlin said. Keep a close eye on Beatty at left tackle this preseason and don't be shocked if David Diehl once again becomes the answer.
4. How fast can two key rookies be ready?
The new NFL practice schedule is brutal for rookies who are being counted on to start early. "We are in a situation where the players have to realize how important walk-throughs and meetings are now that we have a limited number of padded practices," Coughlin said. I watched rookie running back David Wilson and wide receiver Rueben Randle on the practice field, and while the talent is evident, so is the fact that they each have a lot to learn. Wilson is a skilled runner, but can he learn all the issues in pass protection? "David gives us a back with big-run potential, but he can't get on the field until he can pass protect," QB Eli Manning said. The Giants passed the ball 56 percent of the time on first down last season (tied for most in the NFL). Wilson said he's not afraid to ask questions in the classroom to get assignments right but it still is a struggle. Randle is getting extra work because Nicks is sidelined, but I saw him get off the ball late, then try to figure out what the coverage was in front of him. That's typical for a rookie receiver -- especially in the Giants' complex offense. The best thing I saw was Manning's patience with Randle. In fact, Manning said Randle was much farther along than many of the rookie receivers of the past few years.
5. Where is the greatest depth on the roster? Somewhere during the summer the Giants may reach out to another club to trade for a player at a position of need. What do they have to offer in exchange? They have what every team is looking for, depth in the defensive line -- especially at the tackles. Chris Canty is on the PUP list but expected back. Marvin Austin looks exceptionally quick as a three technique with penetrating skills. Linval Joseph is a load inside. Shaun Rogers looks better than ever after losing close to 50 pounds. And Rocky Bernard looks like he could start for plenty of teams.