NFC East: New York Giants

Walter Thurmond III was not with the New York Giants for very long. The former Seahawks defensive back signed as a free agent last spring, played two games for the team before suffering a season-ending injury, then signed with the Eagles this spring. But he was around long enough to form an opinion, and when asked as part of an interview with Bleacher Report to compare Seattle coach Pete Carroll, Giants coach Tom Coughlin and Eagles coach Chip Kelly, this is, in part, what he had to say about Coughlin:

[+] EnlargeWalter Thurmond
AP Photo/Bill KostrounWalter Thurmond played two games for the Giants last year before suffering a season-ending injury.

"Coach Coughlin is the same type of person, but we battled through injuries last season. Yes, he's a little old-school, but he's starting to come around to the times. He doesn't believe in the sport-science aspect like Coach Carroll or Coach Kelly and the newfound technology for the players. His style takes a hit, because he doesn't believe in this aspect. He believes in winning, but he doesn't believe in the modern medicine to progress the players to that next level."

So, a couple of things on this, if I might...

Giants injuries are definitely a Major Thing. According to Football Outsiders, the Giants have led the league by a significant margin in a category they call "adjusted games lost" over the past two seasons. In 2013-14 combined, the Giants' adjusted games lost total was 278.4. The second-highest total in the league over that time is the San Diego Chargers' 210.1. The league average the past two years is 141.9. The Eagles' total of 80.8 is the lowest in the league over that stretch, which comprises Kelly's first two years in the NFL.

Go back a little bit further into FO's databases, and you find that the Giants ranked 25th in adjusted games lost in 2012, 26th in 2011, 22nd in 2010 and 19th in 2009. So while the past two years have reached ridiculous levels, it's not as though this is an entirely new problem for them.

Thurmond's comments could lead one to point fingers in familiar directions. Coughlin is the oldest head coach in the NFL at 68. Ronnie Barnes has been the team's head trainer since 1980. Giants strength and conditioning coach Jerry Palmieri has had his job since 2004 and has been Coughlin's strength and conditioning coach for a total of 20 years, including one at Boston College and eight with the Jacksonville Jaguars. There is circumstantial evidence on which to base a theory that the Giants might be old-school sticks-in-the-mud who are slow to adapt some of the modern concepts for which Kelly has received so much attention in Philadelphia and at the University of Oregon before that.

But just because you've been around for a while doesn't mean you're not open to new ideas (heck, Carroll is the second-oldest head coach in the league, right?), and the Giants chafe at the notion that they have their heads in the sand with regard to modern medicine.

"You would have to ask Walter what he is referring to specifically when it comes to comparing and contrasting," Giants spokesman Pat Hanlon said in an e-mail Tuesday morning. "But the fact is, over the past 2-3 years, we have adopted and implemented a few programs: the GPS system we employ to monitor workload, diet in terms of offerings and preparation in the dining hall, and sleep studies. Those are a few of the things we have done as we continue to evolve."

But even if we accept the idea that the Giants are up on the latest advances and working to apply them, being around the Giants makes it easy to understand why someone like Thurmond might say what he said. In Philadelphia, it's clear that Kelly is leading the charge on sports medicine and its NFL application. With the Giants, old-school Coughlin might embrace the advances behind the scenes, but outwardly he rolls his eyes and throws his arms up in the air when discussing things like "recovery stretches" that shorten his training camp practices. That doesn't mean he's opposed to the idea of applying modern medicine in an effort o fight off injuries; it's just his act, and the way he communicates his personal feelings about modern training techniques certainly could lead a player to conclude that they're not as important to him as they clearly are to Kelly.

So I don't think Thurmond was trying to paint Coughlin as some sort of out-of-touch fogey. But I do think the recent injury statistics, combined with the longevity of the people in key positions overseeing the Giants' medical program and the organization's well-publicized loyalty to its own established ways of doing business in other areas, naturally lead to questions about whether those things are connected. Those questions must continue to be asked. It's entirely possible that the Giants as an organization have been slower to adopt and apply modern medical practices than some other teams have and that it's cost them in the standings. It's just not fair to jump to the conclusion that it's because the head coach is a 68-year-old grump who misses training camp two-a-days.

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With offseason workouts and minicamps in the rearview mirror and training camps just a few weeks away, we assess the New York Giants' offseason moves and assign a letter grade in the video above.

Best move: The Giants overspent to get the players they wanted, especially in the cases of guys such as special-teamer Dwayne Harris (5 years, $17.5 million, $7.1M guaranteed) and linebacker J.T. Thomas (3 years, $10 million, $4.5M guaranteed). But one free-agent contract likely to be worth the money is the three-year, $12.35 million ($4.75M guaranteed) they gave to running back Shane Vereen. A strong receiver out of the backfield and a very good pass protector, Vereen gives the Giants a valuable weapon they'll use liberally on third downs and maybe more than expected if they need the pass-blocking help. As quarterback Eli Manning and offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo look for "easy completions," Vereen can collect those with the potential to do big things after the catch.

Riskiest move: Drafting OT Ereck Flowers with the No. 9 overall pick. At the time, I had no issue with this pick, and I still have no issue with the logic the Giants used to make it. They needed a tackle, and they believed in the upside of this particular player as an eventual NFL left tackle and thought he could help right away on the right side while he developed. But all of that was before starting left tackle Will Beatty went down with a pectoral muscle injury. Beatty is out until at least November, and Flowers has been inserted at left tackle during the offseason practices to replace him. This situation lends some credibility to the idea that the Giants would have been better off taking a more NFL-ready tackle than Flowers at No. 9, as obviously starting him at left tackle before he's ready is a risky move on many levels. Of course, you're not supposed to draft with only one year in mind, and the Giants know that. But if Flowers isn't ready, being forced to play such a key role so early could hurt his development.

Counting on a coach: The Giants fired defensive coordinator Perry Fewell after the season and replaced him with a face from their past -- Steve Spagnuolo, who had a very successful run as their defensive coordinator in 2007-08 before moving on to failed stints as Rams head coach and Saints defensive coordinator. Spagnuolo was not sought for a coordinator job by any other team the past two offseasons, and he's certainly not a forward-thinking choice the way the young McAdoo was a year ago when they switched offensive coordinators. But the Giants are clearly hoping that dipping into their successful defensive past can help jump-start an undermanned defense that might need to get by on pride and emotion for much of the season.

Training camp outlook: The Giants will enter camp with major question marks at defensive tackle, defensive end, linebacker, nickel corner and both safety positions -- not to mention left and right tackle on offense. They hope defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who sat out OTAs and minicamp after being designated their franchise player, can hit the ground running in Spagnuolo's defense. They hope Odell Beckham Jr. can get over his springtime hamstring issues more quickly than he did a year ago. And they hope Victor Cruz can recover from his 2014 knee injury in time to start the season. A lot still has to come together for this team in August -- in a lot of spots.

NFL Nation reporter Dan Graziano assesses which rookies on the New York Giants could earn a starting berth this season.

[+] EnlargeEreck Flowers
Julio Cortez/AP PhotoRookie Ereck Flowers could start for the Giants at either left or right tackle.

Why Ereck Flowers could start: The No. 9 overall pick in this year's draft, Flowers was likely to start at right tackle immediately as a rookie. But when starting left tackle Will Beatty went down with a pectoral muscle injury, the Giants shifted Flowers to left tackle to see whether he could get up to speed in time to play that critical position. Even if he can't handle left tackle and they have to try someone else there, Flowers' run-blocking ability makes him a strong instant starter at right tackle for a line that needs an infusion of top-end talent. But the Giants have spent this offseason running Flowers with both the first-team and second-team line at left tackle, which indicates they have both a high opinion of and big plans for him. Teammates and coaches have lauded Flowers' size, quickness, athleticism and attitude as attributes that should help him succeed long term in the NFL, and they believe he can have success right away amid the understandable growing pains. But the main reason Flowers looks likely to start is because the Giants have a major need for help on the offensive line and he has as much raw talent as anyone they have for those spots.

Why Landon Collins could start: If the Giants have needs on the offensive line, they have a bright, flashing VACANCY sign at safety, where none of the three players who started games for them last season are still on the team. That's why the Giants traded up in the second round of the draft to get Collins, the former Alabama safety who somewhat surprisingly slipped out of the first round. Collins is a big, thick rookie who looks like an instant-impact starter at the strong safety, but because of the dearth of candidates, the Giants are training him in the free safety positions as well. Plain and simple, while he's never started a game at the NFL level, Collins is the best safety on the Giants' roster right now. They believe his experience in a championship atmosphere at Alabama makes him more NFL-ready than a lot of other rookies would be. But again, he's penciled in as a starter because they have almost no other options.

Why Mykkele Thompson could start: Again, necessity. The leading candidate to start at safety along with Collins was probably 2014 fifth-round pick Nat Berhe, but he missed all of OTAs with a calf injury and is likely set back. The guy who ran with the first team in Berhe's place was 2013 fifth-round pick Cooper Taylor, who's coming off his own serious injury and isn't a perfect fit at free safety. Free-agent signee Josh Gordy and converted cornerback Bennett Jackson are the other candidates, so why not 2015 fifth-rounder Thompson? Yes, he looks very undersized for an NFL safety (he lists at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, but see him in person and you'd agree those numbers feel high), but when they drafted him the Giants said they saw him as a good complement to Collins. He has some range and some instincts and could show enough in training camp to earn a shot ahead of a relatively weak field of candidates.

Why Owamagbe Odighizuwa could start: There is a wide-open spot at left defensive end. And while Odighizuwa isn't among the leading candidates to win the starting job opposite Jason Pierre-Paul, he could outplay those candidates and earn himself a larger role as the season progresses. The Giants like Robert Ayers as a pass-rusher but not against the run. They love Damontre Moore's talent but still consider him underdeveloped. They view George Selvie as a defensive end who can play the run and still get after the passer a bit, but he's a journeyman who hasn't had sustained NFL success. They like Kerry Wynn, but he's still relatively inexperienced. Odighizuwa has been held out of OTAs with a hamstring injury, but the Giants are high on him as a run-stuffer whose pass-rush game can be developed and refined.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants signed first-round draft pick Ereck Flowers to a multi-year contract, the team announced Thursday.

Flowers, the ninth overall pick out of Miami, did not use an agent, negotiating the contract himself.

[+] EnlargeEreck Flowers
Julio Cortez/AP PhotoEreck Flowers shifted to left tackle and is poised to protect Eli Manning's blind side this fall.

“It was great,” he said, according to a news release from the Giants. “[I] talked to them. Got a great deal done. Everything went good. It was smooth.”

Flowers could be a key piece to the Giants' success, or lack thereof, right away. At the beginning of the spring he was working at right tackle, but when left tackle Will Beatty tore a pectoral muscle on May 18, Flowers shifted to the left side.

Beatty is expected to be sidelined for five to six months, meaning he'll miss at least the first half of the 2015 season. So as of now it's Flowers' job to protect Eli Manning's blind side.

"We like him as a future left tackle for the New York Giants," offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo said Thursday. "I'm very comfortable with him being out there right now. Nothing's ever set in stone. I look forward to getting back here in [training] camp and seeing him jump in there right from the beginning, and give a run at it."

The Giants' offseason program officially concluded Thursday with the end of the team's three-day mandatory minicamp.

“I made a lot of progress,” Flowers said. “I have a better understanding of the plays. I got a lot more comfortable out there. Everything was a success.”

Victor Cruz and Odell Beckham JrGetty ImagesThe Giants' offense was missing some major firepower Tuesday, as Victor Cruz (left) and Odell Beckham Jr., sat out while recovering from injuries.


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As the New York Giants began their first practice of this week's minicamp in the field house Tuesday, their top two wide receivers could be seen through the windows, running sprints on one of the outdoor fields. When practice began, Victor Cruz and Odell Beckham Jr. spent some time playing catch with a football at midfield before adjourning to the sideline to watch.

Cruz is working his way back from the serious knee injury that ended his 2014 season in Week 6. Beckham has been sidelined for a few weeks now with a hamstring injury in the leg opposite the one whose hamstring cost him all of training camp and the first four regular-season games in 2014. Both hope to be ready for training camp, but in the meantime the Giants are having to work without their two most dynamic offensive weapons.

"It makes it hard, yes," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said after Tuesday's practice. "I mean, I see what we can do. At least I got to see Odell for a while, but there's no doubt. You have a lot of timing involved, you have a two-minute drill, you're trying to time things up. You're trying to create some things where the ball gets out of the quarterback's hands quickly. I don't know exactly what the issue was here today, but the offense wasn't very good in the two-minute drill."

Corey Washington, Dwayne Harris, Marcus Harris and Preston Parker are among the wide receivers getting first-team reps along with Rueben Randle while Cruz and Beckham are out. Each has had ups and downs, as is to be expected, but there's little doubt the offense will function better once Beckham and Cruz are a part of it.

As for when that will be? Well, the Giants have continued to say they're holding Beckham out as a precaution because of last year, with the intent that he'll be ready for training camp. But it's clear they're at least a little bit worried.

"We approach it the same way, but we don't have our head in the sand," Coughlin said. "We know the guy has an issue. I think the training room is well aware of that."

As for Cruz, he boldly proclaimed that he could pass the pre-training camp conditioning test if it were held today and said he hopes to be cleared to do individual and 7-on-7 drills once training camp opens in late July or early August. But he also said he's going strictly by what the trainers and the medical staff are telling him is best for his recovery from that torn patellar tendon in his right knee.

"They want to bring me along slowly," Cruz said. "They don't like for me to look too far ahead. So far, so good. No setbacks or anything like that."

In other Giants injury/participation news...

  • Tight end Larry Donnell remains out with an Achilles injury, and the fact that he's still in a walking boot is not encouraging. Daniel Fells is getting more tight end reps, as are Jerome Cunningham and undrafted Will Tye.
  • Linebacker Devon Kennard has yet another injury, this one a hamstring, that is keeping him off the practice field. He missed time earlier this year with an ankle injury and had several physical issues in his 2014 rookie season as well.
  • Safety Nat Berhe continues to sit out with a calf injury that has deprived him of a valuable chance to impress a coaching staff that's dying for someone to claim the starting free safety spot.
  • Defensive ends Robert Ayers (ankle) and Damontre Moore (shoulder) did some limited work as each progresses in his recovery. Rookie defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa, who missed some OTA practices with a hamstring injury, participated in some team drills Tuesday as part of the defensive line rotation for the first time that I've seen.
  • Left tackle Will Beatty, who is out until at least midseason following surgery to repair a pectoral muscle he tore lifting weights in May, was on the field watching practice. Beatty said after practice that doctors have told him he can make a full recovery and return to the field this season. "I have the opportunity to come back, and they're letting me know that early so I don't just sit around and mope around," Beatty said. "So the fact that they still want me is a good thing, and it's much easier to live with positive things than negatives."'

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Safety was the biggest remaining question mark on the New York Giants' roster after free agency this year. And after a full round of OTAs, it appears it still is.

As the Giants spend practice days mixing and matching with rookies Landon Collins and Mykkele Thompson, a recuperating Cooper Taylor and converted second-year cornerback Bennett Jackson -- while second-year safety Nat Berhe sits out with a calf injury -- the search for a starting free safety continues to vex the coaching staff.

[+] EnlargeLandon Collins, Trevin Wade, Nat Berhe and Mykkele Thompson
AP Photo/Seth WenigThe Giants are looking for a leader to emerge from a group of young DBs that includes Landon Collins (27), Trevin Wade (31), Nat Berhe (29) and Mykkele Thompson (33).

"The chemistry is what I'm really looking for right now," safeties coach Dave Merritt said Tuesday. "You can't have two cooks in the kitchen. I've had that with my wife and her mom. You can't have both of them in the kitchen. Somebody has to go sit down. So you need to have one leader back there, and that's what I'm still looking for. It's elusive. I'm searching for it. If it's Landon, great. If it's Cooper, great. If it's Nat, great. If it's Mykkele, great. But I need to have a leader come up and emerge out of this minicamp and emerge out of training camp."

Merritt's job has changed completely from a year ago, when his safety group featured veterans Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown and Quintin Demps. This year, with the youth and inexperience the Giants have at the position, he's having to do a lot more teaching. And he's not hesitant to tell you honestly how it's going.

"Very slow," Merritt said. "Very slow leadership, as far as making calls, controlling the defense. If I give you a call and I tell you, 'These are the checks and this is what I need you to do. If you see this formation, this is what you check to,' the guys right now that I have are very slow at making those checks."

There is, of course, a long way to go before the season starts. Training camp is a month and a half away. There are three minicamp practice days this week. And the Giants will of course have four preseason games to help them evaluate their safeties. But at this point, the inventory is what it is.

"There's youth and there's inexperience there," Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. "And it doesn't matter what system you're in, in my opinion. Those two particular guys are really important. Everybody else relies on them. And so the quicker we can get to the other nine trusting them, the better off we'll be. I'm not sure that we're there yet. I think it's going to be a work in progress. But we'll get there and guys can do it. That's why I wish we had another 10 OTAs."

Spagnuolo said he appreciated the other players on the defense having patience with the young safeties during practice rather than rushing to make the calls for them. And Merritt said he believes it will ultimately help the youngsters to have practiced against the high tempo the Giants' offense shows in practice. Learning the calls against a more methodical offense might make it easier, but learning at this speed will better prepare them for the Philadelphias of the world.

In the meantime, though, there's a lot of work still to be done before the Giants have any answers at safety.

"Right now, it's a challenge," Spagnuolo said. "It's a challenge to them. It's a challenge for our patience and our trust in them. But every day, it gets better. Every day, there's a trust gained there from the linebackers to the corners back to the safeties. But we've got a long ways to go, in my opinion."

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As expected, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is not in attendance for this week's New York Giants minicamp. The camp is mandatory for everyone on the roster, but since Pierre-Paul has not yet signed his franchise player tender, he's not technically on the roster or required to be here. The team cannot fine him for missing the camp.

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
Al Bello/Getty ImagesGiants defensive line coach Robert Nunn said he has tried to keep Jason Pierre-Paul up to speed on the new changes.

But Pierre-Paul hasn't dropped off the face of the earth this offseason. He posts regularly on social media about his ongoing workouts with his personal trainer at home in Florida. And he did visit the team facility in the early part of the offseason workout program. Giants defensive line coach Robert Nunn said Tuesday that he met "six or seven times" with Pierre-Paul to go over concepts in new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's defense.

"He's going to be behind," Spagnuolo said Tuesday. "He had been around for a period of time and did a little bit of the mental work, which I greatly appreciated. I thought that spoke volumes to who he is, what he's about and how important this is to him. But yeah, he's going to be behind, because it's new, the terminology is different, so hopefully when he gets here he can get up to speed real quick."

Pierre-Paul was hoping to sign a long-term contract with the Giants this offseason, but they chose instead to designate him their franchise player at $14.813 million for one year. If he doesn't get a long-term deal done by July 15 (and it's not likely, since there have been no substantive negotiations at all), he has to play the year on the franchise tender or sit out. So once that July 15 deadline comes and goes, the likelihood is that he drops his protest and shows up for training camp in late July.

In the meantime, Nunn said he's trying to impart as much as he can to Pierre-Paul about the new defense. They met in person when Pierre-Paul was in town, and Nunn continues to send him plays and concepts for him to review on his iPad.

"He knows he's got a lot of catching up to do from a mental standpoint," Nunn said. "So I thought it was outstanding when he came in, and I thought he did a good job getting a grasp of things. I'll continue to stay in touch with him and let that [contract situation] be handled by someone else."

The problem, Nunn says, is not Pierre-Paul's willingness or ability to study, but his inability to practice what he studies until he gets here.

"The biggest thing for him or for anyone is to take it from the classroom out onto the field," Nunn said. "We send him some stuff. We text all the time. I've talked to him. He's got a lot of the stuff. He doesn't have it all. I limit what I give to him, because if he's not here and taking it from the classroom out there onto the field, it gets more confusing than it helps."

Nunn also said he believes training camp will offer Pierre-Paul enough time to catch up. In the meantime, the Giants can continue to wish Pierre-Paul was here while understanding why he's not.

"It's really hard when you come in new and you have a player in that situation," Spagnuolo said. "You really want to start a rapport, a relationship with the player, a friendship. So it makes it a little bit more difficult. But hey, we've all been through this. It's part of the game. We just keep grinding away."

If I were Jason Pierre-Paul, I would not be attending this week's New York Giants minicamp either.

This has nothing to do with laziness or pouting about a contract situation. This is strictly business. Pierre-Paul's teammates will be on the field this week for a mandatory minicamp, but from Pierre-Paul's standpoint, it's good business for him to stay off the field.

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
Elsa/Getty ImagesJason Pierre-Paul had a team-leading 12.5 sacks in 2014.

Pierre-Paul's goal is a long-term contract that pays him like a top pass-rusher. So far, the Giants have resisted giving it to him. As you likely know, until an NFL player actually reaches truly unrestricted free agency, the only leverage he has is the threat of not playing. Since the Giants used their franchise-player designation on Pierre-Paul, the only tool currently at his disposal in his efforts toward a long-term deal is his willingness to stay off the field.

So he is exercising it. Until he signs that one-year, $14.813 million franchise tender, he's not technically on the roster and therefore not technically required to be there this week. Staying away is the smart play, for two good reasons:

1. The risk of injury. If Pierre-Paul suffers a serious injury this offseason and has to miss a chunk of the regular season, gone are his dreams of that long-term deal. Set aside for a moment the ample injury evidence that indicates the Giants' training facility is built on a haunted ancient burial ground and just look at the reality of working out on your own in a controlled environment (as Pierre-Paul has been) versus practicing with 89 fellow football players. There are no pads or contact in these practices, but incidental stuff happens all the time. Say someone rolls over on your ankle by accident because he was clumsy and fell down. Say there's an unplanned collision between you and a player on a nearby field who's running a totally different drill. The odds are slim, but why would you bring any odds at all into the equation if you didn't have to? As long as Pierre-Paul still harbors hope of a long-term deal, there's no reason for him to put his health at risk in a full Giants practice setting.

2. The scare tactic. I don't think this will happen with the Giants, whose leadership structure is entrenched and confident. But in general, a player in Pierre-Paul's situation could use his continued absence to his advantage as long as a long-term deal remains technically possible. The Giants and Pierre-Paul have until July 15 to negotiate a long-term contract. After that, he has to either play for the tender or not play at all. But until that time, why not keep the team thinking about what life would be like without you? The Giants' pass rush without Pierre-Paul doesn't look very intimidating, and it's possible (again, more likely with another team, but you never know) that staying away could make a coach or GM or owner jittery and push the Giants into a deal they're not inclined to do. Until July 15 comes and goes, there's no reason for Pierre-Paul not to press this potential advantage. In the NFL, the player has precious few of those.

The end result here is almost certain to be as follows: Pierre-Paul and the Giants don't agree on a new deal by July 15, but he drops his protest, shows up for training camp on time, plays this year for a very acceptable $14.813 million, then hits the free-agent market next year at age 27. There are worse situations in which to be, and there isn't likely to be any long-term detriment to Pierre-Paul as a result of the franchise tag. But this is all part of the business part of the game -- the Giants placing that tag on him and him exercising his right to stay away as long as he can as a result. His decisions are no more questionable than the business decisions the team is making with regard to him. You and Tom Coughlin and the Giants might wish Pierre-Paul was practicing with the team this week. But in his situation, not practicing is the right way to go.

The New York Giants on Tuesday will begin a mandatory minicamp that will run three days before the team adjourns for the remainder of the offseason. Here are five things we'll be watching in our final look at the Giants until they return for training camp in late July.

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesThe Giants are not expecting defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul to appear at minicamp this week.

1. Jason Pierre-Paul. It does not appear as though the Giants' franchise defensive end will be on the field with the team this week. Yes, minicamp is mandatory for everyone who's on the roster. But since Pierre-Paul has not yet signed his franchise player tender, he's not technically on the roster, so he doesn't have to attend. Pierre-Paul has voluntarily skipped all of the voluntary portions of the Giants' offseason program, as is his right, while he works out at home with his own trainer. There's a chance he could be in the building and attend meetings this week, but he's not likely to practice, which means the Giants will have to wait another month and a half for Pierre-Paul to practice in Steve Spagnuolo's defense and for rookie left tackle Ereck Flowers to go up against the best pass-rusher the Giants' defense has to offer. They still don't have pads on or be able to really hit each other, but the Giants are eager to get Pierre-Paul out there to help speed up Flowers' learning curve.

2. The rest of the defensive line rotation. If Pierre-Paul isn't on the field, defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins is the only surefire defensive line starter who is. That leaves three open spots at which multiple people are auditioning for playing time and spots in the rotation. At the defensive tackle spot next to Hankins, Markus Kuhn got a lot of work in organized team activities. But Kenrick Ellis and second-year man Jay Bromley are eager to make their cases for playing time. At the left defensive end, on the other side of the line from Pierre-Paul's spot, the Giants hope to see Robert Ayers, Damontre Moore and Owamagbe Odighizuwa back from their early-spring injuries and getting their reps along with George Selvie and Kerry Wynn. The Giants have a lot to figure out on the defensive line, and this week offers the final chance for players to show off their footwork and their understanding of the defense for the coaches before training camp.

3. The newly configured offensive line. The plan wasn't for Flowers to play left tackle right away as a rookie. But when Will Beatty went down for 5-to-6 months with a pectoral muscle injury, the plan had to change. The Giants have been working Flowers at that spot all spring, with Marshall Newhouse at right tackle, Justin Pugh at left guard, Weston Richburg at center and Geoff Schwartz/John Jerry at right guard. Unless Schwartz's injuries linger and Jerry plays right guard, that means all five offensive line spots currently have players in them who didn't play those spots last season. The Giants' plan after Beatty got hurt was to use this alignment in the spring and then spend their pre-training camp time evaluating how it looks before deciding whether the plan needed to be changed again. But it's tough to really evaluate offensive line play in no-pads practices. "It is not easy," Coughlin said last week. "You look at every tape and try to be as technical as you can, but there are obvious restrictions for both defense and offense without the pads."

4. Opportunity at wide receiver. Victor Cruz won't be practicing, as he's still recovering from the serious knee injury he suffered in Week 6 of the 2014 season. And the Giants are considering holding Odell Beckham Jr. out of this week's minicamp due to the hamstring injury that cost him the last handful of OTAs. That leaves Rueben Randle as the only projected starting wideout practicing, which means guys such as Dwayne Harris, Corey Washington, Preston Parker and Marcus Harris will get a chance to show what they can do. Unlike the lines, where the lack of contact severely limits evaluations, wide receiver is a position where a player's skills can shine during this time of year. Coaches will be able to evaluate the players' route-running, their understanding of concepts and of course the reliability of their hands. There's a big crowd at wide receiver and not a lot of open spots.

5. Finding a free safety. Second-year safety Nat Berhe has been injured all spring and is missing out on a chance to show what he can do with a starting safety spot open. Rookie Landon Collins is working on learning the free safety position, but he's likely better suited as a box safety. So players such as Berhe, Cooper Taylor and maybe even fifth-round rookie Mykkele Thompson will be asked to show whether they can conduct and handle coverages on the back end. Wide-open competition here.

Oh, it's the offseason, and that means it's time for kooky speculation. On that front today, we have Matt Williamson including the New York Giants in a list of five teams that should consider trading for Buccaneers backup quarterback Mike Glennon.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsHis durability and Super Bowl wins make Eli Manning indispensable to the Giants.

Williamson's reasoning is rooted in the idea that Glennon is a talented player who's had some encouraging experience in the league already and deserves a chance to start somewhere. I can't argue with that, though the quality of the player is likely the reason Tampa Bay has no interest in trading him. Quality backups are pretty hard to find at that position, and the Bucs' projected starter right now is a rookie.

As for the Giants specifically, Williamson points out that Eli Manning is entering the final year of his contract and concludes: "The prudent move in 2016, given the cost of a potential Manning extension, would be to let Manning walk and hand the reigns over to Glennon."

Respectfully, Matt, I disagree, and my strong belief is that the Giants do too.

The Giants' willingness to let Manning play out the final year of his deal without an extension has nothing to do with any concern about his performance or cost in 2016 and beyond. Their feeling is that, since he's not offering them any kind of discount at this point, there's no harm in waiting -- especially with the franchise tag at their disposal as a means of keeping him off the market next spring.

The Giants are used to devoting a large percentage of their salary cap to the quarterback position, are comfortable operating that way and have a fair bit of financial flexibility in the coming years. There aren't many players -- Odell Beckham Jr., Justin Pugh, Ereck Flowers, Dwayne Harris, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie ... maybe one or two more -- to whom the Giants have any kind of significant financial commitment beyond 2015. And multiple people close to the situation have told me the Giants are okay with paying Manning a franchise-player price that's not all that much higher than the $19.75 million cap cost he carries this year if that's what it comes to.

I really believe the only thing that could create a parting of the ways between Manning and the Giants after this season is a significant injury to Manning. And the fact that that concept -- a significant injury to Eli Manning -- sounds so bizarre is exactly why they place more value on Manning than an analysis such as Williamson's assumes.

Manning is certainly not a a flawless player. His star-studded résumé carries its share of pockmarks. But he is two things of significant value that very few teams have:

1. He is a quarterback who literally plays every game. He has not missed a game since becoming the starter in 2004.

2. He is a quarterback about whom his team doesn't have to wonder whether he can win a Super Bowl. He has won two.

How many quarterbacks fit both of those criteria? How many teams out there are starved for a quarterback who fits even one? If Manning hit the open market tomorrow, at least a dozen teams would be interested. His new salary would make his current salary look like a book of food stamps. The Giants know and appreciate this. If the league's financial structure compelled them to give him his extension now, they would. But it doesn't, so they wait, confident that they'll be able to keep him regardless.

Williamson is correct that scarcity at the quarterback position makes Glennon one of the more attractive potentially available options for quarterback-needy teams. But scarcity of reliable high-end talent at the position is what makes Manning essential to the Giants' plans for as long as he can play. As tough as things have been lately for them in the standings and throughout the rest of their roster, they're in no rush to join the sad, desperate gaggle of teams that spend their offseasons sifting through could-be quarterbacks and trying to find the one that'll stick.

Thanks for all of your #nygmail-tagged Twitter questions from this week. Including this tag-team effort:

@DanGrazianoESPN: I think your first question is the one that interests fantasy players the most, as it should. The New York Giants signed running back Shane Vereen away from the Super Bowl champion Patriots to give themselves some help in the passing game. Vereen has 124 receptions (including playoff games) over the past two years, and the Giants also consider him an excellent pass-blocking back. So he gives quarterback Eli Manning an additional target and some more protection, and I would expect to see him an awful lot on third down. I also wonder whether we could see him in more than just that role, given the issues the Giants have right now at tackle due to the Will Beatty injury. A little bit of pass-protection help from the backfield might be more of a priority than the Giants even thought it was when they signed him. That said, based on the conversations I've had, I believe the Giants still want Rashad Jennings to get the early-down work and that they'll give it to him as long as he can stay healthy. The presence of Vereen could help Jennings stay healthy by keeping him away from the third-down work. Jennings was plugged in last year as the do-it-all starter at running back, and he's fine in the passing game, but he does break down. So having Vereen in the mix, and Andre Williams in a sprinkled-in or goal-line role could help maximize Jennings' role as the team's primary ball carrier. Whether Vereen is on the field for more snaps depends on the pass/run ratio of the Giants' offense. But if it's as balanced as coach Tom Coughlin always insists he wants it to be, then their preference is for Jennings to be the primary workhorse. If he can stay healthy, my belief is that Jennings will lead the 2015 Giants backfield in snaps and touches, though Vereen will certainly take a bite.

@DanGrazianoESPN: I like this. Guy couldn't think of his own question, so he embraced that and just said, "I want one of that guy's questions!" So let's move on to the wide receiver one. I believe the presumption here is that Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle are the top three receivers. While this assumes full health at the start of the season for Cruz (which cannot be assumed), we will stipulate that in what I believe was the spirit of the question, and I believe the answer will be Dwayne Harris. The reason I think this is because Harris is definitely going to be on the roster for his value on special teams, while Preston Parker, Corey Washington, Marcus Harris and Julian Talley are going to have to scrap and claw for a roster spot. So for instance, I think if Parker makes the team, he'd be ahead of Dwayne Harris in line for snaps at WR4. But since there's no guarantee Parker makes the team, I'd be foolish to pick him in this prediction game, right? With Dwayne Harris and sixth-round rookie Geremy Davis both seemingly locked into spots, that Parker/Washington/MHarris/Talley quartet could be competing for one spot, unless Cruz needs to start the season on PUP or short-term IR. Parker's experience with the team last year gives him an edge in that competition and leg up on Dwayne Harris on the depth chart if he makes it. If one of the other three got the spot, I think Dwayne Harris would be the most likely WR4, especially since they seem to have convinced him during the negotiation process that he'll have some sort of role on offense. I'll believe that when I see it, but because he's got the roster spot locked up, he's the most likely answer to this particular question.

And what the heck? I'll take the third one as well. Tight end Larry Donnell is a player the Giants love and believe is still on the upswing. They believe his ceiling his high, that he fits the offense well, that Eli Manning trusts him and that he can be one of the more dynamic playmakers in a dynamic offense. The only thing that could cost Donnell the Giants' starting tight end job is an injury, and right now he has one. Donnell missed a good chunk of OTAs with an Achilles problem. If that lingers, it opens the door for other candidates, such as Jerome Cunningham and Adrien Robinson (yes, he's still on the team), to be the pass-catching tight end while Daniel Fells handles the dirty work as a blocker. But Donnell is the clear No. 1, and there's no one on the roster right now who's a threat to his job if he's healthy.

Thanks for the questions. More coming Sunday.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As we have mentioned in this space before, New York Giants rookie safety Landon Collins is obsessed with the late Sean Taylor. Collins says he's modeled his game after Taylor's, that he cried when he heard the news of Taylor's death, that he cheered for Washington because that was Taylor's team and that he wore No. 26 in college because that's the number Taylor wore in college.

[+] EnlargeDominique Rodgers-Cromartie
AP Photo/Seth WenigDominique Rodgers-Cromartie wore No. 21 for the Giants last season but gave it to rookie Landon Collins for free.

When Collins got to the Giants, they gave him No. 27. But he wanted 26, so he asked running back Orleans Darkwa for it.

"I guess Darkwa wanted too much," Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said Monday. "So he came to me. After he told me his story, I said, 'No problem.'"

Rodgers-Cromartie wore No. 21 last season, his first year with the Giants. As it happens, that's the number Sean Taylor wore in the NFL. So after he couldn't get No. 26, Collins decided to try for 21. He was happy he didn't have to pay for it.

"I know he's got that big contract," Collins said of Rodgers-Cromartie. "So I was hoping he wouldn't want money, because I'm just coming in."

Rodgers-Cromartie was fine switching to No. 41 and said he doesn't care which number he wears.

"It means a lot to me," Collins said. "So I'm very thankful he was so willing to give it up. It means a lot."

Landon Collins, the rookie safety the New York Giants traded up to select in the second round of the NFL draft last month, has changed his uniform number from 27 to 21 in honor of the late Sean Taylor.

Collins is mildly obsessed with Taylor, whom he openly describes as the player after whom he's modeled his game. Collins said he wore No. 26 in college because that's the number Taylor wore at the University of Miami, that he cried when he heard the news that Taylor had died and that Washington was his favorite NFL team as a kid because that was Taylor's team.

Upon being drafted by the Giants, Collins was issued No. 27, but he said that weekend that he hoped to talk running back Orleans Darkwa out of No. 26. That effort was either unsuccessful or preempted by veteran cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie offering Collins No. 21, the number Taylor wore as a pro. Collins tweeted his thanks to Rodgers-Cromartie on Tuesday evening:

Rodgers-Cromartie will switch to No. 41.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Steve Spagnuolo's second stint as the New York Giants' defensive coordinator has barely begun, but he got a big endorsement from one of the team's biggest stars Monday.

"Yes ma'am," cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said without hesitation, when asked if the Giants' defense can be better in 2015. "I truly feel that just [Spagnuolo's] whole concept and the things that he allows us to do, I feel pretty good."

[+] EnlargeTom Coughlin
Evan Habeeb/Getty ImagesCornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie says he's feeling more comfortable after spending a year in the Giants' system.

The Giants gave up the fourth-most yards in the NFL last season, leading to the dismissal of former defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. It sounds like Rodgers-Cromartie is much more comfortable in Spagnuolo's system.

"I would say this defense is kinda corner[back] friendly," he said. "It allows you to use your vision a whole lot more and do some things that really play to the corners that we have, [their] skill sets, as far as vision and breaking on balls."

The Giants had high expectations when they signed Rodgers-Cromartie to a five-year, $39 million contract in the spring of 2014. But his first season was rather underwhelming. "DRC" played in all 16 games, but often had to shuffle on and off the field due to injuries.

Although the 2015 season is still more than three months away, Rodgers-Cromartie said Monday he feels good physically right now, which is promising.

He also said he feels better with a year in the organization under his belt: "It took a whole year, just to go to battle with these guys, get an understanding of just the Giant way of doing things."

When asked what's different about the "Giant way," Rodgers-Cromartie replied, "Shoot, everything. If you know anything about Coach Coughlin, you know he's a strict guy. Just that aspect, and the things that are expected kinda. But it's for the best. It's helping us out in the long run."

Rodgers-Cromartie still sounds happy to be with the Giants, despite the fact that they did not re-sign safety Antrel Rolle in the offseason. Rolle helped recruit Rodgers-Cromartie to New York, and their lockers were side-by-side.

"That's always hard, especially (losing) a guy like Antrel -- first coming in, he took me under his wing and did a lot for me," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "To have him leave is like, dang. But it's a business, life goes on -- it hurts a little bit, but you've gotta get it out of your system."

Is it out of his system?

"No, not that fast," he said, smiling. "But it's getting there."

With plenty of time to spare.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- We've been penciling in Cullen Jenkins as a starting defensive tackle alongside Johnathan Hankins in the middle of the New York Giants' defensive line. That's what he's played the last couple of years, and it may well be what he does this year.

But it's not what he did Wednesday in the team's first organized team activities (OTAs) practice.

When the Giants lined up for their first 11-on-11 team drills Wednesday, Jenkins was lined up with the first team at defensive end, opposite Robert Ayers. Jenkins played defensive end almost exclusively throughout the day, rotating in there following Ayers' injury with guys like George Selvie, Kerry Wynn and Jordan Stanton.

[+] EnlargeCullen Jenkins
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsCullen Jenkins has the versatility to start at either defensive tackle or at end.

Now, it's important to note that the Giants right now are without starting defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, their franchise player who's been working out on his own at home instead of attending the voluntary portion of the team's offseason program. It's also important to note that defensive end Damontre Moore is still getting up to speed after missing the first month or so of the offseason program because he went back to Texas A&M to take classes in pursuit of his college degree. And of course, Ayers got hurt on the first play of practice. So Jenkins, who has some defensive end experience from his time in Green Bay, could just be a fill-in while the Giants are short on personnel at those spots.

But it's not crazy to think Jenkins could get into the pass-rush mix. There's no clear-cut starter on the side opposite Pierre-Paul, especially if Moore doesn't take a big step forward in his development and if Ayers has health issues. New coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is likely to move guys around and mix and match on the defensive line more than predecessor Perry Fewell did, and Jenkins' versatility is one of the reasons the Giants signed him and have kept him around.

Problem is, you have to find an answer at defensive tackle if you use Jenkins at defensive end. It was Markus Kuhn, the 2012 seventh-rounder who's still kicking around, who ran with the first team next to Hankins on Wednesday. Also in that defensive tackle mix would be 2014 third-rounder Jay Bromley and recently signed former Jet Kenrick Ellis. Still lots to sort out up front with the Giants' defense.

Other defensive items worthy of note from Wednesday:

  • The first-team safeties were second-round rookie Landon Collins and 2013 fifth-rounder Cooper Taylor, which was at least a mild surprise because I wasn't sure Taylor would be healthy enough to do much this time of year. My guess is that Nat Berhe would have been the first-team free safety alongside Collins if he hadn't been on the sideline with a calf injury. But if Taylor is healthy enough to get into the mix, he's worth watching.
  • Collins stood out in the safety group as the guy who moved the most naturally in his position-specific drills. But fifth-rounder Mykkele Thompson did intercept a Ryan Nassib pass in 7-on-7 drills.
  • Trumaine McBride was the first-team nickel cornerback and remains the most likely to start out in that position if he's healthy. It was interesting to note that Josh Gordy, who was called a safety by general manager Jerry Reese shortly after his signing (but before Reese drafted two safeties) was working with the cornerbacks. Spagnuolo mentioned Gordy earlier this month as a guy in the mix for that nickel corner spot, along with McBride, Chykie Brown and Mike Harris.
  • I did not see third-round pick Owamagbe Odighizuwa in the mix on the defensive line. Could be I missed him (most of the team drills were conducted far from where media were allowed to stand), or it could be they're working him into the mix on special teams to start.

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