The destination is now clear in their sights. The Giants will get going for real in two weeks when they open their season at Tennessee. When the Giants take the field Sept. 11, everything that has transpired leading up to this — the spring work, the long and hot training camp, the bumps and strains and bruises, the installation of the new offense and defense, the angst about perceived problem areas and the optimism about possible strengths — all fades into the background.
There is always that delicate balance between pushing forward and pulling back. All that matters is which players are trending up and will be available for the real thing. There is one more preseason game to go, Sunday against the Jets at MetLife Stadium, and, given the dearth of depth at so many spots, it would behoove the Giants to keep their top players safe and sound, and use the third exhibition game as a final evaluation for the bottom end of the roster.
“I think we always want to ramp things up,” first-year head coach Brian Daboll said. “We always want to be urgent in what we do from the meeting rooms to the practice field, I don’t think you can go up and down with that. I think you have to have a high sense of urgency in this league.”
A positive showing in this past Thursday’s joint practice with the Jets affords Daboll more breathing room, as far as seeing progress on offense and defense against a different jersey color. The next cutdown, to the required 53 players, comes on Tuesday. After that, expect the Giants to aggressively scan the massive free-agent list and sign a few — or perhaps more than a few — players jettisoned from other teams. “Final” roster is a misnomer, especially for a team with a new head coach and general manager and with needs at a variety of places.
“Do you sit there and talk about what’s coming in a week? I just shoot it to them straight,” Daboll said. “We started out with 90. Now you’re down to 80. It’s going to go to 53 pretty soon, and unfortunately the world we live in, there’s going to be 600 or 700 guys that will be working out on Tuesdays trying to get onto another team. Another 400 or 500, whatever it is, for the practice squad. We all know it’s an evaluation period for all of us. I think you just concentrate on doing your job the best you can, and then you can live with the results.”
For the established players, it can be challenging to replace camp mode with the rigors of the real thing. Safety Xavier McKinney, entering his third season, said he started thinking about and engaging in preliminary preparation for the Titans weeks ago.
“Just to get a head start,” McKinney said. “To see the little things, like who the [offensive coordinator] is, what his background is, things like that. Obviously, you don’t have too much information that early, but I found out as much as I could.”
Defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence is not rushing away the next two weeks, pointing out that the longer the players get to acclimate to the new system put in by defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, the better.
“You need all the little bit of time you need,” Lawrence said. “We’re still learning each other. Growing. Learning how to communicate a little better. So, it’s enough time for us to get where we need to be before the first game and come out blazing hot.”
Whether the starters play a series or two or not at all, plenty of Daboll’s focus will be directed at wrapping up in his mind who stays and who goes. The most noticeable uncertainties are at wide receiver and tight end on offense and outside linebacker and safety on defense.
This is fertile ground for the edge rushers in the second and third tier of the depth chart. The two starting outside linebackers, rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux (knee) and Azeez Ojulari (calf), will be watching from the side. Behind them, there is the opposite of clarity and also an absence of bodies.
Ellerson Smith was supposed to make a push in his second NFL training camp, his first with this new coaching staff. It has not happened. He flashed early and is currently moving around wearing a walking boot on his right foot. Quincy Roche spent last season primarily on the practice squad, and the Steelers’ 2021 sixth-round pick is certainly in the mix. Rookie Tomon Fox emphatically ended last week’s preseason victory over the Bengals with a jarring last-second tackle. He might have to make the team based on numbers at the position.
“At this time of year, everybody’s kind of on — I wouldn’t want to call it stress,” Daboll said. “It’s important to everyone, just put it that way.”