As the Giants prepare for their second preseason game tomorrow night against the Detroit Lions—the teams held joint practices this week—on the road, head coach Pat Shurmur and his staff continue to zealously assess each position, with starting and backup roles, as well as spots on the 53-man roster expectedly unsettled with the season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Met Life Stadium Sept. 9, a little over three weeks away.
“I’m just looking forward to our guys [competing] against new faces, new schemes,” Shurmur said Monday. “It kind of freshens things up.”
Preseason games often present skewed or misleading views of a team’s potential strengths and weaknesses. So it might be premature to speculate that the Giants’ secondary, which was porous versus Cleveland Browns last Thursday at home in a 20-10 defeat, and arguably the least effective in the NFL a season ago, will once again be shredded on a weekly basis.
Pro Football Focus takes the perspective the Giants’ secondary will be vastly improved. The website, which specializes in advanced statistical analysis of sports teams and players, ranks the Giants’ defensive backfield 15th overall in the NFL heading into the upcoming season and first among all NFC East teams. Last season, the Giants’ passing defense was 31st out of 32 teams.
PFF’s positive assessment in large measure is based on the stature of Landon Collins and Janoris Jenkins. The 24-year-old Collins, now in his fourth season, is a two-time Pro Bowler at strong safety (2016 and 2017), a 2016 First-Team All-Pro player and one of the best defensive players in the league at any position. Jenkins, 29, was a Second Team All-Pro cornerback selection in 2016 and maintains the skill level to ascend back to that level after an uneven 2017 campaign.
However, the free safety position opposite Jenkins is an open battle of candidates who include Darian Thompson, last year’s starter, Curtis Riley, Andrew Adams and Michael Thomas. Thompson injured his hamstring versus the Browns and has been sidelined since then. Over the span of the past week, Riley, a native of White Plains, N.Y., who was with the Tennessee Titans the past three seasons, has emerged as the starter among the healthy group.
At corner, the Giants decided not to re-sign 32-year-old Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who spent the 2014 through 2017 seasons with the franchise, starting 61 games. Last season he saw much of his time at the slot and nickel positions. Veteran William Gay, who is playing in his 12th season, is expected to replace Rodgers-Cromartie after being signed by the Giants in April as a free-agent.
Eli Apple is the X factor. The Giants’ previous regime, led by former general manager Jerry Reese, had lofty expectations for the Ohio State product, who turned 23 last Thursday, when they drafted him in the first round—10th overall—in 2016. Thus far, Apple has struggled. Pro Football Focus listed Apple as 79th among cornerbacks and gives him a grade of only 64.5, placing him in the below average category.
Apple’s questionable discipline and maturity has been deeply scrutinized during his two seasons as a pro. If he develops the requisite mental and emotional acuity needed to be a consistently solid player, the Giants’ secondary could be considerably better.