Credit: Bill Moore photo

Training camp and preseason are designed to serve various purposes. For well established veterans, it’s working on nuances, serving as mentors and leaders to the younger players, developing chemistry with their respective units, and trying to stay injury free ahead of the start of the regular season. Others are simply endeavoring to earn a spot on the 53-man roster or make the practice squad.

The Giants will unveil their initial 2021 group on Saturday night at MetLife Stadium when they face the Jets in the preseason opener for both teams. The Giants have been designated as the host and the Jets the road squad at the home for both teams. The Giants finished 6-10 last season, tied with the 6-10 Dallas Cowboys for the second best record in the NFC East, but ended in second place due to a better division record.

The Washington Football Team won the NFC East with an unimpressive, below .500 7-9 mark. The Philadelphia Eagles were last at 4-11. The meager win totals of all four teams reflect the substandard level at which they collectively performed. Each franchise has at least one Super Bowl on their resume. The Giants have four, the last coming in 2012. They are not expected to be an NFL championship contender this season but decidedly improved.

The Giants’ defense, which ranked a solid 12th in yards allowed per game (349.3) and yielded a more than respectable 22.3 points per game in 2020 under assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, should be up to the task again as a top half of the league outfit. It was the offense, which sat 31 out of 32 teams—the Jets were last—in points scored (17.5 ) that was an albatross. As a result, it was the priority of the Giants’ ownership and general manager Dave Gettleman to infuse the offense with talent to help accelerate the growth of now third-year quarterback Daniel Jones, who is entering a critical year.

A poor or average season by Jones will no doubt compel the Giants to strongly consider other options at the position. Jones and the offense were the recipients of free-agent wide receiver Kenny Golladay, signed to a four-year, $72 million deal in March. However, he is currently sidelined in training camp with a leg injury and could be out several weeks. The Giants also drafted receiver Kadarius Toney from the University of Florida in the first round with the 20th overall pick. The health and production of running back Saquon Barkley will also be a key factor in determining if the Giants take a significant step forward, remain stagnant, or implausibly regress.

Barkley is coming off ACL surgery of his right knee after tearing it last season on Sept. 20 in Week 2 against the Chicago Bears. The fourth-year running back hopes to regain his 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year form when he rushed for 1,307 yards and had 91 receptions for 721 yards. While his numbers likely won’t equal or surpass those stats, Barkley’s impact could be the difference in the offense and Jones making considerable strides.

On Monday, Barkley practiced with the Giants for the first time since tearing his ACL. There is no definitive timetable for when he will play his first game, but it could be in Week 1 of the regular season—Sept. 12—when the Denver Broncos visit New Jersey or four days later in Week 2 against Washington on the road.