Most of the key players who will ultimately decide the Giants’ fate this season got the night off in Friday night’s preseason opener at MetLife Stadium. No Eli Manning. No Odell Beckham Jr. No Jason Pierre-Paul. No Sterling Shepard.
But there were still some noteworthy moments for handful of stars that did see some action, and plenty of action for those who enter the season as understudies. Here’s how we saw it:
— Geno Smith saw his first action since recovering from torn knee ligaments last October in his final game as a Jets quarterback. All things considered, he looked strong from a physical standpoint. He moved well in the pocket, the velocity on his throws was good, and he generally made good decisions. Key word — generally.
After leading a pair of field-goal drives to give the Giants a 12-10 lead in the first half, Smith threw an interception midway through the third quarter that negated much of the good he accomplished. After looking for rookie receiver Travis Rudolph to his left, Smith fired the ball right into the waiting arms of Steelers linebacker Arthur Moats, whose return set up a field goal to give Pittsburgh a 13-12 lead with 4:02 remaining in the third quarter.
Smith came on in relief of Josh Johnson, who also is fighting for the primary backup job to Eli Manning, who hasn’t missed a start since taking over as the Giants’ No. 1 quarterback midway through his rookie season in 2004. Johnson looked only so-so in his 1 ½ quarters worth of action, going 5-for-10 for 31 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions and a 56.7 rating. He was sacked three times.
Who gets the job? Too early to know.
— The Giants brought in veteran Mike Nugent to compete with first-year kicker Aldrick Rosas, and the two were accurate on their first four combined attempts. Rosas calmly hit field goals of 27 yards and 52 yards in the first half, a promising start for the 22-year-old out of Southern Oregon. One guy who really likes Rosas is former Giants punter Jeff Feagles, now a color commentator for the Giants’ radio broadcasts. “He’s got the strongest leg I’ve ever seen,” Feagles said.
— The next time anyone suggests a veteran player is hurting his team or himself by passing up voluntary offseason workouts, look at Giants’ defensive end Olivier Vernon. While Odell Beckham Jr. was the one making the most news with his decision to pass up voluntary practices, Vernon also decided to stay away and trained at home in south Florida. He has looked strong in practice, and in the limited work he got Friday night, looked as if he’s ready to roll. He combined with Landon Collins for get a 1-yard loss on run by Fitzgerald Toussaint on the Steelers’ first play from scrimmage, and then broke up a screen to Toussaint on the Steelers’ next drive.
— Speaking of Collins, he was all over the place during his limited work, coming up with three solo tackles and one assist on the Steelers’ first two drives. Last season he got some consideration as a candidate for defensive player of the year, and he looks every bit as good coming into this season.
— Rhett Ellison was brought in as a blocking tight end/H back, but the free agent from the Vikings got involved early in the passing game, catching three passes for 20 yards in the first half. He’s a valuable, if understated piece of Ben McAdoo’s offense, because he presumably will help the running game improve by virtue of his blocking. But he also can change things up in the intermediate passing game and provide a complement to first-round rookie tight end Evan Engram, who has terrific downfield speed.
— Still too soon to tell if left tackle Ereck Flowers will show the kind of improvement the Giants have talked about in the offseason, but his conditioning is much better and he looks a bit quicker after having lost some weight.
— The Giants got their first look at third-round rookie quarterback Davis Webb, who mopped up in the fourth quarter. He overthrew Kevin Norwood over the middle on his first attempt, threw incomplete on a short pass over the middle on his second and then found running back Khalid Abdullah for an 11-yard completion and a first down. Webb will get a roster spot as the Giants’ third quarterback.