Newsday's Tom Rock shares 10 storylines for the Giants as they enter the 2014 season.
MORE CHANGE FOR COUGHLIN
Tom Coughlin was forced to change his personality as a coach in 2007 and it wound up winning him a Super Bowl. This year, he’s been forced to change his philosophy, abandoning the wide-open offensive system he and Kevin Gilbride employed in Jacksonville and for a decade with the Giants in favor of new coordinator Ben McAdoo’s more risk-averse playbook. At 68, Coughlin is perceived as an old-school coach who is averse to flexibility. But if the Giants find success this season, he could go down as not only the most successful coach in franchise history but its most open-minded.
COUNTING ON ELI TO DELIVER
Eli Manning is 33 years old and coming off his worst season as a pro, so it’s hard to argue that his best days are in front of him. Quarterbacks are known for their longevity and sometimes can have career renaissances at this stage, but here’s what is stacked against him: learning a new offense after a decade (and two Super Bowls) with one system; an O-line that is different but still has holes; no apparent playmaking tight end. The Giants have rebuilt this team and coaching staff around Manning, counting on him to deliver. With only one year left on his contract after this one, though, another stinker of a season could have the team brass preparing to search for the Giants’ next quarterback.
MCADOO MAKES THE CALL
There will be a lot of West Coast philosophies such as short, quick passes and moving the quarterback in the pocket, but as far as Ben McAdoo himself, the Giants haven’t had a firebrand like him for a while. He’s littered preseason practices with profanity, screaming at the players to make the right reads and play at a faster pace. The new offensive coordinator is a first-time play-caller and has relied on Manning quite a bit in figuring out which plays the team is most comfortable with. When the real games start, though, McAdoo probably will take more control as he voices the calls into Manning’s helmet. One sure bet: Those calls will be rated PG-13 at the least.
THE RUSH TO RUSH
Pass rushers have always been the superstars of Giants defenses, from Lawrence Taylor to Michael Strahan to Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck. Now Jason Pierre-Paul and Damontre Moore are looking to establish -- or re-establish -- themselves as the latest link in that chain. Pierre-Paul is coming off a season in which he was slowed by back surgery and Moore developed slowly as a rookie in 2013. The Giants will need both to put up big numbers and scare quarterbacks for the defense to be good enough to weather whatever turbulence the new offense brings.
LEGION OF BLUE-OOM?
The Giants may never admit they are following the Seahawks’ blueprint by rebuilding their defense from back to front, but it’s pretty clear they are trying to create their own “Legion of Boom’’ on the East Coast. The additions of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond III (an actual member of last year’s Legion in Seattle) along with the return of Prince Amukamara give the Giants their best cornerback group in years. Add Zack Bowman and last year’s starter, Trumaine McBride, and the Giants have depth and experience. That should allow safeties Antrel Rolle and Stevie Brown to take chances and haul in more interceptions.
LATEST LINE ON THE LINE
Will the offensive line be any better? The obvious answer is: How could it possibly be worse? So yes, after injuries and poor play depleted the five-man front in 2013, a big reason for the dysfunction of the offense, the Giants seem to have better pieces and better depth. But they still have issues. Starting center J.D. Walton came through preseason unscathed but missed the last two full seasons with injuries. Rookie Weston Richburg will start for the injured Geoff Schwartz at left guard and either John Jerry or Brandon Mosley will be at right guard. Left tackle Will Beatty seems to have overcome his leg injury but needs to bounce back from a dreadful 2013. And right tackle Justin Pugh, the steadiest player on the line last year, is in his second season and still has plenty to improve upon.
THE NEED FOR MORE SALSA
Will the Giants have enough big-play receivers? They have Victor Cruz, but he hasn’t caught a salsa-inducing touchdown pass since Week 4 of last season. Rueben Randle led the team with six touchdowns in 2013, but his longest reception last year was for 37 yards and he still looks out of sync with Manning. The Giants hoped to mix in deep threats with their West Coast philosophies -- they had only 12 passes of more than 30 yards last season, and eight of those went to the since-departed Hakeem Nicks -- and thought first-round pick Odell Beckham Jr. would be the guy to provide that. After spending the summer nursing his hamstring injury, Beckham might not be at full speed with his legs or with the playbook for a while.
JENNINGS SET TO PAY OFF
Running back should be the most improved position group this season. Even with the loss of David Wilson to a neck injury, the Giants planned well for the position, adding veteran free agent Rashad Jennings and drafting Andre Williams. Jennings brings experience at low mileage and, thanks to his pass-catching and pass-blocking skills, could wind up being the biggest acquisition of the offseason. He also brings a renewed professionalism to the group in meetings and video study, something that already has rubbed off on Williams.
THE NEED FOR BETTER RETURNS
One overlooked issue in a sea of problems last year was the Giants’ ineffectiveness in kickoff returns (ranked 27th) and punt returns (26th). The former should be helped by the acquisition of Quintin Demps, who last year averaged 30.1 yards with one touchdown on 33 kickoff returns for the Chiefs. Demps has never returned punts, though. The Giants thought Trindon Holliday would be their salvation there and that Beckham could be an explosive returner, but both were sidelined for most of training camp and only Beckham made the final roster.
TIGHT END BY COMMITTEE
The Giants hoped someone would emerge from the primordial ooze of players who began training camp as potential starting tight ends, and although all of them showed a little spark and an occasional flicker, none truly evolved into a full-fledged starter. So the Giants will go with a tight end by committee, rotating three players based on their skill sets. Need a blocker? Daniel Fells will be the guy. A receiver? Look for Larry Donnell. Adrien Robinson might even get a few looks in his third year after a much-heralded arrival as 2012’s fourth-round draft pick.