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Five things to watch as Giants begin OTAs Wednesday

Eli Manning looks on the from the sidelines

Eli Manning looks on the from the sidelines in the closing minutes of a game against the San Diego Chargers. (Dec. 8, 2013) Credit: AP

Don’t think the first day of OTAs is important? Let’s go back to last year’s and see what kind of tone the opening of team workouts set for the rest of the season.

We all went into the start of OTAs in 2013 thinking the big story would be the absence of Victor Cruz. Well, it turned out that the real issue was the absence of Hakeem Nicks, who had been working with the team throughout the offseason program but went AWOL for OTAs. He just disappeared, and we never really got a clear explanation of why. (I doubt we ever will.) The Giants and Nicks never again seemed to be in stride, either on the field or off.

That was also the day fullback Henry Hynoski was carted off the field following the second snap of 11-on-11 plays, dealing a significant blow to the running game. The Giants were relying on Hynoski to be a leader for the young group that included David Wilson, Andre Brown and Da’Rel Scott. We all know how that turned out. While Hynoski pushed through knee surgery and rehab to get back on the field for the start of the regular season, he was never physically able to play and it slowed the running game down quite a bit.

And, at the time of last year’s start to OTAs, Jason Pierre-Paul was just a week or so away from having the back surgery that would cripple his season.

Looking back, it’s easy to see that the frame was starting to warp.

So what’s in store this year?

Well, OTAs start on Wednesday and we have our first media availability at them on Thursday. It will give the media a first look at the new Giants offense. But there will be plenty more to watch for, and here are five of the main storylines we’ll keep an eye on as we head into OTAs. Of course, as we saw last year when no one had any inkling about Nicks, Hynoski or JPP, anything can happen.

How’s Eli Manning? The quarterback is only supposed to be running now following ankle surgery about six weeks ago, but from all accounts, he’s been taking part in the offseason workouts on a limited but fairly significant basis. The Giants will want to reign him in so that he’s sure to be 100 percent healthy for the start of training camp in July. Manning will want to take all of the snaps in OTAs and next month’s minicamp. They’ll likely find a happy medium with Manning getting enough reps to get a feel for the offense but not too many that he does any damage to his repaired ankle. (A sidebar to this storyline will be the battle between Ryan Nassib and Josh Freeman for the backup job and we can expect to see a lot of both of them in the coming weeks.)

Who’s on the line? The Giants reinforced their offensive line this offseason, now it’s a chance to see how exactly they plan to line everyone up. Will veteran J.D. Walton take first-team reps at center or will second-round pick Weston Richburg? Is Chris Snee healthy enough to be back at right guard? Who will play left tackle if Will Beatty is not ready to be back on the field? The Giants had some question marks regarding their line last year, but they were glossed over at this point in the season. After having the o-line be the focal point of the 7-9 season, a lot of doubting eyes will be on the new pieces.

Will the “JPP of Tight Ends” live up to his name? The Giants could have drafted a big, play-making tight end earlier this month. They didn’t. That leaves Adrien Robinson as the best option to start at tight end, even though in two NFL seasons he has yet to catch a pass. Robinson seems to be ready to step into the role, but we also have to figure out what that role is. Watching how the Giants will use their tight end this season will give a better focus to whether Robinson can become a play-maker. Speaking of the JPP of tight ends, the Giants would probably also like to have the JPP of defensive ends back. So …

Is JPP ready to return to form? Jason Pierre-Paul’s 2013 season was scuttled by back surgery and then a shoulder injury. For about half a game he looked like the dynamic player the Giants had grown accustomed to seeing, hardly long enough to save the season. Now, after rehabbing his shoulder and back throughout the offseason, he says he feels great and has lost weight and is excited to put on a show for his contract year. The Giants will definitely need him to do that.

Will the secondary become primary? Former Seahawk Walter Thurmond already blew the trumpet on this new unit by proclaiming their potential to be better than the group he left in Seattle. With the addition of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Quintin Demps, the return of Stevie Brown, and the interesting drafting of Nat Berhe in the fifth round, the Giants will have a lot of athletes on the back end of their defense. We’ll also see how (and how much) they use Will Hill, which should give a pretty good indication of whether they think he’ll be with the team this season.

So there are five things to stew over until the Giants take the field tomorrow. Maybe something will happen that no one is expecting that will push all of those stories to the background. Maybe an event will take place that will set the tone for the entire 2014 season. Think it’s too early for that to happen? How quickly we forget!

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