The Giants have so much continuity on this side of the ball that even some of their additions from last year aren’t really new at all: Victor Cruz and Will Beatty were both sidelined in 2015 but should be healthy enough to play this time around. “I wouldn’t use the word ‘different’, but it’s advanced from when we started the system three years ago now from top to bottom,” running back Rashad Jennings said. The consistency in many areas is welcomed. Odell Beckham Jr. and Eli Manning played at a high level last year and should continue to, especially with more options in the passing game such as Cruz and rookie Sterling Shepard. Jennings established himself as the leading rusher late in ’15 and is expected to fall back into that role. Larry Donnell and Will Tye give the Giants good pass-catching options at tight end (sometimes at the detriment of their disappointing blocking). The offensive line is back from last year, too – whether fans like it or not. Their lack of production was the biggest headache of the preseason, but if they can just open a few running holes and allow Manning a few moments to find receivers, they don’t have to be dominant for the Giants to put up huge numbers this season.
The Giants spent a lot of money – plus a first-round draft pick – to improve their last-ranked defense this season. Will it work? “I definitely think it is going to be a whole lot better,” returning cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. “I mean being 32nd, you only can get better.” One would hope. And all signs point to it happening. DE Olivier Vernon and a functional Jason Pierre-Paul should help revitalize a stagnant pass rush, DT Damon Harrison is one of the league’s top run-cloggers, and the unit has shown an ability to create timely takeaways this preseason. DRC, free agent Janoris Jenkins and rookie Eli Apple should give the Giants better coverage than last year’s team, which allowed the second-most passing yards in NFL history, and a more athletic and veteran group of linebackers looks far more capable than those who were forced into service early last year. “It’s about building a mentality,” DRC said. “You’re seeing guys just flying around and being relentless to the ball, building that mentality of what Giants defenses are known for. Building the Bully is what we are calling it.”
Once he serves his one-game suspension this week, expect Josh Brown to be the Giants’ kicker in Weeks 2 through 17 (and beyond?). He’s coming off his first Pro Bowl season and, at age 37, is kicking better than he has at any other point in his career. His one miss last season, though, was a season-changer against the Jets in overtime. Punter Brad Wing’s second season with the Giants started well with a strong preseason. The Giants kept Bobby Rainey on their roster, but expect Dwayne Harris to get the majority of chances as a kickoff and punt returner. Harris, long-snapper Zak DeOssie and LB Mark Herzlich will also be among the leaders in special teams tackles. Keep an eye on rookie LB B.J. Goodson too; his combination of speed and size could make him a dangerous weapon in special teams coverages.