The Giants lined up in so many wacky, unorthodox formations on defense today, that there were times when it was hard to tell if they were actually practicing those looks for use in games or just experimenting. But there is definitely something different in this season’s defense (after finishing 31st, there’d better be!) and the Giants are playing it pretty close to the vest when it comes to talking about it.
“We’ll be very multiple,” defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said. “Personnel-wise, we have guys that fit a 4-3. We have guys that fit a lot of different defensive combinations. And so I’m going to build a defense based on our personnel.”
When the team took its first 11-on-11 snaps in practice today, that defense was lined up in a 3-4, about as basic and straight-forward as one can be. Cullen Jenkins and Linval Joseph were on the ends and Shaun Rigers was in the middle on the defensive line. Keith Rivers and Mathias Kiwanuka were both in two-point stances on the outside up at the line of scrimmage (so there were really five bodies going across). Spencer Paysinger and Mark Herzlich were the inside backers.
Throughout the practice the Giants shuffled in and out of that look along with some others. At one point they had Justin Tuck, Jenkins and Kiwanuka all as down linemen with Adrian Tracy floating in the middle as a linebacker. Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger were the true linebackers and Terrell Thomas was in the nickel covering the slot. In 7-on-7s we saw Justin Tuck dropping into coverage and covering TE Brandon Myers man-to-man. Tracy and Justin Trattou were also dropping into coverage. There were a few looks that had Johnathan Hankins lined up as a 3-4 DE with Mike Patterson in the middle and Matt Broha on the opposite end, Aaron Curry and Tracy as stand-up linebackers up on the line of scrimmage (again, five players across), and Herzlich and Williams in the middle.
We’ve seen for quite a while that the Giants have been shifting their defensive ends from side to side depending on the offensive formation. That’s new this year and Tuck said it “makes us a little bit less predictable.” And they have dabbled in some looks throughout training camp and even lined up in a 3-4 on the second snap of the preseason opener. Today, though, was one of the first times we’ve seen the Giants use such variety in a full practice.
“I think we have some players that have some versatility at the different positions,” Fewell said. “We’re experimenting. We don’t actually know if we’re as versatile as we can be, so we’ll find out in some of these preseason games, but we’d like to think we’re more versatile.”
As for the rest of practice, let’s start with the injuries. Quite a few players are still on the sideline: Corey Webster (groin), Cooper Taylor (hamstring), Chris DeGeare (knee), James Brewer (concussion), Jerrel Jernigan (soreness), Brandon Collins (hamstring), Damontre Moore (shoulder) and Da’rel Scott (no information yet). In other words, no one came back today who was not on the field yesterday. Obviously Antrel Rolle (ankle) was not available and the three PUP guys continued to work on the side.
There was a moment when it looked like this practice report could turn into another injury report. In 7-on-7s Eli Manning threw a deep pass down the left seam for Rueben Randle and the receiver made a leaping effort to catch it. He had the ball in his hands as he was coming to the ground, but he was knocked down by a combination of Stevie Brown and Ryan Mundy. In fact, after the players hit the turf and rolled, Mundy had the ball in his hands. I couldn’t tell if he caught it cleanly after stripping it away from Randle or if he scooped it off the turf, but he got up and ran back towards the line of scrimmage as if he had a pick, so we’ll give it to him. While Mundy was returning his possible interception, though, Randle was quite slow to get up. Brown bent over him and tried to help him get to his feet. Eventually he did and Randle, obviously shaken, walked back to the offensive unit by way of a visit with the trainers for a quick chat. He stood with his hands on his knees for a moment and was walking gingerly. But a few snaps later he was back at wide receiver running routes and he remained on the field for the rest of the practice.
For one of the first times since he returned to practice last week, Hakeem Nicks made a good-looking catch on a pass from Eli Manning in 11-on-11s. He did it with Prince Amukamara covering him, too. Much later in practice Nicks caught a quick slant from Manning. In between, though, Amukamara was able to intercept a deep pass from Manning for Nicks deep down the left sideline, maintaining inside leverage and keeping the receiver away from the ball with his body … Manning his Louis Murphy on a pass that saw Terrell Thomas blitz. Thomas was picked up by Andre Brown … Manning also threw a screen pass to Brown that had the defense completely fooled. Chris Snee was running out in front of Brown and David Diehl escorted the running back the length of the field for a touchdown … Ramses Barden made two straight catches on passes from David Carr … Kevin Hardy slipped on a cut to the outside with Charles James in coverage and Ryan Nassib’s pass sailed where Hardy would have been … Ryan Torain took a run on the left side and Eric Herman hit Will Hill so hard that he knocked the safety’s helmet off.
In 7-on-7s, Jayron Hosley had a nice pass defense against Larry Donnell on the left side of the defense. A few plays later Hosley jumped in front of Hardy, who seemed to cut his route short, and intercepted a pass from Painter. In 11-on-11s later in the practice Hosley also went mano-a-mano with Victor Cruz down the left sideline and stayed with him, poking away a potential deep pass.
The team worked in the red zone again, but because practice was in the field house we were unable to see much of what went on. Sufficed to say some people caught the ball, a few people defended them, and plays were made.
Practice ended with a hurry-up drill from the offense, which was given less than a minute to get into field goal range. Before we get into the play-by-play of the drill, just a note that Justin Pugh played right tackle with the first unit for this series and Brandon Mosley was at right guard. Since his return from a concussion yesterday, Pugh had been taking mostly second-team reps at left tackle.
As for the drill itself, Manning’s first pass was a completion to Cruz but his second was dropped by Cruz who had a step down the left sideline on Terrell Thomas. That set up third down and Manning hit Randle for the first down. The team ran up and spiked the ball with :20 remaining. On second-and-10 Manning’s pass for Nicks was incomplete with Prince Amukamara in coverage. Justin Tuck had a strong outside pass rush on Pugh on that play. On third-and-10, Manning tried to hit Randle on the left side and Prince Amukamara was there to break the play up. A flag was thrown by one of the officials on the other side of the field, though. It was unclear if the call was against Prince (who might have been a hair early in his contact) or on another defender. Not that it mattered. The offense gladly accepted the penalty that pushed them well into field goal range and Coughlin whistled the practice over.