Autumn is in the air!
Well, not quite...However we are inching closer to the 2014 NFL season with the opening of training camp(s) across the league.
Training camp brings us not only renewed hope and energy for the upcoming season, but the dream of how this could be the start of something special for your respective team.
True diehards will be watching camps very closely, eyeing key positional battles, reading countless practice reports and watching for the surprise out-of-nowhere standouts with a chance to make the 53 man roster.
It surely is an exciting time to be a football fan.
One of the first teams to open up for business this week were the New York 'football' Giants in East Rutherford, NJ.
It was a disappointing 2013 season for the Giants finishing at 7-9 and missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season. Despite the third place finish, many Giants' fans have hope for a strong turnaround in '14 in what seems to be a wide open and weakened NFC East.
Training Camp Primer- New York Giants (7-9, 3rd Place NFC East)
Key Free Agent Off-Season Additions- CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Broncos), OG Geoff Schwartz (Chiefs), RB Rashad Jennings (Raiders), CB Walter Thurmond III (Seahawks), KR/PR Trindon Holliday (Broncos), DE Robert Ayers (Broncos), OG John Jerry (Dolphins)
Key Players Re-Signed- LB Jon Beason, RB Peyton Hillis, SS Stevie Brown, LB Mark Herzlich
Key Players Lost- WR Hakeem Nicks, DE Justin Tuck, OL Chris Snee (retired), OL David Diehl (retired), OL Kevin Boothe, DT Linval Joseph
Draft Highlights- WR Odell Beckham Jr. (1st round, 12th overall)
The Giants are in a bit of transition as we enter 2014. Gone are some of the players and coaches, (we'll get to that) who were staples in both the '07 and '11 championship runs in the big apple. Turning over nearly one-third of the entire roster, general manager Jerry Reese and Co. hope the active off-season will pay dividends in terms of another NFC East crown.
Three Storylines to Watch-
1. Will the Giants' offense look entirely different in 2014?
After an 0-6 start in 2013, the Giants were able to win 7 of their final 10 games. However, that kind of performance is not regularly tolerated in a town that expects a winner. In turn, the front office felt it best to make a change at the offensive coordinator position.
Gone is incumbent offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, who served as the play caller from '06-'13, including both super bowl runs. In a tough decision, Coughlin was forced to let his long-time friend and colleague hit the road to spark a Giants' offense that was more than lackluster last season.
Many fans agreed that the G-Men had become predictable on offense and the play-calling was questionable at times under Gilbride in recent seasons.
After an extensive search, the Giants found their man in Ben McAdoo, formerly of the Green Bay Packers where he served as tight ends coach for the past eight seasons under coach Mike McCarthy. McAdoo, 37 is seen as a breath of fresh air of sorts for an offense that ranked in the middle of the pack in most offensive categories last season.
The key question will be if McAdoo can build a solid rapport with quarterback Eli Manning, who led the league with 27 interceptions in 2013. Many credit those turnovers to the lack of an offensive line and a reliable running game from week-to-week. The onus is on McAdoo to take command and show leadership among the players while implementing an entire new system in New York.
Doing this usually takes time, which the Giants don't have in a results driven league. McAdoo's experience with a high-powered Green Bay Packers attack should ignite a spark under Eli Manning and Co as the Giants look to return to their explosive ways.
Fans will be eager to see the changes in the offense as early as August 3rd, when the Giants open up the pre-season schedule against the Buffalo Bills in the annual Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio.
2. Will the Offensive Line be improved in 2014?
The major storyline in 2013 for the G-Men was the downright atrocious play from it's offensive line on a weekly basis. They allowed Manning to be sacked a career high 39 times last year in what was a position in a constant state of flux.
Injuries and lack of quality depth devastated the Giants' line last season. It seemed as if in certain weeks the Giants were looking just for warm bodies to fill in for injured starters Chris Snee, David Diehl and Kevin Boothe. Players were shifted into unnatural positions from game to game and thus it what has normally been the Giants biggest strengths, became the Achilles weakness.
Both Snee and Diehl have since retired as we enter 2014 leaving two major holes upfront. The two pro-bowl lineman were stalwarts for the past decade of Giants football and will have their place in NY Giants history.
The Giants were active early and often in free agency bringing in depth at multiple interior positions with the likes of Geoff Schwartz, John Jerry,and JD Walton among others .Solid but unspectacular signings was the theme during the off-season for the cash strapped franchise.
One positive of note is the development of 2013 first round draft pick, Justin Pugh who showed flashes of dominance down the stretch at the Left Tackle position. He should only get better and will be protecting Manning's blind side for the foreseeable future for better or worse.
The Giants must have improved line play for any chance at competing at a high level in 2014, bottom line.
3. Can DE Jason Pierre-Paul become the player we all think he can be?
In 2011, defensive-end Jason Pierre-Paul was a downright terror for opposing quarterbacks registering 16.5 sacks and two forced fumbles earning himself All-Pro honors in just his second season.
In the two seasons following the breakout campaign, Pierre-Paul or "JPP" has just 8.5 sacks total. 2014 was a season of questions rather than answers for the freakishly athletic end out of Boston College.
Suffering from lingering chronic back injuries since the middle of the '12 season, JPP hasn't been nearly half the player he seemed destined to be now three years ago. In what could be a make or break upcoming year in Big Blue, Pierre-Paul needs to regain his superstar-like form for the Giants to have any success on defense.
Veteran teammate and former partner in crime, Justin Tuck left for greener pastures in Oakland. Tuck eased Pierre-Paul into a starring role in NY by garnering most of the media attention and was the team's unquestioned leader on defense. With Tuck gone, this responsibility is now placed upon Pierre-Paul who now enters his 5th NFL season.
Giants' fans will rejoice at the sight of No. 90 healthy and chasing after quarterbacks with the relentless aggression he has shown in the past. Health will remain the primary concern with Pierre-Paul throughout training camp as he becomes perhaps the Giants most important player for the upcoming year.
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