Sam SpiegelmanToday marks the first of two New York Giants organized team activity sessions set for this week at the Timex Performance Center in East Rutherford, N.J.
And for a team that did not make the playoffs in 2012, there are a plethora of storylines as new faces and veterans in need to reviving their image return to the field.
1. The health of Hakeem Nicks
Last year, Nicks was a shell of his former self as he battled both foot and lingering knee injuries throughout the season. When it was all said and done, the Giants wideout had the worst season since his first in the NFL, hauling in 53 passes for a career-low 692 yards and three touchdowns.
According to all accounts, Nicks is 100 percent for the upcoming season and has not encountered any setbacks during his recovery. The Giants offense lagged at times without Nicks in the lineup last season, and with Victor Cruz’s contract status up in the air Nicks’ reemergence will be critical to the Giants’ offensive success.
2. The offensive line shuffle
There is no question who will start at left tackle for the G-Men Week 1. The team signed Will Beatty to a six-year deal at the start of the off-season, demonstrating the emphasis on protecting Eli Manning in the pocket.
In the first round of the NFL Draft, the team added another lineman — Justin Pugh of Syracuse — who many believed would become the bookend opposite of Beatty.
There are those, however, who believe Pugh could see snaps at left guard, leaving former fourth-round pick James Brewer to assume to the right tackle role. It should be interesting to see which young lineman gets the nod.
3. Looking to bounce back
Another of big-name Giants suffered down years last season, which coincided with a lack of a playoff berth in New York. Among them: Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, Corey Webster and Nicks.
As stated earlier, Nicks battled injuries for the majority of 2012.
Tuck, 30, sacked opposing quarterbacks just four times last year, attributing his lack of production to uncharacteristic play. However, after analyzing game film, Tuck said his frustration became fuel for training during the off-season.
After a breakout campaign in 2011, Pierre-Paul managed just 6.5 sacks last year, to which head coach Tom Coughlin blamed the defensive lineman’s conditioning. He, too, is looking to have a resurgent 2013.
Webster was nearly a casualty this off-season, but the Giants retained the 31-year-old veteran cornerback after he agreed to take a pay cut. The shutdown corner on the Giants’ two Super Bowl-winning squads appeared to have taken a step — or three — back in 2012. He’ll likely start opposite of Prince Amukamara Week 1; it’s just a matter of how long.
4. The linebacker conundrum
The Giants enter 2013 without a premier player at the linebacker position after Michael Boley was released and Mathias Kiwanuka is believed to be returning to the defensive line.
It’s assumed Keith Rivers, Dan Connor and Jacquian Williams as the starting three, with Mark Herzlich, Spencer Paysinger and recently signed Aaron Curry vying for playing time.
The question is if — and which — any of these backers is going to be a play-maker for the Giants. As it stands now, the Giants’ linebacking corps is the weakest unit of the defense.
5. Rookies looking to emerge
Pugh will likely start somewhere along the offensive line Week 1; Ryan Nassib — maybe not so much.
A number of rookies could make an impact in 2013, though it may be beyond opening day.
Could Johnathan Hankins end up supplanting Cullen Jenkins on the defensive line? If Rivers struggles, could Damontre Moore draw the start at outside linebacker? Or will a late-round pick like Michael Cox or Cooper Taylor end up playing a key role down the stretch of the season?
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