From left, Nate Solder, Pat Shurmur and Saquon Barkley

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Keidel: Can Shurmur, Barkley, Solder Spark Giants Turnaround?

Jason Keidel
July 25, 2018 - 9:08 am
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For a team with two Super Bowl titles this young century, the Giants are wildly inconsistent. Other teams with multiple titles -- like the Steelers and Patriots -- routinely rack up division crowns and double-digit wins. Yet if you stack the Giants' win totals next to each other, they would read like an EKG. 

Las Vegas has the Giants' over/under at seven wins, which would be an improvement over last year's eyesore of a season. So for Giants fans looking to close the book on their 3-13 campaign in 2017, Big Blue's training camp for 2018 begins Thursday at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center in the Meadowlands. 

Maybe defense isn't NFL sexy anymore, but the Giants must improve theirs. Last year, they ranked 31st in yards allowed (373.2 per game) and 27th in points surrendered (24.3). The Giants' secondary ranked 15th last season, according to Pro Football Focus. It would help if cornerback Eli Apple started to play up to his first-round draft status. The Giants also acquired linebacker Alec Ogeltree from the Rams, a tackling machine who should give the defense a boost. (This week's pickup of longtime linebacker and all-around good guy Connor Barwin can only help, as well.) 

MORE: Position Battles To Watch At Giants Training Camp

The Giants had just 27 sacks last year -- 29th in the NFL -- and now must fill the void left by stalwart pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul, who was traded to Tampa Bay in March. Aside from Ogletree, the Giants made most of their offseason splashes on offense, so they just need to be better with the parts they have. And it's not as if they're entirely void of talent, with Damon Harrison, Olivier Vernon, Ogletree and one of the best young stars in the sport, Landon Collins. 

But most of the eyes and ink will be devoted to Big Blue's offense.

Eli Manning might be the only Big Apple legend we still know nothing about. What makes him motor? Why is he wonderful one week and woeful the next? No matter, Manning gets a mulligan for last year. Between injury and impotence, he led an offense that would have finished fifth in the Big Ten. This year, the 37-year-old quarterback will have big-time wideouts and one major weapon behind him. 

MORE: Report: Court Documents Allege Odell Beckham Jr. Offered To Pay Woman For Sex, Hosted Drug-Fueled Parties

Big Blue devotees can't wait to ogle at Odell Beckham Jr. After breaking his ankle last year and bruising his reputation last winter, he's being the good soldier, reporting to camp on schedule Wednesday despite the fact that he hasn't gotten the biblical-bucks deal he says he deserves. This autumn will determine if the wildly gifted wide receiver will be the face of an NFL franchise or a social media magnate. He can't be both. 

The G-Men have made three major acquisitions on offense, and how they fare will foretell the upcoming season. 

1. Saquon Barkley
The robo-running back from Penn State seems to have it all: the size of a fullback, the speed of a wide receiver and the feet of a point guard. Even those of us who think the Giants could have gotten similar value at running back later in the draft don't doubt Barkley's competence or his character, both of which will be welcome on a recently incompetent offense and a combustible locker room. Not since Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs bulled their way through the line have the Giants had such an engine running in their backfield. Barkley makes life easier for everyone. (Signing veteran running back Jonathan Stewart may turn out to be a sneaky-good move, as well.)

2. Nate Solder
The former Patriots left tackle is the biggest piece of a revamped offensive line that has to be exponentially better than it was last year. Solder not only comes from a winning program, he's a winning player. If the Giants are to have a chance to compete in the ornery NFC East -- home of the Super Bowl champions in Philadelphia -- Solder (along with second-round draft pick Will Hernandez, among others) must keep the QB upright. Even at his most dextrous, Manning is about as mobile as a scarecrow and needs a pristine pocket to find Beckham, Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram. 

3. Pat Shurmur
Don't fool yourself. While the new HC of the NYG is to lord over the entire team, he was brought here largely to bring some wizardry to the offense, which finished 31st last year, scoring a laughable 15.4 points per game. (Only the 0-16 Browns were worse.) After coach Ben McAdoo, who got himself canned after benching Manning for Jets retread Geno Smith, almost anyone will look like Paul Brown by contrast. Even Still, Shurmur comes with NFL bona fides. Last year, he led the Vikings offense to within four quarters of the Super Bowl with journeyman Case Keenum at quarterback. 

Of course, being a complete head coach is about more than circles and crooked lines on a whiteboard. How will he handle the talented yet tormented Beckham? Can he get Beckham proper reps while keeping his coveted legs healthy? The best thing he can do is keep Beckham's body and mind intact until their season opener Sept 9. Shurmur also inherits Janoris Jenkins, who was suspended last year for violating team rules and now is burdened by his brother, who has been charged with manslaughter after a dead body was found inside Jenkins' New Jersey home. Will the turmoil tear Jenkins apart, or make him more focused? 

Shurmur must also carve out the offensive and defensive lines. The big men in the middle don't preen from a teenager's poster, but you can't win in the NFL unless you control the line of scrimmage. Just as important as remolding Big Blue's offensive mores, Shurmur must remind the Giants they are the team of record and respect in Gotham, something they lost last year. 

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel