Previewing the Giants: Big Blue Faces Uncertainty at LB

Jason Keidel
August 21, 2019 - 1:28 pm
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As the sun sets earlier each day and school buses rev up for school, you can feel the NFL lurking. In 10 days, the Giants must slash their roster down to 53 players. Yesterday, we looked at their offense. Now we offer some defense, for a unit that ranked 24th out of 32 clubs last year, allowing 371.4 yards per game. 

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Defensive Line

Even in the pass-addicted sport, stopping the run is the key to success. The Giants allowed 118.6 yards per game on the ground, which was 20th in the league. To that end, they hope a few new faces will add some muscle to their D-Line. And perhaps more trips to the opposing QB. 

After drafting Daniel Jones, the Giants went right after their front line, drafting Clemson’s Dexter Lawrence. At 6'4" and 342 pounds, Lawrence is a roving roadblock, or as one scouting report put it, a ‘walking retaining wall’. Lawrence played on the best team in college football, and still stood out. He has the size to thwart the run, and the power to shove opposing linemen into the quarterback. 

Joining Lawrence should be B.J. Hill, Dalvin Tomlinson, Olsen Pierre, John Jenkins, and RJ McIntosh. The Giants are bullish on McIntosh now that he's healthy. Pierre has pass-rushing potential and is another big body to go with Lawrence. There is a chance that Terrence Fede cracks this lineup, as he grabbed a sack against the Jets and has been in the NFL for four years. 

Linebacker

Perhaps no role on Big Blue is more uncertain than the 15 players pining for a roster spot at linebacker. Not to mention it has hardly been a showcase of talent in recent years, an odd assertion considering that playing linebacker for the Giants was among the more regal jobs in pro football, including the greatest LB in NFL history, Lawrence Taylor (the only LT). 

The regular-season rotation should be Alec Ogletree, Ryan Connelly, Kareem Martin, Tae Davis, Lorenzo Carter, Markus Golden, Oshane Ximines, and Nate Stupar. 

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Ogletree has been a grave disappointment since he came to MetLife Stadium as a tackling machine with the Rams. But it says here he gets one more shot, even if he was the lowest-ranked player on Big Blue's defense last year. B.J. Goodson, someone expected to be on the squad, has been practicing with the fourth-string players, a haunting sign and perhaps a precursor to getting cut. 

The LB likely to replace Goodson is Stupar, who should also shine on special teams. Also, the growth of Connelly and Davis nudges Goodson to the outside looking in. One of the more pleasant surprises has been Connelly, a fifth-round pick who gets to the ball with aplomb. 

If anyone is to crack the lineup above, it should be Jonathan Anderson. His night against the Jets included a forced fumble, and disrupting a screen pass during which he fended off a blocker and made a fine tackle. Anderson's agility gives him a dark horse shot at the roster. 

Cornerback 

The Giants made a point of diving into their emaciated CB situation, spending three draft picks on the position. As a unit, the Giants defense allowed 252.8 passing yards per game — 23rd in the NFL — making their secondary an essential project. 

New York should enter the season with Janoris Jenkins, Deandre Baker, Grant Haley, Corey Ballentine, Antonio Hamilton, Sam Beal, and Ronald Zamort. Baker and Ballentine were drafted a few months ago, making fourth-round pick Julian Love a misfire from the start. 

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They've rotated Jenkins and Baker outside with Haley as the nickel, though Ballentine could challenge Jenkins for playing time. If anyone from the outside can crack open a roster spot, it's Antonio Hamilton, who will get ample time to shine as Beal and Baker heal from injuries. 

The Giants need playmakers, which is why they drafted seven defensive players out of nine picks. Pro Football Focus has Big Blue's secondary ranked No. 24 in the NFL, even after the draft. If Jenkins doesn't get his on-field act together, cornerback could again be an anchor tied around the team's neck. 

Safety

While the team down the hall (Jets) drafted Jamal Adams, a machine who should have his mail forwarded to the Pro Bowl, the Giants hope they traded for theirs, when they landed Jabrill Peppers in the Odell Beckham Jr. deal. Peppers hails from New Jersey and has wholly embraced his return home. 

Joining Peppers at safety should be Antoine Bethea, Julian Love, Michael Thomas, and Sean Chandler. 

If Love sounds familiar, he's the same player who didn't pan out at CB, then was inserted as safety and has played well enough to win a job. Besides, it's not unusual for an NFL team to keep a utility player back there, to hop in and out of safety or cornerback as the coach sees fit. The G-Men are praying that Bethea brings sturdiness to the back-end of the defense, allowing Peppers to ad-lib at the line of scrimmage. 

If the Giants scored anywhere in the offseason, it's in the secondary, where they loaded up through drafting and dealing. Indeed, defensive back is perhaps their most improved unit on the squad. Some folks may go with four players at safety, but Chandler should widen the field to five.

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