EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — The New York Giants have a new general manager and coach, questions about quarterback Daniel Jones' future, the hope Saquon Barkley will run wild again and a belief their unpredictable defense is going to be good.
The one thing missing this year is the high expectations change normally brings.
That was the case in 2018 when then-GM Dave Gettleman hired offensive guru Pat Shurmur as his coach. It happened again in 2020 when Gettleman turned to the Bill Belichick/Nick Saban-mentored Joe Judge.
This time, change is being accompanied by reality.
The Giants have posted five consecutive losing seasons and made the playoffs once (2016) since winning their fourth Super Bowl in February 2012. They are coming off a 4-13 season that ended with the firing of Gettleman and Judge.
Very few people are expecting a miracle turnaround despite co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch hiring Buffalo's young assistant GM Joe Schoen to run the front office. Schoen stayed with his Bills' roots and chose offensive coordinator Brian Daboll as his coach.
The Giants have shown some signs of improvement in beating New England and Cincinnati in their first two preseason games. However, New York played its starters and the opponents didn't.
The regular season opens Sept. 11 in Tennessee and it should be a good test. The Titans have been to the playoffs three straight years and have six straight winning seasons, the NFL's second-longest active streak.
Daboll said coaches generally are still trying to learn about their teams as the season starts. Everyone wants a fast start.
“You can watch a team in the offseason and study them, but each team evolves every year,” Daboll said. “They might have been one thing one year and you think you’re going to get it the first couple of games and they’re turning into something else, using players a different way.
"So, it really comes down to being good technicians, good at fundamentals, doing the big things right.”
When Jones joined the Giants in 2019 as the No. 6 overall pick in the draft, he quickly picked up the nickname “Danny Dimes” for his ability to put a ball on a dime. It wasn't accurate.
In his three seasons, Jones has struggled with a variety of issues. Ball security was a problem in his first year when he showed promise throwing 24 TDs. The last two seasons playing behind a bad O-line have been fair at best. He missed the final six games last year with a neck injury.
His play was so unimpressive, the Giants didn't pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. He's done after this year unless he flourishes in Daboll's offense. His training camp sessions have been average, with some fans and media suggesting backup Tyrod Taylor get first-team reps.
However, Jones has played well in the preseason, hitting 14 of 16 passes against Cincinnati for 116 yards. This year is going to be make-or-break for him.
Barkley has been the most impressive player on offense in training camp, his second after tearing his ACL against Chicago in September 2020.
A year ago, no one knew if No. 26 would be ready to play in the regular-season opener. This year, the running back believes he can score on any play.
Barring another injury, Barkley can be a 1,000-yard back again. He'll also catch passes in this offense, which has the backs catching balls. He had 91 receptions as a rookie in 2018.
New coordinator Wink Martindale has installed a defense that has players attacking from all angles. It has not been odd to see safety Julian Love playing in the box or coming off the edge on a blitz.
The Patriots complained the Giants broke the unwritten rule of not blitzing too much in the preseason.
The defense has some outstanding players in linemen Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence, second-year linebacker Azeez Ojulari and safety Xavier McKinney. The problem is there is little depth, especially at cornerback with the release of James Bradberry in a salary-cap move.
First-round draft pick Kayvon Thibodeaux (No, 5 overall) was expected to provide an impact as an edge-rushing linebacker but he sprained his right knee against Cincinnati. His status was uncertain for the start of the season.
The biggest improvement has to be the offensive line.
Left tackle Andrew Thomas is back and he will have a bookend on the right side with first-round pick Evan Neal (No. 7 overall). Mark Glowinski is the right guard and will line up next to center Jon Feliciano, a fellow free-agent signing.
Shane Lemieux injured a foot against the Patriots, so either free agent Max Garcia or third-round pick Josh Ezeudu will start at left guard.
This is the question mark group. Kenny Golladay had a horrible first season after signing a $72 million deal. Kadarius Toney, the first round pick last season, is exciting but only played in 10 games because of injuries. Neither had a TD last season and they have shown much yet.
Sterling Shepard came off PUP Aug. 24 and practiced for the first time since an Achilles injury in December.
The players making the biggest impressions were unheralded David Sills, Alex Bachman and Collin Johnson, who suffered a torn Achilles tendon late in camp.
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