EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) If this was a normal training camp. Tom Coughlin’s mission to get the New York Giants back to the playoffs after three sub-par seasons would be the focal point for everyone.
Any chances for normalcy disappeared on July 4 when star defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul was injured in a fireworks accident in Florida.
Neither the team, Pierre-Paul, nor his agent, Eugene Parker, have gone on the record about his reported hand injury. It sounds serious, though, and the Giants’ hopes of ending their postseason drought could very well hinge on JPP’s ability to overcome it.
Put simply, the Giants’ defense was their weak link last season. New defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is going to need Pierre-Paul, his best player, near the top of his game to turn things around on a unit with question marks at safety and middle linebacker.
The Giants certainly have the potential to be spectacular on offense. Eli Manning rebounded in his first season in the West Coast offense and found a game-breaker in wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who had a record-setting rookie season.
The Giants report Thursday. Here are some things to watch when practices begin on Friday:
THE JPP FRONT: The injury is further complicated because Pierre-Paul did not sign a contract ($14.8 million) after the Giants put a franchise tag on him this spring. He is not going to sign until he can pass a physical. If he did, he would risk being put on the non-football injury list and not being paid until he is ready to play.
The 26-year-old two-time Pro Bowl pick who had 12 1/2 sacks last season is expected to miss most of training camp.
In his absence, the Giants have free agent addition George Selvie, veterans Cullen Jenkins and Robert Ayers, underperforming third-year pro Damontre Moore, and Kerry Wynn, who played well late last season, at the ends. Former Jet Kenrick Ellis should help beef up the tackle spot.
THE BECKHAM FACTOR: In just 12 games, Beckham caught 91 passes for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns, including a one-handed catch against Dallas that sparked an Internet explosion.
The question mark is his hamstring, which caused him to miss the first four games of last season – yet he still was voted Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Having a healthy or even semi-healthy Victor Cruz back from a second knee surgery is only going to help Beckham, who is a legitimate deep threat for Manning. The 34-year-old quarterback and Beckham would also benefit from a better running game, and having Shane Vereen as the third-down back can’t hurt.
SPAGS AND THE D: The once-proud defense finished 29th overall last season and 30th against the run, prompting Coughlin to fire Perry Fewell and bring back Spagnuolo, who was at the helm when the Giants won the Super Bowl in February 2008 against the then-undefeated Patriots.
Not only is the front unsettle because of Pierre-Paul, there are questions behind it.
Off-injured middle linebacker Jon Beason played only three games because of a toe injury. He has to stay healthy.
With Antrel Rolle signing with Chicago and Stevie Brown and Quintin Demps not re-signed, the safety spots are being manned by second-round draft Landon Collins, fellow rookie Mykkele Thompson, and young vets Cooper Taylor and Nat Berhe, neither of whom has made an NFL start.
THE O-LINE: Assistant coach Pat Flaherty is looking for his best five on a line that is in flux.
A pectoral muscle injury to left tackle Will Beatty has pushed first-round draft pick Ereck Flowers into his spot for at least half the season. Justin Pugh has been moved from right tackle to left guard, and right guard Weston Richburg is now playing center. Geoff Schwartz, who missed most of last season with a foot injury, is the right guard, and free agent Marshall Newhouse is penciled in at right tackle.
Veteran John Jerry, who started last season at right guard, and Brett Jones and Bobby Hart could also fit in the mix.
COUGHLIN’S CLOSER?: This could be the swan song for Coughlin, who will turn 69 at the end of August. Despite having won two Super Bowls with the Giants – February 2012 was the other – this is a must-win season if he wants to continue as head coach.
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