Four defensive players with the most to gain during Giants’ OTAs

Jay Bromley has a lot to prove in his second NFL season, but if the Giants' track record with defenstive tackles is any indicator, he is in line for a breakout season.

Kirby Lee/Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants are set to begin their first set of OTAs that run from May 26th through May 28th. Yesterday, we looked at five offensive players with the most to gain from this set of OTAs. Today, we will take a look at four defensive players who stand to gain the most from this set of OTAs.

Unfortunately, Damontre Moore and Trumaine McBride are unlikely to participate as they recover from their injuries. They would have topped the list as they compete for the left defensive end and nickel cornerback jobs, respectively. You can expect to hear a lot more about them when they finally take the field and make their run at these key roles.

Until then, these four defensive players are likely to use OTAs to make a play at some key roles on the defense.

Jay Bromley

Despite the fact that he contributed just 113 defensive snaps in his rookie season, there’s no reason to panic yet on 2014 third-round draft pick Jay Bromley. The Giants have a history of drafting and developing plus starters at the defensive tackle position. They also have a history of bringing them along slowly. Jonathan Hankins played just 195 defensive snaps in his rookie season before racking up 700 snaps and taking over as arguably the team’s best defensive player in 2014. Linval Joseph played just 62 defensive snaps in his rookie season before tallying 611 the very next year. In both cases, each player took over a starting spot for player who left in free agency. Bromley won’t have that luxury in 2015.

What Bromley does have working for him is a soft depth chart in front of him after the Giants neglected to add a three-technique defensive tackle in free agency or the draft. Cullen Jenkins will likely open OTAs at the starting three-technique, but he carries red flags heading into 2015. Jenkins is 34 years old and he suffered through an injury-plagued year in 2014. Although Jenkins has generated pressure on a consistent basis since joining the Giants, he has been a liability in the run game. In 366 defensive snaps in 2014, Jenkins finished as the 64th-best defensive tackle in run defense out of 81 qualifying tackles who played at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.

If Bromley wants to jump Jenkins on the depth chart or turn things into more of an even rotation, he will need to show major improvement on the practice field. In 64 pass rush snaps in 2014, Bromley racked up just two total quarterback pressures and no quarterback hits or sacks. The addition of Spagnuolo’s aggressive defense should help, but Bromley needs to prove that he has put in the necessary steps to make a jump in his second NFL season.

J.T. Thomas

After signing a surprising three-year $12 million contract in free agency, Thomas has a clear path to playing time at SAM linebacker. Assuming that Jon Beason and Devon Kennard open OTAs as the MIKE and WILL linebackers, respectively, Thomas will do battle with some uninspiring competition for the final linebacker spot in the Giants’ base defense.

Fellow free agent addition Jonathan Casillas might be Thomas’ top challenger, but he has struggled to establish himself as more than a special teams ace in his career. According to Pro Football Focus, he struggled in limited snaps playing in the Patriots’ 3-4 base defense in 2014, but he managed to earn positive grades across the board in limited snaps in the Buccaneers’ 4-3 base defense at SAM linebacker in 2013. In both cases, the sample size was small and Casillas failed to stand out.

Aside from Casillas and a host of players best left as practice squad fodder, Jameel McClaim stands out as Thomas’ top challenger. McClain is an inside linebacker by trade, but he has experience on the outside. In 2011 with the Ravens, McClain started the first 10 games of the season as the WILL linebacker in what was a 4-3 base defense at the time. He also played both outside linebacker spots for the Giants in Weeks 2 and 6 of the 2014 season. Predictably, he struggled in pass coverage in all 12 games of this sample.

Thomas is the linebacker who offers the best combination of pass coverage skills and speed to make run-and-chase plays in the run game. Projecting him as the starter by default is easy to do, but the OTAs will be an important period for Thomas to prove that he was not another J.D. Walton-esque signing by general manager Jerry Reese. The former sixth-round pick of the Chicago Bears carries uninspiring athletic measurables for someone signed mostly on  projection. He started just 10 games for the Jaguars in 2014 and earned undesirable grades from Pro Football Focus. Does Reese know something that we don’t know? Thomas’ opportunity as a full-time starter in the NFL begins this week.

Landon Collins

By all accounts, Collins has already stood out among his teammates and coaches. Collins was impressive during the team’s rookie minicamp, but now he will have the opportunity to compete with the veterans in the secondary. Collins is expecting the Giants to throw him right into the fire at safety. The nonexistent veteran presence at safety makes it easier for the coaches to rationalize lining up Collins with the first team defense right away.

Collins was praised by Amukamara and multiple Giants coaches for his ability to take leadership in the secondary and align his teammates where they needed to be—this is what Giants fans should be focusing on during OTAs. Without pads on, it will be difficult to fully judge the physical prospect from a football perspective. However, his ability to diagnose plays, get to the right spot and get his teammates in the right spots will be important.

Collins will be competing against Nat Berhe, Cooper Taylor, Mykelle Thompson, Bennett Jackson, Justin Currie and potentially Josh Gordy. The Giants are looking to find two starting safeties from the group, but until we see what packages defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has in store, we can’t rule out a rotation at either or both safety spots. Collins has the opportunity to show Spagnuolo how unnecessary a rotation is.

George Selvie

Over the last two seasons with the Cowboys, Selvie has served as a rotational defensive end compiling 762 and 515 snaps in consecutive seasons. The former seventh-round draft pick had his most productive season in 2014 under defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Selvie finished as Pro Football Focus’ 11th-best 4-3 defensive end in run defense out of 59 qualifying ends who played at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps.

Selvie served as the Cowboys’ base left defensive end in 2014 in all but three games, before rotating out on passing downs. This is a role that he can establish for himself with the Giants. The left end rotation could be dependent on down and distance, but there are plenty of snaps to inherit. Mathias Kiwanuka, who is no longer with the team, racked up 558 defensive snaps as the team’s base left end.

Selvie will compete in OTAs with Damontre Moore and Kerry Wynn to earn the role as the base end. Robert Ayers will be back by training camp to add to the competition. In 2014, out of the three ens, only Wynn finished with a positive run defense grade according to Pro Football Focus. Keep in mind, Wynn only logged 60 defensive snaps on run plays. Selvie has been a consistent run defender and he can use this set of OTAs to establish himself as the early favorite at left defensive end in base packages.