A Giant Hill To Climb

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Eli Manning (above) is entering his 15th season as the quarterback of the Giants at the age of 37. Pat Shurmur (right) is coaching his second NFL team in his career after heading the Cleveland Browns from 2011 to 2012. (Photos by Christopher Birsner)

When I went to Giants training camp on the morning of Aug. 1, the sky over the Quest Diagnostic Training Center in East Rutherford, NJ, was dreary. Gray clouds were hanging over the facility as if they were draining the life from within it. A half-hour before the team hit the field, rain began to wash out any hope of an outdoor practice session, one that could be enjoyed by the many Giants fans who made the journey to potentially watch Eli Manning throw darts and Odell Beckham catch them one-handed. At that moment, the weather was relentless enough to almost push the team indoors and ask the public to leave. Suddenly, the rain faded and the clouds parted to reveal the warm sun now gleaming on the practice field. The day was saved and outdoor practice would continue as scheduled.

Many Giants fans are hoping that the 2018 season ends up as the ray of sunshine after a brutal storm. Last year’s 3-13 dumpster fire resulted in the firing of their second-year coach Ben McAdoo and their longtime general manager Jerry Reese. Enter new head coach Pat Shurmur, whose offensive mind helped the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC Championship game in January, and new general manager Dave Gettleman, a former Giants personnel director who was a key part in getting the Carolina Panthers to Super Bowl 50. These two have been put in charge of turning one of the NFL’s premiere franchises back on track.

Shurmur specifically wants to bring stability back to what was a fractured locker room. In attempting to do that, he has established what he expects to see out of his players during each training camp and game.

Pat Shurmur is coaching his second NFL team in his career after heading the Cleveland Browns from 2011 to 2012.

“I gave [the players] four words: energy, enthusiasm, expertise and execution,” said Shurmur at a press conference. “We talk frequently about leadership. A lot of guys have displayed leadership in my opinion but you don’t have to be extraordinary to be a leader. You just have to do the right thing for the right reason at the right time all the time. People will follow you if you do that on a consistent basis.”

As for Gettleman, he has made important moves this offseason, first by bringing in veterans that have playoff experience, such as left tackle Nate Solder (formerly with the New England Patriots), running back Jonathan Stewart (formerly with the Panthers), and linebacker Alec Ogletree (formerly with the Los Angeles Rams). Then came one of the most important drafts in recent memory for the Giants as they held the second overall pick. ESPN’s NFL insider Adam Schefter said that it was very difficult for the team to pass up on Penn State running back Saquon Barkley.

“Barkley was the best player available for the Giants and they couldn’t resist what they believed was a generational talent,” said Schefter. “[They] now have an incredible trio of playmakers in Beckham, Barkley and [tight end Evan] Engram.”

Odell Beckham Jr. is practicing for his fifth NFL season after he spent most of last season recovering from a fractured ankle.

So far at training camp, Barkley has shown flashes of that talent and is expected to be the starter come Week 1. Veteran defensive tackle Damon Harrison said during a press conference that the rookie has shown to be a perfect fit for the team moving forward.

“I think if he continues to prepare and approach the game as he has been, I think he’ll be fine,” said Harrison. “He’s talking with everybody which is a good thing to see as well. For him, it’s easy to stick with Stewart or [Wayne] Gallman or even the receivers, but he’s over talking to the defensive line a lot as well as the secondary and linebackers so I think he’s a perfect fit for this locker room.”

Gettleman also took players in the draft that fill holes in overhauled units, such as second-round pick Will Hernandez, an offensive guard who has already made his presence known at camp.

“[Hernandez] will be one hell of a player in this league,” said Harrison. “You can see him working out there. It’s one thing to do it in college, but to do it at the NFL level is a totally different thing. I’ve had a chance to watch him firsthand and I think he will be a really good player.”

Of course, there are a few friendly faces returning from last year. Beckham has recovered from his leg injury last season and is expected to be the team’s primary pass catcher entering his fifth season. After debate over whether to draft a quarterback, Manning remains the man at center for the team as he is hoping to get a third ring before he hangs it up. On the other side of the ball, Landon Collins enters his fourth season as the only Pro Bowler for the Giants the year before. The safety will be an important leader for a defense that wants to return to 2016 form.

While hope is in the air, the dark clouds are going to remain over the Giants until they hit the field and prove they can compete with the best in the NFL. Until then, the silver lining is that they can only get better from here.

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