When the Giants report to training camp on Thursday, it will be easy to spot the differences. They will be as obvious and glaring as an offensive lineman who jumps on one when the count is on two.
New head coach and members of his staff. New schedule. New players. After a dozen years of Tom Coughlin running things, it’s now Ben McAdoo’s first camp in control and he’s got almost a quarter of a billion dollars worth of free agents to help him turn things around and get the Giants back into playoffs for the first time since the 2011 season.
But while the eye is drawn to those changes, it’s also important to recognize the continuity. Most of the starting offense will be back a year after having one of the most productive seasons in franchise history. McAdoo himself was a member of the team for the past two seasons, and all three of his coordinators were on the staff last year. The only coordinator who was replaced was McAdoo himself. He’s used the term “evolution, not revolution” to describe his new regime, insisting that it’s not a coup but a continuation.
To paraphrase Al Davis: Just Darwin, baby!
“We have a really good team, and we know that,” running back Rashad Jennings said. “When you look at last year we did some really good things that were overshadowed by what we didn’t do so well. We didn’t finish in the fourth quarter like we should have. But we’ve got a good team. We didn’t have somebody come in as a head coach to blow up the team. We had somebody in house who knows how to control a room, who knows how to pull the best out of everybody, who is meticulous in how they go about their business. With that we get to build on the successes that we already had.”
The overhaul is mostly on defense, where the Giants added a pass rusher in Olivier Vernon, a cornerback in Janoris Jenkins, and a defensive tackle in Damon Harrison. The Giants also are excited to see what Jason Pierre-Paul can accomplish as he gets used to playing with his mangled right hand for a second season.
The defense doesn’t have to go from worst-to-first in order for the Giants to be winners, though. It only has to improve modestly, make a few key plays, and be adequately mediocre. So many of the Giants’ losses last year came down to the final minutes when they were unable to hold leads. A marginally better defense combined with an offense that puts up similar numbers to last year should be enough to break the four-year playoff drought.
It’s why Eli Manning has declared these Giants to “definitely” be a playoff team when he spoke this summer. It’s why Odell Beckham Jr. has been using the hashtag #sb51 on social media in recent weeks.
“We have had two very good, bad years,” Beckham said in the spring. “Losing games by three points, little mistakes that cost us the game. Looking at the things that we need to correct and seeing all the new faces, that will definitely be able to help us out, I’m really excited about this season.”
There will be the usual obstacles to that optimism, versions of which are in the air at 31 other training camps this week. Health is chief among them after being atop the league in injuries the past several seasons. At Giants camp, they’ll be keeping their eye on a number of them. All eyes will be on how well Pierre-Paul and Victor Cruz, two of the few remnants of the Super Bowl XLVI team, return from their injuries (Cruz hasn’t played in a game since October 2014 but all signs point to his being ready for the start of this camp). There will be the incorporation of the draft picks such as first-round cornerback Eli Apple, exciting receiver Sterling Shepard, and potential starter at safety Darian Thompson. There will be several position battles to monitor.
And yes, there will be a new head coach with the accompanying new philosophies, ideas, drills and attitude – even if he downplays those changes.
“With different leadership you’re going to have different energy,” Jennings said. “It’s exciting. It’s football.”
But the more things change …
“We have a lot of accountability and a lot of guys want to just pick up where we left off,” Jennings said. “We addressed some issues and concerns that we felt we needed to in the offseason with free agency and the draft, so this is going to be a better team this year.”
After what fans have seen in recent years, that would be the most welcome difference of them all.