EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) - The learning curve.
New York Giants players on offense talked about it all of last year, their first season under new coordinator Ben McAdoo. His variation of the West Coast offense was vastly different from the attacks of previous years under Kevin Gilbride, head coach Tom Coughlin’s long-time assistant.
The results were, well, inconsistent. Odell Beckham Jr. emerged as one of the NFL’s top receivers and won Offensive Rookie of the Year honors despite missing the first four games of the schedule. He had 91 receptions and 12 touchdowns.
But the rest of the wideouts had seven TD catches and Victor Cruz missed the final 10 games with a major right knee injury.
Tight end Larry Donnell emerged as a force (six TDs, 63 catches), but the offensive line was ravaged by injuries and weak play. That stymied the running game, long a Giants staple; New York finished 23rd in rushing to 10th in passing.
There were weeks when New York’s offense ran smoothly and efficiently: five times the Giants scored at least 30 points.
And there were games when it sputtered out of control, including a 27-0 shutout at Philadelphia, and losses in which the Giants managed 14, 14, 10 and 17 points.
“We’re getting a feel for the offense in the second year, building on things,” Eli Manning said Tuesday on the first day of minicamp. “You always like to have all your guys out there to keep working on things and for them to be getting reps and to get on the same page, and for changing plays and getting the new concepts to get familiar. But we are going to work with whoever is out there and get better at whatever we’ve got to do.”
Heading into his 12th NFL season, Manning will need to master the system quickly. The NFC East has two strong teams in Dallas and Philadelphia, while the schedule calls for the Giants to play the AFC East with its three vastly improved clubs, the Dolphins, Bills and Jets.
For the quarterback to do so, he sure could use having key weapons Beckham and Cruz on the field. But Beckham is slowed by a hamstring issue, and Cruz is slowly recovering from his knee surgery. Beckham should be fine by the end of July when training camp opens, and Cruz is optimistic he will be available then.
Meanwhile, Manning works the passing game with Rueben Randle and Corey Washington as his main targets. Randle is more likely to be the third receiver once Beckham and Cruz are healthy, and Washington, despite a sensational preseason in 2014, barely has seen the field or the ball in games that count.
Randle doesn’t seem too concerned about the offense’s progress without Beckham and Cruz.
“There’s no need to rush those guys back,” said Randle, who made 71 catches a year ago. “I wouldn’t make a big deal of it. We’re putting some finishing touches on so when we come back in July, we will all know where we stand and what we need to work on.”
As for Randle, Cruz and Beckham forming a dynamic trio for Manning to throw to - they only got the chance to play together in the fifth game of 2015, s 30-20 win over Atlanta - Randle nodded his head approvingly. So did Cruz.
“I think about it and how good it could be,” Randle said. “But it’s all about the work we put into it to make sure we come together.”
Added Cruz: “It’s going to be a fun time.”
Maybe. If the running game gets on track, it would make for more smiles all around.
Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams return, and they bring enough versatility to offer more promise on the ground if they stay healthy. Jennings has a history of missing games - he’s never played 16 in a season and got into 11 last year - and Williams, in his second season, is somewhat raw.
Adding Shane Vereen, a key contributor in winning a Super Bowl for New England, should provide a boost, especially to the passing attack. Vereen made 52 catches last year, then 18 more in three postseason games.
Of course, that came in an established offense run by Tom Brady. What the Giants have is an offense in transition, with a line that is in flux and starting left tackle Will Beatty (pectoral) sidelined.
“I feel like we are making some plays and everybody is getting a feel for the offense coming into that second year,” Manning said, “and it’s not just me, it’s the offensive line, receivers and tight ends. There is a comfort level.”
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