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New York Giants Set to Kickoff OTAs

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As the New York Giants prepare to kick off the final phase of their offseason program--the phase during which offense and defense can go against each other in seven-on-seven, nine-on-seven, and eleven-on-eleven, no contact drills--there are several storylines that will play themselves out over the next few weeks. Here's an overview of those.

Give Us a Sign

Depending on which report you believe, receiver Victor Cruz is either close to signing, or not close at all. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, as progress has been made on the multi-year deal, though again, it's all relative and the only real progress anyone is interested in at this point is whether his signature is on the dotted line, be it the long-term contract or the $2.879 million, non-guaranteed one-year tender that's been on the table since March.

Cruz, who has been busy making the rounds this offseason in what's been a schedule jam-packed with charity appearances, marketing opportunities, and networking with the influential, has refrained offering reporters any direct comment regarding his status.

Whether he shows up for the OTAs by the team's mandatory three-day minicamp on June 11-13-if he doesn't, he won't be fined, since he's not under contract-is anyone's guess. If he doesn't, the Giants will take advantage of his absence by seeing what they have in third-year man Jerrel Jernigan as a potential replacement slot receiver.

Jernigan has appeared in 17 games over 2 seasons with zero starts, with 3 catches for 22 yards, no touchdowns, and one rushing attempt for 6 yards. The Giants had envisioned the 5-8, 189-lb. former Troy standout as a punt returner when they drafted him in the third rounder.

However, Jernigan's inconsistency in handling punts has been one of the reasons why his time on the field has been scarce to date.

As for Cruz, who is weighing his options between signing a multi-year deal worth a reported $7 million annually or the one-year tender, he has until Week 10 of the upcoming NFL season to sign his tender in order to receive an accrued year of service toward unrestricted free agency next year.

Get in Line

The starting right tackle job is up for grabs, and the candidates will include veteran James Brewer, first-round puck Justin Pugh, and longtime veteran and the incumbent, David Diehl, the latter of whom is the fallback plan if Brewer and Pugh don't step up and make the job their own.

It's very early in the process, but given that Pugh is versatile enough to play anywhere on the offensive line, a good scenario might be Brewer at right tackle and Pugh being the first guy off the bench. Next year, if Kevin Boothe isn't re-signed, Pugh could then compete for the left guard post.

Certainly, the Giants would no doubt prefer to get Pugh on the field at some point. While that point might not be opening day, unless he wins the starting right tackle job, given the injury history along the offensive line, Pugh will-at some point-be a factor this year.

As an aside, right guard Chris Snee (hip) and center David Baas (multiple) are both coming back from surgeries. However, both are expected to be ready for training camp, despite the fact that they probably won't do much this spring. Still, if they are limited, it will give the coaches a chance to look at some of the depth, such as sixth-round guard Eric Herman.

The Backup

The Giants traded up six spots in the fifth round to draft quarterback Ryan Nassib, a player whom they hope never sees the field.

That can only mean one thing-and no, that "one thing" isn't that the Giants' decision makers lost their collective minds when making the pick. Nassib is the future understudy to Eli Manning, who at 32 years old, is still very much in the prime of his career.

The big question, though, is how many quarterbacks will the Giants keep? Injuries will go a long way toward answering this question, as usually, if the Giants are really banged up at one position, they might be forced to keep an extra player, thereby sacrificing at another unit where they had planned to keep a higher number.

This year, though, the Giants will probably look to keep three quarterbacks (unless Nassib has a stellar preseason that convinces the coaches that he is ready if asked to step in for Manning).

If the injuries do occur at other positions, don't be surprised if the Giants "shortchange" themselves at other units so that they can carry three signal callers going into the season.

Linebacker Shuffle

It's a new year, so that must mean a new alignment at linebacker for the Giants.

Two of last year's three starters, Chase Blackburn (middle) and Michael Boley (weak side), are no longer with the team, Blackburn having departed to Carolina while Boley was purged as part of a salary cap-clearing exercise earlier in the year.

Meanwhile, the strongside starter, Mathias Kiwanuka, will presumably be moving back to defensive end to fill the role that opened when Osi Umenyiora departed to Atlanta.

How might this year's lineup look? Jacquian Williams, entering his third season, is the early favorite to move into the weakside. Dan Conner, last with Dallas and who signed as an unrestricted free agent, is believed to be the incumbent for the middle, though he'll be challenged by third-year man Mark Herzlich.

On the strongside, Keith Rivers, the talented, but oft-injured former first-round talent, will likely go up against his mirror image in terms of talent and injury history, Aaron Curry, while third-year man Spencer Paysinger, whose special teams play over the last two years, has probably been one of the most understated contributions on the team.

In a perfect world, one in which both Rivers and Curry stay healthy, the Giants' ideal linebacking corps might include Rivers on the strongside, Curry in the middle, and Williams on the weakside. That's a lot of speed for the base defense and one that could surely hold up to the ever-changing passing game in which receivers continue to get bigger and faster.

Injuries happen, however, and chances are, someone is not going to make it through camp without a visit to the trainer's room and a reservation on the sideline during a practice or two (or three).

The good news is that the Giants have flexibility to move guys around-most every linebacker on their roster is capable of playing multiple positions. That should help with the numbers, as if the Giants decided to keep six linebackers-the last time they kept so few was in 2010; since then, they've kept seven. They should have versatility with which to work.

Tackle This

One of the most intriguing battles coming up this summer is at defensive tackle. Currently, the Giants have Linval Joseph and Cullen Jenkins-both of whom are projected to be the starters. They also drafted big Johnathan Hankins in the second round this year to go along with second-year man Markus Kuhn and third-year man Marvin Austin. Rounding out the depth are veterans Mike Patterson and Shun Rogers.

That's a lot of players competing for maybe four spots. How will this all break down? Again, Joseph and Jenkins are the projected starters. Hankins should make the team, barring an injury.

Kuhn? He's coming off ACL surgery from November, and just how much he is able to do in the OTAs remains to be seen.

Austin? The former second-round pick has been a disappointment so far, as after missing his rookie season due to a torn pectoral, he came back in his second year only to battle a combination of additional injuries that set him back even further in his development.

Thus far, Austin has played in just eight games. He'll get another chance to justify his value, but he must make the most of it if he is to have a future with the club.

SOURCE: New York Daily News

Patricia Traina is a New Jersey-based, accredited sportswriter who covers the New York Giants for Inside Football and the Sports Xchange. She is also a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow her on Twitter @Patricia_Traina.

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