COMMENTARY | The countdown is on to New York Giants training camp, which kicks off for rookies and veterans at the Timex Performance Center on July 26.
Training camp is an important time for teams around the National Football League. It's when they work on and resolve issues, such as identifying starters and developing chemistry on both sides of the ball. The Giants are no different. Here are five key storylines to watch when Big Blue camp gets going.
The Linebackers Competition -- The competition at the linebackers position will be one of the most intense battles at camp with Jacquian Williams, Mark Herzlich and Keith Rivers looking to nail down starting jobs. But don't rule out Spencer Paysinger, Dan Connor or Aaron Curry, the former first-round pick who signed a one-year deal with the team. Linebacker has been viewed as a weak spot for the Giants, who lost leading-tackler Chase Blackburn and cut Michael Boley. The Giants chose not to pick up a linebacker in the NFL draft, so somebody must step up to steady this maligned group.
Justin Pugh's First Camp -- The Giants drafted Pugh with their first round pick (No. 19 overall) to bolster the offensive line, and he can help out right away. Veteran David Diehl struggled with injuries -- he missed games (three) for only the second time in his 10 year-career -- and one-the-field performance last season. Pugh will serve as his primary backup and possibly challenge him for a starting job in camp with James Brewer ready to jump in if either one of them faulters. Guard Chris Snee and center David Baas are coming off injuries, too, so Pugh can bring needed stability to the line.
David Wilson Wants to Start -- Wilson has the inside track on the starting running back job, but he's going to be pushed by Andre Brown, who led the team with eight rushing touchdowns last season. Wilson has loads of potential, but he's entering only his second year in the league and must convince the coaching staff that's he's ready to carry the load (here are my three keys to his season). Moreover, the Giants must decide if they are going to allow Wilson to stay on special teams. Last season, he led the NFL with 1,533 kick return yards, but the risk of injury is a real concern.
Seeking Happy Returns -- Let's say the Giants stick with Wilson on kick returns. That doesn't solve the team's glarring weakness on punt returns. The G-Men ranked dead-last in the NFL with 144 punt return yards last season. Special teams coordinator Tom Quinn has called the return game an "open competition" with wide receivers Rueben Randle and Jerrel Jernigan leading candidates to see action. Don't forget Aaron Ross, who returned punts in his first tour of duty with the Giants.
The Return of Victor Cruz -- According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, the Giants will sign Cruz to a long-term deal before the start of training camp, bringing an end to the team's biggest offseason drama. Cruz did not attend voluntary workouts or minicamp during his contract negotiations, so his return to the field will give us a first look at Big Blue's complete offense. The offseason addition of speedster Louis Murphy and the return of a (hopefully) healthy Hakeem Nicks has the makings of a dynamite offense. Add Wilson and Brown to the mix, and New York could have one of the top ball-moving units in the league.
Adam Martini is a freelance sports writer with more than 15 years of experience covering amateur and professional sports for several print and online media outlets. He tracked the New York Giants for Yahoo! Contributor Network during the team's Super Bowl run in 2011-12. Adam can be found on Twitter @Pegcitysports.Sources
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