COMMENTARY | The first preseason game and the last preseason game are all about the backup players -- their first chance to impress the coaches and their final push to make the 53-man roster. The New York Giants open their preseason August 10 against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.
After the starters leave the field and the excitement dies down, the backup storylines begin. The offense has its share of players to watch, but the defense has two rookies and two veterans whom are worth keeping an eye on throughout the game.
Aaron Curry, Outside Linebacker
Curry has had a difficult and disappointing four-year career, but he has an opportunity to make a fresh start with the Giants. The former fourth-overall pick in 2009 is coming off an injury-laden 2012 season with the Oakland Raiders. The Giants hope his health issues are in the past so he can add depth to their linebacking corps.
There are intense battles at training camp for starting jobs at linebacker. Curry, along with Keith Rivers and Kyle Bosworth, are competing for the strongside position. Rivers is currently the starter, but the Giants hope one of those players takes control and owns the spot. If Curry wants to supplant Rivers, he needs to impact the defense early on in the preseason. The Giants want Curry to be the standout player he was while at Wake Forest when scouts labeled him "the next Lawrence Taylor."
Aaron Ross, Cornerback
Ross returns to the Giants after spending one season with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Going into his seventh year, the Giants' former 2007 No. 1 draft choice hopes to pick up where he left off in 2011 -- playing a vital role on a Super Bowl-caliber team.
With his extensive knowledge of Perry Fewell's defense and his veteran experience, Ross should provide valuable leadership to the young corners, Prince Amukamara and Jayron Hosley.
Instead of playing the outside receiver, Ross has been the third corner during camp, lined up on the inside receiver, and so far he has performed very well in his new role, according to Paul Schwartz of the New York Post. Although he may not have many opportunities in the first preseason game, watch for Ross to cover the slot when the Steelers are in their three-receiver sets.
Johnathan Hankins, Defensive Tackle
He may be Linval Joseph's backup at that moment, but who knows how long he will remain in that spot. Johnathan Hankins has been one of the most exciting players in camp over the past few weeks. The second-round draft pick out of Ohio State has quickly found his role on the Giants' defense -- plug the holes on the line.
The Giants were abysmal defending the run in 2012 -- ranking 25th in the league -- and it looks like Hankins will be a key member of the interior line that hopes to avenge that statistic. There is no doubt the coaches are going to test Hankins in the preseason, with the hope that he shows the same domination on gameday as he does in practice.
Damontre Moore, Defensive End
Moore has been just as impressive as Hankins in camp, and both players are likely to play alongside each other when the second-team defense is on the field. The Giants have a knack for finding productive pass-rushers and so far, it looks like Moore will be another success.
Moore hopes to fill the void left by Osi Umenyiora, who signed with the Atlanta Falcons earlier in 2013. At this time, he is Justin Tuck's backup, but watch for Moore as a situational pass-rusher when the Giants use four defensive ends on certain passing downs. With Jason Pierre-Paul still recovering from back surgery, Moore should see extra snaps as the preseason unfolds.
Matt Mosley is a professional writer with more than 10 years experience covering sports, music and film. Along with his passion for other New York sports teams, he has followed the New York Giants for more than 25 years.
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