Giants 2021 Training Camp preview: 5 questions Big Blue must answer

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Kenny Golladay and Daniel Jones during Giants practice
Kenny Golladay and Daniel Jones during Giants practice

The Giants have endured the growing pains of a new quarterback, the first steps of a rookie head coach, and the trials of so many young, promising players. They’ve pleaded for patience from a restless fan base and insisted they had a plan.

Now, everyone will find out if that plan was any good.

Because no matter how they may try to downplay expectations, this is the season when it’s all supposed to come together for the Giants -- when they become an actual playoff contender, not just one that backs into contention in a historically bad division. And the quest for that begins on Tuesday when the Giants’ players report for training camp at the Meadowlands.

And while the regular season is still more than seven weeks away, a lot is riding on what happens this summer. With a quarterback who needs to rediscover his game, a star running back still working his way back from a devastating injury, and many young players needing to prove they belong, this could be the Giants’ most important training camp in years.

Here’s a look at the five biggest issues facing Big Blue as camp begins:

1) Is Daniel Jones ready or even capable of taking the next step?

The Giants have made it loud and clear they have faith in their 24-year-old franchise quarterback and they don’t waver on that belief in private. But they know he’s coming off a miserable season, and that injuries weren’t the only reason why.

They believe that with a much-improved cast around him, he will get back on track in Year 3. And with an array of new weapons like receivers Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney, they should be right. Building chemistry with them this summer will be key. Avoiding turnovers – something he improved at last season – will be important, too.

Overall, in his second year in the Jason Garrett offense, Jones needs to come out of camp looking more confident and more decisive. Then he’ll have the tools to be more productive in the fall.

2) When will Saquon Barkley be back?

There is probably no bigger factor in the Giants’ terrible offensive showing last season than the fact that they lost their best player in Week 2. The offense was built around Barkley’s skills, both as a runner and receiver. Without him, it took weeks for them to find their way – and when they did, it still wasn’t good.

They need him back, and not just for a few games ,either, which is why the plan seems to be to take it slow this summer. Barkley said he’s unsure of when he’ll be back at practice, but it doesn’t figure to be early in camp, and it would be way too big of a risk to put him into a preseason game. That would be the smart play – holding him until the regular season -- but it would leave everyone wondering just how good Barkley can really be once he’s back on the field.

3) Can all those young players up front make a decent offensive line?

When they cut veteran guard Kevin Zeitler and didn’t add a veteran starter in free agency, the Giants completely committed to their young front – for better or worse. And they’re coming off a season when they got a little of the “better” but too much of the “worse.”

Obviously that can’t continue. Fixing this line was GM Dave Gettleman’s pet project from the day he was hired late in the 2017 season, and so far all he has to show for it is young, unrealized talent. He believes he has the right players in a line that includes, from left to right, Andrew Thomas, Shane Lemieux, Nick Gates, Will Hernandez and Matt Peart. But they’re all 25 and under, and none of them have definitively proven that Gettleman got it right.

The good news is the Giants have veteran depth in Zach Fulton, Jonotthan Harrison and Nate Solder. But they’re not the ones the Giants want to count on. They need the five kids up front to prove they can protect Jones and clear the way for Barkley. And they need to do it right from the start, which means the more reps they can get together at practice this summer, the better.

4) Who will step up to help Leonard Williams and the pass rush?

Williams had his finest season in 2020, with 11.5 sacks, but that was more than 25 percent of the Giants’ total and no one else had more than four. If that happens again, that will mean even more double teams for Williams and possibly less production. So someone needs to give him some help.

The Giants have approached that problem by flooding the zone with candidates. They have young players returning from injury, like Lorenzo Carter (ruptured Achilles) and Oshane Ximines (shoulder). They have what they think is a steal of a second-round pick in Azeez Ojulari. They have what they feel is a hidden gem of free agency in Ifeadi Odenigbo. And they have high hopes of more interior push from defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence.

Last summer, Carter seemed to be the one on the verge of a breakout before his unfortunate injury. Now he’s just again one of several competing this summer to be the sidekick Williams desperately needs.

5) How will Jason Garrett make all the new offensive pieces fit?

Garrett had a rough first season as the Giants’ offensive coordinator, but in fairness to him, he didn’t have enough good, healthy players. There should be no excuse now with the presumed return of Barkley and the additions of Golladay, Toney, tight end Kyle Rudolph and the speedy John Ross, joining receivers Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton and Pro Bowl tight end Evan Engram.

It could be fascinating to watch how he makes them all fit together this summer. And since he likely won’t have Barkley, his workhorse, on the field for most of camp, he’ll get to tinker with how to best use those five receivers and two tight ends. There’s no doubt Golladay will be the No. 1 receiver and they’ll rely on Shepard, too. But they have high hopes for a big year from Engram and, eventually, big receiving numbers from Barkley.

So how will Ross, Rudolph and, most especially. Toney fit in? And what role will be left for Slayton?

The practices are closed this summer, but the clues will emerge. Figure there’ll be a lot of experimenting, but Garrett will need answers by the opener on Sept. 12.