Giants Training Camp Battles: Cornerbacks will have heavy competition

Scott Thompson
SNY

The Giants have stripped down their cornerbacks room, and added some new, young faces that are hungry to make an impact. Will it pay dividends this season? Here's a closer look at what to expect in training camp...

Projected Starters: Janoris Jenkins, Sam Beal, DeAndre Baker

Projected Backups: Julian Love, Grant Haley, Corey Ballentine

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On the Bubble: Antonio Hamilton, Tony Lippett, Ronald Zamort, Henre Toliver, Tenny Adewusi

DeparturesEli Apple, B.W. Webb, Donte Deayon

The Rundown

Heading into last season, there wasn't much depth to work with in the cornerbacks room. Jenkins and Apple were the lead corners, but after that, there wasn't much to be desired. 

Players like Deayon, Webb, and Haley sat on the sideline waiting their turn -- they would get that shot early on. Apple was traded to the Saints before the deadline, which made Webb move to the outside instead of playing in the slot. Haley and Deayon would also get their turns in the slot due to the switch as well. 

Overall, it wasn't the best of years for the cornerbacks. Though other factors work in total pass defense, it's worth noting that the Giants were ranked 23rd in that category, allowing 253 yards per game last season. 

So, heading into this offseason, GM Dave Gettleman knew he needed to make multiple changes to his roster with cornerbacks definitely among them. And that position was addressed immediately when the Giants traded back into the first round to take Georgia's Deandre Baker. He would also take Notre Dame's Julian Love -- a player many believe was a steal in the fourth round -- and Washburn's Corey Ballentine, who can also make an impact in the return game. 

These three rookies, to go along with Sam Beal whose returning from injury last season, adds the hopeful depth Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher can work with in his second season. 

With an expected lull in pass rush once again this season (we'll get to that later in this series), the secondary will need to be a stout unit to make this defense one of the best in the league.

Biggest question heading into camp

The incumbent Jenkins will hold down his starting role as long as he stays healthy through camp. But who will start opposite him will arguably be the most exciting battle in camp.

The battle is expected to be between Beal and Baker after watching the voluntary offseason workouts in East Rutherford. Beal began the sessions with the first-team defense, but Baker found his way into that role toward the end as well. 

Baker, specifically, was impressive as he showcased his aggressive style of play that enticed the Giants enough to trade up for him. And that came without pads on where he is expected to be more physical as well. 

The Giants went back into the first round thinking that Baker could be a starter out of camp, and he knows that telling the Daily News' Pat Leonard, "When you're a first-rounder, they expect a lot of production out of you."

But it will be no easy feat for Baker to win that starting job with Beal looking to make up for lost time. The supplemental round draft pick from a year ago missed his entire rookie season after undergoing shoulder surgery to repair a pre-existing injury that was aggravated in his first days as a Giant. 

Though Beal wasn't able to play, he stayed around the facility to soak in as much information about his new playbook while he rehabbed. He also admitted to making scouting reports for each week that he would give to his fellow corners. 

Beal's former defensive coordinator at Western Michigan University in Lou Esposito explained to SNY that the corner's competitive nature is his best weapon to go along with his natural athleticism.

"It's not a shock that he was making scouting reports and trying to stay involved because he's a great kid, and when it comes to football, he is a super competitor," Esposito said.

These two will surely make for some fireworks during camp.

Outlook

This group is destined to make a solid improvement from last season on paper. Read that again. 

We've said that certain positions for the Giants in the past should be improved, but injuries or lack of production changed that preseason optimism. A good example is Jenkins' 2017 season that was underwhelming with injuries and disciplinary issues following a Pro Bowl season a year prior. 

Jenkins was better in 2018, playing in all 16 games. But 70 tackles and 15 passes defended shows that teams weren't scared to pick on him. He did managed two interceptions, though.

But it should be expected that the rookies (which I'm including Beal in considering he missed all of 2018) will be the main targets for opposing offenses early on. It will be revealed quickly whether or not they will be up for the challenge in the first few weeks. 

If all pans out correctly, guys like Beal and Baker should make an impact as they're both hungry, aggressive players ready to make a name for themselves. Could that over-aggression in their game hurt them? It's an obvious con when playing that way, but Bettcher's scheme calls for his cornerbacks to be up in their opponents' grill. 

This group has what it takes to be stingy. It's just a matter of if they can live up to that expectation. 

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