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The Giants will finally unwrap what they hope is a new and improved franchise quarterback on Sunday night, when Daniel Jones gets his first game action of the summer. All the hard work they say he’s done to become a better quarterback will finally be on display.
But there’s a big problem with Jones’ preseason debut -- one that threatens to hover over the start of the season. Jones will be on the field against the New England Patriots, but Saquon Barkley won’t be. Neither will Kenny Golladay or Kadarius Toney, or Kyle Rudolph. They won’t even have John Ross.
That means that the weapons around Jones will largely look like the weapons that were around him last season, when the Giants had the second-worst offense in the entire league. All the players the Giants spent millions on to give Jones a better support system will be in street clothes on the sidelines.
Maybe they’ll be back by opening day, but for most of them that’s far from guaranteed.
Meanwhile, every day that they’re out, every day that Joe Judge remains purposely vague about their status, leads to more angst that maybe the Giants’ expected offense renaissance isn’t going to work out the way they hoped.
“Obviously, we want to get all of our guys out there,” Judge said. “It’s unfortunate, but there’s a number of young guys that we haven’t been able to get them as many reps as we really want to this training camp to really get them ready for the season.”
That is a big problem for rookies like Toney, the Giants’ first-round pick, who at this point might not be a factor at all until October. But it’s not good for veterans either, especially since some of the most important ones are new to the team. Golladay, the Giants’ $72 million receiver, hasn’t practiced since he pulled his hamstring on Aug. 4. Ross has basically been sidelined since he pulled his hamstring on Aug. 9. And Rudolph, who found out he needed foot surgery shortly after signing a two-year, $12 million deal in March, was just activated and returned to practice last week.
So it’s been a summer of disappointment for all the Giants’ new offensive toys. Maybe the only one who hasn’t been a disappointment also isn’t new. Barkley, who is recovering from a torn ACL, seems to be right on track in his recovery. The problem with him has always been that it’s not clear where that track leads. He’s still very limited in practice, with just two weeks left until the regular season, and even he doesn’t seem certain that he’ll be ready by opening day.
The Giants probably could survive a short-term absence of, or a limited start by Barkley, if only some of their other weapons were in place. But there is just no indication at all that Golladay, Rudolph or Ross will be ready by opening day, either.
And then there’s Toney, the most frustrating of them all, whose first day as an NFL player in May was cut short by what appeared to be an ill-fitting shoe. He then contracted COVID right before training camp and was slow to completely recover. Along the way, he suffered an undisclosed injury that seems to have pushed him further behind.
So who knows if or when the Giants can count on him?
“As a young player especially, you can't lay back on getting years of experience,” Judge said. “They need the experience to get them going. No one just jumps out there because they have ability or talent and is going to play in Week 1 or Week 2 or whenever they get out there, like they’re going to play in Week 8, Week 10, year two, year three.”
Making things more difficult for a player like Toney is that now that training camp is over, game-planning begins, which means most of the reps go to first-team players. It becomes increasingly difficult for rookies to get the practice reps they need.
Golladay, Ross and Rudolph can probably get up to speed quicker, but who knows when that will be? And even though the Giants privately remain very optimistic that Barkley’s track will lead him to the field on Sept. 12 against the Denver Broncos, no one is sure exactly what that will look like at the start. Would it be a cameo? A role in a split backfield? Can he handle 20-30 touches per game? And if not by opening day, then when exactly will Barkley be ready to be the Barkley of old?
That’s a heck of a lot of questions for an offense that was only better than the Jets a year ago, with a quarterback heading into what really is a make-or-break year.
Sure, there’s a chance that even without the reinforcements, the 24-year-old Jones will be fine. He still has weapons in Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton and tight end Evan Engram. And he’s healthy after a year ruined by hamstring and ankle injuries. The Giants like to think they’ve improved the offensive line in front of him. If they’re right -- a big if -- things could work out.
But the offense was supposed to do more than just “work out”. They spent $104.5 million and a first-round pick on upgrades to make it dangerous. But now they will open the regular season in 15 days without having gotten so much as a glimpse of what they maybe could have been.