When the Giants began their off-season program last April, not only did the players see a lot of unfamiliar faces in the locker room, but there was a brand new slate of coaches who had their own way of wanting things done.
The result of that “getting to know you” process was a 5-11 record that, while not very impressive on paper, did see the Giants, who started the season 1-7, finish 4-4 in the second half since everyone became more comfortable with all the newness surrounding the team.
In year 2 of the Pat Shurmur era, there is still some turnover in a locker room that no longer has Damon Harrison, Olivier Vernon, Landon Collins or Odell Beckham Jr. in it, but for the most part, the expectations and how to get there are a lot clearer than they were a year ago.
“Well, we certainly know the players much better,” Shurmur said on a conference call with reporters following the team’s commencement of the off-season program. “By playing a season, we know the areas we need to improve.”
Among the areas Shurmur would like to see the Giants improve in this year is finishing both plays and games. Last year, the Giants let four games (Panthers, at the Eagles, Colts and Cowboys) games slip away from them in the closing minutes, games that if they had won, would have given them a more respectable 9-7 record.
Then there is a matter of becoming more comfortable in the schemes on offense and defense to where players can play faster.
“It is definitely better going into that second year,” quarterback Eli Manning said. “Now, you can work on just fine tuning a lot of those things and improving the schemes that you are running.”
Manning noted how things took a while to come together on offense in the beginning.
“Guys were trying to figure out what the cadence was or where to line up in the huddle,” he said. “There is so much that has to be learned by everyone. Now, a majority of us know what we are doing and can line up. Bring the young guys along. Everyone can play that much faster because they know what they are doing, and they are sure of it.”
Offensively, the Giants came together in the final four games of the season, scoring 102 points, which was the best in the NFC East over that period. But defensively, the Giants struggled to seal the deal, stop the run and generate a pass rush with any consistency.
“The schemes and the systems, things we like to do schematically, are more ready to go for the players,” Shurmur said. “They can watch themselves on the cut-ups. Anything you do on the second time around will be smoother. The idea is that you get off to a better start starting next season.”
Offensively, the Giants will be without receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who was traded to Cleveland last month. They also have added guard Kevin Zeitler to the lineup and are expected to be adding a right tackle either during or after the draft.
Defensively, the Giants will have a completely new look. Gone are starters like nose tackle Damon Harrison, edge Olivier Vernon, cornerback Eli Apple, and safeties Landon Collins and Curtis Riley.
Some new faces on the defensive side of the ball include edge Markus Golden, safeties Antoine Bethea and Jabrill Peppers (acquired in the Beckham trade) and defensive lineman Olson Pierre. the giants are also expected to add additional help on defense in next week’s draft.
“You got new faces, but you get new faces every year, and around this time, it’s a little different,” said receiver Sterling Shepard, who becomes the longest tenured receiver on the team now that Beckham is no longer on the roster.
“Some guys you don’t see, but I think everybody realizes that’s just the way this goes. We sit down at the end of the year, we look around, you’re not going to see these faces. This is the team that we have for this year and make it the best.”
That process should come about a lot quicker though given that Shurmur and his staff have a better idea now about the strengths and weaknesses of all the players that maybe they didn’t have this time last year.
“To be able to know what the players can do, we have a lot of really good players,” he said. “A lot of players that were young last year had an opportunity to play more than they typically would. You get a chance to watch them and see their development, you can project and see the improvement they are going to make this year.”