New York Giants: The Challenge Of A Virtual Offseason Program

New York Giants, Quest Diagnostics training center

The New York Giants have some major challenges this offseason – like the rest of the league, the team is currently unable to practice as it normally would during the offseason because of local shutdowns affecting the team’s training facilities and the league’s plans in general for offseason activities. While a lot of the conversation right now would, in a normal year, be about which players are going to win in offseason position battles going into training camp later in the summer, it’s more common to question now whether that training camp will happen at all.

The team, of course, hasn’t stopped training for the season completely just because of this less than ideal situation. The Giants, like the rest of the NFL, have relied on a virtual program to get through the offseason to this point. What exactly goes into working with the players within the framework of that kind of program?

Sam Coad, assistant strength and conditioning coach and performance manager, spoke to American Football International about that.

“It really now comes down to the individuals and trying to communicate and work with them to say ‘is there something going on here, are you struggling with something, what do you need in your situation?’ When you’re dealing with high-performing athletes worth millions to a club, and they’re saying they can’t do X, you’ve gotta have a plan to get them on track,” Coad, an Australian, stated. “The psychological side of things is more complex than what you get from a textbook.”

“Every industry coming out of this is going to struggle because you can’t take the world, give it two months off, then expect to go back to how it was,” Coad also stated. The staff of the Giants are, of course, among those who are currently unable to work – as of now, the Giants still aren’t in a position where the staff can have contact with the players.

The offseason hasn’t been entirely cancelled yet. The team has discussed, after all, the possibility of moving training camp to a location less impacted by closures. But that hasn’t happened just yet, and for everyone on the Giants staff right now, the virtual program is the current reality of the job.

New York Giants: Evan Engram Primed For Breakout Season

New York Giants, Evan Engram

The New York Giants‘ offense is primed for a breakout season in 2020. After two years with head coach Pat Shurmur running the offense, New York is taking a different approach in 2020. The Gmen hired Joe Judge as their next head coach and he assembled a phenomenal coaching staff. Judge made a splash on offense, hiring former Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett as the team’s next offensive coordinator.

Jason Garrett’s scheme emphasizes the usage of the tight end position. Considering this, if Evan Engram can stay healthy in 2020, he should be in for a breakout season.

Evan Engram’s Health Questions

New York Giants tight end Evan Engram is entering his fourth season in the NFL. The controversial receiving-threat has seen his total number of games played decrease every year. Engram receives plenty of criticism for this.

Many fans criticize Evan Engram for not being able to stay healthy. Evan is a former first-round pick, so the bar of expectations is set pretty high. Part of the expectations includes playing more games than not, and, ideally, playing all sixteen games in a season. Engram has yet to accomplish this.

Evan played in 15 games as a rookie and was dominant, totaling 722 yards and 6 touchdowns. Since then, Engram has not looked the same. In 2018 he saw his number of games played decrease to a total of 11 games. Then, Evan Engram hit a real low point in 2019, playing in 8 games and starting only 6 of them.

Entering his fourth season, what evidence is there that Engram will be able to play a full season? Believe it or not, he might benefit from the impact that coronavirus has had on the NFL’s offseason. COVID-19 has halted life as we know it and could be allowing Engram extra leisure time to rest and heal his foot injury.

Why 2020 Will Be Engram’s Best Season

As long as he can stay healthy, Evan Engram will have his best season in 2020. This offense is set up perfectly for his success. Daniel Jones is entering his second season and will need his best playmakers available to help him take that sophomore leap. Engram will be a big part of that.

Jason Garrett loves to scheme the offense around the tight end position. Giants fans should know this better than anyone, after watching Jason Witten tear our defense apart for over a decade. Hopefully, Garrett can utilize Engram in a similar fashion and make him a staple in the Giants’ offense. Witten once received 147 targets in a season, so maybe an increased number of targets will lead to increased efficiency and production from Evan Engram in his fourth season.

Lance Meadow of Giants.com explained it this way:

“Last season, Evan Engram was on pace for a career year. Through the first five games, he accumulated 33 receptions, 373 yards, and two touchdowns… When you look at the Cowboys offense during Jason Garrett’s tenure, the tight end position played a prominent role in the passing game. Just look at Jason Witten’s production.” – Lance Meadow via Giants.com

Lance also made an excellent point regarding Blake Jarwin’s efficiency in Garrett’s offense:

“While Witten’s stats certainly jump off the page, the same can be said for Blake Jarwin, who is more comparable to Engram in terms of build and athleticism. With Witten taking a backseat to Jarwin in each of the last two seasons, the latter emerged as a notable playmaker with his targets, receptions and receiving yards increasing from 2018 to 2019. Jarwin’s usage and emergence is an encouraging sign for Engram.” – Lance Meadow via Giants.com

All Evan Engram has to do is stay healthy. If he can do that, under Jason Garrett in 2020, he can breakout and become one of the best tight ends in the NFL.

MLB: The first team is opening their spring facility. Is this a sign of things to come?

New York Yankees, Rosell Herrera

Multiple sources reported that the Miami Marlins would be opening their spring facility to players this week for workouts. These workouts will be individual and are optional. No team-wide workouts will be conducted, and the facility will only be open to those on the 40-man roster at this time.

This is really good news for baseball and possibly a sign of things to come.

You would think that if the MLB and the players union weren’t nearing a deal, then this wouldn’t have happened. Maybe this means that we could see finalizations of the season happening soon.

Right now, the governors of Florida and Arizona have made their states’ available for pro-sports. This allows facilities to open and a second spring-training to happen if a deal is finalized. Outside of those two states, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has allowed pro-sports to return to his state with no fans. He’s mentioned how sports are an economy booster, and New York and other states could use that boost right now. It’s expected that sports could be allowed in California by June.

Another person who has been encouraging sports to return is President Donald Trump. Like Cuomo, Trump has mentioned how big sports are in the economy and has had conference calls with the different commissioners of different sports.

On Sunday, NASCAR returned to the track and became the first prominent United States sport to return. They had a precise plan in place, and they executed it seemingly flawlessly. Maybe their execution helped convince state leaders to open their states’ to sports.

Hopefully, the opening of the Marlins complex is a sign of good things to come. Maybe more teams will follow in suit of the Marlins and reopen.

NHL Commisioner Gary Bettman looking at mutliple venues when pause is lifted

National Hockey League, NHL

The NHL is looking at multiple venues to play in once the league begins to restart the 2019-’20 season per a report from NHL.com on Monday.

The chatter is beginning to pick up the pace regarding restarting the NHL. Nicholas J. Cotsonika of NHL.com reported on Monday that the league is looking at eight or nine hubs when the season resumes per a comment by Commissioner Gary Bettman.

“I don’t think anybody has a fixed timetable, particularly in North America right now,” Commissioner Bettman said per Cotsonika. He went on to say, “we have been working very hard since we took the pause on March 12 to make sure that whatever the timing is, whatever the sequencing is, whatever physical ability we have in terms of locations to play, that we’re in a position to execute any or all of those options. There is still a great deal of uncertainty.”

The NHL would prefer to use NHL arenas to play the games as they are better suited for multiple games per day and have locker rooms that can handle multiple teams at one time.

Bettman admitted that logistics to restarting the season has become an issue. Players have been quarantining in their home cities and countries since the pause went into effect on Mar.12. The commissioner admitted that 17 percent of the league’s players were outside of the United States.

The league will also need plenty of hotels for players and for COVID-19 testing so that it doesn’t interfere with the testing of the general public.

“I am told that there can be enough capacity, and certainly, over the next couple of months, there will be more capacity,” Commissioner Bettman said. “But that is a fundamental question, and we certainly can’t be jumping the line in front of medical needs.”

The NHL has yet to determine if they will finish out the regular season or go directly into the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the moment. He is aware that fans have a vested interest in this season as he would like to see the regular season completed before the playoffs begin.

Bettman has had no intention of canceling the season and believes that over time sports will return “stronger than ever.”

As exciting as it is to talk about games the pandemic still has everyone involve playing the wait and see what happens game. The health and safety of the players and people, in general, are more important than a return of sports.

Bartolo Colon: “I’d like to retire with the New York Mets”

Simeon Woods-Richardson

Say what you will about Bartolo Colon, but you can’t take anything away from him, especially the fact that he was a very successful and durable pitcher in his tenure with the New York Mets.

And while he may be about to finish his playing career – after all, he is going to turn 47 this week – he would like to play at least one more time with the Mets.

“If it was up to me, I would retire with the Mets,” Colon said on a video call with ESPN. “I would like my career to end in New York.”

“Big Sexy” loves the Mets

Colon was a member of the New York Mets roster that went to the World Series in 2015. He was with the team from 2014 to 2016, and he has nothing but good memories.

“That Mets team was really something special,” Colon told ESPN. “I’ve played with 10 teams, but with the Mets, the way all those players treated me, how that entire franchise treated me, from the front office to the kitchen staff, it was amazing. And Mets fans are the best. In the beginning, when they laughed at me every time my helmet fell off, at first I felt uncomfortable. But when I saw how much the fans enjoyed it, I asked for a bigger batting helmet so that it would fall more because it was so much fun for them!”

Overall, his career with the Mets can be considered a success: he posted a 3.90 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP in 588.2 frames, starting 95 games in those three years. He was a dependable arm and the fans grew fond of “Big Sexy.”

Certainly, with Noah Syndergaard out for the season with Tommy John surgery, the Mets could use some depth behind the backend of the rotation, occupied by the injury-prone Michael Wacha and the inconsistent Rick Porcello.

New York Knicks hire Walt Perrin to be assistant general manager

New York Knicks, Leon Rose

The New York Knicks are making some front-office changes under new president Leon Rose. The team is expected to hire Utah Jazz Vice President of Player Personnel Walt Perrin as their assistant general manager, per Shams Charania.

Knicks’ new president Leon Rose has added a new name to his revamped staff. Walt Perrin is a longtime NBA executive who is heavily involved in the scouting process. Having worked with the Utah Jazz for 19 years, Perrin was constantly involved in the front lines of their scouting department and attended both NCAA and international games.

The Knicks are in the midst of some exciting changes to their organization. The new role with the Knicks will be a promotion for Perrin. While it remains to be seen what exactly his role is, it is expected that Perrin will be heavily involved with the team’s scouting and youth development.

Did the New York Jets find their next Bilal Powell in La’Mical Perine?

New York Jets, La'Mical Perine

What are the New York Jets getting in La’Mical Perine?

The New York Jets have a deep runningback room, consisting of Le’Veon Bell, veteran Frank Gore, and newly drafted La’Mical Perine out of Florida.

Perine is an interesting player, who can contribute in a similar role to Bilal Powell in recent years. He is a do-it-all running back and can hold his ground in pass protection. While the Florida product isn’t explosive in any category, he does everything at an average level, which makes him a solid back up for the future. Learning from a player like Frank Gore could do him some good, and they might be expecting him to take a significant jump in 2021 after Gore and his one-year deal expires.

Going into the 2020 NFL draft, Perine was noted as having a prototypical size at the position, a great personality, high character, and has good vision when choosing his running lanes. However, he is a little monotonous and fails to explode through the hole, giving linebackers an opportunity to stop him before reaching the second level. His lateral quickness is a bit underwhelming and tends to rely on power rushes up the gut.

Nonetheless, Perine was a solid contributor for Florida in 2019. Over 131 carriers, he totaled 677 rushing yards and six touchdowns. He was also among the teams top pass catchers, logging 40 receptions, 262 receiving yards, and 6.6 yards per catch. He also earned five receiving touchdowns in 13 games.

Overall, he contributed in multiple facets, giving the Jets an all-purpose back with plenty of untapped potential. I fully expect him to sit in a developmental role in 2020, learning from two of the best running backs in the NFL, one of whom a Hall of Fame pedigree.

This will be a fantastic opportunity for Perrine to work on his weaknesses and emerge as a solid back up to Le’Veon Bell in the future.

Should the New York Giants be worried about their wide receiver corps?

New York Giants, Darius Slayton

A look at the New York Giants’ wide receiver corps and if we should be worried about them in 2020:

On paper, the New York Giants seem to have an adequate wide receiver corpse composed of veterans and new faces. They have a blend of slot receivers and boundary options that can make plays and extend drives.

However, none of them are categorized as elite, which reflects back to the Odell Beckham Jr. trade and how general manager Dave Gettleman supplemented his loss. Gettleman went out and signed Golden Tate, to a four-year, $37.5 million deal.

Following the 2020 season, Tate will be 32 years old and have a potential out in his contract. The Giants can cut him for a $5 million dead cap hit. Otherwise, they can retain him and pay him $11 million in 2021. Saving $6 million might be beneficial for the Giants who could look to add a better wide receiver in free agency or the NFL draft.

While Tate has been productive in some areas, he missed four games last season due to a PED suspension. He tallied 676 yards and six touchdowns, the most scores he has earned since 2015. However, his catch rate was the lowest it has been since his rookie season in 2010 (57.6%). He dropped three passes last season, notably against the New England Patriots in which he scored the first receiving touchdown against their defense through six weeks.

Aside from Tate, the Giants also have Sterling Shepard, who they signed to a four-year, $40 million deal in 2019. Shepard played in just ten games, suffering two concussions that have put his career at risk. He earned his lowest yards total through four seasons and scored three touchdowns on 83 targets. Shepard is a consistent receiver with solid hands, but if he sustains another concussion, he could be forced out of the game prematurely. One wrong move and the Giants could be without another talented pass catcher.

Looking to the outside, the Giants have second-year player Darius Slayton covering the position. Slayton had a stellar rookie campaign, earning 740 yards and a touchdown, leading the team in both areas. He only dropped 2.4% of his attempts, showing off solid hands after a problematic rookie minicamp. His 57.1% catch rate was a little low, and he could use an uptick in that category, but he showed the potential to be the Giants’ top wide-out for the foreseeable future. His chemistry with quarterback Daniel Jones will prove to be essential moving forward.

Overall, the Giants have a decent wide receive a corps going into 2020, but Shepard is on the verge of a career-ending injury, and Tate is not the same player he once was. A lot of expectation is riding on Slaton to produce and see a big jump in his second year, but I believe the unit in 2021 will be a bit different.

One New York Jets coach could be a rising star

New York Jets, Hines Ward

A rising star on the coaching staff for the New York Jets:

Let me take you back to 2006. The Pittsburgh Steelers played the Seattle Seahawks for the Lombardi Trophy. The MVP recipient in that win, the epitome of what it meant to be a Steeler, and the legendary receiver Hines Ward, was a key piece in that Super Bowl run and the victory.

He was clutch and displayed leadership on and off the field. Now, Hines Ward is on a different sideline. At 44, Hines Ward has traded his Yellow and Black for Green and White, and as he enters his second season coaching, the Super Bowl champion has already been labeled a rising star.

Hines Ward’s Impact

Hines Ward was brought in as an offensive assistant, but his role was more than that. Ward worked with many of the receivers on the team but was also named a key player in the development of Robby Anderson’s route tree this past season. When the Jets beat the Steelers in Week 16, the Jets’ celebration centered around Hines Ward.

The team rallied around Hines and his impact was apparent at that moment. As Joe Douglas has preached building, “One of the best cultures in sports,” Hines Ward is a culture changer. Coming from a winning organization, Ward is the guy these players can look to for advice on how to get to a championship-caliber level. Changing a culture from losing to winning isn’t easy, but having guys like Ward around can make the transition much more feasible.

Hines Ward is Gaining Notoriety

As I just hit on, Ward can play a part in being a culture changer, he’s a leader and an educated offensive mind. This offseason, despite limited experience coaching, he was reportedly considered for several WR Coach opportunities.

Ultimately, Hines Ward has remained with the Jets, but if execs have taken note of what he did in year one, his reputation as a coach will only begin to preside his reputation on the field. Ward will only continue to grow into his role and excel. With more opportunities likely in his future, don’t be surprised to see the former NFL super-star receive a promotion within the organization or elsewhere in the next year or so. The Jets should take note of his talent and groom him. Who knows, the former talent on the field could end up being even better off it. 

Re-Casting “The Last Dance,” but with the 1983-84 New York Islanders

New York Islanders

Last night brought the riveting conclusion to “The Last Dance”, the ten-part documentary that circled around the Chicago Buils’ 1997-98 championship season and the end of Michael Jordan’s career in Chicago.

The way in which the story was told was masterful, which got me thinking: The ’83-’84 Islanders would have made for a compelling documentary.

Now, it’s obvious that hockey doesn’t have the same appeal in the United States — or the world for that matter — the way basketball does, but the Isles were the last North American sports franchise to win four championships in a row and 19 straight playoff series, a mark still not matched till this day. And yes, that team did not have the greatest player of all time. That was Wayne Gretzky, who they beat the year before; Gretzky returned the favor, which will get to in a minute.

Telling the story of the franchise’s rise from being called hapless up until their final stand going for a fifth consecutive title, almost similar to the meteoric rise of Jordan’s Bulls, would make for some fantastic stories and inform a whole new generation about one of the greatest dynasties ever assembled (I’m looking at you Stan Fischler!).

By the time that 83-84 season rolled around, the Islanders were the defending four-time Stanley Cup winners. They had a number of future Hall of Famers — Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Billy Smith, Clark Gillies —  and a memorable supporting cast who had poured their blood and sweat the past seven-plus years to help bring the franchise immeasurable success. They had arguably the best head coach-general manager duo in the history of hockey and maybe sports for that matter,  the late Al Arbour and Bill Torrey. Add to that, they also had their next crop to hopefully keep their reign over the NHL going in 18-year-old Pat LaFontaine, 20-year-old Patrick Flatley, and 23-year-old Kelly Hrudey.

That Islander squad once again dominated in the regular season, going 50-26-4, winning the Patrick Division for the fifth time in seven years. Injuries and fatigue from their drive began to make its way through the cracks during the season though. Bossy was limited to 67 games that year, yet he still totaled an absurd 118 points. Trottier appeared in only 68 games. Reliable d-man Gord Lane had been limited to 37 games while bottom-six presence Wayne Merrick only suited up for 31 games.

Once they got to the postseason, just as they did time and time again, the islanders turned on that switch.

They were tested to the very end in the first round against their fierce crosstown rival the New York Rangers. But their championship pedigree rose up again when Ken Morrow scored the game-winning goal in the deciding game five to keep the dynasty alive. In the second round, they made quick work of the Washington Capitals in five games. This set up a showdown with the up-and-coming Montreal Canadiens, who boasted a young, hungry squad with Bob Gainey, Guy Carbonneau, Mats Naslund, Claude Lemieux, and also featured legends Guy LaFleur, Steve Shutt and Larry Robinson.

Montreal looked like they were going to be the ones to bring the Isles’ dynasty to its knees after they won the first two games of the series. Think again. The Islanders won the next four straight games all by two or more goals each time to secure their 19th straight playoff series win and clinch their fifth and final Stanley Cup Finals berth.

Waiting for them in the Finals was the team they had humbled the year before — and who they’d swept — the Edmonton Oilers.

This time around, the Oilers, powered by Gretzky and a cast of future Hall of Famers, took no chances and beat the Islanders in five, ending the Isles’ historic run.

Similar to the ’90s Bulls, things were never the same after that last run for the franchise. The cornerstones of the dynasty began to fade or were sent elsewhere. LaFontaine, Flatley and Hrudey became excellent pieces in their own right, but the magic just wasn’t all there. The franchise itself also experienced a myriad of problems over a number of years which still are being felt today.

That 1983-84 Islanders club was the last of its kind. Sure, there’s been other dynasties since — those mentioned Bulls teams, the late ’90s Yankees, early 2000s Lakers, the Brady-Belichick led Patriots; none of those teams though won four straight and 19 consecutive titles to get there.

The Islanders had a documentary made about them in 2013 — ESPN’s 30 for 30 Big Shot — which was directed by actor Kevin Connolly. That doc told the story of the fraudulent attempt of con-businessman John Spano to by the team in the late ’90s. If the franchise were going for redemption as Jordan loved to say, their last run as a dynasty deserves to be in the spotlight.