The 2013 NFL season was one that New York Giants fans would just as soon forget. The Giants finished the season with a 7-9 record to finish in third place in the NFC East, but only as a result of a serious turnaround in the second half to allow them to reach that point. It took Tom Coughlin's squad seven weeks to notch the first tally in the win column, and veteran quarterback Eli Manning never really got on track, even once the team started winning. It was the defense who helped the team turn things around to close the season. A squad that had failed to hold an opponent under 30 points over the first several games managed to finish the last ten weeks of the season by allowing an average of 17.5 points per game. That was the one significant bright spot in the Big Apple in 2013.
One of the biggest issues that hampered Big Blue was a familiar one to the Dallas Cowboys; the offensive line was a train-wreck and their issues played a large role in why Manning floundered his way to his worst season in several years. The franchise is not going to give up on the younger Manning brother, but they clearly need to get him some help up front. The lack of a consistent ground game (only partially due to the struggles up front) is another area that the G-men needed to address, as is the departure of Hakeem Nicks. Even the once vaunted defensive front required some special attention. All told, the front office in New York entered the 2014 NFL year with several glaring needs to fix. Less glaring but still of concern was the need to bolster both the DB's and linebackers.
Jerry Reese, the GM in New York, made replacing Nicks the biggest priority during the draft. The team passed on strengthening themselves in the trenches by skipping over both Aaron Donald on defense and Zack Martin on offense. Instead they went after a playmaker for Manning, Odell Beckham, Jr. from LSU. The issues up front were addressed with the team's second- and third-round selections, center Weston Richburg out of Colorado State will add some young beef in front of Manning while third-rounder Jay Bromley from Syracuse will get after opposing passers from the DT slot. They used a fourth-round selection to bring in a running back, Boston College's Andre Williams. Returning to the need to bolster the pass rush, the Giants also added edge rusher Devon Kennard of USC later in the draft.
The Giants front office also used free agency as a means to better themselves. Key signings for the offensive line include another center, J D Walton, who is a solidly serviceable interior lineman who will likely play guard in New York and Geoff Schwartz who can play either guard or right tackle. He can be a mauler in the run game. A third free agent acquisition for the Giants O-line was OG John Jerry, late of the Miami Dolphins. These four players, along with 2013 first round selection Justin Pugh, could give the Giants a solid front five.
Moving into the defensive trenches, the Giants once again went shopping at the NFL's annual rummage sale. They brought in former Denver Broncos first-round draft pick Robert Ayers to play defensive end. Ayers has never lived up to the hype of a first-round selection, he is however a solid run-stuffer who flashes as a pass rusher. They also brought in journeyman Everett Dawkins whom Dallas poached off of the Minnesota Vikings practice squad last fall.
To address needs at the skill positions, New York brought back Mario Manninghan, the receiver who had previously departed for San Francisco and brought in Trindon Holliday from Denver. Peyton Hillis was re-signed and Rashad Jennings, the former Oakland Raider, was brought in to address the dearth of production on the ground. Fullback Henry Hynoski was also re-upped by the team. Quarterbacks Curtis Painter and Josh Freeman will battle for the right to be Eli Manning's understudy.
Safety Quintin Demps from the Kansas City Chiefs was brought in along with cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie from Denver and Walter Thurmond from the Seattle Seahawks. DRC needs no introduction to football fans, and Thurmond is a solid slot corner who has off-field issues. Stevie Brown was also re-signed to play safety. Linebacker Jon Beason will rejoin the team; it was his arrival last season that seemed to spark the rejuvenation of the New York defense in mid-season.
The Giants appear to have done a solid job in scouting themselves and assessing the squad's needs. They also did a decent job in filling the gaps that they identified. In addition to the on the field personnel changes that were made, changes were made to the coaching staff. Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, known (not so affectionately) to Giants fans as Killdrive, has been replaced by former Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo. The new OC is expected to bring an up-tempo style of play to the Big Apple. It remains to be seen if the Giants made the correct moves or not, but my first impression of their off season is that they did pretty well. Pressed to grade them, I would give Jerry Reese and his staff a solid B.