By Brad Carroll
The 2017 New York Giants take the field for the first time for real tonight in a preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers with all the expectations a fan base could want. Sure, it’s only an exhibition, and the end result, and even a majority of what happens during, is basically meaningless, but it’s still an exciting time for a team that could and should be one of the favorites to reach the Super Bowl out of the NFC.
While winning and losing won’t mean a thing, and some players don’t have to show anything to prove their worth, there is still plenty to watch for tonight at MetLife. Let’s take a look at the three biggest storylines to watch out for as football finally returns.
The Battle For No. 2
It’s not exactly a quarterback controversy, as Eli Manning is entrenched as the starter, but the battle to become his backup picks up a ton of steam tonight. Geno Smith, Josh Johnson and third-round draft pick Davis Webb should all get at least some time to prove their worth as a possible backup. For Webb, he isn’t going anywhere, and will likely take a “redshirt” year this season, but still, there’s a lot of hype surrounding him and talk of him eventually taking over for Manning when he does retire means a lot of eyeballs will be watching once he gets into the game. With the rookie performances by DeShaun Watson, Mitchell Trubisky and DeShone Kizer Thursday night, it’s heightened even more. But this game is more about Smith and Johnson, as it could play a huge role in who becomes the No. 2 passer. Smith has all the experience you could want in a backup, especially one who may be pressed into action because of injury. His career with the Jets had way more lows than highs, but the highs were actually really good, so the potential is there for him to step in and continue the offense without a tremendous drop-off. For Johnson, he hasn’t thrown a pass in the regular season since 2011 and is on his seventh team, so this game against Pittsburgh is extremely important. It’s extremely important for Smith, too, as the playing time will only decreased in the weeks to come. So, it will be exciting to see Webb play for the first time in a Giants uniform, but keep an eye on the backup battle between Smith and Johnson, as this game should see a leader emerge.
Engram to the rescue
The Giants offense was anything but stellar last season, but the addition of wide receiver Brandon Marshall, the continued emergence of Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard, and the drafting of tight end Evan Engram, big things are expected. While we all know what Marshall, Beckham Jr. and Shepard are capable of, this is the first time Giants fans will get to see the prized draft pick, Engram, in action. Engram could be just what the offense needs, an exciting, pass-catching, playmaking tight end to complement a talented wide receiver group. Of course, the only place to prove you can actually do all those things in the NFL is on the playing field, and the home crowd will be hoping to see at least a glimpse of the promise tonight.
One of the position battles this preseason for the Giants is who will be the team’s kicker, as Aldrick Rosas is battling former Jet Mike Nugent. Rosas is the odds-on-favorite, but jobs can and will be lost during preseason games. Rosas should get most of the opportunities, as the Giants want to give the rookie from Southern Oregon every chance to win the job. Plus, there isn’t any mystery when it comes to Nugent, who was drafted by the Jets in the second round of the 2005 draft and played the last seven seasons with the Bengals. If Rosas is solid tonight, this competition will be over before it starts. As much as everyone puts down kickers, they are a key element to a team’s offense and fans will get to see for the first time if Rosas has both the ability and mental strength to handle the job on a big stage.