By Paul Dottino
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Giants coach Tom Coughlin has more than a few questions about how to sort out his roster as he enters the preseason Saturday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, so every snap takes on greater importance -- especially for his younger players.
Here are three of the most important angles you want to look for in the game:
1. THE RETURN GAME: The Giants finally found a dynamic kickoff returner last season when rookie David Wilson exploded onto the scene. But the departure of running back Ahmad Bradshaw thrusts Wilson into a starting role on the offense. The coaches would prefer to spot Wilson on kickoff returns for when they need a big play. However, somebody else must step forward and prove they can do an adequate job before they can make this adjustment.
Several players have fielded kickoffs during the first two weeks of training camp, including my odds-on favorite to win the job: seventh-round pick Michael Cox. The rookie from UMass has the size, speed and attitude to handle the task. He's a bit raw to be counted on in the backfield, but this would be an excellent way for him to make the final 53 while he gains professional experience.
Wide receiver Rueben Randle would appear to be the favorite to handle punt returns, although many players have taken these reps at camp. WR Jerrel Jernigan has failed to seize the job that he was drafted for three years ago, and may have to grab it to save his spot on the roster this season. Cornerback Jayron Hosley might be better here, or perhaps fellow CB Aaron Ross.
2. THE SUPER SIX?: It's assumed the Giants plan to keep six linebackers. Veterans Aaron Curry and Kyle Bosworth would appear to be in a battle for the final slot. Bosworth is more valuable on special teams and Curry may be more stout from scrimmage. If this is not difficult enough to sort through, there is competition for all three starting slots.
Keith Rivers, Mark Herzlich and Spencer Paysinger have been running with the first team at camp. Curry, Dan Connor and Jaquian Williams have formed the second team. Bosworth has been part of the third-string defense.
The most important thing that any of these linebackers could do is be strong against the run, which was a huge weakness last season.
3. PICK-UP GAME: Quarterback Eli Manning may have the deepest cabinet of aerial weapons in Giants history at his disposal, but he's got to have time to find the right target -- and this means the running backs must be adept at picking up the blitz.
Good news! I think.
PIttsburgh usually unleashes a heavy dose of blitzes, which should give the backs plenty of chances to work on this aspect of the game. The not-so-good news is that Wilson is very inexperienced in this trait and Andre Brown must be considered only adequate. Fullback Henry Hynoski is the best of the bunch at taking on a blizter, but he's likely to miss the entire preseason after knee surgery.
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