5 Players Turning Heads at New York Giants Training Camp
When 90 men fly around a football field setting out to capture the attention of the coaching staff, a few players are bound to turn some heads. The firsthand accounts are shared in social media reports, and from there, the training camp legends swell.
Did you see that catch? ... How about that hit?
The New York Giants are looking for several players to step up this season, as the team would like to recover from an embarrassing 7-9 season in 2013. Some of the players who have stood out early in training camp will be the same ones giving the Giants a shot at a bounce-back season this fall.
Read on to find out which five Giants have turned the most heads at training camp this summer.
LB Devon Kennard
The most impressive rookie so far has been linebacker Devon Kennard, a fifth-round selection out of USC.
After first standing out during spring practices, Kennard has now taken training camp by storm. With starting middle linebacker Jon Beason nursing an injured foot—and Jameel McClain bumping over to replace him—Kennard has been thrown into the spotlight on the strong side of the defense.
Kennard is the only rookie listed as a first-teamer on the Giants' official depth chart.
The linebacker's size and willingness to use it are what set him apart. At 251 pounds—what linebackers coach Jim Herrmann calls "a thick dude body," per Tom Rock of Newsday—Kennard is the largest of all of New York's linebackers. He plays with a routine physicality that makes hits like this one a daily occurrence.
It seems as if the Giants have landed a difference-making linebacker in Kennard. The versatility he possesses is reminiscent of a younger Mathias Kiwanuka. In addition to his duties on the strong side, Kennard could also get into the mix in the middle and possibly on the line as an edge-rusher.
When Beason returns to action, Kennard will be a difficult defender to displace from the role he has carved.
DE Jason Pierre-Paul
The Giants need Jason Pierre-Paul to be the JPP of old in 2014, and, so far, it looks like the defensive end (and his back) will oblige.
Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger compared Pierre-Paul's 2014 training camp to his 2013 training camp, describing the difference as "night and day" in a tweet. That should be obvious becase Pierre-Paul is actually on the field this summer; he spent the entirety of last year's training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
The point Orr is trying to make is that JPP finally looks the part again. Pierre-Paul claims to be down 15 pounds from his previous playing weight (285 to 270). A trimmer Pierre-Paul may equal a quicker blind-side rusher for the Giants, thus leading to more sacks than the two he recorded in 2013.
Pierre-Paul claims to be 110 percent healthy, per Orr, citing his "mind" as the source of the extra 10 percent. Any way JPP can improve his game is a major benefit to the team, as the Giants' hopes for a successful season in 2014 revolve around him more so than any other defensive player.
He must once again become a wrecking ball from the defensive end position for New York to field a feared unit this season.
K Brandon McManus
Josh Brown is projected to handle the Giants' kicking duties for the second consecutive season in 2014, but newcomer Brandon McManus has lit a fire under the foot of the 35-year-old veteran.
McManus, a youthful 23 years of age, entered Giants camp as an Indianapolis Colts castoff. Last season in Colts camp, McManus lost a reportedly close competition with Adam Vinatieri, one of the game's best at the position.
At Temple, McManus was the starting kicker for four years. Known for his strong leg, he also took up punting responsibilities, averaging over 45 yards per punt. Throughout his entire college career, McManus made 60 of 83 field-goal attempts (72.3 percent), setting a school record for points with 338.
McManus, who has a history of hitting long field goals (including a 50-yarder at the Meadowlands last preseason), claims to have hit a 75-yarder in practice only a few weeks ago, per John Jeansonne of Newsday.
Even though Brown is fresh off of what may have been a career-best season, McManus is a more logical long-term solution for the Giants. Brown's current contract, signed in March and worth $2.5 million, keeps him with the team through 2015. The old kicker may not stick around for another contract extension, and the Giants may not have another young kicker as talented as McManus in camp for quite some time.
DT Mike Patterson
As soon as the Giants lost Linval Joseph (now with the Minnesota Vikings) to free agency, everyone penciled in 2013 second-round selection Johnathan Hankins as his immediate replacement at defensive tackle.
Cue the sound of countless erasers vigorously rubbing against paper.
According to the Giants' official depth chart, Hankins is a second-teamer, while Mike Patterson has claimed the starting role alongside Cullen Jenkins. When Patterson was originally signed before the 2013 season, some thought he would amount to little more than a camp body. Now he's entering his second season with the team, eyeing up a role as a major contributor along New York's defensive front.
After playing all 16 games last season, mostly as a reserve (one start), Patterson was quietly re-signed to a one-year, $920,000 contract. That's a clearance-rack price tag for a former first-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles (2005, 31st overall). Although the Giants' roster lists him at an even 300 pounds, Patterson recently told Dan Graziano of ESPN New York that he now weighs in at 316—only four pounds lighter than Hankins' listed weight.
Perhaps Hankins eases his way into the starting role before the end of camp; after all, he is a second-round investment who showed promise as a rookie. However, for the time being, Patterson is the defensive tackle that's turning more heads.
TE Larry Donnell
Larry Donnell probably hasn't turned many heads with his play; he's part of a five-man tight end competition that lacks even an ounce of luster. However, now that he's listed atop the Giants' official depth chart, more heads are bound to be facing in his direction—for better or worse.
Donnell is listed ahead of more experienced tight ends Daniel Fells (second-string) and Kellen Davis ("other"), as well as inexperienced youngsters Xavier Grimble (third-string) and Adrien Robinson ("other"), both of whom have never caught a pass in an NFL game. In terms of experience, Donnell is not far ahead of either Grimble or Robinson with only three career catches of his own, accumulated all in one game last season, his first as an active member of the Giants' roster.
Each going into their seventh NFL season, neither Fells nor Davis is going to suddenly become a veritable threat to catch a pass. From a receiving standpoint, this race is being run on a level playing field, and Donnell is just the first tight end to nose ahead of the pack. Securing a starting spot is a marathon, not a sprint.
However, if Donnell, a Grambling State product, can keep making catches like this one with all eyes on him, the gap between him and the other tight ends in the chase will only widen.
Statistical information courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, unless linked otherwise.
Kevin is a New York Giants Featured Columnist and Game-Day Correspondent for Bleacher Report.