By Paul Dottino
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The Giants are planning to figure out exactly how much depth they have in tonight’s preseason finale at New England.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick never plays his regulars in the preseason finale, anyway, so it’s not like this will be an unfair competition. You’ll just see backups against backups.
The Giants will have to cut five players Friday to get down to 80, thanks to a three-day grace period issued by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who gave the Giants and Jets special consideration after their game was pushed back two days by Hurricane Irene. All teams, however, must be down to 53 players by Saturday at 4 p.m.
Here are the three areas you’ll want to watch as the Giants play this one:
1. Punt returner. Rookie Jerrel Jernigan has been given every opportunity to win this job — and done everything he can to lose it.
Coughlin likely will give the third-round pick one more chance, but his patience is thin and you have to believe he’s thinking about reversing his decision to keep veteran receiver Domenik Hixon, returning from ACL surgery, off return duty.
It’s also a safe bet the Giants will be looking for an established sure-handed returner on the waiver wire this weekend.
2. The punters. Matt Dodge and Steve Weatherford are in the stretch run of their competition. Although most observers think Dodge has done no worse than a draw in this razor-thin battle, the Giants have used Weatherford as a holder on placements, which may provide a hint that he’s actually the one with a leg up in the race.
The weather is expected to be exceptional so they will be kicking in perfect conditions.
3. Cornering the market. Thanks to injuries to four cornerbacks over the past month, the Giants were forced to sign former Vikings and Falcons corner Brian Williams. He took a few snaps against the Jets on short notice, but this will be his first legitimate chance to show how much he has left.
Michael Coe also is likely to get a lot of work. But the Giants would be wise to be looking at the wire for a serviceable corner to provide depth behind starters Corey Webster and Aaron Ross.
A steady pickup also might end the use of free safety Antrel Rolle as the nickel corner after one game, although he fared very well in this role against the Jets.
Will Jernigan prove himself on Thursday night? What about the Dodge-Weatherford competition? Be heard in the comments below…