By Ernie Palladino
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It’s a touch premature to tab the Giants as Super Bowl contenders. But thanks to EA Sports, they now have the face to represent such lofty goals.READ MORE: Summit One Vanderbilt Observation Deck Opens In Midtown
Odell Beckham Jr., an icon at a young and tender football age, has become the cover boy for the “Madden NFL 16,” which will hit the gaming stores this summer. His body, stretched into the form that brought us all the then-rookie’s three-fingered catch against Dallas, will now be known throughout the country and the world as the ideal of gridiron success.
Now, all the Giants have to do is translate it to the field, have a playoff-worthy season, and bring home a fifth Lombardi Trophy for the Quest Diagnostics Training Center lobby showcase.
Were it only that easy.
Two weeks after a strong draft for general manager Jerry Reese, the Giants still remain far enough removed from a playoff quality team that Beckham’s cover shot could go down as a season highlight. There are still issues looming over the team — the filling of both safety spots, the continued overhaul of the offensive line, and the success potential of Ben McAdoo’s West Coast offense — that could turn a “win-or-else” 2015 into a fourth straight season outside the tournament.
Surely, the Giants have taken some steps to remedy each of their major issues. They traded up to the top of the second round to grab Landon Collins, a smart, physical safety from Alabama who will likely team with either Nat Berhe or converted cornerback Bennett Jackson in a starting tandem.
The problem is, unless Collins turns out to be a reincarnation of his idol, the late Sean Taylor, two players with no professional starting experience will command the middle secondary. The staff does have high expectations for Berhe despite some extremely limited use in the defense.
Collins came with a scouting report that screamed “box safety” because of his ferocity against the run game. But he’s been telling anyone who will listen that he can play deep coverage, too.READ MORE: Police On Hunt For Occupant Of Black Or Dark Blue Honda Wanted In Westfield, N.J. Home Invasion And Sexual Assault
He had best make good on that self-appraisal. No matter how that position shakes down, little doubt exists that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is going to have to put up with some growing pains. And that brings the potential of a flurry of opposing jerseys — see Dez Bryant here — running behind both on long throws targeted for end zone.
Reese chose wisely in drafting Miami’s large tackle Ereck Flowers at No. 9 overall. Eventually, he may well fill the rather small shoes of Will Beatty and become a true, franchise left tackle. During rookie minicamp, he showed how well he could move a 6-foot-6, 330-pound body that looks a lot leaner and far more chiseled than your typical 6-foot-6, 330-pound body. But he will start his career on the right side, and the offensive staff must figure out if they can best weather his own trek up the learning curve at right tackle, causing incumbent Justin Pugh to move to guard, or just stick Flowers at guard and call it a day.
Either way, Flowers must help spark a resurgence in the league’s 23rd-ranked run game. Landing the versatile and elusive Patriots free agent Shane Vereen to complement Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams won’t have helped a bit if the front can’t move a defense off the line.
Besides that, Eli Manning can always benefit from better protection. It’s nice to have the Madden cover boy on your team. It’s even nicer to have the time to get the ball to him.
That becomes ever more important in this critical season, since nobody knows what Victor Cruz will contribute. He is just now beginning to run routes at three-quarters speed seven months after rehabbing patella tendon reconstruction. But that is still a long way from full-speed workouts. The staff will nurse him through training camp.
Call him a big, big question mark. If Cruz doesn’t come back fully, Manning again could have Beckham and a choice of others that includes the inconsistent Rueben Randle, a good-catch, no-block tight end in Larry Donnell, and three blue-collar wide receivers in Preston Parker, Dwayne Harris and sixth-round rookie Geremy Davis.
That’s not the ideal next step for McAdoo’s evolving offense, which really started to take shape the last six games of 2014.MORE NEWS: Street Teams Canvas Neighborhoods To Bring Medical Care To Vulnerable New Yorkers
The Giants have much work to do before they can even think about challenging Dallas and Philadelphia in the NFC East. But, thanks to the good video game people, at least everyone will know the face of what they hope will become a successful season.