The Giants may be getting a key starter back in the lineup for Sunday’s Week 4 visit from the New Orleans Saints (2-1). That leads our list of five stories to watch from Wednesday’s practice in East Rutherford as Pat Shurmur’s Giants (1-2) aim to build off their Week 3 win in Houston.
1. VERNON COULD DEBUT VS. SAINTS
Vernon is getting closer and could make his season debut Sunday against New Orleans. The Giants’ highest-paid defensive player and top pass rusher returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday for the first time since sustaining a high left ankle sprain in an Aug. 26 preseason practice.
The Giants are tied for second-to-last in the NFL with four total sacks. They are allowing 20.7 points per game, ranking a respectable 13th in the 32-team league, but they could use more of pass rush, and Vernon is a terrific run stopper, too.
Shurmur said of both Vernon and CB Eli Apple (groin) that “we’re hopeful they’ll be back.” But Apple, who sat out Week 3, only did individual work and did not practice.
2. SA-QUADS MAKE THE DIFFERENCE
Plenty of NFL players can break tackles, but Saquon Barkley seems to do it differently. Defenders often just slip off of him.
I asked Giants strength and conditioning coach Aaron Wellman what muscles or type of strength Barkley is using to so consistently embarrass defenders.
“It’s his lower-body strength. He has such tremendous lower-body strength,” Wellman said Wednesday. “And he arrived here (out of college) with that strength. He’s putting in the work now, too, and some of it obviously is genetic, but he’s built that himself.”
So it’s the Sa-quads.
Barkley, by the way, wore a wrap Wednesday on the right knee he injured on his first carry in Houston last Sunday, but he practiced in full and was not limited. Good sign. Pro Football Focus, by the way, has Barkley with nine broken tackles, ranked seventh in the NFL, with the Chiefs’ Kareem Hunt (15) ranked first. Frankly, I had Barkley breaking seven in the Dallas game alone, so that number seems low.
3. STRIKE A POSE!
Retired safety-turned-NFL analyst Ryan Clark tweeted Monday that “I’m not a huge fan of everyone running to take the turnover pic. That’s the Saints thing, when other folks do it, it’s just not original.” Giants linebacker Alec Ogletree had organized the Giants defense Sunday in Houston for just such a picture in the end zone after his huge second-half interception. So I told Ogletree that Clark had thrown shade on that type of celebration. Ogletree’s response: “I don’t care. He don’t sign my checks.”
This is more pertinent, of course, because the Giants host the Saints on Sunday. Ogletree, by the way, said he has saved a copy of the Daily News’ back page with the photo of the defense’s pose. The Giants’ defense faces a stiff test this week: The Saints are averaging 34.7 points per game (second in NFL) and have eclipsed 40 twice. The Giants are averaging 18.3 points per game (27th) and haven’t scored 30 points in 36 games, going back to Week 17 of the 2015 season.
4. ENGRAM’S TIMELINE CLARIFIED
It is estimated Giants tight end Evan Engram (right knee MCL sprain) could miss three-to-four weeks, the Daily News has learned. And if Engram’s target return ends up being the Giants’ final game before their Week 9 bye against Washington, I wonder if Shurmur would take advantage of the bye to give Engram two more weeks rest before dressing him again in Week 10 at San Francisco. That’s not a decision they have to make now, but as we saw with Vernon’s handling, the Giants will be sure Engram is right before putting him back on the field.
Starting DT Damon Harrison (knee) was the headliner among several other Giants players who did not practice, including RB Jonathan Stewart (foot), WR Cody Latimer (knee), LB Connor Barwin (knee) and CB Antonio Hamilton (groin). Shurmur characterized all of their ailments as “normal wear and tear.” Harrison had limped off the field late in Sunday’s win at Houston.
5. WHERE THERE’S A WILL, THERE’S A WAY
The Giants’ offensive line was dominant on the first drive of Sunday’s win in Houston, blocking up five runs for 39 yards (7.8 per carry) by Barkley and Wayne Gallman. And rookie left guard Will Hernandez, a high second-round pick, was manhandling people up front. Hernandez had been up-and-down the first two weeks, but his greatest strength — whipping the man in front of him — was on display especially on that first drive against nose tackle D.J. Reader and Houston’s front.
Hernandez said of the first drive’s tone: “We knew what we could do and now it was like finally we’re starting to do it. And the thing we got from that first drive was let’s just keep it going. This is how we play, this is how we’re supposed to play, and we’re gonna keep this up the rest of the game.” He said as he has improved his mental grasp of the design and execution of expected techniques, teaming that with the physical element helps him “put it all together.”