Joint practices have become more important than preseason games in the NFL. That fact was demonstrated by Giants coach Brian Daboll resting 17 of his top players for Friday night’s preseason opener against the Lions following two competitive joint practices with Detroit earlier in the week.
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So rather than focusing too much from a game decided mostly by players who won’t be on an NFL roster in three weeks — the Lions won 21-16, for those interested — it’s more useful to review the entire week. So here are the Giants who helped their cause the most in Detroit.
S Jason Pinnock
Pinnock already had secured the starting safety job next to Xavier McKinney with a strong training camp. But Daboll still wanted to see him get about 10-12 snaps Friday night.
He showed enough in five plays that he was pulled by Daboll. It would be hard to be more productive in five snaps than Pinnock, who looked like a varsity player going against the JV.
Pinnock intercepted a floating pass on the first play from scrimmage and returned it 17 yards to the Lions’ 32. After a Giants field goal, a blitzing Pinnock stopped Lions running back Jahmyr Gibbs for a 3-yard loss on the first play of the ensuing drive. He capped the possession with tight coverage to force an incompletion on fourth down.
That was all Daboll needed to see, as Pinnock spent the rest of the night on the bench with the starters. There’s no doubt he’ll be with that group the rest of the way.
PINNOCK FIRST PLAY OF THE GAME!
📺: NBC4 pic.twitter.com/BveDZ4HbC7
— New York Giants (@Giants) August 11, 2023
If Pinnock secured a starting safety spot this week, Belton seized the third safety job. Belton has demonstrated an uncanny nose for the ball dating back to his college days, when he had five interceptions in his final season at Iowa. Belton tied for the Giants’ team highs with two interceptions and two fumble recoveries as a rookie last season despite playing just 35 percent of the defensive snaps.
Belton was around the ball constantly this week. He had an interception on an overthrown Nate Sudfeld pass in the second quarter of Friday’s game. But his best takeaway came during Wednesday’s practice when he cleanly ripped the ball out of Lions running back David Montgomery’s hands. Belton was also in on another hit in Wednesday’s practice that forced a fumble.
Dane Belton straight up stripped that 😳 pic.twitter.com/c09Lg4MBTY
— New York Giants (@Giants) August 9, 2023
Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale employs three-safety packages often. He’ll certainly want to find ways to get Belton on the field if the 2022 fourth-round pick continues his takeaway production.
Fox deserves an assist on Pinnock’s interception, as the outside linebacker hit Sudfeld from behind as he threw, causing the ball to flutter into Pinnock’s arms. The turnover-producing pressure capped a strong week for Fox, who is battling to overtake Oshane Ximines for a backup edge rusher role.
Fox dominated a second-team red zone period at the end of Wednesday’s practice, sniffing out a screen in the backfield and recording a sack. He played 28 percent of the defensive snaps last season as a rookie, compared to Ximines playing 45 percent of the snaps. Those numbers could flip if Fox continues to be a disruptive force.
McFadden didn’t make any head-turning plays this week, but it was notable that he was the first-team inside linebacker next to Bobby Okereke in both joint practices. McFadden got the start on Friday alongside Carter Coughlin with Okereke getting the night off.
McFadden, who had a tackle on the opening kickoff Friday, had been alternating with Darrian Beavers until this week. Beavers apparently got a planned night off Friday as he returns from a torn ACL. He has not looked explosive this summer, which has opened the door for McFadden to take hold of the starting job.
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Given Riley is a seventh-round rookie among a group of established veterans, it wasn’t easy to project a role for him. But injuries helped provide an opportunity, and he made the most of it this week.
Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams got Friday night off, while A’Shawn Robinson and Rakeem Nunez-Roches are dealing with injuries. Those veterans will be at the top of the defensive line depth chart, but there’s room for at least one more player at the position. The triceps injury suffered by second-year pro Ryder Anderson could pave the way for Riley.
Riley’s run defense flashed in Wednesday’s practice and on a red zone tackle in Friday’s game. There’s a long way to go, but the 6-foot-5, 325-pounder has gained the inside track for a backup spot.
OL John Michael Schmitz
The offensive line, which featured three potential starters (Schmitz, left guard Josh Ezeudu and right guard Ben Bredeson) for the entire first half Friday, had some rough moments. But Schmitz didn’t appear to be at fault for the breakdowns.
More importantly, Schmitz took every first-team center rep in the two joint practices after rotating with Bredeson during the first two weeks of camp. It’s always difficult to evaluate offensive line play without the benefit of film, but the coaches reviewed the practice tape and continued to roll with Schmitz.
The center job was always the second-round pick’s to lose. After this week, it looks like Schmitz has won the job.
Peart didn’t have an amazing week on the field in Detroit, but it was telling that he was the first tackle up with Evan Neal sidelined by a concussion. Peart played right tackle in Neal’s place in both practices, having some rough moments against Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson on Tuesday before rebounding with a solid showing Wednesday.
Peart started at left tackle Friday with Andrew Thomas getting the night off. That Peart replaced Neal at right tackle in practice and then shifted to the left side in the game is a strong sign that he’s the favorite for the swing tackle job. He’ll need to play better to deter the Giants from seeking an upgrade from outside the roster, but the past week has improved Peart’s stock.
(Photo of Jason Pinnock, 27, and Deonte Banks: Mike Mulholland / Getty Images)
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