Giants optimism is well founded with new coach and changes

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) – After missing the playoffs the past four seasons, the New York Giants have a right to be optimistic.

The NFL’s worst defense has been bolstered by off-season signings. The offense returns most of its players after a solid season. And there is a belief that new coach Ben McAdoo can step in for Tom Coughlin and return the Giants to their recent glory years.

It was all there to see on Thursday as the Giants reported to training camp. That is until McAdoo noted that defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison is going to start camp on the physically unable to perform list because of swelling in his knee.

McAdoo said the injury is not serious, but it certainly put a damper on Day 1.

Harrison signed a five-year, $46.25 million contract to be in the center of the line. Now he is injured, and one has to wonder whether injuries are going to get the Giants yet again.

Linebacker J.T. Thomas (hamstring) and defensive tackle Jay Bromley (ankle) also are starting camp on the PUP list.

McAdoo said their injuries also are not serious. We’ll see.

If the Giants can stay healthy, their talent is deep enough with the signings of defensive end Olivier Vernon, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, linebacker Keenan Robinson and the re-signing of defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, to get them to the postseason.

“We talked to the expectation with everybody. Our goal is still to put the fifth (Lombardi) trophy in the case,” McAdoo said after meeting with the team. “The other thing we addressed is that it is just words right now. We have to go out there and put the work in and earn it.

While the Giants have posted consecutive 6-10 seasons, they were not that far off last year. They lost six games either late in the fourth quarter or in overtime.

Guard Justin Pugh said this is the most talented team he has been on in in his four seasons with the Giants.

“I’m very confident in this team” he said. “I think where we were at last year, we lost some crucial games down the stretch, and I think we should have been in last year. I think we missed some big opportunities last year to go to the playoffs, and I think that obviously that is the goal. I am very confident with the guys in this room and the locker room, that we’re going to be successful this year.”

Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr., are focal points of the offense, but the potential increases if Victor Cruz can return after missing most of the past two seasons, rookie receiver Sterling Shepard lives up to the hype, and the O-line can open some holes for running back Rashad Jennings and company.

“This team can be really good,” Jennings said, “by paper and by talent that we actually have on this team. So speaking especially from the offensive standpoint, going into Year 3, we have high expectations and this will be a disappointment if we don’t complete what we are looking for.”

The defense is expected to make the biggest improvement. Vernon gives the Giants one of the league’s top pass rushers, and the hope is JPP will be able to do more now that his mangled right hand has had more than a year to recover from the July 4, 2015 fireworks accident.

Pierre-Paul insists his hand is fine. He won’t have to use a club-type glove on it this season, which might help. He added he had one offseason procedure to help heal the hand.

He hedged for a second when asked about the potential of the defense.

“We have to see,” he said. “I know people have high expectations and they should. As a defensive player, you should have high expectations.”

Second-year safety Landon Collins said it took half a season for the unit to have confidence in coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s new defense. Finishing ranked last left a chip on their shoulders.

“You put it behind you, you don’t think about it, but you know you were 32 in the league and now you’re just pushing to be top 10 in the league,” Collins said. “That’s our biggest thought.”

So is getting to the playoffs.

“I liked the look in their eyes.” McAdoo said. “They were hungry to get going. They were chomping at the bit, like I am. It’s a good place to start.’

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