The Giants' 2-2 preseason was about as hard to get a handle on as any predictions for the season. With a growing injury situation that now includes RB Andre Brown (turf toe) and rookie MLB Phillip Dillard (hamstring), and what promises to be season-long injury management jobs for C Shaun O'Hara (ankle) and CB Aaron Ross (plantar fasciitis), prolonged instability could undermine the Giants' attempts to improve on their 8-8 mark of 2009.
But the problems that cropped up in preseason, like the lack of an adequate kick returner and the kickoff coverage, leaves the Giants one of the hardest teams to get a handle on heading into the Sept. 12 opener against Carolina.
Here are five things that went right in the preseason, and five things that still need work.
BOMAR -- Because of that Jets-inflicted gash in Eli Manning's forehead in Week 1, Bomar got an extraordinary number of snaps. If the front office is smart, they'll call off the search for a veteran backup and be content with the second-year player as Manning's primary backup. He still has some mechanical flaws, but showed he can be dynamic with a couple of great scrambles and a quarterback draw last night for a two-point conversion. It was nice that he hit Duke Calhoun for the winning touchdown against the Patriots, but he needs to get more accurate overall. Still, when he gets the time, he throws a nice ball.
MIDDLE LINEBACKER – Sure, the linebackers are the weakest unit in the secondary. But it looks like Jonathan Goff will go into the season as the starter in the middle, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Though he still needs to learn how to cover a tight end, Goff plays with a lot of fire, and that's what the Giants need right now. He had a great final game, playing 90 percent of the snaps because Dillard went out with a hamstring, and came up with an interception and two great stops on the goal line. Don't mind that it was against the Patriots' second-string offense. He's shown enough during the preseason to warrant his rise to starter after watching the Keith Bulluck-to-middle experiment the first month of camp.
AHMAD BRADSHAW – Brandon Jacobs is good and ticked that he's been supplanted as starter, but Bradshaw had a whale of a preseason. He looks to be completely over the surgeries he had on both feet and an ankle, and showed his old, amazing cutback ability with the starting unit. He's far more dynamic than Jacobs, who should now be used as a second-half pounder.
THE KIDS – A couple of the draft picks showed real well, especially second-round DT Linval Joseph. He's not going to start, but he should be a major part of the interior rotation after showing strength and penetration in his opportunities, which were many. First-round DE Jason Pierre-Paul looks like he needs quite a bit of development, but you have to like his raw talent. And there's no way Tom Coughlin can cut UMass undrafted receiver Victor Cruz, who basically solidified his spot in an amazing showing against the Jets.
Kenny Phillips – Skepticism about whether that microfracture surgery on his left knee will hold up throughout the season remains, but the safety did well in the preseason. They worked him in slowly, starting with six snaps against Pittsburgh and finishing in the mid-20s against Baltimore and New England. He moved well, and last night laid out a receiver with a nice, crunching tackle. How he'll be used in the regular season is up for debate, but it's likely he'll be the nickel safety for now, as Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant will start. They'll have to be careful with him until he fully proves he can handle the grind.
JACOBS – If he becomes a second running option behind Bradshaw, he could turn into a locker room problem. He's already making noises about football being a crazy, cut-throat business. And while he said he won't ask for a trade after getting zero carries and one catch against the Patriots, he only qualified it by saying it's too early for such things. Doesn't sound like a real happy camper. Heaven help that group if the Giants drop the first two games with Jacobs seeing a mininum of action.
THE LINEBACKERS – They still can't cover a tight end. None of them. But at least longtime veteran Keith Bulluck is on the outside again, where he belongs. He can only help, since the Giants' hopes of starting Clint Sintim on the strongside pretty much went up in flames. Michael Boley looks only so-so on the weak side, but one has to assume that his improved health will lead to a better season than the last. Also, the backups didn't show that well, so there's a depth problem. This will go into the season as the weakest bunch.
RETURN GAME – Lawrence Tynes can improve all he wants on kickoffs, but if the Giants aren't going to cover them, they'll consistently lose the field position battle. They haven't come close to solving that issue. As far as returns go, undrafted receiver Timmy Brown got a real good shot last night, but he only had one kickoff return of note. Ross would have been the guy on punt returns, but his injury will cut into his availability and production. Tom Coughlin can't be sleeping well at this point.
O-Line – Interchangeability is an ideal all offensive lines seek to attain. But injuries have created too much shifting, and not enough work for anybody in particular spots, so there is some incohesiveness. Will Beatty showed he's not ready for a starting job at either tackle, but he'll be at least a quality backup. The issue comes at left guard. As Shaun O'Hara nurses his ankle, Rich Seubert may have to move over to center assuming Adam Koets is not starting material. That leaves Guy Whimper at left guard for now, a weak spot until former Eagle Shawn Andrews gets up to speed.
PUNTING – Matt Dodge has a leg. Nobody can doubt that. But he's still inconsistent, though he did improve over the last two games. But will anybody truly feel comfortable if they're pinned back and he's kicking out of his own end zone? Too many line drives, too.