JACKSONVILLE – Jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2018 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.
Up this week:
New York Giants website writer/editor as the Giants prepare to play the Jaguars at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Sunday.
Question: The Giants went 3-13 in 2017 after an 11-5 season in 2016. Head Coach Pat Shurmur, offensive coordinator Mike Shula and defensive coordinator James Bettcher are all starting their first seasons with the organization. So, how do the Giants feel about themselves entering the 2018 regular-season opener?
Answer: We certainly feel much better than we did a year ago. We really overhauled the roster and we have a new coaching staff led by Pat Shurmur. I would say there's a lot of optimism. We certainly feel good about the upgraded roster, particularly on the offensive line. We like the skill players. There's a lot of confidence in [quarterback] Eli Manning, a lot of confidence in Coach Pat Shurmur. We're certainly looking for a turnaround season.
Q: And this team seems to feel it's closer to the 11-5 team in 2016 than last season's 3-13 team, correct?
A: We like to think that last year was the aberration and the playoff season was more the norm. But it's all about going out and proving it. We can talk all we want, but as [former Giants Head Coach] Bill Parcells always said, "In the NFL, you are what you are." We have to own that and it's our job to prove it.
Q: You always start with the quarterback. Manning went through a lot last season, missing a start late in the season and then returning to the lineup a week later. He's 37, but he's a veteran who knows his way around an offense and he must think he's still elite.
A: He does know his way around an offense, but you have to remember: it's a new offense. It's his third offense in three years. But he's a bright guy. He's been around football his whole life. He picked up the offense quickly. He's beginning his 15th season. Shurmur, the offensive coaches and the front office have a lot of confidence in him and feel like he has a lot of football left in him. We still here consider Eli one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL. Now, he did not have a good season last year. He would be the first to tell you that. Not to make excuses, but if you look at who was blocking for him and who he was throwing to, it's no surprise the statistics are not what they usually are.
Q: Everyone knows about wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Ditto running back Saquon Barkley. This looks like one of the better offenses in the NFL if you just consider the skill positions …
A: There are certainly a lot of weapons. Odell Beckham Jr. did not play in the preseason, but he has looked good in practice. We went to Detroit and practiced [against the Lions] in a very competitive situation and he looked good there. He obviously is one of the best receivers in the NFL and a very dynamic player; [wide receiver] Sterling Shepard is a very good receiver and [tight end] Evan Engram is sort of a big wideout. Barkley, who a lot of people considered the best player in this draft, is an elite running back who can also catch the ball. We have a lot of offensive weapons, and we completely revamped the offensive line so Eli has time to find those weapons.
Q: You mentioned the major overhaul on the offensive line. Is that really the key to the offense this season?
A: I wrote a long time ago that you cannot win in this league with a bad offensive line. We proved that last year, sadly. When Ernie Accorsi was the general manager here, he used to say, "The offensive line is the heart and soul of your team." I believe that. We have three new players on the offensive line, and the two holdovers are playing different positions, so basically it's new players at all five positions (left tackle Nate Solder, rookie left guard Will Hernandez, center John Halapio, former Jaguars right guard Patrick Omameh and right tackle Ereck Flowers). The offensive line gave us no chance last year. Eli was running for his life. I do think that is a key. I'm not saying it's a great line filled with All-Pros, but it's certainly an upgraded position group that will give us a chance to win.
Q: Defensively … everyone knows about cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple. How does the rest of the unit stand entering the season?
A: We've switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 under James Bettcher, who was at Arizona [as defensive coordinator from 2015-2017]. The players all really like the defense. They say it's an aggressive defense and Bettcher pushes the right buttons – and made the correct calls in the preseason. I would say the strength right now is going to be the ability to stop the run. We have a good interior line in [defensive tackle] Damon Harrison and [3-4 end] Dalvin Tomlinson and rookie [3-4 end] B.J. Hill. Alec Ogletree and B.J. Goodson are the inside linebackers. We need to develop, frankly, a pass rush. [End] Olivier Vernon has a sore ankle, and he's our best holdover pass rusher. But I think right now we're going to be much better stopping the run than we have been in our recent past.
Q: Final question: You said earlier the Giants believe last season was an aberration. Is this a playoffs-or-bust situation?
A: In some respects I guess it is, because if you're up here you read about how the window's closing on Eli and we really haven't taken advantage of Eli's prime. Eli will tell you he's still in his prime and he has a lot of good football left – and he's not going anywhere any time soon. I would say given he's 37 and he's in his 15th season … to us, every year is playoffs are bust – and we were a bust last year. So, yeah, I think we're going to contend for the playoffs. The confidence around here is we're going to contend for the playoffs. We just have to go out and do it.