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Training camp preview: Assimilation crucial for Giants

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Training camp is quickly approaching, which means it's time to preview the most exciting part of the summer. Over the next month, Around The NFL's Conor Orr will break down all 32 teams and give us something to look for in late July.

Today, we take a look at the New York Giants. Click on the tabs above to see other NFC East camp previews. For the rest of the NFL, click here.

Training camp report date: Rookies and veterans, July 28.

Training camp location: Quest Diagnostics Training Center, East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Offseason in a nutshell: For the second time in three offseasons, the Giants were one of the NFL's biggest spenders in free agency, which says one (or both) of the following:

1) The Giants recognize that Eli Manning is 35, and the team is likely looking at a four-year window to win his third Super Bowl.
2) The roster, chipped and cracked over the last four seasons following the 2011 Super Bowl run, entered this offseason lacking playoff-caliber playmakers at important positions, especially on defense.

Combine these two factors, and you get a team that spends an astounding $85 million on Olivier Vernon, not to mention $62.5 million on Janoris Jenkins and $46.25 million on Damon Harrison.

Player to watch: Wide receiver Sterling Shepard. The Giants' second-round pick probably has the best chance of any player in their rookie class to make an immediate impact. Following the draft, team brass repeatedly compared Shepard to old favorite Victor Cruz -- a rangy, versatile pass catcher who can excel in the slot or outside. Because Cruz's health is the great unknown, and there is still no telling if he can return to form, Shepard is the great hope to make Ben McAdoo's transported Packer offense come alive. This is the key to unlocking not only a more dependable intermediate passing game, but the full potential of Odell Beckham Jr., a player who has almost single-handedly carried this offense for each of the past two seasons.

THREE BURNING QUESTIONS:

1. How will Damon Harrison transition into a 4-3 defense?

Harrison was one of the NFL's best space-eaters with the Jets -- a prototypical 3-4 nose who had the ability to create a two-car pileup on every play. With the Giants, he is paired with another hefty tackle, former second-round pick Johnathan Hankins, and two very different rush ends in Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon. While it seems like an odd cast of characters, it's important to realize how little the Giants actually will be in their base defense. Harrison has been insisting for years that he can bump down or outside, purported versatility that'd give the Giants a nice option on passing downs in case they cannot switch personnel. Harrison has always been insanely athletic for his size (listed at 6-foot-4, 350 pounds), but can he also be insanely athletic for his new position?

2. Who wins the safety battle?

Giants fans have been familiar with this question for quite some time. This year, the competition is for the safety spot opposite 2015 second-round pick Landon Collins, an ascending player who needs to have a much better season than he did in 2015. The contestants are Nat Berhe, Bennett Jackson and Darian Thompson, with Cooper Taylor as a possible dark-horse candidate, should injuries play a factor. While it's not as cut-and-dried as free safety and strong safety, the Giants need to find the right fit to pair with Collins -- and it might come down to relationships. In watching Big Blue's secondary on film last year, the back end of the defense often looked like an NBA fast break, with two people trying to cover three offensive players while having no clue where each other were headed. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Janoris Jenkins and first-round pick Eli Apple could be the best set of corners -- 1 through 3 -- the team has had in half a decade. But without help over the top, there is no complete package on defense.

3. Does Andre Williams break out?

The Giants are fixing to keep four running backs at this point, though they would love a sensible, first- and second-down back to emerge from training camp. Rashad Jennings would seem to be that person, with Shane Vereen slotting in as the third-down back -- but the Giants could wiggle out of Jennings' deal and save a little more than $1 million against the cap if they felt like it. That would have to involve a boffo summer from Williams, the former Heisman finalist who went to New York in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Tom Coughlin thought he'd be selected two rounds earlier, but we quickly saw why the Boston College product slipped. As a rookie, Williams carried the ball 217 times for 721 yards -- just 3.3 yards per carry -- though he did score seven touchdowns. In Year 2, that number dropped to 88 carries (at just 2.9 yards a pop) and one touchdown. His catch rate also dropped to 33 percent. Still, McAdoo talked him up this summer, saying that a breakout season is on the way. Is that just another offseason trope whispered into the void?

Way-too-early season prediction: One instinct tells us that the Giants and Cowboys both will rise back to the top of the NFC East, and that Big Blue can easily win nine games this year. However, another tells us to be wary of teams who spend big in free agency -- and that, below the exterior sheen, there exists a pronounced lack of depth. The Redskins are better than they have been since Robert Griffin III's rookie season, meaning wins will be tougher to come by. At this point, 8-8 might be the safest bet of all.

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