Next man up is the unofficial motto of the NFL — all sports really, but especially the NFL, in which injuries fuel the need for constant replacements. Never has it been more poignant than when the Giants injury report was released Friday.
Linebacker Jonathan Casillas, defensive end Olivier Vernon, wide receiver Sterling Shepard, center Weston Richburg, running back Paul Perkins and defensive end Romeo Okwara all were ruled out of Sunday night’s game against the Broncos in Denver. The winless Giants didn’t bother to mention wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Dwayne Harris, all lost for the season after suffering severe injuries in last week’s 27-22 loss to the Chargers.
It’s almost a worst-case scenario for the Giants, heading to one of the more hostile settings in the National Football League and needing contributions from players who figure to be seeing their first extensive action. Curtis Grant, a free agent from Ohio State, could see duty at inside linebacker. Roger Lewis, Tavarres King and Travis Rudolph, all undrafted free agents, are the new names at wide receiver.
The mantra “Next man up” is mostly psychological coach speak to trick a team into believing there should be no drop off when one player assumes the role of his fallen predecessor.
“It’s one of those things where we’re asking all of those guys to do pretty much across the board the same thing as one another so it will be the next man’s opportunity to go out there and play,” linebacker coach Bill McGovern said Friday.
It sounds good in theory, but the Giants know they’ll have trouble replacing Marshall, much less Beckham, the best player on the team. Despite his antics, he was a touchdown waiting to happen. It’s also devastating to be 0-5 and heading to Denver without veterans like Casillas, Richburg, Shepard and Vernon.
McGovern was asked if he can tell when the next man up is eager to prove himself or scared to death.
“As you see the week progress, you see them get excited to play,” he said. “I haven’t seen anybody be scared or afraid of anything. Our guys are excited for the opportunity to go back out there and play.”
Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said that’s the way it should be. “We lost all our receivers and they’ve got to step up,” he said. “I’m sure this is a moment they’ve been waiting for their entire life. That’s why you play this game, to be able to showcase your talent. I think these guys are ready to showcase their talent. This is a perfect opportunity to go out there and ball.”
This is not what the Giants envisioned. It’s not what anyone envisioned. Being winless and decimated heading to Denver for a nationally televised game sounds like a recipe for disaster. Perhaps that’s why Ben McAdoo played the “There’s nobody giving us a chance in hell” card during his Friday press conference.
“People don’t think we can score a point without [Beckham],” he said. “They think our defense has lost its stinger.”
If by “they” McAdoo means the Giants fan base, then he’s right. The offense already was struggling to score points with Beckham, and the defense has underachieved all season. “They” also can’t be blamed for whatever led to cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie being suspended for Sunday night’s game.
Pierre-Paul didn’t seem motivated by anything other than trying to get the first win of the season.
“I’m going to go out to have the best game I want to have,” he said. “I’m pretty sure some of my teammates are going to do the same thing.”
The Giants can’t know what to expect in Denver. Their depleted roster will be relying on new faces in new roles. “Next man up” sounds good in theory. It may not play so well in Denver.