Engram’s Hunger to Grow a Great Sign For Giants

After a first year that showcased both his explosiveness and some rookie struggles, New York Giants tight end Evan Engram is set for his second year in the NFL.

This time around, Engram noted, things predictably are slowing down and that has allowed him to take another step in his development.

A first-round pick a year ago, Engram was a good downfield threat for the Giants. In 15 appearances of which 11 were starts, the tight end had 64 receptions for 722 yards with six touchdowns. He proved to be valuable in the red zone and also in stretching things down the field. These were all certainly skills that he showed in Ole Miss as a multi-year starter for the SEC program.

[Dyer: Shurmur Hopes to Rejuvenate Eli Apple]

But there were struggles a year ago including some drops as well as a continued learning curve with his blocking, an area that Engram admitted in the past he needs to continue to develop. But this second go-around of offseason workouts, including Organized Team Activities (OTAs), has Engram pointed in the right direction.

There’s a trickle-down effect, Engram emphasized, of this being his second offseason with the Giants.

“The thing I’ve noticed, just being out here, going full-speed, is that the game is a lot more slowed down. The game has slowed down a lot,” Engram said.

“And that’s allowing me to kind of dig deeper into my bag of route techniques, or getting open and being able to focus more on the run game and getting stronger and just getting more comfortable out there. Last year, I kind of was, head on a swivel a lot, the game was so fast and I wasn’t used to it. But just having a year under my belt and kind of getting thrown into some tough situations, last year definitely helps slow the game down and allowed me to kind of focus on a lot of the little things and enhance my talents to be a better player.”

The transition, though, does include some challenges.

For the second time in as many years, Engram has a new head coach with the Giants. And while head coach Pat Shurmur has been known to utilize tight ends effectively in the passing game in the past, there still is a learning curve.

A couple weeks ago, Shurmur was asked how he might use a pass-catching weapon like Engram. The answer seemed to embrace Engram’s strength down the field, with Shurmur saying, “you can detach him and extend him like a wideout, so we’re going to try to use him that way if we can.”

That certainly is welcome news for Engram’s assimilation to the offense. But, this is still a new offense with a new language and a new playbook. While certain things have slowed down for Engram this year, there is still an awful lot that he will need to grasp this offseason. Included in this is Shurmur’s expectations for his tight ends in the passing game.

[Dyer: Rookies Learning ‘Giants Way’ with an Edge]

“I think about it every day. Especially when I get up here and go to work with the team,” Engram said. “Just [to] kind of improve on some things and take my game to the next level. So, I’m really excited. I’m really excited about becoming a better player that’s going to help this team win a lot more games.”

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Caps-Knights; The Most Unusual Playoff Final

Our resident hockey Maven, Stan Fischler, shares his thoughts on the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

To those who have just arrived from a Distant Planet, know this:

THE VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS WILL BE PLAYING THE WASHINGTON CAPITALS FOR THE STANLEY CUP.

The Maven puts these in Caps not because the Capitals will win the Stanley Cup, but rather to emphasize to newcomers that it’s not a joke nor a typographical error.

Yes, the NHL’s brand new team from Nevada has reached the final round in pursuit of hockey’s most coveted prize.

To call this feat astounding would be the understatement of the half-century. It’s so far beyond belief, you’d think 100 of Hollywood’s best script-writers had penned the Knights Saga.

Then, they’d all be fired because what has happened between October and Now is, well, even beyond The Maven’s highest compliment, A-Number-One-Yankee-Doodle-Ipsy-Pipsy.

WINNIPEG, MB – MAY 20: Alex Tuch #89 of the Vegas Golden Knights celebrates after scoring a goal during the first period against the Winnipeg Jets in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bell MTS Place on May 20, 2018 in Winnipeg, Canada. (Photo by Jason Halstead/Getty Images)

Even more astonishing is the belief that, yessiree, Bob, the Knights could very well win the darn thing. One trusty scout I know, Gus Vic, even tells me how.

“What the Capitals are going to find,” Vic explained, “is that the Knights’ speed, work ethic, tenacity, and discipline is going to be very hard to handle.

“Vegas’ neutral zone play is positively suffocating and gives the impression that the Knights have eight players on the ice while protecting leads.”

Hey, Sin City’s favorite team didn’t finish with the fifth best record — out of 31 — in the league for nothing. Matter of fact they finished one ahead of the very team they’ll be hosting Monday night at T-Mobile Arena.

Now that we have the unbelievability of coach Gerard Gallant‘s team taken care of, it’s worth noting that Barry Trotz coached a fabulously gutsy outfit which underlined that point in their the seven-game triumph over Tampa Bay.

Plus, the Caps boast the NHL’s Rocket Richard Trophy-winner in Alex (49 Red Lights) Ovechkin and a well-balanced team that features size, speed and savvy.

TAMPA, FL – MAY 23: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals skates with the Prince of Wales Trophy after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-0 in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 23, 2018 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

Washington’s goalie Braden Holtby enters the Final Round with two straight shutouts which is a feat that only can be beaten by three goose-eggs.

Then again, Vegas goaltending headliner, Marc-Andre Fleury has been the most consistently best post-season stopper in every one of the previous three series.

Here’s The Maven’s Scouting Report, starting with the visiting team:

WASHINGTON:

OFFENSE: A season earlier they averaged 3.18 goals per game and this year it was 3.12. What’s more, they stayed close even after losing Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson up front. After three 50-goal-seasons, Ovechkin slumped last year with 33 goals and 69 points. But what a rebound this term — 49 goals, 38 assists for 87 points. So far in the playoffs, Captain Ovi has totaled 12 goals and 10 assists for 22 points; slotting him second in goals and points.

The beauty part of the Caps attack is the emergence of other potent producers. Evgeny Kuznetsov has been a whiz-bang, ahead of Ovi by two points. Nicklas Backstrom and defenseman John Carlson also have provided pizazz. Not to be overlooked is the third man on the first line, Tom Wilson, who is a surprisingly effective point-getter despite his penchant for punching. Lars Eller, Chandler Stevenson, and Devante Smith-Pelly have delivered some effective work up front.

TAMPA BAY, FL – MAY 23:
Washington Capitals right wing Tom Wilson (43) punches Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn (55) during the first period Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday, May 23, 2018. (Photo by Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

DEFENSE: Minus Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt and Kevin Shattenkirk, the Caps still have survived. The response has been the ever-tenacious Brooks (Plus 15 in 19 playoff games) Orpik, Carlson’s career year along with Dimitry Orlov as well as Matt Niskanen and rookie Christian Djoos. All things considered, it’s not a knock-your-eyes-out blueline corps, but it got the Caps to the Final; didn’t it?

GOALTENDING: When it came to a Cup challenge, Braden Holtby always seemed to have his head in Nowheresville. So mediocre was his finish to the regular season, Trotz benched him in the first two games of round one — both losses — in favor of Philipp Grubauer; finally inserting Holtby in the third period of Game Two. Since then Braden has been nothing short of brilliant, especially out-goaling Andrei Vasilevskiy in the third round. He enters the Final having pitched two consecutive shutouts.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Since the playoffs began, Washington has featured the second-best power play (28.8 percent). However, their penalty-killing has been mediocre, but don’t tell that to the Lightning who went Oh-For-One in Game Seven.

INTANGIBLES: Head coach Trotz has surrounded himself with Grade A aides. These include Todd Reirden, Lane Lambert, and Blaine Forsythe. Consulting the goalies is the ever-popular and efficient Mitch Korn.

X-FACTORS: If he can stay out of the penalty box or the Player Safety Sinbin, Wilson brings a rare blend of toughness as well as the ability to work well with Captain Ovi. Orpik has playoff experience and is playing his best post-season hockey.

THE BRASS: G.M. Brian MacLellan has managed to lose name players on offense and defense yet supplement the lineup with lesser knowns, but with producers like young Chandler Stevenson. Trotz, whose contract runs out, should get an extension based on his superior work behind the bench.

VEGAS:

WINNIPEG, MB – MAY 20: Jonathan Marchessault #81, Reilly Smith #19 and William Karlsson #71 of the Vegas Golden Knights stand on the ice prior to puck drop against the Winnipeg Jets in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Bell MTS Place on May 20, 2018 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

OFFENSE: Experts will tell you that the toughest part of an Expansion Draft is finding a semblance of offense, but G.M. George McPhee pulled off a few miracles. Jonathan Marchessault and James Neal already were known for their Red-Light Ability and considered main drivers for goals. But nobody figured on William Karlsson, who tallied 43 goals in the regular season and is second on the Knights in the playoffs with six, two behind Marchessault. Reilly Smith, ex-of Florida, is no slouch, leading the team with 14 helpers and second most in points for his club. Huge in more ways than one, (6-4) Alex Tuch has been an energetic left wing who’s been a force physically and productively. Sneaky good, Erik Haula may not be that big, but he’s quick and has good hands. Pittsburgh’s loss is Vegas’ gain in monstrous Ryan Reaves, who scored the winning goal in Game Five of the Western Final against Winnipeg.

DEFENSE: Granted it’s a No-Name Defense but when you X-Ray the results, you can better appreciate the work of several blueliners. To wit: Nate Schmidt, Brayden McNabb, Shea Theodore, Derek Engelland, Luca Sbisa and Colin Miller. Ex-Devil Jon Merrill, Brad Hunt, and Jason Garrison provide depth. Put ’em all together and you get a solid unit that never should be underestimated.

GOALTENDING: Even though he’s already won three Cups, Marc-Andre Fleury has lifted his game to a stratospheric level never achieved in Pittsburgh. Amazingly, at the season’s start, he was injured. Yet the Knights survived with a merry-go-round of goalies including Malcolm Subban, Maxime Lagace, and Oscar Dansk. Fleury has been more than expert between the pipes. He’s not only the face of the franchise but also its inspiration.

LAS VEGAS, NV – SEPTEMBER 28: Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Vegas Golden Knights stands on the ice during a break in a preseason game against the Colorado Avalanche at T-Mobile Arena on September 28, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Colorado won 4-2. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

SPECIAL TEAMS: Nothing very special about the power play — eleventh in the regular season and so far tenth in the playoffs. Likewise, the penalty kill has been all right but hardly perfect. Karlsson and Smith have been the primary PP and PK fellows. Tuch’s size is a PP asset.

INTANGIBLES: The odds posted against Vegas winning the Cup stood at 500-1 last September in some quarters and 200-1 in The Hockey News. The point is that this club now is playing with house money. Ergo: they’ve got nothing to prove and nothing to lose.

ROOKIES: Tuch was a 2014 first-rounder who has a blend of skill skating and work ethic. Tomas Nosek is another who bears watching.

X-FACTOR: Fourth-liner Ryan Carpenter quietly has had an impact on the offense as a grinder. David Perron brings veteran experience and is quietly effective doing the little things necessary for a winner.

THE BRASS: George McPhee will be a landslide winner of the Best G.M. Award while ditto for Gerard Gallant as coach
————————————————————————————————–
HOW THE CAPITALS CAN WIN THE CUP:
Riding the momentum from their startling comeback against Tampa, Washington is motivated beyond all reason.

Led by the super-dynamic Ovi who almost can taste the champagne-on-ice and who’s aces with his every shift on the ice.

If Holtby maintains his hermetically-sealed crease as he did in Games Six and Seven, it’s in the bag for Trotz and Company.

Finally, this from scout Vic: “By playing a heavy, disciplined chip and chase game throughout the series, it would force Vegas out of the comfort of the neutral zone.”

Washington must get pucks in deep; don’t get caught at the blue line.

HOW THE KNIGHTS CAN WIN THE CUP:

Vegas skaters have to pound the foe. So far no team has been able to keep up with the Knights’ relentless forecheck. Their three-zone pressure package enables them to be hellbent on turnovers and transition hockey.

Thanks to Gallant, the club has had full buy-in through the regular season and playoffs. Not to be redundant, but Gerard has pulled off the most outstanding single-season coaching job in NHL history — as well in all of professional sports!

How does one beat a Cinderella story that goes on and on and on? Another thought — the team with the best Bottom Six often wins. Vegas has the topper in that realm.

THE MAVEN’S PICK: Washington in six; thanks to Ovechkin, Holtby, and Carlson!

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Shurmur Hopes to Rejuvenate Eli Apple

It is hard to believe that Eli Apple will turn 23 years old this summer and that he will do so in the midst of what will be his third NFL training camp.

It is even harder to believe that the New York Giants cornerback needs a clean slate at this point in his career, but that is what the organization and head coach Pat Shurmur are promising him.

[Dyer: Rookies Learning ‘Giants Way’ With an Edge]

Apple has a mulligan, a chance to start over again under Shurmur, who has repeatedly commented about how the former first-round pick is getting a fresh look from the coaching staff. It was a difficult 2017 for Apple, who had struggles on and off the field and was at one point suspended by former head coach Ben McAdoo.

A bounce-back year from Apple is not only possible but certainly plausible as he showed solid coverage and good instincts in 2016 as a rookie.

A return to form for Apple would be key for a revamped Giants secondary, a unit that struggled last year giving up plays over the top. The fact that Shurmur is so emphatic in wanting Apple checked-in and fully engaged is certainly the right approach as the team goes through a roster makeover.

The message of a fresh start, Shurmur said, was made clear to Apple.

“I did with all the players and I think that’s important,” Shurmur said Monday as the Giants started Organized Team Activities (OTAs). “What you’re trying to do is inspire these guys to play at their best and I hear things, but I can’t truly say I know exactly what happened because I wasn’t here. But, I do know this, there are guys out here that are very prideful, they’re very professional and they want to do really good things and Eli is one of them.”

Shurmur went so far as to say that in terms of stature and skillset, Apple is in many ways his prototype at cornerback.

Perhaps Apple, after health concerns for his family were a distraction and then an alleged falling out with the last coaching staff, will be free in 2018 to get back to playing football. His individual ability on a wide receiver has been strong, as his ability to read and react in coverage.

Combine that with another year in the NFL spent getting bigger and stronger and Apple could be primed to take a step forward. After all, he already has two years in the league at an age when many cornerbacks are entering their first rookie minicamps.

“I’m sure glad that I truly believe in a clean slate,” Shurmur said. “[Apple has] been nothing but professional, he’s been out here competing, he’s one of the guys that has been here almost every single day and I haven’t seen anything that somebody might have thought I heard. He’s been great.”

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Perry’s Focus For Knicks: Talent Acquisition

Scott Perry didn’t talk about luck leading into the NBA Draft Lottery.

He talked about focus. Afterward, as the Knicks maintained their maddening record of never once moving up in 15 lottery appearances, Perry talked about fortune.

“I’m just happy we didn’t move back,” he said.

So the Knicks remained in the 9th spot in the draft and now have a little over a month to decide who they’ll choose on June 21 at Barclays Center. In a draft loaded with new age athletic big men who shoot threes and block shots, the Knicks don’t have a specific need to target. And, as Perry bluntly pointed out, there’s a reason for that.

“We’ve got to add talent to this team,” he said, “regardless of position.”

The team went from being in a desperate search for point guards to having two — Emmanuel Mudiay and Trey Burke — who are former lottery picks looking to get re-established. They also have last year’s first-round pick, Frank Ntilikina, who looks like he will be developed into more of a combo guard with a defensive foundation. While the Knicks could be in play at No. 9 for arguably the best point guard in the draft — Alabama’s Collin Sexton — Perry said there are conditions to once again target the point guard spot in the draft.

“I think it only makes sense if you feel that guard is far and above what you have on the roster,” he said. “And we haven’t been able to make that determination yet.”

Expect Sexton to be among the players the Knicks meet with at the NBA Combine (his measurables will be important because he was listed at 6-foot-3 in college) and get a workout back in New York in June. Sexton only has to prove he has more potential than Mudiay or Burke, and some feel his athleticism and speed will make him a dynamic NBA guard that will fit in today’s pro game.

The most logical area of focus for the Knicks is at the wing, where Tim Hardaway Jr. moved to during the season and was forced to defend bigger players. The Knicks desperately need a small forward who can switch onto guards and yet can also defend the post, while also offering the ability to shoot the three. That describes Villanova’s Mikal Bridges.

SAN ANTONIO, TX – APRIL 02: Mikal Bridges #25 of the Villanova Wildcats cuts the net after the 2018 NCAA Men’s Final Four National Championship game against the Michigan Wolverines at the Alamodome on April 2, 2018 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

And when you listen to Perry, the type of player the Knicks are looking for — “the guy, we feel, is the best fit for our culture” — also describes Bridges, a two-time national champion, and Big East Tournament MVP.

“I bring winning to your team,” Bridges said last month.

The Knicks certainly need that element.

Perry acknowledged the need at small forward — “It’s no secret we could use help at wing,” he said — he would not completely commit to it as the main focus. “At the end of the day, I still think we’re in talent-acquisition mode,” he said, reiterating the need to find the best talent available.

Last week on my radio show on ESPN Radio (7-10 PM Weeknights on 98.7 FM in New York), Perry told me it also depends on who is available when the Knicks make their pick.

“If there’s someone down there at a position you think you’re more strong at, but the player is clearly a better talent than, maybe, the position of need, then you have that question: do you go ahead and take the greater talent at that time and then utilize trades and free agency to bolster the position you feel you need help in at small forward?” Perry said.

In other words, if you have to stack talent at one spot, you do it and turn the surplus into an asset to fill the area of need via trades.

“We have to get the highest level of talent that we can get onto our roster and we’ll figure out all the positions once they get in there,” Perry said.

This will be the third time in four years that the Knicks are selecting in the top 10. Kristaps Porzingis became an All-Star, Ntilikina is a project. This year’s pick, Perry knows, has to make an impact to advance the cause.

“If you can find a starter, that would be fantastic,” he said. “Worst-case scenario is you have to find a strong, what I would call, a rotation player who is going to play for you each and every night and is going to contribute to your overall success.”

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KP Up For Block of the Year

The Unicorn has been recognized!

Vote for your New York Knick, Kristaps Porzingis as he is in the running for an NBA Award this year.

KP is nominated for Block of the Year for his nasty rejection on the Suns’ Josh Jackson, leading to his very own authoritative slam dunk on the opposite end of the floor in a Nov. 3, 2017 game at The Garden.

You can vote for KP here: www.nba.com/NBAAwards.
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Red Bulls’ Roots Found in Motown

It has certainly been a long, winding road for Sacir Hot.

The former New York Red Bulls defender was one of the first players signed by the team through their Academy, a journey in professional soccer that would take him from MLS to the lower divisions of Germany and now, finally, as a head coach.

It is here, on the sidelines, where Hot may have found his calling.

Hot’s FC Motown, based out of Morristown, N.J. and playing at nearby Drew University, defeated the New York Red Bulls U-23 team, 2-1, on Wednesday night. The win came in the first round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and sets FC Motown up with another home clash next week against FC Penn of the USL.

It was a big moment for both the club and Hot. Motown is set for their inaugural season in the NPSL, a league stuck in the uncertainty of the soccer pyramid in this country. The NPSL is considered fourth division, but with no true third division at the moment, the league is currently an important development platform for soccer in this country. Moments like the win over the Red Bulls U-23 side certainly don’t hurt the perception about the team or the league.

And Hot, who was developed through the New York Red Bulls Academy and then signed to the first team seven years ago, also experienced a level of emotions as he coached against the organization that gave him his professional debut.

“I’m not as happy with the win as I would be against any other given opponent. I think the Red Bulls put out a great team of young players that really stepped up in a men’s game,” Hot said after the match. “I have mixed emotions right now because they deserve a lot of credit and could have potentially won the game last night. They are a well-coached side that is going to do very well in the PDL this year, I have no doubt about that.”

The connections at Motown to the Red Bulls’ organization go beyond Hot.

WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 22: D.C. United midfielder Russell Canouse (4) defends against New York Red Bulls midfielder Dilly Duka (22) during D.C United’s final MLS match at RFK Stadium between D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls, on October 22, 2017, at RFK Stadium, in Washington D.C. New York Red Bulls defeated D.C. United 2-1.
(Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Dilly Duka, who played for the Red Bulls last year and also came up through the Academy, scored twice to seal the win for Motown. Duka, who had a successful stint in MLS that includes stops at the Columbus Crew and Montreal Impact, is an interesting piece in Motown’s attack.

Skilled on and off the ball, he brings a level of creativity and composure that is often not seen in the NPSL. The same can be said for other players on this roster including former Trinidad & Tobago international Julius James, another player with extensive MLS experience. Also in the mix is defender Hunter Freeman, who played several seasons for the Red Bulls as well as in Norway and with the New York Cosmos.

Ironically, the timeline of Freeman, Hot and Duka never overlapped when they were with the Red Bulls as players.

“Dilly is like a Designated Player for us. When he wants to change the game, he will. Last night, [he] maybe didn’t start the way he wanted as it was a bit slow in the middle, then [he] moved outside to isolate himself from the pack and we witnessed why he was an MLS player for so long. He decides games for us and his two goals last night lifted us out of a grave. He’s a real impact player for us and will be counted on in the NPSL season,” Hot said.

“I don’t think Dilly was extra-motivated last night given the opponent. Dilly has experience throughout MLS and also with the youth national teams. He’s played in big games throughout his career but I hope this one remains special for him.”

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Depth Still a Concern For Giants

All things considered, the New York Giants have had a pretty good offseason but the rebuilding job is far from over for this team. This, even as general manager Dave Gettleman clearly maxed-out, given the team’s tight salary cap restrictions.

Free agency clearly paid some dividends for the Giants who, despite having limited wiggle room with a top-heavy salary cap, addressed areas of need. Beefing up the offensive line with additions such as left tackle Nate Solder and guard Patrick Omameh, as well as under the radar moves in linebacker Kareem Martin and defensive end Josh Mauro. But there are still holes on this team as rookie minicamp and training camp loom.

The NFL Draft was good and the first two selections, in particular, should help answer some looming questions. There still are pressing needs for Gettleman and the Giants.

[Dyer: Giants Restore Pride with Strong Draft]

See which players will be joining Big Blue for the 2018 season, as we break down their draft class!

Here’s a look at three spots where the Giants need to address depth issues:

1) Offensive line is improved but … the loss of center Weston Richburg in free agency hurts. Brett Jones, who started a bunch of games last year when Richburg was injured, has had spells of inconsistency and remains a bit of a mystery. Perhaps a full offseason working with the unit will help Jones stabilize, but the Giants might need to cull the free agent market come training camp if Jones doesn’t step up.

There is also a potential hole at right tackle given that Ereck Flowers appears unsettled and the Giants reportedly were trying to move their former first-round pick. Now, Flowers has been anything but reliable at left tackle. If the Giants are able to move him, they’d still need to find an adequate replacement.

[Watch: Beginnings – Landon Collins]

In addition, depth along the line is paper thin. While the Giants did draft highly-touted UTEP guard Will Hernandez in the second round, they still need bodies. Adam Bisnowaty, a sixth-round pick a year ago, might be hurried along a bit. Bisnowaty might battle Chad Wheeler for the starting right tackle job come August.

2) The cornerbacks are talented but depth issues persist. Janoris Jenkins will turn 30-years old this season, an age where cornerbacks begin to traditionally see a decline in production. Opposite of him is Eli Apple, who had a great rookie year in 2016 before injuries and issues derailed his season.

If the Giants secondary is going to be solid, then Jenkins must be healthy all 16 games and Apple has to return to being the player who stood out his rookie year. After these two starters, however, are plenty of question marks.

B.W. Webb brings good experience to the secondary and Brandon Dixon is solid, but the Giants will need one or two players to step up significantly. The roster, as it stands now, doesn’t have a whole lot of proven players after their starters. The Giants could really use an undrafted rookie free agent to step up and provide depth at cornerback after Webb and Dixon.

3) There still is Eli Manning at QB but then …

Manning is likely the Giants starter for this year and the next two seasons but the two-time Super Bowl MVP isn’t getting any younger. He’s been remarkably healthy and while the offensive line figures to be better, the Giants simply need to find a solution as his backup.

Davis Webb has yet to throw an NFL pass, a failing perhaps of the last management regime to not even give him a taste of playing on Sundays. And Kyle Lauletta is a solid mid-round pick for the Giants but he faces a big jump in competition coming from Richmond.

The Giants could be in the market for a veteran quarterback to stand with a clipboard this season and backup Manning. Should Manning go down with an injury, the talent-level behind him just isn’t proven yet. An injury to their star quarterback could derail a whole season for this team.

[Dyer: Giants Get Their Guy in Barkley]

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Knicks Seek Inspiration, Patience With Fizdale Hire

As the media assembled in what is the foyer of Madison Square Garden, called Chase Square, in an area staged for a press conference, an observer looking from a balcony above felt a sense of familiarity. Or was it monotony?

“We’ve got to stop meeting like this,” he thought.

Once upon a time, May 8th was the greatest day in franchise history. A nine-inch needle filled with Carbocaine and cortisone was stuck into Willis Reed‘s leg and he famously limped out onto the court for Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Inspired by their captain, the Knicks won their first championship.

Forty-eight years later, the Knicks are searching again for that kind of inspiration. Reed delivered action, not words.

Too often over the last two decades, these warm spring days have been more about words, not action. Press conferences, not playoff games. No one knows it more than team president Steve Mills, who allowed a few smiles for the cameras but appeared more anxious than anything throughout David Fizdale‘s introduction to New York as the next head coach of the Knicks.

No one knows more than Mills that while many of the faces have changed over the years, he remains. He has attended too many of these. He has heard all the promises. He has seen all the mistakes that followed.

[Watch: Fizdale Press Conference]

So, why is it different now?

“I think we’ve seen how things can go wrong,” Mills said. “And I’ve seen a lot of mistakes that have taken place . . . and maybe not the right patience in terms of doing things the right way.”

Mills has been in the room where it happens. His detractors will say his presence means he has been part of the problem. His defenders will say he never held the authority of final say. What comes next will say whether or not he learned from the mistakes of the past, such as trading a top-10 pick for injury-risk Antonio McDyess (2002), trading a pair of unprotected first round picks for Eddy Curry (2005), trading a promising second-round pick named Trevor Ariza for Steve Francis (2006), trading a first-round pick for Andrea Bargnani (2013) . . . there’s a lot more we could list, but I think you get the idea.

“I think we’ve seen a lot of shortcuts,” Mills said, “and swinging for the fences and trying to hit home runs all the time,”

Mills brought Scott Perry in as general manager to assist in this mission of patience, in the city known for the New York minute. Perry was part of a rebuilding effort that made mistakes in Orlando — the Magic are still trying to get it right — and like Mills, he didn’t have final say there, either. But he saw what went wrong there and elsewhere around the league. He was also in the front office in Detroit to see how the Pistons, with Joe Dumars at the helm, built themselves into a championship team with a good draft pick (Tayshaun Prince), timely trades (Ben Wallace, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace) and smart signings (Chauncey Billups). All of that work took three seasons before the Pistons became a team that reached six straight conference finals, two NBA Finals appearances, and a championship.

“You can’t skip steps to becoming a championship team,” Perry said. “I haven’t seen it happen. And we don’t have magic wands to make that happen.

[Watch: Fizdale Press Conference]

“The magic formula, if you will, is the daily grind.”

There is some irony to the fact that Mills and Perry are steadfast in the patient approach while hiring a coach who actually witnessed how the magic wand, quick fix approach did work. That was when Fizdale was an assistant coach in Miami, where they went from trying to drag then-rookie Michael Beasley out of bed in Las Vegas at the summer league to the Heatlemania collaboration of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. What followed was four straight trips to the NBA Finals and two championships.

That was Studio 54. It burned out quickly.

The Knicks need something more like Fraunces Tavern. Historic and everlasting.

“If we build this thing right, together, with the guys we have here, who I’m focused on here,” Fizdale said, “people will want to come.”

Of the many accolades bestowed upon Fizdale by his many supporters around the league — a Who’s Who that includes Pat Riley, LeBron and many more — one of the most important may be his connections with the NBA elite. Fizdale is presented by his friends as someone players want to play for, so come 2019, when the Knicks have cap space, that should put the team in play to attract talent.

No, this won’t just be built through the draft. None of the great teams are. The Celtics have young talent, sure, but their three best players were acquired via free agency (Gordon Hayward, Al Horford) and trade (Kyrie Irving). But it’s the draft (Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and Jayson Tatum), their development and the culture created by Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens that has allowed them to overcome the injuries to Hayward and Irving.

So there’s more to this than just tanking for high draft picks. It’s about finding the right coach and then the right players. And when it comes to New York, that second part is a lot harder to do because of what it takes to play in this city. We’ve seen over the last two decades how a player becomes a Knick and suddenly he’s not the same. Then he’s traded away and he’s a good player again. Mills has seen it, too.

“One of the things that I’ve learned is that there are a whole lot of guys that want to live in New York,” he said. “There are not a whole lot of guys that are built to play in New York. And that’s part of our job, to distinguish between those things, and find the guys who are, who have the fortitude and the makeup to be able to survive in this place.

“So we have to make sure we have some filters and try to make as few mistakes as we possibly can in identifying the right kind of people for this team.”

It starts with leadership. And, the hope is, these press conferences on warm spring days once reserved for playoff games, ends here.

[Watch: Fizdale Press Conference]

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The Launch of New eSports Series, “Knicks Gaming”

New Show to Premiere on Tuesday, May 8th at 10:00 pm

Series to Feature Exclusive Behind-the-Scenes Team Access and Interviews with the
Head Coach, Players and Head Scout/Creative Consultant Jerry Ferrara Throughout the Season

New York, NY (May 2, 2018) – MSG Networks (NYSE: MSGN) today announced the upcoming debut of “Knicks Gaming,” a first-of-its-kind show that will feature Knicks Gaming, the official NBA 2K League team of The Madison Square Garden Company (NYSE: MSG), throughout their inaugural season competing in the new professional eSports league. The 30-minute show will air on Tuesday nights during the summer, debuting on Tuesday, May 8th at 10:00 pm.

The new show will chronicle the team’s collective journey during their first season in the NBA 2K League, a joint venture between the NBA and Take-Two Interactive, from getting drafted to training to the actual competition, which recently tipped off on Tuesday, May 1st. The series will include profiles on the six players who were selected in the first-ever NBA 2K League Draft, which was held last month at The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden.

Actor Jerry Ferrara (Entourage and Power), who was hired as the team’s Head Scout and Creative Consultant, will be prominently featured throughout the series. In addition to Ferrara, other local New York personalities, Knicks fans and gaming enthusiasts will be featured on the show.

“MSG Networks is excited to bring viewers and gamers unique access to New York’s newest professional franchise, Knicks Gaming,” said Kevin Marotta, Senior Vice President, Marketing and Content Strategy, MSG Networks. “With the dramatic rise in popularity of eSports, we have a great opportunity to share with fans all the behind-the-scenes interaction among the team, and their weekly preparation for games.”

Through a mix of behind-the-scenes footage and unique storytelling, the “Knicks Gaming” show will provide fans with an up-close look at the six competitive gaming professionals on the roster. The series will include in-depth segments that will profile the players and coach on a more personal level and showcase how they are embracing life here under the bright lights of New York City. As the season progresses, the show will include increased analysis and commentary on each game, along with video from the team on the road.

Each episode will also include new exclusive footage from the Knicks Gaming Training Center at MSG Networks’ corporate headquarters at 11 Penn Plaza in New York City, allowing fans to see how the players practice and prepare throughout the season. The Knicks Gaming Training Center is powered by Spectrum, allowing the team to operate on a powerful network and providing them the best opportunity for success. Spectrum will receive significant exposure throughout team practices and scrimmages in the Training Center, as well as across all the Knicks Gaming social media channels.

Below is a complete Knicks Gaming roster, which includes two local players from the New York/New Jersey area, along with gaming veteran and New York native Kyle Rudy who will serve as the Team Manager and Head Coach. Knicks Gaming will begin its inaugural 15-week regular season with “THE TIPOFF,” the season’s first tournament, with competition running from May 1st-5th. The 2018 NBA 2K League schedule features 12 weeks of matchups, three weeks of tournaments and two weeks of playoffs with the season culminating at the end of August. All competition will take place at the NBA 2K League Studio Powered by Intel in New York City.

All episodes of “Knicks Gaming” televised on MSG Networks will also be streamed on MSG GO, MSG Networks’ live streaming and video on demand platform for smartphones, tablets and computers.

About MSG Networks Inc.
An industry leader in sports production, and content development and distribution, MSG Networks Inc. owns and operates two award-winning regional sports and entertainment networks, MSG Network (MSG) and MSG+, and a live streaming and video on demand platform, MSG GO. The networks are home to 10 professional sports teams, delivering live games of the New York Knicks; New York Rangers; New York Islanders; New Jersey Devils; Buffalo Sabres; New York Liberty; New York Red Bulls and the Westchester Knicks, as well as coverage of the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills. Each year, MSG and MSG+ collectively telecast approximately 500 live professional games, along with a comprehensive lineup of other sporting events, including college football and basketball, and critically-acclaimed original programming. The gold standard for regional broadcasting, MSG Networks has won 152 New York Emmy Awards over the past ten years.

About The Madison Square Garden Company
The Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) is a world leader in live sports and entertainment experiences. The company presents or hosts a broad array of premier events in its diverse collection of iconic venues: New York’s Madison Square Garden, The Theater at Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall and Beacon Theatre; the Forum in Inglewood, CA; The Chicago Theatre; and the Wang Theatre in Boston. Other MSG properties include legendary sports franchises: The New York Knicks (NBA), the New York Rangers (NHL) and the New York Liberty (WNBA); two development league teams — the Westchester Knicks (NBAGL) and the Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL); and one of the leading North American esports organizations, Counter Logic Gaming. In addition, the Company features the popular original production – the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes – and through Boston Calling Events, produces outdoor festivals, including New England’s preeminent Boston Calling Music Festival. Also under the MSG umbrella is TAO Group, a world-class hospitality group with globally-recognized entertainment dining and nightlife brands: Tao, Marquee, Lavo, Avenue, The Stanton Social, Beauty & Essex and Vandal. More information is available at www.themadisonsquaregardencompany.com.

About the NBA 2K League
The NBA 2K League is a professional esports league co-founded by the NBA and Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc. (NASDAQ:TTWO). Launching in 2018, the league will feature the best NBA 2K players in the world. Each of the league’s 17 teams will draft gamers to compete as unique characters in 5-on-5 play against the other teams in a mix of regular-season games, tournaments and playoffs. The league will host tryouts in early 2018, followed by a draft in March and the season tip-off in May. For more information about the NBA 2K League, visit www.NBA2KLeague.com.

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For Royer, Red Bulls is Home

New York simply felt like home for Daniel Royer.

The New York Red Bulls winger signing a contract extension this week that will make him a part of the team for the foreseeable future. It is a bold move by the organization and the player, who had interest from several high-profile European clubs this offseason before spurning their advances to stay in MLS.

[Watch Red Bulls-Galaxy Saturday at 10:30 PM on MSG & MSG GO. Download Free]

Signed in the last gasps of the summer transfer window in 2016, Royer understandably took some time to settle into MLS. But his 2017 season showed a player who not only was among the most daring attacking players in the league but someone who fit the Red Bulls system perfectly.

While Royer is confident on the dribble and creative on the ball, he also brings a tremendous work rate. It is a tailor-made blend of athleticism and skill for a team that presses and counter-presses with almost maniacal tendencies.

Signing a deal to extend his time in MLS is a big move for Royer, six times capped by Austria and set to turn 28-years old in May.

“It’s always good when you have security contract. In Europe, it is common to have long-term deals. As I have experienced in America, it’s not common to have contracts for a long period of time. I think it is always connected with security.

Daniel Royer discusses his new contract with the Red Bulls that will keep him in the MLS for the foreseeable future.

[Watch Red Bulls-Galaxy Saturday at 10:30 PM on MSG & MSG GO. Download Free]

“First of all, I have to say that I like it here. Nothing changed about that. There was no big reason for me to leave. Sorting out things, that’s pretty much why I’m happy that I re-signed here,” Royer told MSGNetworks.com before touching on his fit with the Red Bulls.

“The way we play is pretty unique, we’re not the only team in the world but only a few teams play the style we play – obviously the other Red Bull clubs. I think the style of play fits to my soccer skills. Before I came here, I never experienced this because all the clubs I have [played at], we play a different style of soccer.

“When I came here, it was a big adjustment for me and a new experience. Now being here for one-and-a-half years, I have to say its pretty tough, it’s harder. We all know that, we all mention that before the season, during the season, after the season – it is a high-demand style of soccer and Jesse [Marsch] has a part in that as well. I think it fits for me. It’s a big reason why I like it here.”

With that said, Royer has certainly been up to the physical demands while also producing. In 26 matches last year, 23 of which were starts, he had 12 goals and three assists and was named the “MLS Player of the Month” last July.

His form was strong and Royer, who played in Austria and Denmark before moving to the Red Bulls, got some significant interest from teams back in Europe. The interest, Royer said, “had to be really amazing” to lure him away from the Red Bulls.

“I’m at an age where it is not impossible to make a transfer to a real good club in Europe as well. Other clubs in Europe, they recognized or noticed my season and my goals and how everything went for me,” Royer said.

“At the end of the season, there were some offers and I have to admit there were some good offers – some places I hadn’t played yet. At the end of the day, I knew it had to be something, you know, something unbelievable where I’d have to say ‘Ok, I have to do this.’ I have a high respect for the New York Red Bulls and [am] happy to be here [but] I had some amazing clubs call me from Europe.”

[Watch Red Bulls-Galaxy Saturday at 10:30 PM on MSG & MSG GO. Download Free]

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