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New York Giants Training Camp: 5 Battles Worth Watching

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New York Giants: 5 Training Camp Battles Worth Watching

New York Giants Training Camp: 5 Battles Worth Watching
Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants enter training camp following a disappointing conclusion to their 2012 season. After starting 6-2, Big Blue went just 3-5 in the second half of the season, finishing in second place behind the Washington Redskins in the NFC East.

In February, the Giants created valuable cap room by releasing running back Ahmad Bradshaw, linebacker Michael Boley and defensive tackle Chris Canty.

New York has a number of questions to figure out during training camp, which officially gets underway on July 26.

Running backs Andre Brown and David Wilson take the reins from Bradshaw, but how will the untested backs fare carrying the load for New York’s offense this season?

How will first round pick Justin Pugh handle the switch from left to right tackle?

Can Mark Herzlich transition from backup to starter at middle linebacker?

Can cornerback Corey Webster bounce back after the worst season of his career?

Those are just the on-field questions. The Giants are still attempting to sign wide receiver Victor Cruz to a long-term contract while it appears that Hakeem Nicks is destined to hit free agency.

Meanwhile, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is recovering from back surgery, and his availability for the start of the season is in question.

The Giants need to figure out these questions before the season starts if they plan on returning to the Super Bowl.

Let's take a look at five key positional battles entering training camp.

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Running Back: David Wilson vs. Andre Brown

Running Back
Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

In February, the Giants released veteran Ahmad Bradshaw to create $4 million in cap room. Bradshaw’s departure left an opening in New York’s backfield for unproven running backs Andre Brown and David Wilson.

The battle between Wilson and Brown for the starting spot is one to keep your eye on, as both players will get a significant number of touches this season.

In 2012, Brown rushed for 385 yards and eight touchdowns before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Wilson didn’t get going until late in the season, but racked up 247 yards and three touchdowns in the final month of the season.

As a rookie, Wilson thrived in his role as a kick returner, for which he was named to the NFL’s Second Team All-Pro.

The 26-year-old Brown is a more traditional power back who can set the tone on first down. Wilson is a play-making scatback with game-changing ability. Wilson is likely to be in the game for passing downs while Brown will serve as the short-yardage and red zone back.

Both running backs need to improve their pass protection, an area that Bradshaw excelled, to earn the starting spot.

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Middle Linebacker: Mark Herzlich vs. Dan Connor

Middle Linebacker
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During the offseason, the Giants signed Dan Connor to a one-year deal and allowed Super Bowl 47 hero Chase Blackburn to sign with the Panthers.

Last season, Blackburn accounted for 98 tackles and five forced fumbles while Mark Herzlich collected 30 tackles as his backup.

With Blackburn’s departure, the starting middle linebacker spot is now Herzlich’s to lose. But don’t expect the veteran Connor to go down without fight.

“I think it’s mine to secure. I don’t think anyone is handing anybody anything, but I feel like if I work hard and play well, then I have a good shot at hopefully making a difference for the team," said Herzlich during last week’s minicamp, according to RotoWorld.

Herzlich also has a major advantage over Connor given his familiarity with Perry Fewell’s defensive scheme. Connor struggled in Dallas’ 3-4 defense and appears to be a much better fit in New York’s traditional 4-3 base.

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Right Tackle: Justin Pugh vs. David Diehl

Right Tackle
Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

The Giants selected offensive lineman Justin Pugh in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft with the expectation that he’d start right away. Despite playing left tackle at Syracuse, the Giants drafted Pugh to anchor their rushing attack as New York’s right tackle of the future.

But the 6-foot-4, 301-pound Pugh first needs to beat out 11-year veteran and two-time Super Bowl champion David Diehl. By all accounts, Pugh appears to be in line for the starting spot with Diehl serving as his backup, according to ESPN.

There’s no doubting that Pugh is Diehl’s heir apparent at right tackle, but he still needs to be out the 32-year-old veteran for his starting spot.

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Weakside Linebacker: Jacquian Williams vs. Spencer Paysinger

Weakside Linebacker
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Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger will attempt to fill the void left by Michael Boley, who the Giants released this past offseason to clear additional cap space.

Oft-injured Keith Rivers is a mortal lock to start at the strongside linebacker position, but the battle for the weakside linebacker spot is a two-man race between Williams and Paysinger.

Williams, a 2011 fifth-round pick, had just 30 tackles in just 10 games last season. Paysinger racked up 39 tackles and two forced fumbles in a backup role last season.

The current frontrunner for the position is Williams, but he’s still recovering from a knee injury that caused him to miss six games in 2012.

Regardless of the starter, both Williams and Paysinger will see a significant increase in reps with Boley’s departure.

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Cornerback: Corey Webster vs. Prince Amukamara

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Both Prince Amukamara and Corey Webster are likely to be New York’s starting cornerbacks, but who takes the top spot is a crucial distinction.

Who will cover Dez Bryant on opening night? And Demaryius Thomas in Week 2?

In 2012, Webster struggled through the worst season of his career, as he was consistently beaten in single coverage. In fact, Webster struggled so badly that he agreed to take a paycut from $7.25 million to $4 million to stay with the Giants and avoid being released.

After injuries derailed his rookie season, Amukamara came on strong near the end of the 2012 campaign. The former first-round pick is poised to realize the potential the Giants saw when they drafted him in 2011. Amukamara had just one interception but proved to be a reliable cover corner.

Both corners will be in the running for the top spot while backups Terrell Thomas and Jayron Hosley will compete for the slot corner position.