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Four Giants starters could be set to return and bolster ailing roster

If playing on a Thursday is hell for players’ bodies then not playing on Sunday and having 10 days between games is heaven. 

The Giants increasingly were getting beat up and the strain on their roster was brutally apparent as they endured their first two-game losing streak of the season. They took the weekend off following their 28-20 Thanksgiving loss to the Cowboys and when they return to work on Monday, they will be a healthier team than they were before this mini-break. 

There is hope that in the not-too-distant future they will get several injured players back on the field, including cornerbacks Adoree’ Jackson, Fabian Moreau and possibly Aaron Robinson, guard Shane Lemieux and safety Tony Jefferson. One key defensive player, Xavier McKinney, remains out following surgery to repair fractured fingers and his timetable for a return is unknown. 

There is a chance four starters, including three important pieces on offense, will be able to play when the Giants suit up again, Sunday against the Commanders at MetLife Stadium. Here is a closer look at those four players and what they could add to the cause: 

Ben Bredeson, Guard 

Sometimes you do not know what you have until it is no longer there. Bredeson was not supposed to be a starter heading into the season but Lemieux got hurt in the first preseason game and rookie Josh Ezeudu was deemed not quite ready. Bredeson, with one start on his NFL résumé, moved in at left guard, with Ezeudu part of a rotation the first two games. It seemed as if the coaching staff wanted to accelerate the learning curve to enable Ezeudu to eventually supplant Bredeson. It did not happen. Bredeson started the first seven games, playing 77 percent of the snaps on offense and did not allow any sacks in 214 pass-blocking snaps. He hurt his knee in Jacksonville and was put on injured reserve. The running game has not been the same without him. 

Azeez Ojulari, OLB 

It might be that 2022 is a completely lost season for Ojulari and it is actually easy to forget sometimes that he was supposed to be such a vital part of this Giants rebuild. He has been away from the action for so long. Ojulari strained a hamstring before training camp and started the summer on the non-football injury list. He returned in mid-August and lasted only 11 days before straining his calf late in a joint practice with the Jets, causing him to miss the first two games. He returned and played in the Week 3 loss to the Cowboys and came away with a sack in the Week 4 victory over the Bears but did not get out of that game unscathed, as he suffered another calf strain to land on injured reserve. Ojulari as a rookie led the team with eight sacks and the plan was for him to anchor one side of the defensive front, with rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux lined up across the field, forming a bookend edge-rush tandem. Ojulari should be ready to come off IR. Can he A) stay healthy and B) regain his form and become an impactful defender? 

Azeez Ojulari
Getty Images

Evan Neal, Right Tackle 

There was never a doubt Neal, the No. 7-overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, was going to be an immediate starter at right tackle. Neal made it through the first seven games, on the field for 83 percent of the offensive snaps, before suffering a sprained knee against the Jaguars. He certainly encountered typical rookie ups and downs — he allowed three sacks to DeMarcus Lawrence in Week 2 against the Cowboys — but he was a constant and physically imposing presence as a run blocker and at times his sheer size made it difficult for defenders to get around him. Neal was improving and then landed on injured reserve. His replacement, Tyre Phillips, actually graded out slightly higher than Neal, according to Pro Football Focus. Neal’s return should be a boon to Saquon Barkley and the ground game, though. 

Daniel Bellinger, Tight End 

It was apparent from Day 1 that the rookie fourth-round pick from San Diego State was going to be a contributor, right away. He showed himself to be a decent and improving blocker and developed a connection with Daniel Jones. Bellinger was efficient. In 18 targets, he caught 16 passes for 152 yards and showed he was a red-zone threat with two touchdowns. He went down in Jacksonville with a ghastly injury to his left eye and needed surgery to fix a fracture in his eye socket and damage to his septum. His double vision has subsided and he worked out hard — wearing a protective visor on his facemask — prior to the game in Dallas. He was not put on IR and it looks as if he will be ready to return soon, perhaps for this next game.