Key Questions Heading into the 2001 New York Giants Training Camp
The opening of last year’s article read, “It’s very tough to predict what kind of team the Giants will field this year. If they stay healthy, a number of key veterans return to form, and a number of newcomers shine, they could surprise the league.” That they did. The Redskins were supposed to win the NFC East, not the Giants. Even the rosiest predictions had them losing early as a Wild Card entry in the playoffs. Well the challenge facing the Giants is not only to repeat as NFC Champions, but to now win the NFL Championship. The road will not be easy. With re-alignment coming in 2002, 2001 will be the last year that there is such a thing as a “first place schedule”. Luck and team health always plays a big role. But the Giants are a better team physically and mentally than they were last year at this time. The young players on offense are a year older and the Giants have added some talented athletes to what was already an imposing defense. But just as importantly, the Giants will be a much more confident team in 2001 from the get-go because they KNOW they can get to the Super Bowl.
Where are there potential roadblocks?
(1) Will the Giants Have a Consistent, Reliable Place Kicker? Brad Daluiso was not re-signed. While his kick-offs became weaker and weaker, he was a reliable kicker inside the 40-yard line. The two men expected to battle for the job are Jaret Holmes and 5th rounder John Markham. Both should do much better on kick-offs, but how sure and steady will they be on field goal attempts? Most NFL games are closely fought affairs often decided by a field goal. Will Jaret or John be able to hit that potential game-winning 42-yard field goal in the closing seconds of a playoff game? Playoff-caliber teams often get burned by inexperienced or mediocre place kickers.
(2) How Strong Will the Punting Game Be? The inconsistent Brad Maynard has signed with the Bears. The leading contender for the punting job is Rodney Williams. How well he performs, including in the windy Meadowlands, will largely determine the field position war in each contest. The better he performs, the less pressure there will be on the defense.
(3) Can the Giants Improve Their Special Teams Coverage? Once again, punt and kick-off coverage stunk last year. Much of that probably had to do with the coaching (Larry MacDuff); much also probably had to do with the talent available. It will be interesting to see how effective new special teams coach, Fred von Appen, is at improving these critically important areas. What Fred really needs is for some head-hunter to step up and shine – a guy like ex-Giants Larry Flowers or Reyna Thompson. The quality of the coverage will also depend on the quality of a the aforementioned kickers and punters.
(4) How Quickly Can the Young Corners Learn? It is obvious that the Giants want to replace CB Dave Thomas with Will Allen or Will Peterson. However, John Fox’s defensive schemes are complicated and take time to learn. Not to mention the obvious fact that the youngsters have yet to prove that they can handle pro-level competition. Even if both end up being super players, there will undoubtably be rough moments for each early in their respective careers. Will those rough moments cost the Giants a game or two in 2001?
(5) Will the Strongside Linebacker Be an Asset or Weakness? Ryan Phillips signed with the Raiders. The new starter, as of this moment, is Brandon Short. In today’s game, the nickel back probably spends more time on the field than the strongside backer – so the value of this position should not be overrated. At the same time, the Giants don’t want a guy in there who other teams feel they can pass or run on. Short has the size and athleticism to be an asset – but he also has a lot to learn and is no sure thing.
(6) Can the Giants Find Some Quality Depth on the Defensive Line? The starting four of Michael Strahan, Cornelius Griffin, Keith Hamilton, and Kenny Holmes is as good as it gets in the NFL. The Giants pass rush should be much improved this year with the athletic additions of Griffin and Holmes to the starting line-up. However, when one of these guys gets hurt or needs a breather, there no proven depth behind them. Fortunately for New York, the Giants landed Cedric Scott in the fourth round and he should help outside. Inside, the Giants need someone like Ryan Hale or 7th rounder Ross Kolodziej to step up and deliver. Things could get dicey if someone gets hurt.
(7) Will Ron Dayne Significantly Improve? Ron Dayne was not a disappointment in 2000. Too many fans forget how effective he was over the course of the first half of the season. He had very strong performances against division rivals such as the Cowboys, Eagles, and Redskins. However, Ron does need to become a much more consistently productive player. And more than that, the Giants drafted him to make an impact – not just get by. To do so, he needs to stop thinking so much and react naturally and aggressively. That should happen with more experience in the Giants’ involved blocking schemes.
(8) Can the Old Guys on the Left Side of the Offensive Line Do It Again? Last season, LT Lomas Brown and LG Glenn Parker were God-sends. Both not only added much needed talent, but emotional stability and leadership to what had been a schizophrenic offensive line. But Brown is 38 and Parker is 35. Both are obviously nearing the end. Do they have it in them for another long marathon (camp, preseason, regular season, and playoffs)? If not, the Giants had better pray that some of the unproven reserves can play well.
(9) Will Dan Campbell and Sean Bennett Step It Up? The Giants want Dan Campbell to improve to such an extent that he allows the coaches to start him in place of Howard Cross. In order to do that, Dan must become a much more consistent blocker and receiver. Campbell will never be the blocker that Cross is, but he can do better than he has done. He can also become a much more threatening potential receiver than Howard.Sean Bennett will be counted on to run the same type of plays that Pete Mitchell did the previous two years. Bennett has the size, speed, and hands to make an impact on the team as a role player. But he needs to stay healthy. The wild cards in the mix are Adam Young and rookie Marcellus Rivers.
(10) Can the Giants Stay Healthy? I say it every year, but with the advent of the salary cap, lack of depth has become a huge issue for every team in the league. In fact, team health often determines Super Bowl aspirations. A serious injury to a guy such as QB Kerry Collins, HB Tiki Barber, WR Amani Toomer, DE Michael Strahan, DT Keith Hamilton, or MLB Mike Barrow could prove devastating.