August 23, 2001 New York Giants Training Camp Report
by David Oliver
Crazy day. Got up at 4:30 a.m., out of the house by 5:20 for the drive up to Dr. Joe’s and on to BWI for the flight to Albany. Dodged a bullet when I barely heard an announcement about an accident on the beltway at the center lane of a construction area with split traffic lanes. I never take the outer lanes but did so this morning. Had I gone inner I would not have made the flight. Albany – why would anyone choose to live there, let alone have a practice camp? It cost me as much for the rental car as for the plane ticket, presumptively because all the swells are in town for the big weekend at Saratoga. Ouch! Got over to camp only to discover that morning practice had been canceled. Had some time, so we caught up on the news and waited to do some interviews.
The team was in meetings all morning and by the time they broke for lunch, the coaches were in a relaxed, even effusive mood and were very generous with their time. Jim Fassel (JF) briefed the media on Jason Sehorn’s status and said it definitely was not an injury. He discussed the procedure and his optimism for a quick return. How many times have we been down this road? All of these ‘minor’ injuries are making the Giants’ camp look like a mash unit. A couple of knee braces, lot’s of knee wraps, assorted limps and dings, can add up to a liability in the start the Giants must have this year.
The practice was without pads, which had already been shipped to the Meadowlands. Marty in Albany has already given us a good account of the basics, so I’ll just fill in with some observations and some things from the field view that he may not have heard or seen. As he reported, “Bandana Man” has become a celebrity and is now on a first name basis with some of the players, the Mayor was present, some local sportscasters and a large group of fans for an ugly Thursday afternoon.
There was a lot of coaching happening. Von Appen was forcefully leading his charges up and down the field; for this unit the anarchy of the past is a done thing. The Baron wants it done right and he is leading, pushing, cajoling his troops to get it down. As Rodney Williams told me when I asked if he had established a relationship with the Baron: “He’s developing a rapport with me. He’ s laying down the law, letting me know exactly what he wants and what he doesn’t want and what he’s going to take and what he’s not going to put up with, so, I’m ENJOYING all of it, I’m LOVING it.” (laughing). I’m starting to like the Baron more and more.
A certain coach was working with his unit in a hands on manner. He was showing them positions, guiding them through the steps. And then I heard the instruction of the camp as he shouted to his troops, “Pinch down on them. Pinch like a motherfucker!” It made me want to grab a helmet because I’ve been called that so many times, it’ s one thing I could do well on the field. Sean Payton was showing his offensive unit the film after every play. JF walked over and joined in the instruction.
Coach Marcin was working his troops through agility drills when JF called out, “Hey Denny. Did you see that photo in The Giants Insider of Kenny Holmes. It was a game photo. And he was in a Giants uniform. A game photo. Where do you think they got that?” Then seeing Kenny Palmer on the sidelines, he called, “Hey, Palmer, did you guys superimpose that or something?” JF was loose, but watching everything, at one point when changing drills, he appeared unsatisfied with the pace and yelled, “Who’s walking out here?”, which drew an immediate response as everyone put it into gear. Strahan again appeared feisty as he started busting Frankie Ferrara’s chops, first about his footwork, then asking, “Hey, Frank, when is your movie coming out?” Frank is also intense out there and doesn’t like being called out. He frostily responded, “Which one?” Strahan appeared to take objection to the response and started jabbering, “There’s more than one? Well, the first one? When is the first one coming out?” There were a few more words, but it didn’t seem like a real friendly exchange. It’s a good thing Strahan is coming home today and he can start taking it out on somebody else, like the Jets. He has a great camp, looks solid, but suddenly he’s a little cantankerous.
The scrimmage was a lot of position drilling, but when they went to the passing drills, several things were quickly obvious. Kerry Collins is razor sharp. He is barking out his commands, looking over the entire field and hitting his receivers dead on. So after my early season doubts last year, I can say this – Kerry has made me a believer and I think he is ready to step up in class. If he has the kind of season that he’s already started, he will be better than the Mark Brunell, Brad Johnson, Brian Griese, Vinnie Testaverde-class and will be mentioned in the Farve, Elway, and maybe even Marino class. He has the arm, the Giants are giving him the receivers and game plan. Once he decides to grab the ring, his potential is truly unlimited. He does not have the outer fire of Farve and Marino, but I think he has the will. This year will tell us a lot.
The stories coming out of camp about the turn around of Dan Campbell appear to be true. I had to look under the helmet to make sure this was the same guy under there, as he was catching everything tossed at him. He was moving laterally, with speed, coming back, going up, and looked like a tall, rangy wide receiver out there. And he was hand catching. I don’ t know what happened or how, but this is a tight end emerging. The other surprise was Joe Jurevicius (JJ), who was running crisp routes and also hand catching the ball. On one pattern, straight down the middle of the field, Kerry fired a zinger, maybe 10 feet high and on fire. JJ never broke stride, put his hands up at shoulder level and the ball hit him squarely in the hands, where it probably melted enough flesh to lodge for a couple of hours. Let me tell you something. With Dan Campbell running an underneath pattern and JJ going out another 10 or 15 yards, it is an impressive site – 2 very tall , very solid receivers out there. I hope this continues because it is awesome to watch. And the little guy is hanging in there. Everyone has Pat Woodcock destined for the cut bin, but I’ll tell you what. It wouldn’t surprise me if he somehow makes the practice squad. Okay, so that’s at least 15 players I think will be on that squad, but some of these kids have looked real good. And talk about athleticism. How about DeWayne Patmon playing wideout and actually catching the ball.
The running game still looks iffy. The team was working on a play where Dayne takes a pitch, moves two steps to his right, in which direction all the blocking is flowing, then stops and cuts back to the left, through a huge hole – yeah, right, this one I have to see against a defense – by the time Ron pivots, a swarming linebacker or defensive end will be in position to ‘keasterize’ him. There are too many reverses in the playbook, they look too deep, too far out, and too slow. Other than that, we need to see some game film. The more I see of this kid FB Anthony Green, the more like a legit fullback he looks. Could he be a sleeper? I don’t know. A lot of people favor Adam Wright, but Green looks more adept at hitting people.
Rodney Williams continued his good kicking. I asked him if he would rather make his mark as a punter, or as a ‘black’ punter? I asked this because too much is made of guys like Rodney and Jason Sehorn because of their positions and skin coloring. It is always Jason Sehorn, the only white corner, or Rodney Williams, black punter. Rodney blinked a couple of times and said “Punter. I think so.” End of story. Rodney Williams is a punter, soon to be NFL punter, book it. I asked him about his 3 step technique. “I haven’t heard any complaints from the people that really make a difference on decision making and my game planning,” he told me, then he went on, “I can change my steps if I needed to, I did in college. I just changed to a 3 step punter because I could get the ball off just as fast with the same amount of time. If you look at the games, or the film, all my times are right where they ask me to be for the game, but we’re still working on getting me a lot faster, because it doesn’t hurt to get the ball off faster; it cuts down on the amount of time these guys have to protect and then they have more time in coverage.”
We talked about his improvement in camp and he said, “I feel the improvement myself. I usually start out like that (inconsistent) because before I came here I took a few weeks off, from Europe, so I could be sure everything was fresh. I’m a little more comfortable with the snappers, a little more comfortable with the protection, and a little more comfortable with myself and being confident that I can hit like that every time.” He also said he didn’t notice the breakthrough on the blocked punt until the guy was, “Right in front of me, so I just had to react and make sure we got the ball out of bounds…but I realized when it went so far that we really didn’t have much of a chance. ”
Finally, we talked about Europe and he told me he loved it, that he had a great time and that the team didn’t require him to go, they gave him an option. He said, “I think more than anything, I learned a lot about personalities and people and working with people of a different culture, people that see things completely differently than you. You learn from body language and things like that and it translates over to the football field.”
I normally don’t get to talk to the kickers a lot, but I like Rodney. He seems to be a pretty cool guy and I’ll have to sit down with him more as we get into the season.
I also talked to a couple of ‘bubble’ guys, although I don’t know how the Giants could cut a player like Kevin Lewis and go with fewer backers. Kevin Lewis is a really affable guy and we get a chance now and then to talk a little. I asked him about his earlier session with Barrow, where it seemed he had a little self-doubt. But he said he felt good about himself and that listening to Jessie and MB “they just give you so much confidence and help you, correct you, let you know how this NFL thing works”, that it made for a tight knit group. He said the younger guys were “always joking around with each other, we laugh at each other when we get knocked on our butts…” He also told me that last year he didn’t know what to expect and that “I was just running around trying to be in the right spots, but this year I know a little about what to expect…I know where I’m going this time.” We talked about Dhani Jones’ statement about going to the ball and Klu laughed heartily and said, “Oh, my gosh, that’s it, run full speed, get to the ball, knock him out.” And when I asked about the younger guys communicating on the field, he said, “You don’t hear Dhani? (laughing) He’s always yelling at us. We kind of give each other calls and we help each other before the plays, and especially during the play when it’s really important. We’re all just trying to get to the ball, every time…” I asked if the focus among the younger guys was looking up to the starters or developing a bond among themselves. He told me it was “looking up to the older guys; they set the tone and we know that we have to get our level of play to where they are – and that’s very difficult., but that’s our mark, the younger guys’ goals – they help us along the way.”
Lance Legree is a solid kid, Notre Dame background. I referenced that he was obviously a “bubble” guy and asked him if he thought he had made an impression in camp. He told me, “I don’t really think of it in that way. I just go out and try to do my best every day, hopefully they’ll see some good things and it’ll work out for me.” It’s got to be nerve wracking for these kids at this time. He told me he felt that he has done pretty well in camp, that he “tried to learn and do the things they’ve taught me, I feel good about what I’ve done.” We discussed Mendenhall a little bit and I asked him, after I described M’s level of play if he thought he had that kind of motor. He said that the coaches at Notre Dame instilled it in him and the coaches here also coached him to “go in there and play with a never ending motor” so, yes, he thought he did have those qualities. We talked about playing time and he acknowledged that it was going to be short with the starters scheduled to go three quarters. But he said he was looking to “go out there and do my best. If I go out there and on every play give a 110%, I feel like I’ve done my job.” We discussed the practice squad and he told me “that would be all right, I just want an opportunity, if the opportunity is there, that would be great for me…” We discussed his strengths and he said, “Playing against the run, I read run blocks well…” I wished him well and I meant it. This is one kid who belongs because he is a solid, smart, effort player.
Defensive Backs Coach Johnnie Lynn was generous with his time with everybody. He talked about the two Wills (Allen and Peterson), said EMac (Emmanuel McDaniel) would be first in, that Dave Thomas knew what he was up against and came to play. He talked a lot about Peterson and said EMac, then Will Allen in the nickel, Peterson in the dime and Ralph Brown in the quarter (4 wideout sets). He likes all of these kids and said, “I coach the position, not the player” which was said to indicate a neutrality about personalities and an expectation that the players would be multi functional. Peterson was holding court with a gaggle of media and he said, “I want the ball thrown at me as much as the QB will throw it. That way, I’ll get an opportunity to make some plays. I want to come out of the game with something that will satisfy me, just making plays. If the ball is thrown my way, I’m going to knock it down or take it away. I’m going to be an aggressive tackler, and most importantly, I want to play the defensive schemes that are called.”
Both Peterson and EMac drew a crowd after JF gave the news about Sehorn and Peterson was asked if he felt he was competing against the other Will (Allen). He said no, “I feel like I’m going out there to make plays, we’re going out there as a team, me and Will will probably be out there together.” And he said he looked forward to being out there together with Allen as “there’s always an excitement when they are on the field together in a practice…this weekend we’ll finally get out there together and the people will see.” I talked to him a little after the crowd had moved on to Strahan and asked about Patmon, his roomie in college and here, and he told me he was excited about playing with him “because that’s like a safety net, because I know he’s going to make the calls, and I know his style of play.” He said they had good communication on the field as “we go back, we have a history together.” He told me they had stayed in touch and that he had gone to see Michigan games and some of the Michigan players had come up to see his games. I asked him, as I asked them all, if he knew the significance of this game and he said yes, he had heard Giants/Jets was always a good one, but that you never really knew till you experienced it yourself, so “I can’t wait to get in there.”
My parting advice to each and every one of them – show up in the Jets game and you leave an impression. Well, the deck has been shuffled. Injury has cost a few of these kids their shot at the brass ring. Some know they’re gone so they are playing for the joy of saying they were in an NFL camp, and with the Giants at that. Others are probably near nervous exhaustion about now. But they are a solid bunch of kids. Some will go on to other teams, other leagues; some will make it in life as educators, doctors, lawyers, some may fall by the wayside and wind up with us here on BBI. Not so bad all the way around, eh, friends!