Approach to the Game – Baltimore Ravens at New York Giants, September 2, 2004: With the quarterback duel behind us (and the controversy laid to rest hopefully for at least the short term – though that is doubtful with Giants’ fans), all attention now focuses on getting ready for the regular season and the Philadelphia Eagles. The Giants are still trying to develop cohesion and chemistry everywhere, because when this offseason finally officially ends, the roster turnover will be dramatic. QB Kurt Warner still needs to get in sync with his receivers. The offensive line is still a work in process with new starters at four positions. The running backs still have to develop a feel for their blockers. Six of the front seven starters on defense are new. And the offensive, defensive, and special teams playbooks and terminology are completely different. A lot has been thrust at these guys in a short time frame. Don’t lose sight of that fact. If this team stays healthy, it will be stronger by the end of the season than it will be at the beginning. It will take time for all the parts to come together. This isn’t a video game.

Giants on Offense: The fan focus shifts from the quarterback situation to the offensive line. Injuries have once again clouded the picture. Rich Seubert is out until at least week seven, and there is a good chance he won’t play at all this year. Barry Stokes may be out indefinitely with a back injury. Ed Ellis was lost for the season early in camp. The Giants have added Solomon Page, Brandon Winey, and Jason Whittle. If nothing else, veteran depth will be much better this year. The man under the microscope is LT Luke Petitgout. The last two preseason games he did not play well, drawing the ire of Head Coach Tom Coughlin. If Petitgout is not on top of his game, it could have a domino effect all along the line. If he is sound, then the line could develop more quickly.

Assuming that Coughlin doesn’t rework the entire line (it will be interesting to see who plays where against the Ravens), the big battle could be at left guard. Wayne Lucier has started there since Stokes got hurt. But now Page factors into the competition (Page could also be a candidate at right tackle if David Diehl falters). And the trade for Whittle also muddles the picture further for fans. Do the Giants view him as depth/competition, or does he have a viable chance to be the starter? I always thought Whittle would make a better left guard than right guard, because he is more of mobile technician than mauler.

Meanwhile, this game represents another opportunity for the young guys (David Diehl, Chris Snee, Lucier) to gain experience. It might not be pretty against the Ravens. They are exceptionally talented up front on defense. This will be a good experience for them, but there could be some rough moments. I’m sure the fans will overreact to the results (they will naturally assume that this young and inexperienced line that lacks cohesion should keep the Raven defense from making any plays – a ridiculous notion).

Regardless, if the Giants go into the regular season with a line of Petitgout, Lucier, O’Hara, Snee, and Diehl, it is somewhat reassuring to have some vets like Page, Whittle, and Winey as back-ups. I don’t think the Giants are done either. Look for another OL pick-up to possibly push Ian Allen off the roster.

My chief concern with Kurt Warner is him holding onto the football.

There still is a battle at wide receiver brewing behind Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard. The field was narrowed with the recent release of JaJuan Dawson and Chris Davis. The fact that Tim Carter saw playing time early against the Jets bodes well for him. But he is not completely out of the woods, especially with his injury-plagued history. The Giants will keep five or six wide receivers. So there are four spots for Carter, Jamaar Taylor, David Tyree, Willie Ponder, Ataveus Cash, and Avion Black. At least two will have to go.

The two question marks at tight end are (1) will Jeremy Shockey ever live up to the hype by actually getting on the playing field?, and (2) will the Giants keep three or four tight ends. If it is three, than Joe Dean Davenport is history.

Ron Dayne has now added another unfortunate dimension to his short-yardage problems: fumbling. What a first rounder! Tiki Barber needs to get his head out of his ass and start picking up the blitz like a football player is supposed to. Does Chris Douglas have a real shot to make this team, or is he a roster holder for a waiver-wire pick-up?

Giants on Defense: Keith Washington is practicing again and that is very good news. He and Umenyiora form a nice platoon on the right side. On the left side, it will be interesting to see if the Giants keep one of the young guys (Khaleed Vaughn or Radell Lockhart) behind Strahan, or rely on Washington to back-up that spot if something were to happen to old #92. The fact that Lance Legree has been seeing time with the starters as well as playing defensive end as well as tackle may be good news for him. With William Joseph back in the picture, Mario Monds’ spot on the roster may not be as secure.

The outside linebacker situation actually isn’t bad when you consider the four top guys will likely be Carlos Emmons, Barrett Green, Reggie Torbor, and Wesly Mallard. But the middle linebacker spot is still a bit of a mess. Nick Greisen was supposed to be the main guy, but injuries have slowed him and now Kevin Lewis is still starting. That is not a comforting thought. Look for the Giants to pick up a linebacker or two by early next week.

The secondary may not look very good against the Ravens if Will Peterson (back spasms – though he may play) and Will Allen (knee – most likely not playing) are held out. The good news is that the secondary looked good last week when they were allowed to play an aggressive style. SS Shaun Williams also benefited from this change. Who starts at free safety for the Giants on opening day? Brent Alexander or Omar Stoutmire?

Giants on Special Teams: My gut tells me that the Giants don’t go into the regular season with Todd France as their placekicker.

This is a huge game for the returners (Black and Ponder). Spending a roster spot on a returner is only wise if the returner does something with the football.