Sep 012004
2004 New York Giants Preview: A Few Thoughts Before The Real Football

By Reporter/Photographer David Oliver

I don’t pay much attention to pre-season anymore; it’s difficult to learn anything about the team, and it’s harder yet to learn the names that go with the numbers before those names are gone. Last year I didn’t attend any pre-season games; this year, I have attended the Jets game, and I don’t believe I’ll make the trek Thursday night for what is basically a ‘who cares’ game, highlighting only the possible presence of Coach Fassel on the Ravens sidelines. But I have watched two of the games on the tube and I will watch tomorrow, at least part of the time, as I am drawn like a moth to a flame by the competing scenario in that other sports venue, Madison Square Garden.

What makes this year really difficult is that I can’t remember this amount of turnover in personnel, both on the field and along the sidelines, in a long time. Notwithstanding all this turnover, the fate of the team depends on the familiar names, Shockey, Amani, Ike, Tiki, RonD, Strahan, and the Wills. The big addition has been at the QB position, where the Giants have not one, but two, very real quality players. Neither might be able to fire the ball like KC, but both appear to be far superior players, with Eli Manning showing all the indications that he will be a super star and a star for a long time to come.

Of course, that is hyphenated right now by the quality and performance of the offensive line, which, for all the tinkering has been underwhelming. But the closer we get to actual gaming, the more the haze evaporates and some things are starting to become clear. And the clarity presents some ironies. With the acquisition of Whittle, it is conceivable that at some point this year the line could be LukeP, Seubert, Lucier, Snee and Diehl, with Whittle getting a lot of reps. It looks to me like the line of a deposed Coach, McNally, minus Bober, plus Snee. And Snee is a legitimate draft choice who would bolster any line. Has anyone seen Mike Rosenthal hanging around lately?

Ron Dayne is having what appears to be another renaissance and Tiki appears to be getting fewer carries. This may hold true in real combat, or it may quickly devolve into the more familiar Tiki-driven offense. Ron is running hard and gaining yards as the line appears more capable of opening holes for him – when he is used as a tailback. It shouldn’t be long before all these very stubborn coaches realize that this is his proper role – he is no power back. It should also be apparent by now that without a real fullback in the backfield, those 3rd-and-1’s will remain 4th-and-1’s. All in all, with the return of Shockey, this will be a pretty effective offense, once the final line gets some reps together. Without Shockey, it will be a very ordinary offense. Which is not to say bad. Shank (Visanthe Shiancoe) is rounding into the player MIS forecast. His confidence has always been high, but now, he can back it up with some performance. The only two things missing are a speed wideout ala Marvin Harrison and a big back that can help make holes for one of the tailbacks to gain the short yardage when necessary.

Although the defense remains a huge question mark, defensive coordinator Tim Lewis unveiled a little more of what we might see and it looked good. The linebackers, however it finally shakes out, will be used like linebackers. They will be coming forward as much as backward. Same with Mr. Williams. This promises to be a blitz-crazed scheme, which will be exciting for us, and ruthless for the opposition. Couple that with the big game of Michael Strahan and the emergence of Osi, there will be turnovers and big plays. The vulnerabilities remain the run game around the end manned by Osi, Green, and Will Pete. Green is very fast, but it seems as if he is overrunning plays at times and is not strong at the point of attack. Emmons looked good on Friday night, now we have to see if he can hold up. Nick G is playing hurt, but he was shaking off the rust as the game progressed. It is crunch time and guys are playing hurt because they know that in this regime you have to show something or you are on the waiver wire. It’s a hard position to get in and I have to wonder what will happen come November. Injuries are a FACT of the NFL, not a mental cancer, which is why it is essential to have adequate backups, and it is essential to catch an injury quickly and get it taken care of so a player can return to the game ASAP. This is not the college game where you suit up 85 guys and play the Little Sisters of the Poor every other week. When a team stays injury free, it wins. When injuries mount and there are no adequate replacements, it implodes. We don’t have to look any further backwards than last year for a good example of that.

The secondary is no more, or less, than it was last year. Absolutely no improvement has been made. The basic difference appears to be one of philosophy, wherein the current scheme appears to stress convergence to the ball as opposed to stopping the big play. It will be interesting to see how it plays out. Incidentally, Jason Doering has looked really good; the question is has he looked good enough to stick? The most improved players on the D line appear to be Osi and Lance Legree. This D seems to suit Lance better as he is allowed to move and even put some pressure on when he is in there.

Special teams look better; then again, how could they look worse. Coach Sweatman knows the game, gets the players he needs, and knows how to use them. Now we have to wait until we see the final roster to know who will actually be on that unit.

I talked to several players after the game – some with the recorder on, some off. When I talk to these guys, it is about the football. I don’t frankly care who gets fined for having a cell phone go off during a meeting – that is an obnoxious trait of the young everywhere today – movies, restaurants, automobiles. Frankly, if I were the Coach, I’d stop the meeting and lead the entire team on 3 or 4 laps around the Stadium. Then maybe 25 or 30 pushups. A little sweat is far more effective than a monetary fine. Likewise, I don’t think I have ever met a football player who is put off by hard work. These guys have been doing it since the age of 7 or 8; and they are used to verbal abuse from their coaches along the way, and as I remember it, you would be head-slapped, kicked and otherwise told what a shit you were; so a drill sergeant doesn’t bother anyone. And I don’t care to hear whining. But there are personality things that come up from coach to coach. Some are just grousing; some are real deep-seated peccadilloes. There has been a lot of talk about this particular coach. Time will tell what is fact, what is fantasy. I don’t ask, and if any player does tell, I shut my recorder off. So don’t expect little titillations from me on this count. I’m not pissed at the coach over access, because I am on the bottom of the feeding chain anyway. I am extremely privileged to get the access I do. Do I like him, or not like him? Well, the simplest way to put it is that I am a Giants’ fan; I have been for over 50 years. When the team loses, I take it personally; when the team wins, the universe is in balance. Coach Parcells was one of only two successful Giant coaches in my life. The other was Jim Lee Howell. Ray Perkins began the emergence from Plato’s cave that the Giants were in for a long time – and much as I love Mr. Mara, he changed coaches like most of us change underwear, which in hindsight wasn’t very helpful. Dan Reeves was like the third choice and Jim Fassel was a Mara favorite. He was more successful than I ever imagined he would be when he was chosen, and he did somehow get the team into the playoffs and into the Super Bowl. But he was at times infuriating, and both Eric and I called for his dismissal following that abysmal performance in the Detroit game during the SB year, a game marked by Jason Sehorn’s pants falling and the firing of Bashir Levingston, as if he were the sole fault of all the Giants’ woes.

So we come to the present coach. In my book, he has produced three losing seasons in a row. There are no excuses in this game, you win, or you go. I want him to win because he is now the coach of the Giants. Many in The Corner Forum say I don’t like his personality, or I don’t like him because I have less access, or I don’t like him because _____, you fill in the blank. None of these things are true. I am not enamored of him for the same reasons I was critical of the Jim Fassel hiring – I don’t know if he can win. When he wins, I will be the first, well, maybe the 2500th, to say, damn that was a good hire. I am a lot more optimistic now than I was in March. Of course, I never go into a season without predicting a 10-6 record.

One player I talked to on the record was Shank. I won’t do a line-by-line here, but I will say that I asked him about the QBs. He couldn’t say enough about Eli Manning. He said for a young guy just coming out of college, Eli did things that were hard to believe; he placed the ball where his receivers wouldn’t get killed; he threw it into position to allow a turn-and-go; he understands the dynamics of the game. As we talked, Shank actually got more excited and animated, so I knew I wasn’t getting company line. It is obvious the team likes him and is responding to him. We also discussed Kurt Warner and Shank was full of praise for him also, quickness, knowledge of the game, accuracy of passes. Very seldom will a receiver be critical of his QB; likewise, very seldom will you see an animated embrace of not one, but two QBs. This is a good situation for the Giants and for Giants’ fans.

In a week the wars begin. My feeling is that the team at the end of the year will be considerably different than at the beginning. I also feel that we will know very quickly if this will be a good team. If the O-Line is better, the record can’t be worse. If Shockey is in the lineup, the offense will be very successful. And if nothing else, the defense promises to be aggressive, in deed, not word alone.

Get the chips and dip ready- and hide the clicker for the first game. (grin)