By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com
Since almost the beginning of the site in 1995, I have annually produced a “Key Questions Heading into Training Camp” article. So I will certainly continue the tradition. But this year’s article will be shorter as I recently provided a more detailed overview of my opinions of this team heading into training camp (see Shhhhh! This Giants’ Team May Actually Be Quite Good).
I’ve produced a list of what I think are the key questions heading into training camp and the 2005 NFL season. This list will most likely vary from yours or other folks. I honestly feel quite confident about the talent level on this team and only the top four items are the most worrisome to me.
- How Fast Will Eli Manning Mature? It’s a quarterback’s league. More than that, as has been the case with the Giants in recent years, opposing defenses will concentrate on stopping Tiki Barber and force the Giants’ starting quarterback to beat them. Manning has only started seven games. In the U.S. today, everyone (especially sports fans) expects immediate results. I call it the “video game syndrome” where casual fans think you can simply plug in a new player and expect instantaneous performance. It doesn’t work that way. There is a learning curve for athletes just like there is for everyone else. The big question for the entire Giants’ franchise is how big is Manning’s learning curve? The faster he develops, the better the team will be sooner. But if he struggles like most first or second year quarterbacks, then the Giants will hover around .500. It may be unrealistic or unfair to expect him to develop faster than average, but he may be able to do so. To me, this is the most interesting and important issue for the entire team.
- Can the Giants Dramatically Improve Their Run Defense? The Giants’ run defense was terrible last year. By season’s end, they were regularly giving up 150+ yards on the ground to opponents. Teams that do that don’t win. Some improvement is expected with the return of previously injured players such as Michael Strahan and the safeties. But Strahan is well past 30 years old and on the decline. The Giants will need their young defensive tackles to step up as well as Osi Umenyiora. Adding Antonio Pierce to the linebacking corps will help a great deal, as will having Carlos Emmons fully healthy. Is it enough? We shall see.
- Can We Finally Cut Out All of the Injuries Please? The last two seasons have been ridiculous. Not only have there been huge numbers of players on Injured Reserve, but they have been key players, and the injuries have hit hard in waves at specific positions. Last year, the Giants lost a bunch of defensive linemen and safeties. The Giants have much better depth this year and should be better able to survive the inevitable short-term injury problems. But any long-term issues with their core players (i.e., Manning, Barber, Shockey, Burress, Pierce, Strahan, Umenyiora, Peterson, and Wilson) could prove problematic.
- How Fast Will It Take for the Offensive Line to Develop Chemistry and Cohesion? Once again, the Giants have completely revamped their offensive line. This has been an annual event since 2001. Petitgout, O’Hara, and Snee will remain at the same positions, but each of these players will have new flankmates. That will take time to get used to. I am not worried about physical breakdowns (on paper, this is a very good group), but with all the blitzes and stunts in the NFL today, half the game is mental. Each player up front has to be comfortable with his neighbor and have confidence that everyone is on the same page. We saw those types of problems last year with Diehl and Snee and it led to cheap sacks. To a lesser extent, it even happened with the veterans Petitgout and Whittle. The faster this group comes together, the better obviously for the entire offense.
- Will the Special Teams Continue to Improve? There was dramatic improvement on special teams last year, but much work remains to be done. The big punt return allowed against the Bengals cost the Giants that football game. Jeff Feagles had two punts blocked. And the Giants did a poor job of blocking opposing gunners on their own punt returns. Mark Jones rarely had room to operate. His job is said to be in jeopardy and there will supposedly be an open competition in camp.
- Who Will Start at Weakside Linebacker? Barrett Green will be limited in camp due to offseason knee and ankle surgeries. Will he be near 100 percent by the time the season starts? How badly will the time missed in camp affect him? Will he be pushed to come back too soon? The strength of Barrett’s game is speed and the Giants need to be careful here. A gimpy Green is of no use to them. Nick Greisen has good instincts and is around the ball a lot. But he lacks ideal athleticism and speed and can be exposed by faster, quicker players in space. The wild cards are players such as Reggie Torbor, Jim Maxwell, Kevin Lewis, T.J. Hollowell, and Joe Scott.
- Can the Giants Finally Find a Serious Complement to Tiki Barber? THE most interesting comment I saw in the offseason was by General Manager Ernie Accorsi when he said that there were some in the organization who felt that the Giants did not need to draft a running back because of Derrick Ward. If true, then the Giants may have a really interesting and potentially very good backfield with Barber, Ward, and 4th round pick Brandon Jacobs. Jacobs impressed at the mini-camps with his size and athleticism. He also seems to have the right demeanor. If Ward or Jacobs (or both) can develop into quality power running backs, then the Giants’ offense will truly become very diversified and dangerous.
- Will Will Allen Rebound at Left Corner? Will Allen did not play well last year. Coming off a serious injury that affected his ability to prepare for the season, he was terrible in the opener against Philadelphia, then settled down and played decently, but also failed to make plays on the football in key situations. Allen not only has to provide tight coverage, but he has to deflect the football or intercept it. If he continues to struggle, look for an early hook with Frank Walker, Curtis Deloatch, or Corey Webster moving into his starting spot.
- Who Will Start at Defensive Tackle Along With Fred Robbins? Most people expect it to be William Joseph or Kendrick Clancy, but I wouldn’t completely discount Kenderick Allen, Damane Duckett, or Davern Williams. Just because they are no-names does not mean they don’t have talent. The Giants have a lot of young, athletic big men at tackle. It is going to a fun battle to watch in camp and the preseason. Also keep in mind that these guys are athletic enough to play some defensive end just in case Justin Tuck and Eric Moore struggle early.
- Who Starts at Safety? Does It Matter? If healthy, we know Gibril Wilson will start at one spot. But where? He played strong safety at the mini-camps. If that continues, it would suggest that Brent Alexander is likely to see the bulk of the playing time opposite of him. If Wilson is moved to free safety, one would think Shaun Williams would then start at strong. However, the Giants say they use their safeties interchangeably so this might not matter at all. The wild card is Curry Burns.
- Who (If Anyone) Steps Up at Tight End Behind Shockey? The Giants need a blocking tight end to complement Shockey in two-TE sets (though the coaching staff strong contends – as I’ve said since his arrival – that Shockey can block). I also continue to argue that Visanthe Shiancoe can block and in fact flashes the ability to be a very good blocker. His problems in the past appear to be mental mistakes (i.e., lack of focus and concentration). Shank says that is behind him now. We shall see. His only serious competition is Chris Luzar – a street free agent.
- Who (If Anyone) Steps Up at Wide Receiver Behind Burress and Toomer? It will be interesting to see how Coughlin’s offense is orchestrated this year. If Shockey is used more outside and the Giants don’t employ a lot of four-WR sets, then the third receiver may not see a lot of action. However, if there are more four-WR sets and/or Shockey is not spread out as much, then this becomes a more important question. Injuries to a starter could alter the picture too. Tim Carter and Jamaar Taylor are clearly the speed receivers on this team. Carter has yet to prove he can stay healthy even for a few games. Taylor had late offseason knee surgery. The Giants really will likely need one of these guys to provide another deep target for Eli. Also, how these two develop will largely determine how glaring a need the wide receiver position will be in the 2006 NFL Draft. I doubt Toomer survives another year unless he plays like he did in 2002 again.