Television Note: This game will be televised locally in the New York/New Jersey area on WNBC at 8PM on Thursday. It will also be televised nationally on the NFL Channel at midnight on Saturday. Because I will only be able to see the game on the latter channel, my game review will be a bit later than usual.
Approach to the Game – New York Giants at New England Patriots, September 1, 2005: For the starters, this is the least important game of the preseason. The most important thing for them is to get out of the game healthy. The first units will likely not play all that much.
There are some tough roster decisions to make. The final cuts are due on September 4th as the Giants must get down to the mandatory 53-man active roster. The Giants will also likely pick up a player or two from other teams, further endangering job security of those currently on the roster.
Don’t get too wound up if the Giants lose or excited if the Giants win this game. It simply isn’t deemed that important of a game by NFL coaches.
Probably the two most important areas to watch are the play of the backup quarterbacks and the work of the punt returners. Those positions are largely unsettled.
Giants on Offense: Tim Hasselbeck was dreadful last week at quarterback. Jesse Palmer was better, but still made too many mistakes. Hasselbeck will get the start against New England and if he does not markedly improve, then the Giants have a serious issue at backup quarterback. Jared Lorenzen’s best hope is the Practice Squad. One has to think the Giants are watching the waiver wire here.
At halfback, we know Tiki Barber is the starter and Brandon Jacobs will see a lot of playing time this year. Also in the picture are Derrick Ward and Mike Cloud. Can the Giants keep four halfbacks? Personally, I don’t think so. My guess is that Ward makes the team but this game may ultimately determine both players’ fate. Jim Finn will be the starting fullback.
At tight end, Jeremy Shockey is the starter and Visanthe Shiancoe the blocking tight end. Is the third tight end currently on the roster (Chris Luzar, Darius Williams)? If so, Luzar probably has the inside track.
The Giants have tough decisions at wide receiver because they would like to keep a number of players here too based on special teams ability. The “sure things” are Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer, David Tyree, and Tim Carter. Some have argued that Jamaar Taylor’s and Willie Ponder’s jobs are in jeopardy; I don’t see this at all. But that’s six receivers. The Giants will likely have to carry a seventh if Mark Jones is the punt returner and that makes the Giants very heavy at this position.
On the offensive line, the question is again numbers. The starters are set. But how many reserves do the Giants keep? Bob Whitfield and Rich Seubert are sure things. Jason Whittle has a big salary but he can play guard, center, and long snap. Wayne Lucier is a decent prospect, but can the Giants keep another OG/OC-type? Is there room on the roster for Brandon Winey?
Who To Watch: I think it is important for Tiki to get a few carries to get more in the groove. Obviously, Hasselbeck is a player to watch. It will be interesting to see how much Jamaar Taylor plays.
Giants on Defense: The defensive line has been the focus of much attention this offseason and it is all about to come to a head. We do know that Michael Strahan will start at left end and Osi Umenyiora will start at right end when the season starts. We also can surmise that William Joseph will start at one defensive tackle spot. But who is the other starter at tackle? Kendrick Clancy, Damane Duckett, Kenderick Allen, Fred Robbins? The Giants have five tackles here (not counting Jonas Seawright who could be Practice Squad bound). Can they keep them all?
Behind Strahan and Umenyiora, Justin Tuck provides excellent depth. But one more player is likely needed. Eric Moore has hardly practiced or played. Do the Giants keep him on the active roster? Or do they go with Adrian Awasom? Or do they not bother with another end and fall back on a tackle to play end if necessary (like Joseph or Robbins)?
Linebacker is a little easier to sort out. The starters will be Reggie Torbor, Antonio Pierce, and Carlos Emmons. Barrett Green (knee) is getting healthier and may see some snaps against New England, but the Giants can’t count on him yet. Whether he starts again ever for the Giants largely depends on the play of Torbor, Emmons, and their health. Nick Greisen is good depth. He has a good preseason and can play all three linebacker spots. In my mind, Kevin Lewis, Jim Maxwell, and T.J. Hollowell are vulnerable. I’d like to see Chase Blackburn make the team. It’s funny, he was a guy who the Giants signed after their original rookie free agent signings and someone who I thought had little chance to make the team. Someone like him always shows up each year and you never know who it will be. It’s often the guy who you least suspected.
Teams need to carry at least five corners and I think the five will be Will Allen, Will Peterson, Corey Webster, Curtis Deloatch, and Frank Walker – no surprises there. Safety is pretty easy to figure out too. Gibril Wilson, Brent Alexander, Shaun Williams, and James Butler are all locks. (Butler was like having an extra draft pick this year). The question here is does Curry Burns make the team?
Who To Watch: Awasom and Blackburn are trying to leave lasting impressions. All of the defensive tackles may still be competiting for starting spots.
Giants on Special Teams: The Giants have very good special teams except for the nagging question at punt returner. The Giants can kickoff, kick, punt, cover punts, and cover kicks with the best of them now. But can they find a punt returner who can secure the football and do some damage with the rock in his hand?
Who To Watch: Anyone returning a punt.
Final Note on Personnel Issues: I’ve given the Giants a lot of grief in the past for their personnel moves. But I’d like to give them credit for the following:
- Free Agent Moves: For those who read my “2005 Free Agent Preview,” you know that WR Plaxico Burress, RT Kareem McKenzie, and MLB Antonio Pierce were at the top or near the top of my wish lists at each of their respective positions. The fact that the Giants not only signed one of them, but all three, is unprecedented in Giants’ free agent history. All of these guys are still young and getting better too. Having these three is like having three extra high draft picks. In addition, PK Jay Feely is a much better place kicker (and kickoff man) than I realized. He represents a huge upgrade.
- Castoffs from Other Teams: The Giants have done a good job of spotting players waived by other teams or signed to other teams’ practice squads such as HB Derrick Ward, DT Kenderick Allen, and DT Damane Duckett. S Curry Burns, OT Brandon Winey, and WR/PR Mark Jones are competing for roster spots as well.
- 2005 NFL Draft: The Giants look like they struck gold with at least three of their four picks in CB Corey Webster, DE Justin Tuck, and HB Brandon Jacobs. Not only do all three look like they will contribute, but all three flash some impact ability. DE Eric Moore was receiving some good praise before he got hurt early in camp. This was a great draft for the Giants.
- 2005 Rookie Free Agents: The Giants did a nice job of scouting and signing S James Butler, DE Adrian Awasom, and LB Chase Blackburn.