Aug 092007
 
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Approach to the Game – Carolina Panthers at New York Giants, August 11, 2007: Training camp practices began late last month, but since most fans don’t make it up to training camp, the preseason represents the first opportunity for Big Blue loyalists to view returning veterans as well as new acquisitions. It’s an exciting time for many. It’s been a long offseason, seeming much longer than the seven months that have passed since the Giants walked off the field in Philadelphia in defeat.

It’s tough to get a feel for this team. If one were to believe the national and local prognosticators/journalists, the Giants will be lucky not to finish dead-last in the NFC East. Even those who say they will be better than expected predict mediocre records of 8-8 or 9-7.

However, these people make the mistake of looking at each team through the lenses of the previous season. It’s a common mistake, made every single year. In my opinion, the faultiness of such logic is made even worse by the fact that the salary cap and free agency have further weakened the not-so-static nature of the game.

To get to the point, as financial advisors love to correctly claim, past performance is no guarantee of future results. That does not just include team results, but also includes individual players and coaches.

I expect the Giants to be a better football team in 2007. I truly believe they can contend for the NFC Championship. For one, I think the NFC sucks. As I’ve said before, none of the conference’s supposed “top” teams really scare me. The Bears, Saints, Eagles, etc. are all beatable. Secondly, and more importantly, there is a lot of talent on this team. I believed that before I went to training camp last week and seeing what I did on the field in Albany only furthers my conviction.

Eli Manning, Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer, Jeremy Shockey, Brandon Jacobs, a solid offensive line, Osi Umenyiora, Michael Strahan (when he shows up), Fred Robbins, Barry Cofield, Mathias Kiwanuka, Antonio Pierce, Kawika Mitchell…there are too many good players on this team for the team to be bad. Eli will be better. This is a young team that will be better. Age is only really a concern with Strahan, Toomer, Sam Madison and Jeff Feagles.

What do I worry about? The secondary and the place-kicking situation. I also worry about how mentally tough the team is, but that intangible is the subject of some future discussion.

So don’t listen to the “experts” fellow fans. Get behind your Giants now. One way or the other, 2007 is likely to be an interesting season.

As for Saturday’s game against the Panthers, fans get far too worked up over the results of the first preseason game. The first preseason game is one of the least important. It is a gloried scrimmage. The most important preseason game (for the starters) is the third game, followed by the second. The first and fourth do not matter as much. So if someone does not play as well as you hoped, don’t get too worked up over it. Be more concerned if the same thing happens in the second and third preseason game.

What’s most important? I say it every preseason – no injuries. I would gladly trade an 0-4 preseason record in exchange for no injuries.

Giants on Offense: All eyes – including those of the informed, savvy fan as well as the uninformed dolt – will be watching Eli Manning. Every pass, every series, every game will be analyzed to death. Not just on fan sites such as BigBlueInteractive.com but in the national and local media as well. A lot of people love to criticize Eli’s laid-back persona, but thank God he has it. I think if he were a more fiery, emotional guy, his head would have exploded by now.

Don’t be too critical of Manning in the first game. Amani Toomer won’t play and Plaxico Burress and Jeremy Shockey will either not play or be limited. It’s likely that Eli will be without his top-three targets. (Late Note: Burress and Toomer will not play; Shockey will play). If the pecking order from camp stays true, then Michael Jennings – a receiver who may not even make the team – will start against the Panthers. Jennings doesn’t scare anyone. Interestingly, however, Jennings has become a favorite target of Manning at camp, so we shall see. The other starting receiver is likely to be the diminutive Sinorice Moss. He’s the guy who I am most interested in seeing on offense. This will be a good test as the Panthers have a very pass defense, especially at cornerback.

If the Giants keep six receivers, then there is only one available roster spot (unless someone gets hurt). Burress, Toomer, Moss, Steve Smith, and David Tyree are locks. Thus, every preseason game is critically important for Jennings, Anthony Mix, Marco Thomas, Brandon London, and Kevin McMahan.

At quarterback, I’m curious to see if Jared Lorenzen builds on his fine preseason from last year. People forget that Lorenzen won the second-string quarterback job last preseason because of his strong play. He has a very good arm, and has better touch and mobility than people give him credit for. The biggest negative on him? A long wind up. I will also be curious to see how Anthony Wright performs.

At tight end, regardless of whether Shockey plays or not, this is an important game for all of the back-up tight ends. Kevin Boss is a lock to make the roster. Fans who have not seen him yet will be shocked by his size – he’s a big guy. Darcy Johnson, Charles Davis, Michael Matthews, and Rodney Burgess will be fighting for one spot. The blocking – not the receiving game – will determine their fate. Focus on the blocking!

The running game doesn’t worry me. I’m so confident about the ability of Brandon Jacobs that I hope he doesn’t play all that much. With Reuben Droughns a lock, what interests me more is do the Giants keep three or four halfbacks? If three, then there will be a big battle between Ahmad Bradshaw and Derrick Ward for the final spot. While Bradshaw probably makes the most sense for the Giants, Ward surprised me at camp with his speed and quickness.

Aside from Sinorice Moss, the guy who I will be watching the most is FB Robert Douglas. If he falters, the Giants have to pick up another fullback later in the preseason.

Lastly, there is the offensive line. These guys are usually after-thoughts by most fans, but we Giants’ fans know better. Like Manning, everyone will be over-analyzing every single screw-up that David Diehl makes. Many will forget that he is a work in progress or that Luke Petitgout had his warts. Relax. Diehl will get the job done. There will be growing pains. He’s going to look silly at times until he gets truly comfortable. But he will get the job done. I love our tough, feisty guards – Chris Snee and Rich Seubert. Those two don’t take prisoners. Shaun O’Hara is one of the steadiest centers in the league. Kareem McKenzie is one of the better right tackles. This is a good offensive line.

Interior depth is also good with Grey Ruegamer and Zach Piller. Youngsters such as Matt Lentz and Chris Patrick are pushing them. The bigger focus outside should be the depth situation at tackle with Guy Whimper, Adam Koets, and Jonathan Dunn. Keep an eye on those three.

Giants on Defense: The big question is how much does new Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo show in the preseason? He’s not going to reveal his full package, but at the same time, the Giants do need to practice his blitzing schemes. One of my pet peeves with Johnnie Lynn and Tim Lewis was that they were so focused on not revealing their “real defense” in the preseason that the players never got to really practice it in real-game situations until the regular season started.

Injuries will affect the play here too. We might not see DE Osi Umenyiora play or play that much. (Late Note: Umenyiora will play). I think he is set for a monster year. DT Fred Robbins may not play. Same with CB Aaron Ross. (Late Note: Robbins and Ross will not play). Obviously, DE Michael Strahan is still AWOL (though I expect him in next week).

In other words, 3/4’s of our starting defensive line may not play. Keep that in mind.

I really like our interior duo of Robbins and Barry Cofield. Word has it that Cofield is really going to be a factor in this new defense. In Robbins’ place, this will be a good opportunity for veteran Marcus Bell to make some noise. Rookie DT Jay Alford is still developing. I saw him get clobbered on some plays at camp, then blow past his blockers. Jonas Seawright is still a factor in the competition inside. Don’t count him out yet.

Outside, without Strahan and Umenyiora, this defense will look much different than it will on opening day. Keep in mind that Justin Tuck will only see a few snaps too. Thus our ends against the Panthers will not be very intimidating. William Joseph – who is having a good camp – will likely start at LDE while Adrian Awasom sees the bulk of playing time at RDE. Keep an eye on RDE Tommy Davis. He caught my eye at camp as a pass rusher.

At linebacker, this will be our first view of Mathias Kiwanuka at linebacker in a real game. One thing folks need to keep in mind is that Spags will not just keep Kiwanuka at the usual strongside linebacker spot. At camp, Kiwanuka is moving all over the place, both in the up and down position. We might not see that against the Panthers, but consider Kiwanuka more of a LB/DE hybrid. The Giants are set inside with Antonio Pierce – even at camp, his ability to direct traffic and lead the defense is impressive. Keep an eye on Kawika Mitchell. He’s a lot more athletic than I thought he was. Fans will love his attitude.

It’s a damn shame that Gerris Wilkinson got hurt when he did. He will likely miss most if not all of the preseason. This will significantly retard his development. I love Chase Blackburn. Zak DeOssie has a future here. This is a really important game for guys like Reggie Torbor and Tyson Smith. Their best hope is if the Giants carry seven linebackers.

My biggest worry – other than the kicker – is in the secondary. I wasn’t impressed with CB Sam Madison at camp. I hope he was just pacing himself, being the older veteran that he is. Corey Webster is playing better, but we still need to see that translate to the playing field. It will be interesting to see James Butler at strong safety and Gibril Wilson now moved over to free safety. With hopefully a better pass rush (though perhaps not in this game without Umenyiora, Strahan, Robbins, and a full-strength Tuck), these guys need to start picking off more passes.

E.J. Underwood has been missing valuable practice time with a hip injury. It’s unfortunate that both he and Ross will likely not play. This is a good opportunity for Kevin Dockery, Gerrick McPhearson, and Travonti Johnson to make a mark.

Inside at safety, with Stone out, there will be more reps for Michael Johnson and Craig Dahl. How will Will Demps respond to being demoted?

Giants on Special Teams: The major focus will and should be on the place-kicking situation. If Lawrence Tynes and Josh Huston both struggle, and the Giants don’t find an adequate replacement before the season starts, this situation could cost the Giants a playoff spot or playoff game.

The Giants also need to settle on both a punt returner and a kickoff returner. There is a lot of uncertainty there as well.

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Eric Kennedy

Founder and owner of BigBlueInteractive.com, which is now entering its 20th season. Follow Eric on Twitter @BigBlueInteract.

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