Jul 272014
 
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Marcus Harris, New York Giants (July 22, 2014)

Marcus Harris has been impressive at Giants’ camp – © USA TODAY Sports Images

It’s a scenario that played out over and over again during New York’s first organized team activity. One of the Giants’ quarterbacks would drop back, scan the field and fire a pass to an intended wide receiver.

Over and over again, that receiver was No. 18. Instantaneously, media would break out the roster and check twice before putting a name to a numeral.

During mini-camp and now training camp, that same No. 18 continues to flash, making reception after reception. If it hits his hands, it’s a catch. The way Marcus Harris sees it, that’s exactly how it has to be.

“Every opportunity I get, I’m just trying to capitalize,” Harris said. “I know I’m not Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle or Odell (Beckham Jr.). I’m just trying to be a spark for the team.”

And he continues to do just that.

While offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo continues the installation of his new West Coast Offense, the Giants continue their growing pains learning their first new offense in seven years. While at times what’s displayed on the field is difficult to watch, Harris has been a consistent bright spot.

There have been no drops. When Harris runs a route, he’s usually open. Despite this being just his second season of professional football, he feels he has a firm grasp on the playbook. After all, it’s similar to the offense he ran his senior year at Murray State.

Eli Manning has connected with the 24-year-old countless times, as has Ryan Nassib. But it’s the one player that will most likely never throw him a pass that Harris says is the biggest connection he’s made thus far.

Victor Cruz, New York Giants (July 22, 2014)

Victor Cruz made the Giants’ roster as an undrafted rookie – © USA TODAY Sports Images

When the undrafted Harris showed up to Giants’ training camp last year, formerly undrafted Victor Cruz was the first to reach out. The Giants’ Pro-Bowl receiver told Harris to keep working, make plays when the opportunity is there and to do whatever it takes. Harris has followed the advice to a T.

“I felt so relaxed around him and latched on to him,” Harris said. “I look up to him as a role model with what he went through. Being undrafted, it’s tough. It’s not easy and it’s not going to be. I look up to how he fought and how he didn’t care he went undrafted.”

On the practice field, Harris is having a very Cruz-like impact on the Giants, something he credits to his time spent in the Arena Football League. After failing to make the Giants 53-man roster at the end of last year’s camp, Harris signed with the Iowa Barnstormers.

‘Soups,’ a nickname given to Harris by Philadelphia Eagles’ receiver Jeremy Maclin, finished the year with 94 receptions for 1,223 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also had 1,200 return yards. Going from the NFL, to the AFL, back to the NFL made the game slow down for Harris. Not only that, but he picked up a few tips and tricks along the way.

“Leverage, always attack the defensive back’s leverage,” Harris said. “I learned that in the AFL and I use it all the time here. Even though it’s the AFL and that’s a different kind of football, you can still translate it back to the NFL.

“I know if it’s a post route, I attack the inside leverage. If it’s a corner route, I attack the outside leverage. It kinda helped me out big time when I came back to the NFL.”

Harris knows that he, similar to Victor Cruz in 2010, faces a steep climb if he hopes to make the Giants’ roster. Cruz had a three-touchdown nationally televised preseason performance to help his cause. Harris’ first prime-time showing will be this Sunday’s Hall of Fame game.

There’s also the numbers game. Cruz, Randle, Beckham Jr. and Jerrel Jernigan are all but locks to make the Giants’ roster. Harris, Super Bowl-hero Mario Manningham, Trindon Holiday and Corey Washington are all competing for two spots.

If Harris is cut and clears waivers, he’s still eligible for the Giants’ practice squad, but that’s not good enough anymore.

“I was on the practice squad last year,” Harris said. “I don’t plan on being on it this year.”

Jul 272014
 
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Damontre Moore, New York Giants (August 10, 2013)

Damontre Moore has been impressive in year two – © USA TODAY Sports Images

His facial expression never changed from that same firm, determined look. His voice never once reached an octave above monotone.

Cullen Jenkins stood there, atop the Giants’ podium, camcorders and cameras staring back at him. Each media member threw question after question his way.

Nothing changed Jenkins’ tone or expression. Then, Damontre Moore’s name was brought up.

“To be honest, I’ve been surprised. Especially with Damontre,” Jenkins said. “His athleticism is hard to compare. From where he was last year, technique wise and some of the things he was doing, to how he came back in training camp… it’s amazing.”

The praise was just the beginning as the veteran continued to highlight the differences between rookie Moore and second-year Damontre. The one that was once considered a one-trick pony is suddenly much more.

Moore is setting the edge, making as many plays on the running back as he is the quarterback and his physicality has reached another level.

“You look at him now,” Jenkins said, “He’s a completely different player.”

Damontre Moore, New York Giants (December 1, 2013)

Damontre Moore – © USA TODAY Sports Images

What Moore has worked to develop over the offseason is being displayed to all on the Giants’ practice fields. In the team’s five practices, the former third-round pick has a ‘sack’ in four. When the Giants put on shoulder pads for the first time on Friday, Moore recorded two sacks on offensive tackle James Brewer. He had countless other pressures.

“I feel a little more comfortable out there, but as far as different? No, not really.” Moore said last week, “I’m just being the best I can be.”

Defensive line coach Robert Nunn has seen the same thing as Jenkins. This isn’t the same Damontre Moore. Nunn said the end has taken a “step forward” in year two. The Giants hope he’s right.

Mathias Kiwanuka is now 31 and has had never had more than eight sacks in a season. Last year, Kiwanuka was held sackless in four of the Giants final five games. If called upon, Moore is making sure he’s ready. That includes taking a page out of Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders playbook.

Moore is sporting a brand new facemask, one he assures meets league regulations. Is it protective? Sure. But it also looks good.

“I guess it fits into that old saying,” Moore said laughing. “You look good, you feel good, you play good.”

Thus far, Moore’s 3-for-3.

Jul 272014
 
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Jacquian Williams, New York Giants (July 22, 2013)

Jacquian Williams – © USA TODAY Sports Images

It was the single hardest time of his football career.

Not just professional, but little league, high school and college, as well.

Giants’ linebacker Jacquian Williams knew he could help his teammates each of the last two seasons. He knew he could make an impact on the field. The issue? Getting on it.

“Injuries, man. No one wants to be off the field,” Williams said. “I wanted to be out there to perform. I wanted to be out there with my teammates. For me to not be out there with them, it was disappointing.”

When he’s played, Williams has flashed the ability to be a difference maker in the NFL, dating all the way back to his rookie year. New York’s sixth-round pick in 2011 had the coverage skills and speed of a safety, with the size (6-3, 224 pounds) of a linebacker. In nickel packages, Williams would check in and assume a lock-down role on an opponent’s tight end.

Right off the bat, Williams experienced success. In his rookie season, the 26-year-old recorded 78 tackles, a sack and three fumble recoveries.

In New York’s Super Bowl run, Williams handled the likes of Tony Gonzalez, Jermichael Finley and Vernon Davis in back-to-back-to-back games. In the Super Bowl, with Rob Gronkowski ailing, it was Aaron Hernandez.

Jacquian Williams, New York Giants (July 27, 2012)

Jacquian Williams – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Since 2011, Williams hasn’t experienced the same success. In 2012, he missed six games with a PCL injury. Last year, it was his knee that cost him playing time. Williams hasn’t reached his rookie year tackle total in each of the last two seasons. When on the field, his immense success in pass defense was overshadowed by his inability to compete against the run.

It’s why this offseason Williams expressed a renewed determination in making himself a complete linebacker.

“I wanted to prove that I belong in this league,” Williams said. “I showed glimpses, but there were injuries. I’d show some good things, then some down things. My goal right now is to show I belong here and I’m here for a reason.”

When Williams reported for the Giants’ offseason conditioning program, the changes were easily noticeable.

“I will say this,” linebackers coach Jim Hermann said, “This OTA and minicamp, he has done a great job. He’s a natural WIL (linebacker) in nickel, but he did a great job with our WIL stuff in base. To me, he made a big jump and big improvements this spring.”

Williams said the coaches had approached him with a list of things to improve on last offseason. While he still admits he’s the same player, he knows he’s taken a much-needed jump. Now in his fourth year, Williams feels more settled and comfortable in the Giants’ defense. Not only does he feel he can make an impact for New York, but also prove he’s an elite-level player in the NFL.

He’ll have his shot. For the first time in his career, Williams is the Giants’ full-time starting WIL linebacker.

“It’s a great opportunity for me,” Williams said. “But look, I’m a linebacker. I’ve being doing this since little league. At the end of the day, it’s nothing new to me.”

Jul 262014
 
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Bennett Jackson and Charles James

Bennett Jackson (Left) has turned to Charles James II (right) for help during training camp – © USA TODAY Sports Images

It’s a relatively common – and expected – occurrence at Giants’ training camp. Bennett Jackson, New York’s sixth-round pick out of Notre Dame, has questions, and he’s looking for the answers.

Be it a coverage assignment, technique or read conundrum, different things pop up at different times. When they do, Jackson knows exactly who to go to.

“I usually ask something to Charles James,” Jackson said.

Wait, Charles James II? The Giants’ second-year corner who went undrafted last year and made the team as a long shot?

“He usually has a pretty good understanding of everything and he’s quick to answer,” Jackson said.

Charles James, New York Giants (August 24, 2013)

Can Charles James crack the Giants final 53-man roster? – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The budding friendship has blossomed since the Giants reported for training camp on Monday. Despite the fact both James II and Jackson are competing for potentially one available roster spot, the two have hit it off. James II knows he can text Jackson at any point in time. Jackson knows he can go to James II with any question that pops in his head.

While it’s not rare to have a rookie look to another player on the roster for help, the fact James II is supplying the answers may come a bit as a surprise. After going undrafted out of Charleston Southern last year, the 5-9, 179-pound James made the Giants’ roster last season.

The corner flashed on special teams in the preseason, made a few impact defensive plays and the Giants’ placed him on their practice squad as a reward. When injuries attacked New York’s secondary, it was James II who had his phone ring with the call up.

James II looks at Jackson and sees his own reflection from a year ago. There’s a wide-eyed rookie, brimming with potential, but needing someone to guide him to reach it.

“I know how it is to be a rookie,” James II said.“He’s trying to catch up with the entire process of being in the NFL. He just left Notre Dame, basically he was the man there, now he’s coming into a process where it’s moving faster.

“This is the NFL where those receivers are going to come faster. Those breaks are going to come quicker and he has to catch up in the playbook right away. I told him some of the things that I did to help me progress last year.”

While James II is helping Jackson, at the same time he’s helping himself. When Jackson has a question, James II can’t look back with a deer-in-the-headlights look. He challenges himself to make sure he can answer whatever Jackson throws his way. As soon as James II sees Jackson jogging of the field and headed his way, he knows it’s test time.

“He’ll come up to me and be like, ‘Hey Charles, what do I do in this coverage,’” James II said. “I’ll respond like, you do this, this and that. He’ll be like, ‘Oh, Ok.’ So it like refreshes my mind and it refreshes his. I’m just trying to be that helping hand.”

James II views himself as a “big brother” figure for Jackson, something Jackson may need more than anything right now.

Bennett Jackson, Notre Dame Fighting Irish (September 21, 2014)

Bennett Jackson – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Not only is he a rookie, but Jackson also has limited experience at the cornerback position. Throughout his entire playing career, Jackson was a receiver. It wasn’t until his sophomore season at Notre Dame that he was approached about a position change.

When Jackson was a freshman, he didn’t see much time at wide receiver, but he played in every special teams’ package. He loved to hit people. This was his chance to do so.

Coaches loved the physicality Jackson displayed and saw the lack of bodies at the cornerback position. Next thing Jackson knew, he was in a new film room.

“I ended up doing a lot better than I expected,” Jackson said. “I actually ended up having a lot more fun.”

His initial struggles came from the transition of constantly running forward, to moving fluidly backwards. Route recognition was easy, after all, it wasn’t long ago Jackson was the one running them.

The doubt that once clogged his memory worked its way out. Towards the end of his sophomore season, Jackson was fully comfortable at his new position. While he missed scoring touchdowns and catching passes, Jackson admitted hauling in an interception gets him much more “hyped.”

It may take some time before the coaches feel fully comfortable putting Jackson on the field in the secondary as there are still many parts of his game that need to be refined. But there’s no hesitation in putting him with the special teams and letting him do what once brought him so much joy:

Hit people.

When asked his goal and what he’d like to accomplish on special teams this year, an ear-to-ear smile stretched across Jackson’s face.

“Be a beast,” he said. “That’s all there is to it.”

Jul 242014
 
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Steve Weatherford (5), Josh Brown (3), New York Giants (December 22, 2013)

Josh Brown Kicks the Game-Winner in Overtime – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Steve Weatherford (5), Lawrence Tynes (9), New York Giants (October 28, 2012)

Steve Weatherford and Lawrence Tynes – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Not every punter can roam the sidelines of NFL games, look up into the stands and see their own jersey on kids, teens and parents.

Less can claim they attempted to get their team to the ‘next level’ by purchasing each member a “shake weight.” Even fewer can say they went to a prom at 32 years old, or started a social media tradition that is quickly reaching national holiday status.

Then again, not every punter is Steve Weatherford.

“I transcend the position,” Weatherford said with a smile. “I’m just having fun with it. It’s typical when people think of kickers and punters that they’re the guy you rarely see and are never heard of.

“I’m not necessarily a spotlight guy, I just enjoy what I’m doing.”

And New York loves him for it.

Since signing with the Giants as a free agent in 2011, Weatherford has done much more than win a kicking competition with Matt Dodge. He’s slowly but surely worked his way into the hearts of Giants’ fans across the country.

Be it his up-beat personality, signature laugh, body building motivation or self-created ‘Weatherford Wednesday,’ there’s something about the Indiana native that has fans gravitating towards him.

“I never thought I’d make it in the NFL, so for me, I enjoy every opportunity that I have,” Weatherford said. “It’s a blessing and an amazing opportunity. I think people kind of feel that.

“I think people see the stuff that I put up on social media and my interaction with people in general. They understand that I really do appreciate it.”

On instagram and twitter, Weatherford has amassed nearly 130,000 ‘followers.’ But it’s not just his name that has made the punter endearing to fans, it’s how he uses both outlets.

Weatherford is constantly reaching out to his following with motivation, appreciation and thanks. Anytime a picture pops up of anyone with ‘Weatherford’ etched across their back, there’s a ‘#TeamWeatherford’ response almost instantly.

In a world where professional athletes feel entitled to the fame bestowed upon them and believe they are above those that come to watch them play each Sunday, Weatherford consistently displays he’s the exact opposite. As was the case when he took Bayonne High School senior Lauren Delbert to her prom.

In April, Delbert tweeted Weatherford a photo of a football with ‘Wanna tackle prom with me?’ inscribed on the back. In typical Weatherford fashion, Weatherford responded in a way only Weatherford could.

Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 7.55.51 PM

“I was shocked,” Delbert told NJ.com. “The New York Giants sent me a direct message to confirm that it was real.”

Weatherford made good on his promise, taking Delbert and her boyfriend, Steven Schumann, to prom. Their ride? A 2008 Bentley.

“I think I had more fun than they did,” Weatherford said. “The fun thing about going back to prom this year is the principal couldn’t tell me anything. If I wanted to grab the microphone and get on the table and start dancing, he wasn’t going to tell me to get down.”

But there was a bigger picture for Weatherford than just showcasing his self proclaimed much-improved dance moves. His trip to prom wasn’t his last of the season.

Steve Weatherford, New York Giants (January 22, 2012)

Steve Weatherford – © USA TODAY Sports Images

After Delbert, Weatherford held a writing contest with seniors at Southern Regional High School, an area greatly impacted by Hurricane Sandy. While Weatherford took his wife, Laura, as his date this time, the winners and their dates were provided prom dresses, accessories, hair and make-up styling, transportation and more.

All organized by Weatherford, who plans to turn ‘Project Prom’ into an annual occurrence. This year, he’ll have some help.

“My teammates all saw the videos and pictures that were posted on my social media that weekend,” Weatherford said. “They were like, ‘Man, you look like you had so much fun. I wanna do it next year.’ That’s exactly what I wanted to have happen.

“I wanted other celebrities, not just my teammates, to want to do that, too. It was a lot of fun and it was an experience I’ll never forget. But more importantly, I was able to give 20 students the gift of going to their senior prom which is something they’ll never forget as well.”

Why? Because that’s who he is. He’s not your everyday punter.

Then again, Steve Weatherford’s not like many other people, either.

Jul 232014
 
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Ryan Nassib and Andre Williams, New York Giants (July 23, 2014)

Ryan Nassib and Andre Williams – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Andre Williams can’t keep the smile from spreading across his face when thinking about the start of his football career.

Before he was drafted by the New York Giants, led the nation in rushing at Boston College or dominated under the ‘Friday Night Lights’ of two high schools, there was a different field Williams stepped on.

There would be a phone call to friends — Freddy, Dorsey and Alex — before exiting the back door and stepping onto the grass of his yard. Someone would bring a football and hand it to another. Then? Well, things got interesting.

“Kill the man with the ball,” Williams said, laughing.

And little Andre always won.

Since his days running through friends under the sun in Kennesaw, Georgia, Williams has molded himself into the Giants’ own big bruising Andre the Giant. But during the early portions of his career, Williams resembled very little of the 5-11, 230-pound back the Giants selected in the fourth round this year’s draft.

Williams was always one of the ‘taller’ kids growing up, but bulky he was not. Williams described himself as ‘lanky,’ mentioning the long arms that often made him look awkward. But in the backyard, his weight meant nothing. Quickly, Williams found a way to make sure he’d never let a friend beat him in the backyard antics.

“I used to get my momentum up to the point where it would be really hard to stop me,” Williams said. “I used to explode on contact. That was really the most fun for me. I was trying to build that and shape it into something that I could use to my advantage.”

Andre Williams, Boston College Eagles (November 23, 2013)

Andre Williams led the nation in rushing last year– © USA TODAY Sports Images

Williams transitioned from the backyard to the backfield in sixth grade, but his career nearly ended before it began. At two years old, a car struck the New York native. Williams’ mother, Lancelene, forbid her son to play anymore, fearing contact sports “weren’t really for” Williams.

Williams’ response? His little brother.

“She was letting my little brother play flag football,” Williams said. “She just kinda thought, ‘I can’t let him play football and not his older brother.’ So I started playing again.”

While Williams displayed potential on the field, he never truly took the sport seriously, partially because of lack of team success. Sure, he was scoring, but the team wasn’t winning.

Then he began school at Harrison High School, played with better players and coaches introduced him to the weight room. Suddenly, everything changed.

“Those lifting programs, it was like a college program,” Williams said. “I saw football and what it was as a team sport and how raw talent could develop into something that could contribute to something bigger. It started becoming a lot of fun.”

Williams played two seasons at Harrison before moving to Allentown, Pennsylvania. As a junior, he committed to Boston College. BC gave Williams both the chance to play early, and the ability to stay close to his mom.

Andre Williams, New York Giants (May 31, 2014)

Andre Williams – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Over the ensuing four years, Williams saw his production increase each season. As a senior, the 22-year-old rushed for 2,177 yards and 18 touchdowns. Williams was a Heisman Trophy finalist and holds the school record for rushing attempts, yards and touchdowns.

Despite all his accolades, scouts questioned Williams’ ability to play at the next level. Sure, he could run the ball. But could he catch? In four years, Williams recorded just eight receptions. None his senior year.

Williams says the lack of catches isn’t for lack of ability, but rather opportunity. At Boston College, running backs weren’t required to catch the ball. Now, he’s looking to make up for lost time.

“I’ve been catching a lot of balls in the offseason,” Williams said. “Just in terms of being able to build confidence in my ability to catch the ball and what steps are necessary in order to catch the ball.”

During training camp, Williams has flashed multiple times. He’s shown an extra gear and ability to move with the ball in his hands. But also, that that time spent catching is paying off.

In the Giants’ first practice, Williams made an impressive grab out of the backfield. He’s turning heads. And the right ones, too.

“He’s become more than a one-dimensional back,” Giants’ coach Tom Coughlin said. “He certainly wasn’t used that way at BC, but he’s demonstrated the ability to do that. He also hits that button and he can go.”

For Williams, he’s just looking to improve. Be that as a pass blocker, receiver or runner. As for motivation, he’s his own.

“I actually made it to the professional level. Professional football,” Williams said. “Now I have an opportunity to explore what that means for me. What am I going to develop into? What am I going to look like against the best of the best?

“That’s my motivation. To continue to sharpen myself and be the best back that he can be.”

Jul 222014
 
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John Jerry, Miami Dolphins (November 17, 2013)

John Jerry wants to move on from all that happened during his time in Miami – © USA TODAY Sports Images

John Jerry knows exactly what happened last year in Miami. He knows the details, what he did and what he didn’t do. He knows what’s accused of both himself and Richie Incongnito.

Just don’t expect him to talk about it. At least not yet.

“I don’t have a comment,” Jerry said. “I’m looking forward to the day I can open up and tell you everything about it. We’ll definitely discuss that in the future.”

In the meantime, the New York Giants’ guard is focused on getting healthy and entering the ring of a now wide-open position battle at right guard. As Chris Snee’s body failed him, Jerry is hoping to give his own a jump start to resume his career.

During the offseason, Jerry had a procedure on his knee. The condition, which has not been disclosed or released by the team, took Jerry out for the team’s entire offseason conditioning program.

Jerry has received medical clearance, but didn’t take part in the running portion of the Giants’ conditioning test Monday. Giants’ coach Tom Coughlin labeled him as ‘limited.’ Jerry is not even sure yet what he can do.

“I just think the main thing for me is to get into shape,” Jerry said. “I missed so much time in the spring and everything that I wasn’t able to run. The most important thing is getting in shape.”

A healthy, in-shape and motivated Jerry could be the perfect solution to the Giants’ ailing offensive line. While he had his struggles run blocking, Jerry was one of the league’s best pass-blocking guards last year.

It’s welcome news for Eli Manning, who was sacked a career-high 39 times last year.

In the Giants’ first training camp practice, Jerry received sporadic reps throughout. When he was on the field, it was primarily with the second unit as third-year guard Brandon Mosley worked with the starters.

But when Mosley left with a stomach issue, it was Weston Richburg that took over at guard.

While Jerry is not sure when he’ll be back to full strength, he’s eagerly counting the days he can step foot on the field and contribute. With all that’s happened in his career off of the field, the best remedy may be what happens on it.

“People will think what they want to think and I know that’s out of my hands,” Jerry said. “What the fans really care about is you going out there, performing and getting them some ‘W’s.’”

Jul 222014
 
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Brandon McManus, Temple Owls (September 8, 2012)

Brandon McManus is hoping to win the Giants’ kicker competition – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Brandon McManus, Temple Owls (October 27, 2012)

Brandon McManus – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Signing the contract was easy. The New York Giants didn’t have a kicker on their roster and Brandon McManus was looking for a shot.

Telling his Philadelphia Eagle fan family he was now a member of Big Blue? Eh, not so much.

“They told me they disowned me,” McManus said, laughing.

Growing up 40 miles from Philadelphia, McManus recalls many Sundays spent packed into Lincoln Financial Field with his parents to watch the Eagles play. There was the yelling, the screaming and the cheering. He, like his family, became a die hard.

McManus wanted nothing more than to mimic those that he had watched on the field since he was three years old. He started playing football in middle school and continued in high school. He excelled at kicking and turned the passion into a scholarship to Temple University.

In the four years he suited up for the Owls, McManus established himself as arguably the best kicker to play for the program. Among others, McManus set the record for points scored (338), field goals made (60), field goal percentage in a season (82.4) and extra points made in a game (9). All while dealing with the elements impacting Temple’s home stadium, Lincoln Financial Field.

After graduating, McManus signed with the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent. He fought tooth-and-nail with Adam Vinatieri for a spot on the Colts’ final 53-man roster. The competition was close, but Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano elected to go with the veteran Vinatieri.

“Last year was great,” McManus said. “I kind of mold my game around Adam being a clutch performer at the end of games. That’s what he’s known for in his career is the clutch Super Bowl kicks.”

While it’s yet to be seen if McManus has a ‘clutch’ gene, what has been on display is his leg strength. McManus says he feels completely comfortable kicking from 60-yards out, comparing it to an extra point. In last year’s preseason, he kicked a 50-yard field goal with ease against the Giants.

Watching from the opposite sideline, New York was impressed. So, when Giants’ kicker Josh Brown had his contract expire at the end of last year, the team wasted no time in acting on McManus, signing him to a ‘future contract’ on Jan. 2.

“I really like McManus,” Giants’ special teams coordinator Tom Quinn said. “I liked him coming out (of Temple). He went to Indy for last training camp and preseason and I thought he was a really good kicker. He’s kicked in the northeast at a high level. I think he’s got a real big upside once it all starts clicking for him.”

McManus hopes the light has already been turned on. If he wants to be New York’s kicker, he’ll once again have to battle a veteran. Two months and 10 days after signing McManus, the Giants brought back Brown.

Brown has kicked 254 field goals in his 12-year NFL career.

Tom Quinn, Tom Coughlin, New York Giants (August 29, 2012)

Tom Quinn (left) was impressed with McManus at temple – © USA TODAY Sports Images

McManus is 1-for-1 in the preseason.

“I knew no mater what it was going to be a competition,” McManus said. “I came in here during (organized team activities) and tried to work hard every day. I tried doing my best and we both performed at such a high level this offseason. “

The Giants were one of several teams to reach out to McManus with a contract as a kicker. Two others called him with a chance to punt. Aside from the accolades McManus earned at Temple as a kicker, he holds the school’s record for punt average at 45.4 yards per kick

“It was a lot of fun punting,” McManus said. “It gave me a different dynamic of the game. It was the first time since middle school I had the ball in my hands because when I’m kicking it never is.

“With kicking I used to put so much pressure on myself and I was so critical of myself. When I went out there to punt I just relaxed and it was such a different view of the field. “

McManus admits he sees himself as a kicker first, punter second, but wouldn’t throw away an opportunity to do both. Yet before he gets too far ahead of himself, he knows there’s a roster spot that needs to be won first before double-dipping on special teams.

That doesn’t mean he hasn’t thought at all about the fact the Giants’ play his family’s beloved Eagles twice a year. Nor has it failed to cross his mind that often times the games come down to a two-to-three point difference.

“Hopefully when we play them we don’t blow them out of the water,” McManus said. “If I could set up for a game-winning kick, that would be great.”

But would there be a little hesitation from Mom knowing her son was about to single-handedly defeat her beloved Birds??

“Oh no, they’ll definitely be rooting for me,” McManus said with a smile. “My parents are all for me now.”

Jul 212014
 
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Chris Snee, New York Giants (August 22, 2012)

Chris Snee has said goodbye to the New York Giants – © USA TODAY Sports Images

He’d already given the speech to his teammates and coaches. The announcement was confirmed. After 10 years in the NFL, Chris Snee was walking away.

Chris Snee, New York Giants (December 11, 2011)

Chris Snee – © USA TODAY Sports Images

But as he climbed to the top of a podium overlooking the practice fields he’d spent countless hours on, something changed. The smile left his face as realization set in. This made it official.

Snee began to speak, got a few words out, then the Giants’ iron man broke down.

He brought his hand to the crest of his nose and rubbed his eyes, took a deep breath and attempted to speak again. A few more words, then the giant hand came right back as his eyes swelled with tears. He hung his head.

“It’s a bitter-sweet day,” Snee said between tears, “But one that I really had no choice in. It’s no secret, I’m going to retire.”

For the first time since he was drafted in 2004, Snee couldn’t do it anymore. His body had failed him. No time in the trainer’s room and no amount of ice could fix the physical tolls of a decade in a league where the average career lasts just over three years. It finally caught up to him. At 32 years old, Snee needed to hang up the cleats.

The decision to walk away was one Snee knew was coming. After struggling to play baseball with his son,  it was time. But that didn’t make this press conference any easier.

With every word Snee attempted to utter out, memories came flooding in. There were the locker room pranks he played on teammates with former Giants’ Rich Seubert, Shaun O’Hara, David Diehl and Kareem McKenzie. There were the two Super Bowl championships and four Pro Bowls, too.

Then there was also the memory of his last game as a Giant, a 38-0 defeat at the hands of the Carolina Panthers. Snee was removed from the game before its culmination and placed on injured reserve days later.

Chris Snee, New York Giants (November 25, 2012)

OG Chris Snee – © USA TODAY Sports Images

In the offseason, the former All-Pro guard had hip and elbow surgery and began rehab. Snee didn’t want that “Carolina game” to be the final time he stepped foot on the field as a member of the Giants.

“I sat down with (Giants general manager) Jerry Reese and told him my intentions,” Snee said. “I asked him if he thought I could still play and he said yes. He gave me the opportunity to work this spring and see if my body would hold up. It was doing great.”

Snee began the spring as a full participant in the Giants’ offseason conditioning program, but as the regular season neared ever close, so did the thought that his fairy tale ending would never come to fruition.

Snee’s elbow flared up, prohibiting him from working out. The one who once held the title as the strongest on the Giants saw that strength slipping away. What once made him arguably the NFL’s best guard was no long a talent in his repertoire.

Practice came and went as Snee remained stationed on the sideline. His signature No. 76 jersey was still seen on the field, but not in the huddle. The guard kept his helmet by his side as he watched practice as a spectator.

“In May it was great. I was feeling good,” Snee said. “Then it went south in a hurry. I was going to be honest like I said I would. I wouldn’t be able to play the game I would expect and wouldn’t have been proud of the product I put on the field.

“I let Jerry Reese know, probably at the end of June, what I was leaning towards doing and made it official a couple days ago.”

On Saturday, Snee took a trip to the Giants’ facilities with his family in tow. The group made their way to coach and father-in-law Tom Coughlin’s office where his son, Cooper, ran in to see his grandfather.

“I got this little tap on my back,”Coughlin said. “We visited for a couple minutes and then Chris asked if he could speak to me… and I knew.”

Chris Snee, New York Giants (February 5, 2012)

Chris Snee won two Super Bowl’s with the Giants – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Coughlin then called Reese, along with owners John Mara and Steve Tisch. Snee, meanwhile, made a call of his own.

In 2004, Snee was the Giants’ second-round pick. Their first was quarterback Eli Manning. Throughout both of their rookie years, Manning and Snee were roommates, buss-mates and plane-mates. Their relationship grew over the years and the last thing Snee wanted was for Manning to find out when he arrived at the team’s practice facility on Monday.

So, on Sunday, Snee phoned his old friend.

“We’ve been through a lot together,” Snee said. “We have a special relationship. We’ve been through a lot, two championships and just becoming great friends by the end of this. I thought he had the right to know before everyone else did.”

When Snee was placed on the injured reserve last year and struggled this spring, Manning continued to tell himself it was just a bump in the road for Snee. At the end of the day, when Manning lined up under center it would be his friend just to his right when it counted. Whenever the thought of life without Snee came into his mind, Manning quickly pushed it back out.

He didn’t want to think about it. Didn’t want to imagine it. But when his phone rang, there was something inside that told Manning this was it.

“I had a feeling that that might be what was coming,” Manning said. “You never really thought it would happen. I didn’t want to think about it happening because he’s been such a tremendous teammate and a great friend of mine.”

As Snee walks away, so too does the final piece of one of the greatest offensive lines assembled throughout the Giants’ history. Four nearly five years, O’Hara, Diehl, Seubert and McKenzie paved the way for running backs while keeping defenders off Manning.

O’Hara and Seubert retired in 2010. McKenzie hung up the cleats in 2011 and David Diehl after last year.

“I heard from all of them,” Snee said. “That was a special group we had. One we should’ve cherished more when we were together. Those are my brothers. I thought that I would be able to hang on a little bit longer and they’re still living through me.

“Richie called me four times since midnight. He’s in California, so he’s not sleeping much. Shaun, the same, and Dave. We’ve always had each other’s back and that’s not going to change.”

In 2008, the group paved the way for two 1,000 yard running backs in the same season for the first time in Giants’ history. Brandon Jacobs rushed for 1,059 and Derrick Ward 1,025.

Chris Snee, New York Giants (July 21, 2014)

Chris Snee with son, Cooper, following his retirement press conference – Photo by Connor Hughes

“We had fun,” Snee said. “It was just a fun group to be around, but also when we hit the field, it was work.”

While Snee admitted he’ll be taking some time off and enjoying an August where he doesn’t have to “strap on a helmet,” eventually he hopes to return to football as a coach. Maybe, on one of his son’s teams.

But whether it’s back to the gridiron or another adventure, Snee will be spending more time with his family. His wife, Kate, and sons, Dylan and Cooper, were on hand for Snee’s final press conference.

When Snee stepped off the podium, Cooper ran up to his dad and gave him a hug.

“How old are you now, Dad,” Cooper asked his father.

“Same age as yesterday, Buddy,” Snee said, laughing, before pulling him close again.

Chris Snee Interviews: Transcripts, audio, and video of New York Giants offensive guard Chris Snee discussing his retirement from the NFL are available from the following sources:

John Mara and Tom Coughlin on Chris Snee: Transcripts and video clips of the following team officials discussing the retirement of Chris Snee are available from Giants.com:

 

Jun 252014
 
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John Conner, New York Giants (December 22, 2013)

John Conner thinks he has what it takes to be the Giants’ fullback – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Don’t get John Conner wrong; he loves every part of his game that led to the nickname ‘The Terminator.’

He loves blocking, knocking opponents over and being his team’s personal battering ram. But there’s a part of his game that is often omitted when his skill set is brought up. A talent that may be exactly what he needs to fend off Henry Hynoski as the Giants’ fullback on the final 53-man roster.

“I can catch the ball a little bit, too,” Conner said. “And I can run.”

Since being drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the New York Jets, Conner’s ball skills have never truly been on display. As Rex Ryan’s personal draft pick, Conner was labeled a hard-nosed fullback destined to pave the way for whomever lined up in the Jets’ backfield. But before he played a down in the NFL, he earned Hollywood fame for his role in HBO’s Hard Knocks his rookie season.

John Conner, New York Giants (June 18, 2014)

Conner wants to show he’s as a weapon with the ball in his hands – © USA TODAY Sports Images

On the show, which follows an NFL team throughout its training camp, Ryan told a story about a time he was scouting a linebacker. While watching film, a fullback from Kentucky stood out, blocking and knocking over everyone in his way. Each draft, the Jets would give Rex Ryan one pick to select anyone he liked. He fell in love with the fullback, making Conner his selection.

HBO’s cameras ate up the story, making Conner one of the spotlighted players on the series. He was nicknamed ‘The Terminator,” a name that still holds today.

“It was cool as a rookie to get all that publicity,” Conner said before being interrupted by teammates who all growled ‘Terminator,’ causing the 27-year-old to attempt to hide a smile.

Conner made the Jets roster his first two seasons, but was waived in 2012 via injury settlement. The fullback sprained his MCL and Lex Hilliard played well enough in his absence for the Jets to feel confident cutting ties.

He then signed with the Cincinnati Bengals where he once again found himself on Hard Knocks. This time, the story didn’t have a Cinderella ending. Conner was cut when the Bengals decided the team didn’t need a prototypical fullback, electing to go with former tight end Orson Charles.

John Conner, Cincinnati Bengals (July 28, 2013)

Conner failed to make the Bengals roster last year – © USA TODAY Sports Images

“I’m shocked,” Conner said on the show. “But it’s a business.”

Conner worked out for the Bills before agreeing to a two-year contract with the Giants four weeks into last season. The Ohio native filled in admirably for an injured Henry Hynoski in an offense that perfectly suited his talents. There was an abundance of two-back sets in former coordinator Kevin Gilbride’s offense.

Then the season ended, Gilbride retired and Ben McAdoo was hired. A new offense – one Conner admits doesn’t appear to use the fullback as much – is in the process of being implemented and Hynoski is back and healthy. Once again, ‘The Terminator’ finds himself in a position battle.

“I love competition, it brings out the best in people. As long as it’s fair, I love it,” said Conner, who spent noticeable time in the weight room this offseason. “Being a fullback, you kind of expect that you’re going to compete every year.

“I feel like the last few years in the NFL I’ve reached the point where I’ve become a top-tier fullback in the league. I just want to go out there and have a healthy competition, there’s nothing wrong with a healthy competition.”

Throughout OTAs and the Giants’ mandatory mini-camp, there’s been no clear indication of who exactly is atop the depth chart. At times, Hynoski is the first one out. Other times, it’s Conner.

“Henry and John have both done a nice job,” McAdoo said. “We mix, we’re in and out of personnel groups and those types of things at this point. You like to use the fullback. The way I was raised, a fullback’s a big part of the things you do.”

While the fullback will be guaranteed to have a role in the new offense, what exactly it will be asked to do is anyone’s guess. McAdoo has never called plays in his NFL coaching career. Neither Hynoski nor Conner has been asked in their career to be a ‘weapon’ on offense.

John Conner, New York Giants (December 22, 2013)

John Conner – © USA TODAY Sports Images

No matter what is asked of the position, Conner believes he can do it.

“I absolutely think I can be a weapon,” Conner said. “A lot of people just don’t get a chance to see that part of my game because I’ve always been seen as a lumberer.”

Unlike Conner’s past competitions, no matter how this one shapes up, HBO won’t be there to document it. While the Giants were one of eight teams that could potentially be ‘forced’ to do the show, the Atlanta Falcons stepped up and volunteered.

Conner was well aware New York was eligible to be featured. In fact, he was almost preparing for it.

“It seemed like they just followed me around,” Conner said, laughing. “I kept thinking like, man, three times? That would have been crazy.”