Jun 132014
 
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Trindon Holliday, New York Giants (June 12, 2014)

Trindon Holliday – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Ever since Kevin Gilbride was replaced as offensive coordinator by Ben McAdoo, there has been much media and fan speculation about what the new offense of the New York Giants might look like. When Head Coach Tom Coughlin came to New York in 2004, he brought along a passing game that featured more of a vertical, down-field passing attack. His first offensive coordinator was John Hufnagel, but Hufnagel was fired near the end of the 2006 season and replaced by Gilbride.

Tom Coughlin has always been about offensive balance. He wants a physical running game combined with a big-play passing game. Coach Coughlin does not want to dink-and-dunk the ball down the field, but gain yardage in big chunks. That formula worked well for him both with the Jaguars and Giants when he had the necessary talent. And it helped the New York Giants to win two NFL Championships.

“I have great respect for Kevin Gilbride winning two Super Bowls,” said former Giants quarterback Phil Simms (1979-1993). “He was worried about hitting four of those big passes every game, and I love that about the Giants’ offense. It wasn’t 17 screens every game.”

Based on comments from current players and observations from the three Organized Team Activity (OTA) practices open to the media, the Giants are changing their style. Ben McAdoo’s background is the West Coast Offense. In a nutshell, the Giants will emphasize stretching the field more horizontally instead of vertically. Though the team will still take its shots down the field, there will be more 3-step drops and an effort to get the ball quickly out of quarterback Eli Manning’s hands. The coaches want to get Eli into a comfortable rhythm throwing the football. More passes will be intended for the running backs and tight ends at the possible expense of the wide receivers.

Ben McAdoo’s background is the West Coast Offense, serving as tight ends and later quarterbacks coach under Mike McCarthy with the Green Bay Packers.

“This offense to me, and I’ve run a lot of West Coast with Mike Shanahan in Denver, a lot of stuff is similar,” said RB Peyton Hillis on Thursday.

Hillis might serve in a similar capacity to John Kuhn in Green Bay, not so much from the standpoint of a traditional fullback, but more of a pass-receiving and rushing one-back.

“(The running back catching the ball is) going to be a big part of it,” said Hillis. “The quarterback’s going to be looking for the check down a lot this year so you have to make sure as a back that you get on your route and make sure we expect it.”

Eli Manning, New York Giants (June 12, 2014)

Eli Manning at OTAs – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Making such a drastic change in offensive philosophy and terminology may not be quick and easy. Manning has never played in a West Coast system and neither have most of his offensive teammates.  To date, the strength of Manning’s game has not been the short game, particularly screen and swing passes. And while running backs Rashad Jennings, Peyton Hillis, and David Wilson could thrive as pass receivers in this offense, the Giants lack proven talent at tight end. The interior of the offensive line has been overhauled and there are still huge health and ability question marks at left tackle and right guard.

“(The offensive progress has been) slow, to be honest with you,” said Coughlin on Thursday. “Progress is slow but steady. Some days, of course, are better than others. But, you know, we’re getting there…There’s a lot of things that have to be converted in the guys who have been here, in their minds and the new people who have not been in a system such as this, you’ve got a lot to learn. It’s a work in progress.”

“It’s different,” said Manning. “We haven’t gotten everything down. I’m not 100 percent on everything going on. There are still some learning curves and things I gotta digest and think through…I feel good about what our offense can do and the potential of it. It’s just getting to the point where we have a great mastery of it from the mental capacity.”

So the key question is when will the players become comfortable enough with the new system to where the learning curve does not cost them on the playing field? It could take the entire preseason. Worse, it could take the first half or even a full season of actual game experience.

But once the system is learned, it could make life a lot easier for Eli and his receivers.

“I would think the West Coast Offense and some of (that philosophy) will help (Manning),” said Simms. “Give the quarterback 50 percent of his completions as ‘gimmies.’ There are other times you want to make those four or five special throws.”

In the new system, run-after-the-catch ability will be paramount. The good news is the Giants have some extremely dangerous receivers with the football in their hands, including Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, Odell Beckham, Jerrell Jernigan, and Trindon Holliday.

“The ball is coming out quick,” said Manning. “It does fit my style of play, getting in rhythm, knowing where to go, making smart decisions. Getting the ball into receivers’ hands, let them be the athletes. Throw the little 6 or 7 yard pass and let them make big plays.”

While all pro offenses use pre-snap and post-snap reads, based on early comments from the players, there will be fewer reads in this offense. That should make it more likely that quarterback and receivers are on the same page, causing fewer mental mistakes that turn into turnovers for the opposition. In particular, receivers such as Randle and Jernigan, who were very inconsistent in the old Coughlin-Gilbride system, may perform much better with fewer reads.

Jernigan was asked if there were as many reads as under the old system, “Not at all. We’ve got a couple reads but we don’t have that many reads…you can go out and play faster and get the thing going and don’t have to think that much.”

“I’m liking (the new offense), it’s going to be pretty exciting,” said Randle on Thursday. “Coach McAdoo has done a great job putting us in positions to make plays and using our abilities…Everything is pretty much black and white, it’s simple. What you have is what you run. Just take a lot of things off our minds and go out there and play football and just use your ability to get open.”

“(There are) not as many reads,” continued Randle. “When you can go out there and maintain that focus on one specific thing it allows you to go out there and play a lot faster. That’s what we’re doing here. I think that’s going to be key for us pushing forward to make more plays… We just want to make sure we’re all on the same page.”

“(The new offense) frees me up a lot,” said Randle. “Just go out there and do what I do, just create separation and make plays. I had to really focus on reading than looking all over the field, just running routes. I think we’re all happy to be a part of that type of offense.”

Beckham, Jernigan, and Holliday are all particularly dangerous after the catch. Again, the learning curve will be an important factor. Beckham’s growth has been stymied somewhat by an early hamstring injury that caused him to miss most of the OTAs.

“It’s been tough to go from such an easier offense at LSU with the digit system and stuff like that and then going back to the concepts, which I was in my freshman year,” said Beckham. “It’s actually not that bad once you get into it and you break it down by formation and things like that. It’s really not that bad. It’s just a lot of memorization.”

While the West Coast Offense does place more emphasis on throws to the running backs and tight ends, one would think that Coach McAdoo is drawing up plays that would have Randle and Beckham outside with Cruz, Jernigan, and/or Holliday in the slot.

“(The offense is) a lot different but it goes back to some of the same concepts I had in college in the spread (offense) with Troy (University), so it’s going good, just learning different signals and stuff,” said Jernigan. “We used to go five-wide the whole time (at Troy University) so it’s back to what I’m really used to.”

“I think it’s an offense that fits my game and also spreads the ball out to everyone and gives everybody the chance to make plays,” said Jernigan. “Just get the ball to your playmakers and let them do the rest in open space against defenders.”

“(The spread offense) just allows you to use your playmakers instead of just going with your traditional two-wide set,” said Beckham. “You have four receivers on the field and you’re running routes and you’re all working with each other to get each other open. It definitely makes it a lot more fun for us.”

Jun 132014
 
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Odell Beckham, New York Giants (May 8, 2014)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

When reporters and media showed up for the Giants’ second Organized Team Activity two weeks ago, there was excitement in the air.

Sure, some of it was normal. The hype and anticipation of football was building and this year’s Giants were going to be seen on the field again, albeit without pads. But more importantly, rookie Odell Beckham Jr. would take the field in front of reporters for the first time after missing the initial OTA.

Was Beckham really as explosive as Jerry Reese proclaimed? Was he a deep threat? Did he have a firm grasp of the playbook?

All watched Beckham warmed up and then jogged over to positional coach Sean Ryan where he stood for the practice’s duration. When head coach Tom Coughlin spoke, he alerted all Beckham had tweaked his hamstring.

None should have been shocked.

It’s not that Beckham is injury prone, inherited the hamstrings of Miles Austin or came in unconditioned. It’s just he was a drafted by the New York Giants at a position that has been snake bitten with injuries.

Since 2006, the Giants have drafted a combined eight wide receivers between rounds one and three. Not one has escaped without suffering an injury in his first year.

Sinorice Moss (second round) injured his quadriceps. Steve Smith (second round) and Mario Manningham (third round) injured their hamstrings.

In 2009, the Giants selected Hakeem Nicks in the first round and Ramses Barden in the third. Neither avoided the injury report. Nicks hurt his foot and Barden missed time in camp with a barrage of injuries.

2011 third-round pick Jerrel Jernigan injured his hip and 2012 second-round pick Rueben Randle his hamstring. Even undrafted Victor Cruz was unable to escape the curse, landing on the injured reserve his rookie year.

When Beckham’s injury was announced, both Coughlin and Beckham himself gave conflicting reports. Coughlin said it could be a bit more than day-to-day, Beckham thought he’d be out on the practice field 24 hours later.

A week and three practices later, Beckham has still not seen the field.

“I don’t know it’s still in the training room,” Beckham said when asked a date he’d return. “I’m pretty sure next week I’ll be back up and running. Just looking forward to it and keep day-by-day progressing.

“I’m not really concerned. Just as long as you’re learning the playbook, when you get back where you’re used to being it will be more of a comfortable situation.”

While mental reps are one thing, the Giants need Beckham on the field. The LSU alum was considered as ‘pro ready’ as a rookie can be and expected to be plugged into the starting lineup. Ideally, New York wanted to feature a lineup with Beckham and Randle on the outside, with Cruz in the slot.

An early contribution from a rookie wide out would be a welcome change in East Rutherford. Aside from Hakeem Nicks, who finished his rookie season with 790 yards, no other receiver had more than Steve Smith’s 131 in 2012.

Unlike previous years, new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s offense seems to be easier to pick up by wide outs. Under former coordinator Kevin Gilbride, the position was required to read the defense the same way the quarterback did, making decisions on the fly.

When the system worked, the Giants had one of the best offenses in the NFL. When it didn’t, and the quarterback and receiver weren’t on the same page? Well, there were 16 games to display how that went last year.

But those reads are now gone. Rueben Randle believes that alone can lead to Beckham making an impact this season…as long as he can get on the field.

“I think he’s picking it up pretty well,” Randle said. “Even though he’s not practicing, he’s on the sideline listening to the plays and getting mental reps so he’s picking it up. He just has to get back out there.”

‘Get back out there.’ A task in New York many have found is easier said, than done.

Jun 062014
 
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Cooper Taylor (30), New York Giants (November 10, 2013)

Cooper Taylor returning a blocked punt for a TD – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The news broke and slowly but surely it made its way down the grapevine. Tweeted out by the team’s official account, the New York Giants had parted ways with safety Will Hill following his third failed drug test.

The move was met by both praise and criticism. For Cooper Taylor, it was a chance.

“You see an opportunity,” Taylor said. “The NFL, it’s a competition. It’s between me and everyone else other than Antrel (Rolle) and Stevie (Brown). Everybody else is fighting for their jobs to get on this roster.”

Following Hill’s release, Taylor was the immediate beneficiary. Last year’s fifth-round pick got an immediate jump up the depth chart. After taking nearly all reps with the third team, Taylor assumed Hill’s role opposite Quintin Demps with the 2’s.

Taylor says he’s faster than he was last year, bigger too. Following the culmination of last season, coaches advised Taylor to put on muscle, wanting him to be more of a “physical presence.” After playing 2013 at 226 pounds, he’s up to 232. The Richmond alum spent the majority of the offseason in the weight room.

At 6-4, 232-pounds, Taylor represents one of the ‘bigger’ safeties in the NFL, drawing comparisons to Seattle Seahawks big man Kam Chancellor. In his mind, Taylor believes his height give him an advantage guarding some of the league’s top tight ends.

“I’m not one of the smaller guys, I’m taller,” Taylor said. “I’m able to jump a little bit better with the guys that are 6-6, 6-7, those tight end guys that are running down the field.

“Being a little bit taller, bigger, than the normal size safety lets me be the type of defensive back to get matched up with those guys regularly.”

Hill’s release isn’t the first time Taylor has been given an opportunity because of an absence. Last year, Stevie Brown was lost for the season following an ACL tear, but Taylor was unable to capitalize after dealing with his own injury issues.

Taylor tweaked his hamstring early on and was hampered by the injury throughout the year, never capitalizing on his potential. The safety never showed what he could do on the field, partially because he was very rarely on it.

When asked about the difference for Taylor between year two from year one, defensive captain Antrel Rolle said bluntly, “Cooper didn’t play much last year.”

“I think being healthy is just the key especially at this level,” Taylor said. “If you’re playing out there hurt it’s hard to compete. It’s definitely something being healthy, and understanding the playbook, has helped out.”

The Giants hope Taylor can fill the role Hill once occupied. He has the size to match up with tight ends down the field, while also representing a physical presence in the box. If New York elects to go with a three-safety package, Taylor could be extremely useful in a Deon Grant-type position.

“He’s a much bigger human being right now,” coach Tom Coughlin said. “He’s worked hard in the offseason. He’s stronger, he’s bigger and he’s in his second go-around. He has an excellent opportunity to contribute in a lot of ways.”

Jun 062014
 
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Antrel Rolle and Trindon Holliday, New York Giants (June 5, 2014)

Antrel Rolle and Trindon Holliday – Photo by Connor Hughes

Antrel Rolle didn’t have an answer.

Standing in front of cameras, microphones and reporters following the culmination of yesterday’s Organized Team Activity, the Giants’ Pro-Bowl safety seemed stunned.

Not at the fact Jayron Hosley was suspended for four games, or at the fact Will Hill had just been cut. Heck, Rolle admitted he saw it coming. But what had the 31-year-old shocked was a simple three-letter question.

Why?

“It’s too easy to do right, than to keep doing wrong,” Rolle said.

For the better part of eight minutes, Rolle fielded questions without backing down or shying away from one. Whatever was thrown on the table, he answered with the same veracity and sincerity that had often times got him in trouble.

But today was different. The safety wasn’t looking to make headlines or light a fire under his teammates. Rolle was speaking from his heart on a situation few knew the true light of.

There was disappointment in his voice, embarrassment. Shock that what he had done for a decade others were not able to replicate. There was a sense that he was holding back, while also fully letting go. Hill was troubled, yes, but the Giants had done everything possible to help the situation. Still, it wasn’t enough.

When you heard the Will Hill news, it was probably disappointing.

“Will knew what situation he had put the Giants in, he kind of forced their hand,” Rolle said. “At that point in time you can’t really depend on Will to help us out and to really do anything for us if you’re suspended repeatedly. Season after season after season.”

With Will and Jayron (Hosley) coming back-to-back, do you feel like something needs to be said?

“No, I don’t feel anything needs to be said,” Rolle said. “Every individual has to be accountable for his own action. They’re both adults. They’re both men.”

The normally peppy and high-energy Rolle was anything but. There was something about the situation that seemed truly troubling. Throughout his entire career, Rolle had embodied the correct way for an athlete to carry himself.

During the offseason, Rolle lives in Miami. He goes out with friends to clubs in the area, has a good time and his personality often makes him the life of the party. Yet he knows when enough is enough. Not once has Rolle been suspended for any off-the-field antics.

“This is my 10th year and I’ve lived it,” Rolle said. “Not every guy is going to be like myself. I’m not going to be like every other guy.”

The same message with the same disappointed mannerisms was echoed when Tom Coughlin took his place in front of the media. There was nothing else the coach could have done. At the end of the day, both for Hosley and Hill, it comes down to the player maturing enough to know what’s right and what’s wrong.

“If this is your job and you’re willing to jeopardize your job for some other reason,” Coughlin said. “Then perhaps you don’t have your mind and priorities where they should be in the first place.”

Jun 022014
 
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Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin, New York Giants (February 5, 2012)

Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning have been linked at the hip ever since they both joined the New York Giants organization in 2004. It’s hard to believe but they now enter their 11th season with the team in 2014. Clearly time is running down on the tenure of the 67-year old coach and the 33-year old quarterback. But two questions persist: (1) how many more years will each remain with the team, and (2) will they each leave on good or bad terms?

While there were some highlights and two playoff appearances, Act I (2004-2006) of the Coughlin-Manning saga was not well received by audience members, which included fans, media, and even teammates. Coughlin was considered a rules-oriented tyrant who pushed his players too hard, a relic of a by-gone coaching era. Team leaders such as Michael Strahan, Jeremy Shockey, and Tiki Barber questioned his policies and tactics. Coughlin failed to recognize that being constantly rude to the media was not part of his job description. Most troubling, Coughlin’s teams had a nasty habit of starting strong and finishing weak. By the end of 2006, Coughlin’s act had seemingly worn thin with everyone. Barber may have saved Coughlin’s job at the end of the regular-season with a career- and franchise-high 234 rushing yards against the Redskins. Still, Coughlin was forced to dump both his offensive and defensive coordinators, and ownership’s voice of support after a second one-and-done playoff appearance seemed lukewarm at best.

After a couple of poor quarterback performances by Kurt Warner, Coughlin decided to use the final seven regular-season games of 2004 on the development of then-rookie Eli Manning. A somewhat promising 5-4 season quickly turned into a 6-10 disappointment with Eli looking absolutely dreadful at times. The low point came in Baltimore with Eli’s 0.0 quarterback rating performance. What made matters worse was that rookie Ben Roethlisberger, who would have been New York’s pick without the trade for Manning, was helping the Steelers to a 15-1 regular-season record and an AFC Championship Game appearance in his rookie season. With Manning entrenched as the full-time starter in 2005, the team won the NFC East with an 11-5 record, but Eli’s 113-yard, 3-interception performance against the Panthers in the first-round of the playoffs soured many. Support for Manning grew and waned with the Giants frustratingly-inconsistent 2006 season as a 6-2 start turned into a gut-wrenching 8-8 finish and another first-round playoff loss. Shockey demanded the ball more from Manning, and Barber – as we would later find out – considered his quarterback “comical.”

Act II (2007-2011) brought the house down as the New York Giants earned one Wild Card playoff spot, two NFC East Championships, two NFC Championships, and two NFL Championships. One-fourth of the team’s eight NFL titles came during this five-season span. During two of the most thrilling and unlikely playoff runs, the Giants knocked off  four #1 seeds and two #2 two seeds, vanquishing teams with records of 13-3, 14-3, 18-0, 15-1, 14-3, and 15-3 in the process.

During this team renaissance, Coughlin and Manning morphed into franchise legends. Coughlin softened his approach and trusted his players more, delegating more responsibility to a players’ council. By showing his more human side and allowing the players to have fun, the team began to understand and respect him more. Just as importantly, Coughlin and his staff out-worked and out-coached most of their opponents, including the great Bill Belichick (not once, but twice). Coughlin became the 13th head coach in NFL history to win two or more Super Bowl titles.

Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning, New York Giants (January 8, 2012)

Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Manning continued to putter along for much of 2007, with other low points coming with his 4-interception day against the Minnesota Vikings and his NFL-record 34 incompletions against the Washington Redskins. But some switch turned on inside Manning, starting with the regular-season finale against the Patriots, as Eli out-dueled Jeff Garcia, Tony Romo, Brett Favre, and Tom Brady in the 2007 playoffs. His performance in -23 degree wind chill at Lambeau Field may have been the best of his career and he followed that up with two 4th quarter touchdown drives against Bill Belichick’s defense, including combining with David Tyree on the greatest play in NFL history. 2008 and 2011 were both Pro Bowl seasons for Eli. In the latter, Manning practically single-handily willed a New York Giants team with a dreadful running game and defense into the playoffs with six 4th-quarter come-from-behind regular-season victories (plus two more in the post-season). Indeed, Manning has become somewhat of a master late-game heroics with twenty-five 4th-quarter comebacks. In the 2011 playoffs, Manning out-dueled Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Alex Smith, and Tom Brady again. The only players in the history of the NFL to win a Super Bowl MVP more than once are Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Tom Brady, and Eli Manning.

This brings us to Act III, the final act. If you are a pessimist, the final act began in 2012 and now the only question that remains is how soon will the curtain fall? If you are an optimist, 2012-2013 was an uncomfortable intermission and the Coughlin-Manning duo has one more run in them sometime in the next 4-5 years.

Despite being one of the top three coaches in team history, along with Steve Owen and Bill Parcells, Tom Coughlin once again finds himself on the hot seat. Playing in a weak division, the Giants have missed the playoffs four out of the last five seasons. Massive structural changes were made to the team in the 2014 offseason, adding 35 new players, tearing apart the offensive coaching staff, and converting the vertical passing offense to a hybrid West Coast Offense system. If you are being objective, you could make the argument that the window has already closed on a declining team, suffering from poor drafting, and undergoing a fairly substantial rebuild. Even if the arrow is pointing upwards again on this team, all this change may be too difficult to overcome in the short-term in 2014. The Giants will not be favored to make the playoffs this season. If they don’t, cries for Coughlin’s head will become louder and louder. It may not be fair, but it is the nature of sports culture in the United States.

Though he is not all to blame given the rapid drastic demise of the surrounding offensive talent, Eli Manning is coming off of his worst season as a full-time starter. Many expect him to dramatically rebound in 2014, but what if he doesn’t?  What if 2011 was the high point and Eli has lost that edge that all great athletes need? Or what if Eli has been now miscast into a West Coach offense, still lacking a viable left tackle and tight end? Manning will be entering his final contract year in 2015 with $17 million in base salary and an almost $20 million overall cap number. The current $133 million salary cap is expected to rise in 2015, but can the Giants dedicate one-seventh of the cap to a then 34-year old player who is not performing? It’s difficult to see the Giants cutting Eli Manning or allowing him to walk away in free agency after 2015, but it is not an impossible scenario.

Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning, New York Giants (February 7, 2012)

Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Ironically, the two faces of the franchise that arrived together in 2004, the two most important components of a team – coach and quarterback – may also end up leaving the franchise together at the same time over a decade later. It could be in 2015 or 2016. The media and the fans are fickle. Others still carry grudges and are simply lying in the weeds so they can eventually come out and say, “I told you so!” Only years after their departure will fans sit back and reminisce, “Remember the good old days with Coughlin and Manning?”

But the Coughlin-Manning era does not have to end on a negative note. What if there is one more magical run left in these two? One more opportunity to prove they are two of the very best in the game, perhaps both Hall of Famers, and arguably the best head coach and quarterback in franchise history? That run doesn’t have to come in 2014, but they have to do enough in 2014 to make sure that they both still have that opportunity with the New York Giants in 2015, 2016, or 2017.

True Blue New York Giants fans are hoping that Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning get one more opportunity to hold up the Vince Lombardi Trophy. That way, they can both leave on their own terms.

May 312014
 
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Stevie Brown (27), Antrel Rolle (26), New York Giants (August 4, 2013)

Stevie Brown and Antrel Rolle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

There’s one name that often gets omitted when the new faces that will be donning blue in 2014 are talked about.

There’s Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the high profile, prized free agent acquisition of General Manager Jerry Reese. Lining up next to him is Walter Thurmond III, a player whose talk seems to emulate that of a corner whom he shared Seattle’s secondary with. There’s Geoff Schwartz, J.D. Walton and draftee Odell Beckham Jr., too.

But one player has gone near unnoticed, sliding quietly back to the position he held two years ago.

“I know what I can do,” Stevie Brown said. “It’s just continuing to prove it.”

In 2012, Brown proved that not only did he have the potential to be a starting safety in the NFL, but a pretty good one at that. After signing with the Giants following two sub-par years in Oakland and Indianapolis, Brown broke out. Playing in all 16 games for the first time in his career, the former seventh-round pick recorded 76 tackles, two forced fumbles, two fumble recovers and tied for the league lead in interceptions with eight.

Brown was a key component in New York feeling comfortable letting former first-round pick Kenny Phillips walk in free agency, all but penciling the 26-year-old in opposite Antrel Rolle atop the depth chart.

Entering last season, Rolle and Brown began to talk, boasting claims the two had the potential to be the best safety tandem in the NFL, but versus the Jets in the third preseason game of the season, all that chatter was put on hold. Brown intercepted a Geno Smith that sailed high and behind intended target Kellen Winslow.

As he had done so many times the season before, Brown began to work his way up the field. The safety picked up 15 yards, attempted to cut at the 28 yard line, but immediately dropped to the ground without being touched.

“Just a routine play really. I was returning an interception and kind of hit the turf wrong,” Brown said. “It was one of those things where I thought I would just be able to walk off and then I noticed it was kind of burning a little big longer than normal.

“The doctor came out there and looked at me and told me, ‘Your ACL is probably torn.’ I just kind of looked at him and said, ‘Don’t tell me that.’”

An MRI the next day confirmed the doctor’s early prognosis. Brown had ruptured his ACL; his season was over.

Stevie Brown, New York Giants (August 24, 2013)

Stevie Brown – © USA TODAY Sports Images

“It was one of those things where I may have been down for about two days, but you can’t get better being down on yourself. ” Brown said. “I flipped it into getting back into rehab mode and getting back for this year.”

Despite knowing his contract expired following the conclusion of 2013, Brown continued to rehab and be a prominent figure around the Giants’ organization. He was with the team week in, and week out, feeling even more pain than the burning sensation in his knee knowing his team needed him, but he couldn’t help.

When the season concluded, and the Giants missed the playoffs for the second consecutive year, Brown was free to sign with any team he wanted. His agent fielded a few calls, tested the waters, but when a decision needed to be made, Brown had no hesitation in returning to the Giants.

“At the end of the day, this is where I wanted to be,” Brown said.

With Will Hill continuing to struggle with the words, “No thanks,” the decision is one that has the Giants’ front office doing cartwheels. The troubled safety, who filled in admirably when Brown went down, is facing a six-game suspension and his career with the Giants is in question. In three seasons, Hill has faced suspensions in each. This season marks his second consecutive following a positive test for marijuana.

While still early, Brown doesn’t appear to be limited and has stated he’s been a full participant in all aspects of practice. The Michigan alum is medically cleared and is moving well both in and out of breaks.

When the Giants took the field for the first on-field practices of their organized team activities, Brown was back next to Rolle taking the majority of the first-team reps. During the second practice, which was open to reporters, Brown lined up next to Rolle for all but two snaps.

“I didn’t really expect anything, but I knew that’s where I wanted to be,” Brown said. “I knew that I was going to work and wherever I fell on the depth chart is where I fell. Just keep going from there.

“Right now they have me next to ‘Trel so I’m staying next to ‘Trel.”

May 302014
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (May 29, 2014)

Eli Manning – Photo by Connor Hughes

Eli Manning exited the dual doors at the Quest Diagnostics Performance Center, stepped foot on the patio that overlooked the practice fields and began the short trip to the podium some 30 feet away.

There was no limp, no boot and no sign that the two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback had undergone ankle surgery seven weeks before, just a member from every major media outlet waiting for words to come out of his mouth.

“I’m excited to be back out there, learning the offense and getting going,” Manning said.

Having Manning’s presence on the field may have shocked everyone but himself. The sturdy and stable signal caller underwent the knife for the first time in his football career following a dismal display from those protecting him in 2013.

As injuries began to deplete the Giants’ offensive line, Eli began to hit the ground at a far more frequent basis. No longer could the quarterback sit in the pocket and wait for the likes of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz to get down the field, there simply wasn’t the time.

Manning was sacked a career-high 39 times, nine more than his previous high in 2009, but it wasn’t No. 40 that left a mark. On his second to last pass of the 2013 season, Manning felt pressure from Redskins defensive tackle Chris Baker.

The quarterback attempted to avoid the sack by throwing the ball away, but was brought down by Baker shortly after releasing the ball. His left ankle rolled underneath the defensive tackle’s 333-pound frame. Manning stayed in the ball game, throwing an interception on his next pass attempt, before limping off the field and to the locker room.

The 33-year-old opted not for surgery, but following the “Manning Passing Academy,” a camp for quarterback hopefuls he holds with brother Peyton, Manning went under the knife.

“I was still experiencing some discomfort as I began my normal offseason preparation, and after consultation, we felt the right thing was to have Dr. Anderson clean out the ankle,” Manning told The New York Times’ Ken Belson after the surgery.

Having never undergone surgery before, neither Manning, Giants’ coach Tom Coughlin or General Manager Jerry Reese knew how long it would take Manning to rehab. At a pre-draft press conference, Reese declared Manning “out for spring ball,” and that he’d “Be back when he gets back.”

But Manning remained more optimistic, knowing the six-to-seven week recovery timetable he was given put him ‘medically cleared’ for the first day of organized team activities (OTA).

“This was my goal, to be back by OTAs,” Manning said. “They said six weeks, so I kind of had it in my head that I should be ready. I knew early on after three weeks that I was feeling pretty good and could do a few things.”

Manning got a sense his goal could realistically be accomplished over the last four weeks. The former No. 1 overall pick began running and rolling out before taking a day or two off to gauge swelling and soreness.

“You try not to overdo it,” Manning said. “Not trying to have consecutive days where you’re doing a lot of pounding, a lot of jumping and landing on it.”

The initial decision to have surgery was based on the discomfort Manning felt during the “Manning Passing Academy.” Comparing how he felt then to how he feels now is night and day, solidifying in Manning’s mind the decision for surgery was the correct call.

“It feels a lot better,” Manning said. “In running and doing drills, I would notice it at times where, at this point, I didn’t notice it. I’m out there worried about football and not thinking one bit about my ankle.”

Yesterday’s practice was the second straight for Manning who said the coaching staff and trainers tested his ankle after it concluded for soreness. For the second day, Manning had no swelling or discomfort. The plan now is to avoid taking days off.

The more Manning is on the field, the more joy it fills his 67-year-old head coach. For the first time in six years, Manning is no longer running Kevin Gilbride’s offense. The long developing deep shots are gone, replaced by Ben McAdoo’s quick-hitting, fast-paced West Coast scheme.

Manning admitted having the new offense made him want to get on the field as soon as possible, and now that he’s there, he’s intrigued.

“We’re at the very early stages,” Manning said. “I like where we’re heading and the options that this offense gives the quarterback and the whole team to be successful.”

As for Coughlin, he’s just happy to see No. 10 lining up under center.

“It’s huge,” Coughlin said of having Manning on the field. “He can get the reps during the spring here and he will have the offense down by the time we break. Then come back and he’ll be comfortable with it.”

Big Blue Interactive was live and in person for yesterday’s OTAs, check out our complete recap here.

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Xavier Grimble, USC Trojans (November 3, 2012)

Xavier Grimble – © USA TODAY Sports Images

It’s a highlight that has long been shown to tight end hopefuls, and Xavier Grimble is no exception.

Phil Simms drops back and fires a pass over the middle to Mark Bavaro who proceeds to carry five defenders an additional 12 yards. It’s a play Grimble has watched over, and over, and over again.

“I always like to look at the guys who were great before and look at what they did,” Grimble said. “Mold yourself after that.”

If Grimble, who will wear No. 89, develops himself into anything that even slightly resembles Bavaro, New York may have struck gold in the undrafted 21-year-old out of USC.

“It’s kind of like you’re living your dream,” Grimble said. “Finally when you have the chance to actually go out and be a part of such a great organization, it just motivates you that much more to work harder.”

New York signed Grimble after the tight end went undrafted in the 2014 NFL Draft. Prior to the draft, some scouts viewed Grimble as a player with All-Pro potential.

With the tight end position wide open, it’s not too hard to fathom Grimble lining up for New York when the team opens the season versus Detroit. The Nevada native has the perfect size (6-5, 250 pounds) to be a prototypical tight end in the NFL and little competition. Adrien Robinson, Daniel Fells, Kellen Davis and Larry Donnell are the lone other occupants in the meeting room. The four combined for six receptions last year.

What Grimble lacks is experience. After being considered a four-star recruit by Rivals.com and the best tight end in the nation following his graduation from Bishop Gorman High School, that potential was never truly lived up to.

Xavier Grimble, USC Trojans (September 21, 2013)

Xavier Grimble – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Grimble was redshirted his freshman year before catching 15 passes for 144 yards and four scores in 2011, and 29 for 316 yards and five touchdowns in 2012. But last year, those numbers dropped. Grimble dealt with a nagging shoulder injury all year and managed just 25 receptions for 271 yards and two touchdowns.

Despite this, Grimble still declared for the NFL Draft.

“I made the decision completely by myself,” Grimble said. “I think it was a good decision.”

Entering the pre-draft process, Grimble was viewed as a player who could go as high as the third round, but saw that stock drop significantly at USC’s Pro Day. With scouts in attendance, Grimble ran a 4.98 and 5.02 in the 40-yard dash, jumped just a 30.5” vertical and 9’2” broad and bench-pressed 250 pounds only 16 times. He missed the NFL Scouting Combine with a calf strain.

“I didn’t have the greatest workout I wanted to have at USC,” Grimble said. “But my ultimate goal was always to play in the NFL and I had a shot so I’m about to take it.”

Grimble wasn’t drafted, but received phone calls from the San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins, Oakland Raiders and Atlanta Falcons. He chose the Giants due in part to the team’s eagerness to get in contact.

“They were the first team to call,” Grimble said. “I felt like they showed the most interest. I felt like they were genuine, the Giants are a great organization. I heard nothing but good things about it. It was kind of a no-brainer really.”

Grimble still believes he can live up to the All-Pro standards that were once commonly associated with his name.

“I have no doubt,” Grimble said. “If I put the time in, put the work in, you never know what the future holds. I’m going to work extremely hard. This is the NFL, this is the last shot so this is a great opportunity to try to attack that goal.

“That’s where I want to be, so hopefully the work takes me there.”

Giants.com Video of May 20, 2014 Media Q&A With Xavier Grimble

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Odell Beckham, LSU Tigers (January 1, 2014)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Odell Beckham Jr. remembers it ever so vividly.

He was there at Duke University, running routes for both Peyton and Eli at the “Manning Passing Academy,” the same as he had for many years. He remembers catching passes from Eli during his sophomore year when the two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback would visit Newman High School.

But this particular day stood out. He split out wide, ran a post route and prepared for the pass from Eli.

“Before I could look up the ball was in my hands,” Beckham said. “It was something I wasn’t used to.”

The Giants hope the connection becomes a bit more familiar to Beckham, especially after selecting him with the No. 12 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. The connection that once took place on high school and college practice fields will now be displayed to thousands on the turf at MetLife Stadium.

“The coach always tells me about how him and Peyton were deciding who gets to throw with me,” Beckham said. “Back then thinking that maybe I’ll get to play with one of the Mannings, and now here I am, it’s pretty surreal.”

Since being drafted, Beckham has rarely lifted his head up from his playbook. The wide receiver has spent his mornings, afternoons and nights looking to master every position. While both he and the Giants envision him split wide, Beckham wants to be prepared for anything.

“I kind of teach myself by learning one spot and then learning the whole play as well so you don’t have to just play one spot,” Beckham said. “You can get substituted in here or there.”

Ideally, New York prefers a lineup featuring Beckham and Rueben Randle split out wide, with Victor Cruz in the slot. The formation would put the Louisiana native on the field with his “big brother” and fellow LSU alum, Randle.

Randle and Beckham played one year together in college before Randle was drafted by the Giants in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft. In that season, the two combined for 94 receptions, 1,392 yards and 10 touchdowns.

“When I came to LSU he taught me the ropes there,” Beckham said. “He’s teaching me things here now. He may not be my personal tutor, but he’ll teach me what I need to know as far as the position that he plays and the opposite side as well.

“It’s definitely comforting to have a piece of home out here in my new home. Just hanging out with him and kind of rekindling our relationship as been fun.”

When Randle left LSU, Beckham continued to establish himself as a player with game-breaking capability in nearly ever facet of the game. In his senior year, the 21-year-old recorded 59 receptions for 1,152 yards and eight touchdowns. As a returner, Beckham averaged 26.4 yards per kick, and 8.9 per punt.

The impressive attributes led Giants’ General Manager Jerry Reese to gush over the wide out following his selection the NFL Draft.

“He’s a dynamic receiver, dynamic punt returner and a dynamic kickoff returner,” Reese said at a press conference. “You are getting a guy that can score touchdowns in three different ways for you. There’s no way we could pass that up.”

While all aspects of his game were highlights of his draft selection, during his first week in a Giants’ uniform only one has been mentioned. The coaching staff is content at the moment with Beckham strictly focusing on wide receiver, having addressed the return game in both Trindon Holliday and Quintin Demps.

“I talked to coach maybe about doing a little bit of punt return,” Beckham said. “But they’ve got Holliday and a few other guys who can do kick return and punt return as well. Right now that’s all up in the air.”

Whether it’s out wide, or back for a return, Beckham will stand there just 5’ 11” off the ground. Even with his short stature, he believes there is no reason he shouldn’t be considered a legitimate No. 1 in the league. The way Beckham sees it; others have already paved the way.

“There’s other guys in this league that are smaller than I am,” Beckham said. “Percy Harvin and I are about the same size, he may be a little faster, but (my height) is something I don’t think about.”

What Beckham does think about is the same thing his mind has been fixated on since he glided up on the stage at Radio City Music Hall and held up a blue jersey with “Beckham Jr.” inscribed on the back.

Getting back on the practice field with Eli.

Giants.com Video of May 20, 2014 Media Q&A With Odell Beckham

May 202014
 
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Adrien Robinson, New York Giants (July 27, 2013)

Adrien Robinson in July 2013 – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Time is running out. And Adrien Robinson knows it.

After being drafted in the fourth round and dubbed the “JPP of Tight Ends” by New York Giants’ General Manger Jerry Reese, Robinson has failed to live up to such lofty expectations. In fact, he’s failed to live up to just about anything at all.

His stat line reads: Preseason foot injury. One game played. One down played. One ACL sprain.

“I’m pretty frustrated,” Robinson said. “There’s nothing you can do about injuries, and that took up my entire second year.”

Now healthy, Robinson hopes this is finally his season. His chance to show the Giants something, anything, to prove he’s what they imagined he’d become three years ago.

“It’s basically time for me to show up or go home,” Robinson said. “That’s my mentality and how I’m looking at it.”

While Robinson wasn’t expected to make much of an impact his rookie year, last season he felt he was finally ready to make some noise on the field. But then came the preseason foot injury that kept him on the injury report into November. When Robinson was able to practice again, he was stuck behind free-agent acquisition Brandon Myers, veteran Bear Pascoe, and fellow second-year player Larry Donnell. He finally saw the field in Week 16, but immediately sprained his knee on the opening kickoff.

Now Myers is in Tampa Bay, Pascoe in Atlanta and for the first time in a long time, Robinson is healthy.

“I’m staying that extra day, watching the extra film, I’m on the elliptical every day trying to get my weight down more,” Robinson said. “I feel I’m more mature and more of a professional now.

“It’s like they laid the opportunity right in front of me. I just have to take it and make the most of it.”

It was long assumed this offseason would feature a few extra bodies being thrust into the tight ends’ meeting room, but few notable additions have been made. Larry Donnell returns, Daniel Fells and Kellen Davis were signed while Xavier Grimble was an undrafted rookie acquisition out of USC.

Discounting Grimble, who has yet to play a down in the NFL, the other three combined for six receptions, 63 yards and one touchdown in 2013. Fells caught four passes for 85 yards in 2012 for the Patriots.

The group hardly strikes fear into the eyes of opponents, something the Giants and new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo believe the position will be tasked with next season.

Shedding light for the first time on how the tight end position is expected to be utilized, Robinson said it will bare little similarities to the last few years. In the past, the “tight end” has been an extension of the offensive line, creeping into the flat every now and then as a security blanket for Eli Manning.

Now? Next to the offensive tackle will be just one of the many spots you’ll find the Giants’ tight end.

“We move around a lot more,” Robinson said. “We’re in the backfield, we’re running different routes. For me it will be more fitting for what I do. With this offense the tight end gets a lot more looks.”

The new responsibilities are why one of Robinson’s goals this year was to shed weight. In 2012, the 25-year-old played at roughly 285 pounds. He reported to the Giants offseason-conditioning program at 270 and plans to drop and additional five pounds.

“I can run around, I’m quicker on my routes, in and out of breaks,” Robinson said. “I think I’ll be good at 265. I can run more routes and I’m in better shape.”

Robinson said his weight last year was more on himself than one the Giants wanted him to play at. Maturing as a player and becoming a better “professional” were key motivating factors to drop the 15 extra pounds.

Maturity, being in better shape and a “clean slate” are all things Robinson hopes help him capture the starting tight end position for when the Giants. But the Indiana native also knows this may be it.

If Robinson can’t display the play-making ability the Giants thought he possessed back in 2012, he may meet the same fate as 2011 second-round choice Marvin Austin.

After two injury-riddled seasons that displayed little promise, the Giants cut the defensive tackle prior to the start of last year. Robinson is entering the same training camp that Austin did when his Giants’ career came to an end.

“It’s a huge opportunity that they didn’t draft anybody or bring in any big-name free agents,” Robinson said. “It’s a huge opportunity for me and I have to take advantage.

“It’s my third year. My weight is down, I’ve got a new offensive coordinator, a new tight end coach, and everything is fresh. It’s like a clean slate. I’m ready to go.”

Giants.com Video: May 20, 2014 Media Q&A with TE Adrien Robinson