Sep 102014
 
Share Button
Odell Beckham, New York Giants (August 9, 2014)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Things weren’t pretty Monday night in Detroit as the New York Giants kicked off their season.

Not on defense, where Calvin Johnson torched New York’s rebuilt secondary. Not on special teams, where the unit allowed a block punt and punter Steve Weatherford tore ligaments in his ankle. And certainly not on offense where, well, just about everything went wrong.

Giants quarterback Eli Manning was under constant pressure and Detroit’s defensive line clogged up any running lanes resulting in little success from the running game. But what may have been the most alarming factor was the lack of playmakers taking the field for the Giants.

Rueben Randle, Victor Cruz and Jerrel Jernigan were complete non factors as Manning was forced to turn to tight end Larry Donnell and Rashad Jennings out of the backfield. The receivers created little, if any, separation. When they did get separation, the group struggled catching the ball.

During the NFL Draft, the Giants elected to forego drafting an offensive lineman in order to add to the above receiving corp. With the No. 12 pick in the draft, the Giants selected LSU receiver Odell Beckahm Jr. The hope was that Beckham would occupy the outsider receiver, position along with Randle, so that Cruz – who general manager Jerry Reese admitted “can’t” play outside – could play in the slot.

With former first-round pick Hakeem Nicks gone, New York needed Beckham to have a near immediate impact. They needed him to be a playmaker.

A nagging hamstring injury has kept Beckham off of the field and left the Giants offense searching for answers. As Manning and Co. continue to struggle, the need for Beckham to get back on the field seems as important as ever.

But is it realistic to believe Beckham can truly change the fortunes of the Giants offense? Can the rookie really turn around a unit that looks to be one of the league’s worst?

History certainly doesn’t stand in New York’s favor.

Since the year 2000, a total of 55 wide receivers have been selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. The success each has seen? Staggeringly little.

Of all NFL receivers selected in the first round, the group has average 37 receptions, 519 yards and three touchdowns each season. Of receivers selected with the No. 12 overall pick (the selection spot of Odell Beckham) or higher, the average jumps slightly to 40 receptions for 554 yards and four scores.

While the numbers seems surprisingly low, there are a few exceptions. The following are players who have exceeded the above-average numbers and put together impressive numbers their first year in the league:

PLAYER NAME, TEAM, STATISTICS:
2003: Andre Johnson, Houston, 66-976-4
2004: Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona, 58-789-8
2004: Roy Williams, Detroit, 54-817-8
2004: Lee Evans, Buffalo, 48-843-9
2004: Michael Clayton, Tampa Bay, 80-1193-7
2006: Santonio Holmes, Pittsburgh, 49-824-1
2007: Calvin Johnson, Detroit, 48-756-4
2007: Dwayne Bowe, 70-995-5
2011: AJ Green, Cincinnati, 65-1056-7
2011: Julio Jones, Atlanta, 54-959-8
2012: Justin Blackmon, Jacksonville, 64-865-5

Jerrel Jernigan was selected by the Giants in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft and went through the same learning curve as many other NFL rookies. His first year in the league, Jernigan struggled to find success on the field and didn’t appear in a game until his second season in the NFL.

“All the defensive backs are talented,” Jernigan said. “They’re all fast and all of them looked at the quarterback. In college, a lot of defensive backs will focus just on their man. Here, they look at the quarterback and their drop to know if you’re going to be running an intermediate route or deep route.

“You need to get used to the coverages, route running and getting the details to get that. Defensive backs here can read what you’re doing a lot better than college players.”

YEAR20002001200220032004200520062007
WRs SELECTED56337616
AVG RECEPTIONS3228344140324935
AVG YARDS395387479552597431824490
AVG TOUCHDOWNS32435213
YEAR200820092010201120122013
WRs SELECTEDNONE62343
AVG RECEPTIONSN/A4434474346
AVG YARDSN/A634422757573561
AVG TDsN/A44533

When the Giants selected Beckham, he was considered about as ‘Pro Ready’ as a rookie can be, but can he truly be the Giants offensive savior? Can the team really rely on an immediate impact from a rookie playing a position that has seen little instant success?

New York has rarely gone with a receiver in the first round. In fact, Beckham is just the fifth receiver taken in the first round by the Giants since 1975. Mark Ingram (87), Thomas Lewis (94), Ike Hilliard (97) and Nicks (09) were also selected in the first round.

Of the group, Nicks had the most success his first year. The UNC alum caught 47 passes for 790 yards and six touchdowns in 14 games.

But will Beckham follow the same path as Nicks and see early success in his career? The Giants certainly hope so, but it’s a gamble. For every Nicks-like performance, there are three Ashley Lelies and Donte Stallworths.

It’s a risk, and history certainly isn’t in New York’s favor.

Sep 092014
 
Share Button
Victor Cruz, New York Giants (September 8, 2014)

Victor Cruz – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Victor Cruz isn’t blind.

Nor is he oblivious, ignorant or impervious to what the New York Giants displayed on the field Monday night. He knows it wasn’t good, heck, he knows it was downright ugly.

What Cruz, like so many others are, is shocked. Because he, like so many others, never expected the same issues that had plagued the offense the first week of learning Ben McAdoo’s West Coast offense to still be affecting the team now.

Detroit dismantles Giants dismal offense, 35-24
Quick hits and tidbits, Giants fall to Detroit in season opener

“I did think those problems would be over and we would be able to get into a rhythm,” Cruz said. “Mainly because we were playing a full four quarters. We were playing more than we had in the preseason.”

One quarter or four, it didn’t matter. Nationally televised for the world to see was exactly what the Giants had done in their previous five preseason games. There was no time for quarterback Eli Manning to throw. There was little separation created by the receivers. And, just like under previous coordinator Kevin Gilbride, there were interceptions due to miscommunication between Manning and his intended target.

Cruz caught just two passes for 24 yards on five targets. If the Giants offense is to turn things around, Cruz doesn’t think coaches need to look far for a solution.

Taking a chapter out of Keyshawn Johnson’s playbook, Cruz wants to be thrown the ball.

“There needs to be an increased number of targets in my direction and other play-makers’ directions,” Cruz said. “That all comes with the continuity. That comes with getting the running game going. That comes with building what we want to build as the game continues.”

Rueben Randle, New York Giants (September 8, 2014)

Rueben Randle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Despite the Detroit Lions secondary being ravaged by injury, the Giants were unable to take advantage, especially Cruz’s receiving counterpart, Rueben Randle. Playing his first game in an offense that was supposed to benefit the former second-round pick, Randle was as big of a non-factor as a team can have. There was no more excuse of the complexity of ‘reading the defense’ like in the previous offense.

Randle simply didn’t get separation. Manning went his way three times. The result? Two catches for one yard. Jerrel Jernigan was targeted seven times, Rashad Jennings five and Larry Donnell eight.

“I think it was just the way the game unfolded,” Cruz said. “I don’t think it was anything deliberate or [Eli] wasn’t looking his way. I just think it was the way the coverages panned out, and there were a lot of the plays we were calling that were being shifted over to JJ’s side.”

This coming Sunday, Randle, Cruz and Manning will look to establish something, anything, against an Arizona Cardinals defense flying high following a season-opening win against the San Diego Chargers.

The Cardinal defense held Philip Rivers and Co. to 290 yards of offense and just 238 pass yards. Rivers completed 21-of-36 passes and threw one interception. On the ground, Arizona allowed just 52 yards in a 18-17 victory.

It’s hardly a cake walk for the Giants in the team’s home opener, but Cruz believes another tough opponent is exactly what New York needs.

“I am excited to see how we respond,” Cruz said, “just get back on the field and shake off this game one and get on the field and run some routes and begin to feel good about ourselves

“We want to get back out there and be focused and get our confidence back and be able to run some routes again and catch the ball and see football again”

Sep 062014
 
Share Button
Weston Richburg, New York Giants (July 22, 2014)

Weston Richburg – © USA TODAY Sports Images

It didn’t matter what team called his name during the 2014 NFL Draft in May, the goal was always the same for Weston Richburg.

Come the first game of the season, he wanted to step on the field with the starters.

When he picked up his phone during the second round of the draft and heard Giants coach Tom Coughlin’s voice, nothing changed. Richburg knew the Giants had just signed J.D. Walton and Geoff Schwartz. He knew Chris Snee was looking to make a comeback.

It just didn’t matter. He wanted to start.

“I had that picture in my mind,” Richburg said.

The Giants are now two days away from kicking off their season on Monday Night Football. When the offense takes Ford Field in prime time, Richburg will be lining up next to Walton with the ones.

“It’s a heck of a beginning to an NFL career,” Richburg said. “I’m very excited about it and wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s just a great way to start it.”

Going up against one of the best defensive tackles in the game? Well, that just makes it even better.

Not only will Monday be Richburg’s first career start, but he’ll also be matched up against Detroit Lions defensive tackle and former first-round pick Ndamukong Suh.

Suh, 27, has a resume that’s already chock-full of awards and accolades in his short four-year NFL career. In 2010, Suh’s first season in the NFL, the 6-4, 307-pound tackle won Rookie of the Year honors and earned the first of his three Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors.

Throughout his career, Suh has recorded 27.5 sacks, 186 tackles and two forced fumbles while terrorizing opponent’s interior offensive linemen with his rare combination of size, speed and strength.

In his two previous meetings with the Giants, Suh has recorded five tackles and 1.5 sacks.

Richburg has spent countless hours in the film room watching tape on Suh. He’s taken note of his moves, and how he gets an edge on those he faces. The biggest observation the rookie’s made? Suh has impeccable timing jumping the count.

“He catches a lot of guys off guard,” Richburg said. “You can mix up the snap count a little to counter as an offense, but as a guard, that’s your advantage. You know the snap count.

“If we’re going to a silent count, it makes that a little more difficult, but you need to be able to anticipate it as well as you can and be able to fire off right when the ball is snapped so you can negate his perfect timing.”

Playing the Lions in Detroit, quarterback Eli Manning and the rest of the Giants offense will almost certainly have to turn to the silent count, and even if Richburg is able to get the initial step on Suh, he still needs to contain him.

At the NFL Scouting Combine in 2010, Suh bench-pressed 250 pounds 32 times. Richburg wasn’t too shabby, either, putting the same weight up 26 times. But Suh has played 63 regular season games in the NFL, Richburg five preseason games.

“He’s big and strong,” Richburg said,” I’m gonna have to buckle up, strap the cleats on a little tighter and just try to drive him off the ball.”

Sep 042014
 
Share Button
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, New York Giants (August 22, 2014)

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – © USA TODAY Sports Images

There’s no doubt in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie’s mind on who’s the best wide receiver in the NFL. There’s also no hesitation in his voice when asked if that receiver is Lions wideout Calvin Johnson.

“No question,” Rodgers-Cromartie said.

So the fact that Rodgers-Cromartie, New York’s prized free-agent acquisition that signed a mega five-year deal this offseason, is playing Detroit’s ‘Megatron,’ has to hype the corner up. This game, under the lights of Monday Night football, has to mean a little more, yes?

“No,” Rodgers-Cromartie said.

No, really, it has to. Johnson is a record-breaking, All-Pro and Pro Bowl pass catcher.

“Gotta look at him as just another guy,” Rodgers-Cromartie said while shaking his head. “It’s just another game.”

On Monday night in Detroit, Rodgers-Cromartie will look to change his nickname from ‘DRC’ to ‘Optimus Prime’ in an attempt to contain Johnson. A task few defensive backs have been able to accomplish ever since Johnson entered the league in 2007.

During his eight-year NFL Career, Johnson has caught 572 passes for 9,328 yards and 66 touchdowns. Last year, he caught 84 passes for 1,492 yards and 12 scores in just 14 games.

Two years ago? It was a record-breaking 1,964 receiving yards.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Denver Broncos (September 15, 2013)

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Rodgers-Cromartie has had his fair share of battles against Johnson during his seven-year career. The cornerback and receiver have gone up one-on-one during Rodgers-Cromartie’s stints in Philadelphia and Arizona.

“You see guys with his body, but the difference is he has the speed to beat you down the field,” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “He has the big hands to go up and get the ball. With a guy like that, you have to play physical.

“You gotta go up there, put your hand son him and disrupt him as much as you can.”

While Rodgers-Cromartie will undoubtedly face Johnson at some point Monday night, it won’t be every play. After Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Rodgers-Cromartie would follow an opponent’s top target all over the field prior to the start of training camp, it appears as if there’s been a change of heart.

In a 23-20 overtime victory over the Lions last year, the Giants kept with their same cornerback approach, leaving one player on the left side, and one on the right. The technique worked. While Johnson wasn’t 100 percent, the Giants still contained him, limiting the receiver to four receptions for 43 yards. So, come Monday night, it’ll be Rodgers-Cromartie on one side, and Prince Amukamara on the other.

Johnson knows this, and appears ready for whomever he has to face.

“Both (Amukamara and Rodgers-Cromartie) have pretty good ball skills,” Johnson said in a conference call. “Cromartie is a very shifty guy, a very long guy. Prince likes to get his hands on you, it seems like, early in the play.”

Sep 042014
 
Share Button
Ryan Nassib (9), Eli Manning (10), Ben McAdoo, New York Giants (May 29, 2014)

Ryan Nassib, Eli Manning, and Ben McAdoo – Photo by Connor Hughes

It’s been awhile, but Tom Coughlin still remembers what it was like to call plays.

To stand on the sideline and play the game of chess versus the opponent’s defensive coordinator, working tirelessly to find the perfect play on that laminated sheet to counter a play you’re not certain the defense will run.

Just as much as any of that, Coughlin remembers what it was like if anybody tried to walk up to him during a game and offer advice in the middle of drives drives.

“I’ll be honest with you,” Coughlin said. “I never liked anybody interrupting me.”

It’s that reason why Coughlin will let new Giants offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo do his thing Monday night in Detroit. If the first-year play caller needs help, Coughlin will offer, but for the most part, McAdoo will be left alone.

“Ben McAdoo is a solid, solid football coach that knows what he is talking about,” Coughlin said. “He has an excellent system, applies himself every day and is very smart.”

Ben McAdoo, New York Giants (June 18, 2014)

Ben McAdoo – © USA TODAY Sports Images

For the first time in over a decade, the Giants will open the season with a far different offensive scheme than the one that helped the team capture two Vince Lombardi trophies within the last eight years.

Gone is Kevin Gilbride’s long-developing, read-the-defense, vertical passing attack. In it’s place, McAdoo’s quick-hitting West Coast scheme.

The offense is designed to get the receivers the ball in space, move the pocket and have quarterback Eli Manning put the ball into tight windows. No longer are there many seven-step drops. Instead, three-to-five before Manning is supposed to hit his back foot and fire away.

During the Giants five preseason games, the offense has displayed glimpses of what the offense can do when clicking on all cylinders. There was a long two-minute drive versus the New York Jets in the third preseason game, a 73-yard touchdown run by Rashad Jennings versus the Pittsburgh Steelers. But in between each solid play were four-to-five negative ones.

Three-and-outs, sacks, rushed throws and miscommunications marred the Giants preseason. Fans and critics went running for the George Washington bridge, Coughlin, Manning and McAdoo for answers.

“Well, we are a work in progress, no doubt about it,” Coughlin said. “We have done some good things and we have done some bad things.”

Come Monday night versus the Lions, Coughlin hopes it much more good than bad.

Tom Coughlin and Ben McAdoo, New York Giants (August 28, 2014)

Tom Coughlin and Ben McAdoo – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Standing in the way of a New York offensive showcase? A talented Detroit defense led by standout defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Keeping Suh off Manning?

An injury-depleted offensive line with far more question marks than answers.

“Obviously, it’s a big challenge,” Coughlin said. “They’re an outstanding defensive team and an outstanding defensive front with exceptional players. That having been said, we’re well aware of that.

“We’re preparing ourselves the best we can and I’m sure that our players will get ready and will be highly competitive.”

Aug 242014
 
Share Button
Weston Richburg, New York Giants (July 22, 2014)

Weston Richburg – © USA TODAY Sports Images

There was little hesitation from Weston Richburg. Actually, there was none at all. He spit out his answer before the question was done being asked.

Are you where you want to be in your develop….

“Oh, no,” Richburg said.

Initially, there was some confusion. This was, after all, the Giants new starting left guard. The team’s pro-ready second-round pick who was expected to compete for a starting position before being thrust into one due to injury. How could he not be where he wanted to be?

But the puzzled look on those staring back at Richburg quickly changed. No, he’s not where he wants to be right now, and there’s a simple reason for that.

“If you are content with how you are playing, I think you’re cheating yourself,” Richburg continued. “I always want to get better. “

With the injury to Geoff Schwartz, Richburg will have to progress a bit quicker than originally anticipated.

Versus the New York Jets on Friday, Schwartz, who signed a four-year contract with the Giants this offseason, suffered a dislocated toe in the second quarter. Schwartz will have his foot examined by foot specialist Dr. Rob Anderson early in the week to determine the severity of the injury.

Schwartz could be out months, Schwartz could be out the season. Either way, Richburg has gone from fighting for a starting position to holding one. For as long as Schwartz is on the sideline, Richburg will be in the huddle.

“As an offensive lineman, you have to be ready for something like that,” Richburg said. “We don’t rotate as much as some other positions do, so you have to be ready for any kind of injury or anything like that happens. I was ready for whatever came at me.”

Through training camp, the versatile Richburg has been juggling the task of not only learning his first NFL playbook, but three separate positions. The 23-year old has seen time at left guard, right guard and center during practices and the preseason.

Richburg has acknowledged he feels his game is making strides as he gets more comfortable with Ben McAdoo’s scheme and used to facing pro-level defensive lineman, but there’s one part of his game he feels he’s doing the best.

It’s not run blocking or pass blocking, nor is it any specific pancake block. It’s simple, really, Richburg loves the fact he’s able to forget.

“If I make a mistake, I’m able to clap it off and then go on to the next play,” Richburg said. “I think that’s something that sometimes can hurt players. It carries on play by play.

“I think I’m doing a good job of forgetting about it and just playing fast and continuing.”

Aug 202014
 
Share Button
Geoff Schwartz, Kansas City Chiefs (August 24, 2013)

Geoff Schwartz was the Giants big signing in 2014 – © USA TODAY Sports Images

With New York Giants backup left tackles Charles Brown and James Brewer nursing injuries, the team has been rolling the dice on several different offensive line combinations.

After all, if anything happened to left tackle Will Beatty, quarterback Eli Manning’s blind site probably shouldn’t be protected by Mark Asper.

This week at practice saw Justin Pugh get reps at left tackle and Brandon Mosley at right. Weston Richburg lined up at left guard and right. Then, there was Geoff Schwartz who, for first the first time all camp, slid over to the right tackle position during Wednesday afternoon’s practice.

Schwartz – the Giants free-agent acquisition from Kansas City who signed a four-year, $16.8 million contract this offseason – had been working entirely at left guard during camp.

“It doesn’t matter to me, I’m comfortable at a lot of different positions,” Schwartz said. “Luckily I have that versatility.

“I started 11 games at right tackle in my career and played pretty much an entire game there last year. I played right tackle at college and I was drafted as a right tackle.”

Originally drafted in the seventh round of the 2008 NFL Draft, Schwartz said his transition to guard came almost by accident. In his first season with the Carolina Panthers, struggles across the offensive line led to a shakeup up front. A positional coach turned to a rookie Schwartz and told him to move over one spot. He’s been at guard ever since.

The 28-year old says the biggest adjustment he had to make was going from facing defensive tackles, to defensive ends. When at tackle, Schwartz doesn’t have the advantage of having a player to both his right and left.

“You have those speed rushers that you don’t have at guard,” Schwartz said. “You are more on an island and really have to focus in on pass rushers because you don’t have the help you have guard.”

With Beatty still rehabbing from a fractured leg suffered in the final game of the regular season, Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Beatty will be limited to 20 snaps in the team’s preseason matchup with the New York Jets on Friday. All other starters will play close to 30. That leaves 10 snaps where the new-look offensive line may get some playing time together.

No matter who lines up in front of Manning, Schwartz knows it is imperative the team establish some form of offense versus the Jets. In New York’s last two games, the offense has struggled immensely moving the football and establishing any kind of rhythm. Manning has completed 1-of-9 passes for six yards in the two outings.

“We gotta score points,” Schwartz said. “We need to end drives with touchdowns and we need to show all the progress we’ve made on our offense. This is the week to do it and there really is no other way to put it. We need to get it done this week.”

Aug 182014
 
Share Button
Nat Berhe, San Diego State Aztecs (December 20, 2012)

Nat Berhe – © USA TODAY Sports Images

It didn’t take long for the quote to make its way down the grapevine and to Giants rookie safety Nat Berhe.

Speaking to the media earlier this month, safeties coach David Merritt was discussing the list of players who had impressed him during the preseason opener versus Buffalo. Eventually, he got to Berhe.

“The Missile,” Merritt said. “That’s going to be his new nickname because he is going to go in there like a missile.”

Sure enough, the coach’s words were near immediately presented to Berhe. His response?

“Who’s ‘The Missile,’” Berhe said with a laugh.

Since having the name all but written across his back, Berhe has done his best to hit just about anything that moves during practice and at games. On his first NFL snap, the 6-0, 194-pound Berhe ran headfirst into an offensive tackle, bounced off and then pursued the running back.

Nat Berhe, New York Giants (May 20, 2014)

Nat Berhe – Photo by Connor Hughes

The way he sees it, that’s how he’s always played football. He’s never thought much, he’s just gone out and done it. If anything ever needed to be done on the team, Berhe was normally the one to do it. That hasn’t changed now that he’s reached the NFL.

“Whatever the team needs me to do I’m going to do it,” Berhe said. “If that means playing fullback on punt, or running down on the kickoff. I’m willing to do it all.”

In his first three preseason games, Berhe has recorded seven combined tackles and frequently found himself around the ball. Still, there are aspects of his game that he admits he’s still working on.

During his time at San Diego State, playing the run was more of a “see ball, get ball” assignment. Now, Berhe is realizing who to match up with and when to match up with them. It’s no longer just about running to the ball, it’s about playing in gaps.

It’s all a learning curve for the 23-year old. The question now is how quick before it all clicks. Following Cooper Taylor’s injury versus the Indianapolis Colts, the Giants may need Berhe far sooner than originally anticipated.

This past Saturday, Taylor was carted off the field with a foot injury. Speaking to the media the following day, Giants coach Tom Coughlin said the team should expect to be without last year’s fifth-round pick for some time.

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

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

Berhe heard the news on Taylor, a player who has been helping the rookie in his transition to the pros, and realized there was now an opportunity. Taylor had been working as the Giants second-team safety alongside Quintin Demps and behind starters Antrel Rolle and Stevie Brown.

Theoretically, Berhe should now slide in next to Demps.

Demps, Rolle and Brown have all been players Berhe has been watching extensively whenever he gets the chance. Be it on the field, in the film room or how the group conducts themselves at meetings.

The way Berhe see it, each player has something they do exceptionally well, or, in his words, their “super powers.”

“Antrel is the ‘masked magician,’” Berhe said. “He’ll come down and show man, then get out and play cover two and you’re like, ‘Damn, how did he do that before the snap?’ Then you at Stevie and he’s just the master of the post. He can identify a route combination so quickly.

“Then there’s Q, he’s the all-around guy who can kind of play both. You take a little bit form each of them and try to add it to your game.”

So where does Berhe fit into the equation?

“I like to bring the boom,” he said.

Aug 172014
 
Share Button
Zak DeOssie, New York Giants (December 30, 2012)

Zak DeOssie – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Every time Zak DeOssie steps onto the New York Giants’ practice field at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center, the 30-year-old long snapper dresses in full pads.

It doesn’t matter if his teammates are in shorts, shells, half pads or full themselves, DeOssie is dressed the exact same way he does on game day. From his helmet, to his shoulder pads and down to his cleats, there’s no difference between Sunday DeOssie and Monday-through-Saturday Zak.

Why?

“Why not?” DeOssie said. “I never snap without them.”

It’s that attention to detail that has made DeOssie one of the NFL’s best at one of the game’s least-decorated positions. It’s that same attention to detail that had him voted the Giants’ special teams captain the last two seasons. It’s that same attention to detail that has kept DeOssie in East Rutherford for the last eight years.

He’s not glamorous and he doesn’t want to be. He doesn’t need to hear his named called, see it in lights or plastered across billboards. His job is simple:

“I throw strikes,” DeOssie said.

Something he never thought he’d be doing when he entered the league out of Brown University in 2007.

A NATURAL ABILITY

Sports have always been a big part of DeOssie’s life. In high school at Phillips Academy Andover in Massachusetts, DeOssie was a three-sport athlete, staring on the baseball diamond, basketball court and football field.

While he loved every sport he played in, there was one that held a place in his heart above any other: Football. DeOssie was his team’s starting quarterback and a good one at that. He was voted to the ‘All-New England’ prep team and dazzled fans with his play under the Friday night lights.

Zak DeOssie, New York Giants (August 18, 2013)

Zak DeOssie – © USA TODAY Sports Images

But it wasn’t until a practice his senior year that DeOssie realized he wasn’t just able to throw the ball down the field, but he was pretty good throwing it between his legs, too.

After an injury forced the team’s long snapper to miss extended time, Phillips Academy coach Leon Modeste made a call to one of his player’s parents who had just a little bit of experience in the area. Steve DeOssie, Zak’s dad, who had played both linebacker and long snapper in the NFL for over a decade, came to practice to teach some the team’s players how to snap.

“I was basically just giving some of his teammates and players a few pointers,” Steve DeOssie said. “Next thing I know (Zak) walks over to the group and starts paying attention to everything that’s going on.”

Recalling the moment, Steve DeOssie chuckled thinking of the skinny-legged DeOssie lining up to practice a snap. Zak DeOssie took his stance, spread his legs and then sent the ball flying between his legs 12 yards back with near-perfect accuracy.

It was the first time in his life he’d ever tried to long snap a ball. After a few reps, DeOssie said goodbye to his dad and ran back to the quarterbacks group.

It didn’t matter how good or natural he was because he’d never do it in a game. DeOssie was his team’s punter, too.

A LOST LOVE

When DeOssie committed to Brown University, he gave up his days as a signal caller and turned his attention to bringing opponents down. The physicality and violent nature of being a linebacker was something DeOssie loved.

In his four seasons at Brown, DeOssie started 29 of 36 games. He recorded 315 tackles, 10.5 sacks, forced five fumbles and intercepted four passes. He was voted first-team All-Ivy League three times, was a third-team All-American and a Buchanan Award finalist twice.

He snapped a little his senior year, but he was primarily a linebacker. That’s how he viewed himself. NFL scouts, too. Those that watched DeOssie play loved his 6-4, 249-pound size. He was physical, a natural leader and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds.

When the NFL Draft came, DeOssie heard his named called by a familiar team. The New York Giants, the same team that his dad had played for from 1989-1993, selected DeOssie with in the fourth round. There was only one person in the world who was happier than DeOssie when his name flashed across the bottom of his television set.

“When he got drafted by the Giants, I was so happy for him,” Steve DeOssie said. “He was going somewhere that I knew was as good an organization as there was in the NFL.”

During DeOssie’s first two seasons with the Giants, he primarily saw action on special teams while also working spot duty as a long snapper. When Giants’ veteran Ryan Kuehl was injured in 2007, DeOssie took over as the punt snapper.

But his goal was always the same, he wanted to be an NFL linebacker. That was until a back injury turned his world upside down.

Following the 2008 season, DeOssie had a mico-discectomy on his back in order to help heal a herniated disc. Following the surgery, the Giants approached DeOssie with the team’s doctors and told him he could still play linebacker, but his career wouldn’t last nearly as long.

While DeOssie hadn’t seen any first-team reps at linebacker, he was progressing. Defensively, the game was slowing down and he felt he was making strides. He didn’t know what to do, so he called his dad.

“For a young man to give up his dream, it wasn’t a cut-and-dry situation,” Steve DeOssie said. “We talked about it a lot. He would talk, I would listen and the more he started talking the more he started to realize there’s more than one way to help a team win a game. “

The next season, Jay Alford tore his knee and DeOssie took over as the team’s field goal snapper as well.

“That’s when I said bye to linebacker and hello to long snapper full time,” DeOssie said.

A CHAMPIONSHIP SHARED

When DeOssie and the rest of his teammates were given their championship rings for their Super Bowl victories in 2007 and 2011, it added the second and third rings to the DeOssie family.

Steve DeOssie was a linebacker and long snapper for the Giants’ Super Bowl victory over the Buffalo Bills in 1990. When asked about the accomplishment and the fact both he and his son share rings from championships with the same team, Steve DeOssie’s voice immediately changed.

Zak DeOssie, New York Giants (February 5, 2012)

Zak DeOssie – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Steve talked about the times he and his son participate in charitable events together. Be it signings or just appearances, there will be several times throughout where both make eye contact. Nothing is said, but the two share a moment unlike many others.

“We’ll just catch a glance between each other and it’s just like… yeah,” Steve DeOssie said. “One of those inside moments where there’s just a smile or look and it’s almost unimaginable where you don’t know how to express it to somebody.”

A FAMILY MAN

Growing up in Massachusetts, DeOssie’s relationship with his dad wasn’t exactly what many would expect. Football was one of the least talked about topics in the DeOssie household.

When Zak DeOssie began playing pee-wee football, Steve DeOssie stayed back. He wasn’t the coach, wasn’t telling coaches his son should play or teaching fundamentals at the dinner table each night.

The way Steve DeOssie saw it, wherever path Zak’s life took him was fine with him. He didn’t care about Zak DeOssie’s sack total, just his grades.

“If his grades in high school started to sink,” Steve DeOssie said, “The first thing he’d have to give up was sports.”

When Steve DeOssie showed up to help Zak’s high school team learn to long snap, the dad recalls that as the first time he ever shared a field with his son. Now that Zak is a dad of his own – he and his wife Kate welcomed their first son three months ago – he plans to raise his child the same way.

“I’m gonna teach him whatever he wants to learn, just like my old man did,” DeOssie said. “He let me figure it out on my own and guided me along the way.”

Aug 142014
 
Share Button
Israel Idonije, Chicago Bears (September 13, 2012)

Israel Idonije – © USA TODAY Sports Images

It would have been easy for Israel Idonije to walk away.

He was coming off year No. 11 in the National Football League, one that was filled with injuries that hampered his play. He’d accomplished everything he set out to do over a decade ago.

Well, just about everything. He hadn’t won a Super Bowl.

“ When I first came into the league, I had a list of things I wanted to accomplish,” Idonije said. “On that list, I still have to win a Super Bowl. “

And the Giants hope they can help him make that last check.

After 10 seasons with the Chicago Bears, the 33-year-old signed with the Detroit Lions last year. While he expected to make an impact on a defense that already featured the likes of Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Ezekiel Ansah, those plans never quite materialized.

Idonije suffered a hamstring injury in training camp, attempted to work his way back after six days and was never the same. The ensuing season was one Idonije admitted was his toughest of his 12-year career. He recorded just a half of a sack and 11 total tackles. This performance coming off three straight seasons where he averaged nearly seven quarterback takedowns.

He contemplated walking away, but just couldn’t. Had he suffered a knee injury, neck injury or anything serious, the decision to retire would have been made and no regrets would dare cross his mind. A hamstring strain? That was different. Idonije knew he could still play.

When Idonije began his pro career with the Bears, he used to take the field and run around, letting his natural athletic ability take over a game. That mentality has changed as he’s gotten olden. Now, Idonije has a “tool kit.”

When lining up across an offensive tackle, Idonije will read everything from his body language, to his stance. Depending on what he sees, he uses a different technique. All of which are stored in his “tool kit.”

“You just need to show up to work and know what you do well,” Idonije said. “I didn’t do that when I was younger.”

The moment Idonije put pen-to-paper on his contract with the Giants, he became the eldest statesman of an otherwise youthful meeting room. Cullen Jenkins, Mathias Kiwanuka and Mike Patterson are the only defensive linemen that are 30-years-old or older.

Others in the meeting room hope to emulate Idonije’s professional longevity. Already, several have started picking his mind and watching the way Idonije works.

“You’re never too old to stop learning,” Giants 21-year-old defensive end Damontre Moore said. “He’s constantly learning something and always asking questions. He’s letting everyone know that you can always be taught something and always learn a new technique.”

There’s no guarantee Idonije will be on the Giants 53-man roster when the team travels to Detroit to kickoff the season. He knows that, but he also knows the value he holds to a team.

Idonije can rush the passer and play the run on defense. He’s also capable of playing every special teams package. He also knows he can still do what he used to do so frequently in Chicago.

“I can still make plays, no question,” Idonije said. “Especially in a system like this.”