Jul 082014
 
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Will Beatty, New York Giants (August 10, 2013)

Can William Beatty return to form in 2014? – © USA TODAY Sports Images

There’s one thing everyone can agree on when it comes to this year’s New York Giants: There are an awful lot of questions surrounding the team.

From Ben McAdoo’s new offense, to the secondary, to the revamped offensive line and Eli, the list goes on-and-on. Today, the Big Blue Breakdown asks our panel what storyline they are most looking forward to unfolding come July 21 when players are scheduled to report to the New York Giants training camp.

Remember, if you’d like to submit a question for our panel to discus on the next Big Blue Breakdown, please email to Connor Hughes ([email protected]).

From Justin in Newark- What’s the storyline that you are most looking forward to unfolding in training camp and why? Is it the progression of Ben McAdoo’s new offense? The new pieces on defense? Or something else? Also, what’s your prediction for how it will pan out?

CONNOR HUGHES/Big Blue Interactive

David Wilson, New York Giants (September 16, 2012)

David Wilson – © USA TODAY Sports Images

There’s a lot, and I mean a lot, of questions surrounding the Giants as the team prepares for training camp. I’m intrigued by the new offense and certainly to see how the secondary gels, but more than anything else I want to what David Wilson can do in this new offense and with a new offensive line.

Don’t get me wrong, of all the questions that will be answered or play out, Wilson’s status or role is no where near the top of the list, but personally I see this guy as the ultimate sleeper on the team. His attitude is second to none, he’s dying to get back on the field and I think having Rashad Jennings there to spell him is exactly what he needs to be the best back he can be.

Wilson’s frame (5-9, 205) don’t make him an ideal candidate as an “every-down-back,” but just picture this: Powerful Rashad Jennings/Andre Williams wear down a defense for two-to-three quarters. With the defenders huffing, Wilson comes in to spell the two with fresh legs and his 4.38 40-yard dash time. Wilson is the only player on the team that has the ability to take any carry the distance…couple that with a defense that’s already tired?

Saying that, I don’t believe the Giants will only insert Wilson into the lineup come the third and fourth quarters, but rather his reps will increase as the games go on. This was a tactic used by the Giants when the team had Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw. Deal with the 6-5, 260-pound Jacobs for three quarters, then worry about a shifty Bradshaw in the fourth. I could see this situation working out near identical with the three on the team now.

ART STAPLETON/ The Record

Damontre Moore, New York Giants (September 29, 2013)

Damontre Moore – © USA TODAY Sports Images

There will be a lot of focus on the McAdoo offense and the health of the offensive line, Will Beatty and Chris Snee in particular, and for good reason. Those are a given. I’ll go back to what once was the Giants’ bread and butter: the defensive line.

I want to see Damontre Moore show he has taken that next step. I want to see if Robert Ayers is another body or if his analytic performance from 2013 translates on the field. Can Jay Bromley challenge Markus Kuhn? Will Mathias Kiwanuka turn his aggravation related to his pay cut into motivation for a bounce back year? Oh yeah, there’s the most important piece of the defensive puzzle: Jason Pierre-Paul. It’s too easy to say the Giants won’t depend on the pass rush as they have in the past.

If you look beyond the offensive chances that Jerry Reese and the FO has again taken with Beatty and Snee, the defensive line will end up being the difference in the NFC East. The fact we don’t know how it will work out makes this the most intriguing story line: there are no guarantees until the pads come on and the games begin, so it will be fun to watch.

JORDAN RAANAN/NJ.com

The one storyline that really pops out to me is how Eli Manning will fit into the new offense. This is really the No. 1 most important factor for the Giants in 2013. Everything else is secondary.

The defense won’t be great, but it also would take a lot to happen for them to be terrible. So the fate of the 2014 Giants rests on the offense (which ranked an abysmal 28th last year), and their quarterback in particular.

How will Eli take to the faster-paced, quick-throw offense? How will he bounce back from the 27-interception season? How will his surgically-repaired ankle hold up? How well will he work with first-round pick Odell Beckham Jr.? Will he get on the same page as Rueben Randle? Does he have instant chemistry with any of these tight ends?

Everything concerning the Giants’ success this season centers around their quarterback. The reality is this team is going nowhere without Eli playing well. They need him to play well. So, without a doubt, the top training camp storyline is Elisha Nelson Manning, especially with the unproven and so far shaky Ryan Nassib as his backup.

I’ll be watching Eli closely. Very closely.

PATTI TRAINA/Sports XChange, Bleacher Report, Inside Football

I think there are many storylines set to unfold this summer at training camp — probably more than I can remember in recent history. Of course, when a team is coming off a 7-9 season and turns over a large portion of its personnel, both players and coaches, that’s to be expected.

Eli Manning (10) and David Wilson (22), New York Giants (August 7, 2013)

Eli Manning and David Wilson – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Obviously, the biggest storyline is going to be the new offense and if it lives up to the offseason hype. At the end of the minicamp, both head coach Tom Coughlin and Ben McAdoo said that they weren’t quite there yet, but then again I don’t think anyone expected the offense to be functioning like a well-piled machine after just 12 practices.

I think there might be a few hiccups along the way, especially as they finish installing everything, but I’m very optimistic and exited to see how it all comes together and I’m particularly interested to see how Eli Manning functions in McAdoo’s system, which is significantly different from the system Manning has spent his entire pro career running.

Moving to the defense, I’m very interested to see how the revamped secondary works out. One of the stats I’m going to try to keep up with is if there’s an increase of coverage sacks this year as I think that was part of the plan in going after a high-profiled cornerback such as Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. I have a feeling there might very well be an increase.

There are three position battles I’m looking forward to seeing and those are backup middle linebacker, tight end and fullback.

At backup middle linebacker, I like what I’ve seen of Dan Fox so far and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Giants end up carrying an extra linebacker until Jon Beason is ready to return (I don’t think Beason will be ready for opening night, by the way).

Devon Kennard has also impressed and I think he could prove to be an absolute steal if he builds on his solid spring. I want to see both Kennard and Fox with pads on and I also want to see how they measure up on special teams before I can definitely say of an extra linebacker will be kept.

At tight end, I think it’s anyone’s game right now. I also wouldn’t be shocked if they add a tight end before the start of the season, maybe someone who’s cut by another team. Two teams I’d keep an eye on in that regard are Arizona and Detroit.

Fullback might not have as big of a role in this offense, at least from what we’ve seen so far and what the players have told us about there being more single back sets in this offense than there were in the previous system. Still, I’m fairly sure they will carry one fullback and right now it’s any man’s game.

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

John Conner – © USA TODAY Sports Images

We’ve seen both John Conner and Henry Hynoski work with the starters, which is a good sign that right now both are even in this race. I think once the pads on and they can block and hit, that’s going to separate a winner in this race.

Last thing, I’m very curious to see is how many quarterbacks they end up keeping. I’m sure

that they would like to keep two, but as the coaches have said, the execution from Ryan Nassib needs to be better.

With that said, I’m curious to see just how many reps Nassib gets because remember, this is a new offense and I would think that maybe Eli Manning and the starters probably could benefit from a little more work this preseason to iron out any remaining wrinkles before opening day.

I know the feeling is he will get many chances to work on improving his accuracy, but I’m curious to see if maybe Eli Manning and the starters maybe get a little more work in each preseason game what with the new offense.

Jun 302014
 
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Stevie Brown (27), Antrel Rolle (26), New York Giants (August 4, 2013)

Can Stevie Brown (left) fill the void left by Will Hill? – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The Big Blue Breakdown enters into week No. 3 as today our panel takes a look at safety Stevie Brown.

HEALTHY AND MOTIVATED, STEVIE BROWN READY TO MAKE IMPACT ON GIANTS

Remember, if you’d like to submit a question to be put into consideration for the next BBB, simply email it to Connor Hughes ([email protected]).

QUESTION (From James in Morristown): With addition, after addition after addition made to the Giants’ secondary, the return of Stevie Brown has flown a bit under the radar. Do you believe the Giants’ safety can return to the form he displayed in 2012 when he hauled in a league-high eight interceptions? How important is it that he appears healthy and ready to go?

CONNOR HUGHES/ Big Blue Interactive

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

Stevie Brown injured his knee in the third preseason game of 2013 – © USA TODAY Sports Images

It’s really tough to gauge exactly what should be expected from a player returning from a serious knee injury, especially the season directly after. While most players return the next year after they are injured, it usually takes two full seasosn to see the ‘old’ version of the player back on the field. With that being said, the fact Brown was injured in the preseason certainly favors him returning to form.

But that ‘form’ is what is in question. Before joining the Giants, Brown played a combined 23 games for the Oakland Raiders and Indianapolis Colts… he never recorded a single interception. Brown then burst onto the scene for the Giants with eight, tying for a league-lead.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m pulling for Brown, think he’s a player with a great attitude who does everything the right way…but I’m not sold just yet. In 2012, Brown filled in quite often for an injured Kenny Phillips. When Phillips was with the Giants, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell adjusted his scheme to let Phillips roam 15-20 yards beyond the defense tracking down deep balls. When Phillips was injured, Brown took his place.

Brown’s eight interceptions were impressive, but more of a result of offensive coordinators testing him. Quarterbacks  forced some his way, Brown made them pay.

Theoretically, the Giants’ ‘best case scenario’ would have been a safety tandem of Antrel Rolle and Will Hill with Brown roaming deep. With Hill gone, can Brown become a complete safety? Can he play in the box?

The fact Brown is healthy is big, very big, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves as it’s not Charles or Rod Woodson stepping back on the field. I hope Brown proves he’s a top-tier safety in the NFL, I just don’t know exactly who Brown is yet..healthy or not.

JORDAN RAANAN/NJ.com

Having Brown back is huge for the Giants now that Will Hill has been exiled to unemployment. Brown gives them a starting-caliber safety to play alongside Antrel Rolle, if he returns to previous form.

Stevie Brown, New York Giants (May 29, 2014)

Stevie Brown – Photo by Connor Hughes

But that’s a big if. It often takes until the second season off injury for most players (Adrian Peterson not included) to really get back. Brown is only nine months removed from surgery and was still slightly limited at OTAs and minicamp.

Even when Brown is at full strength, Hill is the better, more complete, player. Hill did it all last season, and was the perfect complement to Rolle with his impressive range. To expect Brown, off a serious knee injury, to provide similar sideline-to-sideline coverage is unrealistic. To expect him to have that good a year is wishful thinking.

And then there is the question of whether Brown really was that good in the first place. He had a nice 2012 season with the Giants, no doubt. But that was his fourth team in three years in the NFL. In four professional seasons, Brown has 12 career starts. He’s far from a given even if he’s healthy.

Considering the Giants situation, they’re hoping Brown is back. They’re praying he was for real. I have my doubts.

ART STAPLETON/The Record

The best development out of the spring for the Giants is without question the health of Stevie Brown. The fact he’s where he is must be considered a huge positive step, but cautiously it remains just the first one. Toss in Will Hill’s release and Brown’s pairing with Antrel Rolle could emerge as a potential strength on a transitioning team in search of them rather than what would be a weakness without him.

Go back to Brown’s interception against the Jets last August and prior to that, when he fell to the turf with that ACL injury: he was locked in as a starter and Will Hill was an afterthought because of his pending suspension, relegated to working with the third and fourth string in training camp. Brown broke out in 2012 and in some ways I believe some still view his performance was a fluke. We’re not talking about Brown returning to an All-Pro level, because despite those interceptions, there were clearly some flaws in his game (coverage especially).


But in reality, Brown and Rolle can be as effective as Rolle and Hill, and the Giants need that kind of play from their safeties to solidify a secondary whose greatest strength – at least on paper – will be in its ability to cover. Brown and Rolle can roam if Amukamara, DRC and Thurmond do their jobs at CB.

With all the uncertainty involved with the rehab of injuries for Will Beatty, Chris Snee and Mario Manningham, not to mention Jon Beason’s foot, the presence of Brown is just as important and maybe more so than any of them. Brown’s absence would leave a gaping hole that the Giants would have an even harder time filing a year later.

CONOR ORR/The Star-Ledger

I think it’s completely reasonable to expect Stevie Brown to be on a pitch count this summer. He started jogging toward the end of last season and could cut and sprint by the Super Bowl, but the first year following an ACL tear is always the toughest. Just ask Terrell Thomas. Brown was lucky that his happened when it did, which allowed him a full season under team supervision to rehab, but it’s still less than a year removed from the injury.

Brown is extremely important to what the Giants are trying to do on defense this season. The three safety look will be in heavy rotation to make up for the loss of Will Hill. That’s why they will be careful with Brown and will space out his workload during training camp and in the preseason. Behind him are a pair of safeties, Nat Berhe and Cooper Taylor, who aren’t likely ready for that much responsibility.

PATRICIA TRAINA/Inside Football, Bleacher Report, Sports Exchange

Stevie Brown appears to have made amazing progress in his return from ACL surgery. I’ll admit that I was surprised to see him do as much as he did this spring given the nature of his injury. I thought he might be limited until training camp.

With that said, it’s important that he not try to overdo things as that’s how you can reinjure yourself. I think the training staff is going to closely monitor Brown’s progress and put him on a “pitch count” for the summer so that he doesn’t overdo it.

Can Brown return to his 2012 form? The optimist in me says, “Yes,” but the realist in me says that’s a tough question to answer right now considering the spring practices were run at half speed.

Personally, I’m of the opinion that you’re never quite the same once you’ve had surgery, so I don’t quite know how to answer that question right now. I would need to see how he does when the practice tempo cranks up and we see how he responds to that.

Regarding the importance of him being ready to go, I think that can be said of all players. If Brown passes the litmus test, that would be huge because it would allow Perry Fewell to run the three-safety set that he so enjoys using.

If Brown suffers a setback, then they’re left with just Antrel Rolle and Quintin Demps as their veterans with any significant experience, which means the three-safety set probably gets put on the back burner (unless Cooper Taylor has a strong showing).

So yes, it’s definitely important for Brown to be on the field, and for that to happen, I suspect they’ll be managing his reps very carefully because they are counting on him this year.

ED VALENTINE/Big Blue View

For the Giants’ secondary to be as good as advertised, the answer to this question has to be yes. The Giants absolutely need Brown to play full-time and to play well, in 2014. That doesn’t mean we have any clue how healthy Brown will be, or how well he will play.

Stevie Brown, New York Giants (December 9, 2012)

Stevie Brown – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Fact is, we really don’t know how good Brown is. He had a nice run in 2012, with those eight interceptions in just 11 starts. He was, however, also part of a defense that surrendered 13 plays of 40 yards or more through the air, second-worst in the league. How much of that was on Brown? We don’t know, but the primary job of the safety is to prevent the big play. The Giants did not do that well in 2012.

There is also the fact that Brown was released by the Oakland Raiders and Indianapolis Colts after single seasons during which he never really received an opportunity.

The question really shouldn’t be will Brown return to his 2012 form? Aside from his health, the question really is what kind of player Brown actually is.The Giants will find out. For their sake, Brown’s 2012 performance better not have been a mirage.

Jun 232014
 
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Ryan Nassib, New York Giants (August 24, 2013)

Is Ryan Nassib ready to be the Giants’ No. 2? Our panel weighs in.  – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Big Blue Interactive is dedicated to being your No. 1 source for Giants’ news on the web. If it involves Big Blue, we’ve got you covered. What better way to do that than bring some of the Giants’ best beat writers together for a panel discussion each week. Thus, we give you, the Big Blue Breakdown.

Last week, our panel took a look at the Giants tight end situation. This week, it’s Ryan Nassib. We also went to the waiver wire and acquired a new voice. We’re pleased to have the New York Post’s Paul Schwartz join the discussion.

Have something you want discussed? Email your open-ended question to Connor Hughes ([email protected]) and it could be featured on the next Big Blue Breakdown.

QUESTION (from Jessica in East Hampton): The Giants appear to be doing everything they can to let Ryan Nassib take the No. 2 quarterback position behind Eli Manning, but the second-year pro struggled throughout OTAs. What’s your opinion on Nassib? Do you believe he can be the team’s No. 2, or should the Giants look for another option?

CONNOR HUGHES/Big Blue Interactive

The entire ‘Ryan Nassib’ concept to me is interesting. Initially when the Giants’ traded up for the Syracuse alum, I assumed it wasn’t to be the quarterback of the future, but trade bait. Here was a player who had quite the rep entering the draft, but happened to fall. The idea of drafting a player, developing him for a year or two and then trading him away for a higher pick than you selected him isn’t unheard of. Matt Schaub anyone?

Ryan Nassib, New York Giants (May 20, 2014)

Ryan Nassib – Photo by Connor Hughes

But since trading in his orange and navy for blue and white, Nassib really hasn’t shown much at all. He wasn’t given too many chances during the preseason last year, being hidden away and forced into “mental reps.” This season, the Giants appear to be making up for it. From OTAs to mini-camp, Nassib has been given every chance to grab hold of the No. 2 position, but in my eyes just hasn’t impressed.

I know, it’s OTAs. I know, no one has pads on. I know, the defense is almost always ahead of the offense at this point. But it’s not the fact Nassib isn’t firing bombs over Antrel Rolle’s head that is concerning to me, it’s the little things. He looks very flustered in the pocket. When the play breaks down, he panics. When simply working with wideouts, he doesn’t have much touch. Could it all change? Yes. But if something happens to Eli Manning this year… and Ryan Nassib goes in…

ART STAPLETON/ Daily Record

I’m not buying the assertion that Nassib is struggling based on three OTA practices open to the media. I have heard nothing yet from the Giants that they have given up on the second-year pro, and if anything, their moves of releasing Josh Freeman and Rusty Smith spoke more of their confidence that he was making strides. Obviously Eli’s recovery from ankle surgery played a part in that, but don’t overlook their commitment to Nassib to step up and take this role.

The defense is always ahead of the offense in OTAs and mini-camp – does anyone remember the Brandon Bing highlight reel? While this defense is running the same familiar playbook, the offense is continuing to install on the fly. That’s why assessing Nassib based on a few practices is short-sighted. Has he looked great? No. But neither has Eli, truth be told. I think Nassib looks more comfortable with his surroundings so far and his body language has been good, from what I’ve seen. Does he need to ramp things up? Absolutely. I’m not ready to say he’s a bust because Charles James has jumped a few routes on him in what amounts to passing drills as the Giants continue to put this offense on the field – with no running game yet, I might add.

Should the Giants have drafted Nassib in the fourth round last year? Would they have been better served addressing another position? At this point, because of the way things fell apart in 2013, you’d say yes. But this offense remains a work-in-progress, as does Nassib. Can he be the No. 2? Unless he is a disaster in the preseason, Nassib will be Eli’s backup. And if he’s playing in 2014, then the Giants have bigger problems than his perceived struggles.

PAT TRAINA/ Inside Football, Bleacher Report & Sports XChange

I think it’s too soon to state whether Nassib can be the No. 2 quarterback because right now, we’ve seen them work in shorts and shells. Let’s see how Nassib does with a live defense in front of him. Things we’ll need to see include if he’s making the right reads, how he’s handling pressure and if he’s running the offense efficiently.

Regarding how he’s looked in the spring workouts, quite honestly other than maybe Victor Cruz, no one has really jumped out as far as being consistent just yet. Remember, everyone’s learning the new system so there’s probably a bit more thinking going n rather than just doing.

While it’s true that Nassib has thrown few interceptions this spring (at least when the media’s been in attendance), I don’t believe all of those picks have been his fault – of the two he threw in the last OTA we had access to, I think maybe one was his fault.

I think it is a positive sign that Nassib has earned more snaps this spring – that to me shows that he is grasping the concepts in the classroom. However, as I’ve said before, grasping the concepts and executing them are two very different things. Until the speed of the on-field activity increases, I think it’s probably a good idea to reserve judgment regarding whether Nassib has a good chance of emerging as Eli Manning’s backup.

PAUL SCHWARTZ/ New York Post

The whole Ryan Nassib situation was messy from the start, as the Giants traded up to get him in the fourth round in 2013 and GM Jerry Reese immediately said he hoped Nassib never took a snap. We get it, no one wants anything to happen to Eli Manning and the No. 2 quarterback on the Giants is one of those “meaningless’’ positions, as Eli has never missed anything and the backup quarterback doesn’t do a thing except hold the clipboard. Of course, if the backup is ever needed he instantly goes from the least significant to the most important player on the roster.

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

There’s no doubt Tom Coughlin wants to keep only two quarterbacks and that he and the front office want the depth chart to be Manning and then Nassib. They will force-feed Nassib to get him the reps he needs to make an impression and only if he proves unworthy will Curtis Painter enter into the discussion. If the Giants want to keep a bonus player on the roster – say, return specialist Trindon Holliday – they need to save a spot by keeping only two quarterbacks.

Can Nassib play? So far, not so good but it’s too soon to make that determination. There’s been no evidence that he’s a real NFL quarterback. His arm looks fine but nothing special. His command of the offense looks okay but nothing special. His decision-making looks to be adequate and it’s probably asking too much for it to be any better than that. At this point, it would be a real leap of faith to state the Giants should be confident Nassib can emerge as a legit No. 2 behind Manning. Nassib will be given every opportunity to claim the job, as cutting a fourth-round pick in his second season doesn’t look good for anyone associated with the draft choice.

Figure to see plenty of Nassib this summer. It’s a good year for the Giants to have five preseason games, as they will feature plenty of Nassib and his trial under fire will be on display for all to see.

JORDAN RAANAN/ NJ.com

The Giants appear to be doing everything they can to let Ryan Nassib take the No. 2 quarterback position behind Eli Manning, but the second-year pro struggled throughout OTAs. What’s your opinion on Nassib? Do you believe he can be the team’s No. 2, or should the Giants look for another option?

I came into this offseason with basically no preconceived opinion on Nassib. I wasn’t covering the team during training camp last season and the few moments Nassib threw passes during practices in November and December weren’t nearly enough to make any sort of evaluation (although I wasn’t impressed then either). So I gave him the benefit of the doubt that being inactive for all 16 games was one of those Tom Coughlin specials where rookies sometimes get buried because he can’t trust them.

But after watching Nassib in OTAs and minicamp, I couldn’t be any less impressed. He didn’t throw the ball particularly well (lots of wobblers), didn’t throw with much accuracy (there were 5-yard passes into the ground and 10-yard passes overthrown by 10 yards), and didn’t seem to be very comfortable in the pocket, even when the pass rushers weren’t allowed to hit him. Nassib didn’t look good at all in my eyes.

I know it’s a new offense and there is a learning curve. Eli Manning has that same learning curve though, and he looked exponentially better than Nassib. This clearly leaves me with serious doubts that Nassib should be the Giants’ backup quarterback. But, at the same time, they want him to be their backup and will give him every chance possible. And they should. No way the Giants’ should give up on their 2013 fourth-round pick before ever seeing him in real game action. You have to give quarterbacks a chance in the NFL. Sometimes, it takes several years before they get it. Nassib may be one of those guys.

But it doesn’t mean I don’t have my doubts. Nick Foles never looked like Nassib did this spring when I was covering the Eagles the past few years, and he was learning a new offense each of his first two years as well. Nassib looked bad this offseason. To describe his performance as shaky would be generous.

ED VALENTINE/ Big Blue View

The Giants are undoubtedly giving Nassib every opportunity to take the backup job. During OTAs and mini-camp he took the majority of second- and third-team reps, with Curtis Painter hardly seeing any action.

The question with Nassib is simply whether or not he can execute. He appears to be able to line up the offense and to recognize where the ball needs to go — he has simply been inaccurate and had difficulty delivering the ball there. If he is having trouble delivering the ball while practicing is shorts and a t-shirt with no press coverage I can’t be terribly optimistic that he will look better in the preseason games. The Giants have to hope he can, because otherwise he becomes a wasted draft pick and the Giants have wasted two seasons trying to develop him.

If Nassib proves he can’t do the job, the question then is whether or not there is a better option available than Curtis Painter. Guys like Kevin Kolb, Rex Grossman and Seneca Wallace are available — but are those guys really appealing options? Maybe the Packers will cut Scott Tolzien, who played against the Giants last season. Again, though, is he better than Painter?

If Nassib can’t step up, Painter would seem likely to end up with the job by default.

Jun 162014
 
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Larry Donnell, New York Giants (September 15, 2013)

Larry Donnell – © USA TODAY Sports Images

For the first time this season, we introduce the Big Blue Breakdown. Throughout the course of the year, BBI’s Connor Hughes will be joined by Art Stapleton, Jordan Raanan, Patricia Traina and others tackling the hottest topics surrounding the New York Giants.

BBI is dedicated to giving you the best coverage of the Giants on the web. What better way to do that than bringing some of the team’s best beat writers together in one spot? With OTAs officially wrapped up, we asked the round table how they felt the Giants stand at the tight end position.

Have something you want discussed? Email your open-ended question to Connor Hughes ([email protected]) and it could be featured on the next Big Blue Breakdown.

QUESTION: While hyped quite a bit as a “position of need,” the Giants have done very little to address the tight end position. With a new offensive coordinator that appears to like to feature the position, do you believe the Giants made the correct decision not drafting or signing a tight end? Why?

CONNOR HUGHES/ Big Blue Interactive

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

Adrien Robinson – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The tight end position in the Giants’ offense is the great unknown. Since Jim Fassel was shown the door so many years ago, the TE for Big Blue has been little more than a safety valve for quarterback Eli Manning. There was no need for a Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Grahahm or even Jeremy Shockey, just someone who could block, had average hands and could get to position ‘A’ on field.

With new coordinator Ben McAdoo calling plays for the first time, it’s still up in the air to this point on how the Giants plan to use the tight end. Will it be a focal point of the offense? Will it be a blocker? If the goal is to utilize the position, I hardly feel confident in those presently on the roster.

Adrien Robinson has flashed, Larry Donnell too, but neither strike “fear” into the heart of a defender. Could Robinson develop? Sure. Could he end of getting injured again? Sure. Personally, I was and still am a fan of bringing Jermichael Finley in for at least a visit. After all, what do you have to lose?

ART STAPLETON/The Record

The tight end situation is a bit more complicated than just projecting the depth chart for 2014 and feeling good about where the Giants are at the position. The bottom line: tight end will not be what sinks this offense in 2014.

If two of the group including Robinson, Donnell, Davis, Fells or yes, Grimble, can be serviceable, the rebuilding done elsewhere on the offense (OL, WR with Beckham Jr., RB) should make up the slack. If not, they’ll mix and match with TEs to get the job done. I truly believe they would have upgraded TE with a draft pick – perhaps the second round – if things had played out differently.

When assessing center and TE, though, it’s pretty clear center is of greater importance – so instead of going with, say, Jace Amaro or Troy Niklas in that spot, they went with Weston Richburg, to whom I believe they are committed for the future. Once the Giants got into the fourth round and beyond, they’d decided to stick with the fourth-round pick that has already been in the building (Adrien Robinson) instead of drafting someone for the sake of having a new face. Under these circumstances, I think the Giants have done the right thing at tight end.

There are no quick fixes that have presented themselves at the position. We know the issues surrounding Jermichael Finley and Dustin Keller. Just look at the $ Finley will get from his insurance policy if he never plays again and realize he’ll likely be looking for more than a minimum-type deal. TE remains a position of need, but the impact has been overrated compared to upgrades that were needed elsewhere.

PATRICIA TRAINA/ Inside Football & Bleacher Report

Xavier Grimble, USC Trojans (September 21, 2013)

Xavier Grimble – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Obviously, time will tell if the decision to pass on a tight end was the right one to make, but I can certainly understand their thought process.

Let me start first with the veteran free agent part. Other than Dennis Pitta (Ravens) and Jimmy Graham (Saints), both of whom were never realistic possibilities in free agency, who from the 2014 group of veteran free agents was really worth a look?

As for the tight ends already on the roster, particularly Adrien Robinson and Larry Donnell, the Giants know what they have in both of those guys, having seen them in practices. Yes, Robinson hasn’t shown much, but I’ll point out that last summer in camp, he was making progress to the point where he was supposed to have a big role in that final preseason game which of course had to be scrapped when he suffered the foot injury. Donnell? People forget that he missed all of last spring due to a broken foot, a factor that he recently told me put him way behind the curve.

Yes there is the classroom work, but as Tom Coughlin has said in the past (many times), you have to go out and practice what you’re learning in the classroom. So now you have two young tight ends with impressive physical tools and who now have a chance to learn a new offense from scratch. Both say they have a better understanding of what needs to be done as far as the little things (watching film, taking better care of their bodies, etc.) and who are HEALTHY.

In some ways, it’s like having rookies on the squad, except Donnell and Robinson have gone through NFL seasons and have a better idea of what to expect at this level.

Last point (apologies for the lengthy response, by the way). I researched just how frequently the tight ends have been used in the Packers’ offense over the last two seasons, using data from Pro Football Reference.

Last year, the Packers tight ends combined for 57 out of the 366 passes completed or 15.5%. In 2012, they combined for 76 receptions out of the 374 pass completions or 20.3 percent.

These stats suggest that the Packers tight ends haven’t been as predominantly featured in the passing game as some might believe. I suspect that with the Giants, McAdoo is going to place a heavier emphasis on getting the ball to the receivers in the passing game.

Obviously, injuries can alter those plans, but as I noted before the draft whenever I was asked about the possibility of them drafting tight end Eric Ebron, the last time the Giants had a tight end lead the team in receptions was Jeremy Shockey in 2006, when he had three more receptions (66) than Plaxico Burress (63) did.

By the way, that season, despite being the team leader in receptions, Shockey finished with 623 yards and was second in receiving touchdowns with seven (behind team leader Plaxico Burress who finished with 63 catches for 988 yards and 10 touchdowns.

JORDAN RAANAN/ NJ.com 

If it were me, I’d have done anything possible to try and get a dynamic receiving tight end on this roster. Who cares if they can block? Does anyone care that Jimmy Graham can’t block? With the way the rules are nowadays, linebackers and safeties have no chance against big, athletic TEs. They are bigger weapons than ever. Three TEs finished in the Top 10 in TD receptions last season. Six finished with over 70 receptions. This Giants offense needs that type of weapon. They don’t have anything close right now. Maybe next year.

Jun 022014
 
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Will Hill, New York Giants (October 27, 2013)

Will Hill – © USA TODAY Sports Images


Will Hill is not a bad guy.

He’s never been charged with a murder, like a certain someone up in New England. He’s never mistreated a woman, like a certain quarterback in Pittsburgh. Will Hill has never harmed an animal, like a certain someone in New York.

He’s never been malicious, violent or barbarous. Will Hill simply smoked a joint, got caught, and suspended in back-to-back years. He’s gone for six games, not a season. So why cut him? Why let walk for free a player with immense talent, the potential to be one of the game’s best?

Because it’s not about the pot. It’s not about marijuana. It’s not because of first hand, second hand, or third hand smoke. It’s because Will Hill was told by his boss not to do something. Then he did it anyway.

Three times.

On Monday afternoon, the New York Giants released a statement through the team’s twitter account. It came across subtle, with a picture and link to a press release. A move that was once rumored and assumed for six weeks finally came to fruition. Will Hill, the hard-hitting troubled safety, was released. The team, which was the only one to give him a shot three years ago, had given up. Thrown in the towel on the talent-limitless Jersey City native.

Since his early years, “talent” was never an issue with the 24-year-old. Hill grew up in New Jersey and quickly earned fame as a triple threat at St. Peter’s Prep High School. Hill starred as the team’s returner, quarterback and safety. In his senior season, Hill ran for 682 yards, threw for 758, intercepted three passes, recorded 68 tackles and had 444 receiving yards.

The Star-Ledger named Hill its New Jersey Offensive Player of the Year and he was given a five-star recruit rating by Rivals.com. ESPN ranked him as the second overall football prospect and top athlete in the nation. Hill committed to Florida.

While Hill’s talent on the field was demonstrated to the nation, his life off it was not.

According to The Star-Ledger’s Conor Orr, while in high school, Hill would sleep at head coach Rich Hansen’s house the night before games. Hansen saw the talent that Hill had, knew the only thing that could stop him from reaching fame and glory were those in his life.

Growing up in Orange, New Jersey, Hill constantly found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. While Hill was a good kid, those in his life were anything but. Coaches, fellow teammates and advisers worked to keep Hill out of trouble during his high school days. But when the safety arrived at Florida, those voices were not there. Hill was on his own.

During his three years in Gainesville, Hill’s career was plagued with disappointment. He flashed potential, showed the game-breaking ability he once displayed on Friday nights in Jersey, but his off-the-field life was now as in the spotlight as his play.

Hill was suspended following his junior year after being caught with marijuana. He tweeted out messages with graphic sexual references, mentions of drug use and prostitutes. Hill claimed to have had his account hacked.

The safety fathered four children with three different women, got married then divorced. According to Ebenezer Samuel of The New York Daily News, he struggled with drugs and “pondered leaving the game.”

Despite the above, Hill declared for the NFL Draft, but performed poorly both during NFL Combine interviews and private workouts. The one that was once thought of as a sure-fire NFL player went undrafted and wound up with the Arizona Football League’s Arena Rattlers.

After that short stint, the team that played 18 miles from his high school school’s stadium gave him a call. Hill would work out for the New York Giants.

Hill showed up and appeared to have turned a corner, appeared to be more mature and ready to take his life into his own hands. He was told he’d be on a short leash and showed enough during a workout to be signed to the roster for training camp. Then on October 8, 2012, Hill’s off-the-field life caught up to him again.

The safety was suspended for Adderall, strike one, but the Giants stood by him. Hill played 12 games, registering 38 tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He was brought back for the following season, before swinging and missing at strike No. 2.

On July 20, 2013, the NFL announced that Hill will be suspended four more games, this time for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. He openly stated he smoked marijuana in order to cope with some of the stresses of his off-the-field life.

“It’s from family members, everyone reaching their hand out and thinking I’m an ATM, and people who think you owe them something,” Hill told John Breech of CBS Sports. “It was just a situation where I was visiting back to my hometown and a guy pulled a shotgun on me then and wanted money. How do you deal with those situations? I really can’t so I dealt with it the best way I knew how.”

As was the case before, the Giants stood by Hill, but this time issued a warning.

“The Giants just told me that they had my back, they had my support, but another slip-up and that’s that,” Hill told The Star-Ledger.

Not even 12 months after uttering those words out of his mouth, Hill slipped again.

On May 30, 2014, the NFL suspended Hill for six games of the 2014 season for violating the policy and program for substance abuse. Hill reportedly told friends that he had not smoked marijuana, that the positive urine test was derived from second-hand smoke.

It doesn’t matter. And it shouldn’t.

Anyone who has stumbled upon Hill’s Instagram account know the safety has put himself in less than ideal situations. Clubs, photos of him with liquor and females litter the social media account.

For someone down 0-2 in the bottom of the ninth, why start swinging at chase-me pitches out of the zone?

While no drug arrested was made, Hill was arrested on Dec. 20, 2013 on a warrant for outstanding child-support payments. The officer detected an odor of marijuana and found cigar shavings in the vehicle. The report stated “suggesting that marijuana was prepared and smoke in the vehicle.”

Why is Hill in the vehicle? Why are those shavings in the car? Despite this, the Giants stood by Hill. That was, until, their hands were forced.

Hill’s release from the Giants is not because he did, or didn’t, smoke marijuana. It’s not because Jerry Reese believes pot is bad, is illegal, or is a ‘gateway drug.’ It’s not because Tom Coughlin is too old fashioned or straight edge.

It’s because Hill was warned. He was warned over, and over, and over again, yet he still continued to put himself in these positions. Wrong place, wrong time? Sure. But when you know you are one step away from being cut from the only team that was willing to give you a shot, why are you around marijuana in the first place?

Whether Hill put the joint to his lips or not, it got in his system. You don’t fail a test by sitting in on a Friday night with close friends and not allowing any to light up. You don’t fail a test by going to a club, noticing marijuana, then leaving the location.

You don’t fail a drug test unless you put yourself in the situation to do so. The Giants gave Hill three strikes, and he went down on the first three pitches he saw.

One in 2012. One in 2013. One in 2014.

Will Hill is not a bad guy. He is not a murderer, child molester or animal abuser. Will Hill is a troubled child who has continually put himself in situations that could jeopardize his career. Will Hill is a talented safety who can’t follow the rules.

It doesn’t matter that Will Hill smoked pot. It matters that he was told not to do these things, and proceeded to do them anyway.

Mar 272014
 
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Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints (December 29, 2013)

NFL Bans Dunk Celebration – © USA TODAY Sports Images

It gets to the point where enough is enough.

Sure, the NFL had every right to rethink touchdown “celebrations” moments after Joe Horn removed a cell phone from underneath the goal post at the Super Dome 11 years ago. Yes…that was over a decade ago.

Sure, the NFL had every right to implement fines when players like Randy Moss mimicked mooning the crowd at Lambeau Field and ever right when others gathered in groups for unnecessary and extravagant antics.

But dunking? ….Really?

There comes a moment in time where the NFL needs to answer what exactly is being accomplished by removing a celebration such as the “Dunk?” What was the issue in the first place?

During his 18 years playing in the NFL, did one of Tony Gonzalez 111 career touchdowns (most of which ended in his signature dunk) ever strike an un-expecting ball boy on the top of his head, rendering him concussed?

Has Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates or Drew Brees–all of which have turned to the one-handed slam in their careers–ever done any “harm” to the game while celebrating a “TD?”

No.

The NFL announced that for each “dunk,” the “dunking” team will be hit with a penalty, of which the severity is not yet known. Assuming it falls under the same category as other endzone celebrations, it’ll be a 15-yarder.

When the NFL implemented a five-yard penalty for “Delay of Game” following an inbounds spike, it was understandable. The bouncing ball had the potential to roll out of the way of officials causing the ever-precious time to slowly tick of the clock. As has been shown on countless occasions, those are seconds that could truly have an impact on the game.

But a dunk? When the clock is stopped? A players emotions running? A celebration that has been a part of the game for as long as I’ve been alive? I reiterate…

Really?

Players have taken to twitter and other social media outlets to voice their opinions. Goal-post-rattlers such as Jimmy Graham is predicting he’ll lead the league in penalties, Tony Gonzalez is stating he got out “just in time,” and others like the Giants Charles James, who has yet to score a touchdown in his career, tweeted the following:

Yeah…there was no need for that tweet to appear in red ink to sense the sarcasm filled in the young corner’s typing fingers.

Many consider the NFL arguably the most well run league in all of professional sports. The multi-billion dollar industry is at the heart of Americans and–aside from the red mark that is the concussion crisis–has been the focal point of what others strive to be.

Other Leagues have tried to duplicate “football.” Be it the XFL, AFL (Arena Football League), or CFL (Canadian Football League), yet none have mastered what the NFL has perfected.

So the question is simple, why?

While the NFL has imposed fines, suspensions and penalties over the years for offenses that have garnered backlash, there was still an answer, an understandable reason.

Safeties can no longer leap headfirst at wide outs for fear of player safety; running backs cannot lower their head for the same reason. But a dunk?

Really?

NFL vice president of officiating, Dean Blandino, released the following quote on the “Dan Patrick Show” Tuesday afternoon:

“We grandfathered in some, the Lambeau Leap and things like that. But dunking will come out (of the game). Using the ball as a prop or any object as a prop, whether that’s the goal post, the crossbar, that will come out and will be a foul next season.”

Ahh, just realized that I’ve forgotten to reference exactly what “NFL” stands for in the above paragraphs. I’ll clarify:

No Fun League.

Jan 112010
 
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The New York Giants Training Dilemma

There are two things a Giants’ fan is more sensitive about than a fan from another team:

  1. How nightclub gun play can ruin a season.
  2. How an accumulating number of injuries can sabotage a season.

Issue #2 has been a problem for the New York Giants for most of the decade. During the 2003 season, the injury situation was so bad that Tom Coughlin addressed it at his introductory press conference as new head coach in January 2004:

“I am also aware of the injury factor; the number of IR’s and those kinds of things, which is a cancer let’s face it. It is something that has to be corrected. It is a mental thing I believe as much as it is anything else.”

Unfortunately, since that day, the injury situation has continued to plague the Giants. Let’s look at the last six seasons:

2004: After a fast 5-2 start, the Giants finished 6-10. 18 players finished the season on Injured Reserve, including DE Michael Strahan, DE Keith Washington, DT Norman Hand, LB Barrett Green, S Shaun Williams, S Omar Stoutmire, and WR Tim Carter.

2005: The Giants won the NFC East with an 11-5 record. But New York was obliterated in the playoffs 23-0 by the Panthers. One of the primary reasons for the poor playoff performance was injuries. Starting at linebacker that day were Kevin Lewis, Alonzo Jackson, and Nick Greisen. On Injured Reserve were LB Barrett Green, LB Carlos Emmons, LB Chase Blackburn, LB Roman Phifer, CB Will Peterson, S Shaun Williams, HB Derrick Ward, and WR Jamaar Taylor.

2006: The Giants started off 6-2 but finished the season 2-6 and barely made the playoffs. The team was defeated in the first round of the playoffs by the Philadelphia Eagles. On IR by season’s end were DE Michael Strahan, DE Justin Tuck, LB LaVar Arrington, CB Corey Webster, WR Amani Toomer, LT Luke Petitgout, HB Derrick Ward, and KR/PR Chad Morton.

2007: The Giants won their seventh NFL Championship. Big injury losses included TE Jeremy Shockey, LB/DE Mathias Kiwanuka, and HB Derrick Ward. DT William Joseph was lost early in the season. But the number of players lost was not great. The biggest issue was managing Plaxico Burress’ ankle injury.

2008: The Giants started off 11-1, finished 12-4, and lost in the first round of the playoffs again. Plaxico Burress was missed after he shot himself. But injuries to key defensive linemen such as DE Justin Tuck and DT Fred Robbins slowed down the pass rush tremendously. DE Osi Umenyiora was lost before the season began and was missed. The Giants could not get any pressure on Donovan McNabb in that playoff game.

2009: The Giants started off 5-0, but finished 3-8 and missed the playoffs. Injuries hit the defense incredibly hard, including S Kenny Phillips, CB Aaron Ross, CB Corey Webster, LB Antonio Pierce, LB Michael Boley, DE Justin Tuck, DT Chris Canty, and DT Jay Alford. The running game was sabotaged due to injuries to HB Brandon Jacobs, HB Ahmad Bradshaw, HB D.J. Ware, HB Andre Brown, FB Madison Hedgecock, RT Kareem McKenzie, and LG Rich Seubert. QB Eli Manning went into a mid-season slump when he injured his foot. WR Hakeem Nicks and WR Mario Manningham were not 100 percent.

Who is to blame for all of these injuries? Injuries that ruined once promising seasons? Perhaps no one. Football is a violent game. People get hurt. Always have, always will. Sometimes it is the luck of the draw. Players are also bigger, stronger, and faster today. When you have bigger, stronger players moving at faster speeds right at each other, guess what’s going to happen?

But the Giants also seem to suffer from a lot self-inflicted muscle injuries, such as hamstring pulls. Chris Canty, who never missed a day in Dallas, missed most of the season with hamstring and calf muscle injuries. Aaron Ross suffered four hamstring pulls. The word “hamstring” was commonly seen on Giants’ injury reports. Why? Luck? Coincidence? Who really knows?

There is a school of thought out there that today’s modern-day athletes over-train. As soon as a season is over, they are training on their own before being expected to participate in intensive “voluntary” team strength training and conditioning programs. Then there are Organized Team Activity (OTA) days, mini-camps, training camp, a long preseason, and a grueling 16-game regular season. There is not much time to rest and recuperate those tired and aching muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments, and bones.

But the dilemma is this: with everyone training more and more, getting bigger, stronger, and faster each day, can a team afford to experiment and pull back? Can a team risk losing that arms race with other teams when jobs and careers are at stake? Perhaps the training is not the problem. Perhaps it is. It’s like debating global warming – everyone has an opinion and their own science – but most people are not quite sure.

What to do? Giants’ coaches, trainers, and doctors should comprehensively examine the issue, consulting with outside experts who have conducted research. Consider their findings and their suggestions. Don’t just assume all these injuries result from “bad luck.”  That very well may be the case, but what if it isn’t? Perhaps there is a better, smarter, and safer way to train professional football players.

Oct 232007
 
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by English Alaister for BigBlueInteractive.com

The New York Giants are on a roll, 5-2 in the NFC East after a 5 game winning streak and a fixture looming against possibly the worst team in the NFL now missing its best player. What could go wrong? Well, we’re Giants fans so we all know that list is endless, but many will point to a game looming on the other side of the pond and all the variables that introduces. In fact, when the game was first announced there was widespread concern that the Giants had let the NFL screw them. A classic case of “the Giants putting the welfare of the league before their own good again” was the refrain from certain forums with right-angled architectural features. Well, needless to say, I don’t really think this is the case and the argument against breaks down into two strands, the pragmatic and the more theoretical.

Let’s take the former first. The Giants clearly stand to benefit from coming to London. By being an early adopter of the NFL’s scheme the Giants stand to grow their international fan base at a rate greater than they otherwise would. The NFL’s major growth opportunities lie outside the US, of which Europe is one of a handful of targeted areas. The Giants have received an overwhelming amount of free publicity and have benefitted from increased appearances on British television in the past few weeks and that’s going to show up in the bottom line for the club long-term. The more cynical amongst us might also notice our plentiful appearances on Sunday and Monday night football the past few weeks.

Another strand of the argument is that the disruption caused by the travel places the Giants’ season in jeopardy. I don’t buy this. A game in London involves little more than a trip to San Diego or San Francisco. There are those of us who commute frequently between the US and UK for work and don’t find any need to excuse poor performance for the following month. Frankly, I think the Giants should be able to perform multiple lunar orbits mid-week, splash land into the Thames and still beat the Dolphins handily. The real question here is this ‘Have the Giants developed the focus they need to not allow this to become a distraction?’. You just know for a significant amount of the past ten or fifteen years the Giants would have allowed a lack of focus and mental fortitude to throw them off their stride. This is a large part of the reason we rarely have had to worry about our January plans concerning the team. I think its this simple, if the Giants allow the Wembley game to be anything other than an important time to demonstrate to the wider world that they’re a very good team then this team is not going as far as we hope. Personally, I think the Giants will be professionalism personified and it’ll be evidence of a mentally tougher team more focused on its football.

So, on to the more contentious part of the argument for the Giants visiting London. Their international fans deserve it. I wouldn’t say we necessarily have a right to the visit but I do commend the Giants for giving their European fans the chance to see the team affordably. I don’t want to get into a discussion about what kind of rights fans have in general over their teams although I do think an increasing trend in sports will be teams questioning what is currently quite a myopic view of their base. I do think when you consider a lot of European fans have contributed a lot to BBI down the years and consider that’s a microcosm of the wider Giants fan base then the argument for the Giants playing in London is obvious. Guys like Walter B, Jason in Oregon, Larry O, Jan in Norway, Tony in Berlin and Limey Pete (to name but a few) were vocal contributors back when BBI was relatively young. All of them do reside or have spent significant parts of their lives in Europe and stand to benefit from the Giants visiting. The links between London and New York are pretty obvious with a large number of employees moving between the two cities for extended periods and this game will be manna from Heaven for a few ex-pats. Stanley Kubrick is probably the most famous example, having spent his last years in England having games shipped immediately from the US! Finally, it bears mentioning that several current Giants have spent significant amounts of their lives over here. There certainly can’t be any harm in the next Osi growing up a Giants fan!

When you think of this game then, I ask you not to focus on the disruption or the inconvenience but on the advantages this brings your team and the joy it brings to a small but vocal part of the BBI community. The Giants are going to get a heck of a welcome at Wembley and this is absolutely the right thing for one of the NFL’s flagship franchises to be doing. It’ll be a great day for us regardless of what happens, I hope it is for you too!

Aug 252007
 
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By Eric Klein (DigitaLx2001) for BigBlueInteractive.com

Perhaps the concept of a true ‘team’ and what it means to be part of one is lost in this modern sports era of free agency, huge salaries, and even larger egos. Maybe I’m the one who’s being the idealist, expecting players to show some loyalty to their organization, their teammates and their fans. It’s just how I was raised, my experiences as part of a team (though certainly not on a pro sports level) and what I expect to see from professional athletes and the Giants that I have rooted for my entire life.

I did not choose to be a New York Giants fan; it was essentially bestowed upon me before I could even walk. My loyalty is unquestioned, and it’s not as if I even had a choice in the matter. This is blind loyalty, and something that (aside from probably being somewhat unhealthy) I could not expect an athlete to have for the Giants in the same way that I do. That much I do understand.

I can definitely see why a player may not have a true allegiance to a team; as a fan, I don’t have to worry about the Giants cutting or trading me, but they can do so to a player on a whim. Fans can boo players and call for them to be run out of town, so I can also understand if a player is weary of a team’s fan base.

Lack of loyalty to teammates, though, is what really makes me ill. These are the men that you went to war with; you went through the same two-a-days, spilled the same blood in the same mud (to quote a line from “The Rock”), and endured that same overtime game where you’re barely able to stand, let alone endure another snap, colliding full speed into the enemy with every ounce of strength you have left.

If you don’t do your job, not only does that affect the team’s chances of winning (which may not be of any real importance to many of these players anymore), but you may be responsible for a teammate being seriously injured. The same holds true for them; your career is always on the line – one slip up by anyone and it could be compromised in the blink of an eye. The trust of each man to put their livelihood in the hands of another on a perpetual basis is something that most people cannot fathom.

With this trust, one would think there would be loyalty. This is apparently no longer so.

Let’s take Tiki Barber and Eli Manning as obvious examples, two men that were on the same team for three years. Let’s say its 2004, and rookie Eli throws a dump pass a little too lackluster, leaving Barber exposed to a massive hit resulting in a career ending injury. His playing days end as someone who was decent but never really shook his fumbling habit, and he becomes an afterthought in Giants history (Yes, he’d be near many of the Giants records, but did anyone think he was great before 2004? Honestly, he was one of the most frustrating players I could remember because he would do something truly spectacular, then proceed to fumble the ball away. Anyway.. not my main point here).

Conversely, if Tiki misses a blitz pickup and Manning gets railed, we’re looking for another franchise QB. These are extreme situations, but could have happened at ANY TIME over three years. These men battled together and at times literally put each others careers in one another’s hands. Two men that, while possessing entirely different demeanors, were both highly competitive and seeking the same ultimate goal of achieving that ring – an honor which nobody could ever take away or say you didn’t earn. This is not the same type of bond one forms with a coworker at an office job. This HAS to be something more. Hearing Lawrence Taylor and Phil Simms talk about one another, even though they had their disagreements, it’s apparent they are still very close after all these years – we’ve all seen the NFL Films specials. Sure, winning a Super Bowl helps, but camaraderie now just doesn’t seem to be what it once was.

So here we have Tiki Barber, Tiki calling out Eli on national television, saying that it was almost “comical” when he had given a pre-game speech in 2006. Maybe he just wants to advance his television career, and keeping one’s mouth shut and analyzing football itself just doesn’t land enough face time I suppose. I guess it’s too much to ask for him to say something like “We’ll find out how Eli has been progressing as a leader as he has another year under his belt” or basically ANYTHING that doesn’t publicly expose a former teammate.

There are fans and members of the media who have defended Barber’s words, claiming he can say whatever he wants now; he’s not a Giant and he’s just telling you what he observed, using his inside knowledge to reveal as much as possible about the game of football. What side of the fence one falls on with this issue here really comes down to who you are as a person. Loyalty is a trait that you either have, or you don’t – you can’t be a little bit loyal. Tiki does not have loyalty to his teammates or to his former organization for whom he claimed to love so much. He decided it was more important to be noticed and to try to advance his post-NFL career. Running his mouth for the sake of maybe landing more new TV roles was more important (to someone who is already plenty rich, by the way) than staying low key and not adding more drama and controversy to his team of 10 years, and to the players he came to know as well as his own family.

I, for one, can honestly say I would never do that. Why? Because it does not take being in a position where my loyalty is on the line to know if I would break it, and it’s not like this is a tough decision either. I am certain that as a rich retired professional athlete that I would be perfectly content trying to make it as an analyst without ever compromising my former team in any way. Period. It’s been done before… by just about every other NFL-player-turned-TV-personality I can think of (Marshall Faulk, Rod Woodson, Steve Young… even Michael Irvin, who I of course hated as a player, has never thrown his teammates under the bus), except Barber of course.

Let’s forget for a second that this is all Tiki’s opinion, and the current Giants players might even agree with what he said (despite the fact that basically the whole team came out in defense of Eli). In all fairness, it’s very possible they could just be supporting Eli because thats what good teammates do. Ultimately, it’s better for the team to be together and unified behind their leader than for a potentially ugly (and in this case, maybe true) distraction to come out. But hey, maybe thats just my own crazy thinking.

Even if every word Tiki spoke was 100% true, he has still broken the trust and loyalty that should go along with what it means to be a true teammate; that’s why Eli fired back. Calm “aw, shucks” Easy E got riled up enough to respond because Tiki broke the unspoken rule: what happens in the locker room stays in the locker room. Publicly revealing fact or fiction here is still a betrayal, so I have no idea how anyone could possibly use the “it’s ok because it’s true” counterpoint (and if anything, truths are much more hurtful; picture this whole situation between you and a friend). The content of Tiki’s ramble is entirely irrelevant to me. Manning was in fact betrayed, as I believe the Giants organization as well as fans have been. Tiki Barber, even after his antics last year calling out the coaching and slipping about his retirement, still would have been held in very high regard by most fans after his career ended. This, however, I personally cannot forgive.

I’ve always wanted my Giants to be different than all those other teams, with players like Owens who are complete trash and have no concept of anything but their own popularity. I thought class was something we had, as a whole, over a lot of other teams – the fans, the organization, the players. Perhaps this is not the case. However, in my unwavering loyalty, I will still be a Giants fan, and will never stop rooting hard on Sundays. In my eyes, there is just a void atop the rushing records in our history now that we’ll have to work on filling in. Seems we’ve got this big ol’ monster wearing number 27 back there now… so with any luck, maybe that’ll happen sooner than later.

Feb 282007
 
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Many readers of this site are tired of my recent pessimism with respect to the New York Giants. They contend that I am attempting to orchestrate some sort of witch hunt against Tom Coughlin (not true) or that I am just a fan who is not privy to any inside information that would make my views any more informed than other fans (true).

But since this site’s inception in 1995, it has been one of my functions to provide my opinion on the state of the team. Almost all of my previous off-season articles since 1995 have been optimistic in tone, the last example being my 2005 off-season piece.

If you don’t respect my opinion, then don’t bother reading this article. No one is putting a gun to your head. If you think I’m being overly negative because of subjective personal biases clouding my judgment, then move along. I’m not a rah-rah guy. When I think the situation looks positive, I call it like I see it; when I think the situations looks negative, I do the same.

With all that said, I think you can already tell that I am worried about this team. I see question marks and/or instability in too many areas ranging from player personnel to the coaching staff to the front office to ownership. Increasingly, 2007 reeks of year of transition with a coaching staff that has been given a one-year ultimatum to win now or be toast.

Let’s look at the state of the 2007 New York Giants:

Player Personnel: The key question here is are the Giants better now than they were last season? On paper, the answer is clearly no. The Giants’ best player for the past few season – Tiki Barber – has retired. The team cut its starting left tackle, a player who was having one of his better seasons. And in what was probably the right decision, the Giants are prepared to part ways with their three top outside linebackers (LaVar Arrington and Carlos Emmons have already been cut and Brandon Short is likely not to be re-signed). The top back-up offensive tackle retired before he was cut and the starting center may be departing in free agency. It looks like the Giants won’t re-sign their top back-up tight end.

So let’s look at the offense. Mostly, things depend on Eli Manning. While Manning improved his completion percentage in 2006, he did not experience the type of growth that was expected of him. He remains far too inconsistent and his critics are growing daily – not just because of his performance but because of the price the Giants paid for him, his last name, and the manner in which it is perceived that he forced a trade on draft day. The offensive line was supposed to be the steady foundation of this team for the foreseeable future but now the Giants have to break in a new left tackle – the most important and most difficult position on the line. David Diehl, who struggled at right tackle in 2004, will likely be the new left tackle. With his shift to tackle, the Giants will also need a new starting left guard. That was to be Rich Seubert, but now Seubert may be needed at center if Shaun O’Hara leaves via free agency. Regardless of all of this, depth is now a big issue as Guy Whimper is now the #1 back-up at tackle and Matt Lentz at guard (unless Grey Ruegamer is re-signed).

At the skill positions, I personally have great confidence in Brandon Jacobs. I think he is the least of the Giants’ worries and will become the heart of the offensive team. But he is a question mark. And there is little depth behind him. The Giants have no depth behind the injury-prone Jeremy Shockey, who has never finished a season healthy. At wide receiver, if something were to happen to Plaxico Burress, the Giants would be in deep shit. Amani Toomer is nearing the end and doesn’t really frighten opposing defenses anymore. We have no idea yet what kind of player Sinorice Moss will be. Everyone else at wide receiver stinks.

Defensively, the strength remains the defensive line, especially at defensive end. The only worries at end are the ability of Justin Tuck and Michael Strahan to recover from serious foot injuries. Inside, let’s pray that 2006 was not just a one-year wonder for Fred Robbins. Barry Cofield should be better, but someone to push William Joseph out of the picture would be ideal.

The real problem – not just for the defense but the entire team – is that the back-seven on defense is sub par. Antonio Pierce, who had a down season in 2006, is the only proven commodity left at linebacker. If the season were to start today, Chase Blackburn and Gerris Wilkinson would probably be the starters outside. In the secondary, Corey Webster has not developed and Sam Madison and R.W. McQuarters are a year older and probably slower. Will Demps was terrible at free safety and Gibril Wilson far too inconsistent at strong safety. It is my strong opinion that you can’t win without a strong defense and the Giants’ back-seven is a mess.

On special teams, Jay Feely may depart via free agency.

Possible Off-Season Player Personnel Upgrades: The counter argument to all of this is, “Hey Eric, the season doesn’t start on March 1st, it starts in September. Let’s see what the Giants do in free agency and the draft first!” I have a couple of problems with that argument.

First, this is one of the worst – and possibly the worst – free agency markets since the inception of unrestricted free agency. Why? Partly because most teams have learned how to handle the salary cap and re-sign their younger, up-and-coming players before they hit free agency. But mostly it is because more teams have more cap room than ever before. This is because of the dramatic increase in the salary cap (to $109 million) due to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Teams now have more money to re-sign players and/or not be forced to cut players due to salary cap restrictions. Thus, if you look at the quality of those who will soon hit the open market, it isn’t very good. Worse, for the few quality players out there, teams will have more money than ever to spend on them. Look at the Giants. This is a team that is always against the cap but this year they will have $20 million to spend. However, the Giants are still only above average in terms of available cap space this offseason. Almost everyone has millions to spend. Basic economics. Too much money chasing too few players – players will be dramatically overpaid.

Secondly, I don’t think the Giants are an overly attractive destination for free agents. “Yeah Eric, we’ve heard this same shit from you before only to be proven wrong.” That’s true. I expected Tom Coughlin’s reputation as a rule-driven hard-ass to scare off potential free agents. It didn’t because I failed to fully realize the old adage – it always comes down to money. The problem this year is that everyone has money. And worse, the perception out there (right or wrong) is that Coughlin is a lame duck coach on the verge of being fired and that the Giants have terrible team chemistry. If the money is near the same, a player may not see the Giants as the better situation.

Thirdly, just because a player is signed in free agency, it doesn’t mean that that position has been “fixed.” Quality matters. Last year, the Giants signed 10 free agents from other teams – CB R.W. McQuarters, CB Sam Madison, S Will Demps, S Jason Bell, S Quentin Harris, LB LaVar Arrington, LB Brandon Short, DT Junior Ioane, TE Boo Williams, and OC/OG Grey Ruegamer. Not exactly a stellar effort despite the numbers.

So the Giants will have to deal with a poor free agent market in which a lot of teams have money to spend. If the Giants are fortunate, they may get one or two quality starters out of free agency. And that’s if they are fortunate. The other area where the team can improve itself is the draft. But the Giants only have seven picks and will pick in the latter half of each round. The team has a lot of needs and seven picks don’t seem like enough. In addition, it is never, never wise to assume that a rookie can come in and start. It happens, but it is not wise to count on it.

So in summary, I see major needs at linebacker, cornerback, safety, wide receiver, tight end, possibly the offensive line, and possibly place kicker. I also see additional needs at defensive tackle and halfback. That is a lot of needs. And the Giants don’t have a lot of ammunition to fill those needs.

Coaching: I am not going to go off on an anti-Coughlin tilt, other than to say that Coughlin has been nothing more than a .500 coach in New York and 2006 was not one of his better coaching efforts. In addition, he obviously made major mistakes in selecting his assistant coaches as both coordinators were fired.

The big problem here is that Coughlin is in a win-or-be-fired situation. That’s a tough situation given: (1) the personnel issues I discussed above, (2) the savage nature of the NY area media when they smell blood in the water, (3) a fan base that has started to turn on the coach, and (4) a roster of players who has a history of criticizing their coaching staff publicly and privately. Plus, it’s a tough division.

There are also issues with the assistant coaches. New Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride was fired from his previous two offensive coordinator gigs after only two seasons. Plus, he didn’t exactly do a stellar job with Eli Manning as the quarterbacks coach. Now he’s in charge of the entire offense. New Defensive Coordinator John Spagnuolo has never served in that role at the pro level. We don’t know how he will handle the job. Even if he is good at it, his players will now have to learn a completely new system and terminology. There will be growing pains and growing pains equals losses. The new special teams coach, Tom Quinn, is young and very inexperienced. He’s never served as a special teams coordinator at the pro level. Finally, new quarterbacks coach Chris Palmer has an up-and-down record with working with young quarterbacks.

Front Office: I still don’t get the sense that ownership was overly enamored with new General Manager Jerry Reese. If so, why was Reese not promoted before the season ended or as soon as the season ended? Why was loser GM Charley Casserly interviewed? Why did the Giants reach out to Scott Pioli? Why was the decision to retain Coughlin made before Reese was promoted?

It was also a red flag that Reese was far too open when discussing the team’s personnel situation recently at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. In fact, both The New York Times and FoxSports contend that by simply mentioning Bills’ HB Willis McGahee, Reese was violating League tampering rules. He should know better. The Giants also appear to have mismanaged the contract discussions with OC Shaun O’Hara. According to The Daily News, the Giants never intended to meet O’Hara’s original contract demands, but chose to do so once the Cowboys gave a big deal to their center. Now O’Hara has upped his demands and is rejecting his own original offer. The Giants could have re-signed O’Hara weeks ago and now may be forced to pay him more or let him walk.

Reese is also taking a big gamble by releasing Luke Petitgout. We’ll have to see how that one pans out.

Ownership: One wonders if the 50-50 split between the Mara and Tisch families is a bad thing. Every major decision probably has to be negotiated and compromises (instead of drastic changes) are probably the norm. There is a reason why you don’t see 50-50 splits in corporate America.

The jury is still very much out as to whether John Mara and Jonathan Tisch have what it takes to successfully run an NFL team. Their first major decision – to retain the services of Tom Coughlin – was a strange one. Not because they kept him, but because they took the half-assed approach of not providing a firm commitment or firing him. The one-year contract extension appears – on the surface – to be band-aid. It appears that ownership is either hoping that Coughlin has a 2000 season, Jim Fassel-like run in him or they are simply postponing the inevitable. It doesn’t sit well with me. I have a bad feeling about this. I wonder if 2007 is going to be a wasted season. If it is, then 2008 will really be a year of transition – no, make that a year of rebuilding. Michael Strahan, Amani Toomer, and others will be gone. The new coaching staff will be bringing in their own systems and players. It will be 2009 or 2010 before the team contends again.

Do the owners care? I think they do. But their profits lessen their discomfort.