May 282013
 May 28, 2013  Posted by  Articles, Roster Thoughts
Kris Adams, New York Giants (May 22, 2013)

WR Kris Adams – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Offseason Breakdown: New York Giants Wide Receivers (Part II)

In Part I, we covered the three New York Giants wide receivers who are likely to make the team behind stalwarts Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, namely Rueben Randle, Jerrel Jernigan, and Louis Murphy. Now we’ll turn our focus to the remaining five challengers: Ramses Barden, Brandon Collins, Kevin Hardy, Kris Adams, and Jeremy Horne.

It is not set in stone how many wide receivers the New York Giants will carry on the 53-man roster. But the team usually keeps six. That might be harder to do this year if the Giants keep three quarterbacks. Nevertheless, for now, let’s assume the Giants keep six. That means barring injury or something unforeseen, Barden, Collins, Hardy, Adams, and Horne will be fighting for one roster spot. It’s easy to dismiss the relevance of the sixth receiver. But just keep in mind that Victor Cruz was once considered “camp fodder” too.

Ramses Barden:

Drafted in 3rd round of the 2009 NFL Draft, Ramses Barden has been a disappointment. In four seasons, Barden has only had 29 receptions for 394 yards and no touchdowns. His best game as a pro came in Week 3 of the 2012 season, when he started against the Panthers and caught nine passes for 138 yards. But he only had five catches the rest of the season.

So why was Barden re-signed by the Giants? For one, you need bodies in camp to throw to, and the Giants usually carry at least 10 wide receivers heading into camp. Secondly, Barden knows the offense. If someone gets hurt and can’t play, it’s easier for him to come in and contribute more quickly because of that. Third, Barden does have some talent. He is a huge receiver (6-6, 224lbs) with long arms and decent athleticism. He has flashed as a player on the practice field and in regular-season games.

But for some reason, Barden simply hasn’t been able to be consistent contributor once the games count. He’s only been on the active regular-season roster 29 times in 64 chances. Some of that is due to injuries, but Barden also has never stood out as a special teams performer. It’s very tough to activate your fifth or sixth receiver on game day if he doesn’t contribute on special teams. In addition, as a receiver, Barden lacks ideal speed and quickness, and appears to have difficulty separating from tight, aggressive coverage, especially off of the line of scrimmage. Most importantly, with the exception of Week 3 in 2012, Barden simply has not consistently delivered on the playing field.

Barden will have to fight to make the 2013 team. He has a decent chance to make it if none of the other wide receivers impress because, again, he knows the system and therefore would be a good insurance policy if someone gets hurt. Even if he makes it, however, unless he dramatically improves or someone gets hurt, he’ll likely be inactive for most games once again.

Brandon Collins:

Brandon Collins lacks ideal size (5-11, 180lbs) but he has very good speed (4.4) and quickness. Collins also has collegiate experience returning punts.

The Giants originally signed Brandon Collins as a rookie free agent after he impressed at the May 2012 rookie mini-camp. Collins stood out again a month later at the full-team mini-camp in June 2012. “I think Brandon Collins has looked really, really impressive in practices,” said Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride. “That has been fun to see, because I didn’t know much about him…I have seen better quickness than anything…more quickness than speed. Good speed, great quickness, but also picking up the offense pretty quick.”

Raised expectations fizzled out shortly thereafter as Collins did not have a catch in the first three preseason games and was waived before the last preseason contest. He spent some time on the Giants’ Practice Squad in September but was not with the team for most of the season. Nevertheless, it appears that the Giants saw enough in Collins to bring him back for one more go-around as they re-signed him in January.

Kevin Hardy:

Kevin Hardy was originally signed by the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2012 NFL Draft. The Saints waived him in August 2012. The Giants signed him in January 2013. Hardy has ordinary size (6-0, 182lbs), but he has very good speed (4.4 range) and leaping ability (37 inch vertical). He also has collegiate experience as a kickoff returner. Hardy is very raw, having played in a college offense at the Citadel that only threw the ball 75 times his senior season. Hardy only had four catches for 53 yards and one touchdown in 2011.

Kris Adams:

Kris Adams was originally signed by the Chicago Bears and an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2011 NFL Draft. He did not make the team but spent time on the Practice Squads of the Bears, Rams, and Vikings in 2011. The Colts signed him in June 2012. Adams impressed in offseason workouts and caught five passes for 90 yards for Indianapolis in the preseason. He made the team and caught two passes for 26 yards in September, but the Colts then moved Adams to the Practice Squad in October. The Giants signed Adams in January 2013.

Adams has a nice combination of size (6-3, 194lbs) and athletic ability (4.4-range in the 40, 39.5 vertical jump, 6.97 3-cone), but he needs a lot of technique work, especially with his route running. Nevertheless, Adams has demonstrated an ability to threaten defenses down the field with his speed. Although he is capable of the circus catch, he needs to become more consistent catching the football. Adams has not stood on on special teams at the pro level.

Jeremy Horne:

The Giants signed Jeremy Horne in May 2013 after he impressed at the rookie mini-camp as tryout player. Indeed, Horne convinced the Giants to waive very talented undrafted rookie free agent WR Marcus Davis out of Virginia Tech, deciding to swallow the $15,000 signing bonus they gave Davis.

Horne played at the University of Massachusetts with Victor Cruz and was considered by some to be the better NFL prospect. Horne was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Kansas City Chiefs after the 2010 NFL Draft. Horne spent time on both the Chiefs’ practice squad and 53-man roster until he was finally released in August 2012. He has only played in 12 games with no catches. Horne has good size (6-2, 193lbs) and athletic ability (4.4 speed). He also has experience returning kickoffs.

“This guy’s a young player that has a certain skill set that is unique at times,” said former Chiefs’ Head Coach Todd Haley.

(Warning: Explicit Lyrics)

On the surface, these five do not look like an overly impressive group. One gets the strong impression that Barden only came back to the Giants when the other 31 teams in the NFL expressed little interest. Collins was waived by the Giants last year and Hardy, Adams, and Horne have been waived by other teams. Yet the Giants have seen enough in each to at least give all five a legitimate shot at a spot on the 53-man roster. And they liked these five over any other available undrafted rookies. Will any one of these five players make a strong impression at training camp and the preseason? Special teams play could be the determining factor.

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May 242013
 May 24, 2013  Posted by  Articles, Roster Thoughts
Rueben Randle, New York Giants (November 25, 2012)

Rueben Randle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Offseason Breakdown: New York Giants Wide Receivers (Part I)

Everyone knows that the New York Giants two studs at wide receiver are Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. But there has been a changing of the guard behind these two each of the last two seasons. In 2011, the #3 receiver on this team was Mario Manningham. That season, Manningham had 39 receptions behind Cruz (82 catches) and Nicks (76 catches). In 2012, Cruz (86 catches) and Nicks (53 catches) still led the way again despite Nicks’ injury woes. Interestingly, Domenik Hixon had the same number of receptions as the #3 receiver as did Manningham the year before with 39.

Manningham (free agent to 49ers in 2012) and Hixon (free agent to Panthers in 2013) are gone. The leading contenders to replace Hixon as the #3 wideout are Rueben Randle, Jerrel Jernigan, and Louis Murphy.

Rueben Randle:

Randle, the team’s second-round draft pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, is probably the favorite to win the job. Randle had only 19 receptions for 298 yards and three touchdowns his rookie season. His best games were against the Cleveland Browns in Week 5 (six catches for 82 yards) and the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 17 (four catches for 58 yards and two touchdowns). But Randle, who just turned 22 in May, has an excellent combination of size, athletic ability, and hands. Randle is not a burner, but he is fluid and smooth with just enough speed to threaten a defense vertically down the field. In that regard, he’s similar to Nicks. Like most young players, Randle needs to continue to improve his route-running and realize that professional football is indeed a serious business that requires a heightened level of commitment.

With Nicks recovering from offseason arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, Randle has been getting work with the first team.

“It’s a lot better to get a feel for how things are going to be,” Randle said of lining up with the first team. “You get on the same page with Eli, so it’s a fun thing. But also it’s work. You’ve got to continue to go out there and get better and just do the best you can. I’m a lot better than where I was last year. I’m a lot more comfortable with what I have to do and understanding the offense. I’m out there playing a lot faster and making a lot more plays.”

Jerrel Jernigan:

With Cruz still unsigned, Jerrel Jernigan has also been getting reps with the first team. Jernigan was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Giants. Because Jernigan is diminutive in size (5-8, 189lbs) and has been unproductive in his first two seasons (three catches total), he has drawn unfavorable comparisons by Giants fans to a previous draft bust, Sinorice Moss. Jernigan does lack size, but he is a quick, fluid athlete. In college, Jernigan was an extremely productive receiver who was dangerous with the football after the catch.

Jerngian’s development may have been hampered by his college offense at Troy. Receivers in spread offenses usually do not run the full route tree so it was a much bigger mental jump for Jerngian than it was for Randle. Regardless, the Giants are expecting Jernigan to step it up in 2013. Right now, he’s the number one back-up in the slot position behind Cruz.

“I’m looking forward to seeing Jerrel Jernigan and what he can do inside,” said Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride this month. “I think it’s about time that he steps up and I think we feel he has enough ability and he’s been here now long enough. Until Victor (Cruz) gets back, he’ll be the main guy inside at the slot position. It’s a chance for him to shine and step forward and do the things that we believe he can do…It’s going to be a great opportunity for him.”

“Jerrel’s also got to be able to help us,” said QB Eli Manning. “He has speed, he has skills, been in the system now a number of years so hopefully he can step up and fill a role for us.”

“I’ve been here three years,” said Jernigan. “I know the offense and it’s time for me to go out there and make some plays and contribute to my team… My confidence is always high. I never get down on myself. No matter what any article says, I still know what I can do.”

Louis Murphy:

Louis Murphy was signed by the Giants as an unrestricted free agent from the Carolina Panthers in March 2013. Murphy was originally drafted in the 4th round of the NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders traded Murphy to the Panthers in July 2012. In four NFL seasons, Murphy has played in 57 games with 24 starts. In 2012, Murphy played in all 16 games with five starts with the Panthers. He finished the season with 25 catches for 336 yards and one touchdown.

Murphy has good size for a receiver (6-2, 200lbs) and he is a deep threat with very good speed. The knock on him has been his inconsistent hands.

“I think he’s gonna add another dimension to our offense,” said General Manager Jerry Reese back in March. “We have a scout named Jeremiah Davis and he talks about guys being a knife. This guy is a knife. This guy can take the top off your defense. He’s an interesting guy. He gives us a different dimension in our offense. If we have the same guys, if we have Nicks back healthy and we have Cruz back this guy gives you a deep threat that we haven’t had. We haven’t had a guy who can run like this guy.”

In the first Organized Team Activity (OTA) practice, Murphy showed off that speed by getting behind the defense and catching a 50-yard touchdown pass from Manning. “That’s what I like to do,” said Murphy. “I can do a lot of things. I can go inside, play outside. I can do it all. But they do like to stretch the field and I like doing that.”

Barring injury or the unforeseen, Randle, Jernigan, and Murphy should all make the 53-man roster. But which of the three is going to see the most playing time during the 2013 regular season? The competition for the #3 spot has already begun and will reach its climax in training camp and the preseason in August.

(Part II of the wide receiver preview will focus on Ramses Barden, Brandon Collins, Kevin Hardy, Kris Adams, and Jeremy Horne).

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May 202013
 May 20, 2013  Posted by  Articles, Roster Thoughts
Corey Webster (23), Kenny Phillips (21), Justin Tuck (91), New York Giants (September 5, 2012)

Corey Webster, Kenny Phillips, and Justin Tuck – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The State of the New York Giants Defense

Memories are often short for NFL fans. The long offseason, with excitement of numerous roster subtractions and additions, can overshadow recent failure. It’s an exciting time for fans, but it is important to remember that the ultimate goal is not to make noise in the offseason, but to make noise on the playing field when the games count.

Aside from a six-game stretch at the end of the 2011 season, the New York Giants defense has been putrid for the last two seasons. It was 27th in yards allowed in 2011 and 31st in yards allowed in 2012. It has had trouble stopping the run (25th in 2012) and the pass (28th in 2012). Indeed, if it were not for 35 takeaways (2nd in the NFL), the defensive stats, including scoring defense (12th in 2012), would surely have been much worse. Personally, I never think it is wise to count on being a league leader in takeaways. Too much luck is involved.

For better or worse, many of core defensive players are now gone: DE Osi Umenyiora, DT Chris Canty, LB Michael Boley, LB Chase Blackburn, and S Kenny Phillips. DT Rocky Bernard also will not be re-signed.

New faces include veteran free agents DT Cullen Jenkins, DT Mike Patterson, DT Frank Okam, LB Dan Connor, LB Aaron Curry, and S Ryan Mundy – all but Jenkins signed to only 1-year contracts. Also added to the mix were rookie draft picks DT Johnathan Hankins, DE Damontre Moore, and S Cooper Taylor.

There still may be a move or two, but the roster heading into camp is largely set. More tweaking could occur in late August and early September when teams make their final cuts.

Obviously, there has been a lot of change. But will change lead to improved results on the playing field both in the short-term and medium-term? Has the talent actually improved? Moving beyond 2013, key veteran holdovers such as DE Justin Tuck, CB Corey Webster, and S Antrel Rolle are aging and taking up too much salary cap space. DT Linval Joseph will be a free agent and DE Jason Pierre-Paul will want a new contract soon. Who will the front office and coaching staff determine to be the core defensive players to build around on this team moving forward? Who will be the defensive leaders? Can Defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell restructure the various moving parts into an effective, cohesive unit in 2013 and beyond? Yes, there is change in every offseason, but there is a pretty significant changing of the guard on defense. Can it all come together quickly?

Defensive Line: Except for Pierre-Paul’s play in 2011 and late season flashes from everyone else that same season, this unit has largely lived off its reputation rather than consistent play on the football field. And because of that, gone are Umenyiora, Canty, and Bernard. Tuck could be next in 2014.

On paper, the defensive line is still the strongest position on defense. There are 16 bodies present and all of them have talent. The Giants will probably keep five defensive ends and the sure bets are Tuck, Pierre-Paul, Mathias Kiwanuka, and Damontre Moore. But Adrian Tracy, Adewale Ojomo, Justin Trattou, and Matt Broha have all flashed as players. Based on early impressions, it appears that Tuck is reinvigorated to have a big season, if for no other reason than his next contract with the Giants or another team. But he has been physically beat-up and quite moody in recent years. JPP also needs to rebound from a sackless second half if he wants a big-money contract. Kiwanuka should move back to his more natural position with something to prove as well. Moore has exciting potential, but he needs a lot of work in the weight room. If the Giants think Tuck is likely to depart in 2014, can they find a way to hold onto six defensive ends this year?

The Giants added a lot of new bodies at defensive tackle. Due to injuries and declining play, this was necessary. Linval Joseph returns. He has a lot of talent but he needs to be more effectively consistent on the playing field. Cullen Jenkins should add veteran leadership and a pass rush presence. Johnathan Hankins is the type of stout, double team-eating nose tackle that this team has lacked. That leaves one or two spots for Mike Patterson, Shaun Rogers, Markus Kuhn, Marvin Austin, and Frank Okam. Austin is the three-technique, pass rusher of the group. Rogers and Okam are huge nose tackle types. Patterson and Kuhn offer flexibility and can play the run. Moving forward past 2013, if the Giants can re-sign Joseph (a big if), then the Giants will be in good shape with him and Hankins. The real wild card is Austin. Is he a bust or can he become the player the Giants hoped he would when they drafted him in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft?

Linebacker: Most Giants’ fans seemed to be more concerned with this position than any other. For quite some time, the Giants have rarely addressed this spot high in the draft (with the exception of Clint Sintim). The team has been more proactive in free agency with additions such as Michael Barrow, Antonio Pierce, and Michael Boley to name a few. The same pattern continued this offseason. The Giants did not draft a linebacker but added Dan Connor and Aaron Curry in free agency. They also re-signed Keith Rivers.

This position is the most unsettled on the team despite the fact there are only eight linebackers on the current roster and it is conceivable that the Giants could only carry six heading into the regular season. There is little stability right now. Not only is there no sure starter at any of the three spots, but five of the eight players will see their contracts expire after the 2013 season. Dan Connor is probably the favorite to start in the middle, but he could be challenged there by Aaron Curry or Mark Herzlich. Curry will also vie for one of the outside spots along with Rivers, Jacquian Williams, and Spencer Paysinger. Long shots include Jake Muasau who was with the Giants in camp last year and rookie free agent Etienne Sabino.

One wonders how much the Giants will actually use three linebackers on the field. Obviously, a three-linebacker set will be their base defense. And one would think that having more linebackers on the field would be a good thing against a run-centric team like the Washington Redskins. But Perry Fewell and many other defensive coordinators are using more nickel-type defenses in today’s passing league, and Fewell, in particular, favors the three-safety look.

Rivers has talent, but he can’t seem to stay healthy. Williams can run like a deer, but is he physical enough? Paysinger has been working like a dog this offseason to get his shot. But both he and Herzlich need to prove they are more than just special teams players. The real wild cards are Connor and Curry – two highly-touted collegiate prospects who have had their ups and downs in the NFL, each with two different teams.

Defensive Back: It’s not the linebacker position that worries me the most, but cornerback. This was the position I was more shocked the Giants did not address in the draft. On paper, the Giants look deep and talented with Corey Webster, Prince Amukamara, Terrell Thomas, Jayron Hosley, and Aaron Ross. But Webster and Ross are over 30 and obviously on the downside of their respective careers. Thomas is coming off his third ACL tear on the same knee. If Webster rebounds from a bad 2012, if Thomas’ knee holds up and his overall athleticism hasn’t suffered, and if Ross can serve as a steady backup, then the Giants should be in good shape. But those are all huge “ifs”. Things could get really ugly if the answers to those questions are negative. Moreover, the Giants need Prince Amukamara to build upon a decent 2012 with a better 2013. And they desperately need Jayron Hosley to improve; he struggled quite a bit as a nickel corner in 2012.

Is there any potential gem in the other unknown cornerback candidates? Terrence Frederick, Laron Scott, Trumaine McBride, Charles James, and Junior Mertile are all vying for a spot on the 53-man roster.

Safety is more settled, but the Giants will be without Kenny Phillips. It’s hard to envision Stevie Brown duplicating his 8-interception season again in 2013, but we shall see. Rolle is steady and athletic, but he does not make many plays on the football and his cap number may become untenable in 2014. Will Hill flashed a great deal of promise and the Giants drafted Cooper Taylor. Ryan Mundy is a veteran free agent addition, but he was often viewed as a liability in coverage in Pittsburgh. Tyler Sash has not demonstrated anything more than special teams ability and may be on the hot seat. Veteran David Cardwell and rookie free agents Alonzo Tweedy and John Stevenson are the long shots.

Summary: So there has been a great deal of change. But will these changes improve their dreadful defensive rankings? There is talent on the defensive line, but it has to stop living off its reputation. Everything seems to be in a state of flux at linebacker. Are there three quality starters in that group? In the secondary, much depends on the questions surrounding the cornerback spot. Can Webster rebound? Can Thomas come back healthy and strong? Will Amukamara prove to be worthy of a #1 pick?

And can Perry Fewell and his defensive staff successfully mold together all of these changing and evolving parts into a cohesive, aggressive, and physical defense?

The Giants’ 2013 season probably depends on it.

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Jul 132012
 July 13, 2012  Posted by  Articles, Roster Thoughts
New York Giants and the National Sports Media

Watching the football media experts on The NFL Network and ESPN this offseason makes me feel like Mugatu in the film Zoolander. Most commentators say the New York Giants barely made the playoffs last year, have lost more than they have gained this offseason, and will be hard-pressed to fend off the dramatically-improved Eagles, Cowboys, and Redskins.

But what these critics seem to completely ignore:

•    Continuity is a strength, not a liability.
•    The Giants have the game’s best quarterback.
•    The Giants have the game’s best up-and-coming defender.
•    The Giants have one of the game’s best coaching staffs.
•    The defense will be dramatically better in 2012.
•    The running game will be dramatically better in 2012.
•    The Giants are getting significant reinforcements through the return of injured players and what looks to be a very strong rookie draft class.
•    Despite all of the problems last year (injuries, inexperience, weak running game and defense for most of the season), the Giants still won the NFC East, swept aside all of the best teams in the playoffs, and won the Super Bowl.

But there is no discussion about these facts by the critics.

“Doesn’t anyone notice this? I feel like I am taking crazy pills!” – Mugatu

I’ll say right now, barring significant injuries, this may be the most talented Giants team since 1986. Some seem to forget how strong the 2008 New York Giants were before Plaxico shot himself and injuries wore down the defensive line. That team was cruising for a repeat Championship, having beaten both eventual Super Bowl participants in their home stadiums. Even though most of the players from that team are no longer on the Giants, I get the sense that Tom Coughlin, Eli Manning, and Justin Tuck know what it takes to repeat that impressive regular-season performance and this time finish the deal in the playoffs. Most importantly, the 2012 Giants are a stronger team than the 2008 Giants at almost every position.

To be clear, what I am saying is this – I think the Giants have a good chance to be the NFL’s dominant team from start to finish in 2012. I’m sure the Packers, 49ers, Saints, and Patriots may have something to say about that. And the NFC East will be a lot tougher. But this is a DAMN GOOD Giants team and it’s remarkable that the “experts” don’t seem to recognize it.

Quarterback: Taking into account both the regular season and playoffs, Eli Manning was the best quarterback in football last season and the League’s MVP. Without Eli, the Giants were probably a 4-12 team at best. Now the same could be said of Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, but in the playoffs, Rodgers’ performance against the Giants cost his team dearly and Brady’s performance against the Ravens should have done the same.

Eli is the best not only because he puts up big numbers (over 13,000 yards in the last three seasons), but because the entire team has subconsciously adopted his calming personality. So has the fan base. Giants fans were inexplicably optimistic heading into the playoffs last year. Why? It wasn’t because of the 32nd ranked running game or 27th ranked defense. Whether you want to admit to it or not, it was because of Eli. Eli doesn’t shy away from pressure. He thrives on it. Fourth-quarter comebacks and dramatic wins have become so common with Eli at the helm that we now expect it. I hope Giants fans recognize the greatness they are watching.

Eli’s critics say he is inconsistent. Again, I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. Eli is the model of consistency. He has improved every season and his upward trending performance is as linear as it gets. Eli may actually be the game’s most consistent performer, especially when it matters the most. With the game on the line, I wouldn’t want any other quarterback.

Wide Receivers: The story is so remarkable that it seems surreal. In one season, Victor Cruz went from an undrafted rookie free agent who spent his first season on IR with no catches to the most productive single-season receiver in the 87 year history of the franchise. Despite the fact that he is only 25 years old and will be entering only his second full season, Cruz may be the game’s most dangerous slot receiver. And the odds are that he is going to get even better.

As good as Cruz is, Hakeem Nicks may be the better receiver and definitely should be considered one of the game’s best. He just turned 24.

The Giants will miss Mario Manningham unless someone else steps up. Manningham made a number of huge plays for the Giants, especially in the playoffs. But he also never seemed to be quite on the same page with Eli at all times. Contrary to their nature, Giants’ coaches were practically gushing about Rueben Randle ever since the rookie mini-camp. Randle has the ability to make the Giants’ receiving corps even stronger than it was in 2011.

And don’t completely discount Domenik Hixon, Ramses Barden, and Jerrel Jernigan. Coughlin and Eli both seem to respect Hixon a ton. It’s now or never for Barden. And Jernigan will have a much better understanding of the Giants’ system. Throw into that mix, rookie Brandon Collins who Kevin Gilbride seems very high on and Dan DePalma, who supposedly has impressed his teammates with his ability. It’s a very strong group. Nicks and Cruz are Pro Bowl talents. If Randle develops as hoped, it may be the best in the League.

Running Backs: The Giants were 32nd in rushing last year. There is no way in hell that a Tom Coughlin-coached team is going to be at the bottom of rushing figures for two years in a row. On the contrary, it is far more likely that the Giants will be one of the stronger rushing teams given Coughlin’s emphasis on the ground game.

For all of the grief that the offensive line gets for the lack of productivity in the ground game, the running backs deserve much of the blame. Due to a foot problem, Ahmad Bradshaw started only nine regular-season games and missed most of the practices. That lack of practice time affected his performance. Brandon Jacobs played well in 2-3 games, but was ordinary or worse in the rest of the contests. D.J. Ware was just a guy.

Even before David Wilson was drafted, it was my belief that Ahmad Bradshaw was going to be on a mission to prove himself in 2012. The addition of Wilson only adds fuel to that fire. Bradshaw was a very tough runner in 2011, but I expect to see the return of that elusiveness that made him so dangerous. I also expect to see him become more of an emotional leader, replacing the void created by the departure of Brandon Jacobs.

That all said, the Giants may never have had a running back like David Wilson. “I don’t know if we have had a guy as explosive, regardless of the position, here,” said Kevin Gilbride last month. “The darting, the explosiveness and short bursts that you see with him. That is kind of exciting to see…Tiki (Barber) was a tremendous all-around back. But this guy has the kind of explosion that I’m not sure how many guys in the league have.”  (Keep in mind that Tiki Barber is the franchise’s all-time rushing leader).

Once the Giants trust Wilson’s pass protection enough for him to play regularly, he may elevate the Giants’ offense to a totally different level. What I love about the guy is not just his ability, but he seems to “get it.”  He is one focused player.

The competition doesn’t end there. Da’Rel Scott is a homerun threat every time he touches the football. Andre Brown flashed last preseason. And Joe Martinek is a jack-of-all-trades type who is going to be very hard to cut. I’ll be curious to see if the Giants try to use him as a short-yardage running back.

At fullback, look for Henry Hynoski to dramatically improve. He knows the system better and has added strength and muscle in the offseason.

Tight Ends: Here is one of the few question marks on the team. If Martellus Bennett is focused and his reputation as a strong blocker is accurate, then he will be a tremendous addition for improving the running game alone. So much of the Giants’ running game depends on the tight end block, something that was subpar much of 2011. Bennett is a big, strong guy who can block a defensive end. What we don’t know is if Bennett can provide the type of clutch-receiving performance that Jake Ballard gave the Giants in the first half of 2011 before he was injured.

Depth remains a concern. Bear Pascoe isn’t really the kind of guy you want starting and is more of a jack-of-all-trades type than feature tight end. Adrien Robinson may be big and athletic, but he is green as grass. Travis Beckum is coming off of an ACL injury. And who knows about Christian Hopkins, Ryan Purvis, and Larry Donnell?

Offensive Line: This is one area where the 2008 team was stronger. But I guarantee you that the 2012 offensive line will be much better than the 2011 version. For one, the interior trio is pretty much set. David Baas will be healthy and he showed late why the Giants signed him. Look for Chris Snee to rebound strongly from perhaps his worst season. And Kevin Boothe was a rock of consistency at guard last year. Those three give the Giants a big, strong, physical, nasty interior presence.

The questions are really at tackle. Will Beatty’s eye is supposedly no longer an issue, but he had back issues last year and those continued this offseason. The Giants don’t seem to be particularly worried about it, but big guys with back problems make me nervous. If Beatty is healthy, the Giants should be fine at left tackle. In his first season as starter, while there were some down moments, Beatty played pretty darn well in pass protection. He should improve with experience if he remains focused. On the right side, Kareem McKenzie faded pretty quickly in 2011 and was let go. David Diehl, who plays better at tackle than guard, will likely be the starter. He’ll see less athletic defensive players on that side and that should help his game. The Giants appear to be grooming James Brewer for a future starting position. He’s a huge man with good feet. Sean Locklear is the veteran insurance policy, but he may be pushed by Matt McCants.

For all the grief the line gets, it only gave up 28 sacks last year. With the interior trio solidified, the addition of Bennett, an improved Hynoski, and better play from the halfbacks, look for drastic improvement in the ground attack.

Defensive Line: In 2008, Michael Strahan retired and Osi Umenyiora missed the season with injury. Injuries to Justin Tuck and Fred Robbins really affected the line late in the year. Last season, Tuck was a shadow of himself for most of the season. Umenyiora missed half of the year. And Chris Canty and Linval Joseph were slowed with injuries that required offseason surgery. But the Giants had arguably the best all-around defensive end in football in Jason Pierre-Paul – the 23-year old Jason Pierre-Paul who has only started seven college and 12 NFL regular-season games. Coaches and players say the sky is the limit for JPP.

But keep in mind that if Tuck rebounds as many expect him to do, opposing offenses are going to have a real problem. Before last year, Tuck was the impact player up front. What if both Tuck and JPP are impact players in 2012? Add to that mix a much more content (pay raise) and healthy Osi Umenyiora who was a huge factor in the post-season run with his pass rush. And Osi will be exceptionally motivated to perform in his contract year. Dave Tollefson departs, but all that means is that Mathias Kiwanuka may see more snaps at defensive end (which is a good thing). The Giants have some young defensive ends who could surprise too – Justin Trattou, Adrian Tracy, Craig Marshall, Adewale Ojomo, and Matt Broha.

Inside, Chris Canty had his best year despite playing with a bum knee. People seem to forget that last year was Linval Joseph’s first year starting and that he got better each game despite a bad ankle injury. Marvin Austin hasn’t played football in two years, but he still may be the best pass-rushing defensive tackle on the team. The presence of Rocky Bernard, Shaun Rogers, Martin Parker, Dwayne Hendricks, and Markus Kuhn makes this an incredibly deep unit.

This is the most-talented and deepest defensive line in the NFL. The unit may also include the game’s best defensive player.

Linebackers: Stop bitching about the linebackers. This is deep and talented group. Last year, the unit was hurt by the preseason loss off Jonathan Goff for the year, missed time and effectiveness by Michael Boley due to injury in the middle of the season, and the inexperienced rookie class that was further set back by the lockout. Once Boley recovered and the Giants added a veteran presence in Chase Blackburn, things really turned around. Now everyone is healthy, the Giants added another player by trade, and the rookies are not pups anymore.

Michael Boley is one of the most underrated players on the team. His strength is pass coverage and that’s why most fans don’t notice him more. Mathias Kiwanuka is more comfortable than ever at weakside linebacker. And the journeyman Chase Blackburn made a huge impact during the stretch run last year. That all said, the guys behind the starters will be pushing hard for playing time. Perry Fewell has been raving about Keith Rivers, Mark Herzlich, and Jacquian Williams. All three will play in various sub-packages and don’t be shocked to see Herzlich win the starting spot in the middle. Rivers, Boley, and Williams give the Giants three extremely athletic linebackers who can cover a lot of ground. We may see less of the three safety package because of these three.

And even behind these guys there are others who have talent and should not be discounted. Spencer Paysinger, Greg Jones, and Jake Muasau can play in this league. Paysinger and Jones are good special teams players and Fewell likes Mausau as a potential middle linebacker.

This is the strongest and deepest group of linebackers the Giants have had in years.

Defensive Backs: At cornerback, Corey Webster is one of the NFL’s best, and he’s coming off one of his best seasons. A big question is how well will Terrell Thomas rebound from last year’s ACL injury? Before he was hurt, he looked primed for a breakout year. The Giants will likely once again use him as their slot corner in nickel packages as Thomas is a very physical player from that position as a coverman, blitzer, and tackler. If Thomas is slow to recover, the Giants will have plenty of options. Prince Amukamara’s foot problems should be behind him. He has a ton of talent. Michael Coe really impressed the coaches in practices this offseason and the team also appears pleased with Justin Tryon and Jayron Hosley. Then there are guys like Brandon Bing, Bruce Johnson, Antwaun Molden, Janzen Jackson, and Dante Hughes who could press for a roster spot.

If Thomas can return to form, Amukamara demonstrates why he was first round pick, and back-ups like Coe, Tryon, and Hosley continue to impress, then the Giants may have one of the better cornerback collections in the League.

At safety, Kenny Phillips’ athletic presence prevents most teams from testing the deep third of the Giants’ secondary. With the reinforcements at cornerback and linebacker, Antrel Rolle – another athletic performer – won’t be forced to play out of position at nickel corner in 2012. The Giants have high hopes for Tyler Sash. He may not be the most athletic guy, but he is a very smart, heady, and physical player. Keep an eye on both Stevie Brown and Will Hill. Both flashed in practices this offseason.

Special Teams: Funny what a year makes. In 2010, everyone wanted to run Tom Quinn out of town. The Giants got a legitimate NFL punter and dramatically improved in punt and kick coverage and the bitching stopped. One area that still needs improvement is the return game. Before his two ACL injuries, Domenik Hixon was a very dangerous punt and kickoff returner. Can he return to form? Or will someone else step up? The good news is that Giants are rock solid in the kicking game with Steve Weatherford, Lawrence Tynes, and Zak DeOssie. And there are a lot of young and hungry linebackers, defensive backs, and wide receivers on this team that should help on the coverage units.

Summary: Brandon Jacobs was not a big loss. Losing a healthy Jake Ballard hurts and we’ll have to see if Martellus Bennett and Adrien Robinson can fill the void. Mario Manningham might be a big loss, but not if the Giants’ faith in Domenik Hixon and Rueben Randle is validated. The biggest loss could be losing Quarterbacks Coach Mike Sullivan to the Buccaneers, but the otherwise, a very strong coaching staff returns remarkably intact.

I may or may not be taking crazy pills, but I’m definitely drinking the Kool-Aid. And it’s Blue…Giant Blue. This is a damn good team. It’s a much healthier and stronger version of the one that won the Super Bowl last year. The Giants will be better at almost every position, and at some positions, significantly so. Defensively alone, the Giants should improve from 27th to easily top 10. At worst, the Giants will be middle of the pack running the football. The fact that the “experts” can’t see that is mind-boggling.

The Giants are the best or near best in the NFL at quarterback, wide receiver, and defensive line. They have enviable talent and depth at many other positions.

Injuries can always derail a season, but the Giants have also won two recent Super Bowls despite being hit by significant injuries. If this team can stay somewhat healthy, watch out NFL.

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Jul 272010
 July 27, 2010  Posted by  Articles, Roster Thoughts
Key Questions Heading into the 2010 New York Giants Training Camp

The New York Giants are at a crossroads. 2009 was supposed to be a continuation of nice little run that resulted in four straight seasons with playoff appearances, an NFL Championship in 2007, and the top-seated NFC playoff team in 2008. But after an impressive 5-0 start in 2009, the roof caved in as the Giants finished the next 11 games 3-8. And in actuality, the collapse even felt worse than that.

Despite the fact that the Giants swept Dallas in 2009, most predict the Cowboys will own the division in 2010. Some of these people think the Giants can finish as high as second in the division; others believe New York will have to fight to keep out of the division basement.

What we know for sure is that there are a lot more questions heading into 2010 than there were heading into 2009.

Can the Giants Stay Relatively Healthy? The early returns appear to be no. Training camp has not even started and the Giants have already been hit pretty hard. Domenik Hixon, a critical contributor on special teams, is gone for the season. Kevin Boothe, a versatile back-up lineman who could play all five offensive line spots and allowed the Giants to be comfortable carrying one less lineman on game day, will miss all of camp and the preseason. Chad Jones, the third-round pick who would have been a factor on special teams and possibly a future starter at safety, may have had his career end before it started. And this week we learned that Osi Umenyiora will have to play through a hip issue that has already caused him to miss non-contact practice time. The Giants say they will “manage” it, but they said the same thing about Kenny Phillips last year.

There is a direct correlation between team performance and a team’s overall injury situation in the NFL. A team that stays relatively healthy – especially among its core players – will likely be more successful than teams that do not. The Giants ran out of steam in 2008 when injuries started to pile up. Injuries were a huge factor in 2009. How will 2010 turn out? The defensive line has been injury prone the last couple of seasons. And the secondary, offensive line, and running back corp was the same way in 2009.

Does Coach Coughlin Still Command Respect? Three years removed from an NFL title, this sounds like an insane question. And it would be had the Giants not performed like they did in the final two games of the season. I think many fans have put out of their mind just how embarrassingly dreadful the last two games of the season were. The Giants were out-scored 85-16 and had not the Panthers and Vikings called off the dogs, both teams would have easily put more than 50 points up against the Giants. And the offense collapsed too. The team appeared to have lost its confidence and fight – and to many – it appeared that the effort was not there. “Quit” is a dangerous word but when a solid NFL team cannot even compete on the playing field, that word is sure to come up. Coach Coughlin certainly seemed to be at a loss. And the Giants followed up as bad a defeat in their entire history – the loss to Carolina in the final Giants’ game at Giants Stadium – with an equally atrocious effort against the Vikings. That was a damning indictment on Coughlin. He needs to regain control of this team and instill confidence, pride, and yes, fear, in it again. Fear of non-performance.

Was Perry Fewell the Right Hire? Tom Coughlin is batting 1-for-3 in terms of defensive coordinator hires. He won a Championship with Steve Spagnuolo but was forced to fire Tim Lewis and Bill Sheridan. Was Fewell the right hire? Only time will tell. Fewell had mixed success in Buffalo – his team was strong against the pass but not against the run.

Do the Giants Have a Viable Punter? C’mon, a punting question is the fourth most important question surrounding this team? I think it is. Football is a game of field position. Field position can help or hurt your offense and defense. 10 yards does not sound like a lot, but it is. It could mean the difference between a touchdown and a field goal, or a field goal and no points. A punter is critical. And right now, with Jeff Feagles gone and the restraints of an 80-man roster limit in training camp, the Giants’ punting game is in the hands of untested, inconsistent, green-as-grass Matt Dodge. Will the Giants have to pick up a veteran at the end of the preseason? Will there be a decent veteran available if that is the case?

Can the Giants Become One of the Better Running Teams in Football Again? Two years ago, the Giants had the #1 rushing attack in the NFL. Everyone was talking about the “Earth, Wind, and Fire” backfield and “the best offensive line in football.” A year later, many folks say the Giants’ running backs are an ordinary bunch who can’t stay healthy and that the once-vaunted offensive line is over-the-hill. In 2009, the Giants became less smash-mouth and more of a finesse, passing team. Obviously the Giants need to regain their physical offensive aspect. Much depends on the health and productivity of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. But the offensive line, fullback, and tight ends need to return to form and block better. They also need to stay healthy. Injuries were an issue with the offensive line and fullback last year too.

Will the Loser of the Umenyiora-Kiwanuka Competition Rock the Boat? Perhaps the most intense New York Giants training camp battle will be for the starting weakside end position. Umenyiora has done and said all the right things this offseason, but it is clear that he will be one upset camper if he is not designated the starter. Mathias Kiwanuka has publicly said he expects to start and will be very disappointed if he does not. Whoever loses this competition, will he be the good soldier and not rock the boat both behind the scenes and in public? An unhappy Umenyiora caused morale issues last season.

Will the Giants Be Able to Field a Decent Linebacking Corps? The Giants carried nine linebackers on their roster last year. NINE! And they all pretty much sucked. Michael Boley at least had a viable reason (injury) but the others did not. Two starters have been let go – Antonio Pierce and Danny Clark. And there have been three additions – Keith Bulluck, Phillip Dillard, and Adrian Tracy. The Giants hope and expect Boley to man the weakside spot. And they are praying Clint Sintim – who was a huge disappointment in 2009 – will do the same at the strongside spot. Unless he’s done physically, the aging Bulluck, who is also recovering from a December ACL injury, will likely man the middle. Can Boley, Bulluck, and Sintim get the job done?

Can Kenny Phillips Return and Play Like He Did Against Dallas? It’s funny that so much has been made of Kenny Phillips since the Giants lost him near the start of the 2009 NFL season. Why? Because, to be honest, Phillips has not made much of an impact in the first two years of his NFL career. He has only started five games in two years. And in the 18 games that he has played in, he has only really stood out in two. But one of those was the last game he played – the game against Dallas – and he was stellar in that contest. Much of the faith that has been placed on Phillips appears to be based on that game and his potential. He is a very good athlete who can cause problems for passing games if he is healthy – especially if he is combined with the equally athletic Antrel Rolle. If Phillips can play at a high level, the Giants will have turned an area of weakness to a real strength.

Can the Giants Find Productive Returners? The loss of Domenik Hixon was huge as he was a threat to score as a kickoff and punt returner. That’s a rare commodity. Now the Giants must find someone who can not only gain field position, but also safely secure the ball. Another option was lost when Chad Jones was lost for the season. The Giants may be forced to use someone like Mario Manningham, Ahmad Bradshaw, and/or Aaron Ross now. Pray it’s not Sinorice Moss.

Can the Giants Finish 2010 on the Upswing? Only once in Tom Coughlin’s tenure as head coach with the Giants have the Giants finished out a season on a strong note – and that was in 2007.  Strong starts were largely wasted or almost wasted down the stretch in 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2009. Coughlin is on the wrong side of a trend. Other than 2007, he’s 0-3 in playoff games.

So there you have a list of my personal key questions. I am not overly worried if the team can stay healthy. But due to recent historical experience, I do worry about the health situation. Let’s just pray the Giants have already hit their injury quota.

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Jul 282009
 July 28, 2009  Posted by  Articles, Roster Thoughts
Key Questions Heading into the 2009 New York Giants Training Camp

The New York Giants are one of the very best teams in the NFL and have few question marks.  Under Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning, the Giants have a nice little run going.  In the past four seasons, the Giants have made the playoffs every single year and have earned two NFC East Division titles, one NFC Championship, and one NFL Championship.  Barring catastrophic injuries to key players, the Giants are likely to add to their laurels in 2009.  The Giants are a relatively young football team that should continue to get better as it matures.   This is a golden age of Giants football.

(1) Will Bill Sheridan Be a Good Defensive Coordinator?: It’s a major jump and transition from position coach to coordinator.  Many fail.  Bill Sheridan has worked under Tim Lewis and Steve Spagnuolo.  Coughlin made a mistake when he hired Lewis, but made a very good decision when he hired Spagnuolo.  How will this decision turn out?

(2) Can the Giants Avoid the Injury Bug?: No team in the NFL, including the Giants, can expect to reach the Super Bowl if key players miss significant time or are not as effective due to injury.  Serious injuries to Eli Manning, a starter on the offensive line, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, or Corey Webster could prove devastating.

(3) Will the Giants Peak at the Right Time?: In the 2007 season, the Giants were peaking at the right time; in 2008, they were not.  Now there are all kinds of explanations why they didn’t in 2008, but all that really matters is that they were not playing their best football in January.  The Giants will make the playoffs in 2009.  That’s not the issue.  It’s what they do once they get there that matters.   This team is now in the same category as the New England Patriots – anything less than another NFL title will be a disappointment.

(4) Are the Giants’ Young Receivers Good Enough?: There are two question marks surrounding the revamped receiving corps: (a) is there enough talent, and (b) is there enough experience?  Regarding the first issue, the Giants have enough talent in other areas of the roster to still win and make the playoffs with the current group of wide receivers.  But when January rolls around and the Giants face do-or-die, lose-and-you-are-eliminated situations against top defensive teams, will this group be good enough?  What if the Giants play the Eagles again in January?  Can these guys get open against their corners?  Will they deliver in the clutch in pressure-packed situations?  The other issue is even if these players are good enough to succeed in the NFL, are they good enough to succeed THIS season?  The Giants probably have THE most inexperienced group of wide receivers and tight ends in the NFL.  Guys like Kevin Boss and Steve Smith seem like they have been around for a while, but they have only played two seasons.  Domenik Hixon caught one NFL pass before last season.  Michael Matthews and Darcy Johnson have few NFL catches.  Mario Manningham, Hakeem Nicks, Travis Beckum, and Ramses Barden are very green.  How many bad passing plays will occur because a receiver didn’t run the right route or didn’t use the proper technique?  It will happen.  The question is how often?

(5) Can Adam Koets Handle Back-Up Center?: The Giants did not re-sign Grey Ruegamer.  It appears the team is high on Adam Koets as his replacement as a back-up center.  If he can handle the position, it would be a very good development as Koets would be a player who could handle tackle, guard, and center.  If Koets cannot handle the transition, the Giants would most likely be forced to move Rich Seubert or Chris Snee to center if Shaun O’Hara got hurt.

Five questions?  That’s it?  Well it is for me this year.  What about the linebackers you ask?  Or running back?  Or back-up offensive linemen?  The kicker?  I’m not worried.  The Giants defensive line and secondary is so good that they could, if necessary, cover up for a multitude of sins at linebacker, if that were the case.  But Michael Boley, who will miss training camp with a hip injury, will return and round into form when it matters most.  I look for a good year from Antonio Pierce.  Clint Sintim and Bryan Kehl will press for playing time.  Don’t forget about guys like Jonathan Goff and Chase Blackburn too.

Running back?  The Giants are loaded at the position.  It’s just a matter of how the touches are divvied up.  Back-up offensive line?  I’ve already mentioned the question of Koets at center.  I like Kevin Boothe at guard (he struggles more at tackle).  Guy Whimper has played well at tackle.  And the Giants drafted the talented William Beatty in the second round.  The Giants should be fine with Boothe, Whimper, Koets, and Beatty as long as Koets can handle center.  The kicker?  Lawrence Tynes gets too much grief.  He’s pretty solid.

Believe me, like the Yankees in their heyday, the question is not if the Giants make the playoffs, but what they do once they get there.  This is a very, very good football team.  There aren’t many potential trouble spots.  If Sheridan was a good choice (big if) and the team stays relatively healthy, the Giants are as good as anyone in the NFL.  They are strong on both lines and have a franchise quarterback and very good secondary.  They also have a rock of stability and knowledge in Tom Coughlin.  That’s as good as it gets.

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Feb 252009
 February 25, 2009  Posted by  Articles, Roster Thoughts

New York Giants 2009 NFL Free Agency Preview: General Manager Jerry Reese says there are always good players available in free agency.  “There are always good players,” said Reese at the NFL Combine on February 21.  “You just have to look deep into what you need and what’s available. There are always people in free agency who can help you fill some holes in your roster.  Sometimes you have to look a little deeper.  It would be nice to get all the top guys, but that’s (not) really reality, so you have to look at the mid levels.  And you even have to bottom-feed sometimes in free agency.”

To me, it seems that each year there are fewer interesting players available.  Part of this is due to the fact that teams are doing a better job of retaining their own good players.  On top of that, the Franchise tag has been used more this year than ever before.  But also, the Giants’ talent level on their roster right now is very good.  If the Giants bottom feed, there is no guarantee that these players will even make the team or be significant contributors.  For example, last year the Giants signed players such as Danny Clark, Sammy Knight, Renaldo Wynn, Shane Olivea, David Carr, and Jonathan Palmer.  The one starter out of that group – Clark – was just OK.  Wynn was an unexciting reserve who may not be re-signed.  Knight rarely played and was just cut.  Olivea and Palmer did not make the team.  Carr has been re-signed as Eli’s primary back-up.  My point?  Don’t get your hopes up!

Quarterback: With David Carr re-signed, the Giants already have an experienced veteran behind Manning.  The Giants will not likely add another veteran here though they could re-sign Anthony Wright to compete for the #3 job with Andre Woodson and possibly another draft pick.

Wide Receivers: With Plaxico Burress’ future with the team very much in doubt and Amani Toomer’s days in New York most likely over, this obviously is one of the chief areas of concern for the Giants.  I think the Giants hold Domenik Hixon and Steve Smith in high regard and both are still just scratching the surface of their potential.  It remains to be seen if Mario Manningham can mentally adjust to the pro game.  Sinorice Moss was rumored to be on the trading block last year.  David Tyree is a 4th/5th-type of receiver.  The Giants will undoubtedly draft a wide receiver or two.  But rookie wideouts don’t usually make a big impact.  So the Giants probably will look at free agents and possibly a trade.  The problem is there is not much out there in free agency.  T.J. Houshmandzadeh (Bengals) will be 32 years old in September, is not really a vertical threat, and will likely be in high demand.  The Giants may be better off looking at a guy like Nate Washington (Steelers).  He’s inconsistent, but he is fast.  He’s also young (turns 26 in August) and improving.  Devery Henderson (Saints) is inconsistent, but he can also get down the field.  The Giants could also take a chance on someone like Miles Austin (Cowboys) or Hank Baskett (Eagles).  Both have size, speed, and special teams return ability.  (Late Update: The Jets also released Laveranues Coles. Although he is past 30 and not the vertical threat the Giants need, he may be someone the Giants consider if they want a veteran presence).

Running Backs: No quality fullback will want to sign with the Giants with Madison Hedgecock firmly entrenched as the starter.  Brandon Jacobs was franchised and will be back (Late Update: Jacobs was re-signed to a 4-year, $25 million deal).  Derrick Ward will hit the open market and is not likely to return.  That said, the Giants are in good shape with Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw and Danny Ware.  It is possible that the Giants could sign a second-tier veteran to compete with Bradshaw and Ware.

Tight Ends: The Giants have a decent group of tight ends in Kevin Boss, Darcy Johnson, and Michael Matthews.  But if Boss were to go down, the Giants might be in trouble.  Adding another tight end in free agency or the draft is certainly a possibility.  However, there are not many interesting guys available in free agency at tight end.  If the Giants want to consider an older veteran, they may look at someone like the versatile Jim Kleinsasser (Vikings).

Offensive Line: The starting five is one of the best offensive lines in football and all are signed through at least 2011.  The question is one of depth.  What do the Giants truly think about Guy Whimper, Adam Koets, and Kevin Boothe?  Will an attempt be made to re-sign Grey Ruegamer or will the Giants look to add a younger veteran?  Obviously a top-tier player will not likely be the focus here.

Defensive Ends: The Giants are in great shape with Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, and Mathias Kiwanuka.  Adding a fourth defensive end to compete with Dave Tollefson and Robert Henderson would be ideal, but that person will likely come in the draft.

Defensive Tackle: The Giants are in good shape here as long as Barry Cofield and Fred Robbins recover well from offseason knee scopes.  Jay Alford is a quality reserve.  What would make the Giants’ defensive line truly outstanding would be adding a player like Albert Haynesworth (Titans).  But he is likely far out of the Giants’ price range.  Shaun Cody (Lions) has been a disappointment in Detroit, but he could do better with a change of scenery.  The Giants could also look at some 3-4 ends who could play in the 4-3 at tackle such as Chris Canty (Cowboys), Igor Olshanksy (Chargers), and Stephen Bowen (Cowboys).

Linebackers: The Giants need more speed and athleticism here.  Bryan Kehl probably has a future at the weakside spot.  Antonio Pierce will likely remain the starter for at least one more year inside, but the Giants do like Jonathan Goff behind him.  Still, more bodies are needed.  Look for the Giants to draft at least one linebacker, possibly two.  As for free agents, the team could look at Jonathan Vilma (Saints), Channing Crowder (Dolphins), Napoleon Harris (Vikings), Kevin Burnett (Cowboys), or Marcus Washington (recently cut by Redskins).  (Late Update: Crowder was re-signed by the Dolphins).

Cornerbacks: The Giants are in very good shape at cornerback with Corey Webster, Aaron Ross, Kevin Dockery (protected with 2nd round tender), and Terrell Thomas.  Look for the Giants to draft a corner to replace Dockery in 2010.

Safeties: The Giants have solid starters in Kenny Phillips and Michael Johnson, but no depth if James Butler departs as is quite possible.  Additional bodies will have to be acquired either through the draft or free agency.  The Giants could look at back-up type who is also a special teams stud like Sean Considine (Eagles).

Kickers: Jeff Feagles and Lawrence Tynes are likely to be the kickers in 2009.

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Jul 212008
 July 21, 2008  Posted by  Articles, Roster Thoughts
Key Questions Heading into the 2008 New York Giants Training Camp

The New York Giants are the World Champions!  Hell yeah baby!  Some say enough is enough and it is time to move on.  I can’t.  I won’t.  What the Giants did last year will influence my outlook for the foreseeable future.  The stars were aligned for Dallas to go to the Super Bowl and the Giants ruined their season.  Even if Dallas were to win a Championship in its near future, it won’t change that fact.  Then the Giants went into storied Lambeau Field and upset the Packers in the third-coldest game in NFL history with Bart Starr and the old Packer greats looking on.  Revenge might have been 45 years late (1961 and 1962 Championship Games), but it was sweet all the same.  Then the Giants did the unthinkable.  They beat the unbeatable, almost-perfect New England Patriots in one of the greatest Super Bowls ever played.  Three great games that ended in dramatic fashion!

I’m convinced that fans won’t truly digest and appreciate all of this until years from now.  It was something special.

So what if the Giants don’t repeat in 2008?  I won’t like it, but it won’t change the fact that the Giants won their seventh World Championship in 2007.  They can’t take that away from the team or its fans.  Even if the Giants were widely regarded as favorites (they clearly are not), the odds would be stacked against them.  Repeating is extremely difficult.  Heck, I’ve yet to see the Giants make the playoffs after winning a Super Bowl.  So as I approach 2008 as a fan, I do so in a very satisfied manner.  I am very excited to see the Giants in 2008 because I think they can even be better, but last season removed a lot of the angst I have had in recent years with this team.

Unlike all of the New York Giants training camp previews I have written for this site since the mid-1990’s, this one will not have a lot of questions.  Why?  Because this is a very good football team.  The Giants have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL, despite what the national media thinks.  And the Giants are also fairly deep at most positions.  The exciting thing about the Giants is that they are still a fairly young football team.  And now they have the experience of having played in the most pressure-packed playoff games.  Talent, youth, and experience.  What more could you want?  If the Giants stay healthy and focused, another Championship could be in the picture sometime during the next few seasons.

(1) What Version of Eli Manning Will We See in 2008? Will Eli revert back to regular season form?  During the 2007 regular season, Manning turned the football over 27 times (interceptions and fumbles).  But during the playoffs, he committed one turnover (and that wasn’t his fault).  That was the biggest difference in his play between the regular and post-season.  If Manning can continue to protect the football and improve his decision making and accuracy, the Giants will be in excellent shape.  Manning was one very confident, poised quarterback during the playoffs.  He became the guy the Giants had hoped for when they drafted him.  But if Eli reverts back to his inconsistent form, the Giants will have to battle tooth-and-nail just to make it to the playoffs again.  This is the most important question the team faces.

(2) How Much Will the Giants Miss Michael Strahan? Had he played in 2008, Strahan still would have been one of the best defensive ends in the game.  Not only because he is a very good pass rusher, but because he is one of the best run defenders at the position.  On talent alone, even despite the Giants’ wealth of talent at defensive end, he will be missed.  But the biggest area where Strahan will be missed is the leadership he provided.  I have never really bought into rah-rah pre-game histrionics and that the players needed Strahan to get them fired up.  But what he did do – particularly in the playoffs last season – is keep the team focused.  He also helped to keep the team poised.  He was rock in the middle of the storm.  What Giants will now serve in that capacity?  And will they be as effective?

(3) Will the Team Stay Healthy? Injuries happen.  And the Giants will lose players for significant stretches, including the season.  Who will get hurt?  How long will they be hurt?  In the ultra-competitive NFC East, the injury status of each team is often decisive.

(4) How Hungry is the Team? The players say they are still hungry.  But those are just words.  Time and time again, in all sports, we see Championship teams lose that edge.  And that is usually all it takes.  The players are human beings.  Since February, they have been told how great they are and what a tremendous feat they accomplished.  They have been treated like heroes.  The offseason has been shorter for them.  Are they ready for the grind again?  Are they ready for the pain and adversity that is sure to come?

My gut tells me that the Giants are not going to repeat in 2008.  It’s not because I think they will be weaker.  I actually think they will be a better team.  But the NFC East is tough.  And every team they face will be giving their best.  The Giants may not win their division again.  But if Manning continues to progress, new leaders step up, and the team stays relatively healthy and hungry, this team is capable of representing the NFC in the Super Bowl again.

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May 222008
 May 22, 2008  Posted by  Articles, Roster Thoughts

Barring unforeseen injuries, the 2008 New York Giants should be a better team than the 2007 version that surprisingly won an NFL Championship.  In a nutshell, the 2008 version should be stronger across the board due to added experience and confidence in what largely is a very young team.  And team management appears to have done a nice job of filling what few holes there were on the roster.

Indeed, some would argue, including myself, that the Giants seriously contended for/won their NFL Title a year or two earlier than expected.  That’s because the youngsters on this team played with poise, maturity, and productivity well beyond their relatively young ages.

That all said, that does not mean the Giants will repeat.  The odds will be stacked against them.  Winning an NFL Championship is extremely difficult and repeating is even more so.  Everyone will be gunning for the Giants.  Heck, their record may not be as good and they might have to fight tooth-and-nail in a very tough division just to make the playoffs again.  But I am firmly convinced, talent wise, this will be a better team.

Let’s look at the reasons why:

Eli Manning: Yes, he’s one of the youngsters.  27 is still young by NFL quarterback standards and Manning only just completed his third season as full-time NFL starter.  Let me be clearer – Eli hasn’t entered his prime yet.  Most quarterbacks with that kind of limited experience are not supposed to already have a Super Bowl MVP trophy.  It is certainly possible that Manning will regress into the very inconsistent quarterback of the 2007 regular season.  Undoubtedly he will still have his ups and downs.  Many fans can’t seem to accept the fact that all quarterbacks – even the very good ones – have bad games or even down seasons.  My guess is that Manning simply continues to improve.  I don’t think he will be as flawless and regularly clutch as he was during the 4-game playoff stretch, but we should see better play and more consistency from him.  With the Super Bowl, he is now the unquestioned leader of the offensive team.  That will help.  So will the added confidence.  And with the Super Bowl, a heavy weight must have been lifted from his shoulders.  He will still be under heavy scrutiny and criticism, but the load has been lightened immeasurably.

The Second-Year Players: Fans and the media always make the mistake of looking at newcomers, namely free agents and draft picks, as the sole source of a team’s projected improvement.  It will be the improvement that the 2007 draft class makes that will have a greater impact on this team.

In his book Finding the Winning Edge by coaching legend Bill Walsh, there is an entire section on why “in most instances, first-year players encounter too many obstacles which must be overcome for them to make a significant contribution.”  Some of those obstacles include physical and mental immaturity, the “survival mode” mentality that most rookies adopt during training camp and the preseason that limits focus, the lack of individualized attention these players receive the further into the NFL calendar a team goes, and the often overwhelming change that occurs as a rookie transitions from college to a totally new and adult lifestyle.

It is absolutely astounding that the Giants benefitted immediately as much as they did from their 2007 draft class, and in particular from CB Aaron Ross, WR Steve Smith, TE Kevin Boss, and HB Ahmad Bradshaw.  Lesser, but important contributions, also came from DT Jay Alford, LB Zak DeOssie, and S Michael Johnson.  And the Giants received quality minutes from rookie free agent Michael Matthews.  These guys ranged in age from 21-25.  They not only produced, but they produced in the clutch.  Their poise and maturity, their ability to handle the mental as well as the physical elements of the game, in the biggest of games, was remarkable.

With a full year under their belts, these players are now positioned to improve and elevate the play of the entire team.  The additional playing time and high-pressure experience from the playoff run expedites matters.  Keep in mind that all of these players have only scratched the surface of their potential.  Considered one of the top rookies in the NFL last year, Ross was self-admittedly overwhelmed for much of the season and played hurt down the stretch.  He should make more plays on the ball in 2008.  Smith missed most of the season.  When he played, the Giants’ offense became much more consistent and dangerous.  He might be a better down-the-field target than most fans realize.  Boss will improve as a blocker as he continues to improve his technique and strength.  And his productivity in the passing game as a receiver should increase fairly dramatically.  Ahmad Bradshaw may in fact be the best running back on the team and that’s saying something given the talents of Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward.  Jay Alford saw his minutes increase down the stretch and improved with each game.  Zak DeOssie should be a factor at the competition at linebacker.  Michael Johnson has the chance to start and improve the overall level of athleticism and physical play at safety.

Plaxico Burress: The Giants’ best offensive player missed most of training camp, all of the preseason, and rarely practiced for five months during the regular season and playoffs.  Despite all of that, he had an excellent season.  Indeed, he was a touchdown machine early in the season, scoring eight touchdowns in six games, until the ankle really began to take its toll.  If healthy or near full strength, he is quite capable of putting together the best season a Giants’ receiver has ever had in the team’s 83-year history.

Brandon Jacobs: In his first full season as a starter, Jacobs rushed for a 1,000 yards and average 5.0 yards per carry despite missing five full games and the bulk of a sixth.  Not only do I expect him to put up bigger rushing and touchdown numbers in 2008, but I expect him to break more big runs.

Mathias Kiwanuka, Jeremy Shockey, and Derrick Ward: Getting these three back healthy will be a tremendous benefit to the team.  Many forget how productive Ward was when he played, including a 154 yard effort against the Bears.

Corey Webster: I am still floored by the dramatic level of improvement Corey Webster made from the regular season to the post-season.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it.  Webster not only just improved his play, but he was one of the Giants’ best players on the field in the playoffs.  If that level of play continues, the Giants are going to be very, very tough on defense.

The Left Side of the Offensive Line: The middle and right-side of the Giants’ offensive line has been the same since 2005 and that cohesion and chemistry is an advantage that many NFL teams do not enjoy.  Many people thought the left side of the Giants’ offensive line was going to be a problem last year.  It wasn’t.  And with a year under their belt playing next to each other, David Diehl and Rich Seubert will be even better.

The 2008 Offseason Additions: Danny Clark is a better linebacker than most realize.  He will push hard for playing time.  If he doesn’t start, it’s a good sign that Gerris Wilkinson is ready.  Giants’ safeties made too many mental mistakes in 2007.  That won’t happen with Sammy Knight if he plays.  Knight may not start, but he will be a very good mentor for all of the young safeties.

Don’t expect much of an immediate impact from Bryan Kehl and Jonathan Goff (other than special teams), but each of the Giants’ first three 2008 draft picks might significantly contribute.  Kenny Phillips may start on opening day and be a serious upgrade despite being a rookie.  Terrell Thomas is ideally suited to the press and blitzing schemes the Giants employ.  He won’t start, but he could end up playing a lot.  The presence of Burress, Toomer, Smith, Shockey, and Boss likely means there won’t be many balls thrown in the direction of Mario Manningham in 2008, but he could surprise, especially in 4-WR sets or if someone gets hurt.  He’s very dangerous.

The Coaching Staff: For one, the guillotine hanging over their necks is gone.  They are not going anywhere and that in itself commands respect.  But the real respect will come from having done it.  Secondly, many forget that Steve Spagnuolo’s defensive scheme was completely new last year.  The players will be much, much more comfortable with it from the get-go.  And with added comfort, there will be even more wrinkles.  Third, the offensive coaches should have a better level of understanding about what works and what doesn’t work with this group of players.

Keep in mind this one important fact:  In the NFC East, the Giants were the only team not to be significantly hurt by coaching changes.  The Cowboys, Eagles, and Redskins all lost quality coaches.

Final note… I just don’t see a lot of holes on this team.  This is one of the more complete rosters I’ve seen while closely following the Giants.  The DL is one of the best in football.  The draft strengthened and deepened the secondary and linebacking corps a great deal.  Eli Manning has proved he can do it.  This may be the deepest running back group in the NFL.  This may be the deepest collection of wide receivers the Giants have had in decades.  The Giants have two quality tight ends.  The offensive line is very solid and underrated.  There is a nice mix of youth and veterans.  The players now believe in the coaching staff.  And everyone has the experience and confidence of having already done it.

I personally hope the media, fans, and possibly other teams underestimate the Giants.  They shouldn’t.  This team is good.  Very good.

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Feb 272008
 February 27, 2008  Posted by  Articles, Roster Thoughts

New York Giants 2008 NFL Free Agency Preview: The Super Bowl Champion New York Giants do not have a lot of holes on the roster, but there are areas where they can help themselves.  Much depends on which of their own free agents are re-signed or not, most notably FS Gibril Wilson, LB Kawika Mitchell, HB Derrick Ward, and LB Reggie Torbor.  Whether Michael Strahan retires or not will also influence personnel decisions.

I do not expect the Giants to be overly active in free agency.  While the Giants have the cap space, the pickings – for the second year in a row – are pretty slim.  The few quality guys who will be available will be dramatically overpriced.  Supply and demand.  There isn’t much out there and a lot of teams have cap space.

The Giants are in good shape at all of their starting positions with the possible exception of safety.  Because the Giants are a young team, General Manager Jerry Reese may choose to use his available cap space this season on extending contracts of players already on the roster.

The following are my thoughts on the Giants’ offseason needs which should be addressed either by free agency or the draft.  I have identified some unrestricted free agents who have caught my eye.  This is not an exhaustive list.  Some of these guys will be off the market by the time free agency starts at midnight on February 29th.  And there will be others available as teams cut players.  So please take this preview for what it is – a snapshot of the free agent market at 11:30AM on February 27.

While it is very important not to overrate your own talent, especially when coming off of a championship season, I don’t see a lot of room on this roster for second- or third-tier-type free agents on this team.  The Giants will have seven draft picks in April (they traded away their 7th rounder but gained an additional 6th rounder).  My preference – and I think that of the Giants as well – is to fill remaining DEPTH openings with rookies (aside from back-up quarterback).  If the Giants do pursue a veteran free agent, I think they will look at quality players who are likely starters.  These type of players will be expensive – perhaps prohibitively so.  The Giants may want to remain quiet for the bulk of the free agent signing period.

Quarterbacks:  The question here is the back-up situation.  Can the Giants do better than Anthony Wright?  A year after being promoted the second-string spot, Jared Lorenzen fell to third-team in 2007.  He is a restricted free agent.  And he’s still very fat.  How important is the game to him?  A word of warning – the free agent quarterback market is pretty bad this year.

  • Todd Collins (Washington Redskins, 6-4, 225, 36):  A career back-up who started the final three games of the 2007 regular season for the Redskins and won all three games with a 106.4 quarterback rating.  Smart.  Makes good decisions and is accurate.
  • Billy Volek (San Diego Chargers, 6-2, 214, 31):  A career back-up who has started 10 games in his career.  Led the Chargers on a game-winning TD drive over the Colts in the playoffs.  Started 8 games for the Titans in 2004 and played well with an 87.1 quarterback rating.

Running Backs:  Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw are obviously the top two halfbacks on the team.  If the Giants re-sign Derrick Ward, then the Giants are set at this position.  If Ward departs, then the Giants will likely add another running back in free agency or the draft (my guess would be the draft).  Reuben Droughns is still in the picture, but he is ordinary at best.  Madison Hedgecock is entrenched as the fullback.

  • Mewelde Moore (Minnesota Vikings, 5-11, 209, 25):  Productive part-time player.  Very good punt returner.  Can catch the football out of the backfield.  Physical, aggressive runner who is somewhat injury prone.  Smart.

Wide Receivers:  Plaxico Burress and Steve Smith are the only sure, long-term contributors.  Amani Toomer will likely play at least one more season with the Giants.  Sinorice Moss has been a disappointment.  David Tyree and Domenik Hixon are mainly special teams players.  What the Giants lack is a consistent, reliable deep threat to stretch the field.  Also, if Plaxico Burress is lost due to an injury, the Giants would be in trouble.  I believe this is one of the Giants’ biggest need areas.

  • Randy Moss (New England Patriots, 6-4, 210, 31):  One of the most dangerous receivers in football and a superb deep threat.  Has an excellent size/speed combination.  Accrued 1,493 yards and an NFL record 23 touchdowns in 2007.
  • Bernard Berrian (Chicago Bears, 6-1, 185lbs, 27):  Berrian is a speed receiver who would provide a good deep threat for the G-Men.  In the past two regular seasons, he’s caught 122 passes for 1,726 yards and 11 touchdowns – despite having crappy quarterbacks throwing to him.  He has really improved his route running and ball skills.  Not a physical player.
  • Jerry Porter (Oakland Raiders, 6-2, 220, 29):  Older player who can still get deep.  Not a great route runner.  Has had some attitude issues.  Averaged 16 yards per catch on 44 receptions in 2007 with bad quarterbacks.  Excellent size/speed combination with good body control and hands.
  • Bryant Johnson (Arizona Cardinals, 6-3, 213, 26):  Johnson has been stuck behind Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona, but he has been productive.  Tough receiver who adjusts well to the football.  Not a blazer, but he has good speed.  In 2006, he averaged 18.5 yards per catch on 40 catches.  In 2007, that per catch average dropped to 11.5 on 46 receptions.
  • Andre Davis (Houston Texans, 6-1, 195, 28):  Davis has good size and excellent speed.  Elusive.  Good blocker.  So-so hands.  Started 8 games in 2007, catching 33 passes for 583 yards (17.6 yards per catch average) and three touchdowns.  Davis is also a dangerous kickoff returner with 3 returns for touchdowns in 2007.
  • D.J. Hackett (Seattle Seahawks, 6-2, 208, 26):  An improving player who missed 10 games in 2007 with high ankle sprains.  Has good size and can leap.  Not overly quick or fast.

Tight Ends:  If Jeremy Shockey returns near 100 percent, then the Giants are in good shape here with him and Kevin Boss.  The third tight end spot is likely up for grabs between Michael Matthews and Darcy Johnson.

Offensive Line:  David Diehl did a really nice job at left tackle in just his first season at that position.  And he will get better with more experience.  Kareem McKenzie is one of the best right tackles in football.  Guy Whimper provides solid depth and the Giants thought enough of Adam Koets to keep him around on the 53-man roster all season.  Inside, Chris Snee is one of the best guards and Rich Seubert is solid.  Shaun O’Hara is the leader of the offensive line.  Grey Ruegamer is a solid reserve but the team may look to get younger and better inside.  Kevin Boothe is intriguing as a former starter who still has an upside.  The big question here is are the Giants happy with their starting five?  I think they are.  I don’t think they want to mess with the chemistry and continuity of one of the better lines in the NFL.  My guess is they will be more apt to add additional guard/center depth in the draft rather than sign a veteran free agent.

  • OG Alan Faneca (Pittsburgh Steelers, 6-5, 307, 31):  One of the better guards in football, but he will turn 32 in December.  Tough, hardworking, and plays with an attitude.  Very good run blocker who sometimes struggles with quickness in pass protection.
  • LT Flozell Adams (Dallas Cowboys, 6-7, 340, 32):  Adams played at an exceptionally high level in 2007 after a down season in 2006.  Huge player who can muscle and maul as a run blocker.  Not pretty as a pass blocker, but he gets the job done.  His long arms and strength make it difficult for linemen to get past him once engaged.  Not a good puller.  Will he still play at a high level once he has a big contract?  Turns 33 in May.

Defensive End:  Much depends on whether Michael Strahan retires.  If he does not, the Giants are set at defensive end.  If he does retire, the Giants have a strong starting combination in Osi Umemyiora and Justin Tuck, but could use more depth (unless the team moves Mathias Kiwanuka back to defensive end).  Dave Tollefson is intriguing too.  Adrian Awasom has been around the team for a few years now and could be a solid reserve, but the Giants would ideally like someone more explosive.  However, I wouldn’t look for that kind of guy to come from free agency since good defensive ends are very expensive and would likely look for another team where the they are guaranteed to start.

Defensive Tackle:  The Giants have a solid, but unspectacular, starting combination in Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield.  Jay Alford looks primed to contribute more as a pass rusher.  Manny Wright has intriguing ability but comes with emotional baggage.  If the Giants could land a top-notch tackle, the entire defense would become even more deadly.  However, teams rarely let top-notch defensive tackles become available in free agency.  The two good defensive tackles – Albert Haynesworth and Corey Williams – were franchised.  The rest do not inspire.

  • Rod Coleman (Released by Atlanta Falcons, 6-2, 285, 31):  Almost signed with the Giants in 2004.  Recovering from ruptured quadriceps muscle.  Coleman is an undersized tackle who is a much better pass rusher than run defender.  Can get mauled at the point of attack, but disrupts with quickness.  Very good interior pass rusher.  He turns 32 in August.

Linebacker:  The overall concern here is that the Giants are not very fast or athletic at linebacker.  It’s difficult to see the Giants even contemplating replacing Antonio Pierce, however, because of what he brings to the defense from both a leadership and mental standpoint.  The Giants say they want to re-sign Kawika Mitchell and Reggie Torbor.  Mitchell was a valuable addition to the defense but he lacks the speed/athleticism teams usually seek in a 4-3 weakside linebacker.  Torbor, a solid reserve who also lacks explosiveness, may look to another team for a better chance to start.  Clouding matters somewhat other players on the roster.  Gerris Wilkinson may actually be a better option at weakside linebacker than Mitchell.  Is Zak DeOssie ready to push for playing time as a linebacker?  Will (and can) the Giants keep Mathias Kiwanuka at strongside linebacker?

  • Lance Briggs (Chicago Bears, 6-1, 240, 27):  Friend and former college teammate of Antonio Pierce.  Pro Bowl weakside linebacker.  Good athlete with fine speed.  Has averaged well over 100 tackles per season in his five years in the NFL.  Can blitz, cover, and play the run.
  • Landon Johnson (Cincinnati Bengals, 6-2, 232, 26):  Weakside linebacker.  Smart, hardworking, and instinctive.  Lacks classic size, but he is an aggressive player with good speed and range.  Tackles well and can cover.  Can be mauled at times against the run.
  • Rosevelt Colvin (Released by New England Patriots, 6-3, 250, 30):  The Giants were interested in signing Colvin in 2003 before he signed with New England.  His 2003 season was cut short by a hip injury.  He also missed 10 games in 2007 with a foot injury.  Colvin is a big, strong linebacker who rushes the passer very well.  Not as good against the run as he should be.  Lacks ideal agility for pass coverage.

Cornerback:  The situation at cornerback has dramatically changed with the shocking progression of Corey Webster in the playoffs.  If the Giants believe that Webster has really turned the corner, then cornerback is not as pressing a need as it appeared it would be.  However, Sam Madison is older and the Giants would ideally like to replace R.W. McQuarters.  If the Giants like Aaron Ross and Corey Webster as starters, with Kevin Dockery as a nickel, then I don’t really see the Giants going after a high-priced veteran cornerback (but addressing the position in the draft).  However, if the Giants still are concerned about Webster, then all bets are off.  How legitimate are the rumors that the Giants are interested in possibly trading for CB DeAngelo Hall (Falcons) and CB Marcus Trufant (Seahawks)?

  • Asante Samuel (New England Patriots, 5-10, 185, 27):  Pro Bowl performer who has picked off 16 passes and has 32 pass defenses the past two seasons.  Lacks ideal size and speed.  Better in zone than man coverage.  More of a cover-2 corner who may not be well suited to the Giants’ defensive system that employs more aggressive man coverage.  Smart and instinctive.  Makes plays.  Samuel is looking for a huge payday.
  • Drayton Florence (San Diego Chargers, 6-0, 195, 27):  Lost his starting job to All-World Antonio Cromartie.  Played well as a nickel back for the Chargers.  He has intercepted a total of 10 passes the past four seasons with 36 pass defenses.  Has a good combination of size and athleticism.  Versatile – can play inside or outside.  Can play man and stick to receivers.  Not overly instinctive.  Good tackler.

Safeties:  This is the biggest need area on defense.  A huge key is whether or not the Giants can re-sign Gibril Wilson.  If they do not re-sign him, this position becomes one of concern to one of alarm.  Michael Johnson shows promise but is still learning.  James Butler has not been impressive (though he was slowed with a hamstring issue much of the season).  Andrew Shanle was on the Practice Squad.

  • Madieu Williams (Cincinnati Bengals, 6-1, 203, 26):  Williams has started 45 games in four seasons with the Bengals.  He has 9 career interceptions.  Williams is a good athlete who can play both man and zone coverage.  Has good range.  Needs to improve his tackling.  Good blitzer.  Tough and competitive.
  • Eugene Wilson (New England Patriots, 5-10, 195, 27):  Lacks ideal size, but he has experience at both safety and cornerback.  Good range.  Can play some man.  In 2003-04, Wilson had a total of 8 interceptions, but just 2 since then.  Good tackler.

Kickers:  With Jeff Feagles and Lawrence Tynes returning, there is no need here.

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