Jul 192007
 
 July 19, 2007  Posted by  Articles, Roster Thoughts
Key Questions Heading into the 2007 New York Giants Training Camp

I don’t really agree with the pundits who look at the 2007 New York Giants’ roster and say this isn’t a playoff-caliber team. Aside from Tiki Barber and Luke Petitgout (which I will address below), this roster is not much different from the 2005 and 2006 teams that went to the playoffs, both of which were substantially weakened by a rash of injuries. If the Giants can stay healthy, this team actually could be better than the 2006 team that was 6-2 at the midway point last season. Why? Because key young players – especially Eli Manning – have more experience under their belts and will be better. The Giants look stronger and/or healthier at linebacker, cornerback, wide receiver, and tight end than they did a year ago. Unpopular offensive and defensive coordinators are gone. The schedule will be easier.

The biggest concern for me is not Eli Manning, the offensive line, or the defense. It is the mental state of the team. I’ll start with that first:

(1) How Will the Giants Respond to Adversity? They may be called “Giants” but they have proven to be mental midgets the last couple of years. As has been documented ad nauseum, this team talks too much. It says too much about its own supposed tremendous abilities and supposed weaknesses of its opponents. Worse, the players rip the coaching staff. Tiki Barber is gone now, but most of the players who publicly (i.e., Jeremy Shockey) or anonymously/privately criticized the coaching staff are still with the team. There are lots of strong personalities on this team such as Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Antonio Pierce, Sam Madison, Jeremy Shockey, Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer, Shaun O’Hara, and Brandon Jacobs to name the most obvious. Do these players – and others – fear and respect the coaching staff?Since the season ended, everyone is saying all the right things, but that is easy to do in the offseason. What matters is what happens when the bullets start to fly. Every team in every season will face adversity. There will be some sort of crisis. There will be a two- or three-game losing streak. There will be some sort of emotionally-draining defeat that saps morale. How will the 2007 Giants respond to this adversity? Will they rally behind their previously embattled coach who is obviously on weaker ground now than he was at this time last year? Or will they take the easy way/defeatist approach and blame the situation on the coaches again? If they take the latter approach, the season is doomed before it starts. They might limp to a playoff birth in the weak NFC, but they will be knocked out of the tournament quickly once again.This is the big danger that ownership (John Mara/Jonathan Tisch) took when they decided on the half-assed approach of not extending Coughlin’s contract by more than one season or firing him. He’s on the hot seat. He’s hanging on by a thread. Everyone knows it. He turns 61 in August. He hasn’t proven to be very popular or respected by his players. He was forced to fire his two most important coaching hires. He has been a .500 coach with the Giants and he hasn’t won a playoff game since 1999. Is this man capable of rallying the troops when that adversity hits? Will the players listen to him? At some point during the 2007 NFL season, adversity will hit this team.

(2) Will Eli Manning Become a Difference Maker? In many ways, Eli Manning takes way too much grief. He has thrown for 48 touchdown passes in his first two seasons as a full-time quarterback in the NFL. That is impressive. The most Phil Simms ever threw for in any season was 22 and that was in his sixth NFL season. Manning’s accuracy also did improve last year as his completion percentage rose from almost 53 percent to approximately 58 percent. It is not unreasonable to expect him to become a 62-63 percent passer in 2007. On top of all of that, he has demonstrated a repeated ability to lead his team from behind in tough situations late in ball games. Indeed, if the Giants’ defense had performed better in 2005 and 2006 after many of these late drives, the Giants would have even more dramatic wins to show for Eli’s efforts. Most importantly, everyone needs to keep in mind that Eli is still a very young and relatively inexperienced player. He’s 26 years old. Phil Simms was 29 before he won his first playoff game.That all said, only the most delusional Manning-apologists would argue that they are not at least somewhat disappointed about Manning’s development. When you take a player with the first pick in the draft and/or give up a bushel draft picks for him, you expect that player to become a difference maker, someone regarded as one of the best at their position. That clearly hasn’t happened with Eli, at least not yet. The simple fact of the matter is that Manning is far too inconsistent. Are we unfairly expecting too much too soon? Have the coaches hindered his development? Or are we excuse-making and failing to recognize that he simply will not become the player envisioned?For the Giants to become serious Super Bowl contenders, Manning must approach Pro Bowl form. He needs to become a stronger leader, take charge of the offense, become a more consistent quarterback, and be the deciding influence in more football games like he was in Philadelphia last September.

(3) Will the Coaching Staff Fully Commit to the Power Running Game? Despite Tiki Barber’s superlative rushing totals the last few years, one of my pet peeves with this coaching staff is that they have made things too difficult for Manning early in his career. He had the third highest passing attempts in the NFL in 2005 and the sixth highest in 2006. On top of that, the Giants’ system is pretty mentally taxing for the quarterback. The Giants have not treated Manning like the inexperienced player that he is. Some may argue that will pay dividends down the road. I would argue that this strategy – at the very least – has risked his overall development by shaking his confidence (and the confidence of those who watch him both on and off the field).My recommendation is to run the football more. Pound it with the Giants’ two power backs – Brandon Jacobs and Reuben Droughns. Take the pressure off of Manning (and the left tackle position) by throwing less. Force opposing teams to bring a safety up in the box and then allow Manning to throw the football when the numbers are in the Giants’ favor. This should increase Manning’s confidence and accuracy percentage. It should also lead to more big plays in the passing game. A power running game will have an impact on the Giants’ defense. The Giants will likely control the ball longer on offense, allowing the defense to conserve its strength. In addition, the physical nature of the offense should translate to the defense too – giving the team a tougher image overall.But for this to work, Coughlin and Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride must commit to the running game. However, the fact that Gilbride has been criticized throughout his coaching career as “pass happy” is an ominous sign.Many national and local pundits feel the Giants will take a huge step backwards in their running game with the retirement of Tiki Barber, their most productive player by far the last few years. I don’t think so. I am so impressed with Brandon Jacobs that it would not shock me at all if Brandon becomes a more dominating player. The numbers may not ultimately show it, but the fear factor by opposing defenses and how they play the Giants will show it. Brandon is the type of guy who I could see challenging for the NFL’s single-season touchdown record during his prime.

(4) How Will the Left Side of the Offensive Line Shake Out? It appears that David Diehl will be the starting left tackle in 2007. Can he handle the position? He should perform well as a run blocker. The issue is pass protection. In his two games at left tackle last year, with barely any practice snaps at the position, he gave up one bad sack to the Redskins before settling down and playing well. Against Philadelphia, despite three false starts, he adequately handled Trent Cole, a speed rusher who used to give Luke Petitgout fits. That may bode well. We shall see.With Diehl moving over to tackle, Rich Seubert will likely start at left guard unless Zach Piller beats him out. Before his catastrophic leg injury in 2003, Seubert was an up-and-coming guard in the NFL and one of the Giants’ best players.What will be interesting to see – not just for 2007 but beyond – is how young players such as Guy Whimper, Adam Koets, Matt Lentz, and Chris Patrick develop.

(5) How Bright a Future Do Steve Smith and Sinorice Moss Have in the NFL? Many fans don’t fully realize how important a player Plaxico Burress is to the Giants. He is the one receiver on the team that scares the opposing defense. He is usually double-teamed, yet still he comes up with circus catches on a regular basis. Moreover, he is a dominant blocker in the run game. If Manning and Burress can improve their chemistry, Burress will make the Pro Bowl.There is a good chance this is Amani Toomer’s last year with the Giants. He will likely be limited in training camp while recovering from his ACL injury that he suffered last season. What the Giants need – in both 2007 and beyond – is to find a receiver who can adequately replace one of the starters if they miss a game due to injury. The early feedback on Smith is that he looks like a player. But we will have to wait and see how he does with the pads on. What we really don’t know is his true upside. Same story with Sinorice Moss, who missed almost all of last season with a mysterious (at least to the public) quad injury. Last year at this time, it was Sinorice that was receiving the early-return compliments. The Giants got virtually zero production out of Tim Carter last season despite his eight regular season starts. Hopefully, Smith and Moss change that in 2007.

(6) How Will the Tight End Position Shake Out? Jeremy Shockey is one of the best players at his position in the NFL. The Giants are fortunate to have him on their team. However, he is injury prone. Visanthe Shiancoe departed in the offseason and the Giants were not sad to see him go. However, the team does need to find someone who can come into the game and block at a reasonable level. There are many candidates. Kevin Boss and Darcy Johnson impressed at the mini-camp with their receiving ability. Michael Mathews was a blocking specialist at Georgia Tech and may even be an option at fullback. Assuming Seubert starts at guard, Grey Ruegamer is an option as he saw some action at tight end last year. One thing does seem clear – the Giants should have a more dangerous receiving threat depth behind Shockey in either Boss or Johnson.

(7) Can the Giants Improve Their Pass Defense and Get Off the Field on Third Down? It pains most Giants’ fans, who have long been accustomed to strong defense, to have had to endure watching a once-proud unit be reduced by poor personnel moves and coaching (Johnnie Lynn, Tim Lewis). The Giants’ pass defense has become a League-wide joke. And it’s not all due to the secondary, but also the linebacker coverage as well as the pass rush. If you would have told a Giants’ fan last July that Strahan, Umenyiora, Kiwanuka, and Tuck would have finished the season with a total of 13 sacks, they would have said you were crazy. Injuries obviously were the major factor there. But so was a scheme that often had the ends dropping into coverage (though not as much as some fans suggest). Ever since Lewis arrived on the scene, defensive backs were giving huge cushions to opposing receivers. The Giants regularly allowed teams to keep drives alive by converting on 3rd-and-long. It drove fans nuts.The big hope, obviously, is that Steve Spagnuolo will quickly mature from a position coach with the Eagles to the new defensive coordinator with the Giants. Many fans – whether correctly or not – assume he will duplicate the success of Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive guru Jim Johnson. That remains to be seen. What also remains to be seen is if the Giants’ secondary can physically handle more man coverage. Will the secondary shine and accrue more interceptions, or will the defensive backs give up more long touchdown passes?Personnel-wise, the Giants need Corey Webster to become the player envisioned when they drafted him. Or hope that Aaron Ross develops quickly. Or hope that some young, unheralded player such as Kevin Dockery, E.J. Underwood, Gerrick McPhearson, or Travonti Johnson surprises at corner. The Eagles’ system also places a great deal of physical and mental stress on the safety position. The Giants need better play from all of their safeties as this position really wasn’t addressed in the offseason. In particular, Gibril Wilson and Will Demps have to turn it around.

(8) Will the Linebacking Corps Be a Strength or Weakness? Antonio Pierce played hurt last year and still made the Pro Bowl. He’s not the concern. The question this: Is the Giants’ linebacking corps athletic and talented enough to be a team strength? Mathias Kiwanuka is making the tremendously difficult transition from defensive end to linebacker. The early returns from mini-camp were favorable, but opposing teams will try to isolate him in pass coverage. Can Kiwanuka stay with backs and tight ends in coverage? Kawika Mitchell is moving from middle linebacker to weakside linebacker. Is he athletic enough to do so? How will he do in coverage against backs such as Brian Westbrook of the Eagles?

(9) Will the Defensive Line Return to Elite Status? Injuries decimated the defensive line last season. There are still serious question marks regarding the 35-year old Strahan who is coming off of a serious lis franc injury. Osi Umenyiora did not practice fully at mini-camp. Could his hip still be bothering him? And Justin Tuck (lis franc) did not practice at all and is expected to be limited at training camp. Will he ever be the same player again? If Tuck does not return to his rookie form, then depth becomes a big issue at defensive end with the switching of Kiwanuka to linebacker.At tackle, the Giants need to find a viable third tackle to team with Barry Cofield (who played well as a rookie and who should be better in 2007) and Fred Robbins (coming off his finest season). It is expected that player will be Jay Alford, but William Joseph and Marcus Bell are also in the picture.

(10) Will the Giants’ Special Teams Rebound in 2007? In 2005, the Giants’ special teams were a big factor in the 11-5 record and the division title. In 2006, the special teams were a significant reason for the disappointing 8-8 finish. Gone is long-time special teams coordinator Mike Sweatman. His replacement is 39-year old Tom Quinn who only coached at the pro level last year as Sweatman’s assistant. He is very inexperienced in terms of the pro game.An equally big concern is the place-kicking position. The Giants let Jay Feely depart and Lawrence Tynes and Josh Huston will now battle for the critically important place-kicking job. The Giants also need to find a viable and dangerous kickoff returner (they never did adequately replace Willie Ponder) and punt returner (Chad Morton really declined last season and was released). Kickoff and punt coverage must regain their 2005 form.

The NFC sucks. The Giants should not be afraid of the Bears, Saints, Eagles, Cowboys, or anyone else. What they should fear is themselves. Shut up. Listen to the coach. Stop focusing on yourself and focus on the goal of winning a Super Bowl championship. It’s not supposed to be fun or easy. It’s hard work. It’s a job. But just ask Phil Simms, Lawrence Taylor, Mark Bavaro, and Carl Banks – there is nothing in the world that beats the feeling of winning it all. That can be your legacy. Long after we are all dead and buried, you will be remembered if you win it all. On the other hand, if you continue to disappoint, bicker, and implode, you will be forgotten as just another chump.

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Mar 162007
 
 March 16, 2007  Posted by  Articles, Roster Thoughts
Brandon Jacobs – Feed The Beast!

As the second week of free agency ends, it is becoming increasingly clear that the New York Giants will not be able to significantly improve their roster with veteran acquisitions this offseason. I talked about this as being a likely scenario at the end of February in my As Free Agency Starts, Storm Clouds Are Approaching article.

It is a frustrating time for many Giants’ fans as they watch most of the teams in the NFL add new players. To date, the Giants have only added one player (HB Reuben Droughs by trade) and watched 10 players depart. While most of the players who have left fall into the “So what?” category, those are 10 roster holes to fill. More are likely to come as there are still a few unrestricted free agents who the Giants are unlikely to re-sign such as LB Brandon Short, OG Steve Edwards, OG Lewis Kelly, and WR Darius Watts. The Giants will likely add a few second- or third-tier players. These will be depth signings and there is no guarantee that these guys will make it out of training camp, such as when the Giants signed S Quentin Harris and TE Boo Williams last offseason.

With no significant influx of talent coming from free agency, the Giants must hit a home run in the 2007 NFL Draft and the ensuing rookie free agent signing period. However, the chances of acquiring multiple, immediate quality starters out the draft are not good. Rookies usually take time to develop. And the Giants only have seven draft picks and pick in the latter half of each round.

So new General Manager Jerry Reese is doing a bad job? I don’t think so. As I mentioned in my earlier article, the quality of the free agents available this year quite possibly was the worst since the advent of unrestricted free agency. Moreover, with most teams being awash in cash, teams are dramatically overpaying for average and sometimes even mediocre talent. The one guy who would have really helped the Giants – CB Nate Clements – signed an $80 million contract with the 49ers (and $22 million of that was guaranteed). A fullback from the Ravens signed for $18 million with the Falcons. TE Visanthe Shiancoe got $18.5 million from the Vikings. Guards are signing for $50 million. It’s nuts. And aside from Clements, these guys simply are not that good or on the wrong side of 30. If the Giants gave $32 million to WR Kevin Curtis, just imagine what WR Plaxico Burress and TE Jeremy Shockey would think? (Burress got $16.75 million from the Giants two years ago).

Nevertheless, many fans still say, “We’ve got to fill these holes!” But what these fans fail to recognize is that by simply signing someone, that hole is not automatically filled. If the player is average or below average, you really haven’t filled the hole and may find yourself having to fill the same spot next year. Worse, because you signed that player with a signing bonus, you have hurt your salary cap situation. How many holes did signing S Quentin Harris, S Jason Bell, S Will Demps, LB Brandon Short, LB LaVar Arrington, DT Junior Ioane, and TE Boo Williams fill last offseason? See my point?

Personally, I’d rather go into the season with some of the young guys already on the roster starting with rookies pushing them for playing time. I want to see Gerris Wilkinson and Chase Blackburn play at linebacker for instance with a couple of draft picks behind them. That’s more exciting to me than signing a slow, 3-4 linebacker who can’t drop into coverage such as Tully Banta-Cain.

That all said, get ready for the last-place predictions for the Giants in the NFC East. Outside observers see a team that has lost its best player (Tiki Barber) and left tackle (the hardest position to fill on the offensive line), an inconsistent quarterback, a depleted back-seven on defense, a lame duck head coach, a perceived lack of chemistry, a questionable place-kicking situation, and no new significant free agents. I guarantee you most folks will have the Giants dead last in the East. Unfortunately, these prognosticators – who don’t usually know jack – may be right.

So what is Reese’s plan? What is his long-term vision for this team. I think BBI poster Matt in SGS hit the nail on the head when he posted the following recently in The Corner Forum:

As I noted in a thread last week, Reese seems to be playing this free agent market/off-season with the intention of putting a “competitive” team on the field in 2007 so as to not give the impression of an all out rebuild. That’s why you’ll see guys like Droughns coming in as stopgaps for a season, or maybe two. Keep in mind, the NFL is so watered down that if you play a solid/conservative offensive game (power the ball with two smash-mouth backs) and sprinkle in a downfield passing game, you can win 7 to 9 games along with a decent defense. Guess what, that keeps you in Wild Card contention. If things break right, you win 11 games. If they don’t you lose 11. Which puts the Giants exactly where the majority of the NFL is nowadays, at a mediocre level. There are about 4-5 power houses (Pats, Colts, Chargers, Ravens, maybe Chicago/New Orleans), 3-4 crapola teams (Raiders, Lions, Browns, Tampa Bay) and the rest are all anywhere from 6-10 to 10-6 with the toss of a coin. The Giants are in that mix.

So Reese sees this but he’s not ready to commit to Coughlin long term (anyone who can’t see that is fooling themselves). Reese saw that the Giants wanted Scott Pioli first. What would Pioli have done if he was here? Clean house, get out the long term contract guys who were not part of the core group (Eli, Osi, etc. fall in that category) and get the team ready to build a new foundation in 2007 with an eye towards filling the spots in 2008. Reese got the message so he dumps the injury/longer term deal guys. He doesn’t overspend on the few big ticket free agents out there because: (1) he can’t afford it with other teams having more money, (2) the Giants aren’t 1-2 players away from going over the top, and (3) why build a new talent base with a coach who probably won’t be here next year. Keep the team free of long term/big money players in a transition season. Makes for a better situation for a new coach to come into. Is it fair to Coughlin? Yes and no. He’s got his golden parachute with the extension at over $1 million for next year. But the guy is over 60 years old now. How much longer does he really have for this game, considering his style of coaching? Look at Parcells in Dallas – he was a burnt out shell of his former self there. He took Jerry Jones’ money to recoup is divorce settlement. Does Reese really want to hitch his sails to Coughlin? No fucking way. As I mentioned earlier, we as Giants fans need to recognize that the window of opportunity for this group closed in that loss to Philly. It’s time for a new run to begin and the first step is to keep clean and free of bad contracts for 2007. Reese is doing the right thing for where the Giants are now. They’d just better have the right coach in place in 2008 or it’s all for crap.

Everyone who has read any of my articles for the last couple of months knows that I am not a big fan of how Tom Coughlin handled the 2006 season. I think he came as close to getting fired as someone can. Ironically, Tiki Barber – who has battled with Coughlin all along – probably saved his job with his performance against the Redskins in the regular season finale.

But I do think the Giants can be competitive in 2007 and Coughlin can earn himself another contract extension. (Whether that is the best thing for the Giants is another matter for debate that I won’t address at this time). But for Coughlin to turn the team around again, he needs to dramatically change the nature of his offense – and thus, I would argue – his entire team. How does he do this? Feed THE BEAST!

The Beast is HB Brandon Jacobs. Barring injury, I am convinced that Brandon will be the next big star running back in the NFL. Barring injury, I am convinced that he – not Eli Manning – will become the face of the Giants’ new offensive football team. Not just because of his talent, but because of his personality and physical style of football.

There is no other back like Brandon Jacobs in the NFL. Not only is he much bigger than any back in the NFL, but he has the speed to run away from defenders. He also has a little wiggle to his game. He can make you miss, he can run over you, and he can run away from you. Opposing players HATE tackling the guy. We saw this in limited playing time last year – tacklers getting up slowing after the play or avoiding direct contact.

In addition to Jacobs, the Giants have added another power back in Reuben Doughns. Some have argued that adding a second power back makes no sense. It makes perfect sense – if both backs are used properly. Jacobs will dish out his share of punishment, but he will also absorb a lot of punishment with his physical style. When he comes out of the game, don’t give the defense any opportunity for respite. Keep hitting them in the mouth with Droughns. Break their will to fight. Wham!!!

My formative years of watching the Giants were the 1980′s. I saw the Giants evolve from the more finesse “Suburbanites” offensive line with a lot of Joe Morris sweeps to the straight-ahead power running game in 1989-1990 with O.J. Anderson and Rodney Hampton running behind Jumbo Elliott, William Roberts, Bart Oates, Eric Moore/Bob Kratch, and Doug Riesenberg. I still think of myself as young – even though I am not – and I forget that there are a lot of Giants’ fans out there who did not witness this style of football. It was boring. But it was damn effective. The Giants ground it out – four yards at a time. They controlled the tempo, kept the football away from the other team, shortened the game, and physically wore out the other team. It was power football, and it, combined with a superb defense, won the Giants an NFL Championship.

The problem for the Giants is that they don’t have the defense. While they have some core guys who you can build around – Umenyiora, Kiwanuka, and Pierce for example – they don’t have enough difference makers. They may need another defensive tackle. They definitely need more linebackers and defensive backs.

But the NFC stinks and the Giants could eke out 10 or 11 wins if their offense delivers and the defense surprises under new Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. That might even be enough to win the NFC East. But the Giants need to get back to the power running game. Here is why I think so:

  1. Ever since Eli Manning took over at quarterback, the Giants have put too much pressure on him. When they benched Kurt Warner for Manning in 2004, they did so right before a then murder’s row of NFL defenses in the Eagles, Redskins, Ravens, and Steelers. In 2005, Manning was called upon to throw the football 557 times – the third highest amount in the entire NFL (and more than his brother). In 2006, he threw the ball 522 times – the sixth most in the NFL. For a second- and third-year player blessed with a top-notch running game (Tiki Barber), those numbers are absurd. Simply put, the Giants have thrown the football too much in recent years and I think this has hurt the development of Manning (as has all of the mental responsibility they place on him in a complicated offense is that is not quarterback friendly). I know this sounds like excuse-making, but I firmly believe it is the truth. The Giants have been passing the ball more than they have been running it (431 rushing attempts in 2005 and 425 rushing attempts in 2006 by the running backs). They need to reverse these figures and run the ball more. Pound the football, force the other team to move its safeties forward, and then use play-action (which Manning is very good at) to burn secondaries deep with Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer, and Jeremy Shockey.
  2. The Giants have a big, athletic, and solid offensive line. Other than the center, everyone is 310 pounds or heavier. RT Kareem McKenzie and RG Chris Snee can maul people on the right side. LT David Diehl and LG Rich Seubert can run block. OC Shaun O’Hara is 300 pounds, and while not a blaster, he can get to the second level and take out defenders. Everyone does a decent job of pulling. The offensive line is one of the strengths of the team. The big question is whether or not Diehl can handle pass blocking chores at left tackle. He did a decent job in the two games he started last year. But the Giants can also help him out by running the football more. Play to the strength of his game.
  3. Change the personality of the team. Power running teams are physical, tough football teams. And they take pride in their toughness. Moreover, the toughness on one side of the ball inevitably spreads to the defensive side as well. The entire team takes on a tough, physical persona. Tough, physical football teams win a lot of football games.

Most knowledgeable Giants’ fans see this strategy of adopting a power running game and committing to it as obvious. However, while former Giants’ Offensive Coordinator John Hufnagel gets blamed for all of the offense’s problems last year, keep in mind that Tom Coughlin was in charge of the team. He’s an offensive coach who didn’t force Hufnagel to adjust. Now Kevin Gilbride – a former “run-and-shoot” guy who was criticized as the offensive coordinator in Houston, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo as being too pass happy – takes over as the Giants’ new offensive coordinator. My biggest worry is that Coughlin and Gilbride will preach “balance” again. Don’t be balanced! Hit the other guy in the mouth with THE BEAST over and over again. Wham…Wham…Wham. Defenses are faster in the NFL today than they were in 1990, but they are not as tough or more physical. Too many of these young guys coming out of college are “athletes” who don’t really like to mix it up. It’s time to introduce them to some old-school football. There is nothing more satisfying than watching your team run the football down the throat of an opponent when the opponent knows it is coming but can’t stop it.

If the Giants really want to employ this strategy, I would strongly suggest that they pursue unrestricted free agent FB Terrelle Smith, who was recently cut by the Cleveland Browns. Smith is one of the best blocking fullbacks in the NFL. He’s a truck and would be a perfect complement to Jacobs and Droughns. The Giants also need to find a Dan Campbell-like blocker for the second tight end position.

Do the obvious thing Coach Coughlin and Coach Gilbride. Feed THE BEAST!

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Feb 072007
 
 February 7, 2007  Posted by  Articles, Roster Thoughts

by Yankee27 for BlueInteractive.com

New York Giants 2007 NFL Free Agency Preview: Though the past three years have certainly been important in terms of improving the overall talent on the Giants, the changes in personnel this offseason will be the most significant, as the success (or lack of success) of the 2007 Giants will have a far ranging effect on how your Giants team is run in 2008 and beyond.

Improvement needs to start with the defense, particularly at linebacker. After watching Antonio Pierce the past few seasons as a Giant, I believe that he is a very good linebacker, but is better suited to play on the weak side. Knowledge of the game and open field tackling have never been issues for Pierce, but size has been a problem, and the times that he has been completely engulfed by a blocker increased during the past season. Some on BBI have raised some questions regarding his overall speed, but I don’t see it as an issue if he is moved outside. Some options for a new middle linebacker include:

MIDDLE LINEBACKER

Kawika Mitchell of the Kansas City Chiefs has now had back-to-back 100+ tackle seasons for the Chiefs and at 260 pounds, would be a great addition to the middle of the Giants defense. Mitchell is an extremely hard worker, and coaches at South Florida and Kansas City have praised his efforts and attitude. Giants cornerback coach Pete Guinta worked with Mitchell for three seasons season in KC, and more interestingly, Mitchell recently switched his agent, choosing Tom Condon over former agent Peter Schaffer. Condon is also the agent for Giants Head Coach Tom Coughlin.

Napolean Harris of the Vikings is another possibility. A former first rounder, who was part of the infamous Randy Moss deal to the Raiders, could Harris be reunited with Mike Waufle in New York? Harris came to the Vikings on the strong recommendation of Fred Pagac, the Vikings new linebacker coach, who had previously worked with Waufle in Oakland. The Vikings just threw a ton of money on an extension to LB E.J. Henderson, and LB Chad Greenway, their top pick in 06, is fully healed from the season ending ACL injury, and likely to be given the MLB position in Minny. At 6-2 and 255 pounds, Harris has solid NFL experience at both middle linebacker and strongside linebacker. (Note: Some websites list Harris as an unrestricted free agent, and some don’t).

Vinny Ciurciu of the Panthers is a linebacker more known for his speed, rather than his size. His Boston College and New Jersey roots make him an option for the Giants. He has had some solid preseason and regular games against the Giants, and represents a better backup linebacker/special teams player that current Giant Reggie Torbor.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

The Giants received solid production from tackles Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield, but William Joseph and Jonas Seawright may reach the end of their Giants careers by September. I really hope the Giants make a run at signing Raiders defensive tackle Terdell Sands. Sands is a huge player that I watched often, including his time with the Packers, and I was often frustrated by his lack of production. That changed in 2006, as Sands was a strong contributor to the Raiders defense with outstanding production, including 41 tackles, 11 assists, and 1 sack. The light bulb has gone on for this 6’7” 340 pound monster. He is only 27, and represents a significant need for the Giants – a defensive who can occupy blockers and let our linebackers make tackles.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

I was disappointed that unrestricted free agents Keith Lewis of the 49er’s and Coy Wire of the Bills have come off the market in the past three days, each signing new contracts with their original teams. Each represented a solid young safety that had shown significant improvement in 2006. I’m really not that interested in the other safeties now available, including Ken Hamlin. Hamlin is too much of a gambler, and I’d rather have a more savvy safety with the aggressive Giants defense we can expect in ‘07.

At cornerback, I could see the Giants adding a player like Roderick Hood. It’s pretty common for a new defensive coordinator to bring a player or two from his old team, and I think Hood will be that Eagles player making the move to New York. Hood also represents a solid option as a kickoff returner.

OFFENSE

Two players stand out to me as unrestricted free agents who could be in Giants blue by March. Wide Receiver Kevin Curtis, just like Kawika Mitchell above, has recently switched agents, selecting Tom Condon (the agent for Tom Coughlin). I wish Curtis was a little bigger, but his speed cannot be questioned. I still think Tim Carter is a better option than Curtis, but Curtis has made it pretty clear he is looking for a new team and a bigger long-term contract.

I think halfback Dominic Rhodes of the Indianapolis Colts would look great in Blue. I think that halfback is a position in which the Giants are very attractive to any unrestricted free agent with the retirement of Tiki Barber. The more successful teams this past season utilized more of a two tailback tandem, and I think that teaming up Rhodes with Brandon Jacobs would be a great addition t the Giants offense. Musa Smith is another low to the ground pounder like Rhodes. Smith has been a real disappointment for the Ravens, as a 3rd round pick that has constantly been hurt, and has minimal NFL yardage over his pro career. Rhodes would be my first choice, but Smith will be a reasonably priced option if he can overcome the injury bug.

I have not mentioned any of the big names in 2007 Free Agency. I don’t think the current coaching situation with the Giants will lead to a strong interest of the major players, who will have many other options available to them. I think that a March that would result in four new Giants (Mitchell, Sands, Hood, and Rhodes), represents a reasonable expectation of what could happen.

I also hope that the Giants re-sign tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. His blocking has always been solid, and I can recall many plays at Giants Stadium where a wide-open Shiancoe was overlooked by Eli. If the Giants are going to be successful, Eli needs to improve in finding secondary receivers. Shiancoe has been out there and open on plays. It’s up to Eli to find him.

At the end of February, I expect that the Giants will have re-signed center Shaun O’Hara and kicker Jay Feely.

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Jul 142006
 
 July 14, 2006  Posted by  Articles, Roster Thoughts
Key Questions Heading into the 2006 New York Giants Training Camp

Anything less than a Super Bowl victory in February 2007 would be a big disappointment. Barring injury, the 2006 New York Giants are clearly one of the League’s most talented teams and the national and local media prognosticators who can’t see that don’t really understand the game. Here are some of the reasons why the 2006 Giants will be dramatically better than the 2005 team that won the NFC East:

  • QB Eli Manning will be better. Critics of Manning fail to recognize his achievements in his first full season. Manning became the first Giants’ quarterback to throw 24 touchdown passes in a season since Fran Tarkenton did so in 1967 and only Phil Simms (twice) and Kerry Collins (twice) have thrown for more yardage in a single season in franchise history. Manning’s 557 passing attempts were third-most in the NFL in 2005 as he helped lead the Giants to an 11-5 record. If you told most people that a second-year quarterback not named Manning would achieve all of that in his first full season, they would be truly impressed. But the best news is that the 25-year old Manning is only scratching the surface of his potential. Keep in mind that he has only started 24 NFL games. As he gains more experience, achieves a greater understanding of his own offense and opposing NFL defenses, and improves his comfort level with his surrounding personnel, his overall accuracy will improve. If he can get his completion percentage up from 53 percent to the 60-65 percent range, then Manning is really going to do some damage. Of all the starting quarterbacks in the NFC East, Manning has the biggest upside.
  • The offensive line will be better. The Giants return the same five starters at the same five positions for the first time in years. This is an offensive line that helped the Giants’ skill players become one of the most prolific offenses in franchise history. The growing familiarity with one another (and the tight ends and fullback) will improve cohesiveness and thereby improve performance. The line will pick up blitzes and stunts better, giving Manning even more time in the pocket. Also, 27-year old RT Kareem McKenze, 24-year old RG Chris Snee, and 25-year old LG David Diehl are all still young and improving and all three have the ability to earn Pro Bowl recognition. Depth should be no problem with Bob Whitfield, Rich Seubert, Grey Ruegamer, and Guy Whimper.
  • The receivers will be better. The 28-year old Plaxico Burress and the 25-year old Jeremy Shockey have not reached their fullest pro potential yet. And Manning, Burress, Shockey, and Amani Toomer are still building cohesion with each other. With each practice and game snap, they learn more and more about each other’s strengths and weaknesses. More and more of those “almost” big-plays will turn into big passing plays and touchdowns in 2006. Add the explosive 22-year old Sinorice Moss to the mix and the Giants should have a truly dynamic passing game, capable of leading the NFL in scoring. Moss is going to give most nickel backs fits and he will be truly deadly on WR-screens.
  • The reserve halfbacks will be better. Contrary to popular belief in the media and among many fans, the Giants are very happy with the 24-year old Brandon Jacobs and the 25-year old Derrick Ward. Both are big backs who can hurt a defense. And both will see more playing time as they gain experience with their blitz pick-ups.
  • The Giants may arguably have the best foursome of defensive ends in NFL history. Michael Strahan is a future Hall of Famer who is still playing at a very high level. Osi Umenyiora just went to his first of probably many Pro Bowls. 23-year old Justin Tuck flashes exceptional ability as a pass rusher and run defender. I am as high on Tuck as I was about Umenyiora. And the Giants added 23-year old Mathias Kiwanuka – a player who they felt had top-10 ability. In summary, the Giants have two Pro Bowlers here and two other players who would start on most teams.
  • The linebacking corps is deep and talented. Antonio Pierce has Pro Bowl-ability and LaVar Arrington is a three-time Pro Bowler who is being moved back to the strongside position where he excelled in Washington. Moreover, he will be playing with a huge chip on his shoulder. At the very least, he gives the Giants a hard-hitting, physical presence that the team needs. He also adds another emotional presence. The coaches and players have talked all offseason about how his personality has raised the energy level of the entire team. If LaVar returns to his Pro Bowl form, the Giants will have four Pro Bowl-type players in their front seven. In addition, with Carlos Emmons in the lineup, the Giants will have two huge outside linebackers who can both play over the tight end. And unlike last season, depth is exceptional with 25-year old Reggie Torbor, Brandon Short, and 23-year old Gerris Wilkinson. One thing to keep in mind, physically, almost to a man, this is a very big group. These guys are going to pound people.
  • The Giants will be stronger at safety. 24-year old SS Gibril Wilson will be more than a full-year removed from the serious neck injury he suffered his rookie year. He should be better with experience as well. FS Will Demps has more range and is a better hitter and tackler than since-waived Brent Alexander. 23-year old reserve James Butler was impressive as a rookie and should continue to improve.

Better, better, better. This is going to be one of the most-talented teams the Giants have fielded since I’ve been watching them. On paper, there are not many weaknesses. They will have one of the NFL’s best offenses, should have a top-10 defense, and have one of the NFL’s best special teams units. The coaching is solid as Tom Coughlin and his staff have proven that they can keep up with the likes of Bill Parcells, Joes Gibbs, and Andy Reid.

But there are question marks that can derail the season. Here are my biggest concerns:

(1) Quarterback Eli Manning: He will be better, but the question is how much better? The Giants need him to play at an exceptionally high level. That may be a bit unfair as he is only entering his second season as a full-time quarterback. He really won’t be reaching his prime for at least a couple of more years. But Giants gave up a lot to get Manning and Barber, Toomer, and Strahan are not getting any younger. If the Giants are going to win a Super Bowl this season, he needs to become consistently more accurate quarterback who makes big plays in the clutch with the game on the line. Most importantly, unlike his brother, he must prove he can deliver in the playoffs. Truly great quarterbacks excel in the post-season, when the games matter the most.

(2) Team Health: If Manning is my primary concern, then team health is a close second. I firmly believe that the tough NFC East is going to come down to (1) quarterback play and (2) overall team health. The Giants can ill-afford a serious injury to Manning, Barber, Shockey, Burress, or Pierce.

(3) The Secondary: There will be three new starters and a new nickel back. That’s a huge turnover. And these guys will only have about six weeks to get on the same page together before the season starts. That’s a tall order. Breakdowns in communication in the secondary can cost you football games. And it remains to be seen if Corey Webster is a quality football player and if 32-year old Sam Madison can still play at a high level. Depth at cornerback is a big concern if Curtis Deloatch doesn’t improve dramatically. People love to point at Carolina’s defensive line and say that is the reason why their defense is so good, but the truth of the matter is that it is their secondary that is the strength of their defense. Same story with Philadelphia and Washington. This is the one position where I wish the Giants had one more stud.

(4) Aging Performers: The Giants are relatively young team with some rising young stars, but they also have a number of incredibly important players who are in the latter stages of their respective careers. The Giants must cross their fingers that these players still have the ability to excel on the football field for at least one more season. The most key figure here is Tiki Barber. But you can also put Michael Strahan, Amani Toomer, and Jeff Feagles in this category. It would also be nice to see Carlos Emmons play up to his previous form in Philadelphia and stay healthy as well.

(5) The Schedule: There is not anything one can do about the schedule so there is no sense in worrying too much about it. If the Giants are good enough to win a Super Bowl, then they will overcome the schedule. Nevertheless, the front portion of the schedule is absolutely brutal. If the Giants start the season 0-3, then panic and finger-pointing could start. It is essential that the Giants win at least one of their first three football games. And the team needs to play very well immediately after the early bye week when there is another group of tough games.

(6) The Defensive Tackle Position: I am not as worried about this as most. I think the Giants are set at the three-technique or under tackle position with William Joseph and Fred Robbins. The big concern that most fans have is with the one-technique or nose tackle position. But in my mind, a nose tackle isn’t going to make or break this defense. And there is a chance that Jonas Seawright, a player with a lot of physical ability, will surprise. Fred Robbins, who has had a tremendous offseason in the weight room, could also shift over to the nose tackle spot if needed. Others in the picture include Barry Cofield, Damane Duckett, and Junior Ioane.

If the Giants can get positive answers to these question marks, they will be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in February. The keys are Manning, team health, the secondary, and winning early.

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Jul 032006
 
 July 3, 2006  Posted by  Articles, Roster Thoughts
An Early Look at the 2006 New York Giants Roster

With training camp set to start in three weeks, I thought it might be fun to preview the key roster battles in training camp and to project what the final roster in early September might look like. Keep in mind that it is impossible to predict what players will be lost to injury in camp or the preseason and who else may be signed or claimed off of waivers by September.

Looking at the 2006 New York Giants roster, two things are clear: (1) there is a lot of talent on this team, and (2) this team has very good depth at most positions. There are not a lot of open roster spots, and quite a few players who will end up being cut will likely play in the NFL for other NFL teams.

It is tough to 100 percent accurately predict how many players at each position the Giants will keep. I am going to operate under the assumption that aside from the three special teams-only players (PK Jay Feely, P Jeff Feagles, and LS Ryan Kuehl), the Giants are going to keep 25 players on offense and 25 players on defense. For those who do not know, the active roster limit is 53 players. Some of those who do not make it will be signed to the Practice Squad.

Quarterback (3 – Eli Manning, ?, and ?): The Giants always carry three quarterbacks. Obviously, Eli Manning is the starter. But everything after that is up for grabs. The battle for the #2 and #3 quarterback spots will be two of the more interesting competitions this summer. Rob Johnson has the most experience, but there are still questions about his surgically-repaired arm. “You’re trying to project where he will be at the end of training camp with his arm strength,” said QB Coach Kevin Gilbride. “I think he knows where to go, I know he’s an accurate passer, no question about that. He’ll run the team well, he’ll work hard, those things I think we all know. (The question is) does he have the arm strength to make the throws that are going to have to be made? I don’t know. That’s our challenge, I don’t have an easy answer or a solution to it.”

Last year, the primary back-up was Tim Hasselbeck. Hasselbeck did not impress in the 2005 preseason with the Giants so this is an important camp for him. He lacks arm strength, but he is a smart guy with decent mobility. Jared Lorenzen is always going to have weight issues, but he was impressive in the recent mini-camp. The Giants have another quarterback on the roster – Josh Harris. It is unusual for the Giants to carry five quarterbacks in training camp. When Coughlin was asked last month if he will take all five to camp, he replied, “We’ll see.” Harris is mobile and has a good arm, but he faces an uphill fight.

My guess here is that if Lorenzen continues to improve, he will stick with the other quarterback being the winner of the Johnson-Hasselbeck battle. However, if Lorenzen fades, both Johnson and Hasselbeck could make it.

Halfbacks (4 – Tiki Barber, Derrick Ward, Brandon Jacobs, Chad Morton): The Giants are in better shape here than most fans think. Everyone should know now that Tiki Barber is one of the best backs in the NFL. What most don’t seem to realize is how highly the Giants think of Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward. Why didn’t either play more last year? Easy – (1) how do you sit your best offensive player? and (2) both Jacobs and Ward are still very green and still learning the mentally-imposing task of blitz pick-ups. The biggest reason why most young backs don’t play more is that they make too many mistakes picking up the blitz. That will come with more experience. Jacobs is a freak of nature and I can easily seem him becoming the feature back on this team once Barber decides to retire. But don’t discount Ward either, who was impressive in his limited playing time. “Derrick Ward’s doing a good job, a very good job,” said RB Coach Jerald Ingram. “He’s quick, he’s got size, he’s got changeability…I think Derrick is trying to compete for Tiki’s position.”

The other back who will make the team is Chad Morton. Coughlin loves Morton and although Morton is mainly a special teams player, Coughlin believes he can adequately play halfback in a pinch.

Unless someone gets hurt, James Sims, Little John Flowers, and Decori Birmingham don’t have a chance. Sims does have talent and could wind up on the Practice Squad.

Fullback (1 – Jim Finn): Finn and Barber work well together and it has been Finn who has led the way for two of the most productive seasons in team history by a halfback.

Unless Finn gets hurt, Tony Jackson and Greg Hanoian won’t make it.

Wide Receivers (5 – Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer, Sinorice Moss, David Tyree, and ?): The Giants often carry six wide receivers, but I think they are going to carry one more offensive lineman this year. The first four are easy to predict. Burress has the best chance to be the first Giants’ Pro Bowler at wide receiver since Homer Jones. Toomer will start at least one more year. The Giants are extremely excited about Moss and are already designing offensive plays specifically for him – look for a ton of wide-receiver screens this year. It appears he has already become entrenched as the #3 guy, despite being a rookie. Tyree is a Pro Bowl special teams player who can fill in at wide receiver in a pinch.

The competition for the fifth (and possibly sixth) spot is going to be extremely intense. Fans love to knock Tim Carter, but he is extremely talented and there is a decent chance that he still could put it all together. Speed changes the way an opposing defense handles your offense and Carter has plenty of speed. That said, Carter is really on the hot seat – if he misses any time in camp due to injury or fails to elevate his game, he is likely gone.

Carter’s most serious competition will come from Anthony Mix, Triandos Luke, and Michael Jennings. Mix, a rookie, is a guy who General Manager Ernie Accorsi is high on. He has impressive size. Coughlin had nice things to say about Luke and Jennings recently: “Triandos Luke has done a pretty good job in the spring here. If Mike Jennings can get on the field – he went through the rookie mini-camp and pulled a hamstring and that ended up keeping him out of everything. But he has worked hard in the offseason, he has worked hard as a punt returner, he has worked hard at catching the ball. I would like to see a healthy Michael Jennings because of his quickness and speed and what he could bring to the table there.”

Probably not factoring into the picture are Willie Ponder and Harry Williams.

Tight Ends (3 – Jeremy Shockey, Visanthe Shiancoe, Boo Williams): After Shockey, Shiancoe is still the best blocking tight end on the team. Boo Williams isn’t a lock, but he is a very good receiving tight end who can get down the field. If the Giants can get him to improve his blocking and focus, he could become a real problem for opposing defenses in two-tight end packages. If he falters, don’t discount Wade Fletcher, another pass-receiving-type. Darcy Johnson has an uphill fight.

Offensive Line (9 – LT Luke Petitgout, LG David Diehl, OC Shaun O’Hara, RG Chris Snee, RT Kareem McKenzie, OT Bob Whitfield, OT Guy Whimper, OG Rich Seubert, and OC/OG Grey Ruegamer): Unless someone gets hurt, I am pretty sure the Giants will carry nine offensive linemen and those nine will be the players listed above. Whimper is a guy who the Giants are grooming as Petitgout’s replacement down the road. The Giants won’t risk losing him on the Practice Squad, so he is sure to make the team. That said, they will want Whitfield as the primary back-up at tackle in 2006. Seubert and Ruegamer are the no-brainers. This is a deep and talented group. The three veteran back-ups could start for some teams in the NFL.

The best the rest can hope for is the Practice Squad – OC Todd Londot, OG/OT Lewis Kelly, OG Matt Lentz, OG Julius Franklin, OG Ben Herrell, OG Kevin McAlmont, OT Henry Tellis, OT Jai Lewis, and OT Na’Shan Goddard.

Offensive Overview: Baring injury, I see 22 of the 25 offensive slots already being locked up. That’s pretty incredible. The competition will come at the #2 quarterback spot, the #3 quarterback spot, and the #5 wide receiver position.

Defensive End (4 – Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka): The big question here is will the Giants keep four or five ends on the roster. I think it will be four ends as some of the tackles on the roster can also play end in a pinch. Barring injury, these four are locks. In fact, this may be the most-talented quartet of defensive ends on one roster in the history of the NFL. That’s quite a claim, but I think Tuck is going to be a big-time player in this league and the Giants felt that Kiwanuka was a top-10 pick.

Eric Moore and Adrian Awasom will be playing for someone in the NFL, but not the Giants. Willie Evans and Thomas Carroll have talent, but no chance.

Defensive Tackles (5 – William Joseph, Jonas Seawright, Fred Robbins, Barry Cofield, and ?): Joseph and Robbins are the 3-technique tackles in the defense, but Coughlin has said Robbins could play the 1-technique if need be. Ideally, they want to keep Joseph and Robbins at the same spot. Seawright probably is not a lock, but the coaches and players have said nice things about him and he was the #1 nose tackle at the mini-camps. His combination of size, power, and athleticism is intriguing. Unless he completely flops, the Giants are not going to cut Cofield. That leaves one spot up for grabs between Damane Duckett, Junior Ioane, Sir Henry Anderson, and Marcus Green. Don’t discount anyone here, including the rookie free agents. Keep in mind that Robbins and Cofield have played defensive end so they can do that if injuries hit hard.

Linebackers (7 – SLB LaVar Arrington, MLB Antonio Pierce, WLB Carlos Emmons, SLB Reggie Torbor, WLB Brandon Short, WLB Gerris Wilkinson, and MLB Chase Blackburn): What a difference a few months make! Back in January, this position was a disaster area. Now the Giants have two Pro Bowl candidates starting. The depth situation is vastly improved when you consider that there are now two back-ups (Torbor and Short) with starting experience. Throw in rookie Gerris Wilkinson, who the coaching staff is very high on, and you have a pretty talented and deep group. The only guy I’m not sure about is Blackburn because of the physical and mental issues regarding his comeback from very serious neck injuries. Down the road, Wilkinson has the ability to play inside as well, but the Giants want to keep him to focus on weakside linebacker right now. If Pierce were to get hurt again, depth inside could be an issue. If Blackburn can’t rebound, Kevis Coley and Nick McNeil have an outside shot. Tyson Smith is camp fodder.

Cornerbacks (5 – Corey Webster, Sam Madison, R.W. McQuarters, Curtis Deloatch, and ?): Normally, I would like the Giants to carry six corners, but I think the Giants are going to carry nine defensive linemen and seven linebackers this year. In addition, safety Charlie Peprah – if he makes the team – is a CB/S ‘tweener who actually may eventually end up at corner. Webster and Madison will most likely start with McQuarters playing inside at the nickel spot. Deloatch is a guy who a lot of fans rag on, plus he was benched late in the 2005 season. However, I believe that the Giants are still intrigued with his size/speed combination and he is a guy who did play reasonably well for much of 2005 despite being terribly green. He is no lock, but I think he makes the team unless he flops in camp.

The competition for the fifth (and possibly sixth) corner position is going to be intense. Veteran Frank Walker is still in the picture. This is his last chance with the Giants. Special teams ace Jason Bell was brought in from Houston. Late draft pick Gerrick McPhearson has a lot of speed. Others in the picture include Vontez Duff, E.J. Underwood, Brandon Williams, and Kevin Dockery. This is the one position where I would feel more comfortable if the Giants had another quality player.

Safety (4 – SS Gibril Wilson, FS Will Demps, FS James Butler, and ?): The top three are locks, though I wonder what Butler’s “kidney condition” was at the recent mini-camp that he missed. That sounds scary, though Coughlin said he should be ready to practice by the time camp starts. Butler is great depth and is probably a future starter in the league. The fight for the last spot will probably come down to two ex-Cardinals (Adrian Mayes and Quentin Harris) and 5th rounder Charlie Peprah. Harris is very good on special teams.

Jason Shivers, Trevis Coley, and Claudius Osei don’t have much of a chance.

Defensive Overview: Like the offense, I see most of the defensive spots locked up (22-of-25 again). The only two I am not 100 percent sure about are Blackburn and Deloatch, but I think both will be on the team. The most intense competitions will be for the fifth defensive tackle spot, the fifth corner position, and the fourth safety spot.

Roster Summary: As strange as it sounds, there may only be really six open roster spots out of 53 heading into training camp this year. The talent and depth are there at most positions to go a long way.

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Feb 242006
 
 February 24, 2006  Posted by  Articles, Roster Thoughts

New York Giants 2006 NFL Free Agency Preview: The Giants are clearly an up-and-coming football team, mainly due the talent they have compiled on the offensive side of the football. All eleven offensive starters are under contract and as of today, everyone who started last year on that side of the ball is expected to start on opening day in September 2006. While the offense was very productive last season, it is expected to continue to become stronger as young Eli Manning matures and gains experience. It will also help that the offensive line will return the same five starters at the same position for the first time since 2001. Other than Manning, the big question on this side of the ball is can Tiki Barber, who turns 31 in April, continue to play at an exceptionally high level?

What moves might the Giants make in free agency on the offensive side of the football? Back-up quarterback Tim Hasselbeck (Re-Signed by Giants) is an unrestricted free agent. He might not be back and/or the Giants may look to upgrade there. Tim Carter (Re-Signed by Giants), who is also unrestricted, has been a big bust and the Giants might look for a veteran wide receiver. However, no quality starting-caliber receiver will sign with the Giants unless the Giants unexpectedly release Amani Toomer. There is a chance the Giants could add another tight end and the Giants may add another back-up left tackle unless Bob Whitfield (Re-Signed by Giants) is re-signed.

The Giants most pressing personnel needs are on defense and perhaps special teams (the latter if punter Jeff Feagles retires). (Feagles Will Play One More Season) The Giants are already on record as saying they are most interested in improving the quality of their linebackers and defensive backs. They have publicly identified DT Kendrick Clancy (Signed by Cardinals) as their own primary free agent priority. The bulk of playoff history proves that you are unlikely to win a Super Bowl without a very strong defense. The Giants need to get better on this side of the ball.

The players listed below are the ones that caught my eye. This is by no means a comprehensive list. Indeed, the Giants have picked up some of their better free agents in recent years after teams have released those players during free agency. The players listed below are the ones who were available when I wrote this article. It will not include those who become available later.

(Note: Ages provided are the age the player would be on December 31, 2006).

Defensive Line: The Giants are set at defensive end with Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Eric Moore, and Adrian Awasom. There are a lot of bodies at defensive tackle and it is dubious if anyone on the open market will be better or much better than what the Giants have already. Much depends on whether or not Kendrick Clancy re-signs (Signed by Cardinals). Fred Robbins also makes far too much money for a backup. If either depart, the Giants may sign another tackle.

  • DT Rocky Bernard, Seattle Seahawks (6-3, 293, 27): Lacks top-notch size but he is a quick player and a good pass rusher. (Re-Signed by Seahawks)
  • DT Ryan Pickett, St. Louis Rams (6-2, 310, 27): Nice combination of power and quickness. Can be disruptive. Needs to play with better leverage on a more consistent basis. (Signed by Packers)
  • DT Larry Tripplett, Indianapolis Colts (6-2, 295, 27): Lacks height but is a bulky guy who plays with natural leverage. Has good quickness for his size. Needs to be more consistent. (Signed by Bills)
  • NT/DT Ma’ake Kemoeatu, Baltimore Ravens (6-5, 350, 27): Has great size and strength. Better run defender than pass rusher. (Signed by Panthers)
  • DT Damione Lewis, St. Louis Rams (6-2, 301, 28): Quick player who has never really lived up to his draft hype. Has been somewhat injury-prone. (Signed by Panthers)
  • DT James Reed, New York Jets (6-0, 286, 29): Similar player to Kendrick Clancy. Career back-up until he started all 16 games in 2005. Lacks height but he is a fireplug with good quickness. Has played some fullback in short yardage situations. (Signed by Chiefs)
  • DT Chris Hovan, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2, 298, 28): The Giants took a long look at him in free agency last year. Had a good year with Bucs as a run defender. Plays with good effort and can be disruptive. (Re-Signed by Buccaneers)

Linebackers: Antonio Pierce obviously has the middle spot locked up. He is a Pro Bowl-caliber player. Carlos Emmons (who turns 33) and Barrett Green (ankle/knee problems) (Waived by Giants) are not cheap. I actually would not be surprised to see both starting for the Giants in 2006; but I also could see both hitting the waiver wire. Reggie Torbor is still in the picture and a player on the rise. The Giants obviously want to add talent and depth here.

  • OLB Julian Peterson, San Francisco (6-3, 235, 28): Peterson was widely regarding as one of the best linebackers in football two years ago, but he suffered a serious Achilles tendon injury in 2004 and was not as dynamic for the 49ers in 2005. The big question is has the injury caused permanent damage or will he regain his earlier form? When healthy, he can do it all – blitz, cover, and play the run. Not the brightest guy in the world. (Signed by Seahawks)
  • WLB Will Witherspoon, Carolina Panthers (6-1, 231, 26): Pure weakside linebacker. Run-and-hit type similar in style to Barrett Green. Can cover and rush the passer. Has problems against the run at times at the point-of-attack. Makes a lot of tackles and is a good locker room presence. (Signed by Rams)
  • OLB David Thornton, Indianapolis Colts (6-2, 230, 28): Smart, solid all-around player who can cover and play the run. Has good range. (Signed by Titans)
  • LB Bart Scott, Baltimore Ravens (6-2, 235, 26): Back-up his first three years with the Ravens, Scott started 10 games in 2005 and was very productive with 92 tackles and four sacks. Good athlete with fine speed. Good special teams player. (Re-Signed by Ravens)
  • OLB Tommy Polley, Baltimore Ravens (6-3, 230, 28): Athletic player with fine speed and quickness. Has good range. Run-and-hit-type linebacker who struggles at times at the point-of-attack. Good in coverage. (Signed by Saints)
  • LB Ben Leber, San Diego Chargers (6-3, 244, 28): Lacks ideal athleticism, but he is an instinctive, hard-working player with good size. So-so in coverage. (Signed by Vikings)
  • LB Rocky Boiman, Tennessee Titans (6-4, 236, 26): Solid back-up for the Titans who can play both inside and outside. Has started 10 games in four seasons. Smart and plays hard. Decent blitzer but only so-so in coverage. Plays special teams. (Signed by Cowboys)

Cornerback: Much depends on Will Peterson (Waived by Giants) who has had damage to his vertebrae twice in three years. One would think it would be wise for the Giants not to count on his return, but who knows? If Peterson was OK, the Giants would be in good shape at corner. Without him, they need help. Will Allen (unrestricted) (Signed by Dolphins) is likely to leave in free agency and it doubtful that Frank Walker (restricted) has a future with the team. If Allen departs, the Giants may want to add someone with experience covering slot receivers.

  • Nate Clements, Buffalo Bills (6-0, 209, 27): Clements combines good size and athleticism. He is a tough player who will mix it up against the run. Very good cover corner who makes plays on the football (20 interceptions in five years). Can be inconsistent (i.e., beaten) at times, however, and is looking for a huge signing bonus. (FRANCHISED)
  • Charles Woodson, Oakland Raiders (6-1, 200, 30): Woodson is a big-name player whose production has not lived up to the hype recently. Has exceptional ability and can shut down an opposing receiver. However, he has had some injury issues and is not the easiest guy to coach. He is not team-oriented and mouths off a lot. Might not be the type of guy who gets along well with Coughlin. (Signed by Packers)
  • Ty Law, Waived by New York Jets (5-11, 200, 32): Good cover corner who can play both zone and man. Picked off 10 passes last year, but also led Jets with 10 penalties – sometimes too aggressive. Good run defender. Has a questionable attitude (skips team meetings) and might not be able to deal well with Coughlin.
  • Brian Williams, Minnesota Vikings (5-11, 207, 27): Competitive, aggressive, and physical. Lacks ideal quickness and athleticism. Played well in 2005. (Signed by Jaguars)
  • Ahmed Plummer, Waived by San Francisco 49ers (6-0, 191, 30): Plummer is a solid corner who plays with good technique. Smart. Has good size, but lacks ideal speed and quickness. Has been injury-prone the past two seasons with injuries to his shoulder, neck, and ankle. Played in only three games last year and six in 2004. (Retired Due to Injury)
  • Deshea Townsend, Pittsburgh Steelers (5-10, 190, 31): Given his age, not an ideal free agent candidate, but he could serve as a decent stop-gap starter. Reliable and smart, but not dynamic. (Re-Signed by Steelers)
  • Jerry Azumah, Chicago Bears (5-10, 192, 29): Future clouded by chronic arthritic hip condition which is said to be diminishing his skills. When healthy, he is a fast and quick player. Aggressive, but will bite on play-action at times. Very good returner. (Retired Due to Injury)
  • Renaldo Hill, Oakland Raiders (5-11, 180, 28): Started 13 games for Oakland last season after playing his first four years in Arizona. Lacks size and speed, but he is a tough guy who usually keeps plays in front of him. Good special teams player. (Signed by Dolphins)

Safety: The Giants added quite a few “street” free agents to the roster in February, but these guys are long-shots at best. Shaun Williams (Signed by Panthers) has not played a full season since 2002 and is an unrestricted free agent. He won’t be back. It’s time to part ways with Brent Alexander (Waived by Giants). That leaves only Gibril Wilson and James Butler. More help is needed.

  • SS Tank Williams, Tennessee Titans (6-3, 223, 26): Solid strong safety who is a good run defender. Hits hard. Has good range against the run and plays with an attitude. Not as strong in coverage as he lacks quick feet. But he can intimidate receivers. (Signed by Vikings)
  • FS Chris Hope, Pittsburgh Steelers (5-11, 206, 26): Hope has good range and is a good hitter. Only has four picks the past two seasons. (Signed by Titans)
  • FS Lance Schulters, Miami Dolphins (6-2, 202, 31): Smart player. Has good range and is a good hitter.
  • FS Ryan Clark, Washington Redskins (5-11, 200, 27): Former Giant who signed with the Redskins in 2004 and who has started 24 games for Washington. Lacks ideal size, but he is an athletic player who will hit. (Signed by Steelers)
  • SS Adam Archuleta, St. Louis Rams (6-0, 223, 29): Converted linebacker who is a big hitter and a fine player against the run. Not as strong in coverage where lacks range. Has had issues with his back. (Signed by Redskins)
  • SS Corey Chavous, Minnesota Vikings (6-1, 205, 30): Smart and a good leader. Works very hard off the field in the film room. Better in pass coverage than run defense. (Signed by Rams)
  • SS Marlon McCree, Carolina Panthers (5-11, 198, 29): Signed with the Panthers last offseason from Houston and started 14 games for Carolina. Had a big game against the Giants in the playoffs with two interceptions. Lacks ideal speed. (Signed by Chargers)
  • FS Will Demps, Baltimore Ravens (6-0, 205, 27): Suffered a partially torn ACL in late November, casting a cloud over his immediate future. When healthy, Demps has good range and is a good run defender. Inconsistent in coverage and only has four picks in four seasons. (SIGNED BY GIANTS)

Quarterback: One press report indicated that the Giants would like to bring aboard another quarterback to compete with Tim Hasselbeck (if he is re-signed) (Re-Signed by Giants) and Jared Lorenzen for the #2 spot behind Manning.

  • Jeff Garcia, Detroit Lions (6-1, 200, 36): Reaching the stage of his career where he needs to think about being a backup rather than a starter. Very good leader and smart player on the field. Reads defenses well, makes good decisions, and is accurate. Can cause problems with his feet when the play breaks down. Lacks a strong arm. Would probably be a good mentor for Manning. (Signed by Eagles)
  • Jay Fiedler, Waived by the New York Jets (6-2, 225, 35): The Giants tried to sign him last offseason, but he chose to sign with the Jets instead. Suffered a shoulder injury in 2005 that needs to be checked out. Tough and smart quarterback with good accuracy and athleticism. So-so arm. Sometimes forces throws.
  • Charlie Batch, Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2, 216, 32): Batch has a good arm and is athletic. Smart and tough. Not overly accurate. (Re-Signed by Steelers)
  • Jeff Blake, Chicago Bears (6-1, 223, 36): Better deep than short thrower. Athletic but aging. Smart, but inconsistent.

Running Backs: I don’t see the Giants having any interest in halfbacks at all. It is not likely that the Giants will look to sign a fullback, but it is not impossible.

  • Fred Beasley, San Francisco (6-0, 246, 32): Good blocker though he is better pass blocker than run blocker. Can catch the football. (Signed by Dolphins)

Tight Ends: Much depends on what the Giants truly think of Visanthe Shiancoe (Re-Signed by Giants), Sean Berton (Waived by Giants), Matt Kranchick (Waived by Giants), and Wade Fletcher. The latter two are receiving-type tight ends. The Giants could look to add another blocking-type to compete with Shiancoe and Berton.

  • Dan Campbell, Dallas Cowboys (6-5, 263, 30): It would be great to bring back Campbell, but he is a native Texan who would prefer to stay with Dallas if they offer him a fair deal. Campbell is a very good blocker. Doesn’t scare defenses as a receiver. (Signed by Lions)

Wide Receiver: The Giants are unlikely to waive Amani Toomer. The question is can they attract a starting-caliber-type wideout on a team with Plaxico Burress and Toomer? In addition, the Giants spread the ball around to Jeremy Shockey and Tiki Barber too and that may deter a hot free agent from coming to the Giants.

  • Antonio Bryant, Cleveland Browns (6-1, 192, 25): Has the tools. Bryant is athletic with very good hands. He can make the circus catch, but will occasionally drop a ball. Fluid, quick, and agile. Runs good routes. Has had attitude problems in the past (when with the Cowboys). (Signed by 49ers)
  • Koren Robinson, Minnesota Vikings (6-1, 205, 26): Has the tools. Big, athletic, and fast. Can make the circus catch, but also drop the easy ball. Dangerous, but inconsistent. Needs to improve focus and maturity. Had a substance abuse problem and was released by the Seahawks in during the 2005 offseason. Signed with the Vikings and flashed great ability again. (Re-Signed by Vikings)
  • David Givens, New England Patriots (6-0, 212, 26): Givens has good size and is team-oriented. Has been productive. He is a good blocker and special teams player. Lacks speed. (Signed by Titans)
  • Antwaan Randle El, Pittsburgh Steelers (5-10, 192, 27): A versatile performer who is better suited to a back-up spot/role player than starter. Very quick and shifty, but lacks size and speed. Good in the slot and on gadget plays. Can return punts. (Signed by Redskins)
  • Jabar Gaffney, Houston Texans (6-1, 193, 26): Starter in Houston who is better suited as a #3 receiver. Runs good routes and has good hands, but lacks speed and explosiveness. Good third-down receiver. (Signed by Eagles)
  • Joe Jurevicius, Seattle Seahawks (6-5, 230, 32): Former Giant who started 11 games for the Seahawks last year after serving primarily as a back-up for three teams during the rest of his career. Has very good size and has a knack for getting open. Can struggle with press coverage at times. Hands are a bit on the inconsistent side. (Signed by Browns)
  • Andre’ Davis, New England Patriots (6-1, 195, 27): Davis has never really lived up to his draft hype and has only had 25 total catches the past two seasons with the Browns and Patriots. However, he is a big, fast, quick receiver who can get deep. Will block. Needs to run better routes and has so-so hands. Can have problems with press coverage. Must become more focused. (Signed by Bills)
  • Corey Bradford, Houston Texans (6-1, 201, 31): Has a nice combination of size and speed. Can get deep, but has disappointed in the past in other elements of the game. Needs to run better routes and catch ball more consistently. (Signed by Lions)

Offensive Line: The Giants are set at guard with David Diehl, Chris Snee, Rich Seubert, and OG/OC swingman Jason Whittle (Waived by Giants). In an ideal world, they would probably look to replace Luke Petitgout with someone healthier, cheaper, and less prone to making mistakes. However, good left tackles are almost impossible to come by in free agency. Look for the Giants to consider drafting an eventual replacement for Luke. Shaun O’Hara is a decent center and was actually received quite a few Pro Bowl votes. However, it is not inconceivable that they could look to upgrade at center. Reserve tackle Bob Whitfield (Re-Signed by Giants) is an unrestricted free agent who the Giants reportedly would like to re-sign.

  • OC/OG LeCharles Bentley, New Orleans Saints (6-2, 313, 27): Has starting experience at both center and guard. Has long arms – unusual for a center. Tough guy who can really maul people. One of the best centers in the game but a bit inconsistent – needs to play at a high level all of the time. (Signed by Browns)
  • OC Justin Hartwig, Tennessee Titans (6-4, 312, 28): Smart and durable. Good run blocker who can get movement at the point-of-attack. Lacks ideal quickness and agility in space. (Signed by Panthers)
  • OT Jason Fabini, Waived by New York Jets (6-7, 304, 32): Can play both tackle spots. A technician who plays with toughness and smarts. Not a powerful player or overly athletic, but gets the job done. (Signed by Cowboys)
  • LT Kevin Shaffer, Atlanta Falcons (6-5, 290, 26): Better run blocker than pass blocker. Can get exposed by speed at times. (Signed by Browns)

Punter: Everything depends on whether Jeff Feagles retires or not (Feagles Will Play One More Season). If he does retire, punter becomes a huge need.

  • Jason Baker, Carolina Panthers (6-2, 205, 28): Has bounced around the league since 2001, but had a strong year for the Panthers in 2005 with a net 38.9 yards-per-punt average (third in the NFL). 23 of his punts landed inside the 20-yard line and only four resulted in touchbacks. (Re-Signed by Panthers)
  • Dave Zastudil, Baltimore Ravens (6-3, 215, 28): Has been the Ravens’ punter for the last four years. Averaged a net 35.7 yards-per-punt in 2005 (a gross of 43.5 yards-per-punt). (Signed by Browns)
  • Tom Rouen, Seattle Seahawks (6-3, 225, 38): Has been around the League since 1993. Net average in 2005 was 35.0 with a gross of 41.6. (Re-Signed by Seahawks)
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Jul 282005
 
 July 28, 2005  Posted by  Articles, Roster Thoughts
Key Questions Heading into the 2005 New York Giants Training Camp

Since almost the beginning of the site in 1995, I have annually produced a “Key Questions Heading into Training Camp” article. So I will certainly continue the tradition. But this year’s article will be shorter as I recently provided a more detailed overview of my opinions of this team heading into training camp (see Shhhhh! This 2005 New York Giants Team May Actually Be Quite Good).

I’ve produced a list of what I think are the key questions heading into training camp and the 2005 NFL season. This list will most likely vary from yours or other folks. I honestly feel quite confident about the talent level on this team and only the top four items are the most worrisome to me.

(1) How Fast Will Eli Manning Mature? It’s a quarterback’s league. More than that, as has been the case with the Giants in recent years, opposing defenses will concentrate on stopping Tiki Barber and force the Giants’ starting quarterback to beat them. Manning has only started seven games. In the U.S. today, everyone (especially sports fans) expects immediate results. I call it the “video game syndrome” where casual fans think you can simply plug in a new player and expect instantaneous performance. It doesn’t work that way. There is a learning curve for athletes just like there is for everyone else. The big question for the entire Giants’ franchise is how big is Manning’s learning curve? The faster he develops, the better the team will be sooner. But if he struggles like most first or second year quarterbacks, then the Giants will hover around .500. It may be unrealistic or unfair to expect him to develop faster than average, but he may be able to do so. To me, this is the most interesting and important issue for the entire team.

(2) Can the Giants Dramatically Improve Their Run Defense? The Giants’ run defense was terrible last year. By season’s end, they were regularly giving up 150+ yards on the ground to opponents. Teams that do that don’t win. Some improvement is expected with the return of previously injured players such as Michael Strahan and the safeties. But Strahan is well past 30 years old and on the decline. The Giants will need their young defensive tackles to step up as well as Osi Umenyiora. Adding Antonio Pierce to the linebacking corps will help a great deal, as will having Carlos Emmons fully healthy. Is it enough? We shall see.

(3) Can We Finally Cut Out All of the Injuries Please? The last two seasons have been ridiculous. Not only have there been huge numbers of players on Injured Reserve, but they have been key players, and the injuries have hit hard in waves at specific positions. Last year, the Giants lost a bunch of defensive linemen and safeties. The Giants have much better depth this year and should be better able to survive the inevitable short-term injury problems. But any long-term issues with their core players (i.e., Manning, Barber, Shockey, Burress, Pierce, Strahan, Umenyiora, Peterson, and Wilson) could prove problematic.

(4) How Fast Will It Take for the Offensive Line to Develop Chemistry and Cohesion? Once again, the Giants have completely revamped their offensive line. This has been an annual event since 2001. Petitgout, O’Hara, and Snee will remain at the same positions, but each of these players will have new flankmates. That will take time to get used to. I am not worried about physical breakdowns (on paper, this is a very good group), but with all the blitzes and stunts in the NFL today, half the game is mental. Each player up front has to be comfortable with his neighbor and have confidence that everyone is on the same page. We saw those types of problems last year with Diehl and Snee and it led to cheap sacks. To a lesser extent, it even happened with the veterans Petitgout and Whittle. The faster this group comes together, the better obviously for the entire offense.

(5) Will the Special Teams Continue to Improve? There was dramatic improvement on special teams last year, but much work remains to be done. The big punt return allowed against the Bengals cost the Giants that football game. Jeff Feagles had two punts blocked. And the Giants did a poor job of blocking opposing gunners on their own punt returns. Mark Jones rarely had room to operate. His job is said to be in jeopardy and there will supposedly be an open competition in camp.

(6) Who Will Start at Weakside Linebacker? Barrett Green will be limited in camp due to offseason knee and ankle surgeries. Will he be near 100 percent by the time the season starts? How badly will the time missed in camp affect him? Will he be pushed to come back too soon? The strength of Barrett’s game is speed and the Giants need to be careful here. A gimpy Green is of no use to them. Nick Greisen has good instincts and is around the ball a lot. But he lacks ideal athleticism and speed and can be exposed by faster, quicker players in space. The wild cards are players such as Reggie Torbor, Jim Maxwell, Kevin Lewis, T.J. Hollowell, and Joe Scott.

(7) Can the Giants Finally Find a Serious Complement to Tiki Barber? THE most interesting comment I saw in the offseason was by General Manager Ernie Accorsi when he said that there were some in the organization who felt that the Giants did not need to draft a running back because of Derrick Ward. If true, then the Giants may have a really interesting and potentially very good backfield with Barber, Ward, and 4th round pick Brandon Jacobs. Jacobs impressed at the mini-camps with his size and athleticism. He also seems to have the right demeanor. If Ward or Jacobs (or both) can develop into quality power running backs, then the Giants’ offense will truly become very diversified and dangerous.

(8) Will Will Allen Rebound at Left Corner? Will Allen did not play well last year. Coming off a serious injury that affected his ability to prepare for the season, he was terrible in the opener against Philadelphia, then settled down and played decently, but also failed to make plays on the football in key situations. Allen not only has to provide tight coverage, but he has to deflect the football or intercept it. If he continues to struggle, look for an early hook with Frank Walker, Curtis Deloatch, or Corey Webster moving into his starting spot.

(9) Who Will Start at Defensive Tackle Along With Fred Robbins? Most people expect it to be William Joseph or Kendrick Clancy, but I wouldn’t completely discount Kenderick Allen, Damane Duckett, or Davern Williams. Just because they are no-names does not mean they don’t have talent. The Giants have a lot of young, athletic big men at tackle. It is going to a fun battle to watch in camp and the preseason. Also keep in mind that these guys are athletic enough to play some defensive end just in case Justin Tuck and Eric Moore struggle early.

(10) Who Starts at Safety? Does It Matter? If healthy, we know Gibril Wilson will start at one spot. But where? He played strong safety at the mini-camps. If that continues, it would suggest that Brent Alexander is likely to see the bulk of the playing time opposite of him. If Wilson is moved to free safety, one would think Shaun Williams would then start at strong. However, the Giants say they use their safeties interchangeably so this might not matter at all. The wild card is Curry Burns.

(11) Who (If Anyone) Steps Up at Tight End Behind Shockey? The Giants need a blocking tight end to complement Shockey in two-TE sets (though the coaching staff strong contends – as I’ve said since his arrival – that Shockey can block). I also continue to argue that Visanthe Shiancoe can block and in fact flashes the ability to be a very good blocker. His problems in the past appear to be mental mistakes (i.e., lack of focus and concentration). Shank says that is behind him now. We shall see. His only serious competition is Chris Luzar – a street free agent.

(12) Who (If Anyone) Steps Up at Wide Receiver Behind Burress and Toomer? It will be interesting to see how Coughlin’s offense is orchestrated this year. If Shockey is used more outside and the Giants don’t employ a lot of four-WR sets, then the third receiver may not see a lot of action. However, if there are more four-WR sets and/or Shockey is not spread out as much, then this becomes a more important question. Injuries to a starter could alter the picture too. Tim Carter and Jamaar Taylor are clearly the speed receivers on this team. Carter has yet to prove he can stay healthy even for a few games. Taylor had late offseason knee surgery. The Giants really will likely need one of these guys to provide another deep target for Eli. Also, how these two develop will largely determine how glaring a need the wide receiver position will be in the 2006 NFL Draft. I doubt Toomer survives another year unless he plays like he did in 2002 again.

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Jul 072005
 
 July 7, 2005  Posted by  Articles, Roster Thoughts

The positive comments regarding the 2005 New York Giants’ prospects are few and far between. You’ll hear or read some prognosticator mentioning them as a possible darkhorse team, but most analysts say they will be fighting just to make it to .500 and staying out of the basement of the NFC East. Perhaps these folks are right. But I don’t think so. The Giants’ front office did an outstanding job in the offseason of filling holes and acquiring talent. On paper, I honestly don’t see a lot of weaknesses on this team and I strongly believe this is one of the deepest Giants’ teams in over a decade.

If some things break right for the Giants, New York should not only make the playoffs, but they could press the Eagles for the NFC East title. At the very least, I think this is going to be a very fun team to watch.

Let’s breakdown the roster…

Quarterback: Eli Manning is the key. More than ever, this is a quarterbacks’ league. If you have a very good quarterback, you are almost guaranteed of making the playoffs – especially in the less-than-impressive NFC. Conventional wisdom says that the inexperienced Manning, who has only started seven NFL games, will struggle in 2005 as he will continue to make many mistakes. If Manning is too inconsistent and makes too many killer turnovers, the Giants will indeed struggle to be a .500 football team. Defenses will to try to confuse the youngster and most young quarterbacks have problems reading coverages, maintaining proper technique when under duress, and remaining poised in pressure-packed situations. But Manning’s pedigree, the way he played and handled himself against the Steelers and Cowboys late in the season, and all the hard work he put in this offseason suggests that the quarterback MAY be on an accelerated learning curve. Plus, the Giants have done a nice job this offseason of upgrading his surrounding talent at the skill positions and the offensive line. Manning doesn’t have to carry the team at this point, just smartly use the talent around him. My gut tells me that Manning is going to develop into a less-intense version of his brother – no not a guy who is going to throw for an absurd number of touchdowns, but someone who will be able to read NFL defenses at a surprisingly young age and correctly throw the football to the weak spot in coverage.

I like the Giants’ quarterback situation and I like the Giants’ quarterback situation with respect to the rest of the NFC East. The Redskins have done a poor job of grooming Patrick Ramsey and he looks like he will fall victim to a brewing quarterback controversy in Washington. Drew Bledsoe is nearing the end and is not the type of guy who is going to carry a team far at this stage of his career. Donovan McNabb, for all the positive publicity he gets, is developing a nasty habit of coming up small in big playoff games. Manning is not going to surpass McNabb in 2005, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see this happen in 2006 or 2007.

As for the backups, I was pleasantly surprised by Jesse Palmer’s play in the 2004 preseason. And I am a fan of Tim Hasselbeck’s. He doesn’t have all the tools, but he can step in and lead a football team when needed.

Offensive Line: The biggest move the Giants made this offseason was signing right tackle Kareem McKenzie. McKenzie is one of the young, up-and-coming offensive linemen in this league. He is a big, powerful man who can run and pass block. The Giants will team him on the right side with another mauler in second-year guard Chris Snee. In my opinion, this duo should develop into the best run-blocking tandem the Giants have ever had on the right-side in recent memory – better than Chris Godfrey and Karl Nelson and better than Bob Kratch/Eric Moore and Doug Riesenberg. These two are big, strong linemen who can generate movement at the point-of-attack. Moreover, they are very aggressive, play with a bit of a mean-streak, and won’t be intimidated.

Like most centers in the NFL today, Shaun O’Hara lacks ideal size and strength. But he is a heady player who usually makes the correct line calls and is agile enough to get out an effectively block linebackers at the second level. In this blitz- and stunt-happy NFL, it is critically important to have a center who can read what the defense is doing and help to settle down everyone else. Depth here is good with Wayne Lucier and Jason Whittle being able to man the pivot.

The left side of the offensive line is somewhat more unsettled. After playing well at right tackle in 2000 and 2001, Luke Petitgout had a very successful season at left tackle in 2002. However, his 2003 season ended early with a severe back injury. In 2004, his play was atrocious during the first half of the season, but Petitgout played much better over the second half. Which Luke will the Giants be getting in 2005? The very good left tackle of 2002 or the very inconsistent one of 2004? The good news is the Giants have a Plan B if Luke falters or gets hurt. Veteran Bob Whitfield was signed as insurance in the offseason. And while he is nearing the end of a long and successful career, he still has some gas left in his tank. Whitfield firmly believes he can win the starting job. His acquisition reminds me a lot of when the Giants picked up Lomas Brown in 2000.

At left guard, it is assumed that David Diehl will start. Diehl is a big, strong, aggressive lineman who just seems like one of those guys who is also going to have a long and successful career in the NFL. The key for him will be getting used to his third new position in three years. Breathing down his neck will be Rich Seubert, who looked like a future Pro Bowler before his leg was shattered in October 2003. But Seubert has been impressing the coaches this offseason and looks set to once again contribute. He insists he will regain his 2002-2003 form. If he does, the Giants have quite a positive dilemma on their hands.

To make a long story short, the Giants have nine quality offensive linemen with starting experience: McKenzie, Snee, O’Hara, Diehl, Petitgout, Whitfield, Seubert, Whittle, and Lucier. And many of these guys can play a variety of positions so the depth situation is outstanding. The biggest potential negative is that for the fourth year in a row, there is major personnel upheaval on this unit and so for the fourth year in a row, it will take some time for everyone to get used to their new flankmates.

Halfbacks/Fullbacks: Other than a strong offensive line, the best ally a young quarterback can have is a strong running game. Last year, Tiki Barber put up career numbers with 1,518 yards and 13 touchdowns (plus two more receiving). Without question, he is one of the best running backs in the NFL.

The big change at this position and one that should have dramatic implications in 2005 is that the Giants have improved their depth situation in a big way. The Giants have been very impressed with Derrick Ward and Brandon Jacobs this offseason. Both are big backs who can move the pile, but who are also a threat to break the big run. One (or both) of these two should see quite a few carries in 2005, spelling Tiki and keeping him fresh. And even more importantly, combining these two big backs with the Giants new and improved offensive line, the Giants’ dreadful short-yardage difficulties should be a thing of the past. I have visions of these powerful backs breaking off big runs behind crushing blocks from McKenzie and Snee.

Fullback Jim Finn is not a punishing lead blocker, but he is entering his third year with the Giants and has developed quite a rapport with Barber.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: Another critically important addition in the offseason was Plaxico Burress. Indeed, getting McKenzie and Burress was the equivalent to getting two extra first rounders. These two are still young, are already experienced, and are proven talents. Both still should be getting better too. The signing of Burress should not be underestimated. While perceived as somewhat of an underachiever in Pittsburgh, Burress still averaged 20 yards a catch in 2004, making huge plays against teams such as the Eagles, Patriots, Cowboys, and Ravens. He was one clearly one of Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite targets and Roethlisberger struggled somewhat down the stretch once Burress was sidelined with a hamstring injury. Keep in mind that Tom Coughlin is a former wide receivers coach. You know he is going to make Plaxico his special project. Burress is big and can deep. Manning throws a beautiful deep ball. We’re going to see some fireworks.

The other quality receiver target is Jeremy Shockey. Shockey has been working out like a madman and is in the best shape of his life. Jeremy’s pride was hurt last year as he was no longer being talked about by national media types as one of the top tight ends in the league. Plus, he no doubt saw the money the Ravens just handed out to Todd Heap. If he can stay health (and that’s always been the key with him), Shockey looks primed for a monster season…especially when one considers that Manning demonstrated a real fondness for throwing to the tight ends in 2004. The improvements on the offensive line will also allow Shockey to be sent out more in passing situations.

There is more talent here, but the question is who (if anyone) will step up and make a real impact. The soon-to-be 31-year old Amani Toomer is now three years removed from his best season in 2002. A very serious hamstring injury sabotaged his 2004 season, but Toomer was not exactly playing all that well before he got hurt either. If he can regain any of his 2002 form, the Giants will be hard to defend. If he doesn’t, he will make life more difficult for Burress and Shockey. It will be interesting to see how Toomer does at his new position of flanker.

With Burress, Shockey, and Toomer likely to see the bulk of the playing time (keep in mind that Shockey will often be spread out wide as a wide receiver), it remains to be seen how much playing time Tim Carter and Jamaar Taylor will actually receive. But both a very talented speedsters who can get deep and make the big play.

Another important cog who the Giants need to step up is Visanthe Shiancoe. Shiancoe lost his second string job last year due to mental mistakes rather than physical ones. Shiancoe is a good run blocker – he just needs to stay more focused and consistent – especially in blitz protection. With opposing defenders likely to concentrate heavily on Burress, Shockey, Toomer, and Barber, there is a real opportunity here for Shiancoe to do some serious damage as a receiver in two-tight end sets. The good news is that Coughlin has singled out Shiancoe for praise in the offseason.

Offensive Summary: The Giants have the franchise quarterback; they have the big, deep-threat wide receiver; they have a Pro Bowl tight end; they have the Pro Bowl running back; and they have the makings of a very solid and deep offensive line. Opponents can’t double everyone. If the various parts can come together quickly and develop cohesion and chemistry, this will be a very dangerous offense to defend. The key is Manning. How fast he grows up will determine everything.

Defensive Line: The Giants were 28th in the NFL last year in defending the run. If they don’t dramatically improve upon that embarrassing statistic, then how good the offense is won’t matter. Much of the problem last year had to do with injuries (the defensive line was incredibly hard hit as was the safety position) and new faces (especially in the front seven). But the Giants are counting on a lot of relatively unproven talent on the defensive line to fix the problem. Michael Strahan will be back, but he is 34 and coming off a serious chest injury. The starter opposite him at end will be Osi Umenyiora – an improving but inconsistent run defender and quality pass rusher. Inside, Fred Robbins is solid, but who starts alongside him will be determined in the preseason. The candidates are Steelers’ castoff Kendrick Clancy, former first rounder William Joseph, and no-names such as Kenderick Allen, Damane Duckett, and Davern Williams. The good news for the Giants is that Joseph, Allen, Duckett, and Williams all flashed ability late last season. All of these guys are young, strong, athletic, and have something to prove. So the odds are that at least one of these guys will end up developing into a decent player. There also may be strength in numbers as the Giants will likely rotate quite a bit the four defensive tackles who make the team. However, as stated, the bad news is that this is all pure speculation at this point. My gut tells me that the Giants will be OK here, but that remains to be seen.

At end, the Giants have two very inexperienced, but talented, athletes backing up Strahan and Umenyiora. Justin Tuck and Eric Moore can rush the passer. Tuck was considered by some to be a possible first rounder. What remains to be seen is how they will do as run defenders. In a pinch, the Giants could play reserve tackles at end again if necessary.

Linebackers: The key defensive addition in the offseason was obviously middle linebacker Antonio Pierce. Pierce is a tad on the light side, but he is a very smart, instinctive, hard-working leader who can play both the run and the pass. He is good friends with Jessie Armstead and plays a lot like him. Redskin defenders credit Pierce with being the brains of the team’s outstanding defense last season, making sure everyone was in the right position.

Another positive will be that strongside Carlos Emmons will be 100 percent healthy after being hampered much of last season rehabbing a broken leg. Pierce and Emmons will likely form the emotional and vocal heart of the defense as both have strong leadership skills.

Keeping this unit from achieving a truly special status is a kickass, play-making weakside linebacker. Barrett Green (offseason knee and ankle surgeries) will be limited in training camp. It remains to be seen if he will become the player the Giants had hoped when they signed him away from Detroit last offseason. If he isn’t near full-strength or if he falters, the instinctive but unathletic Nick Greisen will likely start. Neither candidate is probably ideal. Others who may contend here include Reggie Torbor, Jim Maxwell, Kevin Lewis, and T.J. Hollowell. Torbor is a guy who will be used quite a bit, even if he doesn’t start. Torbor apparently has increased his flexibility and agility this offseason and having a full offseason under his belt as a linebacker should really help his cause

Defensive Backs: The Giants are quite talented and deep at cornerback. Pencilled in as starters are Will Peterson (an underrated player who most opponents stay away from) and Will Allen. Allen had progressed nicely from 2001 when he was drafted until 2003. However, last season he was slowed in training camp coming off a serious foot injury that sidelined him in 2003 and struggled early (especially against the opener in Philadelphia). He then developed an annoying habit of not making plays on the football despite solid coverage and dropping interceptions. With Allen due to be an unrestricted free agent in 2006, he has every motivation in the world to bounce back with a strong season in 2005.

Even if Allen has a strong season, he is not likely to be re-signed by the Giants as the team has invested a high draft pick in Corey Webster – a player who was deemed a sure-fire high first rounder before his play suffered his senior season due to variety of injuries. Webster gives the Giants something they haven’t had since Jason Sehorn – a ball-hawking cornerback.

And the depth doesn’t end there. Curtis Deloatch and Frank Walker have real ability. At 6-2, Deloatch has the size to match-up with bigger receivers. And Coughlin has also sung his praises this offseason. Walker improved his play in 2004 and has demonstrated a nose for the football and making big interceptions. By far, this is the deepest and most talented group of cornerbacks the Giants have perhaps ever had.

At safety, the only sure bet is that Gibril Wilson, if healthy, will start. Whether that will be at strong or free safety and who will line up opposite of him remains to be seen. The Giants say they use their safeties interchangeably (that there is no true strong or free safety). If true, it is likely that Gibril could be teamed up with a variety of characters including Brent Alexander, Shaun Williams, and possibly even Curry Burns. Williams has something to prove and the re-structured contract he accepted in the offseason now appears to make it easier for the Giants to cut him, so he should be motivated. Alexander is up there in years, but the Giants seem to appreciate him and he too has been complimented for his offseason work. Possibly complicating the picture are two undrafted, but talented, rookies in James Butler and Diamond Ferri. Regardless, getting Wilson back will be huge. He was arguably the Giants best defensive player before he got hurt last season. He is very fast for a safety, plays a physical and aggressive game, has a nose for the football, and is a good blitzer.

Defensive Summary: The Giants have a good, young core group to build around in Pierce, Peterson, Wilson, and Umenyiora. Though older, Strahan and Emmons are solid, as is Robbins. The real key here is to have one of the young defensive tackles step up and become a major factor. Someone also needs to take charge at weakside linebacker. Adding Webster and Tuck in the draft will help down the road. Overall depth is solid across the board, and outstanding at cornerback.

Special Teams: The kicking game should be solid with punter Jeff Feagles and place kicker Jay Feely. Special Teams Coach Mike Sweatman helped to turn the coverage and return units around last season. Willie Ponder lead the NFL in kickoff return average. The Giants still need to improve their punt return game.

Coaching: Coughlin is very organized and detailed. He is a work-a-holic who wants to win badly. And Coughlin has his players starting to believe in his program. Year one was dedicated to laying down the law and finding out what his team has and doesn’t have. While he is building more personal relationships in year two, he really hasn’t lightened up as much as the players think he has. The truth is they are simply getting used to him and his demanding style. One senses he has a specific plan and detailed vision for this team. It would surprise me greatly if he doesn’t turn this team around. It will also be interesting to see what Defensive Coordinator Tim Lewis does with this defense if everyone stays healthy.

Overall Summary: Beware Philadelphia, there is a storm brewing in New York.

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Feb 252005
 
 February 25, 2005  Posted by  Articles, Roster Thoughts

New York Giants 2005 NFL Free Agency Preview: With the Giants having only four picks in the upcoming NFL Draft, free agency for the G-Men has taken on added importance this year. To be frank, the Giants are unlikely to dramatically improve themselves in the draft and will have to do so on the free agent market.

The good news is that the Giants do not have many key players to re-sign. The only players of note who are unrestricted are FB Jim Finn (RE-SIGNED BY NEW YORK GIANTS), DE/DT Lance Legree (Signed by Jets), QB Jesse Palmer (RE-SIGNED BY NEW YORK GIANTS), and PK Steve Christie (Giants signed PK Jay Feely instead). LB Nick Greisen (RE-SIGNED BY NEW YORK GIANTS) is the only restricted free agent worthy of mention.

So what do the Giants need to do to become a better team? In my opinion, there are two primary objectives: (1) become a tougher, more physical team, and (2) get faster. I believe the first objective is the most important. If you look at recent Super Bowl Champions such as the Ravens and the Patriots, I believe they won because they were the most physical teams in football. As Phil Simms recently said in his latest book (Monday Morning Quarterback):

If I had to cite the one factor that determines the winner in the National Football League, it would be the team that is winning the physical battle. It’s funny, I start out every year forgetting this, and then somewhere during the season I say, “When am I going to remember this quicker?” As an old coach of mine once said, “It just comes down to which team’s big guys are going to beat up the other team’s big guys to give the small guys a chance to have success.” In the long run, the winner of that little tug-of-war always determines not only who’s going to the play-offs, but who’s going to have success in them as well.

The bad news is that General Manager Ernie Accorsi does not seem to subscribe to this theory based on his draft/free agent history from 1998-2003. The good news is that Head Coach Tom Coughlin seems to believe it wholeheartedly. It will be interesting to see who gets his way.

So what does it mean to become tougher and more physical? Basically, it means finding tough, physical big men up front. We’re talking about the offensive and defensive lines. That’s where I believe Coughlin’s focus will be – even despite all of the draft/free agent moves the Giants made there last year. Coughlin has also made it clear that he wants the Giants to become faster. When you’re talking speed, you are mainly talking about the wide receiver, linebacker, and defensive back positions. Ideally, you also want tough, physical linebackers who play with great speed, but those guys are very hard to find.

I think intangibles should be important too. You can have all the talent in the world, but unless you are a super-competitive guy, your talent may not translate to the playing field. You also want players who are instinctive – in other words – play-makers. This is something that Coughlin repeatedly lamented that the Giants lacked in 2004.

I’ve seen a lot of interesting pieces by Giants’ fans on what positions the team needs to address and what they should do in free agency in the draft. But let’s be honest here, the Giants are a bad football team and they could use help at almost any position. This is a team that has lost 22 games in two years. The goal should not be to sign or draft for position, but to sign or draft good football players. Obviously, the Giants are not going to spend big bucks on a starting quarterback or tight end, but there are very few players on the roster who untouchable in terms of replacing. The goal is to get better by signing GOOD football players…not just signing NAMES who happen to fill a positional need. Good football players win games, not the average ones.

My listing of free agents below is by no means comprehensive. As a layperson, these are guys who caught my eye. It is also critical to note that the quality of those players released by other teams during free agency is often superior to those players who are available at the start of free agency. In other words, the Giants are likely going to sign someone who not yet a free agent (i.e., Michael Barrow and Norman Hand are previous examples of this scenario).

Offensive Line: My problem here is that I have absolutely no idea what the Giants have in mind. The press seems convinced that the Giants want to move Luke Petitgout back to right tackle. Is that accurate? I don’t know. What I do know is that finding a quality left tackle in free agency is almost impossible. Teams generally do not let these guys hit the open market (for example, Seattle re-signed Walter Jones and the Rams placed the Franchise tag on Orlando Pace). Do the Giants really want to replace David Diehl at right tackle? I thought he progressed nicely during the second half of the season. I would keep him at right tackle, but the Giants may think otherwise. What they truly want to do makes it tough for me to predict the moves the Giants may want to make. If they do want to move Diehl inside, are they talking about starting him at left guard then? Or are the Giants simply going to sign a quality offensive lineman and let everything else sort itself out at camp and start the best five linemen? What about Luke Petitgout’s back problems? Are they chronic? Can he be counted on? Guards Rich Seubert (leg) and Barry Stokes (back) (waived) will be coming back from serious injuries, but how effective will they be? Questions, questions, questions. Don’t look to me for the answers. I don’t have a clue. It doesn’t help clarify matters that Accorsi recently said the Giants would be looking for another tackle and said it would be best to move Diehl inside to left guard, while Coughlin said he’d be content with Petitgout and Diehl staying where they are.

What we do know is this. Chris Snee will likely start at right guard. Shaun O’Hara will likely start at center. Petitgout’s contract likely prevents him from being waived. Diehl is a guy who two separate coaching staffs appear to be high on. One would think that these four players, barring injury, will start in 2005. The wild cards are what the Giants do in free agency plus the competition from Seubert, Stokes, Jason Whittle, and Wayne Lucier.

TACKLES:

  • RT Kareem McKenzie, New York Jets (6-6, 327lbs, 25 Years Old): Huge right tackle with quick feet for his size. Has long arms. Not a finished product yet. Could possibly project to left tackle. (SIGNED BY NEW YORK GIANTS)
  • LT Jonas Jennings, Buffalo Bills (6-3, 320lbs, 27 Years Old): Solid left tackle who is a decent run blocker. Sometimes has problems with speed in pass protection, but he plays with good technique. (Signed by 49ers)
  • RT Fred Miller, Waived by the Tennessee Titans (6-7, 315lbs, 32 Years Old): Huge right tackle with long arms. Solid all-around run and pass blocker. (Signed by Bears)
  • RT Floyd Womack, Seattle Seahawks (6-4, 330lbs, 26 years Old): Has some experience at guard as well. Huge player who is a good run blocker. Sometimes struggles with quickness in pass protection. Isn’t much of a puller. (Re-Signed by Seahawks)
  • RT Stockar McDougle, Detroit Lions (6-6, 367lbs, 28 Years Old): Humongous right tackle. Strong run blocker. Not overly agile and has some problems in pass protection. Needs to play with better focus. (Signed by Dolphins)
  • RT Victor Riley, New Orleans Saints (6-5, 328lbs, 30 Years Old): Solid right tackle. However, has issues with false start penalties, his weight, and personality clashes with teammates in 2004. (Signed by Texans)

GUARDS:

  • LG Rick DeMulling, Indianapolis Colts (6-4, 304lbs, 27 Years Old): Good all-round player with decent size and technique. Not a mauler, but he pulls well. Can play center. Pro Bowler. (Signed by Lions)
  • OG Jermane Mayberry, Philadelphia Eagles (6-4, 325lbs, 31 Years Old): Big, tough run-blocker who sometimes struggles with quickness in pass protection. Fundamentally sound and experienced. (Signed by Saints)
  • RG Bennie Anderson, Baltimore Ravens (6-5, 335lbs, 28 Years Old): Big, powerful run blocker. Sometimes struggles with quickness in pass protection. Not a puller. (Signed by Bills)
  • RG Paul Zukauskas, Cleveland Browns (6-5, 320lbs, 25 Years Old): Improving player who needs to be more consistent.

Defensive Line: The Giants have a lot of bodies here. They currently have 12 players on the defensive line under contract and another three who will be unrestricted free agents [Legree (Signed by Jets), Chuck Wiley, and Regan Upshaw]. They would like to re-sign Legree if his contract demands are not too steep. But how much talent do the Giants really have here? Michael Strahan will be 34 and is obviously on the downside of his career. Norman Hand (waived) turns 33 and is entering the final year of his contract. Fred Robbins and Osi Umenyiora will likely be around a while. Robbins is solid, but not a difference-maker. Umenyiora has the potential to be a special player, but has to play tougher. After these guys, there are a bunch of interesting prospects who are question marks such as William Joseph, Kenderick Allen, Damane Duckett, and Davern Williams. Keith Washington (waived) is coming off of a serious knee injury as is Chuck Wiley (and Wiley may not be re-signed). Based on Coughlin’s draft/free agent history, he has a special affinity for defensive tackles. The Giants also need to be concerned about depth at defensive end, even if Legree returns.

Three of the best defensive linemen available, DE John Abraham, DT Corey Simon, and DE Darren Howard, are already off the market as all three have been Franchised.

DEFENSIVE ENDS:

  • RDE Reggie Hayward, Denver Broncos (6-5, 270lbs, 25 Years Old): Strong pass rusher who has accrued 19 sacks in two years. (Signed by Jaguars)
  • RDE Marques Douglas, Baltimore Ravens (6-2, 280lbs, 27 Years Old): Plays right end in a 3-4 scheme. Douglas is a good athlete with some quickness and strength. Plays hard and has some pass rush ability. Good at the point-of-attack. (Signed by 49ers)
  • LDE Derrick Burgess, Philadelphia Eagles (6-2, 266lbs, 26 Years Old): Quick pass rusher who has been somewhat injury-prone. Plays hard against the run, but he is not real strong at the point-of-attack. Played extremely well in the 2004 playoffs. (Signed by Raiders)
  • DE Vonnie Holliday, Waived by Kansas City Chiefs (6-5, 290lbs, 29 Years Old):
    Holliday was a high-profile free agent disappointment with the Chiefs. Groin and abdomen injuries cut short his 2004 season. Holliday is a bit of a DE/DT tweener. Has demonstrated an ability to be a solid all-around defender. (Signed by Dolphins)
  • LDE Chike Okeafor, Seattle Seahawks (6-4, 265lbs, 28 Years Old): Has experience at both right and left end. Athletic defensive end who can rush the passer. Not as good against the run. (Signed by Cardinals)
  • LDE Kyle Vanden Bosch, Arizona Cardinals (6-4, 275lbs, 26 Years Old): A high-motor end who is both strong and quick. Has suffered serious injuries to both knees. (Signed by Titans)

DEFENSIVE TACKLES:

  • Pat Williams, Buffalo Bills (6-3, 315lbs, 32 Years Old): Big, powerful lineman who is very strong at the point-of-attack. Has good quickness for his size and can penetrate. (Signed by Vikings)
  • Jason Ferguson, New York Jets (6-3, 305lbs, 30 Years Old): Very good run defender who is stout at the point-of-attack. Plays hard. Not much of a pass rusher. (Signed by Cowboys)
  • Seth Payne, Houston Texans (6-4, 303lbs, 30 Years Old): A 3-4 nose tackle. Run stuffer who is strong at the point-of-attack. Has some quickness on the pass rush. Has a previously injured knee that needs to be checked out. (Re-Signed by Texans)

Linebackers: On paper, the Giants acquired two of the best free agent outside linebackers available last offseason in SLB Carlos Emmons and WLB Barrett Green. But both had injury issues and did not perform as hoped. Emmons appears to be finally rounding into form after recovering from a leg fracture he suffered late in the 2003 season. Green suffered a tear to his ACL in 2004, which somewhat clouds his availability/effectiveness for 2005. The good news is that the injury was reportedly a partial tear and should not require the extended rehab time a full tear would require. Because the Giants have quite a bit of money invested in Emmons and Green, it is unlikely they will look to replace either as a starter in 2005. The Giants have some interesting prospects behind them in Reggie Torbor and Jim Maxwell, but more competition and depth would be ideal.

Inside, journeyman Kevin Lewis was the surprising starter over Nick Greisen (RE-SIGNED BY NEW YORK GIANTS), who is a restricted free agent. Greisen will likely sign a 1-year tender. He’s an instinctive player, but he is not overly athletic. Teams don’t tend to spend big bucks on middle linebackers in the NFL today because they are largely considered two-down players. But the Giants may look to add a quality veteran here.

MIDDLE LINEBACKERS:

  • Ed Hartwell, Baltimore Ravens (6-1, 250lbs, 26 Years Old): Big, athletic, and aggressive. Competitive, smart, and instinctive. Not real strong in coverage. Has learned from the best in Ray Lewis. (Signed by Falcons)
  • Kendrell Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers (6-1, 254lbs, 26 Years Old): Kendrell Bell is a big, athletic player with good speed. He’s instinctive and a good tackler. However, he needs to improve in coverage and at playing off blocks at the point-of-attack. Makes big plays, but he needs to be more consistent. (Signed by Chiefs)
  • Antonio Pierce, Washington Redskins (6-1, 232lbs, 26 Years Old): Came out of nowhere to put together a solid season in the NFL. Lacks ideal size, but he is an aggressive, smart player. Good in coverage. Could project to weakside linebacker. (SIGNED BY NEW YORK GIANTS)
  • Rob Morris, Indianapolis Colts (6-2, 243lbs, 30 Years Old): Never lived up to his draft hype. Solid, but not spectacular. Combines good size and range. Instinctive and a good tackler. Sometimes has problems at the point-of-attack. (Re-Signed by Colts)

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS:

  • SLB Matt Stewart, Atlanta Falcons (6-3, 232lbs, 25 Years Old): Has good speed and range. One of the better strongside linebackers in the League. Can have problems at the point-of-attack at times and needs to improve in coverage. (Signed by Browns)
  • SLB Morlon Greenwood, Miami Dolphins (6-0, 238lbs, 26 Years Old): Very athletic and aggressive strongside linebacker. Not overly instinctive, but has improved in this area. Good tackler and hard worker. Needs to improve in coverage. (Signed by Texans)
  • WLB Tommy Polley, St. Louis Rams (6-3, 240lbs, 27 Years Old): Quick, fast, instinctive player. Better in coverage than against the run. Very inconsistent. (Signed by Ravens)
  • WLB Nate Wayne, Waived by Philadelphia Eagles (6-0, 237lbs, 30 Years Old): Undersized, instinctive linebacker who projects best to the weakside. Not strong at the point-of-attack, but he can run and is good in coverage. (Signed by Jaguars)
  • SLB Hannibal Navies, Green Bay Packers (6-2, 240lbs, 28 Years Old): Combines good size and athletic ability. Plays well at the point-of-attack, but not on plays away from him. Not overly instinctive. Good blitzer. (Re-Signed by Packers)
  • WLB Warrick Holdman, Cleveland Browns (6-1, 235lbs, 29 Years Old): Slightly undersized weakside linebacker who has good range and instincts. Solid in pass coverage. (Signed by Redskins)

Tight Ends: The press keeps stating that the Giants are looking for a blocking tight end. If true, this means the team has been unimpressed with Visanthe Shiancoe, who I think is developing into a good blocker. Marcellus Rivers (Signed by Texans), who is not a good blocker, will be an unrestricted free agent.

  • Anthony Becht, New York Jets (6-5, 272lbs, 27 Years Old) : It’s not likely that Becht would be looking to play second-fiddle to Shockey, but Becht is a big tight end and a good blocker. So-so receiver who doesn’t look real fluid or natural in the passing game. (Signed by Buccaneers)

Wide Receivers: The Giants have some interesting younger prospects here, but the problem is two of the key guys (Tim Carter, Jamaar Taylor) can’t seem to stay healthy and there is a question mark about the true upside of the others (Willie Ponder, David Tyree). What we do know is that starters Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard (waived) are coming off terribles seasons and both are looking at the downside of their careers. Toomer no longer looks like a #1 receiver and Hilliard no longer looks like a #2 receiver. A starting-caliber receiver who scares opposing teams deep is one of the biggest – if not THE biggest – needs on the team.

  • Plaxico Burress, Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5, 226lbs, 27 Years Old): Combines superb size and athletic ability. Can get deep. Uses his size and jumping ability to out-leap defenders. A bit immature and can be a lazy route-runner at times. (SIGNED BY NEW YORK GIANTS)
  • Derrick Mason, Waived by Tennessee Titans (5-10, 190lbs, 31 Years Old: More of a #2 receiver and potential replacement for Ike Hilliard. Lacks great speed, but Mason is a great route runner who reads coverages well and has a knack for getting open. Tough guy who will cross the middle of the field. Very good hands. (Signed by Ravens)
  • Muhsin Muhammad, Waived by Carolina Panthers (6-2, 217lbs, 31 Years Old): Big, physical wide receiver who is capable of making circus catches. More of a possession receiver than burner, but he can make plays down the field. Will catch in traffic and runs well after the catch. (Signed by Bears)
  • T.J. Houshmanzadeh, Cincinnati Bengals (6-1, 197lbs, 27 Years Old): Not a burner, he should be viewed as more of a #2 receiver. Runs good routes, has good hands, and will fight for the football. (Re-Signed by Bengals)
  • Kevin Johnson, Baltimore Ravens (5-11, 195lbs, 28 Years Old): More of a #2 receiver. Lacks blazing speed. Smooth, quick, and athletic. Runs good routes and gains separation out of his breaks. (Signed by Lions)
  • WR Charles Lee, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2, 210lbs, 27 Years Old): Has nice combination of size and athletic ability. Has flashed ability, but was not used much last season. (Signed by Cardinals)

Defensive Backs: On paper, the Giants are in pretty decent shape at cornerback with Will Peterson, Will Allen, Frank Walker, and Curtis Deloatch. However, they need to bring in a decent fifth corner now that Terry Cousin has been waived. Of course, the big question mark is are the Giants looking to replace Allen? Some newspapers have speculated that the Giants may be looking to trade Allen. Others have speculated that the Giants will let Allen test the free agent market in 2006. If either scenario is true, the Giants will have to consider bringing in a quality corner in free agency (if Allen is traded) or the draft (if Allen is allowed to leave in 2006).

The Giants could use an upgrade at safety. Much depends on where the Giants intend to play Gibril Wilson. The wear and tear of having him play at strong safety may not be prudent. The Giants may look to move him to free safety. In fact, Accorsi has hinted that Wilson could move to cornerback (Allen’s replacement?). But let’s assume he stays at safety. The other safeties currently on the roster are Shaun Williams (coming off two knee surgeries, takes up a lot of cap space for a player who doesn’t make much of an impact), Brent Alexander (an older guy nearing the end of the line), Jack Brewer (more of a special teams player), and Curry Burns (a young guy who shows some promise). The Giants are obviously going to look at bringing in at least one guy in free agency or the draft here.

CORNERBACK:

  • CB Ty Law, Waived by New England Patriots (5-11, 200lbs, 31 Years Old): Aging starter who is most likely looking for his last big payday. Excellent cover corner who does well in both zone and man coverage. Capable of shutting down top receivers. Good run defender.
  • CB Fred Smoot, Washington Redskins (5-11, 168lbs, 25 Years Old): Very good man-to-man defender who does well in bump-and-run coverage. Became a more consistent player in 2004. Very quick and has good speed. Lacks ideal size. (Signed by Vikings)
  • CB/S Gary Baxter, Baltimore Ravens (6-2, 204lbs, 26 Years Old): Somewhat of a CB/S tweener. Big and physical for a cornerback. Has good speed, but lacks ideal agility for a corner. Good player. (Signed by Browns)
  • CB/S Anthony Henry, Cleveland Browns (6-1, 208lbs, 28 Years Old): Somewhat of a CB/S tweener. Big and physical corner. Lacks ideal agility but is instinctive. (Signed by Cowboys)
  • CB Ken Lucas, Seattle Seahawks (6-0, 203lbs, 26 Years Old): Combines good size and athleticism. Physical. Lacks ideal speed. (Signed by Panthers)
  • CB Samari Rolle, Waived by Tennessee Titans (6-0, 175lbs, 28 Years Old): Instinctive corner who makes a lot of plays on the football. Has good speed. Sometimes guesses too much in coverage and can give up the big play. An offseason domestic violence charge could affect the demand for his services. (Signed by Ravens)
  • CB Andre Dyson, Tennessee Titans (5-10, 187lbs, 25 Years Old): Dyson lacks ideal size, but he is a good athlete with very good speed and quickness. Instinctive against the pass. Sometimes makes mental mistakes and he needs to tackle better. (Signed by Seahawks)
  • CB Renaldo Hill, Arizona Cardinals (5-11, 180lbs 26 Years Old): Nickel/back-up corner-type who can start in a pinch. Lacks ideal size and speed, but he is a smart, instinctive player. Tough and hard-working. Good special teams player. (Signed by Raiders)
  • CB Jason Craft, New Orleans Saints (5-10, 180lbs, 29 Years Old): Nickel/back-up corner-type. Instinctive cover man who lacks ideal size and agility. (Re-Signed by Saints)
  • CB Ray Buchanan, Oakland Raiders (5-9, 186lbs, 33 Years Old): Lacks ideal size and is nearing the end of the road, but Buchanan is a smooth, fluid corner with excellent instincts. Lacks ideal speed.
  • CB Kevin Mathis, Atlanta Falcons (5-9, 181lbs, 30 Years Old): Nickel/reserve-type corner who can start when needed. Lacks ideal size, but he’s a solid cover man. (Re-Signed by Falcons)
  • CB Aaron Beasley, Atlanta Falcons (6-0, 205lbs, 31 Years Old): Former high draft pick of Coughlin’s in Jacksonville. Has slowed down with age and is now better suited for a nickel/back-up role. Big, physical, and instinctive. Lacks ideal speed and quickness.
  • CB Nicholas Harper, Indianapolis Colts (5-10, 182lbs, 30 Years Old): Experienced corner who lacks ideal size and agility. Physical with decent speed. Better in zone coverage than man-to-man. (Re-Signed by Colts)

SAFETY:

  • SS Dwight Smith, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-10, 201lbs, 26 Years Old): Lacks ideal height, but Smith is a converted corner with good coverage skills for a safety. Makes plays on the football. Big hitter, but he needs to become a more consistent tackler. Good special teams player. (Signed by Saints)
  • SS Kenoy Kennedy, Denver Broncos (6-1, 215lbs, 27 Years Old): Has good size. Strong run defender who will hit. Not bad in coverage, but he lacks speed. (Signed by Lions)
  • FS Arturo Freeman, Waived by Miami Dolphins (6-0, 198lbs, 28 Years Old): Combines good size and athleticism. Has good speed. Sometimes makes mental mistakes. (Signed by Packers)
  • FS Idrees Bashir, Indianapolis Colts (6-2, 198lbs, 26 Years Old): Nice combination of size and athleticism. Sometimes guilty of mental mistakes. Needs to improve as a tackler and hitter. (Signed by Panthers)
  • FS Keion Carpenter, Atlanta Falcons (5-11, 205, 27 Years Old): Better against the pass than the run. Instinctive with good speed. Needs to tackle better and play tougher. (Re-Signed by Falcons)
  • SS Lynn Scott, Dallas Cowboys (6-0, 191lbs, 27 Years Old): Back-up strong safety who has some starting experience. Makes few mental mistakes. Good special teams player. (Re-Signed by Cowboys)

Running Backs: It’s pretty clear that Tom Coughlin wants a quality #2 halfback to split time with Tiki Barber. Ideally, I would think that Coughlin is looking for a complementary back – that is, more of a straight-line, power back. The Giants will likely add one of these guys to the roster – the question is will it be in free agency or the draft?

As for fullback, everything depends on (1) how does Coughlin feel about Jim Finn (RE-SIGNED BY NEW YORK GIANTS)? and (2) can Finn be re-signed at a reasonable contract?

Halfbacks:

  • LaMont Jordan, New York Jets (5-10, 230lbs, 26 Years Old): Talented, big back who is not likely to want to share time with Tiki Barber. Power runner who plays with great natural leverage. Has surprising quickness for a larger back. Needs to improve his play on passing downs. (Signed by Raiders)
  • Anthony Thomas, Chicago Bears (6-2, 228lbs, 28 Years Old): Between-the-tackles big back who runs tough and finishes his runs. Lacks speed and quickness to be much of a threat on the outside. (Signed by Cowboys)
  • Eddie George, Dallas Cowboys (6-3, 236lbs, 31 Years Old): Former feature back who is nearing the end of the line, but someone who may have some gas left in his tank as a more limited role player. Big, physical, tough back. Has lost some of his quickness and power with age.

Fullbacks:

  • Moran Norris, Houston Texans (6-1, 250lbs, 26 Years Old): Improving player. Very good and physical lead blocker. Not really a receiver or runner. Good special teams player. (Re-Signed by Texans)
  • Mike Sellers, Washington Redskins (6-3, 260lbs, 29 Years Old): A FB/H-Back tweener who is a very good run blocker. Good special teams player. (Re-Signed by Redskins)
  • Zack Crockett, Oakland Raiders (6-2, 240lbs, 32 Years Old): Older fullback who the Giants expressed some interest in the last time he was a free agent. Excellent short-yardage runner. Decent, but not standout, lead blocker.

Quarterbacks: Only Eli Manning and Jared Lorezen are under contract. Much depends on whether or not Jesse Palmer (RE-SIGNED BY NEW YORK GIANTS) re-signs. If he doesn’t, the Giants need to bring in two quarterbacks to camp, including one veteran who could step in and play if Manning got hurt. Even if Palmer re-signs, adding a veteran to compete for the #2 job with him would make sense.

  • Jay Fiedler, Waived by Miami Dolphins (6-2, 225lbs, 33 Years Old): Smart, tough quarterback with good size. Has good mobility and accuracy. Lacks a real strong arm and will force some throws. (Signed by Jets)
  • Vinny Testeverde, Dallas Cowboys A(6-5, 235lbs, 41 Years Old): Very old, very experienced quarterback who stays in great shape and still has an NFL-caliber arm. Not as mistake-prone as he used to be, but still guilty of forcing the ball at times.

Kickers: The Giants are not likely to sign a veteran punter with Jeff Feagles still punting well.

But the Giants do need a place kicker. They either need to re-sign Steve Christie (Giants signed PK Jay Feely instead), who performed well on field goal attempts (but not on kickoffs), or sign another experienced veteran.

  • Joe Nedney, Waived by Tennessee Titans (6-5, 220lbs, 31 Years Old): Experienced kicker who was a fairly consistent performer from 2000 to 2002 (81.4 percent). Suffered season-ending injuries in 2003 (knee) and 2004 (hamstring). Pretty good on kickoffs. (Signed by 49ers)
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 July 22, 2004  Posted by  Articles, Roster Thoughts
Key Questions Heading into the 2004 New York Giants Training Camp

As long as I’ve watched the Giants, I have never witnessed an offseason where there has been so much change. New coaching staff, new starting quarterback, dramatic changes on the starting defense, and 45 new players overall. Fans are going to desperately need a roster sheet just to figure out who is who in the preseason and probably well into the season.

The Giants will be picked by most to finish last in the NFC East. Some will predict they will be one of the worst teams in football. The Eagles have won three division titles in a row; the Cowboys have Parcells; and the Redskins have Gibbs. But none of these teams should scare the Giants and, in fact, no team in the NFC should really scare the Giants. Losing three straight NFC Championship Games will likely take an emotional toll on the Eagles. Time is running out for them. They have added DE Jevon Kearse and WR Terrell Owens, but they continue to lose key leadership and talent (this year Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, and Carlos Emmons). Plus, they will no longer be able to run roughshod over the other NFC East teams. The Eagles are superbly coached on defense, but their offense often disappears for long stretches as Donovan McNabb remains very inconsistent.

The Cowboys will be competitive simply because of their coaching and defense, but they still lack proven talent at quarterback and running back…two positions that are just a little bit important to the game of football. The Redskins have put together quite an impressive coaching staff and have added Mark Brunell and Clinton Portis to the offense, but there are some significant question marks on defense.

The rest of the NFC? Everyone has a weakness. The Panthers lost a lot of talent this offseason. The Bucs – like the Giants – are undergoing massive personnel turnover. The Rams lost their defensive coordinator and continue to be harmed by the decision-making of their head coach and inconsistent defense. The Packers, Vikings, Seahawks, and Saints? Nothing to lose sleep over.

The NFC is there for the taking for some team that has a good talent base, is well-coached, stays relatively healthy, and earns some breaks.

Don’t count the Giants out of the picture.

(1) How Much Will the Lack of Cohesion and Chemistry Hurt the Team? Usually teams that have a dramatic turnover in personnel in one offseason do not field a Super Bowl-caliber football team. The Patriots are an exception to the rule. Can the Giants follow that model? The most important football player on the team – the quarterback – will be different this year for the Giants. Whether it be Kurt Warner or Eli Manning, the new signal caller will have to get used to a new offensive system, terminology, coaching staff, and, most importantly, a new supporting cast. The NFL is not a video game. You just don’t usually plug new faces into the lineup without a learning curve. There will be growing pains. How many and how harsh will largely determine the Giants’ win-loss record in 2004.

But it is not just the quarterback who has changed. Six-out-seven starters on the front seven on defense will be new starters. Overall, the defense may have as many as seven new starters (64 percent change). The offensive line will be completely revamped once again with three or four new starters (a possible 80 percent change).

The good news is that the core group of the skill positions on offense (Tiki Barber, Amani Toomer, Ike Hilliard, Jeremy Shockey) and the defensive backfield (Will Allen, Will Peterson, Shaun Williams) remain the same.

(2) How Quickly Will the Players Buy Into Tom Coughlin’s Style and Message? Tom Coughlin is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Those who speculate that he has a three-year window are nuts. This guy was hand-picked by the Maras. I believe Coughlin will be here at least 10 years – a bold prediction on my part as head coaches get dismissed left and right in this League. Coughlin isn’t going to change his style. If some players have a problem with him, they will be the ones to leave. It may not happen in 2004 with some of the high-priced players, but it would soon after.

But I digress. For the Giants to be immediately competitive in 2004, the players on the existing roster will have to quickly buy into Coughlin’s style and overall philosophy. What is Coughlin’s philosophy? Look no farther than his first press conference as the Giants’ head coach:

Effort is the key to success…Football is fundamentally a physical game. It is a tough game played by tough people. We must win the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball…More games are lost in this league than are won…Special teams and winning the battle of field position must become our catalyst for victory and not our Achilles heel…I believe that the young men who represent the New York Giants want strong leadership. They want clear and stated objectives. They want superb detail and organization. And (they want) discipline which provides us all with the courage and the confidence to win in this league in the fourth quarter. My job is to convince these young men that with the parity that exists in this league today, the difference is in the preparation and that our formula will earn us the right to win.

The last sentence is the key. Victories are earned. Hard work equals victory. Hard work makes you more physical and helps to prevent mistakes. You can’t focus on offense and defense and ignore special teams and not expect to lose important football games. And the only way you can get players to truly work hard and not make mistakes is by running a tight ship, one that is organized with one dominant voice in control. This is not a democracy; it is a dictatorship.

But the players grew soft under Fassel. The problem is that they don’t seem to know it themselves because they never have known anything different. They also felt they had a say in the way things operated (especially guys such as Michael Strahan). The daunting challenge that Coughlin and his staff face is trying to convince the old guard that the new ways will make them a better team. It will be quite a culture shock. If the Giants start off the season with a losing record, the grumbling behind the scenes may start. Obviously, that won’t be good and could lead to an even more significant house-cleaning in 2005.

(3) Who Will Start at Quarterback and How Effective Will the New Starter Be? If Eli Manning were a normal rookie, then the obvious answer would be Kurt Warner. But Manning is much more advanced than many young men who come out of college. Why? Because mentally he is prepared for the rigors of the pro game. He knows how to prepare as a professional. He works hard and he makes good decisions. My money says Warner will start, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Eli is the man. Regardless of who starts, the win-loss record will largely depend on the overall quality of play at the quarterback position. If it is Warner, can he regain any of his previous NFL MVP magic? Or is he washed up? If it is Manning, how quickly can he learn the pro game and cut down his rookie mistakes? It’s a quarterback’s league. If you have a good quarterback, you make the playoffs.

(4) How Quickly Will the New Defense Come Together? A lot of change. Not only will there be as many as six or seven new starters, but the entire scheme and terminology is different. Michael Strahan will be the only starter in the front seven returning. That is an amazing amount of turnover. The good news is that I really think that Norman Hand and Fred Robbins will prove to be a solid run-stuffing tandem in the middle of the defense. They will also enable William Joseph not to rush back from his pectoral injury. Right DE Osi Umenyiora has a lot of talent, but needs to play the game with more urgency. There is also good depth here on the defensive line with guys such as Keith Washington, Lorenzo Bromell, Isaac Hilton, William Joseph, Glen Steele, Martin Chase, Mario Monds, and Lance Legree in the picture.

It will be also interesting to watch the completely new linebacking corps evolve. Barrett Green may be on the verge of a breakout year. Carlos Emmons is one of the best strongside linebackers in the game. A key figure obviously will be Nick Greisen in the middle. I’m not concerned about his ability to play the run, but I wonder about him in pass coverage. Depth is an issue as the Giants will need a couple of the athletic rookies to stand out in the preseason.

In the backfield, the corners just need to stay healthy for once. This will be a big year for Shaun Williams as he is making far too much money for continued mediocre performance. If he doesn’t break out this year, he’s gone. The starting free safety spot is likely wide open with players such as Omar Stoutmire, Brent Alexander, Jack Brewer, and Jason Doering factoring into the equation.

(5) What About the Offensive Line? Honestly I think the bodies are there. The big question is how quickly this group can come together to form an effective unit. The left-middle of the line is set and easy to figure out. Luke Petitgout will start at left tackle; Shaun O’Hara at center. Petitgout will be backed up by the winner of the Mathias Nkwenti/Drew Strojny battle; O’Hara will be backed up by Wayne Lucier. If Rich Seubert can’t recover from his leg injury, Barry Stokes will start at left guard. Both Seubert and Stokes are good left guards.

It’s the right side where the question marks lie. The best scenario would be for David Diehl to show that he can be a top-notch right tackle in this League AND for Chris Snee to demonstrate quickly that he can start as a rookie. Those are two big “ifs”. If Diehl can’t handle right tackle or if Snee isn’t ready, then Diehl will likely start at right guard and the Giants need to find another right tackle. That guy may not be on the roster yet. It will be interesting to see if the Giants can find some adequate depth for the right side too. Ed Ellis, Ian Allen, and Greg Walker are all in the picture.

(6) Can the Core Group Stay Healthy? We’re talking about TE Jeremy Shockey, CB Will Allen, CB Will Peterson, LT Luke Petitgout, WR Ike Hilliard, SLB Carlos Emmons, WLB Barrett Green, DE Michael Strahan, HB Tiki Barber, and WR Amani Toomer. Unfortunately, the first six guys who I mentioned are coming off significant injuries. Shockey and Peterson have had injury problems since they were drafted. Allen is coming off a very serious foot injury. Petitgout’s back has given him problems and that is never good for an offensive lineman. Long-term losses of any of these players would be hard on the team.

(7) Can the Team Find a Bruising North-South Runner? The Giants desperately need a physical, bruising, north-south halfback who excels in short-yardage and the goal line. Ron Dayne was supposed to be that man, but to date has failed miserably. This will be his last chance with the team. If he can’t do it, can Antwoine Womack or Jermaine Green?

(8) Can the Giants Find an Adequate Placekicker? The Giants not only need someone to come through consistently in the clutch (Matt Bryant has not done that to date), but they also need someone who is a consistent kickoff man (Bryant’s kickoffs are unimpressive and he lost the Dallas game last year with his kickoff out of bounds). Is Bill Gramatica the answer if Bryant can’t do it?

Those are my key questions for the team. The good news is that this appears to be a strong coaching staff with a clear message. The depth situation, except for a few spots, is better than it has been in years. There are more veteran back-ups now. If the Giants can come together quickly, believe in Coughlin’s message, get good play out the quarterback spot, and stay relatively healthy, they should be as competitive as any team in the NFC.

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