Jul 312002
 
Q&A: Running Back Sean Bennett

by BBI Reporter walterb

walterb: What is the best part of your game?

Sean Bennett: My hands and quickness. Being able to come out of the backfield and being able to get open. In high school I was a receiver, so I am able still to draw on those experiences and skills.

walterb: The Giants have hoped to use you and isolate you in the defensive backfield and create mismatches. Is that still part of the plan?

Sean Bennett: Yeah, I think so. It may not be as big a role since they brought in Shockey. So he may take over some of that. The Giants may use me in the slot and also split out wide as a receiver. Sometime I will also be like a tight end. Sometime I will be a receiver, and sometime I will be a fullback or a tailback. It is more like a multi-position.

walterb: Will you play much on Monday?

Sean Bennett: I think Tiki and Dayne will play a few series, then there will be me and Damon (Washington) a lot. I am looking forward to it especially after being out so long.

On Fullback Reps: Yeah, I got some reps. It has not been on lead plays, and more out of the backfield, and more in the passing situations.

Note: Sean is looking forward to fielding other questions from readers at BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI). I informed him he has a big following on the BBI.

Jul 312002
 
Q&A: Linebacker Michael Barrow

by BBI Reporter walterb

On Armstead Going to Washington: With him leaving and a lot of other guys who left we have leadership voids. We need guys to step up. The younger guys have to step up and take ownership and make it happen on the field. What was great about having Armstead on the field: He knew how to assess the situation. He knew the right thing to say.

Barrow on TE Jeremy Shockey: I think we have a different offense with him in it. You hate to say that so early with a rookie. But our offense is totally different with him in it. He has a defensive mentality. He is not going to back down.

walterb: Coach Johnnie Lynn has talked about simplifying the defense. What has that meant so far? What is different this year?

Mike Barrow: Right now we have about 85% of our defense in. And last year around this time you probably had 50% in. So he has taken out a lot of stuff. Anytime you have a lot of changes in personnel with the complexity of the defense, you have to simplify it – so guys don’t have to be thinking so much. Defense is more of a reaction game – you can’t be thinking all the time. If you start worrying about this and worrying about that you are not being aggressive. So I think by simplifying, that is going to help us a lot.

walterb: Especially when a game is on the line how do you provide leadership? What do you tell guys? In the huddle what do you do?

Mike Barrow: It depends on the situation. Any word of encouragement. That is what we normally do.

walterb: Do you lead by example mostly?

Mike Barrow: No. It’s a combination. It depends on what the situation calls for.

walterb: During the week leading up to a game what do you concentrate on most?

Mike Barrow: You look at what the other team likes to do, you look at tendencies, you look at how they like to use other players, you look at down and distance, formation tendencies, opportunities for making plays. You even break it down further. For example, with a match up on a tight end I’ll be looking at his tendencies: is he giving certain routes away. It is like being Sherlock Holmes. You are looking for different clues that can help you out.

walterb: Who is the toughest player that you have played against?

Mike Barrow: Tough for me to play?

walterb: Yes, players who you consider a handful.

Mike Barrow: Anytime you get a guy like Donovan McNabb who can beat you with his arm and his legs that is tough on a defense. Because you are covering a guy, and he (McNabb) might start running. Then you have to decide whether to come at him.

walterb: What I would like to do catch you later this week or next week with some additional questions from New York Giant fans at BigBlueInteractive.com, an Internet website. (Note: Mike Barrow told me to set it up).

Jul 312002
 
Q&A: Special Teams Coach Bruce Read

by BBI Reporter walterb

walterb: I would like to get your thoughts on what a potential starting lineup might look like on any of the special teams. From what we saw last year it appeared that mostly the second team was out playing specials. Do you have any plans to put more starters on the special teams?

Bruce Read: I think the general philosophy is right. Generally your twos make up special teams. We will spot play some guys who are starting on offense and defense on our special teams. You know though that energy management is always an issue. Because with guys playing 60 plays, you add another 10 special team plays – now he’s playing 70 plays a game. So that guy’s play may be faulted – and you might want to use a nickel back, a first down linebacker – now you get a chance to get a guy who is playing 35 plays a game. You add 10 to his game and that’s 45-50 plays.

walterb: What is it going to take to get the special teams to gel? What factors are involved?

Bruce Read: Right now we are trying to teach everyone the same no matter what. We don’t know who is going to make the team. So we want to teach everyone the same and give every guy an equal opportunity to make the team – and play everybody in preseason. So you end up not putting your best foot forward because you play a whole lot of guys and there is not a whole lot of continuity out there. They are not used to playing together. You know by week five or six the same guys are playing side-by-side and they start getting a feel for how the other guy thinks – and they work better together. The bottom line is preseason is like a scrimmage. We don’t do any live work in practice. I mean nothing. We have not done anything: live rush, live field goal, live punt, live return, live kickoff. Our first live work will be when we line up on Monday night. That will be our first scrum. We do anything we can to get ready, then we go out and play. We’ll make some mistakes, we’ll do some good things, and we’ll clean it up. And, we’ll do better the next week. Bottom line is to get everybody ready and make sure they know what they are doing. And I know a lot of times it is a battle to get 11 guys on the field, because there are so many bodies out there. When you get to the season you have 46 guys and you have a core of 15 guys, and they make up your specials, and that is it. You don’t have very far too look. But now all of a sudden you have 80 plus guys and it can be a personnel nightmare in some ways. So we try to keep it organized the best we can.

walterb: Have you rewritten the play book for this year? Or, is it the same play book?

Bruce Read: No, it is what I have been doing for years.

walterb: And are the players picking it up? Is there a learning problem?

Bruce Read: I honestly don’t know what happened here last year. I don’t know what their play book was last year. I can tell you that players are picking it up very well. We have a very good understanding. The players can see what we are trying to do, and the execution is pretty darn good right now. We have been able to keep progressing. I think the players have a pretty good feel. It’s also a work in progress.

walterb: On defense and offense fans are often aware about the reams of analysis that goes into preparing. How complex are the preparations for special team play?

Bruce Read: You are talking about a game plan?

walterb: Yes.

Bruce Read: We usually look at everything. We’ll look at every player, and I will evaluate each one of them, and we’ll explain it to our players. So they will know what kind of guy they are dealing with. And when they go to block that guy they will know what he likes to do, what his favorite moves are, how big he is, how tall he is, how many years he has been in the league. We’ll break down all the personnel. There is a ton of strategic stuff. There is a whole lot of game planning that goes in.

walterb: Thank you. I will catch up with you next week with some additional questions from NY Giant fans from the BigBlueInteractive.com website.

Jul 182002
 
Key Questions Heading into the 2002 New York Giants Training Camp

There were a number of reasons why the Giants were a 7-9 disappointment last season. The NFC Champion 2000 Giants were relatively injury-free. But the 2001 version was hobbled with a number of nagging injuries to players such as Tiki Barber, Ike Hilliard, Greg Comella, Ron Stone, Keith Hamilton, Kenny Holmes, Cornelius Griffin, Jessie Armstead, and Jason Sehorn. The play of the left side of the offensive line (Lomas Brown and Glenn Parker) deteriorated. The defense had to break in three promising, but green, players in Will Allen, Will Petersen, and Brandon Short. The special teams were downright dreadful. Most importantly, Kerry Collins played poorly until the last quarter of the season. And who knows what type of emotional toll the events of September 11th and the ensuing charity efforts at close range had. Last but not least was the typical Super Bowl letdown.

Yet despite all of that – if the Giants had just managed to hold onto two late 4th quarter leads against the Eagles, then they would have won the NFC East for the third time in five years. (And don’t get me started on the game the officials gave to the Rams). My point?

THIS IS NOT A BAD FOOTBALL TEAM. IN FACT, IT COULD BE QUITE GOOD. SHHH…DON’T TELL THE REST OF THE LEAGUE THAT.

The foundation of this team is still intact. What about the all the guys the Giants lost you ask? I would argue that most of who the Giants released or let walk in free agency were average players at best. I had been a big Ron Stone fan for a long time, but played pretty poorly in 2001 and his immobility was hurting the design of the Giants’ running game. Jessie Armstead’s leadership will be missed, but most of his game was based on speed and he lost that element in his game. He played well in only one of 20 pre- and regular season games. Heck, he was starting to get beat in coverage by slow tight ends. Joe Jurevicius had his best year in 2001, but he never developed into the explosive receiver the Giants are now looking for and certainly didn’t scare anyone. Greg Comella is a blue collar tough guy who you love to root for, but he was never a blaster as a blocker and rarely did any damage with the ball in his hands. Emmanuel McDaniel was pushed to the bench last year by the rookies. Sam Garnes, Lomas Brown, Glenn Parker, Dave Thomas, Thabiti Davis, and Jack Golden? C’mon – don’t make me waste my breath. So where is the bleeding? If you ask me, the Giants conducted a much needed house cleaning and blamed the cap.

Most fans and “football experts” predict gloom and doom in 2002 for the Giants due to Big Blue’s reliance on a bunch of no-name youngsters such as Rich Seubert, Jason Whittle, Chris Bober, and Dhani Jones. Well guess what folks, Whittle played better than Stone last year and Seubert is up-and-coming player who is going to surprise. Dhani Jones is a smart, athletic linebacker who will improve the athleticism one the weakside. Chris Bober can run block. Throw in an excellent draft class and some interesting rookie/street free agents (WR Sean Riley, HB Antonio Warren, FB Charles Stackhouse, OG Tam Hopkins, S Ryan Clark) and look for the Giants to make some noise in 2002 if they get some positive answers to the following questions:

(1) Will Kerry Collins Play Like He Did in the First 12 Games of 2001 or the Last 4 Games? Let’s be frank. This is a quarterback’s league and if you don’t have a good quarterback, you won’t win. Kerry Collins played well in 2000 and the Giants went to the Super Bowl. Last year, his decision-making and accuracy were far too inconsistent and turnovers became a real problem (16 interceptions and 22 fumbles). And he’s never been a tough guy. But when’s he is on, he’s one of the better quarterbacks in the league. Kerry has a rocket arm and can throw all the passes. He’s proved that he can come up big in tight situations such as his last minute heroics in 2001 against the Cowboys, Cardinals, Seahawks, and Eagles (the last three coming in during the last quarter of the schedule). But his poor play in the first 12 games put the Giants in a 5-7 hole that they couldn’t recover from. The key for him is to play CONSISTENTLY well. Up-and-down play leads to mediocrity.

If Collins plays well in 2002, the Giants will probably win the NFC East. If he doesn’t, they will struggle to reach .500 again. The difference in being 8-8 and 12-4 is winning the close games and that usually comes down to the play of the quarterback. It sounds much too simple, but it is true.

(2) Can the Giants Stay Healthy? With free agency and the salary cap, most teams have little proven depth and the Giants are no exception. Any team that suffers a slew of injuries in today’s game will see their playoff hopes fade quickly. Look at the teams in the playoffs. Most have stayed relatively healthy and got consistent play from the quarterback position.

(3) How Effective Will the Revamped Offensive Line Be? I honestly don’t worry that much about the interior trio. Dusty Zeigler is recovering from offseason knee surgery, but he should be fine. He’s one of the better centers in the league. Jason Whittle has played quite a bit the last two seasons and he’s played pretty well. He certainly is more mobile than Ron Stone or Glenn Parker. Rich Seubert has the kind of physical ability you look for – a mauler who can also pull. He’s got some nastiness in his game too. The big question is outside at the tackle spots in terms of pass blocking. If Luke Petitgout stays at right tackle, then that position is settled as Luke is one of the better right tackles in the league. However, if he is moved to the left side, the question is does he have the feet to handle the speed rushers he will face? And regardless of where Petitgout plays, there is still a big question about whether or not Chris Bober has the ability to pass block at the NFL level. As far as run blocking goes, this unit will be much better than last year’s line and could be the best run-blocking line the Giants have had since the mid-1990’s. All of these guys are strong players who can run and pull. They should serve Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne well.

(4) Will Dhani Jones Be An Improvement on the Weakside? What we do know is this – Dhani Jones is a super-smart player who runs better than Jessie Armstead does now. He’s a bit of a strange bird, but his motor is always going 100 percent and he loves to play football. Usually, these kind of guys succeed. However, we still do not have a sense of how instinctive a player he is or about his true ability to play off of blocks or make plays in coverage. The Giants’ opponents will be testing him early and often.

(5) How Well Will Omar Stoutmire Play at Free Safety? The last two years, the Giants really have been playing with two strong safeties on the field. And while Sam Garnes might have rarely given up and big plays, he certainly didn’t make many. In addition, it always seemed that the closer Shaun Williams played to the line of scrimmage, the more impact plays he made – in coverage, against the run, and as a blitzer. So in the offseason, the Giants unloaded the expensive, unproductive Garnes and moved Williams to his more natural position. Williams will be a huge upgrade and could evolve into a true impact player – the kind of guy who wins games by his play. The big question is whether or not Omar Stoutmire can hold down the fort at free safety. Stoutmire is faster and more fluid than Garnes and he does have starting experience at free safety (Cowboys, Jets). My guess is that he will work out just fine, but nothing is for certain.

(6) Will the Special Teams Ever Improve? Finally, the Giants have hired a respected special teams coach with recent special teams coaching experience. But Bruce Read has a lot of work cut out for him. He has to change the mind set of a lackluster, unproductive unit and do so fast. Let’s be honest, the attitude on the Giants’ special teams units stink. Instead of looking for ways to help win a game, the mentality is to go out there and not lose it. The good news is that there will be an influx of hungry new players with something to prove and many of these guys were excellent special teams players in college. The message has been given over and over since mini-camp: if you want to make this team, you need to kick ass on special teams. But the Giants need help everywhere: returners, blocking for returns, kick overage, punt coverage, etc. And to make matters worse, the Giants have to find a new long-snapper, new field goal holder, and still don’t know if P Rodney Williams or PK Owen Pochman will be reliable and consistent.

(7) Will Michael Strahan Receive Some Help Up Front? The early talk last preseason was that this unit was going to be the reincarnation of the Fearsome Foursome. That kind of talk always makes me nervous. They said the same thing about the Cardinals a few years ago. What happened is that Michael Strahan had a career year and the rest disappointed. To be fair, Keith Hamilton looked as sharp as ever until he suffered a serious chest/shoulder injury – this was perhaps the biggest injury the Giants suffered next to Jason Sehorn. But Cornelius Griffin and Kenny Holmes didn’t play as well as expected. Both suffered from nagging injuries in their own right, but their pass rush wasn’t consistently strong. The good news is that both are primed to rebound in a big way. Depth is also a concern. The Giants need guys like Cedric Scott and Lance Legree to become quality players.

(8) Will the Giants Be Able to Develop Their Young Receiving Threats? With Joe Jurevicius gone, there is a huge vacancy at the third wide receiver spot. The competition will be intense between Ron Dixon, Jonathan Carter, Tim Carter, Daryl Jones, and Sean Riley. All are extremely fast – but all still have a lot to learn. This will be a make-or-break year for Dixon. Jonathan Carter is an unknown to most fans but he is physically similar to Dixon and much more dedicated. Tim Carter has blazing speed but will probably take time. Sean Riley is diminutive but may be the fastest. My money says the guy to watch is Daryl Jones.

(9) Who Will Play Fullback? The Giants got a big break when they signed rookie free agent Charles Stackhouse after the draft. His style of play is reminiscent of Charles Way. However, nothing is given and if Stackhouse is too green or is a bust, then the Giants may have to rely on Adam Wright, Aaron Kernek, or move Dan Campbell to fullback.

(10) What Kind of Coordinators Will Sean Payton and Johnnie Lynn Be? In 2000, Giants’ fans were worried that Sean Payton would be hired by another team as a head coach. Some BBI‘ers wanted Ernie Accorsi to fire Fassel and promote Payton. Last year, many of those same BBI‘ers wanted Payton fired. After a successful debut, Payton lost some of his luster in 2001 as his play-calling seemed to be too pass-oriented and appeared to lack a core identity. How well the 38-year old Payton rebounds in 2002 will play a key role in the Giants’ offensive success.

On the other side of the coin is Johnnie Lynn, who must replace the very popular and effective John Fox. Lynn is an energetic guy who relates well to the players. He has vowed to simplify the defensive play-book, but keep the overall defensive architecture intact. It will be interesting to watch how he does. His big challenge will to quickly integrate or continue to integrate Kenny Holmes, Cornelius Griffin, Dhani Jones, Brandon Short, Will Allen, Will Petersen, and Omar Stoutmire into the starting defense.