2004 New York Giants Off-Season Notes
by David Oliver
Winter is almost finished, free agency is upon us, draft fever is already at boiling, so it must be time to forget politics and religion and talk football. The comings have started with a coaching overhaul, the goings are underway with retirements and releases, and injury rehab is well in progress. The Giants show some signs of becoming active in the free agency period, and they may have broader plans than we can imagine, or maybe they will need to expand on their current plans. I would think that Chris Bober is going to be difficult to sign. The BBI cognoscenti are unimpressed with his performance, the Giants’ front office is never keen on giving money to free agents who came in as free agents and Chris may well attract some attention on the open market. He would fit into the niche of the million dollar contract, with a decent signing bonus because he is serviceable, and he is smart. Never a dominating blocker, he does have an aptitude for recognizing defenses and he is a help to the other linemen. So my guess is that the Giants will also be replacing the center. It remains to be seen whether they will be content to go with Lucier, or spend bigger dollars on other available centers, such as the NE Patriots center/guard.
After the last game of the season, I caught up with Reggie Stephens and David Diehl. Reggie is the oft-returned corner that Jim Fassel and staff relied upon to fill in when the cupboard got bare. Reg told me that he had workouts with the Panthers and Buffalo and some other teams and that he had some possibilities for next year. He told me, “When you are a free agent, it’s tough to stick…me, personally, I always stay in shape.” He has confidence and likes the Giants staff. He is thankful to Coach Fassel who gave him his chance, and thus became a coach “you like to make plays for.” Reg discussed the business part of the game, but told me that there is “always an emotional part also…especially for a coach who believes in you and who never gave up on me.” So it was a difficult time for Reggie in that locker room, knowing his benefactor was gone, telling me, “As a player, I want to play; he (Coach Fassel) gives us free agents a shot, so it’s tough to see him going out.” Reggie also told me that EMac was heading out to Arizona. These are likeable guys, stuck on the daisy chain of free agency, part time players caught in salary hell, but loving the game enough to go wherever it leads.
David Diehl had a whirlwind of a year. First he makes the Giants, then winds up starting, then loses his father at the beginning of the season. Although he had a rough finish, he showed enough promise to lead me to believe that he is a player and can be on the line for a long time. He told me, speaking about the year, that it was memorable for “all the tough things and tough times; it’s been a learning experience.” He also told me that he learned a lot about character and that this O-line held together, that “no matter what went wrong, nobody pointed a finger.” I asked him what the learning experience was for him personally and he answered immediately, “Coach McNally, coaching me for a year. I am so much more of a better player than I was even in pre-season; there is a world of difference. I watch the films a lot and you can see it on the tape.” We discussed his loss of his father and he told me that it has been tough and that he “used his father as a motivation.” His father knew how much he loved the game and how much he loved being around him. He told me, “He’s been at every game with me. After the season, I’ll reflect a little more on that, I’m sure it will be tough, but he is a motivation for me.” He also told me that there was a great camaraderie among the linemen, “The group of guys we had, tough guys who would fight for the whole game.” He told me that no matter how out manned they were or what it looked like, “People were fighting and doing whatever they could to help this team.”
I wanted to end last season and begin this season with David because I believe he is the future of the Giants. He is a big, tough kid who is not afraid to learn and not afraid to fight. After all, he made the team, became a starter, lost his dad, and started throughout a very bizarre year.
I have very little to say about the new coaching staff because I haven’t met them. I’m looking forward to that opportunity. I have only a few insights to offer that have been relayed to me by people close to the scene. I have been told that Coach Coughlin will be an experience. Someone who knows him a long time has told me that in the end, no one might like him. If they win as a team, his players will respect him, but if they lose, they will hate him. The same will probably hold true with the fans, who are far more welcoming to him, following the 2003 season than some of the holdover players might be. I am also informed that contrary to all the hoopla over former players saying publicly that they would play for him again (who wouldn’t say that publicly?), that many, many of his former players have placed calls to Giants players telling them to tighten their sphincters, cuz this ain’t no Sunday going to meeting experience.
Other tidbits I am picking up are that two quarterbacks are letting it be known that they would like to be Giants. Eli Manning is quietly letting friends know, and Bradlee Van Pelt appears to be telling the world that he is a Giants’ fan and wants to wear blue. Wouldn’t you know that in a year when QB may not be a priority, there are two who would love to wear the Blue. I love Van Pelt’s potential, but an Eli Manning only comes along once in a while. He will probably be the first selection and the Giants are making loud noises that they will not be chasing number 1. With Coach Coughlin’s recent remarks, it looks as if KC will be re-upped for several years, and that may be happening some time soon. If Ryan Van Dyke shows anything in Europe, he may become a serviceable 3, but he is pretty much buried. New Coach Peter Vaas has a QB he won with (different team), and something similar happened to Mike Cherry. I will be going down to Euro Training Camp, so I’ll try to get some interviews. What this means is that the Giants will be looking for a 2 prospect. I like the thoughts of Van Pelt and Van Dyke behind KC. Its symmetrical, fits the Giants modus o, having 2 Vans as backups, and both are big, strong willing to learn kind of guys.
So how can the team screw up with the #4 selection? Well, it can’t. Available players will be a choice of potentially a QB, an all-world safety, a wunderkind TE, a quick and active DE, and a huge mastiff that plays left tackle. Wait a second; don’t the Giants already have a left tackle? Yes, they do, and a good one at that. But he’s no Eagle Scout. Gallery is getting rave reviews following the Combine, a combine that Joe Gibbs wondered why he was there as no one seemed to want to work out. The funny thing is that so many people go ga ga over Combine numbers. Remembering the old days, we were told that the Combine is about stress, not performance. The scouts and personnel people have reams and reams of film and documentation on these kids. What they really need to learn is how they react to repeated BS demands, how they interact with professional staffs, can they chew gum and tie their shoes at the same time. Gallery has passed all of these tests with flying colors. But is he really a Boselli, Pace kind of player? Well, those comparisons haven’t been made before this week. Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. So here’s a scenario looking at the Giants. Do they draft a left tackle and pay him not only left tackle money, but also #4 money, or do they go with an all world safety and pay him #4 money to go alongside the already swollen contract of their strong safety? It is a conundrum. I think the scales tip slightly towards Gallery because Ernie Accorsi has a long memory – and I’m sure he is not happy with the way negotiations went with last year’s first rounder, from the same school as the safety. If Roethlisberger is there at #4, there will probably be a wrestling match in the War Room. If Gallery is there, Coach Coughlin may have visions of Tony Boselli floating in his head. Of course, every year some coach has visions of Joe Montana or LT. Problem is, there can never be another of that guy, each of these kids has to make his own mark. In the end, it really doesn’t matter because if Manning, Taylor and Gallery are gone, or if Manning, Roth and Taylor are gone, or any combination you can make, that still leaves a TE, a WR, a DE available. And all are worthy picks.
Happy analysis, and keep the Pepto handy because some of us will be unhappy regardless of who is signed, who is released or who is picked.