August 16, 2008 New York Giants Training Camp Report (Afternoon Practice)

by Contributor Marty in Albany

This is my last Camp Report for 2008. Tomorrow is only a walk-through. As I have done in past years, I’m adding my impressions and opinions of the various players on the team. Today’s Practice:

This being the final real practice before they can go home tomorrow, the team was in high spirits. Just prior to the start of the practice, OG Rich Seubert was whooping it up and jumping into his fellow starting linemen. This is a little difficult to describe. Imagine Seubert jumping into the air with surprising grace and bumping his shoulder into the shoulders of his fellow linemen. Head Coach Tom Coughlin was in a jovial mood too. He was smiling and joking with the players as they lay on the turf doing their stretching exercises.

The Giants offense was a lot less sloppy than it was yesterday. QB Eli Manning looked especially in sync with his receivers today. The other QBs had some good plays as well. I do not know whether they had learned from their mistakes, or whether the defense was just not pressing as hard today because the team was in helmets and shells today rather than in full pads.

There were punt returns and WR Michael Jennings got his share of them in place of CB R.W. McQuarters who was not dressed.

K Josh Huston kicked 3 of 4 field goals. He missed the first and shortest, but connected on the next three. The longest was about 40 yards. His kick-offs looked high and deep and that is probably more important to the Giants. I am told that Huston understands that he is just filling in for PK Lawrence Tynes rather than competing for a spot on the team and that Josh is treating this as an opportunity to audition for the rest of the League.

LB Tank Daniels made a fine pass defense in the 7 on 7s of a QB Anthony Wright pass intended for WR Brandon London.

In the 11 on 11s, WR Sinorice Moss beat CB Terrell Thomas on a deep pass, but Thomas got some measure of satisfaction on the next play by intercepting a Wright pass intended for WR Michael Jennings. S Craig Dahl made a fine pass defense of a QB André Woodson pass intended for WR D.J. Hall.

There was a drill today where the linebackers were running backwards. I did not see much difference in backwards speed amongst our linebackers. I’m happy to announce that they all can do this without falling down.

In the 11 on 11s, LB Chase Blackburn was covering TE Kevin Boss. It was no contest. Boss ran right by him. I interpret this as Boss having excellent speed for a big man, rather than Chase being especially slow.

Although during most of the practice the defense was rather easy-going, when it came time for
the goal line drill, they stiffened. In that drill, a Woodson pass to Jennings was picked off by CB Corey Webster. However, CB Aaron Ross could not prevent a TD pass to WR Sinorice Moss from Eli Manning. Manning also connected for a TD with WR D.J. Hall, who was covered by CB Geoffrey Pope. There was a lot of contact and maybe a push-off or pass interference. I couldn’t tell.

QB André Woodson did not have an especially good afternoon. In the end zone drill, DE Justin Tuck, I think, batted down his pass. On the next play, a Woodson pass intended for TE Eric Butler was intercepted by S Kenny Phillips. The rookie looks better and better every day. The final play was a Manning to Boss TD that was very well executed.

That concludes today’s camp report.

Here is my take on what I have seen in training camp:

A few cautions: Using training camp to predict a rookie’s future is like predicting how long a marriage will last based on how the bride looks in her wedding dress. For you math mavens out there: football is non-linear (not proportional). A small change in a player, or in any phase of the game, can have a disproportionately large result, either good or bad. Young players often improve dramatically after a few years while others don’t. It can take years to fully evaluate a player’s worth. You can’t compare rookies to veterans. You know what you are getting in a veteran as long as the veteran is healthy. A rookie can have serious flaws that only appear in real games.

The Rookies:

First Round: S Kenny Phillips is “right on schedule” according to head coach Tom Coughlin. We all know that Coughlin’s expectations are high, so “right on schedule” is high praise indeed. Phillips is big, fast, aggressive, and instinctive. He has made some eye-popping plays in training camp and has all the earmarks of being a special player for the Giants. He could be a difference maker for the Giants defense. Safeties Coach Merritt loves him and thinks he will soon be a starter. He could be a great one, but be patient if he does not start in the first few games.

Opponents will try to take advantage of his lack of experience. Kenny can run 100 miles an hour, but it does no good if he runs in the wrong direction. I expect him to make some big plays and mess up some plays by being too aggressive. He definitely upgrades the Safety position and like everyone else, I can’t wait to see what he can do.

Second Round: CB Terrell Thomas is a big, fast, strong guy who can cover man to man. CB Coach Giunta is impressed with him and says he can also handle zone coverage. Do you remember CB Frank Walker? Walker was another CB with all the physical tools. The difference is that Walker was undisciplined and needed constant attention from the coaches. Thomas does not appear to have that problem. Thomas looks like he wants to work hard. He has made some plays and there is no reason why he can’t be a starter in the NFL, maybe even this season. Remember, he is still a rookie, and may not get a lot of playing time, so do not expect him to emerge fully formed, like Athena emerging from the head of Zeus.

Third Round: WR Mario Manningham remains a question mark. He dropped to the third round because of well-documented off field problems. Mario played well the few times I saw him practice, but Mario has been the victim of injuries in both mini camp and training camp. Mario has said that he will be ready to play soon. IMO General Manager Jerry Reese does not retain players who are likely to miss games because of injury. Unless the Giants are desperate for wide receivers (and that is always a possibility), if Mario is not ready to play by the start of the season, he will be placed on the injured reserve list and that will hurt the Giants. The Giants drafted Mario in the third round became it became clear last season that the Giants needed help at wider receiver.

Fourth Round: LB Bryan Kehl. The departure of veteran weak side linebacker, Kawika Mitchell made Bryan a welcome addition to the roster. This year I expect Kehl to play on special teams as does LB Zak DeOssie our 2007 fourth round pick. Like DeOssie, Kehl has the physical equipment to be a fine linebacker. DeOssie can run fast. Kehl can run faster. Both have had their share of fine defensive plays in camp.

Kehl is reputed to be smart and to have picked up the defensive system very quickly. Nevertheless, linebacker is a difficult position to master as a rookie and it is unlikely that Kehl will supplant veterans Danny Clark or Gerris Wilkinson on the depth chart this year. However, looking down the road, Clark is 31, and Wilkinson has a history of being injured. I think Bryan’s prospects of becoming a future starter on the Giants are excellent.

Fifth Round: LB Jonathan Goff. BBI is always looking to replace starter Antonio Pierce (a fierce competitor, but 30 and smallish) and reserve MLB Chase Blackburn (who is big, strong, and smart, but slowish). Goff has had his moments in practice, but at this moment, Goff’s future is imperiled by a spinal fracture. The most recent guess is that he may be ready for the final preseason game. If not, there is a good chance that he will be placed on the injured reserve list for the coming season.

Sixth Round: QB André Woodson is very much the developmental quarterback and is not a threat to replace Eli Manning at any time soon. However, he looks like a solid value for a 6th round selection. He has great size and the strongest arm of the four Giants quarterbacks. He has been inaccurate at times, but I think his accuracy will improve as he gets more accustomed to the speed of the game. Like Eli Manning, Woodson is a classic drop-back quarterback (definition: not very mobile). He is raw, but has a ton of potential.

Sixth Round: DE Robert Henderson was the Giant second 6th round pick. It is hard to evaluate linemen unless they are at full-speed. Henderson has the right combination of size and speed that the Giants seem to want in defensive ends. Sad to say, Henderson was injured in the Detroit Lions game and was waived. The Giants will have the option to re-sign him if he clears waivers.

The Rest of the Team:

QB Eli Manning: In practice, Eli looks more accurate and in control than last year, but I think he would look a lot better if he were throwing to Burress, Toomer, and Smith on a regular basis. “Which Eli Manning will show up for the 2008 season? The Super Bowl MVP or guy who was 18 of 52 against the Redskins?” This question is asked a lot and it is the wrong question.

Eli is a pure drop-back QB. He is not a scrambler like Tony Romo, or a scrambler & runner like Donovan McNabb. In order for the Giants to do well, Eli has to be surrounded by healthy starters, who get open consistently and who are in sync with Manning. If Burress, Toomer, and Smith are nicked up or unavailable, don’t expect Eli to dance around the backfield to give lesser receivers more time to get open. Don’t expect Eli to run with the ball on third and long to pick up the first down. That is not Eli’s game and it is unfair for fans to expect it from him. If his receivers are covered, Eli has no alternative other than to dump the ball out of bounds.

Thus, the question, “Which Eli will show up?” is misguided. The proper question is “How much chemistry and/or practice will Eli have with his top receivers?” If the Giants have to rely on Moss, Hixon, and London to replace Burress, et al, it will be difficult for the Giants to score points or to compete in the NFC East. Naturally, Eli Manning and head coach Tom Coughlin would receive most of the blame.

Am I suggesting that perhaps football is a team sport and that a quarterback can only be as good as the opportunities the other 10 guys on offense provide? Yes, and I’m sorry. The team concept is not very sexy and does not sell very well in our modern age of superstar-driven sports-entertainment.

QB Anthony Wright and QB David Carr. The acquisition of QB David Carr seems to have put a flame to Anthony Wright’s fanny. There has been a significant improvement in his game during training camp. Wright’s arm looks stronger and more accurate than in training camp last year. Maybe he could be an adequate back-up.

David Carr, the first pick in the 2002 draft, has not played poorly. The most frequent question about him is whether or not he will remain gun-shy from all the sacks that he has absorbed during his career. One must give him the opportunity to learn the Giants plays and to get accustomed to the receivers. Although he has made plenty of errors in camp, I discount them because he is still in the learning stage. What bothers me more than the errors is the lack of sparkling plays. He needs to make people say, “Wow!” every so often.

I expect that the Wright-Carr competition will be decided in the three remaining preseason games. The deciding factor? Who is better under the pressure: not getting rattled; finding the open receiver in a blitz; awareness in the pocket (protecting the ball); not holding the ball too long and getting sacked, and throwing the ball away instead of throwing it into a crowd.

The Giants already have a pretty good idea of what Wright can do. They are probably waiting to see whether Carr can be better.

WR Plaxico Burress and WR Amani Toomer. I repeat what I said last year: “In terms of receiving skills, there is a wide gulf that separates Amani Toomer and Plaxico Burress from the other receivers on the team.” Their health is a huge factor in how well Eli Manning and the Giants will play this season. Plaxico is a dominant receiver in the NFL and Amani has established himself at flanker. At this point, neither is 100% healthy and there is no way of predicting how much they will be able to practice or play during the season. Their health may be the Giants biggest worry.

WR Steve Smith. Steve is only in his second year. In practice, he can get open and he does not drop many passes. He showed flashes of excellence during the playoff games and he has the makings of a solid starter. Steve is the number 3 receiver on the squad. If Amani cannot play, Steve Smith is his replacement. However, there is no guarantee that Smith can be as effective as Toomer or that he will remain healthy. He missed the first 11 regular season games as a rookie and caught only 8 passes for 63 yards during the next five games. He has also missed much of training camp. Let’s get him on the field for an entire season before we send him to Canton.

WR Domenik Hixon has been the star receiver in camp. He is very fast and graceful. He has a talent for catching the ball without fighting it. Above all, he is consistent. I had assumed that he would make the team solely because he is such a good kick returner. (This season he is also working on punt returns.) With all the health problems at the wide receivers position, Hixon and Sinorice Moss have become starters in training camp. That is not a situation the Giants can live with very long.

WR Sinorice Moss does not get open on a consistent enough basis. I think it is because Moss is short and hard for Manning to find when Moss is in a crowd. I think that Moss’s best chance to get open is to plant, cut and get open in front of the defensive back rather than to outrun and get open behind the defender (which would require a very precise throw). The trade-off is more catches and first downs, but fewer home run balls. If Moss is healthy he makes the squad.

Moss is only 5-8 while Hixon is 6-2. If Eli Manning were a pitcher instead of a QB, one might say that Hixon’s strike zone is six inches bigger than Moss’s strike zone. I’m not a baseball expert (either!), but I’m confident that pitchers would kill for a 6 inch bigger strike zone.

WR Brandon London: Unless WR Mario Manningham is placed on the injured reserve list Brandon London might not make the squad. I preferred London to Moss last season and I still do. I guess it is the 8 inch height difference. London seems to make more easy catches in practice. He has decent speed and bulk to go with his 6-4 height and he is an athletic receiver.

WRs Michael Jennings, Craphonso Thorpe and D.J. Hall in that order, have also had their moments in camp, but London has been better. If Burress and Toomer were healthy, Thorpe and Hall would probably not even be on the 80 man squad. Instead, we would have back-up punters and kickers, or maybe a pure long-snapper.

I would not be surprised if we keep at least two receivers on the practice squad solely because of the uncertain health of our best wide receivers.

RBs Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw comprise the Giants’ “Pound and Astound” running backs combination (apologies to Walt “Clyde” Frazier). They should get even better as they gain experience. They complement each other very well. Sometimes you need a big strong back, sometimes you need a small quick back, and sometimes you just need a change of pace with a fresh set of wheels. The 65 pound difference in weight is a big change of pace. I feel confident that both will make running plays that will overshadow anything they did last year.

Regrettably, neither of them has demonstrated Tiki Barber’s flair for receiving. That would add a huge new dimension to the Giants offense. On third down, if all the wide receivers are covered, a simple dump-off pass to Jacobs or Bradshaw say, coming off a chip block, could keep a drive going or provide a big gain. So far, I am not encouraged about their receiving, but you never know.

RB Derrick Ward: When healthy, he is a powerful runner, good receiver, and kick returner. He is the number three RB on the squad. Health is a big factor for him. During his four year career, injuries have never allowed him to play a full season. He has missed more games than he has played. His biggest value may be as a role-player.

RBs Reuben Droughns and Danny Ware: They are competing for the fourth running back slot. Both can play on special teams. Droughns is experienced, versatile, and serviceable. Ware is younger, bigger, faster, more elusive, and has the potential to be better than Droughns. Ware was injured virtually all of last year. His total NFL experience consists of his 6 rushes for 18 yards in last week’s Detroit Lions preseason game. Ware’s durability and Droughns’ age may also be significant considerations. We will see what happens during the next three preseason games.

FBs Madison Hedgecock and Robert Douglas: Hedgecock has proved himself to be a fine blocker and will be the starter. In practice, Douglas has the making of an NFL quality FB. He is a fine receiver, has speed, and at 6-1, 250, is a large and inviting target for Eli Manning. Unfortunately, he has no experience and no chance to make the squad unless Hedgecock gets hit by a bus.

TEs Kevin Boss, Michael Matthews, and Darcy Johnson. The tight ends position took a big hit when Jeremy Shockey left. Nevertheless, 6-6 Kevin Boss has shown that he is a talented and graceful receiver for a big man. Boss has a good rapport with Eli Manning and I predict that he will become a favorite target for Easy E in clutch situations.

Boss is only in his second year. He has gotten bigger and the coaches say that he is a hard worker. Boss should be more than adequate as a blocker as his strength and technique improve over time. Michael Matthews and Darcy Johnson are both reasonably good receivers in practice and maybe a little better than Boss as blockers. All three TEs are large, but inexperienced men. They should improve as time passes. TEs Eric Butler and Jerome Collins have made a few nice catches in practice, but have little chance to stick if Boss, Matthews, and Johnson stay healthy.

It is clear that none of these guys can replace Jeremy Shockey, but if they play reasonably well, and if Burress and Toomer are available, they won’t have to.

OT Guy Whimper: Is he ready for prime time? The catch 22 for reserve offensive linemen is that unless they have actual game experience (like say OC Grey Ruegamer) they must wait until a veteran is not available before they can get into a game. There is no “rotation” as with defensive linemen. The obvious reason is that if a defensive lineman makes a mistake, the worst that can happen is a touchdown. If an offensive lineman makes a mistake, you can lose your quarterback.

OT Adam Koets, and OG Kevin Boothe may be competing for a single roster spot. Koets is a veteran, but still has no game experience. Boothe looks slow to me, but he is versatile. He has practiced at both Right Tackle and right Guard and has gained the notice of head coach Tom Coughlin. The remaining preseason games may decide who sticks. Give the big edge to Koets.

LB Mathias Kiwanuka: I repeat what I said last year: A star football player can be a star at many positions. As a rookie, Kiwi was a star at DE. I predict that he will learn the LB position and become a star at linebacker. What is my reasoning? A good dancer can dance to any music. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

A number of people have said that Kiwi is a better DE than LB and therefore he should go back to playing DE. They may be missing the point. The real issue is whether Giants defense is better with Kiwi playing LB.

LB Danny Clark: His health may be a concern. Clark is on a one a day practice schedule. Clark is a big and powerfully built veteran who is experienced, motivated, and confident. I see no reason why he will not be every bit as good as Kawika Mitchell, whom he replaces. Remember, it took Mitchell a while to get up to speed. Unlike Mitchell, Clark has a two year contract and he could very well become a team leader by the time he’s done as a Giant. Pencil him in as the starter on the weak side.

LB Chase Blackburn: Big, strong, and smart. He provides good depth at MLB.

S Sammy Knight, S Michael Johnson and S James Butler: The Giants acquired veteran Sammy Knight and he has had his share of interceptions in camp. He provides veteran leadership. Michael Johnson was a rookie 7th round pick who played surprisingly well last year. We are told that S James Butler played hurt last year. At the moment, Butler and Johnson are still the starters while Knight and rookie Kenny Phillips seem to be sure things.

CB R.W. McQuarters plays all the defensive back positions and is a reliable and savvy punt returner, but at 31 he is not as fast as the younger players. R.W. will be a factor in the CB/Safety makeup of the team. Where does that leave Safeties Craig Dahl, and Stuart Schweigert? They have a puncher’s chance.

CBs Corey Webster and Aaron Ross have looked excellent in camp. They came into their own last year and look to be solid starters at CB. They will certainly be joined on the squad by rookie Terrell Thomas. Hard choices will have to be made to complete the CB squad.

CB Kevin Dockery is only 5-8, but he is quick, athletic, and a gritty tackler. His lack of height makes him vulnerable if he gets isolated against a tall receiver (any WR not named Sinorice).

Sam Madison is a wily veteran and a “coach on the field.” He is probably as good as ever, but his age (34) and injuries (one practice per day) are issues for him. CB Geoffrey Pope is blazing fast, but inexperienced. Maybe faster and more polished is CB Darren Barnett. My guess is that Dockery and McQuarters stick.

Last year the defensive backfield was a major weakness of the team. This year it has become a position of strength due to the blossoming of CBs Ross and Webster, the acquisition of veteran S Sammy Knight and the drafting of promising rookie Safeties Phillips and Thomas.

Coaching: The Super Bowl victory has created a lovefest for the Giants coaching staff. Head Coach Tom Coughlin is no longer the butt of jokes from the media. Instead, he is getting the respect that goes with winning an NFL Championship and frankly, he deserves. We nearly lost our Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to Dan Snyder and the Redskins. All of BBI is thrilled that he remains a Giant.

What will Spagnuolo do for an encore? I discussed this with DT Barry Cofield, who told me that he expects the rest of the League to study/copy the Giants defensive schemes. However, he expects Steve Spagnuolo and Defensive Line Coach Mike Waufle to create new schemes and wrinkles to keep the rest of the League back on their heels. Cofield is confident that the Giants have the DLine (combined with LB Mathias Kiwanuka) to execute those new schemes. In regard to himself, Cofield says that he is a tiny bit lighter, but faster and stronger than last season.