August 25, 2009 New York Giants Training Camp Report (Morning Practice)

by Contributor Marty in Albany

This practice concludes the Giants’ 2009 training camp in Albany as well as my ninth year of writing Camp Reports for BBI. It is unlikely that the Giants will return to Albany next summer, so I want to take this opportunity to tell everyone on BBI how much I have enjoyed those nine years. I have had a blast playing hooky from my real job to attend camp and it has been my pleasure to meet so many wonderful BBIers.

I also want to give my special thanks to Pat Hanlon, Vice President of Communications, and to Jon Berger, Senior Director of Football Information, who have treated me with nothing but kindness and respect, as has everyone else connected with the Giants organization. I wish both of them the best of luck and success in the coming season.

This morning’s practice got off to a rocky start when on the first passing play of the 11 on 11’s, CB Aaron Ross defended a pass thrown to WR Steve Smith and wound up writhing in pain on the grass grabbing his hamstring. Any joy that the beat writers on the sideline might have felt about finally leaving Albany and going home was quickly dampened as they collectively groaned at the sad sight of Ross limping off the field.

As the Giants were in helmets, shorts, and shells, there was no real contact between the players. Most of the practice involved running routes and coverages, with a kickoff drill sandwiched in between. Head Coach Tom Coughlin ended the practice early to the whoops of the entire team.

A few plays are worthy of note. WR Hakeem Nicks made a terrific 40 yard TD catch over S Kenny Phillips and S C.C. Brown on a throw from QB Eli Manning in the 2 minute drill. He got behind them and he had to stretch out, but he remained in stride as he made the over the shoulder catch. Nicks also dropped two or three catchable balls. In his defense, the coverage was tight and none of those catches would have been easy.

QB Rhett Bomar and OC Adam Koets managed to mess up another handoff. I really could not see what happened. On the next play, Rhett put up a high and deep pass down the middle. There were three defenders watching it and salivating as they waited for the ball to descend. Suddenly, WR Ramses Barden comes running past them and grabs the ball out of the air without even breaking stride. I call that play “Grand Theft Football.”

WR Domenik Hixon, WR Steve Smith and TE Kevin Boss had their share of receptions. They ran good routes and made easy grabs. TE Travis Beckum had a pair of well-run receptions, as well.

The two best catches by TEs were by Darcy Johnson and Michael Matthews. Johnson plucked a David Carr pass out of the air to beat good coverage by CB Terrell Thomas. It was a fine throw by Carr and it had plenty of zip on it. In the 7 on 7’s, TE Michael Matthews made a diving one-handed grab of an Eli Manning sideline pass.

In the 7 on 7’s, QB Andre’ Woodson threw a ball over WR Sinorice Moss’s head. I was not the only person watching who immediately thought that WR Ramses Barden would have caught it.

Also in the 7 on 7’s, S Kenny Phillips made a fine defense of a QB David Carr pass to TE Travis Beckum and CB Terrell Thomas defended a Carr pass intended for WR Hakeem Nicks. Later in the 2 minute drill, Terrell Thomas defended a Carr pass to WR Derek Hagan who, otherwise had a fine practice.

That concludes today’s camp report.

As I have done in prior years, here are my overall evaluations of training camp:

The Rookies Draft Choices:

First Round – WR Hakeem Nicks, North Carolina: He is still learning and has not gotten sufficient reps to really judge how good he can be. He has demonstrated excellent hands and quickness. He makes a good pivot to turn and run with the catch. He has good size and strength, but he is not a burner. He will have to use his quickness and agility to get open and/or out-fight defenders on a jump ball. Although I expect him to contribute this season, barring injuries, I do not expect him to become a starter this year. He is capable of making amazing catches. The trick will be to learn the Giants’ offensive scheme and perform on a consistent basis. He has a tremendous up side.

Second Round – LB Clint Sintim, Virginia: Big, fast, strong, and talented. He has all the physical attributes that you want in a Sam linebacker. There are things that he can do right now, like rushing the passer, that are of NFL quality. It will take some time and experience before he can become a complete player. Until then, opponents will seek to exploit his rookie inexperience.

I imagine that the current starter, Danny Clark, will give him as much help as possible, because Danny is really a Will linebacker and has been playing out of position for two years. The only way that Danny gets back to the weak side is to force-feed Sintim and make him a starter.

Although Zak DeOssie is called a linebacker, I have not seen him much on the field except on special teams. He is really a short- and long-snapper, not a LB. Zak made the Pro Bowl as a snapper and since we don’t really have any replacement for him at long snapper, I guess he will remain a Giant for another season.

Second Round – OT William Beatty, Connecticut: Although Beatty is a big, strong, talented guy with quick feet, rookie left tackles don’t often waltz out of the draft and into the starting lineup. Beatty makes too many mistakes and spends too much time on his back to be allowed to protect Eli Manning right away. Give him another year or more and he will get stronger and smarter. OG Rich Seubert and OG Chris Snee are nicked up a bit. Would I put Beatty at LT and move OT David Diehl to one of the Guard spots? Absolutely not.

Third Round – WR Ramses Barden, Cal Poly: Ramses is the rookie most likely to make a significant impact this season. At first, I pooh-poohed the idea that he could replace Plaxico Burress. Sure, he’s about the same height and weight as Plax, but there are plenty of 6-6 stiffs out there. However, Ramses (Pronounced: RamsISS) has plenty of talent to go along with his size.

His secret is that he is a very smooth runner – he glides to the ball. This makes it a lot easier for him to keep his balance, keep the ball in view, and pull it out of the air with his huge hands. His height advantage not only makes him more difficult to defend, it makes him easier for Eli Manning to locate on the field. Barden’s long reach lets him catch a pass even if Eli Manning’s throw is a little off target, or would be over the head of an average size receiver.

I expect Barden to make a lot of big plays this season. He is amazingly well-coordinated and under control in his catching mechanics. I predict that he will become a star WR.

On the negative side, although Barden has decent speed for such a big man, he is not as fast as Plaxico Burress was, when Plaxico was a rookie. If Barden were that fast, he would have been drafted in the top ten, like Plaxico. Also, remember that even Plaxico did not have a huge impact as a rookie. Plaxico started 8 games as a rookie, had 22 receptions, for only 273 yards and no TDs.

Third Round – TE Travis Beckum, Wisconsin: I am impressed by his catching ability and his ability to run with the ball after the catch. He is a shifty runner, not a straight ahead plow horse like our other, bigger TEs. Depending on how he is used, he could make a lot of big third down plays for us, when you absolutely need 6 or 7 yards to keep the drive going. Unfortunately, during training camp he has not gotten a lot of balls thrown his way. He is playing mostly with QBs Andre’ Woodson and Rhett Bomar. They barely have enough time to look for their primary receivers, much less check down to look for Beckum.

Fourth Round – HB Andre Brown, North Carolina State: His torn Achilles’ tendon was a tragic blow to the Giants and to his career. Brown had a lot of running ability and would have been a factor on special teams. I have not heard anything optimistic about Brown continuing his football career.

Fifth Round – QB Rhett Bomar, Sam Houston State: Rhett has a very quick release, throws a decent ball, and shows poise in the pocket. However, he is the 4th string QB and he plays with the absolute dregs of the offensive line. He has not been impressive, but that is understandable considering the quality of his offensive line and the massive amount of playbook material that is being shoved down his throat. The best that I can say about Bomar is that in general, Bomar looks better than third string QB Andre’ Woodson, who has more experience and gets more reps in practice.

In any case, Bomar is a long way from being able to help the Giants this season. Although a rookie can improve a whole lot during one season, based on Bomar’s current rawness, my opinion is that the Giants would get a lot more mileage by going with two quarterbacks and filling Bomar’s roster slot with a veteran center/guard.

I’d put Bomar on the practice squad and dare some other team put him on their roster. It will require several years of investment in Bomar before there is even a possibility that he could pay back that investment.

Sixth & Seventh Rounds – CB DeAndre Wright, New Mexico and CB Stoney Woodson, South Carolina: Stoney has perhaps made a few more plays than Wright, both in practice and in the two preseason games, but it is tough to evaluate either of them so soon. They both get beaten in practice on a regular basis. At the moment, I give Woodson the edge to make the roster as the 5th CB.

Last Year’s Rookies:

S Kenny Phillips: He is now a starter and shows tremendous power, speed, and coverage ability in practice. If he continues to improve upon last year, he will be a star in the NFL. He is living up to his potential as a first round pick.

CB Terrell Thomas: He has looked excellent in practice and has filled in as a starter without much, if any, drop-off in performance. Like S Kenny Phillips, he is living up to his potential.

WR Mario Manningham: Mario remains something of a question mark because of his injuries and lack of playing time last year. He can make cuts that leave his defender just standing there watching. He has made some fine plays during practice and in preseason. He has shown potential as a punt returner and he has the speed and receiving talent to be a top-notch receiver. However, because of his lack of playing time, he is little more than a rookie. More often than you would like, he is not on the same page as the QB. Sometimes, Mario is not even on any page at all. If Mario can put all the pieces together, he could become a starter. Until then, he has a lot of learning to do and a lot of experience to get under his belt before he can consistently make a big impact for the Giants.

LB Bryan Kehl: Like CB Terrell Thomas, this second year player is now a starter on the Giants due to an injury. Also like Terrell, he is doing a good job at it. The Giants had acquired veteran LB Michael Boley in the offseason and anointed him the starter at Will linebacker. Boley was injured and Bryan has filled in as the starter. The Giants would be up the creek without Kehl, because their only other experienced Will linebacker is the perennially injured and virtually untested, LB Gerris Wilkinson.

Bryan seems to be a smart player and I expect that he will continue to improve. We can only hope that he remains healthy and does not fall victim to the sophomore jinx. When Boley gets healthy, it could still take him most of the season to adjust to the Giants defensive scheme. I say this because that is how long it took LBs Antonio Pierce and Kawika Mitchell to adjust when they joined the team.

MLB Jonathan Goff: Goff was injured last year, and it is too soon to make much of a judgment about him. However, he has shown some promise in practice and in preseason games. He is still behind starter LB Antonio Pierce and reserve LB Chase Blackburn, but Goff is only 24. He is bigger and a lot younger than Pierce and faster than Blackburn, so he has the potential to be a keeper.

QB André Woodson: Woodson still has the strongest arm on the team and Coach Coughlin says that he is a hard worker. He has improved in his ability to find open receivers, but I don’t think he has improved to the point where he could enter a game and help the Giants. At best, he will spend another year on the practice squad improving his judgment and his ability to read defenses. He remains primarily what he was as a rookie – a big guy with a strong arm, who is very raw.

DE Robert Henderson: Henderson is yet another unknown quantity because of injuries. It is hard to evaluate defensive linemen in practice and he is playing with the fourth team in the preseason games. With stars like Osi, Kiwi, and Tuck at defensive end, it will be hard for Henderson to get a roster spot. At the moment, rookie DE Maurice Evans seems to have the advantage over him and Evans will have the best chance of beating out veteran DE Dave Tollefson to secure the fourth DE slot on the squad. Evans has played well in the preseason, showing good pass rushing ability, strength, and speed – but the edge goes to veteran Tollefson.

The Rest of the Team:

QB Eli Manning: Eli looks very comfortable throwing the ball to WRs Domenik Hixon and Steve Smith and to TE Kevin Boss. That comfort level is clearly the result of the many reps they have taken together. I am encouraged by this. In the NFL, “familiarity breeds completions.” It will take a while, maybe most of the season, before Eli begins to feel as comfortable with rookies WR Ramses Barden, WR Hakeem Nicks, TE Travis Beckum, and almost-rookie WR Mario Manningham.

I was disappointed that during practice I did not see any drills designed to improve Eli’s mobility and elusiveness. There were few, if any, roll-outs or sprint-outs in practice. I was hoping for plays designed to open up new passing lanes and/or give his young receivers more time to get open. I said to myself, if a clumsy QB like Kerry Collins, could improve in this area, shouldn’t Eli give it a try?

I can only conclude that Eli will remain a pure drop-back QB. His detractors would call him “one dimensional.” In order for the Giants to do well, Eli has to be surrounded by WRs who get open consistently and who are in sync with him. He will also need healthy offensive linemen who will give him time to throw and who can open big holes for the running backs (which also decreases the pass rush).

If the offensive line and/or wide receivers are nicked up or unavailable, do not expect Eli to leave the pocket to buy more time to throw or to run with the ball when no receivers are open. Eli may do that if the situation is dire enough, but that is not Eli’s game. If his receivers are covered, there is little Eli can do other than throw the ball away. With all that being said, Eli and a healthy offense have enough talent to go to the Super Bowl. If they don’t get there, the most likely cause will be injuries and general bad luck.

QB David Carr: Carr still makes some bad throws and mistakes in judgment, but he is clearly a capable NFL back up QB. He is better than either Woodson or Bomar by a wide margin.

Carr is mobile, athletic, tough, and competitive. He is not afraid to hang onto the ball and take a hit. Carr gets in trouble when he uses poor judgment in the pocket. Carr has to get better at not leaving the pocket too early and messing up the receiving pattern. Conversely, he has to learn when to throw the ball away rather than take a sack. Unfortunately for the Giants, when he finally learns these things, he will probably become a starter on another team.

WR Steve Smith: Steve has been nicked up and has not gotten a whole lot of reps in practice. From what I have seen, Eli is comfortable throwing to him and there does not seem to be a reason, barring injury, why Steve and Eli will not continue to improve as a quality passing combination.

WR Domenik Hixon: Okay, regardless of what Eli Manning may have said about “wide receiving by committee,” Hixon has all the earmarks of being the Giants number one receiver. He has the requisite size, speed, and talent for getting open and catching the ball. At practice, the Hixon-Eli combination is the closest to pitch and catch on the team.

When I say “pitch and catch” I mean that the passing route was run the way it was drawn up and it turns into an “easy” completion. When the play is not executed the way it was drawn up, the players have to improvise to get a reception. The result is sometimes a circus catch, but more often than not, the result is an incomplete pass. Pitch and catch is the gold standard of pass receiving.

Hixon’s number one status probably means that he will not be returning kicks. That is too bad because Hixon is by far, the Giants biggest kick returning threat. He is almost as valuable as a kick returner as he is as a receiver, and that is saying a lot.

WR Sinorice Moss: Moss is short, 5-8, (and he always will be). In the past it has been hard for Eli Manning to find Moss in a crowd, and Moss will seldom win a jump ball. If Moss played for a different team with a different quarterback, he might become a terrific receiver. But on the Giants, Eli Manning is the quarterback and Eli has always had trouble connecting with Moss on a consistent basis. Although Moss has made some big plays in practice, the “pitch and catch” consistency is not there.

In prior years I have preferred WRs Anthony Mix and Brandon London to Moss because they were so much taller and were bigger targets for Eli Manning. This year I prefer WR Derek Hagan. Derek is a veteran receiver. Not only is he 6 inches taller than Moss, but he has excelled in camp. At 6-2, Hagan has good size and decent speed. He has the ability to make tough catches and seldom drops easy ones. I doubt that Hagan makes the roster unless he has a super game in one of the two remaining preseason games. Give Moss the edge as 6th receiver.

WR David Tyree: David’s Super Bowl heroics and his poignant personal history make him the sentimental favorite of Giants fans. Unfortunately, neither Head Coach Tom Coughlin, nor the Giants’ brass are known for being very sentimental. Tyree has dropped a lot of passes in practice and has not done anything remarkable in the two preseason games. Tyree is not a good enough receiver to play in the NFL. In prior years, he has made the team based on his fine special teams play. This year, that is unlikely to be enough. WRs Shaun Bodiford and Taye Biddle are better receivers than Tyree and they have almost no chance of making the squad.

Frankly, if WR Derek Hagan does not make the team, I could see the Giants going with only five wide receivers and using the extra slot for one of the squads that has been hit by a lot of injuries. TE Travis Beckum is the reason that we might opt for only five WRs. I expect Beckum to be the fourth WR in the 4-WR formation. That would allow us to have four dangerous receiving threats on the field while giving Eli Manning more pass protection from the 240 pound Beckum (and a bigger target), than he would have if the fourth receiver were the 185 pound Sinorice Moss.

RBs Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, and HB Danny Ware: In my opinion, the most significant and encouraging improvement on the Giants team has been the greatly improved receiving of the running backs. They have all caught passes consistently in practice. In the preseason games they have turned their receptions into big plays. This is a thrilling and game-changing development. If you have to put a defender on a running back, that is one less receiver that you can double team.

Consider this situation: On 1st down we gain only three yards, leaving 2nd down and 7. The opponent and everyone else in the stadium, knows that Eli is now going to pass. Last year, if the intermediate receivers were all covered, Eli was forced to chuck the ball deep and it was usually incomplete. The incomplete pass brings up 3rd down and 7 and a predictably heavy rush. But this year, on 2nd and 7, Eli may finally be able to check down to a running back in the flat and pick up an easy five yards, say, leaving 3rd down and only 2 – a much more manageable third down.

Here is what I wrote last year in my final Camp Report:

Regrettably, neither of them [Jacobs and Bradshaw] 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.

Did you see all the catches made by our running backs in the Carolina Panthers game? Who says wishes don’t come true?

HB Danny Ware: I don’t think that the Giants are going to miss HB Derek Ward very much. Danny Ware has dropped a few pounds and in terms of size, speed, kick returning, and receiving ability, Ware is a virtual clone of Ward. In terms of shiftiness, I might even give the edge to Ware.

HB Allen Patrick: The injury to Andre Brown may have opened the door for a spot on the team for Patrick. He is the fastest, and lightest, running back. He has good straight ahead speed, but is not a shifty runner and is not going to break a whole lot of tackles running up the middle. Still, he is a fine receiver and runs around end very well. My guess is that his making the roster hinges on how well he plays on special teams and whether he can pass block a little.

TEs Kevin Boss, Michael Matthews, Darcy Johnson, and Lee Vickers: All four of them are huge. Boss is the starter. He and rookie Travis Beckum will make the team and leave only one TE slot open for Matthews, Johnson, or Vickers. Darcy Johnson has many more catches in camp than the other two, but Matthews is the better blocker and H-Back. Vickers is a long shot. He has shown a lot of talent in the few passes that have come his way and he is a talented long snapper. All three of them have sufficient talent to be the second or third TE on an NFL roster. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Giants could swap one or two of them for a back up center/guard?

OT Guy Whimper: With the arrival of second round OT William Beatty, Whimper is going to be a RT or nothing. Since Adam Koets is now playing center, it looks as if there is no real competition for Whimper at RT, thus Whimper will make the team.

OG Kevin Boothe and Tutan Reyes: Boothe played out of position at tackle last year and was the first guard or tackle off the bench. This year, it looks like Reyes is the first guard off the bench. One of them will definitely be kept; maybe both, depending on the health of the starting guards Rich Seubert and Chris Snee.

OT Adam Koets: Apparently he was switched to center to salvage his career. Koets is not the second coming of Mike Webster, or even of Grey Ruegamer. During training camp Adam made the transition from being quite horrible to being better than nothing. I do not discount the possibility that Koets may someday become a useful center, but I would be shocked if GM Jerry Reese did not acquire a veteran back up center after the final roster cuts are made.

DTs Chris Canty, Fred Robbins, Barry Cofield, Jay Alford, and Rocky Bernard: These five are a virtual murder’s row at defensive tackle. They are the point of the spear in the Giants defensive attack. Currently, they all have injury issues of unknown severity. If we have to depend on the likes of DTs Leger Douzable, Jeremy Clark, and Anthony Bryant to collapse the pocket into QBs Tony Romo, Michael Vick, and Donovan McNabb, we will be drafting rookies in the 10-15 range next year.

DEs Mathias Kiwanuka, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck Mathias Kiwanuka: Barring health issues, I see nothing in practice to prevent them from continuing to be splendid players for us this year.

CBs Corey Webster, CB Aaron Ross: They are the established starters and they also have had their share of injuries. If healthy, they will only become better. Kevin Dockery is only 5-8, but he is quick, athletic, and a gritty tackler. CB Terrell Thomas may challenge him for the nickel back position this season, but will probably start the season filling in as a starter for the currently injured CB Aaron Ross.

S C.C. Brown: C.C. is a veteran safety the Giants picked up this year. He has played well in the preseason games. He could challenge S Michael Johnson for his starting safety slot.

DBs Travonti Johnson, Sha’reff Rashad, Vince Anderson, and Bruce Johnson: Here are a bunch of defensive backs who have talent and at one time or another, have shined in training camp. Travonti Johnson probably has the best shot at making the team as the fourth Safety.

Coaching: If the injury bug strikes, there is not much a coach can do to make his team win. The current crop of injuries is even preventing the coaches from properly evaluating the quarterbacks and receivers because they depend on healthy linemen to execute pass plays.

A healthy Giants team will be a Super Bowl contender, but if the current injury situation does not improve, the Giants will have real problems winning in the tough NFC East. Of course, Tom Coughlin, Jerry Reese, and Eli Manning would still take the blame. Apparently, a team needs to lose its star quarterback (say, Tom Brady) before the fans will accept that injuries, rather than human misconduct, can cause a team to lose.