New York Giants 2008 Preview Report

Manning

By Andy Benoit, www.NFLTouchdown.com

Predicted: 3rd

2007 Record: 10-6 (2nd NFC East, Super Bowl Champions)

Head Coach: Tom Coughlin (5th year)

Roster Quick View

*rookie

**new veteran

Offense

QB: Eli Manning Accuracy is helter-skelter, turnovers are too common, body language looks bad, vocal leadership stinks:..oh wait, Super Bowl MVP–that’s right. Never mind.

RB: Brandon Jacobs Freight-train of a runner who, when healthy, is close to unstoppable.

FB: Madison Hedgecock Picked up off waivers last year and stole the team’s heart. Giants love his versatility as a run-blocker.

WR: Plaxico Burress Perhaps the most successful one-year image renewal project in NFL history. Toughness down the stretch last season earned him unwavering respect.

WR: Amani Toomer Age is starting to mount, but intelligence and route-running keep him viable. Must drop fewer passes than he did in ’07. (He will.)

TE: Kevin Boss Thanks to several big plays late in his rookie season, has already disproved concerns about his small school background (he’s from Division II Western Oregon).

LT: David Diehl Quelled all concerns about the team’s LT position. Giants rewarded him with a new six-year, $31 million contract.

LG: Rich Seubert Another recipient of a new contract. Signed through 2012 after proving to be fully recovered from a gut-wrenching ’03 spiral compound leg fracture.

C: Shaun O’Hara Not blessed with raging talent, but fights and scraps on every down. Very important piece to the puzzle up front.

RG: Chris Snee The third O-lineman to get a new contract. The best of the bunch, which is why the Giants made him one of the five highest-paid guards in football.

RT: Kareem McKenzie Mediocre feet make him less effective than his 6’6″, 327-pound build suggests. Still, he gets along just fine.

—————-

QB: David Carr** A bit of a head-scratcher that New York would sign him with proven veteran Anthony Wright already on the roster.

RB: Derrick Ward Not just a quick, elusive runner; he can also break tackles and lower his shoulder on contact.

WR: Steve Smith Experience in big moments at USC helped him rise to the occasion in the postseason. Should develop into a fine No. 3 before one day replacing Toomer.

WR: Domenik Hixon Here for special teams. Just keeping the No. 4 job warm while coaches evaluate Mario Manningham and Sinorice Moss.

TE: Michael Matthews Good size, but lack of strength makes him a fringe backup.

OL: Guy Whimper Said to have had a great offseason. Small but real chance that he could push for the starting LT job.

Defense

LDE: Justin Tuck At this time last year he was an enigmatic project. Now, he’s the 10-sack guy tasked with replacing Michael Strahan.

NT: Barry Cofield Very good power but needs to get penetration on a more consistent basis.

DT: Fred Robbins Has been an excellent clogger for most of his previous eight years, but must do a better job of holding his ground in 2008.

RDE: Osi Umenyiora Regarded by some as the best DE in football. Strong, quick, lithe and smart.

SLB: Mathias Kiwanuka Fractured his leg just as he was finally starting to figure out the LB position. May alternate between two-and three-point stance in ’08.

MLB: Antonio Pierce Near-perfect football character makes up for any mild athletic limitations. With Strahan gone, he’s now the unquestioned leader of the defense.

WLB: Gerris Wilkinson Third-year player who has good all-around quickness and open-field competence. Could really blossom this season.

CB: Aaron Ross An inherently gifted DB who performed well as a rookie despite being rough around the edges. Giants should be very pleased with what they have here.

SS: Sammy Knight** Looking to prove that, at nearly 33, he still has something left. Must fend off improving second-year pro Michael Johnson and first-round rookie Kenny Phillips.

FS: James Butler Flashes no particularly dazzling abilities, but can keep a job if he continues to improve his awareness.

CB: Corey Webster Went from zero to hero in a hurry. On the cusp of losing his roster spot, suddenly performed at an elite level down the stretch last season.

—————-

DL: Jay Alford Doesn’t have the quickness to be a pass-rushing specialist, but is worthy of being worked into a rotation as he learns the game.

LB: Zak DeOssie Special teams contributor who has seen limited action with the mainstream defense over his first two years.

NB: Sam Madison Speed has evaporated, but he somehow manages to stay with receivers. Still capable of starting if need be.

Key Player Acquisitions

QB David Carr (Car)

LB Danny Clark (Hou)

S Sammy Knight (Jax)

WR Craphonso Thorpe (Ind)

DE Renaldo Wynn (NO)

Key Player Losses

FB Jim Finn

DT William Joseph (Oak)

LB Kawika Mitchell (Buf)

TE Jeremy Shockey (NO)

DE Michael Strahan (retired)

LB Reggie Torbor (Mia)

S Gibril Wilson (Oak)

DT Manny Wright

For the most part, New York managed to avoid the lineup looting that so many Super Bowl champions fall victim to. Oakland came in and snatched Wilson, but there are plenty of young safeties here to replace him. And, for insurance, the Giants signed Knight. Torbor was never given a solid chance to emerge here. Mitchell is a potentially painful loss–they’re hoping that a healthy Mathias Kiwanuka can fill his void. It was great to see Strahan go out on top. His absence, however, forces Justin Tuck into the starting front line and really hurts New York‘s depth. Wynn’s arrival does little to mollify the situation. The Shockey saga is over. Judging from last year, his absence is no big deal.

2008 – New York Giants

Rd

Sel #

Player

Position

School

1

31

Kenny Phillips

FS

Miami (Fla.)

2

63

Terrell Thomas

CB

USC

3

95

Mario Manningham

WR

Michigan

4

123

Bryan Kehl

OLB

Brigham Young

5

165

Jonathan Goff

LB

Vanderbilt

6

198

Andre Woodson

QB

Kentucky

6

199

Robert Henderson

DE

Southern Mississippi

Phillips will have a chance to win the starting FS job right away. If he doesn’t get it in 2008, he’ll almost certainly get it in 2009. Thomas won’t contribute much as a rookie, but with Sam Madison and R.W. McQuarters both on the wrong side of 30, his time is just around the corner. Manningham is a gamble. He has 4.38 speed but also had marijuana issues in college. Perhaps more alarming, Manningham reportedly scored a 6 on the Wonderlic test. Kehl and Goff are both mature players who provide depth. Woodson and Henderson appear to be practice squad material.

New York Giants 2008 Preview Report

Maybe it started with Eli Manning. The much-maligned former No. 1 overall pick and youngest member of Football’s Royal Family blossomed in epic fashion last season. After tossing an NFC-high 20 interceptions during his fourth regular season as a pro, Manning entered the playoffs and matured into an estimable field general, leading his troops to four consecutive road victories. He threw six touchdowns and just one pick along the way. Now, gone are the gripes about his wisdom, leadership, passion and poise.

Or maybe it began with Tom Coughlin. The cantankerous veteran head coach had long been pilloried by fans and the New York media. His teams had made a habit of late-season collapses, which instigated his perennial lame duck status. But that was before Coughlin’s Giants defeated the Cowboys, Packers and Patriots in the playoffs, avenging four of their six regular season losses.

Or maybe it had actually been initiated by the changes in leadership. Jerry Reese replaced Ernie Accorsi as the team’s GM after the ’06 season. For the first time, the ownership posterity–John Mara and Steve Tisch, sons of the late Willington Mara and Tim Tisch–entered a season with a full year under their belt. With the front office stabilized, now absent are the criticisms about who is at left tackle, which defensive lineman is playing where or how the secondary is being meshed together.

Or maybe it wasn’t a person at all. Maybe it started that December night in New Jersey, when the country saw the Giants fight blow-for-blow with the history-chasing Patriots in a game that was supposed to mean nothing to New York. Football America tipped its cap to the gallant Giants that night; never before had a playoff-bound team drawn so much praise after losing a home game.

We’ll never know what started it. All we know is that the New York Giants changed this past January. Not just the quarterback and coach–everyone.

Wide receiver Plaxico Burress went from quitter to role model. Once unwilling to play hard, Burress valorously played hurt. Quite well, in fact.

Running back Brandon Jacobs morphed from a bruising goal-line specialist to a formidable all-around force. Oh he was still bruising–he was just bruising outside the tackles and in the open field for a change.

Michael Strahan transformed from extroverted superstar to sagacious veteran. That helped Justin Tuck evolve from little-used backup to multi-faceted difference-maker.

Cornerback Corey Webster was once a downright disappointment on the verge of losing his roster spot. Then, he mutated into a suffocating defender bordering on shutdown status.

The myriad of change in New York was like nothing football has ever seen. There was no single galvanizing incident or eureka moment behind it–at least not one visible to mere mortals.

All of it just sort of happened. Serendipitously, at the same time. Trying to explain the force behind it is like trying to explain the configuration of love. Or the will of God. Anyone can try; in fact, it’s important that people do. But arrogant is the one who thinks they can find an answer that doesn’t inherently generate more questions.

So complex is New York‘s change that, when broken back down into individual parts, some of the key elements don’t seem to actually exist. Does Manning not still have the same aw-shucks demeanor as before? Does Coughlin no longer yell when he’s upset? Perhaps there was no change at all.

And yet, we see the Super Bowl rings.

Blanking on the etiology of New York‘s change, let’s instead focus on how it can be maintained. There are obstacles ahead. The largest one is complacency. It was Ben Franklin who said, “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” The Giants are foolish if they think they can defend their Lombardi Trophy simply by matching last year’s output. If they were to announce plans to pursue another title by aiming for their ’07 rankings of 14th in points scored and 17th in points allowed, there would be 31 teams looking them in the eye and saying “go right ahead.” Not to mention, no matter how many experts are picking Dallas to win the NFC East, New York can no longer play the underdog card.

Simply put, the Giants have to get better in 2008. Without perfect harmony, this is a wild card-level team. Which leads us to the next obstacle: chemistry. Egos tend to inflate when ring fingers get iced. Already, the Giants have encountered a few internal rifts.

There was the issue with Jeremy Shockey which, fortunately was assuaged by the tight end’s trade to New Orleans. But Shockey wasn’t the only squabble.

Osi Umenyiora avoided some of the offseason workouts as a means to express his displeasure with the six-year contract that he signed just three years ago. If Umenyiora’s contributions weren’t already vital, they certainly became so when Strahan retired. (Fortunately, the Umenyiora rift quickly blew over. But it was there.)

The most amusing quibble came in June. When Plaxico Burress sat out a minicamp, reporters assumed he was resting the ankle that kept him out of practice all last season. Then Burress casually mentioned that he was healthy but unhappy with his contract. Very rarely does a player show up, mingle with teammates and then announce in front of everyone that he’s protesting his contractual situation. Showing up to holdout? That’s not unlike sending someone a formal invitation to crash your party. Burress’s behavior was so bizarre that the malice behind it was obstructed by its ridiculousness. The relationship between the receiver and franchise appears to be fine, but still, you can’t help but roll your eyes and file it away.

These are all very minor issues–even the Shockey situation wasn’t that big a deal. But there is an eerie familiarity to it. The Giants know what bickering can bring (Tiki Barber anyone?). And so do history’s slew of world champion sports teams that couldn’t defend titles. As hard as change is to make, it’s often harder to maintain.

Offense

It’s Eli Manning’s show now. At the age of 27, the fifth-year veteran is in the early stages of his prime. And his legacy, to a large extent, is already secured. Manning couldn’t ask for a better foundation.

Thanks in part to his work with offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, Manning has become one of the league’s best readers of defenses. He is accepting of conservative completions that stay within the confines of the offense, but at the same time, eager to burn a defense with his third or fourth option (see the David Tyree Super Bowl catch). With his newfound patience, Manning’s turnover totals should drop in 2008.

New York has six wide receivers and two tight ends who are worthy of playing time, but the key to Gilbride’s offense is the equally-deep rushing attack. Tiki Barber’s absence was a non-issue last season, as the Giants still ranked fourth in the league in rushing. Two-hundred and sixty-four-pound battering ram Brandon Jacobs is the focal point, having rushed for 1,009 yards on just 202 carries in ’07. Jacobs can wear a defense down, but his upright running style makes him susceptible to injury. Like a Vince Carter or a Ken Griffey Jr., it’s almost a given that Jacobs will miss a few games each season.

Fortunately for New York, there are three very formidable runners behind Jacobs. The first is Derrick Ward, a shifty fifth-year player who can surprise with his strength on contact. Ward rushed for 602 yards before breaking his fibula last November. He’s being asked to prove his merit in a one-year contract this season.

Seventh-round pick Ahmad Bradshaw stepped up late in the season and averaged 8.3 yards per carry on 23 attempts. At 5’9″, 198, the 22-year-old is lightning in a bottle when given a little space. Coming out of Marshall, Bradshaw drew interest from several teams, but his stock fell because of character concerns. Though he’s been a model citizen as a pro, his past came back to haunt him over the offseason, as he was forced to serve 30 days in jail for a probation violation that occurred when he was a juvenile.

The other ballcarrying option is Reuben Droughns. He brings experience, though his slow feet and negligible acceleration could force him to fullback (or off the 53-man roster). Even at fullback, Droughns wouldn’t see much action given how pleased the Giants are with Madison Hedgecock.

As for those receivers, Plaxico Burress, healthy or unhealthy, is the silver dollar. A lanky 6’5″, when Burress nears the sidelines or executes a stop route, he is as tough a cover as there is in the game. He doesn’t have field-stretching speed, however. Considering the tread on the wheels of Amani Toomer–who turns 34 in Week 1–and the ordinary speed of tight end Kevin Boss and wideout Steve Smith, the Giants boast one of the most:ahem:”patient” receiving corps in the NFL.

The hope is that either third-year pro Sinorice Moss or third-round rookie Mario Manningham can crack the rotation. Moss has scorching quickness and acceleration; he’s capable of not just stopping on a dime but also exchanging the dime for two nickels before the defense even arrives. The problem is, given what he’s shown thus far, he might ask for five pennies instead.

Moss has maybe had too many mental gaffes to earn the coaching staff’s trust. It’s not hard trust to earn–just look at the background of Manningham. He reportedly tested positive twice for marijuana while at Michigan, and he was arrested for having pot and Vicodin in his possession during his junior year. (The Vicodin pills were later determined to be for fighting a painful knee injury, and charges were dropped. The two passengers in Manningham’s car at the time, however, were charged for the marijuana.) If off-field issues don’t derail Manningham, he’s someone who has great speed to contribute right away.

Fortunately, New York is not dependent on either Moss or Manningham. Moss is serviceable in the seams, and Smith made some enormous catches down the stretch last year. (On that note, if you’re wondering about David Tyree, he’s not likely to see any action on offense in 2008. However, his contributions on special teams are valuable enough to maintain his roster spot.)

Offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo did a fantastic job directing his group last season. He had the luxury of working with five experienced veterans. Three of those veterans earned new contracts over the offseason: Dave Diehl, Rich Seubert and Chris Snee.

New York made the natural guard Diehl a left tackle in ’07, then rewarded him handsomely for hushing his naysayers. Diehl’s six-year, $31 million contract all but ensures that up-and-coming Guy Whimper–a gifted third-year pro from East Carolina--will remain in a reserve role. That may be too much talent to relegate to the bench, but weighing only 302 pounds, Whimper lacks the power to capture Kareem McKenzie’s right tackle job.

Seubert has proven healthy–something that, five years ago, seemed unimaginable. He suffered a spiral compound fracture on his right leg in 2003 and spent 18 months regaining his career. This past March, the Giants stamped their confidence in him by extending his contract through 2012.

Snee is perhaps the biggest signing of the group. In his fifth season out of Boston College, he has become one of the preeminent run-blockers in football. He is gritty and aggressive, yet nimble enough to conduct his scuffles at the second level. Snee is an excellent compliment to fist-fighting center Shaun O’Hara.

The O-line depth is just iffy enough for Giant fans to pray for the starters’ health without feeling heretical. In addition to Whimper, Kevin Boothe is bigger than his 315-pound listed weight and can play guard or tackle. But he’s too inconsistent to start. Greg Ruegamer has 10 years of backup experience at all three interior positions, but he offers little pop.

Defense

The Giants must avoid the looming domino effect of Michael Strahan’s retirement. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will have to do another masterful job in 2008. His first year success as a coordinator resulted largely from having a destructive front four. Last season, New York led the NFL with 53 sacks; 32 of them came from the trio of Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck.

Umenyiora has been this team’s premier pass-rusher the last few years. Playing on the right side, Strahan’s absence shouldn’t impact him too much. Tuck is a different story. The ’04 third-rounder from Notre Dame has devoured one-on-one blocking in an inside/outside role. Now in a fulltime gig at left defensive end, Tuck will be tasked with combating double teams–which will come frequently given that tight ends will often line up across from him–and stopping the run on a more consistent basis. He is a high-energy player but he’s never had to handle the rigors of being an everydown presence. With an elevated role, Tuck will have to break his habit of easing up on plays that he doesn’t think are within his reach.

Renaldo Wynn gives the front four veteran depth, but he’s better suited to play the run and therefore won’t see a ton of snaps. Dave Tollefson–who’s only in his second season out of Northwest Missouri State but already 27 years old–could emerge as a greater situational contributor in ’08. Most likely, though, strongside linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka will fill any pass-rushing void by lining up at his natural end position on third downs. This will enable Tuck to slide inside. This is crucial for the Giants because, though Fred Robbins can get occasional penetration (5.5 sacks a year ago), none of their core defensive tackles are significant pass-rushing threats. Barry Cofield has been fairly effective as a clogger, but that’s it. Jay Alford–a third-round pick from Penn State last year–hasn’t shown enough quickness to warrant significant playing time on third downs.

If Kiwanuka isn’t a keystone character at defensive end, he certainly is at strongside linebacker. The Giant coaches wedged him into a two-point stance last season and watched through the cracks between their fingers as the 265-pounder got torched in coverage. However, Kiwanuka’s struggles dropping back gradually started to fade away over time. When his season ended with a broken leg on November 18, the Boston College product had shown enough growth to convince coaches that he should start at strongside linebacker again in ’08. Not even Kawika Mitchell’s stellar (if not spectacular) play in Kiwanuka’s absence could dissuade their decision.

Kiwanuka is blessed to be playing next to middle linebacker Antonio Pierce. Once an undrafted player out of Arizona, Pierce today is the heart and soul of the defending world champion’s defense. His athleticism is above par–good quickness, stout at the point of attack–and his instincts take his game to another level. Part of the reason Spagnuolo is a hot head coaching prospect (many believe he’s in line to take over when Coughlin’s contract runs out in four years) is because he was brilliant in the way he used Pierce and company as interior blitzers during the postseason run. The Giants felled the Patriots by pressuring up the middle and thus preventing New England from sending extra blockers to the edges against Umenyiora and Strahan. Pierce will be asked to blitz inside again in 2008, as will weakside linebacker Gerris Wilkinson and experienced backups Danny Clark and Chase Blackburn.

For Spagnuolo, assembling the starting secondary will be like choosing two entrees and three side dishes at a P.F. Chang’s. He has a bounty of talented young cornerbacks and safeties with a wide range of experience between them. The early indication is that second-year man Aaron Ross will assume the starting cornerback job on the left side, and fourth-year pro Corey Webster will start at corner on the right. Both guys excelled in these spots last season.

Twelfth-year vet Sam Madison would then handle the nickel back duties. Madison has lost a step, but his wisdom makes up for it. When healthy, he’s capable of staying with just about any receiver, even in deep coverage.

R.W. McQuarters was a candidate to move to safety, but that was before the team signed Sammy Knight and drafted Kenny Phillips. McQuarters will now compete for dime duties with rookie Terrell Thomas, a physical second-rounder out of USC.

Many expect Phillips to become the latest Hurricane safety to start and perform well right out of the gate. Phillips is sound in both run-and pass-defense, which means his playing time hinges on how quickly he picks up the system. If he struggles, then James Butler will start at free safety.

Butler–who is not flashy but, with enough film study, can be solid–could also start at strong safety. Currently, veteran Sammy Knight is the leading option there. However, Knight’s range as a tackler has, like his range in coverage, begun to wane. He’s savvy enough to still be productive, but New York may not be able to resist developing Butler or ushering in second-year pro Michael Johnson.

Special Teams

Lawrence Tynes is a bit of a roller coaster. He might hit a big 40-yarder then choke on an extra point. Overall, he went 23/27 last season and did enough to earn the benefit of the doubt. Punter Jeff Feagles is old enough to be some of his teammates’ father. He was supposed to retire after last season but has decided he wants to be the oldest player in the NFL. He’s 42 and counting.

Domenik Hixon was explosive as a late-season kick returner last year. He’ll have to really impress, though, considering how much depth this team has at wide receiver. The fact that Ahmad Bradshaw can return kicks and R.W. McQuarters handles punts doesn’t help Hixon’s chances.

Bottom Line

The trendy thing to do this year is pick against the defending Super Bowl champions. However, that may have more to do with the Cowboys than the Giants. For New York, chemistry will be crucial in ’08. A lot of players are still establishing their roles on this team, and history has shown that egos can complicate these matters when coming off a title.

Myth Buster

Dave Diehl was a surprise in 2007

A lot of people thought the Giants were crazy for entrusting their franchise quarterback’s blindside to a converted guard. However, Diehl was not the main concern heading into last season (at least not for this publication). Rich Seubert was. Seubert’s presence at guard helped solidify Diehl’s move to tackle.

Having suffered a horrendous leg injury in 2003, Seubert had started only four games in the last three years. It seemed foolish plugging him into the first unit. He proved otherwise.

Diehl had always been a better guard, but he had shown to be sound at left tackle as well. When Seubert responded with a solid season in ’07, Diehl was able to remain on the outside. Had Seubert struggled, New York might have had to move Diehl back inside, in which case, they then would have a problem at left tackle.

Open Thought

Why does the field turf at Giants Stadium look so God-awful at night? The bright lights overhead make the green turf look dull to the point of gray. Other fields don’t seem to have this problem; what’s the deal? One can only hope that the New Meadowlands Stadium (set to open in 2010) will either have natural grass–unlikely given that two teams will call it home–or at least decent field turf.


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