|Tim Roske / Associated Press|
|Justin Tuck and the rest of the New York Giants are looking to prove doubters wrong in 2008.|
One thing that's different from last year's team, however, is that the 2008 Giants are practicing with a chip on their shoulder. One starter told me the team is "motivated by the constant insults all offseason."
The most compelling story at the team's training camp was supposed to be the battle at linebacker, but Gerris Wilkinson's injury has allowed Danny Clark to run with the first team.
Another storyline that is getting attention surrounds WR Plaxico Burress' status and when he will act like the rest of the Giants players and get to work. It is a bit unclear if his injuries are keeping him out of practice or if his contract woes are keeping him on the sideline.
Burress didn't really practice last year and his teammates appear unphased by his behavior thus far. Look for the Giants front office to figure out the right deal to get him back on the practice field. As one Giants personnel man said, a nice raise should cure most of the nagging injuries. With the trade of tight end Jeremy Shockey to New Orleans, the Giants need Burress on the field if they want to defend their world championship.
Here are the five camp questions that jumped out at me as I wrapped up my day with the Giants.
1. Can Kevin Boss get the job done at tight end?
Boss is best described by Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce as sneaky fast. He can get vertical, has a very big target range, and he delivered in the playoffs last season. The Giants would never have made the Shockey trade if they didn't have a good feeling about Boss. I think he will deliver on a full-time basis. The Giants also have some other options to take the load off of Boss. After watching practice it is clear that they could develop a fine four-wide receiver package as a changeup. Burress, Amani Toomer, Steve Smith and David Tyree (or Mario Manningham) could win on third downs, especially with Manning looking stronger and quicker in his decision-making.
2. Is there a capable backup QB if Manning gets hurt?
The backup quarterback who jumped out at me the most was Anthony Wright, not David Carr. Carr is looking like he's ready for the end of his career, while Wright looked in command of the offense. That being said, I don't feel comfortable suggesting the Giants could go 3-1 if Manning missed a month of action. In fact, 2-2 may be stretching it. Backup QB is still a concern for the this team.
3. Can the Giants really replace Michael Strahan?
The Giants now reap the benefits of preparing for Strahan's retirement for the last three years. DL Justin Tuck welcomes the challenge of replacing Strahan. I asked GM Jerry Reese what his dime defense would look like if it was third-and-15 in the final game of 2008. He said it would possibly include Mathias Kiwanuka, Tuck, Jay Alford and Osi Umenyiora rushing the passer. Veteran DE Renaldo Wynn will help the Giants defense excel without Strahan. As one player said, "We proved we could play without Tiki, we can do the same about Strahan."
The big advantage the Giants have is twofold. In 2007, they prepared all offseason and training camp as if Strahan would retire, and it served as a good drill for this year. Secondly, they are so far along in the defensive scheme as compared to last year that they will get excellent execution in September. I talked with one of the team's defensive coaches after one of the practice sessions at training camp and asked him if I really had counted 10 different zone blitzes run to perfection. He said they weren't perfect but there were close to 10 of them.
4. What newcomer will make the biggest impact in 2008?
It may be Clark or Wilkinson, but the most impressive newcomer to me is rookie safety Kenny Phillips. He will be the starter by opening day and he brings a dimension of range and ball-hawking that this secondary has needed for some time. Even the receivers claim Phillips' ability to close on them from a long distance is impressive. The quarterbacks have already realized this kid can get from the middle of the field to a sideline route with ease.
5. Which players are on the bubble to make the team?
It's hard to make the 53-man roster of a Super Bowl championship team. After watching the Giants practice, the early candidates for the bubble include WR Sinorice Moss, Carr and one of the following secondary players: Sam Madison, Sam Knight or R.W. McQuarters. The Giants' depth in the secondary and wide receiver is impressive, which will lead to some quality players being dismissed.