As I pulled into the New York Giants camp I had a few preconceived notions about the state of affairs in "Big Blue" country. No one could replace Tiki Barber, letting Luke Pettigout go was a mistake, Jeremy Shockey and Plaxico Burress should have been at the facility for the off-season, Mike Strahan wasn't really retiring and head coach Tom Coughlin was going to struggle to keep his team together this season. All I can say as I left camp after a day with the team, coaches and front office executives is the team is a whole lot better off than I thought they could be.
Tiki Barber is almost impossible to replace or as GM Jerry Reese said to me "you don't find Tiki Barber type players very often." But after watching Brandon Jacobs practice and spending some time talking to him about the challenge he faces I feel a lot better about the Giants' chances to have a legitimate running attack. Brandon is the biggest back in the NFL and one of the fastest with 4.4 speed at 260 LB. But it was his hands, route running, and ability to understand pass protections that were more advanced than people realize.
The left tackle decision was controversial and there is risk to head into the season with David Diehl, a converted guard, but David sat down with me after two impressive practices and convinced me he's ready for the challenge. This business decision may be unpopular but I don't think it will blow up in the Giants' face. Diehl looked very capable of handling speed rushers and power players. As one personnel man said as we watched practice, "David isn't going to wow you but he is more than serviceable and will compete."
Shockey and Burress drew a lot of attention in the off-season for staying away from the team, which is construed as selfish and counter productive to the team development. But it's hard to argue how Shockey looked at practice. Here's a guy who was drafted as a 252-pound guy who ran 4.5 40. Now he's a 265-pound guy who can run 4.4. Burress is still a big target who will have the benefit of Amani Toomer lining up opposite him and it wouldn't surprise me if Eli goes to Toomer more than Burress this season.
Strahan is getting all the time he needs to figure out what he wants to do and most believe he will play again. The chance of the Giants giving him a big contract extension seems less than slim at this time so he may stay away for a few weeks. One coach thought everything was set when Michael was told by Tom Coughlin one practice a day was all that was required. We'll wait and see.
Speaking of Tom Coughlin a lot of players went out of their way to tell me they support their coach and don't anticipate players jumping ship on him this season. As Antonio Pierce said, "I've played in Washington when coaches were fired and I tell my teammates you never want to go through that experience." I sat down with Coach Coughlin and he was very engaging in a long football conversation and there was a real sense of calm about the 2007 season. He isn't acting like a coach that is on the hot seat and I'm cheering for the guy just like his young team.
1. Mathias Kiwanuka changing positions. I asked Mathias if the Strahan announcement meant his whole spring at linebacker was headed down the drain and he was headed back to DE. He assured me the linebacker work will continue and when you watch the new "fire zone" defense it sure looks interesting with Kiwi at linebacker.
2. Sinorice Moss and how he fits the offense. Moss is finally healthy but so is Amani Toomer and rookie Steve Smith impresses every time he takes the field so Moss is going to have to makes things happen to get on the field. When I asked one personnel man about the returner position he mentioned three candidates before Moss.
3. Eli Manning and his future. Eli got this team into the playoffs in both of the seasons he was the full-time starter and contrary to some opinions he's not going anywhere after 2007. I asked Eli and his QB coach, Chris Palmer, about his technique and both are confident it is being addressed. As for the leadership issue, Eli was more vocal at practice and more animated during the team period. I had a number of the younger players tell me Eli is spending a lot of time with them getting them ready.
NEWCOMERS READY TO MAKE AN IMPACT
Training camp 2007
NFL.com's training camp tour:
1. Steve Smith, WR second round pick in 2007. I asked a dozen veteran players which rookie has impressed them the most and nine of them mentioned Smith. A young Amani Toomer was the most-used description.
2. Kevin Boss, TE fifth round 2007. Practice hasn't been in full pads yet but this big target has real soft hands and if he can take a hit across the middle he will really make the two tight end package a weapon.
3. Kawika Mitchell, free-agent linebacker. GM Jerry Reese described Mitchell as a guy playing with a big chip on his shoulder. In the new defense he is going to produce more plays than he has in the past as a Chief. The Giants stole a player when they got this guy.
QUICK SCOUTING REPORT
1. Offense - The 2007 Giants will be a power-running team but will not change the playbook from last year. They will take a fair share of deep shots in the passing game and may present the biggest problems to the defense in their three wide receiver, one tight end, one running back package.
2. Defense - This year it will be an attacking 4 man front that has excited all of the players. Everyone on the field will get their shot at blitzing and dropping into coverage.
3. Special Teams - I think the whole organization is waiting for the returners to emerge.
1. The fullback position is untested and the loss of Jim Finn could slow the running game down.
2. The backup quarterback position is far from answered and the loss of Manning would be devastating
3. The safeties have to play better, especially against the pass. James Butler could help if he develops.
The Giants are in a very tough division and play all three of the teams in the first four weeks. A slow start and the media/fan pressure could be beyond description. It's easy to say this team is headed for 5-11 or 6-10 but I leave camp thinking of them as an 8-8 team, with a little luck they grab a 9th win. If you struggle with this analysis get in your car, drive up to Albany, NY and look for yourself. There really are a few different things going on at the Giant camp that could change your mind.