New York Giants preseason primer

2006 season recap

Rumor has it
The Giants dealt with a rocky 2006 season. Coach Tom Coughlin was constantly under fire for the team's uneven play, and Tiki Barber's impending retirement and subsequent locker-room reticence caused some friction among the players. The constant distractions eventually caught up with New York, as it finished 8-8 and lost in the first round of the playoffs.

Key camp questions

Will yet another revamped defense finally come around under new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo?
Spagnuolo, who arrived from Jim Johnson's defensive staff in Philadelphia to replace the departed Tim Lewis, has never been a defensive coordinator in the NFL. Michael Strahan is vowing to return to top form after an injury-plagued season. Mathias Kiwanuka is making the transition from defensive end to linebacker. And Corey Webster is trying to solidify his status as a premier cornerback. If the defense can improve this season, the Giants finally might be able to develop some long-term continuity on that side of the ball.

Is Eli Manning ready to make the next step?
Entering his fourth season with the Giants, Eli Manning has yet to prove he can remain consistent for an entire season. In order for New York to advance in the playoffs, Manning will need to improve his leadership and become steadier as the season progresses.

How will Coughlin deal with constant questions about his job security?
Coughlin has faced constant criticism from his players and the New York media since arriving as coach. Despite the unending barrage of complaints, though, Coughlin's teams actually have made the playoffs two years in a row and even won a NFC East division title in 2005. Nevertheless, his abrasive style and heavy-handedness have made him an easy target when adversity hits. If things start out poorly, Coughlin's status could be called into question, providing yet another unneeded distraction.

Key position battle

Sam Madison vs. Aaron Ross
Despite a bevy of changes that were designed to improve the defense, the Giants still ranked 28th in pass defense last season. Madison, a Pro Bowl player with the Dolphins, was brought in to solidify the cornerback position but struggled mightily in his first season with New York. Madison now faces stiff competition from first-round draft pick Aaron Ross. The winner of this battle will play a huge role in determining whether the Giants are able to improve their lackluster pass defense.

Rookie spotlight

Steve Smith
With Sinorice Moss unproven at the pro level, David Tyree a career backup and Amani Toomer coming back from a season-ending ACL injury, Steve Smith stands an outside chance of earning a starting receiver spot. If Toomer, who will be 33 when the regular season opens, can come back fully healthy, Smith and Moss likely will be fighting for the third wideout spot. Smith has drawn raves in offseason workouts after being drafted out of Southern California in the second round.

Player on the spot

Brandon Jacobs
Tiki Barber's retirement means Jacobs will be the featured back. Jacobs is excited about taking on the heavier workload, and the team needs him to step up to the challenge. It is unlikely Jacobs will be relied upon to catch as many balls out of the backfield as Barber did, but he still has to improve his receiving skills. Known as an interior rusher, Jacobs also will have to demonstrate that he can run outside the tackles so defenses don't stack the center of the box. Reuben Droughns was added for depth and will be there to step in should Jacobs tire or get hurt.

Fantasy focus

Eli Manning
Manning's value has fallen after an inconsistent 2006 season, but he did throw 24 touchdown passes and still has the potential to be a viable No. 1 fantasy quarterback. If he can turn his fortunes around, Manning could become quite a nice draft bargain in the middle rounds.

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