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Roster Roundouts: A New York Giants Preseason Report

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Indeed, no team was hotter or better in the 2007 playoffs than the New York Giants, and despite an injury and retirement on the defensive line that cost them two of their best pass rushers, no team in the 2008 regular season was better.

But all was not rosy for the Giants, as non-Burress related fissures began to appear in the team about the time they lost Plaxico Burress.  Regarding the receiver, Burress’ loss appeared to have an adverse effect on quarterback Eli Manning, but that’s not the whole story.  Burress’ value as a player is tied up in his ability to save poorly thrown balls and adjust coverages to account for his big play ability.  That’s valuable for sure, but he’s hardly a complete receiver.  He doesn’t catch enough balls thrown at him, and he’s kind of a lazy route runner.

Taking Burress out of the equation changed the kind of offense that the Giants were, and there was an adjustment period, but it didn’t make them any worse on offense.  Dominik Hixon stepped into Burress’ role and did relatively well in the intermediate zones, and would have done much better had he caught a long TD pass behind the Eagles defense that he dropped.  What did hurt was the pass protection: the Giants line started to struggle with power rushers in the last third of the year.  That carried over into the playoffs, and was no more evident than when Brandon Jacobs couldn’t gain a yard on fourth and one.

But the real issue that did the Giants in was the defense.  Whereas the offense cracked, the defense broke.  In weeks 1-11, the Giants allowed more than 300 yards of total offense in two games games (20%).  In weeks 12-17, the Giants allowed more than 300 yards of total offense in EVERY game.  Total yardage allowed is a often a misleading stat, but in this case, 300 total yards works as a good measure of defensive dominance, and the discrepancy before and after the Baltimore game is pretty convincing.

The Giants’ decided that the defense was the meal ticket, and they just kept signing and signing defensive front players until they realized that they ran out of free spots on the roster.  A defensive front that included two primary defensive ends and a three man defensive tackle rotation now features: DEs Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Matthias Kiwanuka, Dave Tollefson, and rookie Maurice Evans, and DTs Chris Canty, Fred Robbins, Rocky Bernard, Jay Alford, and Barry Cofield.  If there’s an irreplaceable piece among the bunch, it’s Tuck, but even a worst case scenario simply bumps Canty over about two shades on the line.  Tuck’s injury late in the year was a big deal to the playoff chances of this team, and Osi’s return to the starting lineup is just as much of  a boost as Tuck’s improved health.  Presented without additional analysis: the Giants also had a very competitive offer for DT Albert Haynesworth.

This is a team that will batter opponents with the pass rush, and won’t hesitate to send linebackers to create additional pressure when necessary.  Antonio Pierce and Danny Clark return, already two pretty good pass rush LBs, and for coverage, the Giants signed LB Michael Boley, who will give way to Bryan Kehl in week one after a one-game suspension to Boley.  Have to say, if the Giants had Haynesworth and Boley against the Redskins, it’s makes a dynamic difference in a game that now features no Boley, and Haynesworth on the Redskins.  Probably a decisive difference.

The secondary has one shutdown player in CB Corey Webster, who enjoyed a breakout season in 2008, and two developing talents in CB Aaron Ross, a 2007 first rounder who strayed from the expected development path last year (8.9 yards per pass, among leagues worst), and FS Kenny Phillips, a rookie in 2008 who performed just fine.  The last member of the secondary, SS Michael Johnson, is plenty adequate.  This is a very deep unit at the corners, and very thin at the safeties.  C.C. Brown is the first backup, and he couldn’t start in Houston.

The Giants are all but certain to have a top five defense this year.  But last year they won because they had a top five offense and a top three offensive line.  The Giants did not touch this unit in free agency, addressing the receiver position through the draft.  It’s incredibly likely that out of the 5 potential starters on their roster, plus the developmental receiver from Cal Poly Ramses Barden, Eli Manning will find a good two or three man WR corps to get the ball to, and TE Kevin Boss is not a bad safety blanket for him.  But here’s what could force the Giants hand into simplifying the offense: the arms race in the NFC East.

Last year, the Giants did a lot more 3 WR stuff than they had in the recent past, and it appeared to help Eli Manning, but the two fiercest threats to the NFC East title, the Redskins and the Eagles, are completely loaded on the defensive line.  In the interest of protecting Eli Manning, more blockers might be the best way to go.  That means less spread, less 3 WR, more two back stuff.  To me, that’s going to limit the development of the receivers, with Dominik Hixon and Hakeem Nicks splitting time, and Mario Manningham and Steve Smith splitting time.  Eli Manning’s performance is closely linked to how well his line sticks together, but there’s not a single wide receiver on the team that is worth a top 8 round fantasy pick.

So what do we have here?  We have a preseason division favorite, a team that enters with perhaps fewer holes than any other team in the NFL, and enough potential to fill even that one hole.  But the vaunted offense did not move the ball on the ground last year against the two teams they needed to: Washington and Philadelphia.  And so, it’s obvious that if the Giants are to win the division, Eli Manning is going to have to lead them to at least four wins in the division, largely on the strength of his own right arm and coverage-beating abilities.  There is no guarantee that the Giants end the season as either the best or second best team in the NFC East, only that they begin it as the team to beat.

Giants Camp, Albany, NY

There’s some serious issues that need to be decided in camp and the preseason for the Giants as they shape the back end of their roster.  This is the year the Giants will determine who the 2011 and 2012 Giants will be.

Third Quarterback: Andre Woodson vs. Rhett Bomar

The Giants opened a lot of eyes by paying Eli Manning $96.5 million for his valuable, but relatively replaceable performance, so this is a good chance to show the world that they can tell a quarterback prospect from a non-prospect.  Both of these guys were late round picks with NFL-caliber arms, but one of them was a successful quarterback with a quick release, and the other has a slow releases, can’t read coverages, holds the ball too long, and takes sacks and forces passes.  If you’re familiar with the Giants, you don’t need me to tell you which guy is which, if you’re not, I’ll probably write about this once the final cuts are made.

If the Giants make the wrong call here, that’s a second strike at the QB position in a single offseason, and probably not good for a team that needs its offense.  Not that anyone not named “Manning” is going to be taking snaps for awhile.

flickr.com/Scott Abelman

flickr.com/Scott Abelman

Wide Receiver: Sinorice Moss vs. David Tyree

Moss has been a disappointment in three seasons out of Miami, but has made small steps each year, and at this point, let’s wonder what David Tyree offers.  Actually, more than you think.  Before he was a super bowl hero, Tyree was a pro bowl special teamer.  Only problem, the Giants have since developed another pro bowl special teamer: LB Zak DeOssie.  It would be fascinating if a team put two former special team pro bowlers on the same coverage unit, but if Moss offers any sort of receiving value for this year, he’ll get the nod.

Tight End: Darcy Johnson vs. Travis Beckum

Beckum has a ways to go, but he was a third round supplemental draft pick, and that itself virtually guarantees him a spot on the roster.

Offensive Tackle: Adam Koets vs. Guy Whimper

Koets is a good backup lineman who should word at some guard this year as well as RT now that the team has drafted LT William Beatty in the second round, a great pickup.  Whimper is a mid-round draft pick who probably doesn’t offer enough future value to justify a roster spot.  Perhaps he can learn guard?

Guard: Kevin Boothe vs. Terrence Pennington

Boothe has been disappointing in his career with the Raiders and the Giants, but he may be the best option as a backup guard on the Giants.  They have the second best Guard duo in the NFC, so he only plays due to injury.

Defensive End: Dave Tollefson vs. Maurice Evans

Evans is another underclassman from Penn State who was a nice find for the Giants, as with all the free agent signings on the DL, adds a guy who can benefit from having all those vets ahead of him.  Tollefson is probably making the team as a backup either way, but if it truly comes down to Tollefson v Evans, I don’t see how you can jettison the talented rookie.

Outside Linebacker: Gerris Wilkinson vs. Bryan Kehl vs. Chase Blackburn

Bryan Kehl is making the team out of camp because they need him in week one, but he’s in this discussion because he’s an easy cut in the middle of the year.  Gerris Wilkinson, who looked like a breakout prospect in 2007, is very much on the bubble.  Kehl is versatile enough to play all three LB positions, but Wilkinson might be displaced by the drafting of LB Clint Sintim in the second round.  If he’s not in the future plans, he’s probably not in the present.  Blackburn was a nice find back in 2006, but he’s third on the depth chart at middle linebacker right now, and he’s got a tough climb to make this team.

Cornerback: Stoney Woodson vs. DeAndre Wright

The Giants took a gamble and kept their 5th CB spot open for a bunch of undrafted rookies, and early returns look like they’ve hit the jackpot.  Woodson and Wright look like NFL level players, and they’ll battle each other for a spot on the 53-man and one of the deepest cornerback units in the league.

Surprise Cuts?

  • QB David Carr
  • WR Mario Manningham
  • TE Matthew Michaels
  • DT Barry Cofield
  • DT Rocky Bernard
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