NEW DEFENSE COORDINATOR: Well, let's start off with the changes since last year. First off, gone is the defensive coordinator genius John Fox. His replacement Johnny Lynn has looked fine in his pre-season debut. However, that was just pre-season, and other than a vote of confidence for young teams, it means nothing. What's it going to be like with a toned-down version of the Fox defense? What new wrinkles can the former DB Coach put into the mix? Personally, I hope he reviews this past Super Bowl as to how New England shut the Rams passing attack down.
DEFENSIVE PERSONNEL CHANGES: Well this will be the first season without a outside LB that not only could trash talk, but could back it up on more than any given Sunday. Gone is Jesse Armstead. He's now a Redskin. BTW, due to political correctness, we can't use that anymore so well type R*dsk*n. His replacement, Dhani Jones is unproved, but has progressed during the pre-season. He's got the gray matter, the hope is that he has had enough of the multitude of questions asked this pre-season answered, and can REACT to what he reads.
In addition, SS Sam Garnes is also gone. He's now a Jet. Garnes' replacement is last year's FS Shaun Williams. Williams was better suited to the SS spot in our opinion, and apparently the Giants too! Anyway, the new FS is Otto Stoutmire, last year's ST captain. Otto played for the Cowboys a few years back, but he hasn't seen much action until this year (except for his special teams play). He is also unproved. What is of concern is that there is no veteran depth at FS, unless of course we see somebody by the name of Sehorn playing the position. I don't expect this to occur, unless there are injuries to the secondary.
The final change is at both DEs'. First off, Michael Strahan has signed a new 7-year contract extension, basically guarantying he'll retire a Giant, and possibly break the total team sack record set by LT. Well, maybe. Strahan had an opportunity to re-negotiate his contract earlier in the year, but didn't like the format. So, since the contract wasn't done, a number of players' were released. That fiasco erupted in a name calling and public airing of trash, all which have since been resolved.
As an aside, FA-DE Frankie Ferrara may indeed start Sunday over the less than impressive incumbent Kenny Holmes. Kenny took a paycut after being exposed by Ernie Accorsi to the newest NFL franchise (Houston Texans), but was passed over by them too. Fortunately for Holmes, the Texans wanted a 3-4 DE and Kenny has enough issues just playing the 4-3 DE position. His paycut includes the ability to make up the "lost" money, but it can only be made up through "incentives". Meaning, unless Kenny turns it up this season, he's HIS-TOR-RY.
NEW SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Secondly, there was a new Special Teams' Coach hiring. Coach Bruce Read has been questioning what the hell has been going on in NY prior to his arrival.
Up until the Raven game, the only ST standout has been rookie Darnell Dinkins. DD started the season as the 4th QB. He moved to TE based on his special team play, and now having made the roster on ST play alone, is being moved again to FS. Look for this player on Sports Center highlights folks, as I've got a feeling that no matter what the Giants do this season, this kid's going to become a star.
Suffice it to say that a MULTITUDE of changes has occurred. First off, punter Rodney Williams is HIS-TOR-Y. His replacement, is Matt Allen. Matt is not going to kick the ball 61 yards, probably not even 55 yards, but he does have almost a 4 second hang time, and that may be the difference is opponents having a punt return or having to fair catch the ball. Then again, what will happen later in the year, when the Meadowlands winds start to blow. FWIW, the Giants ST looked pretty darn good against the Ravens in their last pre-season game. Considering how poorly they looked throughout the pre-season schedule, it's a wonder Read even made it to the regular season.
Perhaps somebody can call Dave Jennings to come down from the booth and suit up again. Oh yea, by the way, Dave's now going to do "color" for Giant games with Bob Papa after he was let go by the Jets earlier in the year.
In a related move today, the Giants claimed PK Danny Boyd from the Jets and signed him to the practice squad. The reason why you ask, well Owen Pochman's knee injury is a tad more problematic than originally disclosed. Apparently, even though he kicked a 47-yarder that split the uprights yesterday in practice, his knee swelled-up and locked again. Long story short, Owner's done for the season, having been placed on IR this afternoon.
INJURIES ANYONE: So what else is new? Well, there are hamstring problems in the Big Blue locker room, and guess what folks, it's not just Sean Bennett this time! Granted Bennett was sidelined during the Raven game due to a stretched ham, but it was more pre-cautionary. After all the issues the Giants went through last year with Sean, giving him the day off was a VERY smart move.
Unfortunately sports fans, this time the Hamstring Injury is with the feature back, Tiki Barber. While Tiki is questionable for the opener against the 49ers, one wonders if Fassel should play and risk injuring Tiki further, or if it's a better call to let Ron Dayne rumble this Thursday night, and save Tiki for next week's opponent, the St. Louis Rams. Well, whether Tiki plays or not, it is likely to be a game time decision.
Before we move to the offense, it should be noted that if Tiki can't go, Amani Toomer and/or Ike Hilliard are slated to start as the punt returners. Rookie Darryl Jones from Miami (FL) has done a great job of fielding kicks during practice, but has had no game experience due to pre-season injuries. It's not likely for Fassel to put an untested rookie in, but then again, one never knows. Jones was slated to take the PR duties away from Barber so he could be focused on just being a RB.
O.K. let's get to the good news. For the first time since Homer Jones was catching TD passes, the Giants might announce the offense before the defense!
OFFENSE: Yes Patricia, there is a Santa Claus AND the Giants do indeed have an offense. Well maybe. The biggest question mark is going to be the OL. Gone are LT Lomas Brown (Tampa Bay), LG Glenn Parker, RG Ron Stone (49ers). The Giants had planned to put Chris Bober at LT, but unfortunately there were injuries during the pre-season. Prior to the injuries the OL was to look like this:
LT- Chris Bober LG-Rich Seubert C – Dusty Ziegler RG – Jason Whittle RT – Luke Petitgout.
Well, Ziegler's off-season knee surgery has not healed as quickly as anticipated. So his replacement was Jason Whittle, who got injured. So the next center is Bober. So the line has looked like this:
LT – Luke Petitgout LG –Rich Seubert C-Chris Bober RG – Omar Smith RT – Mike Rosenthal.
Well, Jason Whittle has returned as is back at RG. C Dusty Ziegler should return in the next few weeks. When he does, he'll take over the center duties again. What remains to be seen is if Rosenthal keeps his RT position or if Chris Bober inherits it. 2002 Rookie third round pick draft choice OT Jeff Hatch is on IR after having a disk problem that required season ending surgery. Hatch was originally slated to play LT, but may be moved to RT if Luke Petitgout excels at his new position AND decides to re-sign next season with the Giants for a cap friendly deal.
The OL is definitely more athletic than last year, and probably for since the 1986 team. However, they are green and there is no veteran depth. They look good on running plays, but on passing plays well, let's hope that Kerry Collins remembers to step UP into the pocket as opposed to venturing outside. If not, he may set a record for most QB sacks, if not hits during the regular season.
How fast this new group jells will be the difference between a possible playoff run, and a very poor season record, but a high draft selection for the team in 2003. One thing is already for sure. The Giants will be able to run left, up the gut or to the right. Last year, opponents knew that the Giants could not run up the gut or left at all. Running right resulted in more 3rd and long situations that I care to remember.
In a related note, the Giants also have a new fullback and his name is Charles Stackhouse. Stackhouse was my personal favorite going into camp, but an early injury led many of us to believe that Toms River NJ native Darian Barnes might win the FB job. Stackhouse kept progressing and playing and practicing hard, especially on ST, and it resulted in his winning a roster spot. Stackhouse may become KC's best friend, and Mike Rosenthal's too, so long as he can pick up the blitz LB, FS or CB, as well as a hard-charging DE. He has a track record of explosive blocks at the point-of-attack in college and it will be nice to have a Mo Carthon type FB leading the way for Tiki, Ron and Sean when the focus becomes grinding it out.
Assuming (God I hate using that word) there is at least 3.5 seconds to pass the ball, KC has some new additions that could spell doom for opposing defensive coordinators. Everyone knows Amani, Ike and Tiki…Gone are Joe Jurivicus (Tampa Bay), Howard Cross (Retired) and FB Greg Comella (Tennessee).
The new starters will be Ron Dixon and/or Jonathan Carter and possibly later this season, the #2 draft pick, WR Tim Carter. Dixon has matured in all facets of the game since last season: concentration, route running, pass catching and most notably his downfield blocking. His change is due in part to great coaching and the fear of getting cut. Jonathan Carter has been VERY good in pre-season, but is truly a year behind being a true threat. So was new comers Tim Carter and Darryl Jones. Add that new kids on the block to comments made by both the head coach and GM and it's no wonder why Dixon had to put up or become yesterday's news.
Jonathan Carter's play has been more notable with QB Jason Garrett at the helm, and running against 2nd and 3rd team defenses. That's not to say he hasn't done well, he has! The last person is rookie Tim Carter. He has illustrated flashes of brilliance in training camp, but has been injured most of the pre-season and like Jon Carter last year, will not likely prove to be a contributing factor until later in the year—barring injuries of course.
Oh, BTW, I almost forgot, there's a new tight end in town and his name is Shockey.
Jeremy Shockey to be exact. Unlike former #1 picks for the Giants that have taken a lot of time to materialize into starting players (circa 1991-1996), this rookie is going to bring some excitement back into the game, and based on his speed, will create a number of mis-matches for KC to isolate various players. Is Shockey the next Bavaro? That's unknown. One can only hope, and hope that he plays many, many more years!
The good news is that the same TE Coach who brought you Bavaro, is working with Shockey and that's Mike Pope. Shockey's definitely not as good as a blocker as Bavaro was, but boy does the kid have a mean streak. In his debut against the Houston Titans, Shockey caught a pass in the flat, broke though a 15-yard face mask penalty and bitch-slapped a veteran DB with a forearm shiver that reminded many of a Larry Czonka blow in his glory years. All in all, the play was very similar to the Bavaro catch and run against the 49ers back in the 80s. As one of my buddies put it, get your order in for your #80 Giant Jersey's now, before they go onto back-order!
Shockey's presence does signal an end for the starting days for TE Dan Campbell. However, Campbell does have a VERY big leg up on Shockey when it comes to blocking, and in his defense did make some spectacular catches last season on poorly thrown balls. What's exciting is that there is a possibility that there might be a resurrecting of TE pass plays run during the Mark Bavaro and Zeke Mowatt years.
In addition, it's very possible that Sean Bennett will be catching some passes out of the backfield, as well as spelling Tiki Barber—especially in some 3rd down packages. As to Ron Dayne, I'm not sure that this offense is going to be grinding it out on the ground until the second half, assuming the Giants have a commanding lead. Then again, the play calling of Sean Bennett will have SEVERAL new chapters.
When it comes to predicting the future, I've learned its best not to bet on or against the Giants. That being said, my take is that the Giants ultimate record will be a function of their OL, injuries and mistake free football. If the OL jells, look-out, the Giants could be on a roll and challenge the Eagles for the Division and the remainder of the NFC in the playoffs. Alternatively, poor OL play and injuries will result in more turnovers and mistakes and a .500 record at best.
I'm hoping for the former. The last time the Giants had so many questions about the PKs, they won the Super Bowl in Bill Parcells last season. The last time the Giants had so many questions about the OL, they also went to the Super Bowl, but lost to the Ravens.
As a closing note, only 17 Giant Teams started the 0-2 in the regular season. Of those 17, only one team went to the playoffs, in the 40s, the 1946 season! The Giants open with the 49ers in the Meadowlands on Thursday night to kickoff the entire NFL 2002 Season, their next game is on the road in St. Louis against the Rams.
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