New York Giants
Giants' head coach Tom Coughlin is not a man given to superlatives. In fact, if he saw a superlative on the sidewalk, he'd probably kick it.
So when he began to lather on the praise for a previously injured athlete, it came as a surprise. Shock would be too strong a word, so let's say he was being highly uncharacteristic.
The object of his unexpected affection was guard Rich Seubert (that's SOY-bert to the uninitiated), who suffered a horrific leg fracture -- compound spiral fracture in three places) on Oct. 19, 2003.
It was a game against the Philadelphia Eagles and he was on the ground, his leg twisted underneath him, when DE N.D. Kalu fell on it. As he was being taken off the field in a cart, he held his arm high over his head, hand clenched in a fist, as the crowd in Giants Stadium showered him with affection.
"Then he passed out," somebody said. "The pain was that bad, but he wouldn't show it."
Now it's 18 months later, and after endless rehab sessions and enduring pain difficult to fathom for most human beings, there was Seubert, now 26, cavorting on the field during the team's June 1-3 minicamp.
"Maybe the most positive thing that came out of our off-season workout and conditioning program, the two minicamps and the 11 OTA sessions (Organized Team Activities) allowed by the collective bargaining agreement," said Coughlin, "was the improvement and performance of Richie Seubert."
At the time of his injury, the undrafted Seubert, from Western Illinois, had become one of the NFL's up-and-coming guards. Teams were cautiously inquiring of the Giants whether he was available in trade, and the answers were always definitive in the negative.
"I'm just glad to be back out on the field with the guys," said Seubert, whose weight is back up to 305 (he had dropped to 240-250 during the 18-month ordeal). "It's been a long time, too long, and I have a lot of catching up to do."
Technically not a rookie, of course, this still represents Seubert's first experience with Coughlin's discipline and the playbook and a new coaching staff and an entirely new blocking scheme. "I was around all of last season," he said. "I was at meetings. I had a playbook. It's just not the same when you aren't playing, when you aren't on the field."
Now this somewhat miraculous comeback, no longer in its infancy but close to fruition, has another tinge to it -- Seubert and his imminent return could throw the O-line competition into chaos. "Great," says Seubert. "I want a job."
Coughlin admitted that, after seeing Seubert in action, there is a strong chance of that. "I expect Richie to be highly competitive for a position on this team," he said.
That seems to put the pressure on the guards -- starters (for now) Chris Snee and converted tackle David Diehl, reserves Jason Whittle, Wayne Lucier and Greg Walker). It also seems to add to the Giants' already deep O-line, and as long as the rest of the injured come back with as much determination as Seubert seems to have, the unit might become one of the team's strengths.
Tackles Kareem McKenzie (from the Jets) and six-time Pro Bowler Bob Whitfield (from the Jaguars, who spent his first 12 NFL seasons in Atlanta) have been added. McKenzie has a starting job; Whitfield will compete with Luke Petitgout for the LT position.
"Richie Seubert is all plusses," said Coughlin. "It's nice to see."
Quarterback Patrick Ramsey was drawing raves around Redskin Park as he opened what could be his final minicamp with the club.
Ramsey, whose future in Washington is clouded by the presence of first-round pick Jason Campbell, was said to have a great grasp of coach Joe Gibbs' offense, tremendous confidence and a growing ability to hit the touch passes that have been his downfall.
"If you ask me, Pat is night and day from last year," running back Clinton Portis said. "Pat looks like Peyton Manning. He's not a Peyton Manning, but the difference in him -- the leadership role, where he's putting the ball, the accuracy, the patience he has -- you can tell he's comfortable."
Right tackle Jon Jansen cited awkward circumstances (Steve Spurrier's tenure, a foot injury, Mark Brunell's signing) during Ramsey's first three years and said, "I think he's ready to put all those things behind him and have a breakout year."
The development of Ramsey is crucial not only for Gibbs' second season but also for the direction of the franchise.
The passer's three-year career has been a one-step-forward, one-step-back tango, his rating never rising higher than 76.4 in a season despite some very impressive games. But Campbell's arrival hints at the likely trade of Ramsey next spring if the 2002 first-rounder doesn't pull everything together.
"I'm certainly as confident as I've ever been as a quarterback in the NFL," Ramsey said. "I think it's also time for me to play my best as a quarterback in the NFL. That's what I'm working every day to do."
Gibbs sees the composure, too, and is eager to see Ramsey back up his claim to the starting job. Said Gibbs, "I'd say Patrick's had a good (offseason). Even (as OTAs concluded), he flashed two or three times. To me, he looks confident, and he looks relaxed."
Eagles wide receiver Todd Pinkston was the perfect pass-catching complement to Terrell Owens last season. With opposing defenses focused on Owens and versatile running back Brian Westbrook, Pinkston flourished as the club's No. 2 wideout.
Running mostly vertical routes on the other side of the formation from Owens, Pinkston averaged a career-high 18.8 yards per reception, which was the best in the NFC among receivers with at least 30 catches.
Pinkston caught just 36 passes, but six of them went for 46 yards or more. Had a career-high five games with at least 75 receiving yards.
But if Owens really is serious about not playing for the Eagles this season unless the team redoes his one-year-old contract, Pinkston's role is going to change. And it remains to be seen whether he's up to the task.
Pinkston received a lot of criticism late last season for shying away from contact in three different games. In a late November win over the Giants, he abruptly pulled up on a slant route when he saw two defenders coming towards him. Two weeks later, in a nationally-televised game against the Redskins, he aborted a deep post route just as free safety Ryan Clark was getting ready to whack him. Pinkston said he lost the ball in the lights.
A week later against the Cowboys, he let a pass go through his hands when he took his eye off the ball to check on fast-approaching safety Roy Williams.
In the Eagles' three-point loss to the Patriots in the Super Bowl, Pinkston caught four passes for 82 yards in the first half, but left the game in the third quarter with leg cramps and never returned.
If Owens doesn't play this season, he'll likely be replaced in the starting lineup by third-year man Greg Lewis, who caught a fourth-quarter touchdown pass against the Patriots. But without Owens, defenses will be able to focus more of their attention on Pinkston. The 6-3, 180-pound Pinkston frequently has had difficulty getting off the line of scrimmage, though he showed up at the club's offseason minicamps bigger and stronger than in the past.
"Todd's a pretty tough guy," coach Andy Reid said. "He's been hit harder than anybody. It's not a matter of him being afraid of a defensive player or situation."
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