New York Giants
Giants coach Tom Coughlin was standing in the middle of the field at the team's training camp in Albany, N.Y., his usual position for midday interviews with the media.
Then someone asked if the absence of veteran Kurt Warner and the acknowledged ascension of young Eli Manning to the starting quarterback job removed the "quarterback controversy" from the team's psyche this summer.
"There was no quarterback controversy," he said. "That's something you guys (the ever-hated media) try to create.
"There never was a controversy."
Nonsense, coach. There was, and it wasn't something contrived by the media, either. The Giants engineered a major draft day trade with San Diego in 2004 to land Manning, the first overall pick who said he would not sign and play for the Chargers.
It was an expensive trade, and now Manning is poised to bring the first dose of justification.
He sat on the bench for the first nine games last season while Warner, the veteran signed for just that role, took the team to a 5-1 start and ultimately lost his job after the ninth game. Manning took over, went 1-6 and now Warner is with Arizona.
Manning did not shirk his off-season work. He practiced diligently, was a constant figure around Giants Stadium and from the reports of everyone involved with the team, he is a far more mature and poised player now.
"I have been working on some of these plays for a while now," he said after the first practice session. "So they feel really comfortable. I had a few guys not reading the right reads on some stuff, but for the first day I thought it was OK. But we do have a lot of improving to do."
Manning is being counted on to turn the passing offense into a high-powered machine, and he is focusing on tight end Jeremy Shockey and wide receiver Plaxico Burress to help with that project.
"I think Jeremy looked good. He came out on the first play with the first team and ran a corner route. He had man-to-man (coverage) on a safety and made a good move and beat him. He is learning well, and you can tell he's healthy and feels confident in his body. He is making his cuts, making moves so he knows what he is doing and hopefully he will keep that up."
As for Burress, the 6-5, 226-pound wideout gave the team a scare the first day of practice when he hyper extended his right knee. But he practiced in the afternoon and showed no signs of discomfort.
"I saw him go down but I am sure he will be all right," Manning said. "He will bounce back."
CAMP CALENDAR: The Giants will hold side-by-side practice sessions with the Jets on Saturday, Aug. 6, but it will not be a team-vs.-team scrimmage. Closing day of training camp is scheduled for Aug. 24.
This was the year the Eagles were hoping defensive end Jerome McDougle would step up and play the way they had hoped when they made him their first-round pick in the '03 draft.
But those hopes took a big hit last week. The defensive end was shot in the abdomen during a robbery attempt in south Florida. While he is expected to make a full recovery, McDougle will be sidelined for 4-6 weeks before he can resume football activity.
"It's a tough break for Jerome," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "He spent a lot of time with us here this summer. He was in great shape and I'm looking at it from an optimistic standpoint that he's going to be ready to go; that he'll recover here fully and he'll be ready to play football."
McDougle, 26, who was the 15th overall pick in the '03 draft, missed 13 games in his first two NFL seasons. He had only two sacks last season.
With the departure of starting right end Derrick Burgess, McDougle was the frontrunner to replace him. Now, he'll be playing catchup to veterans N.D. Kalu and Hugh Douglas when he returns, which might not be until after the season starts.
"It's a tough situation for him," Douglas said. "I'm just glad he's going to be OK. That's the biggest thing."
Douglas had shoulder surgery in February and didn't participate in any of the Eagles' off-season minicamps. With McDougle out, Kalu will be the likely season-opening starter at right end, or at left end if the Eagles decide to move their other outside starter, Jevon Kearse, over to the right side.
Kalu missed all of last season with a knee injury, but he appears to have made a complete recovery.
Another starter who won't be on the field for training camp is Pro Bowl left tackle Tra Thomas, who is recovering from a blood clot in his leg. The clot, which was discovered in March, has broken up, but Thomas still is on blood-thinner medication and can't play football until he's off of it.
"It doesn't hinder his conditioning," Reid said. "He can continue to work very hard. He's in great shape right now. The thing that can't take place is the contact because of the blood thinners and the fear of a cut."
Until Thomas returns, assuming he does eventually return, starting left guard Artis Hicks will move outside to Thomas' spot. Steve Sciullo will replace Hicks inside.
"Artis will be fine out there," Reid said. "It gives the young guys and that grouping of guards that we have an opportunity to get more reps. We'll see how they do."
CAMP CALENDAR: The Eagles will hold their first full-squad workout on Tuesday, August 2. They will be up at Lehigh less than two weeks, breaking camp on August 14 just before their first preseason game. They will resume two-a-days after that at their training facility in south Philadelphia.
LaVar Arrington was due to report to training camp on July 31, but the three-time Pro Bowl linebacker's 19-month-old contract dispute with the Washington Redskins remained to be settled.
The framework of a settlement, which would have given Arrington an unspecified amount of the $6.5 million in dispute, was reached during a July 27 meeting at Redskin Park that included Arrington, agent Carl Poston, NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw, Redskins owner Dan Snyder and club president/coach Joe Gibbs.
The attorneys on both sides still had to hammer out the final details when The Washington Post erroneously reported a settlement that had Arrington not receiving any money. That report caused consternation in Arrington's camp and set the negotiations back considerably, a fact that could cause the sides to wind up in front of an arbitrator in September.
The dispute stems from the eight-year, $68 million contract extension that Arrington signed in December 2003 in order to give the Redskins some wiggle room just in time for that season's salary cap. Arrington and Poston, who also signed the contract, maintain that the deal included a $6.5 million signing bonus. Snyder and his aides say that no such payment was promised. Gibbs was not then with the organization.
Upshaw is involved in the talks at Arrington's request as is NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelesen. Attorney Steve Brown, who was hired just before asking for a postponement of the scheduled July 18 arbitration of the dispute, also attended the meeting as did Redskins director of football administration Eric Schaffer, who had negotiated the contract with Poston in 2003.
Ironically, after signing the extension, Arrington missed all but four games last year with a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery in September and again in April. Arrington's knee is still apparently not sufficiently healed that he likely won't be able to fully participate when practice begins on Aug. 1.
CAMP CALENDAR: Aug. 1 -- Camp opens at Redskin Park, Aug. 5 -- Fan appreciation day, Aug. 6 -- Scrimmage at Baltimore.
Around the NFC East
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