INSIDE SLANT - Team Report

St. Louis leads, 25-10, which includes games from 1938 through 1995 as the Los Angeles Rams. The Giants snapped a five-game St. Louis winning streak with a 26-21 victory last season in St. Louis.

It is not like Giants coach Jim Fassel to be so confident. He has not indicated that to be a part of his public persona in the six full seasons he has been in office. Yet now, as he begins his seventh, he is virtually brimming with optimism.

"I am excited and looking forward to the season," he said Wednesday. "This is the best part right now, starting it. I usually break the year into five parts -- the offseason, the draft and the minicamps, the regular season and the postseason. This is the best part."

With the opener scheduled against the St. Louis Rams, clearly one of the few preseason favorites in the NFC, Fassel detects a special time rushing toward his team.

"Both teams feel good about their chances," he added. "I think both teams feel they can be very good and that they can win their division championships. I think that way about our team, and I'm sure Mike (Martz, the Rams' coach) is just as confident about his team."

Fassel then dove into the required praise-of-the-other-team syntax, praising the Rams. "St. Louis is going to be outstanding," he said. "Their defense is vastly improved and their offense scares you all the time. I'm glad this one is going to be played at home (in Giants Stadium) with our crowd."

The coach is still concerned, although not deeply, about the depth along his offensive line and, for that matter, two of the starters on the five-man unit. There is a new right tackle (Ian Allen) and a new right guard (rookie David Diehl), and then no significant depth behind the starters.

In point of fact, there are no backup guards, although free agent rookie tackle Jeff Roehl insists he is a guard. "I played 31 games in college (at Northwestern) at guard and none at tackle," he said. "I think if one of those guys gets hurt, I'm the one who will play."

Fassel tried to explain his concern. "I am not worried about the starters, even the two new guys," he said. "Of course they'll have their hands full for a while. Allen has never started and Diehl is a rookie. But I liked how they played all summer. That kid (Diehl) is a natural football player. He isn't intimidated and he isn't nervous. He just knows how to play, he's tough and he's smart."

Diehl was a fifth-round pick from Illinois (he and Roehl have been friends since high school) and won the starting job the second week of training camp from Tam Hopkins, who didn't survive the final cuts. His father, Jerry, died two weeks ago and Diehl took a few days off. Then he returned. "I know my dad," he said. "I am sure he would say, like, 'yeah, David, this was nice, but now get the hell back on the field and play some football.' So I plan to do that."

Then he said the kind of thing that has endeared him to Fassel. "You know, this is just football," he said, "and no matter where you play it, football is football."

SERIES HISTORY: 36th meeting. St. Louis leads, 25-10, which includes games from 1938 through 1995 as the Los Angeles Rams. The Giants snapped a five-game St. Louis winning streak with a 26-21 victory last season in St. Louis. But the Rams have still won seven of the last nine meetings.

NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES

--TE Jeremy Shockey, clearly under protective care by the team to prevent him from spewing forth too many more sensational comments ranging from politics to sex to the other teams on the schedule, has now joined the Kerry Collins-Michael Strahan class as "will meet with the press once a day."

Well, Wednesday was his day, but Fassel still appeared nervous on the eve of the season opener, and so his "press conference" was pushed off for an hour or so, at Fassel's request. "He has lifting to do, and he's being fitted for a new flak jacket (for his cracked rib) and he has a meeting," the coach explained. "But he will be available later."

That golden moment occurred shortly before 2:30 p.m. ET, when Shockey met a cluster of reporters in the hall outside the team locker room. His press conference lasted 25 seconds. "I feel definitely like I've been out," he said. "I'm doing the best I can and I'll try to do the best I can. Thanks."

--Undrafted rookie Jeff Roehl, a tackle/guard, said he had "more than a dozen" offers to sign after the draft but he chose the Giants for a variety of reasons. "They always seemed to have no prejudice against undrafted rookies," he said. "Lots of them make the team, including a bunch of offensive linemen (guard Rich Seubert, center Chris Bober, tackle Ian Allen), and I wanted to play for (offensive line coach) Jim McNally."

McNally, a guru among collegiate offensive line coaches, conducts several offseason clinics and has produced a few coaching films. "One of my coaches had one of his tapes and I studied from it," Roehl said. "We used his coaching techniques in college, too."

--Reserve OT Jeffrey Hatch, last year's third-round draft pick who missed the entire season due to back surgery, is the first replacement tackle behind Allen and Luke Petitgout. He played the full final preseason game in Baltimore and was still beaming. "Man, it was like old times," said the Penn graduate. "I played the whole game and got to hit some guy I didn't know and got into the flow and the rhythm. I felt sore, and that was great!"

McNally's grade on Hatch was almost perfect. "He said I didn't miss a single assignment," Hatch said, "but I didn't follow through on some blocks. It wasn't perfect, but I don't think he (McNally) ever gives a perfect grade."

BY THE NUMBERS: 5 -- new offensive linemen among the eight kept on the final 53-man roster; three of them are rookies (guard/tackle Jeff Roehl, starting guard David Diehl, center/guard Wayne Lucier). The other two are Ian Allen and Hatch.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I love Kyle Turley. We get along great and we always have a lot of fun when we play each other." - DE Michael Strahan, sarcastically commenting on the bitter rivalry between the two players, which resumes Sunday at Giants Stadium.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Any plans the Giants might have had about moving second-year linebacker Nick Greisen into the middle, either as a replacement for veteran Mike Barrow or as a fourth LB in a 3-4 scheme, are probably on hold. Greisen (pulled hamstring) is the only one of eight Giants on the league-mandated injury report not to be listed as probable. He is termed questionable, which gives him a 50-50 chance of playing.

There had been some thought given to unsettling the Rams with a different defensive scheme, but moving five and six defensive backs in and out will probably result in the same chaos.

--Defensive end Michael Strahan gets to go up against an old adversary in Rams right tackle Kyle Turley. The two hooked up several times when Turley was with the New Orleans Saints, and many of the encounters were bitter. "He's the dirtiest player in the league," Strahan said of Turley. "Everybody knows about him."

The right defensive end, Kenny Holmes, just laughed when approached on the subject. "I've got my own problems," he said. "They are all called Orlando Pace (the 6-7, 335-pound left tackle)."

--The surprising emergence of second year undrafted free agent running back Delvin Joyce as the second in line to Tiki Barber might result in a monumental embarrassment for the first-round draft pick of 2000, Ron Dayne. He may be listed as one of the Game Inactives for Sunday; on the other hand, the same fate may be in store for 33-year-old Dorsey Levens, signed as an Unrestricted Free Agent. It is possible to put both down because return specialist Brian Mitchell is the team's emergence tailback.

Personnel/Injury Notes:

--TE Jeremy Shockey missed the final two preseason games with a cracked rib and while he will play, expect him to do so with a flak jacket that could impede movement.

--LDE Michael Strahan (broken small toe, right foot) missed all four preseason games but is scheduled to start vs. the Rams, and says that he could have played all four if they were regular season games.

--RCB Will Allen (bruised shoulder) will play; he was kept out only as a precaution by Fassel in the finale against the Ravens.

--OLT Luke Petitgout (foot) will play, and is listed as probable.

--C Chris Bober (bruised ribs) was held out of the finale only as a precaution.

GAME PLAN: Fassel insists the way to beat the Rams is to keep the offense on the bench, which is not likely considering the Giants' offense is newly-designed to be far more explosive.

So he says the next best plan is to "disrupt (Rams QB Kurt Warner's) timing, manhandle his receivers and don't let him get settled into a rhythm. Look for the Giants to use multiple blitzing moves and to float between zone and man-to-man coverage, all designed to harass and confuse Warner.

The Giants, for their part offensively, will attempt to exploit two new cornerbacks, and since the Rams have moved into a 3-4 defense, the four linebackers will be shown bait-and-switch formations and play fakes.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: LDE Michael Strahan, who has had 33.5 sacks in the last two years, vs. Rams' ORT Kyle Turley, an old adversary from New Orleans. Strahan has frequently handled Turley with ease.

Giants' WRs Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard vs. the Rams' new set of corners, Travis Fisher and Jerametrius Butler. Toomer had a spectacular camp and a great 2002 season; Hilliard has returned after missing the final nine games with a dislocated shoulder.

INJURY IMPACT: There should be no impact on the Giants or what they plan to do since none of their players are seriously injured. Only reserve MLB Nick Greisen is listed as questionable.


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