"I won't know how much I benefited [from the coaching change] until I hit the field," Dayne said. "What I do know is that this will give me an opportunity to play and that's all I have asked for."
Dayne paid significantly last season for his shortsighted decision to bypass Jim Fassel's voluntary off-season workout program in a poorly devised scheme to force a trade. Fassel was so angered by the insubordination he benched Dayne for the entire season, the only player on the roster who wasn't injured that didn't dress for a single game.
"Why did I do it [skip the workouts]? I don't know," Dayne said. "Maybe to do something different. Get in better shape. I came back in better shape, but I wasn't able to use it. I never really complained about it. I was curious about how things were going down each year when Coach Fassel was here. Last year, when I didn't play, it left me wondering what else I could do. The worst thing was not dressing for the games. I was the only one who didn't come to the offseason workout program and I was the only one who didn't play."
Dayne said his only conversation with Fassel about not playing came after the opener against the Rams. At that point, Dayne said Fassel urged him not to worry and that his time would eventually come.
As the weeks passed into December, Dayne waited in silence. He said they never discussed the issue again.
"I always felt like a part of the team, but the worst part of it all was the losing," Dayne said. "I hated the losing."
Dayne believes things would have been no different this season had Fassel returned.
"I don't know what it would have been like this year," Dayne said. "But looking back at what happened last year; it seems likely I would have been doing the same thing I did, not playing after the preseason."
But Tom Coughlin has told Dayne he holds no grudges and will give him the opportunity to recover some of the carries he lost last season. Coughlin seems pleased that Dayne came to training camp weighing only 236 pounds. He views it as a sign of Dayne's commitment.
"I'll just say that you improve with the opportunity to play," Coughlin said. "He didn't have that so he has a lot of catching up to do. It will have to be a very strong preseason for him and, obviously, he will be ready to go in the fall."
"You need to have more than one back. It's not to say that Tiki Barber isn't capable of running through the tackles, but every team needs a combination of a strong powerful runner and one who can get outside; it's crucial. This will give us the flexibility we need."
Dayne doesn't know how the lost season will eventually impact him, aside from realizing it cost him a year of production in his prime. In the final year of the five-year deal he signed when the Giants took him in the first round in 2000, he does know he has a lot to make up for if he expects a decent contract when he becomes a free agent.
"I'm all right," Dayne said. "I haven't had any real injuries. I can still get you what you need. I'm just a little older and ready to go. I try to look only at the bright side. I don't want to get myself down. I always look forward."
Unlike last season when the Giants signed Dorsey Levens and Brian Mitchell, there are no veteran halfbacks among the slew of free agents they imported in the offseason. And the Giants have made it clear that Barber will be used more as a receiver, the way Kurt Warner clicked with Marshall Faulk for the Rams.
"The first discussion I had with Coach Ingram [running backs coach Jerald] was that the coaching staff felt I carried the ball too much between the tackles last season and that we didn't utilize our other backs enough. I was in positions too frequently where I'm average and not enough where I could excel," Barber said.
That's the clearest sign to date that Coughlin believes Dayne is capable of rediscovering the touch that made him such a compelling complement to Barber – "Thunder and Lightning" – during Dayne's rookie year, their Super Bowl season.
"Tiki and I complement each other very well," Dayne said. "We push each other. I'll do whatever it takes for [Coughlin]."
"I know how it's affecting Ron," Barber said. "He views this as an opportunity. There's no doubt in his mind that he's going to get his chance this year. He's showing that already. It's a lot like it was the first year he was here. Some plays we run are for me and some are for him. There are certain things both of us will do well. He sees this as his chance to get his career back where everyone wants it to be."
Giants offensive coordinator John Hufnagel said he has no idea how Dayne's inactivity in 2003 will affect him. But he knows it won't take the Giants long to find out.
"I know Ron Dayne has worked awfully hard in the off-season," Hufnagel said. "Some may say the rest has done him well and some may say that it's caused some rust. He's going to have a tremendous opportunity to shake the rust off. I can tell you he won't be quite as well rested by the end of camp."
Just the thought of being a part of things again is enough to excite Dayne. At this point, all he wants is the ball. He's certain the rest will take care of itself.
"You never forget how to play once you've learned," Dayne said. "I'm not worried about being rusty. Practicing against our defense will be enough to get me ready."
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