Run offense

While Jeremy Shockey needs to catch more TD passes, Tiki Barber would be the first to admit that he needs to get into the end zone more himself as well. Barber posted a paltry sum of two rushing touchdowns last season, while the Giants ran the ball in for six on only six different occasions. That figure's good for 29th in the 32-team league.

The Giants also rushed for a meager total of 1,559 yards, obviously less than 100 rushing yards a contest.

To say improvement is necessary is an understatement.

"You need to control the football," offensive coordinator John Hufnagel said. "The running game is paramount in that aspect of it. Tom's a firm believer in the running game."

From the moment he took control of the Giants in January, Tom Coughlin has emphasized the importance of controlling both lines of scrimmage. A solid offensive line is essential for New York to boast any kind of successful ball control offense.

What remains to be seen is how solid New York's line actually will be. There's no question it will be different, as only LT Luke Petitgout returns to his same position. He's added 20 pounds of bulk, which should help out in the run game.

Normally Rich Seubert would be next to Petitgout, but there's no telling when, and even if, Seubert will return this season. In his stead steps Barry Stokes. Stokes' former teammate in Cleveland Shaun O'Hara jumps in at center. The Giants are hoping their previous time spent together in Cleveland will help Stokes and O'Hara succeed in the middle.

The line is still in a bit of a state of flux on the right side. Our best guess is that rookie Chris Snee will hold down the right guard spot and David Diehl, last year's starter at RG, will slide out to tackle. If so, that would leave Ian Allen, who finished last season at RT, and Ed Ellis, who signed this offseason, in a battle to back up Diehl.

Coming off a woeful 4-12 season that was basically sabotaged by the offensive line, there's no doubt the Giants will see improvement up front. The key question, however, is, how much?

"There's progress coming," Coughlin said. "Different people flash at different times. There's progress being made and some people have done better once they've got the pads on, based on the spring. Hopefully it stays in the right direction."

Barber, who found no room to roam during the joint practices against the Jets, sees the OL as a work in progress.

"Well obviously we have a long way to go," he said. "This is a new unit that is playing together for the first time, and they are seeing semi-live action for the first time and things are different than going through the bumping that we usually go through. So it's an adjustment period, but I think it will be fun; it's just a matter of getting used to everything."

Barber's fun will increase provided he's able to hold onto the ball and run effectively while doing so. Enough has clearly already been made of his fumbling last season.

"We have to play smart football," Hufnagel said. "So many games are lost in the NFL because of dumb plays and bad football."

Barber says he's feeling right at home with his new running style.

"It feels great," he said. "It feels comfortable now. A few months ago when I first started it was uncomfortable, but I think it has helped me. I think it has helped compact my running style action and helped me become more efficient."

The Giants are also looking for efficiency from Ron Dayne, who will definitely receive a legitimate opportunity to run the ball this season. Dayne, who checked in at 236 pounds, has looked good so far. But what remains to be seen is whether he'll be able to get the tough, short yards, the third-and-ones, or will New York have to bring in someone like Stacey Mack.

At fullback, there's no reason to read much into the recent signing of Charles Stackhouse. It's still Jim Finn's job to lose.

* * *

Strength of unit: Tiki, Tiki, Tiki. Still not sure how someone so small in stature can have such a huge impact on the running game, but Barber continues to defy logic – and his critics. He's averaged 4.5 yards a carry while gaining close to 5,500 yards in his seven-year career. Tack on 422 receptions for 3,610 yards and you see why the Giants running game will be centered on Barber for as long as he's in town. He's the poster boy for hard work and determination, with quite a bit of talent mixed in.

Weakness of unit: The offensive line. We hate to beat a dead horse, but New York could have lived up to all its preseason hype last year had the line played better. In fairness, the OL suffered some key injuries. But it wasn't like they lost Larry Allen or Orlando Pace. This quintet needs to jell and improve fast. The Eagles and their nasty defense are right around the corner.

Key additions: Barry Stokes and Shaun O'Hara. Some think new blood and guys with more heart and better attitudes will help. If these two can join successfully with a healthy Petitgout, then things might actually work out for the line after all. Coughlin is looking for a certain type of player – nasty, gritty and determined – and both of these guys, especially Stokes, fit that mold.

Key losses: Obviously Rich Seubert. They lost him mid-season last year and the line was never the same. Not only a solid left guard, Seubert was the emotional and vocal leader of New York's line. While impossible to replace, the Giants line hopes to rally around Seubert's absence. He insists he can make it back by the end of the year, but that seems unlikely.

Darkhorse: Scott Peters. From the day New York signed Peters last season, Micheal Barrow told TGI to keep its eyes on the Arizona State product. He's downright mean and nasty while playing and has an excellent initial punch in his pass set-up that's unmatched on the club. He fell behind due to an ankle injury and has had way too many false starts since he returned, but there's definitely an NFL future for Peters. Depending on how things pan out with this starting five, it could be sooner rather than later.

On the hotseat: Luke Petitgout. There's no doubt that Petitgout's play last season was severely hampered by various injuries he was playing through before finally succumbing to. He's the only returning starter on the line and he plays the pivotal left tackle spot. Petitgout is the guy everyone is going to look to when the going gets rough, as it's expected to often this season.

The Giants Beat Top Stories