While Kerry Collins led New York's passing game to an 11th-ranked finish in the NFL in 2003, the Giants' main problem was getting into the end zone. Big Blue finished in the middle of the league's pack with only 16 aerial scores. You do the math – that's only one per contest.
Believe it or not, one of the biggest offenders in the failure to get in the end zone is none other than Jeremy Shockey, who has only reached paydirt four times in his two seasons in the Big Apple. A return to full health and even more effectiveness from Shockey will be key to the revival of Big Blue's aerial attack.
While the man at the helm has changed, be it Eli Manning or Kurt Warner, the starting wideouts have not. The Giants have been talking about getting Amani Toomer, who scored five times last season, into the end zone more for years now. His partner, Ike Hilliard, crossed the goal line with the pigskin on six occasions last season.
However, in 2004 fans might be treated to a more aggressive passing game, in which Warner and Manning will be throwing the ball all over the place.
"Our passing game is aggressive," Warner said. "We attack down the field. That's always been my forte."
One of the multitude of reasons that New York brought Warner aboard was his quick release, which could come in handy if New York's line doesn't improve by leaps and bounds over last year's unit. And if the Jets scrimmages were any indication, New York's going to have a heck of a time running the ball inside, putting even more onus on New York's ability to pass the football.
Quarterbacks coach Kevin Gilbride is excited about all the possibilities this passing philosophy contains. However, as always, you need the players to do their jobs, which include the O-line allowing its QBs time to set up and throw.
"It's very much a lot of different concepts and schemes," Gilbride explained. "The advantage of that is twofold. One, if the rest of the team can't do certain things, it's flexible enough that we can go to the things that the rest of our guys can do. Two, the more you can do the harder it is for the defense to figure out what you're doing and load up to stop it. Those are the advantages that we'll have the potential in our playbook to do a lot of different things."
A rejuvenated Ron Dayne could also factor into the passing game. He can catch the ball, but just hasn't been asked to since coming to New York as his 24 career catches would attest. Tiki Barber, who caught 69 passes last season alone, obviously can help out the passing game from the RB spot.
"You need a short passing game, a play-action game, and then when you drop back to throw you have to be able to do that too," offensive coordinator John Hufnagel said.
Having a receiver or two that could stretch the defense down the field could open things up for Big Blue as well.
"It's always beneficial to have someone, or two or three guys, that have the ability to make a big play and score in one shot," Tom Coughlin said. "It's a good dimension to have, no doubt."
"You're also looking for the possibility of throwing the ball a short distance and having it turn into a long gain," Hufnagel added.
While Toomer is an excellent downfield threat and Hilliard the quintessential possession receiver, New York has a handful of candidates to be that burner down the field that draws the opposing safeties' attention.
First up is James McKnight, the 11th year vet. His hands aren't always the most dependable, but his speed and running ability could put a jolt of electricity into this unit. Surely everyone remembers his 68-yard touchdown run for Miami against the Giants last season on a reverse.
New York has another speed guy, but the Giants haven't been able to keep Tim Carter on the field long enough for him to make a difference. He has looked very quick and sharp during camp and New York's second-round pick in 2002 might just be ready for that impact campaign.
"Tim Carter is a guy that does have that kind of speed and makes the defense have to be concerned about where he is," Coughlin said. "Our defensive backs have had to work hard this camp."
A surprising potential contributor to New York's new-and-improved, faster passing game is a rookie. Jamaar Taylor can run like the wind and he appears poised to be able to chip in as early as during the season's first month, which would be less than a year after he tore his ACL.
"Jamaar Taylor is very fast and that's an ingredient we could use on our football team," Coughlin said.
Speed kills. The lack of it has killed the Giants in the past. Now they're hoping an injection of it can make a world of difference.
* * *
Strength of unit: Depth and speed. The Giants quite possibly have more quality depth at the receiver position than at any other spot on the roster. They're going to have to release a few good men when roster cutdown day comes. And you can expect those released to be among the slower. This crop of WRs has more speed than usual, and Coughlin plans to keep it that way.
At tight end, it's all based on Shockey's recovery from foot surgery. If he can return to previous form and quickly, that'll be a big plus for the unit. If he can't, the TE spot will be turned over to Marcellus Rivers.
Weakness of Unit: Speed at the top. There's no doubt that Carter, Taylor and McKnight can run circles around opposing DBs, but the starting tandem of Toomer and Hilliard isn't exactly a pair of track stars. Excellent, dependable receivers? Most definitely. Guys with the speed to scare opposing DBs? Not really.
Key additions: It's not all that far-fetched to say that adding Warner and Manning to the passing game will help out some. At receiver, James McKnight, JaJuan Dawson and Jamaar Taylor. All three have gotten folks excited during camp and could possibly force Coughlin to keep an extra receiver.
Key losses: As good as he was at times, it's tough to say that QB Kerry Collins was a key loss for the Giants since they released him to make room for Manning and Warner. At receiver, none. New York's top three wideouts return and the depth has improved.
Darkhorse: Ataveus Cash. He's quite an athlete and he shows signs that if anyone goes down ahead of him that he could make this squad. Cash has the speed and quickness they're looking for; just not the overall experience. Cash played quarterback most of his college career. He dropped a deep ball against the Jets that surely had Coughlin's stomach in knots.
On the hotseat: David Tyree and Willie Ponder. Both players did a good job when called upon during their rookie campaigns. However, neither appears to be too high on Coughlin's pecking order at receiver at this point. Tyree has had a terrible camp thus far, dropping no less than 10 passes that we've seen.
Passing offense: Air Coughlin
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