Taylor-made situation

Say what you will about the antics and theatrics of Philadelphia's Terrell Owens. However, there's one thing you can't deny. His speed is one of the reasons he's so good and also why the Eagles passing game has had such success this season.

It's precisely that kind of speed the Giants' offense, directed by rookie quarterback Eli Manning, needs. With a speedy receiver on board, teams would no longer be able to throw a constant double-team on tight end Jeremy Shockey. With a true speed receiver, Tiki Barber's running would not be in vain. And yes, perhaps with a true speed receiver, Amani Toomer might be able to actually accomplish something in the Giants' offense other than being a movable prop in the Wonderful World of the NFL.

In fact, one of the few bright spots that may have come out of that gloomy loss to Philadelphia was the possible sign of speed to come. Rookie wideout Jamaar Taylor led the team in receiving with two catches for 102 yards, his longest being a 52-yarder in which he narrowly missed a touchdown.

In fact, from the moment that Taylor caught his first pass as a Giant - a seven-yarder that led to a first down on the next play in the 28-13 loss to the Lions on Oct. 24 - the New York coaching staff has been looking for ways to get him the ball.

"We've known that Jamaar can contribute in the deep game and in the intermediate game," head coach Tom Coughlin said. "And, he did contribute (against the Eagles)."

If Taylor is to truly play a role in rebuilding this Giants' offense from the ground up, he'll have to have a lot more days like he did against the Eagles. Especially when you consider that Toomer has not shown the kind of speed he has in the past, and that Ike Hilliard is not a speed receiver to begin with. In fact, both of the Giants' starting wideouts have looked old this season in limping through the first 11 games. They rarely get open, and when they do, both have experienced acute cases of the drops. That has put extra pressure on Shockey's shoulders and the normally sure-handed receiver has responded with some well-documented drops of his own.

These circumstances would seem to put a lot of pressure on Taylor, the rookie out of Texas A&M. However when you take a quick peek into his college career, you realize this is a man that thrives under pressure.

He finished his career as the Aggies' second-leading receiver of all-time, just nine receptions and 35 yards behind Bethel Johnson. And that fact is even more impressive when you consider Taylor missed one year due to NCAA transfer rules, and missed the second half of his senior season due to a knee injury. So, all he did in two-and-a-half seasons was become the Aggies' second-leading receiver of all-time. Put it that way, and it doesn't sound so outrageous that this rookie can play a large role in this currently stagnant Giants' offense.

"Whenever the coach dials my number, I'm going to try and come through," a confident Taylor said. "I've got to step up, you know. Hopefully, I can continue to get downfield past DBs and make plays."

If the Giants are eventually going to bring this offense back to the 21st Century, they need Taylor to continue to get open downfield. If he can show a consistent ability to do that, Shockey should once again be the Shockey of 2002. And Manning should find his stride a lot quicker. That combined with a 100 percent healthy Toomer might actually leave New York with something resembling a competent offense next season.

"Sure, there's been some concern about us stretching the field," Taylor admitted. "I think we can do that. If we keep on getting downfield, keep on making big plays, teams are going to have to respect that."

The problem is, with the exception of Taylor for two games, and occasionally Shockey, the Giants are not getting downfield. Just look at the numbers: no Giants wide receiver has a touchdown other than the injured Tim Carter, who has one (tight end Shockey has five). Shockey's 44 catches led the team in receptions over Toomer's 42. The next closest was Tiki Barber, a running back that had 40. The three longest passes this season have come from Barber (62-yard TD catch-and-run) and the aforementioned Taylor (52 and 50, neither for scores).

If Taylor, who's suddenly become an important sixth-round draft choice for New York, is unable to step up, there aren't a ton of options. And, even if he is, the Giants should explore getting another playmaker. The two obvious names that crop up in free agency this offseason are the Indianapolis Colts' perennial Pro Bowler Marvin Harrison, and the Pittsburgh Steelers' young vertical threat, Plaxico Burress.

Though Harrison seems likely to stay with that other Manning guy in Indy, keep in mind that the Colts likely have to decide between he and Edgerrin James, who is quietly having a nice season. They may not wish to get into a bidding war with New York. And Pittsburgh's success is due in no small part to their speedy young receivers, Burress and Hines Ward. It seems they have no reason not to bring the former back. But, then again, the Steelers have also had a history of not signing their big-ticket free agents, and they may not want to get into a bidding war with New York.

There's also the possibility of finding another playmaker in the draft, although keep in mind, with New York likely not selecting its first player until midway through the second round, most of the big-time speed merchants and playmakers such as Michigan's Braylon Edwards will be gone. Still with or without a major acquisition, the Giants' offense will be greatly improved if Taylor can step up between now and opening day 2005.

"I think anytime you have a deep threat," reasoned Taylor, before pausing for a moment. "You look at T.O. He gets cushion. Why does he get cushion? Because you have to respect the deep ball.

"Other guys (on his team) are playing well, because you have to respect the deep ball."

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