Final Report Card

<b>Quarterbacks:</b> While Eli Manning certainly finished the season exactly as the Giants would have hoped, his first four starts showed a lot of the top overall pick's warts. But did he ever make a lot of strides in a short period of time.

Manning went from looking clueless to making very impressive line checks in a matter of weeks. As his confidence grew, so did his ability to throw perfect passes. He also throws some of the nicer, more accurate deep balls you'll ever see. The Giants couldn't be happier with how Manning wrapped up the year; big things are expected of him in the coming year - and decade. Kurt Warner managed the team well in leading them to five wins in his first seven starts. He's sure to compete for a starting job somewhere next season (Chicago?). Jesse Palmer, a question mark to return next season, didn't get any snaps but he sure had plenty of luck as "The Bachelor." Bottom Line: Manning's late-season surge makes for a much more restful offseason for the entire organization.

Running backs: Tiki Barber never ceases to amaze. He takes hit after hit after hit and just keeps coming back for more. No one gets through creases quicker, and he very seldom allows himself to be taken down by the first would-be tackler. Barber also secured the ball much better, ending a two-year streak of way too many fumbles. The Pro Bowler is vowing to be even better next season, and with his work ethic, who could doubt him? With very few exceptions, Ron Dayne was useless in 2004. Tom Coughlin's experiment with Dayne as a short-yardage back blew up in his face time and again. Mike Cloud and Derrick Ward both proved to be intriguing backups - as backs and special teamers. Fullback Jim Finn was a solid blocker as usual and averaged about a catch a game out of the backfield. Bottom line: Running behind a suspect offensive line, Barber proved that there's probably no one better in the league.

Receivers: It was the most disappointing of seasons for both Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard. Their numbers were significantly down, but their inability to get open consistently was even more discouraging. Injury-related or not, the Giants need much more from their starting wideout tandem. We're not sure if we should even include Jeremy Shockey among the receivers, since he's basically become a blocker in most of New York's offensive schemes. Shockey needs to be allowed to run more routes - but he also needs to catch the ball consistently when it's in his hands. Tim Carter was really starting to become a factor before getting hurt once again. Jamaar Taylor showed signs while playing banged up most of the year. David Tyree had his second annual huge late-season game. Bottom line: A total of zero touchdowns between Toomer and Hilliard is disgusting and embarrassing.

Offensive line: Say what you will about the unit, because there were a lot of times when they played well under an acceptable level. But they were a huge reason Tiki Barber broke the rushing mark, and the sack numbers sure did come down once Manning and his quicker release got into the lineup. Luke Petitgout struggled some with penalties, but did improve as the year went along. Jason Whittle showed toughness in playing through injuries, and did a decent job. Shaun O'Hara actually impressed not only with his play as a center, but his leadership as well. The Giants are as set at center as any of their line positions. It was disappointing that Chris Snee's season was cut short due to a weird glandular problem, because he has loads of potential. David Diehl made it through the whole season at RT, but might be better suited to play inside. Wayne Lucier has proven extremely valuable as a reserve jack-of-all-trades. Bottom line: The usual problem spot wasn't nearly as bad as expected.

Defensive line: New York's starting D-line in the season finale included two players - Damane Duckett and Davern Williams - that weren't even thoughts during training camp. No spot was hit harder by injuries than the defensive line. Michael Strahan put up his usual Pro Bowl effort, but only lasted half the season before tearing his pec. Osi Umenyiora, who garnered plenty of playing time once Keith Washington was lost for the year, showed exceptional speed and strength. He looks like he's going to be a really good one. Fred Robbins was the only starter to basically make it through the season unscathed. He's no superstar, but he probably exceeded expectations a little during the year. Norman Hand is a load to move in the middle, but he also was limited during the year, missing the final several games. While Lance Legree was a pleasant surprise when thrust into serious action, William Joseph certainly was not. Bottom line: A healthy Strahan and a more experienced Umenyiora are going to be really fun to watch.

Linebackers: The Giants had such high hopes for free agent signees Barrett Green and Carlos Emmons. It took Emmons a while to round into shape health-wise, and he was actually playing pretty well by the end of the year. Green spent plenty of time in Coughlin's doghouse, on the injured list, or both. His speed makes him an exciting player, but it remains to be seen if the Giants will definitely want him back next year. Nick Greisen was clearly the unit's top player and definitely showed enough to warrant a starting spot next season, be it in the middle or on the weak side. Kevin Lewis showed some heads up play, but ultimately is limited in the middle. Rookie Reggie Torbor, with a wide array of pass-rush moves and some serious speed, was exciting to watch and should force his way onto the field more next season. Bottom line: Overall disappointing unit still has plenty of potential for next season.

Defensive backs: The Wills - Peterson and Allen - both took some strides in the right direction this season, but still don't make enough plays on the ball to be considered elite corners. The real playmaker in this secondary is rookie Gibril Wilson, who showed a great nose for the football and a knack of smashing opposing receivers. Despite missing the second half of the season Wilson turned out to be everything the Giants have been hoping for from Shaun Williams for years. Both Williams and Omar Stoutmire spent the majority of the season on Injured Reserve and likely don't fit in New York's future plans. Brent Alexander was dependable at safety, but like everyone not named Wilson, didn't make enough big plays. Frank Walker, Curry Burns and Curtis Deloatch all showed some promise. Bottom line: Wilson had better teach everyone else how to catch the darn ball.

Special teams: Willie Ponder topped the league in kickoff returns, yet Coughlin still saw the need to alternate him at times during the season. David Tyree is one of the best punt coverers in the league. Steve Christie turned in a strong season, sans the three-miss disaster in Green Bay, and Jeff Feagles continues to be a dependable punter. Punt returner Mark Jones was a disappointment, while Ryan Kuehl, the long snapper, was solid as a rock. Bottom line: The special teams, long a thorn in Jim Fassel's side, improved by leaps and bounds under Coughlin and Mike Sweatman.

Coaching: For the most part, Tom Coughlin seemed to have his players prepared and ready to go. He did a pretty good job handling the Xs and Os part of the job, if not faring so strongly in dealing with his players. Coughlin made a couple questionable decisions on two-point conversion tries during the year, but otherwise seemed to be pretty solid. He's bound to eventually be penalized for his sideline/running onto the field antics. John Hufnagel came under some fire for his play-calling, but that all changed once the staff showed some confidence in Manning and let him loose. Tim Lewis did as good a job as possible with a banged up defense, but he must do the impossible and try to get his guys to intercept more passes. New York's forced turnovers, which were a main reason for the quick start, disappeared as the year wore on. Bottom line: Players and coaches alike might despise working/playing for Coughlin, but he's not going anywhere just yet.


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