Healthy Shockey ready to open up passing game

While working out this offseason at the University of Miami, Jeremy Shockey was challenged daily, and not only by the host of NFL veterans and Pro Bowlers who annually make the pilgrimage back to their beloved Coral Gables. No, Shockey was also surrounded by athletes younger than himself, college kids looking to make a name for themselves, to rock-and-roll with the big boys.

"You can't let a young kid outrun you, you see tight ends there that are freshmen, sophomores that try to outrun me every drill,'' Shockey said.

He would have none of that, and so he went at it hard, putting the kids back in their place.

If only it were that uncomplicated for Shockey back with the Giants, the team that drafted him in 2002, the team he instantly transformed into a more dangerous and volatile offense upon his arrival. In his first three years, the exploits have been great, although not as great as first anticipated, and a rather strange phenomenon has left Shockey determined to get back to what he was such a short time ago.

In the span of three seasons, Shockey has devolved from a prototype, new era mega-weapon tight end into a very good player whose star has been eclipsed by the next generation of talent. A year ago, he led the Giants in receptions (61) and receiving touchdowns (six) yet there was no exclamation point attached to his performance. He has a legion of fans who roar whenever he gestures wildly or stomps through a tackle, but there are also grumbles from those who can't bear to watch him carelessly drop a pass or come up just short of the goal line.

In the fourth year of his NFL life, Shockey needs to reinvent himself, to become the player he believes he is. He will do it his way, which is rarely the calm, team-issued way, which is why this offseason added another chapter to his intriguing tale.

"I'm gonna try to hit them before they hit me,'' Shockey said. "Try to play with a swagger and a chip on my shoulder and a bad attitude.''

Attention and Jeremy Shockey are joined at the hip, which is why the news value of him staying away from the Giants offseason workout program was higher than it would have been for most anyone else. Rather than participate in the "voluntary'' workouts at Giants Stadium, Shockey did his thing in Miami, informing the team of his decision, which did not please coach Tom Coughlin.

"I want to be the best player I can be and in order for me to do that I think I got to be pushed by people I know can push me,'' Shockey explained. "I'm not trying to cause any controversy. I've had injuries the past couple of years, I'm trying to fix that.

"I understand [Coughlin's] philosophy. It's voluntary. I'm not trying to burn anybody down or put any program down, I'm just trying to do what's best for me, and ultimately it's gonna help the team. I could have taken the easy way and come back here and did the workouts here and just been OK, or I could have went there [Miami] and accepted the challenge and made it tough on myself every day.''

Shockey insists his workouts at Miami were far more taxing than anything the Giants were doing back at the stadium. That's likely the case, but what about camaraderie and getting into a groove with your teammates, especially Eli Manning, the young quarterback who needs to develop a chemistry with all his receivers?

No big deal. "How can you really get timing when there's no secondary, no DBs and it's not full speed?'' Shockey asked, discounting any harmful effect of him missing a few workouts. "This is not an issue about timing, it's about me being committed to the team, I'm not trying to separate myself from anybody here, there's no contract disputes, nothing, just me trying to get better.''

He did participate in every mandatory offseason session, appearing to be in prime shape, a well-chiseled 250 pounds that, he says, is a byproduct of hard work and no more fast food.

Manning expressed his displeasure at Shockey's absence both in the media and directly to Shockey, which did not sit well with Shockey. Consider it nothing more than a speed bump on the road to their budding relationship.

"I'm just being selfish a little bit wanting him to be here,'' Manning said. "It's not his job to do what I'd like him to do. I don't think it's that big a deal. It's Shockey, he attracts attention, anything he does everybody likes to make a big deal out of it.''

Asked if he cleared the air with Manning, Shockey said, "The air was never foggy, we talked, it was fine. The fire started and it was just nonsense. If I were in his shoes I'd want everybody here.''

To his credit, Shockey has attempted to figure out why nagging injuries have cropped up, causing him to miss valuable time in training camp, and going back to his old routine at Miami was his way of trying to reverse that trend.

If he can, watch out. With Manning sure to benefit from his difficult rookie indoctrination, with the arrival of Kareem McKenzie to fortify the offensive line and Plaxico Burress to add athletic ability to the receiving corps, the Giants aerial attack could erupt this season. But it needs Shockey to be the igniter.

"I think Shockey's gonna complement us more than I'm gonna complement him,'' Burress said. "He's a guy who can get up the field and down the seam and if we can get Shockey into a one-on-one instead of getting bracketed every Sunday he's gonna be one of those guys who's gonna help us out.''

As he reported to Albany for his fourth NFL training camp, it was as if Shockey had a new lease on his professional life.

"I've never felt better,'' he said.

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