New role, health has Toomer headed to super season

Don't get rid of those number 81 Amani Toomer jerseys just yet. Yeah, he's coming off one of his worst seasons ever, but the record-setting Giants receiver still has plenty left in the tank.

Mark my words, by the end of the 2005 campaign, we'll all be talking about Toomer exactly like we used to – as one of, if not the, key cog in a successful Giants offense. Yes, he looked washed up last season, a step slow, and was having trouble getting open. Of course, we all know the guy with 41 career touchdowns wasn't able to get in the end zone even once in 2004. But you take away a receiver's wheels, line him up with no other offensive threat in sight and you're bound to see him struggle.

Watching and talking to Toomer in Albany this summer you just get the feeling the former second-round pick still has more to give – a lot more. No, he's not going to boast, brag or make any guarantees – that's not Toomer's style. But watching how he carries himself, both on and off the practice fields, is a key indicator that I'd take Toomer early in my fantasy draft, if I participated in those types of things.

"He's made a lot of outstanding plays this camp," coach Tom Coughlin said. "He's made a lot of those catches, in terms of recognizing some level of difficulty in them, in this camp. He appears to be in real good shape, and has the endurance going for him again."

Not to mention the challenge of manning a new receiver spot – one that Toomer hadn't played in years. When Big Blue signed Plaxico Burress it immediately brought up an interesting question – with two split ends, who would be moved to flanker? The answer came early and swiftly – Toomer would have to move. While he said he wasn't upset with the move, he clearly wasn't thrilled with it either.

"I was excited about trying something different, but I also didn't know the reason why – and I still don't," Toomer said. "But I don't concern myself with that.

"It was interesting. I didn't know how to take it. I ended up trying to shake it off as much as possible, and just take it as I'm still on the field. I didn't get a chance to question it."

Toomer said there are some distinct differences between the split end (‘X') and his new flanker (‘Z') spot. He mentioned lining up off the ball a yard or so as something that definitely takes getting used to, as does running routes with the tight end inside of him. However, he's already embracing the advantages of his new place in the Giants offense.

"It's actually a little easier getting off the line of scrimmage," he said.

The position change to flanker, in all honesty, might be a better fit for Toomer, who's excellent at crossing patterns, slants, underneath routes, and getting open in traffic. It also gives him a new outlet to prove his critics wrong.

"I don't know if there's a little extra edge," Toomer said about being moved. "I just want to prove to myself that last year was a fluke. If you play long enough, you're going to have good years and you're going to have bad years. You just have to roll with them and come back as strong as possible."

"I don't think he was down last year," Tiki Barber stated. "He really doesn't care what people think about him, he's such an independent-minded person. I think he was frustrated that he wasn't at his peak form."

Toomer, never one to read the papers much, admitted he heard the negative talk last year.

"You hear whispers of that type of thing, but that's what reporters write about," he said. "I look at Curtis Martin. He was over the hill years ago, and he's just coming off a (1,697-yard) season. If he's over the hill, I want to be over the hill too."

Turning 31 three days before the season opener, Toomer is far from over the hill. He looks lighter and said he changed his diet this offseason and lost a couple pounds. The key, however, is that he's injury-free.

"I think he's healthy this year, which is important," Barber said. "I think he'll tell you he underachieved last year, because he struggled with that hamstring for eight weeks. But he changed positions this year, and you can see he's excited with the challenge."

So in addition to being healthy, Toomer now has something to prove, a new challenge so to speak.

"I don't think he has a chip on his shoulder," Eli Manning said. "I just think he wants to come out and have a big season. He stayed healthy and had a good attitude through the camps. It's good to see him healthy and running well."

With Burress, Jeremy Shockey, Tim Carter, not to mention the improved offensive line, Barber and super-rookie Brandon Jacobs, it's hard to see where Toomer fits in. Quite the opposite, actually. All those weapons are going to open things up for the supposedly washed up Toomer, who's going to be laughing all the way to the end zone.

"He's had a great camp so far and he's going to be a big part of this offense," Manning continued. "He's going to have a big season for us."

The humble Toomer's just ready to play some football.

"For me to worry about ‘why did I move over,' would be a waste of energy because I moved," Toomer said. "Regardless of whether I liked it or not, I moved and now I have to deal with it and keep on going. I just want to continue having fun. Whenever you're out there on the field, you have a chance."

A chance to return to greatness, something Toomer is certain to do.

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