Inside Slant, Notes, Quotes, Personnel

A week or so after their season ended - with a whimper, not a bang - the Giants began addressing one area of absolute concern. As a prelude to more work scheduled, they fired their defensive backfield coach, Ron Milus, who still had a year left on his contract. The team finished near the bottom of the NFL pack in passing yards allowed, and despite injuries, coach Tom Coughlin felt the decision to let Milus go was correct.

Coughlin was not available for comment, nor did the team release any information on the firing.

Milus, clearly, shouldered the blame for the poor performance of the secondary, especially the cornerbacks. Left corner Will Allen, a former first-round draft pick, played the entire season without a single interception and often failed to cover receivers close enough. He also had a penchant for taking risks, such as cutting in front of a receiver looking for the ball but missing it and allowing a long gain instead.

Allen also dropped, by unofficial account, six sure interceptions (one down from the seven he missed or dropped in 2004).

But it wasn't just Allen. Right corner Will Peterson was lost early in the season with a recurrence of the stress fracture of his transverse process (lower back), and the replacements were inadequate. It started with second-year man Curtis Deloatch, and by the time there were three games remaining in the season he was benched for second-round draft pick Corey Webster.

The rookie wasn't much better, but did get a pass because he was a rookie, and Webster showed enough ability to be penciled in as the starter on the right side next season. If Allen - an unrestricted free agent come March 3 - isn't re-signed, there is no telling who will emerge as the left corner.

Veteran free safety Brent Alexander is openly talking about the possibility of retirement, and it probably is the right time for that. He should get a warm send-off, as in, "Nice job, you're a professional and you helped when we needed it," but his time is clearly at an end.

Only strong safety Gibril Wilson appears safe. He played well, led the team in tackles and will be entering only his third season.

Milus had been signed less then two weeks after Coughlin took over the Giants job in 2004. He had previous coaching experience with the Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals, as well as at his alma mater, the University of Washington, and Texas A&M.


--In addition to CB Will Allen, WLB Nick Greisen is also scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March, and all indications are that the Giants will try hard to sign him to a new contract before he becomes available in the open market. He started at WLB and MLB this season and was a productive player.

--The Giants signed four players to reserve/futures contracts. They are: WR Triandos Luke, 5-10, 195; WR Curtis Williams, 6-2, 204; CB Vontez Duff, 5-11, 203; and FB Greg Hanoian, 6-2, 255. Luke and Duff were sixth-round draft picks, by Denver and Houston, respectively.

--It appears that Giants defensive coordinator Tim Lewis, a candidate for one of the several head coaching vacancies not only this year but in 2004, will stay put. That might force fired Houston coach Dom Capers into a position on the Giants' staff as a backup for when Lewis finally does get a job. Capers worked as defensive coordinator under Coughlin in Jacksonville for two years (1999-2000) and the two have remained friends.

--When RB Tiki Barber commented that "we were outcoached by Carolina" after the Giants' first-round playoff defeat, it raised eyebrows and produced hurt feelings. "Yes, I was upset," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "We had to talk." They did, the next morning, at which time the two also watched some game tape and resolved their differences. "I didn't think of it as disrespect for our coaches," Barber said in his conciliatory apology. "I thought it was praise for (Panthers coach) John Fox and his staff."

--One of the Giants' needs is an outside linebacker, and one of their targets this spring will be San Francisco star Julian Peterson, who is going to hit the free-agent market after March 3. It is unlikely that the Giants will bring back veteran SLB Carlos Emmons.

--The Giants might have studied the possibility of moving out of the first round in order to secure additional second- and third-round choices in the April draft. Currently slated to pick somewhere between 22nd and 26th in the first round, their defensive needs (LB and CB) might be best served with multiple selections in the later rounds.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I just found myself thinking what a terrible difference 24 hours made. Yesterday at this time we were planning to beat Carolina and make plans to travel to Chicago for our next game. Now we're filling plastic bags and leaving, and probably a lot of us will never see each other again." - Giants center Shaun O'Hara, the day after the 23-0 elimination loss.


Looking at the Giants' personnel, the view is at best mixed. It was a team that finished with an 11-5 record and captured the NFC East championship, but it was also a team that did a nice job of hiding and masking serious flaws - all of which were exposed by Carolina in the Panthers' one-sided 23-0 first-round victory in the playoffs.

So now the Giants are looking toward the free-agent period, the draft and the minicamps to see just how they can improve, and how quickly.

Most of the major problems seem to be on defense, specifically in the secondary and the linebackers, but a few offensive moves might need to be made, such as a determination on the future of starting LT Luke Petitgout, second-team TE Visanthe Shiancoe and backup WRs Tim Carter and Jamaar Taylor.

The defense must be adjusted for the impending free-agent status of LCB Will Allen and WLB Nick Greisen. The tone at the moment is that Greisen will stay and Allen will not be vigorously pursued. UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACK: Starter - Eli Manning. Backups - Tim Hasselbeck, Jared Lorenzen.

Manning was the starter all season and took every snap. He also threw every pass but one (a halfback option thrown incomplete by RB Tiki Barber). He won 11 games, many with dramatic fourth-quarter heroics. But he also exhibited a disturbing tendency to overthrow, underthrow and just plain miss receivers on too many occasions. His mechanics were still unsound (throwing off his back foot, holding the ball too long, throwing too high to wide-open receivers). Also falling under the curtain of criticism was the play-calling by offensive coordinator John Hufnagel. There are even rumors, however faint, that he may be replaced. Don't put much stock in that, but the offense may be severely adjusted. Hasselbeck, brother of Seattle starter Matt Hasselbeck, doesn't seem to be much of a backup and there will be an attempt made to replace him. Lorenzen was simply the third QB, a powerful (6-3, 285) thrower without much finesse and with no experience.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters - RB Tiki Barber, FB Jim Finn. Backups - RB Brandon Jacobs, RB Derrick Ward, RB Mike Cloud.

Barber had his best of several sensational seasons, rushing for 1,860 yards to finish 20 yards behind Seattle's Shaun Alexander for the NFL title, adding 530 yards receiving and coming in with 2,390 combined yards from scrimmage, best in the league. He took a pounding but never missed a game, carrying 357 times, another career high. He had a team-record 95-yard run against Oakland, and his 1,860 yards was also a franchise record. Barber will be OK for another year or two but a backup needs to be prepared for when he reverts to a situational runner. Yet there was no real effort given to groom the 6-4, 265-pound rookie Jacobs as his backup. The fourth-round pick from Southern Illinois carried just 38 times for 89 yards but had seven touchdowns. He was, obviously, the short-yardage and goal-line back. Now he has to be given more of an opportunity to handle the rest of the game, and as soon as his blocking improves he will get that chance. Ward and Cloud are merely backups. Finn is a solid blocker who can catch the ball but didn't have a single carry in 2005.

TIGHT END: Starter - Jeremy Shockey. Backups - Visanthe Shiancoe, Sean Berton, Matt Kranchick, Wade Fletcher.

Shockey had a superb season, polishing his blocking skills and curbing his emotional outbursts while catching 65 passes for 891 yards and seven touchdowns. He was named the NFC starter in the Pro Bowl. However, there isn't much behind him. There were high hopes for his backup, Visanthe Shiancoe, a former second-round draft pick, but he appears to have regressed. He dropped a key pass in the finale against Oakland that could have cost the team the game and the division title. He only caught eight passes all year (and dropped four others), and his blocking is OK but not exceptional. Berton, a pickup from the Vikings in mid-season, might actually have more of a chance. Kranchick and Fletcher were street free agent types and both have size, if not experience. Fletcher is an Ivy Leaguer from Columbia.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - FL Amani Toomer, WR Plaxico Burress. Backups - Tim Carter, David Tyree, Willie Ponder, Jamaar Taylor.

Toomer, in his 10th season, had a superb year and finished with 60 receptions for 684 yards and seven touchdowns. But he has lost a step or two and the team should be preparing for his retirement soon. Burress, signed as an unrestricted free agent from Pittsburgh, caught 76 passes for 1,214 yards and seven TDs. He still maintained his mysterious attitude and there were times when he didn't run to the ball or fight for it. Carter has size and incredible speed, although he can't seem to stay healthy. He also drops the occasional pass, and since he is thrown to only occasionally, that's not a good sign. Tyree made the Pro Bowl as the NFC special teams player but only caught five passes. Ponder fell into Coughlin's doghouse for fumbling kickoff returns. Taylor is rarely healthy.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT Luke Petitgout, LG David Diehl, C Shaun O'Hara, RG Chris Snee, RT Kareem McKenzie. Backups - T Bob Whitfield, G-C Jason Whittle, G Rich Seubert, T Lewis Kelly, G Myniya Smith, T Jonathan Doty.

Petitgout was guilty of too many false starts and holding penalties and may be moved out of the starting lineup - or even off the roster for salary cap relief. Diehl has played every game since being drafted in the fifth round three years ago, appearing at LG, RG and RT. He is steady and dependable. O'Hara is a veteran with a year to go on his contract, and while he is useful there exists a need for a better center. Snee, the coach's son-in-law, is on his way to future Pro Bowl appearances. McKenzie, signed off the Jets' roster as an unrestricted free agent, had a solid season and missed a few games at the end with a hamstring pull. Whitfield is a 13-year veteran with the Pro Bowl in his background, but might be at the age (34) where he can't be a starter. Whittle is a journeyman whose versatility keeps him valuable. Seubert came all the way back from a hideous broken leg in 2003 but seems to have hit his peak and will be hard-pressed to make the team in 2006. Kelly has size and potential. Smith and Doty are merely training camp bodies.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LE Michael Strahan, LT Kendrick Clancy, RT William Joseph, RE Osi Umenyiora. Backups - DE Justin Tuck, DE-LB Eric Moore, DT Fred Robbins, DT Jonas Seawright.

Strahan, in his 13th season, had 11 1/2 sacks and was named to the Pro Bowl, as was his counterpart, Umenyiora, who led the NFC with 14 1/2 sacks in just his third season. Strahan came back from a serious torn pectoral muscle injury that kept him out of the second half of the 2004 season and lost weight (down to 255-260) to adjust for his increasing age. He played marvelously well, as did Umenyiora. Clancy, acquired as a free agent from Pittsburgh, was a true find. He had a pair of sacks, several hurries and made unexpected penetration from the middle. He also coached young Joseph, the other starter and a former first-round pick, who developed into a legitimate NFL DT after two disappointing seasons. Tuck was a third-round pick from Notre Dame and played well. He is clearly being groomed as Strahan's ultimate replacement. Moore has good size and speed. He was tried at SLB as well as DE. Robbins is a veteran whose retirement time might have arrived. Seawright has great size but little else.

LINEBACKERS: Starters - WLB Nick Greisen, MLB Antonio Pierce, SLB Reggie Torbor. Backups - MLB Chase Blackburn, SLB Carlos Emmons, WLB Barrett Green, WLB Jay Foreman, SLB-MLB Roman Phifer, MLB Marcus Lawrence, WLB Tyson Smith, MLB Kevin Lewis.

The linebackers were decimated with injuries near the end of the season. The injured included Pierce (high ankle sprain), Blackburn (neck), Emmons (pectoral muscle), Green (knee), Phifer (knee) and Torbor (hamstring). Under ideal circumstances, the starters would be Greisen, Pierce and Torbor, but not much was ideal at the end of the season. Pierce, signed from Washington as an unrestricted free agent, was spectacular until he was forced to the sideline. Greisen filled in when Green was hurt and now will keep the job, though he's a free agent and could leave. Blackburn was a rookie free agent who stunned the coaching staff with his acumen until he was hurt as well. Torbor, also used at times as a pass-rushing DE, figures to start at SLB. Emmons and Green may be let go. Phifer, Smith, Foreman and Lawrence were emergency finds. Lewis started every game at MLB in 2004 and was released last summer, but he came back and played well near the end of the season.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - RCB Corey Webster, LCB Will Allen, SS Brent Alexander, FS Gibril Wilson. Backups - CB Curtis Deloatch, CB Frank Walker, SS Shaun Williams, CB Will Peterson, CB Terrell Buckley, S James Butler.

Webster was a second-round draft pick who replaced Deloatch at RCB and, while he made some rookie mistakes, he looked better than Deloatch, a second-year player. Deloatch started only because of the injury - a stress fracture to the transverse process in the lower back - that benched Peterson and eventually landed him on injured reserve. Allen had an erratic season, missed six sure interceptions (and wound up with zero) and didn't cover all that well. He'll be a free agent and is probably gone. Alexander, a 14-year veteran, will probably retire. Wilson is on his way to becoming a star; he has a nose for the ball and is a hard and sure tackler. Walker makes too many mistakes and his enthusiasm leads to stupid penalties. Butler was a free agent rookie who has a future. Buckley was an emergency signing and he hurt the team in its playoff game trying to cover Panthers WR Steve Smith.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Jay Feely, P Jeff Feagles, LS Ryan Kuehl, KR/PR Chad Morton. Backups - KR Willie Ponder, LS Jason Whittle.

Feely had a great season, missing only seven of 42 field goal attempts and leading the NFL in kick scoring with 148 points. He did miss three in a row at Seattle as the Giants fell to the Seahawks 24-21 in overtime. Feagles, despite his 18 years in the NFL, was outstanding, punting for a 42.1 yards per kick and a 37.0 net average, and putting 26 punts inside the 20-yard line. Kuehl was reliable and consistently on target. Morton took over kick return duties from Ponder, who fell into disfavor with a few early fumbles. Morton handled both that and punt return assignments.

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