Inside Slant, Notes, Quotes, Personnel, Etc.

It may sound strange, but having just signed a quarterback, bringing their total to three (not counting undrafted rookies and free agents), the Giants may not yet be finished in their search for the perfect backup to Eli Manning.

Most recently in the fold is veteran Rob Johnson, who has not played in the NFL for two seasons.

What's that? How does that compute? How can that be justified?

Well, first of all, the 34-year old was a fourth-round draft choice of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1995 out of USC, and guess who the head coach was? Right, Tom Coughlin, the current Giants' head coach.

He has started (did that once for Coughlin) and has played for five NFL teams -- Jacksonville, Buffalo, Tampa Bay, Oakland and Washington -- and while he has never become a household name or a Pro Bowl player, he did acquire a reputation as a smart, experienced "teacher," if you will, of young quarterbacks.

In fact, when he decided to temporarily retire, he returned to Laguna Beach, Cal., where he and his dad, Bob, and his brother Bret operated Camp Quarterback. A few of the former campers include Carson Palmer, David Carr and Drew Brees.

Johnson also has that most prized possession -- a Super Bowl ring -- which he received as a backup for Tampa Bay.

"I wanted this as long as my arm was healthy," he said, "because it's no fun at all to play when you're hurting."

It was in 1998, Johnson's fourth year in the NFL and first with the Bills, when he hurt his passing arm. "I hit it on somebody's helmet," he said, "and it just got progressively weaker. I never actually blew it out, but they [the doctors] said the elbow ligament looked like a rope frayed at the end. I was having trouble gripping the ball, so I went for the 'Tommy John' surgery. They took a ligament out of my wrist -- some people have an extra one there, and I did -- and stuck it in the elbow."

Now, almost two years after the surgery that takes at least 18 months to recover from, he is ready to compete. He'll find Tim Hasselbeck (the incumbent backup), Jared Lorenzen and a free agent named Josh Harris. There are still rumors circulating that Jay Fiedler and even former Giant Kerry Collins are also under consideration.

"When I'm healthy I can compete," Johnson says. "I love the competition. And now I'm healthy."

Johnson's last NFL touchdown pass came on December 23, 2002, when he hit wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson for an 18-yarder in a 17-7 Monday night loss to Pittsburgh. Six days later he made his last start, taking the Buccaneers to a 15-0 victory over Chicago.

NOTES, QUOTES

--A little mystery has been solved. Two weeks ago, the Giants announced the signing of defensive tackle Junior Ioane, 6-3 and 335, a six-year veteran who last played for Houston.

A day later they announced he had been released.

The assumption was that he failed a physical, but the Giants won't sign a player until he passes that exam. Now it can be explained.

The NFL determined that there was a glitch in the contract, and refused to accept it. When that happens, the pencil-pushers take over and, technically speaking, Ioane didn't have a contract. That meant he was a free agent -- and it was generally reported that he had been released.

That's the technical side.

The reality is just a little different. The Giants cleared up the contractual error and re-signed him. So the NFL machine geared up again, announcing that the Giants had signed defensive tackle Junior Ioane, who had so recently been released.

Ioane might be more important than the casual observer might think. It is more than casually obvious that the Giants are considering a conversion to the 3-4 defense. With the loss of Kendrick Clancy, a departure via the UFA route to Arizona, there was no suitable nose tackle on the roster.

The most likely candidate was William Joseph, the first round pick in 2003, but he isn't constructed in the true mold of a nose tackle. Clancy was. So is Ioane, an Arizona State product familiar with that demanding and thankless position.

So now he's on the roster -- in good graces, contractually speaking -- and may well wind up as the starter in the three-man front with Pro Bowl ends Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora.

--QB Rob Johnson, drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars when current Giants' head coach Tom Coughlin filled that role there, is also familiar with two current members of the coaching staff -- quarterbacks coach Kevin Gilbride and running backs coach Jerald Ingram. Also, assistant athletic trainer Byron Hansen was the head trainer at USC when Johnson was an undergrad.

--Several rumors of position changes involving players have circulated, including DE Justin Tuck to defensive tackle or strong-side linebacker; DT William Joseph to defensive end; No. 1 draft pick Mathias Kiwanuka from defensive end to strong-side linebacker; and right guard Chris Snee to center. As usual, there was no comment from the coaching staff.

--PK Jay Feely missed only seven field goals all season (three in that OT loss to Seattle) and set a team record with 148 kick-scoring points. Seen in the team locker room last week, he smiled when reminded about the Seahawks' game. "I guess that's never going to go away, is it?"

--DE Michael Strahan, a six-time Pro Bowl veteran, was asked how he will treat the No. 1 pick, DE Mathias Kiwanuka. "I'll tell him what he has to do, and how he should go about things," he said. "But this is the NFL. They don't want me to be his babysitter."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "My dad's quarterback camp this spring included Kellen Clemens (Jets' second round draft pick) and some of those guys and I could throw with them. It was a matter of whether I could do that, throw as long and make it through two-a-day practices. I did. I'm ready." -- Giants' newest QB, Rob Johnson.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers): WR Lamont Brightful; CB Terrell Buckley; RB Michael Cloud; LB Kevin Lewis; LB Roman Phifer.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: TE Visanthe Shiancoe.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: WR Tim Carter; QB Tim Hasselbeck; OG Lewis Kelly; RB/KR Chad Morton; WR/KR Willie Ponder; WR David Tyree; CB Frank Walker; OT Bob Whitfield.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: LB LaVar Arrington; CB Jason Bell; S Will Demps; S Quentin Harris; DT Junior Ioane; QB Rob Johnson; CB Sam Madison; CB R.W. McQuarters; G/C Grey Ruegamer; LB Brandon Short.

PLAYERS LOST: S Brent Alexander; DT Kenderick Allen; CB Will Allen; DT Kendrick Clancy; LB Jay Foreman; LB Barrett Green; LB Nick Greisen; CB Will Peterson; OG Jason Whittle; S Shaun Williams.

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