Does DB or QB hold key to '06 success?

Paul Schwartz: Studying all the variables, examining the roster and surveying all the data as I always do, the top question for the Giants heading into training camp is this: Will the Phillies officially be eliminated in the NL East by the first Giants practice?

Well, maybe that's not first and foremost on the minds of Giants fans but I sure know that Philly Phanatic Kenny Palmer is chewing on that one while he downs cold ones at his summer barbeques. As far as the Giants are concerned, I'm not going to punk out (that's usually Kenny's role) and say the biggest question for the Giants is the development of Eli Manning. No, I'll go with a more obscure but crucial question: Can the revamped secondary bond into a cohesive entity during the month-long stay in Albany? In simpler terms (easier for Palmer to comprehend), do these guys have enough time to get on the same page? We saw last year just how destructive it can be when the defensive backs aren't working in unison. With Gibril Wilson the lone established starter returning in the same role, there's going to be a need for instant chemistry with newcomers Sam Madison, Will Demps and nickel back R.W. McQuarters. Corey Webster, a rookie last year, needs to shake off that first-year hesitancy and emerge as a top-flight starting corner. Figure Madison will quickly evolve into a leader, with a stronger, more determined Wilson eager to return to the sparkling form he showed as a rookie. There's plenty of firepower up front with a pass rush that should be dreamy, but the back line of the defense had better get its stuff in order or else the end result will be a nightmare.

Ken Palmer: Let's get one thing out of the way right off the bat – with the Mets imminent descent, the Fightin' Phils might still be alive by the time Big Blue's bye weekend rolls around. Two old, about-to-break-down pitchers do not a division champion make. Now to the important stuff. Let's just say that you choosing the secondary over Eli Manning as the key Giant question that needs answering is akin to New Orleans selecting George Rogers – or Houston taking Mario Williams, although I must admit that is a nice cover shot of him on the most recent ESPN the Magazine. Now I know what all my old girlfriends have been up to. Seriously, the entire 2006 campaign hinges on Manning's right arm. If he can handle the next step, the Giants will be playing well into January. If not, he'll be the main reason they fall short once again – and all Giants fans will continue bemoaning the fact that Big Blue could have sat tight at number four and taken Ben Roethlisberger, who at least won a championship before his Evel Knievel act almost ended his career.

PS: Speaking of your old girlfriends, I think I spotted a few of them on those weight-loss ads. You know, the ‘before' pictures. Anyway, let's move on. Between the start and end of training camp, the Giants must sort out their running back depth chart. Tiki Barber shows absolutely no sign of slowing down but at 31 it isn't wise to tempt fate. Tom Coughlin and John Hufnagel did not do a good job last season of incorporating Brandon Jacobs into the mix. When he ran onto the field, it was a short-yardage situation and everyone in the building knew he was getting the ball. The Giants swear he's more than a third-down runner – that he can be an every-down back. Well, if that's the case he needs to get in the flow, not at Barber's expense but as a massive complement to Barber. The Giants also insist that Derrick Ward is a capable move-the-chains backup, which might be the case, but nagging physical problems keep him off the field too often. Let's face it, Jacobs and Ward waiting in the wings does not exactly fill anyone with certainty that there's a proven commodity behind Barber. The Giants did not sign a veteran running back, nor did they opt to get one in the draft. They have what they have, and in training camp they need to see if what they have is good enough.

KP: You really are certifiable, huh? You're complaining about the position that boasts merely the best running back in club history? I know. I know. What if Tiki gets hurt? Yeah, that's like asking what if Paul leaves the Giants football beat to begin a modeling career? It's a waste of time and energy to even discuss. It's a simple equation – Tiki equals health and Pro Bowls; Paul equals no model contracts and even fewer successful Double Coverage debates. You have to look no further than the DT spot where the Giants barely have one starter – William Joseph, who so impressed Tom Coughlin at minicamp that he wasn't even running with the first team. And he's the best of the bunch. The Giants are hopeful of finding another Kendrick Clancy among the rest of the batch. Good luck. They're crazy if they think they're going to find lightning in a bottle two years running. You're an opponent and you want to neutralize Antonio Pierce? Just line up basically anyone opposite Joseph and Jonas Seawright and go to work. All of a sudden Pierce is going to be fighting off multiple blockers and the Giants will be wishing they spent that first-round pick on DT John McCargo.

PS: There's this feeling I have that the one sight you're looking forward to this summer is seeing Albany in your rear-view mirror. That's fine, but before that time the player I can't wait to see IN Albany is Sinorice Moss. The no-hitting nature of camp helps receivers sometimes look far better in camp than they do in games, but even with that in mind there's no doubt my eyes will be trained on Moss. He's only 5-6, meaning I'm going to have to look real hard to spot him out on the field, but if his advance billing means anything, he figures to be hard to miss. The thought of watching the exact same Giants offense work on the same old stuff in camp isn't exhilarating, but add the dynamic Moss into the mix and you have something and someone worth watching. It will be interesting to see how quickly he develops a chemistry with Eli Manning and what sort of new wrinkles the Giants put in with him on the field. While on the subject of wrinkles, something I'm not looking to seeing up in Albany is that sleep-deprived look you get when you've been, ahem, up too late pouring over special teams tape. Or pouring something else, more likely.

KP: You know better than most that there's no legitimate way to make it through a month in Albany without pouring plenty of adult beverages into oneself. How can anyone in their right mind be more excited about seeing any one Giants player in Albany than LaVar Arrington? Mr. Nickels is the most exciting and dynamic player the Giants have had since they drafted Jeremy Shockey, who's the other player to keep your eye on during camp – especially if Brandon Short asks him to hum a tune or two. If you're heading to Albany, numeros 55 and 80 are the two most exciting – and important – players to focus on. This isn't to make light of the immediate impact expected from Moss – just to show that the defending division champs boast a lot more to catch your eye than a third receiver that even Paul could post up, but certainly couldn't cover even with the aid of a net.

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