Inside Slant, Notes, Quotes & Unit Analysis

Harry Carson, the best middle linebacker in the history of the Giants' franchise, was finally voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame 18 years after his retirement and 13 years after he was eligible for this honor.

It's about time. In fact, it's way past time.

Last week the team sponsored a celebratory luncheon for Carson at a midtown Manhattan location, and those present to roast and toast the one-time fourth round draft pick via South Carolina State were former head coach Bill Parcells, New England head coach Bill Belichick, San Diego head coach Marty Schottenheimer, linebacker Lawrence Taylor, nose tackle Jim Burt, linebacker Carl Banks, linebacker Pepper Johnson and quarterback Phil Simms.

Of interest was Carson's explanation of his action two years ago, when he wrote a letter to the Hall of Fame selection committee demanding that his name be taken off the ballot. He was simply fed up with so many snubs.

"I know what I accomplished," he said. "I know that I helped my team win and that I went to the Pro Bowl nine times. Making it so difficult for this Hall of Fame induction simply wore on me. It was frustrating and it was somewhat demeaning and I thought it would be better if I simply withdrew my name."

That was, of course, a facade to mask his disappointment. "When I was finally inducted," he said, "I remember Mr. [Wellington] Mara told me how proud he was of me, of the teams that I played on, and that it had been one of his most important wishes that I be enshrined. I was very touched. I am saddened by the fact that he won't be here to see it happen." Mara, the patriarch of the team and the NFL, died last October 25 at the age of 89.

It was with obvious joy that Parcells congratulated Carson. "Each year guys would call me and ask whether I thought Harry deserved to be in the Hall of Fame," said the current Dallas Cowboys' head coach, "and each time I said he absolutely deserved it, that the Hall of Fame was poorer without him there. They said I was prejudiced because Harry played for me. Well, I was prejudiced. I have always respected spectacular athletes."

It took a lot of years, far too many, but Carson has made it to this small piece of pro football immortality. Considering the performance and stature of some who went in before him, it is a well-deserved and long overdue honor.

CAMP CALENDAR: Training camp opens on the campus of the University of Albany, N.Y. on July 28 and closes Aug. 24. Unlike previous years, there will be no inter-squad scrimmage with the New York Jets or New England Patriots, or are there any other special events.

NOTES, QUOTES

--When Jai Lewis announced that he would not report to training camp and was abandoning his attempt to make the transition from college basketball to pro football, one of the veterans snapped: "Well, there goes our basketball team." Lewis had been a starter on the George Mason University team that astonished the nation last April by advancing to the NCAA Division I Final Four. He had been attempting to earn a position as an OT.

--LT Kareem McKenzie, asked what he planned to do for the six weeks between the end of the minicamp and the start of training camp, just smiled. "I'm going to drink coffee, read the financial papers and not do much of anything else," he said. "This is the last time to get any rest until next February."

--Early indications are that Rob Johnson is the front-runner for the backup QB job, which would mean the unseating of last year's understudy to Eli Manning, Tim Hasselbeck. Johnson played for head coach Tom Coughlin when both were in Jacksonville, and in fact it was Coughlin who drafted Johnson out of USC. "I know what coach Coughlin is like and I know what he wants from his players," Johnson said. "I'm prepared."

--Virtually unnoticed, UFA signee Grey Ruegamer is listed as the backup RG behind Chris Snee. Ruegamer is 6-4 and 300, a seven-year veteran out of Arizona State.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Of all the players I have been associated with over 30 years in the NFL, I think Harry Carson is as respected as any player. I mean on the field and off the field. He is a quality individual and he was a pleasure to coach." -- Patriots' head coach Bill Belichick, who was the Giants' defensive coordinator for nine years during his 12-year tenure (1979-1990).

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The only personnel move reported by the Giants was the decision on the part of rookie OT Jai Lewis (6-5, 292) not to pursue pro football. The former basketball star at George Mason University, who played in the final four last April, decided not to continue his attempt to switch sports. "My heart just wasn't in it," he said. "I want to see if I can keep playing basketball."

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

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

If Manning plays up to his hype, the offense should be more than just dynamic this season. He has all the weapons he needs in the set of wide receivers, tight ends and running backs, and the offensive line has become dependable and experienced. Manning has been on the doorstep of stardom for a year now, and might take that step this season. Johnson, a veteran who was drafted by and played for head coach Tom Coughlin in Jacksonville, missed the last two seasons (Tommy John surgery) but seems to have made a full recovery. He could beat out the incumbent backup, Hasselbeck. Lorenzen is intriguing enough to be kept as the third quarterback for yet another season.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB Tiki Barber, FB Jim Finn. Backups -- RB Brandon Jacobs, RB Derrick Ward, RB Chad Morton, RB James Simms, FB Greg Hanoian, FB Tony Jackson, RB Little John Flowers.

Barber is the superstar of the offense, gaining 1,860 yards last season to trail NFL leader Sean Alexander by just 20 yards. He is accomplished as a receiver out of the backfield as well, added 530 yards with 54 catches and, in all, scored 11 touchdowns. He is 31 now, has remained healthy the last two seasons after a career of injuries, and the backup is more important than ever. That would be the gigantic (6-4, 265) Jacobs, a rookie last year who became the designated short-yardage and goal line ball carrier and got nine touchdowns. He had trouble with the playbook, especially blitz pickups, and worked all during the off-season with the coaching staff. He could be something special. Finn is the experienced fullback who is one of the NFL's better blockers. Ward is useful if not spectacular. Morton is more a return specialist. Flowers, who has had experience with the New York Jets, was signed as a free agent after the minicamp in June. He could stick. Simms has a practice squad chance. Hanoian and Jackson will contest for one possible backup job.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Jeremy Shockey. Backups -- Visanthe Shiancoe, Boo Williams, Wade Fletcher, Darcy Johnson.

Shockey, one of the NFL's elite tight ends, must stay healthy to be special. He caught 65 passes for 891 yards and seven touchdowns last season, missing the final game of the regular schedule but returning for the playoff game. He will be one of Manning's top targets. Shiancoe has been a disappointment since being drafted (third round, 2003) and this year there is competition in the form of the veteran Williams, last active with New Orleans. Fletcher and Johnson have almost no chance save for a practice squad berth.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Amani Toomer, Plaxico Burress. Backups -- Tim Carter, David Tyree, Willie Ponder, Michael Jennings, Anthony Mix, Harry Williams, Triandos Luke, Sinorice Moss.

Toomer, starting his 11th season, and Burress, a seven-year vet in his second season with the Giants, will remain the starters. Each brings issues -- Toomer is older and has lost a step; Burress is a malcontent and loose cannon. But both can be productive. Carter is the incumbent third receiver but cannot remain healthy despite speed and ability. The second-round draft pick, Moss, might be a game-breaker (he's the younger brother of Washington's Santana). Tyree is a special teams ace with infrequent trips to the line of scrimmage. Ponder fell into disfavor with Coughlin last season and stopped returning kicks. Jennings has a chance (great speed). Mix is interesting because of size (6-4, 235) and possible usage as a tight end and H-Back. Williams and Luke have almost no chance.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Luke Petitgout, LG David Diehl, C Shaun O'Hara, RG Chris Snee, RT Kareem McKenzie. Backups - G/C Rich Seubert, T Lewis Kelly, Todd Londot, G Gray Ruegamer, G Matthew Lentz, T Bob Whitfield, T Jai Lewis, G Julius Franklin, T Na'Shan Goddard, T Ben Harrell, T Guy Whimper, T Henry Tellis.

For the second consecutive season, the five-man line returns intact. That can only be good news. Overall, this may be one of the better groups in the NFL with, of course, a few blemishes. One such blemish is Petitgout's penchant for drawing false start flags. He had too many last year (five in one game) and Coughlin calls them "stupid, wasteful offense stoppers." But he is still a veteran left tackle with experience and smarts. Snee is on his way to a Pro Bowl, if not this year then next. McKenzie came from the AFC (Jets) and seemed to have needed a year to acclimate. He should be fine now. Diehl has started since the first game of his rookie season three years ago and has played both tackle and guard positions. O'Hara is a veteran at center. On a 1-to-10 rating system (10 is highest) this line might get a 7. Not bad. The reserves include veterans such as Whitfield and Ruegamer (signed this year), a veteran on the comeback (Seubert) and a basketball star (Lewis, who went to the Final Four with George Mason). The rest are interchangeable.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LE Michael Strahan, LT Fred Robbins, RT William Joseph, RE Osi Umenyiora. Backups -- DT Jonas Seawright, DT Junior Ioane, DT Damane Duckett, DE Justin Tuck, DE Adrian Awasom, DE Eric Moore, DE Thomas Carroll, DE Willie Evans, DT Marcus Green, DE Mathias Kiwanuka, DT Barry Cofield.

The two ends made the Pro Bowl, the only team with two at the same position. Strahan, however, is 34 and should be expected to slow down just a little. Umenyiora is 10 years younger and will only get better. He led the NFC with 14.5 sacks, three more than Strahan. They are still a dynamic pair and should cause havoc all season. Mathias Kiwanuka will get ample opportunity as a role rusher and Strahan's ultimate replacement. Second-year man Tuck showed lots of promise. So did Moore, drafted as a defensive end and used on occasion at strong-side linebacker. Robbins and Joseph are the designated starters at the tackle position -- in pencil -- with perhaps the hottest competition of the summer scheduled to take place at that position. The defection of Kendrick Clancy resulted in the signing of the veteran Ioane. The emergence of second-year player Seawright (6-6, 340) has excited the coaches. Rookie fourth-round pick Cofield has size and speed. Duckett has some talent; Awasom is big enough to get more of a chance.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- SLB LaVar Arrington, MLB Antonio Pierce, WLB Carlos Emmons. Backups -- SLB Reggie Torbor, MLB Chase Blackburn, WLB-SLB Brandon Short, MLB Gerris Wilkinson, WLB Nick McNeill.

This upgraded positional area might be the key to whatever success the Giants experience. Arrington was a fortunate signing and if he gets even close to his previous Pro Bowl performance (he is a three-timer) the strong-side position is cemented. Pierce, Arrington's teammate when they both played in Washington and the moving force in convincing him to sign with the Giants, was spectacular until he suffered a high ankle sprain in the 13th game, joining a host of other linebacker who all gathered on the bench (and then the injured reserve list) with injuries. He is the glue to the unit, the coaches insist. Emmons, a veteran (and another who missed eight regular season games and the playoff game as well with a torn pectoral muscle, is healthy again and has moved to weak-side linebacker to make room for Arrington. Torbor is a young player with size and speed. Blackburn was an undrafted rookie and amazing the coaching staff with his performance and learning curve. Short rejoins the Giants after leaving for Carolina and offers a veteran presence. Wilkinson is a coveted third-round draft pick.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- RCB Corey Webster, LCB Sam Madison, FS Will Demps, SS Gibril Wilson. Backups -- CB R.W. McQuarters, CB Frank Walker, S Quentin Harris, CB Curtis Deloatch, SS James Butler, S Travis Coley, S Charlie Peprah, CB Kevin Dockery, CB E.J. Underwood, CB Jason Bell, CB Gerrick McPhearson.

This is the most renovated, altered and adjusted area on the team, with 75 percent of the starters gone. The sole survivor is Wilson, young and on the rise. Both corners are gone, Will Allen to Miami, Will Peterson home with physical problems (stress fracture, lower back). FS Brent Alexander opted for retirement rather than waivers. Will Demps (from Baltimore) is the free-agent replacement for Alexander, Sam Madison replaced Allen and young Corey Webster, a second-round pick in 2005, is the new Peterson. Others signed with experience include McQuarters, Harris and Bell. Peprah was a draft pick (fifth round). McPhearson was the seventh-round selection. The rest are not considered likely roster members.

SPECIAL TEAMS: P Jeff Feagles, K Jay Feely, LS Ryan Kuehl, KR/PR Chad Morton, P/K Travis Dorsch, LS Rich Seubert, KR Santonio Moss, PR Willie Ponder.

Feagles, starting his 19th season, was talked out of retirement for one more year. He is among the best in the NFL for positional punting and the league's all-time leader in punts and punt yardage. Feely had a superb season except for three consecutive missed field goals in Seattle, which turned into a 24-21 overtime loss to the Seahawks. Even with that, he made 35 of 42 field goals and established a team record with 148 total points. Kuehl is a reliable long snapper in his 10th season. Morton did both kickoff and punt duties but will be pressed by the rookie Moss (second round), whose blazing speed and sure hands have made him an attractive return man as well as a receiver.

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