Jacobs Ready for Expanded Role

When you stand 6-4 and play halfback in the NFL there aren't a lot of role models to look up to. But Brandon Jacobs found one of the best to help him better prepare for his second season.

"I watched a lot of film of Eddie George to see how he approached things when he first got into the league," Jacobs said. "I even talked to him to see how he was able to get his hips down and stay low. It seemed like everyone last year was saying I didn't do this or I didn't do that. I'm trying to better myself so I can be a feature guy here, if it works out that way."

For Jacobs and Derrick Ward, the third-year back who broke onto the scene by returning a kickoff for a touchdown against the Redskins two years ago, the 2006 season will be significant since the Giants seem interested in beginning to develop a possible successor to Tiki Barber.

Barber enjoys telling people he doesn't know what he wants to be when he grows up. He does this with a straight face because he's still far from determining the ultimate path life will take.

The greatest halfback in Giants history is 31, an age with an entirely different connotation for a professional athlete than a Renaissance man with diverse talents and interests.

This will be his 10th season with the Giants and conventional thought says he is nearing the end of his NFL life. At the same time he is approaching the start of another in business or television or politics or philanthropy. And he's determined to meet his obligation to both with the same passion.

Barber is coming off the most productive season of any back in team history. He gained 1,860 yards rushing and 530 receiving, the only player in NFL history to surpass 1,800 and 500 in the same season. He had three 200-yard rushing games and broke the team's record for the longest run from scrimmage with his 95-yard run in Oakland Dec. 31. He wants to do more.

"Every year I keep telling myself there's no way I can do that again," Barber said. "But circumstances are such that I do. I keep exceeding even my own expectations, which is certainly encouraging."

What he wants to do more than anything is win a Super Bowl, like his twin brother, Ronde, a Pro Bowl defensive back for the Buccaneers, has already done in Tampa.

"We all know what Tiki wants. He wants a ring," running backs coach Jerald Ingram said. "He wants to be a part of something. That's being complete. It wasn't being complete having 1,500 yards or 1,800 yards. His brother has a ring, he doesn't. That's being complete."

And if that happens there's a chance that Barber will step back and out of the NFL.

"It will depend on my health, whether I feel I still have it or how quickly opportunities come in other fields [of endeavor]," Barber said. "You don't know how life will work out or what opportunities will present themselves. I've just prepared myself to be ready for any and all of them."

And so the Giants are preparing for the day when he's no longer there.

"I think it's very important. We need to develop depth at the position in case something happens or just to give me a blow," Barber said. "I don't think either of them were ready for it last year, but both have made great strides in the offseason.

"Hopefully they'll be able to spell me at some point this season so I won't have to carry the ball 360 times at 31 [years old]. It's not impossible for me to do [if needed]. It will still be the effective Tiki, nonetheless. Like every season I prepare myself for whatever.

"Whether my replacement is here now is not my decision to make. What I believe is they have the opportunity to take the next step. In the NFL it's all about how quickly you can take those steps to contribute to help the team win."

Jacobs obviously wants to be the guy the Giants turn to. He was highly touted last summer because of the way he was able to utilize his trifecta of blessings – size, speed and strength – to excel in the preseason.

But once the season started it was apparent the Giants had tunnel vision for his use. Jacobs was the first Giants rookie to score seven touchdowns since receiver Bobby Johnson in 1984, the first to rush for seven since Bill Paschal ran for 10 in 1943.

Still, he had only 38 carries for 99 yards. His longest run was for 21 yards on opening day against the Cardinals when he carried a season-high six times for 39 yards with a five-yard touchdown. He had an 11-yard gain three weeks later against Rams, but then picked up only 39 more in the final eight weeks.

More significantly, while Ward was often sent outside around the corners during his time spelling Barber, Jacobs was held back for short-yardage, goal-line situations. Five of his seven touchdowns were from the 1.

"That was my job and I wanted to make sure I got my job done properly before I could think about doing something else," Jacobs said. "I accomplished half of what I had in mind. I wanted to play more but it didn't turn out that way because Tiki is a beast. Plus, I didn't know as much and wasn't ready to get out there. I scored a few touchdowns, ran over a few people."

Jacobs has spent a lot of time working on his technique, responding to the challenge to become a better fundamental runner from the coaches.

"Brandon is working on carrying the ball more in front, dipping his shoulders while trying to get a little bit lower on people, because he is such a tall player," Ingram said. "He spent time in the offseason studying Eddie George and what made him successful. Becoming a warrior, those kinds of things, showing the passion. That's the kind of player that Brandon is. He's a very passionate, physical, defensive mentality type of player.

"You have Brandon Jacobs who has the best of both worlds, a guy who has size and the ability to change direction. He has the quickness like a little guy as well, but he has to learn to stay on the field."

Jacobs understands what he's being asked to do and doesn't disagree that improvement is necessary.

"I can be effective [standing] straight up, but it's more to protect myself from taking too many shots," Jacobs said. "The idea is to lower your shoulders and keep your feet moving. Even featured backs have things to learn. Every day, every year there will be something different and I'm just trying to stay in step with it. It's all about getting out there and doing it. It's about your determination, the will in your heart, like pulling a sled with a couple of hundred pounds on it with your body at a 45 degree angle."

Ingram and Coughlin feel its imperative for Jacobs to change his style, not only to protect his health, but to insure that his career is as long and successful as many believe it can be.

"You can't be labeled as a goal line, short-yardage guy only," Ingram said. "You can't do that, that doesn't exist. You're striving to be Marshall Faulk, Walter Payton, guys who have been very versatile so guys can't just hone in on what you do.

"And that takes a lot of mental challenge, because if you haven't done that it's foreign to you and a lot of times you hide from those issues. You need to think; what do I have to know about the defense, what's the pre-snap look, where's the safety, do I have a chance to go outside. We don't play program football. Playmakers make plays."

Jacobs wants to make sure he's the one who makes them when Barber finally decides he's had enough of the NFL.

"I won't be frustrated if that time doesn't come this year," Jacobs said. "When coach is ready for me he'll call my number."

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