Hot Topic & Player Notes: Giants

Last season, defensive end Michael Strahan had 11.5 sacks, and that wasn't even enough to lead the Giants. Osi Umenyiora, the other defensive end, had 14.5.

But Strahan, who has a career total of 130.5 sacks, all for the Giants, doesn't consider that universally popular statistic as the most important of his position. He is just two short of tying the Hall of Famer, Lawrence Taylor, for team career sacks and he thinks other things are more vital.

"I try to collapse the pocket from the edge," he says. "I try to shut down the wide running plays and force them back inside. I like to hurry the quarterback, make him throw when he isn't ready, or when his receiver isn't out of his cut yet. There are lots of things a defensive end has to do, and the sacks are, well, like bonuses."

It has been a long and spectacular career for the 34-year-old, and while this is his 14th season, he doesn't think he has shown much rust or loss of quickness. "I know I'm not going to play forever," he smiles, displaying that trademark gap between his front teeth, "but I'm not ready to retire. I can still bring it, and that's important to me."

The Giants have attempted to fortify the defensive end position(s), drafting Justin Tuck in the third round two years ago and Mathias Kiwanuka in the first round this year. Umenyiora is just a baby, 24 going on 25 next month. Tuck and Kiwanuka are 23.

"I am the pack leader," Strahan laughs. "I go out with my other defensive ends and it's like, 'Daddy, will you buy me (this or that)? I love it. I can teach them and watch them make progress and it just makes me feel good."

The collection of pass-rushing defensive ends -- "you can't have too many of that," says outgoing general manager Ernie Accorsi -- should make the Giants feel good, too.

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Eli Manning's objective during the 2006 off-season (actually, the day after the 2005 season ended) was to improve his accuracy and, therefore, his completion percentage. He has done just that. He is now completing 67.1 percent of his passes, and last season his number was 52.8. "Hard work, lots of throwing and a better knowledge of the game and the position," is how he explains his dramatic improvement. In addition, his QB rating has jumped from 55.4 (2004) to 75.9 (2005) to 97.1 this year.

--RB Tiki Barber hasn't scored a TD this year, either by run or pass, and for him that's unusual. Last season he had 11 total TDs and 15 the previous season. "They'll come," he says. "Right now we have to get this team back on track. We did a good job offensively (and Tiki had 123 yards in 23 carries) against Washington, but we have to continue that every week from now on."

--TE Jeremy Shockey has had extensive tests the last few days on the foot that doesn't seem to heal. He has had a sprained right ankle all season, and now there is some question as to whether his surgically repaired right foot (a pin was inserted to prevent future stress fractures) is once again a problem. Behind him is the unproven Visanthe Shiancoe.

--WR Amani Toomer passed the 550-reception mark, the first time in the history of the Giants, and now has 553 for his career. He currently leads the team with 20 catches and had a TD negated by a holding penalty called on Shockey vs. the Redskins.

--WR Plaxico Burress, to the surprise of many, is an accomplished blocker. He showed that last week when he turned a short gain into a long one for Barber, and it is difficult to forget the block he threw against Oakland last season that resulted in a 90-yard Barber jaunt down the sideline -- and he ran down to the Raiders' 20 to make the block.

--WLB Brandon Short, originally drafted by the Giants, left in 2004 to become part of Carolina's UFA harvest. But he's back this season and last week filled in for the injured starter, Carlos Emmons (pectoral). He left in the first quarter with a neck nerve pinch but returned to co-lead the team with six tackles.

--CB Sam Madison, signed from Miami during the UFA period, had been a disappointment through the first three games as the starter on the right side, but had a much better game vs. Washington covering the lethal WR Santana Moss.

--DT Barry Cofield, the first of two fourth-round draft picks this year, has started every game for the Giants at the "nose tackle" position, obviously (and embarrassingly) replacing former first round choice William Joseph.

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