Hot Topic and Player Notes

Even in retirement, running back Tiki Barber hasn't stopped talking about his obvious dislike for Giants coach Tom Coughlin.

After a first-round playoff loss to Carolina following the 2005 season, Barber spoke out in public, saying: "We were out-coached and unprepared."

He said the same thing a few times during this just-concluded season, and at his introduction as the newest shining light in the NBC Network's firmament, he did it again.

"Coach Coughlin is very hard-nosed," he said, "and I didn't get a lot of time off, couldn't sit down and rest (during practices) and so it was a constant grind, a physical grind on me that started to take its toll. It really forced me to start thinking about what I wanted to do next, and that's not a bad thing. That's a good thing, for me at least. Maybe not for the Giants, because they lose one of their great players, but for me it is."

The implication there is that he would not have retired had Coughlin been a different coach -- or had a different person been the Giants' coach. He has never confirmed that, but his statements betray his denials.

Barber will be a spot reporter on the NBC "Today" show weekday mornings, and will be a part of the NBC Sunday Night Football show during the season. His Sunday night involvement signaled the end of the line for former Pro Bowl wide receiver Sterling Sharpe, who Barber has already replaced.

Barber complained that the Giants "were in pads for 17 weeks" during practices, and questioned Coughlin's judgment based on "the amount of injuries we had. At times he would yell at me for not going full speed, and I told him: 'Coach, I can't do it. I'm gonna be out here. I'm never going to miss a practice. But I can't give you what you want all the time;' and he understood."

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--The contract signed last year by defensive tackle Junior Ioane was formally and officially voided by the Giants earlier this week. The seven-year veteran, a product of Arizona State, had been released by the Houston Texans and signed by the Giants on May 30. But he never reported to minicamp, training camp or the regular season and is now no longer part of the team.

--There were more than 500,000 ticket requests for the Giants-Miami Dolphins regular season game scheduled Oct. 28 in Wembley Stadium, London, England. The old building recently underwent a major renovation and will be able to seat nearly 88,000. It is the second international regular-season game scheduled by the NFL -- the first was in 2005 when Arizona and San Francisco met in Mexico City.

--The Giants recently rounded out their coaching staff with the hiring of Chris Palmer as quarterbacks coach, replacing Kevin Gilbride, who moved up to offensive coordinator. Palmer was the first head coach of the "new" Cleveland Browns.

--It would appear that the Giants plan to move David Diehl from left guard to left tackle to replace Luke Petitgout, and then move reserve guard/center Rich Seubert to starting left guard, where he had started to establish a reputation before an injury in 2003. Diehl has played guard and tackle for the Giants and has not missed a game since his rookie year of 2003 (he was a fifth-round draft pick).

--If new GM Jerry Reese is determined to trim dead wood from the roster, there are rumors that he will similarly release QB Tim Hasselbeck, DT Jonas Seawright, former first-round pick (2003) DT William Joseph and CB Frank Walker.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The grind (of head coach Tom Coughlin's full-pads practices all season) took its toll on me and really forced me to start thinking about what else I wanted to do. That's not a bad thing. That's a good thing for me, at least. Maybe not for the Giants, because they lose one of their great players, but for me." -- RB Tiki Barber, at his introduction as a new NBC Network analyst.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Without trying too hard, one could get the impression that head coach Tom Coughlin was faced with a hard decision presented by the front office -- weed out the chaff in the coaching staff or lose your job.

So Coughlin began throwing people under the bus -- including both coordinators, John Hufnagel (offense) and Tim Lewis (defense). In addition, he moved Kevin Gilbride to offensive coordinator from quarterbacks coach and added a former head coach, Chris Palmer, to replace Gilbride. Then he picked Steve Spagnuolo from the Philadelphia Eagles to replace Lewis.

Coupled with this, general manager Ernie Accorsi finally retired, and was replaced by his assistant, 41-year-old Jerry Reese, only the third African-American to hold a general manager position in NFL history.

And Reese began doing things his way by releasing four veterans -- LT Luke Petitgout, SLB LaVar Arrington, WLB Carlos Emmons and KR-RB Chad Morton. The only question is whether Coughlin had anything to do with those decisions; the tempting answer is that no, he didn't -- that he was informed rather than consulted.

The Giants are facing several key decisions. First of all, they lost RB Tiki Barber to retirement, and will have to decide almost immediately whether two-year veteran Brandon Jacobs has enough to replace him as a full-time feature back. If not, there isn't anyone else, and that position will become a priority in the free agent market as well as the draft.

Then there is the vacancy created by the release of Petitgout. At the moment, LG David Diehl is going to move over to LT, which will put reserve G-C Rich Seubert at starting LG.

But Diehl is a journeyman with stamina. He hasn't missed a start in the 64 games he has played since his rookie year. If something better comes along in free agency (like Arizona's Leonard Davis), he might get to keep his LG job. The Giants hold the 20th slot in the draft, and no worth left tackle is expected to be there; it is a sparse collection this year at that position.

Another decision seems to revolve around the defensive line, where the ends are fine but the tackles came up lacking last season. A quality run-stopper might, in fact, become the team's first-round focus.

It is safe to assume that running back defensive tackle and offensive tackle will be the three positions the Giants will be most anxious to improve, either by signing a free agent or in the draft. Buffalo CB Nate Clements is going to be on the market, and the Giants would love to sign him. With the recent cuts of veteran salaries, they may indeed have the cash to do so.

Their top three needs, in order, are:

1. Defensive tackle -- The four-man rotation system didn't exactly work, since rookie Barry Cofield and veteran Fred Robbins were the starters and the other two -- William Joseph and Jonas Seawright -- played so badly the two starters had to play most of the time. There are a few defensive tackles who should be available in the first round, namely DeMarcus Tyler of North Carolina State and Adam Carriker of Nebraska (though he's more of an end in a 4-3 defense).

2. Offensive tackle -- The loss of Petitgout, who was on a Pro Bowl track the first half of the season until he fell to a fractured fibula in Week Nine, will either open the door for Diehl or create the need for a first-round pick. That's a pity, since the only quality tackles in this year's draft are Joe Thomas of Wisconsin and Levi Brown of Penn State, and they'll go well before the Giants pick. So the Giants will have to look in the second and/or third round here.

3. Running back -- If it is determined that the 6-4, 265-pound Jacobs has what it takes, there is no problem. The need then is merely for a quality backup -- which again the Giants appear to lack. But if one of the top running backs suddenly becomes available in the 20th slot -- Marshawn Lynch of California, for instance -- the decision becomes somewhat more complicated.

MEDICAL WATCH -- WR Amani Toomer (knee surgery) is said to be rehabbing well and should be ready for minicamp, if not the optional off-season workout and conditioning program. But Toomer is going to be 33 when the season opens.

Promising DE Justin Tuck, just in his second year, suffered a foot injury and missed 10 games as well as the playoff game. DE Michael Strahan, the six-time Pro Bowl veteran, suffered a torn ligament in his foot and might be questionable for the start of pre-season activities. Other injuries, more minor, do not figure, but two other serious problems were expunged by the release of Petitgout (fractured fibula) and Arrington (ruptured Achilles tendon).

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--OT Steve Edwards was a late-season fill-in, has some size and ability, but won't be mourned if he moves on.

--K Jay Feely is technically an unrestricted free agent, although he had a four-year contract and has played only two seasons with the Giants. He had the right to opt out after the second year, which he did, and the thought is that he wants to stay with the team but will insist on renegotiating his contract for the next two (or longer) seasons.

--LS Ryan Kuehl has been around for a while (he's a 10-year veteran) and while he is consistent, he might be too expensive for what he does.

--C Shaun O'Hara is a quality performer and young enough to play for a while, but his reported demands (four years at $3 million a year plus a signing bonus of $10 million) might price him out of the Giants' picture.

--OT Lewis Kelly has never really played, has been hurt and may not be offered a contract.

--G-C Grey Ruegamer is a useful reserve. Better than a journeyman, but not someone you'd like to have to start. He may be kept since he won't be all that expensive.

--TE Visanthe Shiancoe was a reach as a third-round draft pick out of Morgan State (Md.), and while he has developed into a capable blocker he doesn't have the spark and if he doesn't accept a reasonable offer he's gone.

--WLB Brandon Short played well in a fill-in role, then started at the end of the season and seems to have enough to play a few more years. Much will depend on his demands.

--CB Frank Walker plays out of control, commits foolish penalties and is almost certainly gone, probably without the offer of a contract. RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--SLB Reggie Torbor is another who the Giants would like to keep. He has had some chances to start but didn't impress. Still he has size and speed and now some experience, too.

--RB Derrick Ward can't seem to stay healthy, has not made an impact in any of his three seasons and might not be tendered.

--WR Darius Watts is not going to cause anyone to lose sleep if he leaves, but with size and speed the Giants would try a minimal offer to keep him.

--SS Gibril Wilson would be a tough loss. He hits hard, can go to the ball and when healthy is a quality safety. He'll get an offer that will keep him on the roster. PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: None.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: None.

PLAYERS LOST

--SLB LaVar Arrington (released).

--RB Tiki Barber (retired).

--WLB Carlos Emmons (released).

--KR-RB Chad Morton (released).

--OT Luke Petitgout (released).

--OT Bob Whitfield (retired).

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