The key to the entire Giants offense remains in the somewhat shaky hands of Eli Manning. New GM Jerry Reese felt confident enough in Manning's abilities that he extended the QB, who was the top overall pick in 2004, for three more seasons. There's no doubt the Giants have plenty of offensive weapons to whom Manning can throw, but the offense certainly will miss the franchise's all-time greatest running back. Tiki Barber has retired and now works for NBC, where he can regularly bash Tom Coughlin, among his other duties.
In Barber's stead the Giants plan to utilize a tag-team of Brandon Jacobs and Reuben Droughns, acquired this offseason for disappointing receiver Tim Carter. The jury is still out on Jacobs, who the Giants believe can be an every-down back. However, Jacobs' high running style and propensity to get nicked up are among the reasons Big Blue added Droughns to the mix. The club obviously wasn't totally pleased with fullback Jim Finn – as signing Houston's Vonta Leach to an offer sheet would attest – but for now they're stuck with Finn after the Texans matched New York's offer.
Another question mark surrounds the offensive line. While they re-signed center Shaun O'Hara and have Pro Bowl alternate Chris Snee holding down right guard, Reese inexplicably released left tackle Luke Petitgout, who is now set to start in Tampa Bay. The current plan is to have David Diehl move out to left tackle and insert Rich Seubert at Diehl's left guard spot.
The receiving triumvirate of Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer and Jeremy Shockey is above-average and if second-year man Sinorice Moss can contribute, the Giants might boast one of the game's better groups of pass-catchers.
New York came to terms with veteran QB Anthony Wright to back up Manning with second-year player Jared Lorenzen expected to hold off Tim Hasselbeck in training camp for the third spot.
"Anthony is a veteran quarterback who has led his team into the playoffs as the number two guy," Reese said. "He is respected around the league by coaches and his peers. He was really impressive with his quick release and accuracy in our workout. Obviously this will boost the competition for the second and third quarterback spots during training camp."
New York's strength and depth has them considering moving '06 top pick Mathias Kiwanuka from DE to outside linebacker. With Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora backed up by promising Justin Tuck, new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo can afford to tinker with Kiwanuka at backer. The DTs – Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield, a rookie last season – wore down later in the year and received no help from former first-round pick William Joseph, who is unlikely to make it out of training camp. The club is glaringly missing a big stud to clog up the middle.
Reese totally cleaned house at linebacker, releasing two former starters – LaVar Arrington and Carlos Emmons – and replacing them with Kawika Mitchell, a free agent from Kansas City that signed a one-year deal and is expected to play on the strong side. Antonio Pierce, who played in his first Pro Bowl last season, mans the middle as well as just about anyone.
New York supposedly fixed its ineffective secondary after the 2005 season, but last year's unit showed more of the same lack of consistency and playmaking as its predecessors. The corner trio of aging Sam Madison, green Corey Webster and solid but not spectacular R.W. McQuarters needs help and the free-agent signing of safety Will Demps looked like a big mistake until very late in the season when Demps started to play better. Strong safety Gibril Wilson is great against the run, not so much when the ball's in the air.
The Giants boast one of the game's all-time best punters in Jeff Feagles, who returns for a 20th season. He still can punt directionally as well as anyone. The free-agent loss of kicker Jay Feely leaves a gaping hole the club hopes to fill with youthful Josh Huston, who will be given the first crack at the job. If Huston fails, look for New York to go after whatever veteran is available. The two-year Chad Morton experiment as a return specialist failed miserably so the Giants are hopeful that someone out of the trio of Sinorice Moss, R.W. McQuarters and Michael Jennings can handle those duties. The club re-signed long-snapper Ryan Kuehl, who's one of the best in the game.
After lengthy consideration, Giants ownership decided to give Tom Coughlin one more season, although it was hardly a popular move with the players and fans. Coughlin has little to no personal rapport with his players and micromanages everything, making it tougher for his assistants to fully do their jobs. The defense should benefit from the more aggressive approach of new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who replaces Tim Lewis, who was always slow to adapt to opposing offenses. Kevin Gilbride takes over the play-calling duties from pass-happy John Hufnagel and Chris Palmer comes aboard to work specifically with Eli Manning.
Michael Strahan has been a rock – up until the past couple seasons when various injuries have cost him plenty of playing time. Amani Toomer is coming off season-ending knee surgery and Jeremy Shockey, mostly due to his rugged playing style, usually plays nicked up. New York did a good job of jettisoning injury-prone players such as Tim Carter, Carlos Emmons, Chad Morton and LaVar Arrington.
So much of New York's 2007 success will be based on the performance of Eli Manning, who's going to have to play considerably better after the retirement of Tiki Barber. The offensive line is another question mark, as are the DTs and the entire secondary. There is plenty of talent on this roster, but plenty of holes as well. Another key will be how the players will perform under Tom Coughlin, who's clearly a lame duck at this point. It's tough to see how the Giants can match up with Dallas or Philadelphia this season, but stranger things have happened – like them starting 6-2 last season and stumbling to an 8-8 finish.
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