Depth Definitely a Giant Strength

Those that run some NFL franchises are willing to overlook certain things to keep players in the starting lineup, as the Dallas Cowboys taught us last week with how they handled constant troublemaker Adam "Pacman" Jones' first problem as a Cowboy.

Two weeks earlier, the Giants were unwilling to tolerate a lesser incident involving a more prominent member of their team, the less problematic Plaxico Burress.

How these NFC East rivals handled these off-the-field occurrences is indicative of another difference between the defending Super Bowl champions and the team most prognosticators picked to win the division this season. The Giants are deeper than the Cowboys, who would've been without Jones and injured Terence Newman Sunday against Arizona had they suspended Jones. In fact, the Giants might have more depth than any team in the league.

That's why they were so confident entering their blowout win against Seattle on Oct. 5. Even without Burress, they know they've got receivers who can stretch the field. That's where they're deepest, too, with Burress, Amani Toomer, Domenik Hixon, Steve Smith, Sinorice Moss and Mario Manningham.

Some teams don't have two or three receivers who can consistently make plays. The Giants have five, probably six, if you count Manningham, a first-round talent who slipped to the Giants in the third round of the draft five months ago. And that doesn't even include the man who made arguably the most remarkable catch in Super Bowl history.

David Tyree, a valuable special teams player who might have trouble cracking this receiver rotation, remains on the physically unable to perform list with a knee injury.

"He is coming along well and we will see," coach Tom Coughlin said of Tyree's progress. "We just have to make sure that whenever it occurs, he is ready."

Much like they didn't hesitate to suspend Burress, the Giants can afford to be extra cautious in awaiting Tyree's return because they've got so many talented players at that position. Hixon has been the most pleasant surprise since training camp started. Waived by Denver early last season, the fast, reliable Hixon has moved ahead of Moss and Smith, both second-round picks, into the No. 3 receiver spot during his second season with the Giants.

"He played really well all of preseason," quarterback Eli Manning said of Hixon. "In training camp, he was starting for Plaxico the whole time. He never missed a practice. So he got a lot of reps. He has obviously proven that he can play and deserves to be out there on the field and given some more shots to make some plays."

Manning's various options when he hands off have made the Giants' running game stronger as well.

Between big, bruising Brandon Jacobs, the combination of speed and power possessed by Derrick Ward and the explosiveness and quickness displayed by Ahmad Bradshaw, the Giants can continue wearing down defenses by rotating their running backs throughout games. That substitution system has proven effective throughout the season, they've all remained relatively healthy despite that all three of them missed time due to injuries last season and they've all accepted their roles.

"We are blessed as an organization to have three backs who can come in and do whatever you have to do," Jacobs said. "You don't have D-linemen that can do that, that can come in in the fourth quarter. Nine times out of 10, the guy who's in in the fourth quarter was the guy who started the game in the first quarter. So you just wear them down and get them very tired."

Meanwhile, if Manning is injured, the Giants are better suited to play without him than they were last season. David Carr, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft, is a better quarterback than Anthony Wright, Tim Hasselbeck or Jared Lorenzen. He might not have become the franchise quarterback the Houston Texans thought they chose, but he is talented and experienced enough to keep the Giants' offense operating at a playoff-caliber level if they had to play a couple games without Manning.

That said, the Giants are almost as deep defensively.

Nowhere was their depth more evident than on the defensive line, where they've somehow overcome the retirement of Michael Strahan and the season-ending knee injury to Osi Umenyiora. They're persistently pressuring quarterbacks with Justin Tuck starting in Strahan's spot at left end and Mathias Kiwanuka back up front in Umenyiora's right end position, after an injury-ravaged season at strongside linebacker. And they've got the competent, developing Dave Tollefson and two former first-round picks, Renaldo Wynn and Jerome McDougle, playing behind them.

Also, Chase Blackburn and Zak DeOssie are solid backups to middle linebacker Antonio Pierce and strongside linebacker Danny Clark, while rookie Bryan Kehl is battling starter Gerris Wilkinson for snaps at weakside linebacker.

"You can see that we play a lot of people," Coughlin said. "And we hope to be able to continue to do that because obviously we bring along the younger guys."

The Giants are exceedingly deep in their defensive backfield as well.

Right cornerback Corey Webster, a second-round pick in 2005, has continued playing at the high level he reached late last season, keeping capable veteran Sam Madison on the bench. Second-year left cornerback Aaron Ross and Webster give the Giants the type of reliable tandem everyone expected Will Allen and Will Peterson to become five years ago. Madison and nickel back Kevin Dockery have played well overall, and they've still got postseason hero R.W. McQuarters and second-round pick Terrell Thomas playing behind them.

Free safety Michael Johnson and strong safety James Butler are being pushed for playing time by first-round pick Kenny Phillips and veteran Sammy Knight, who was expected to start when the Giants signed him during the offseason.

Their unusual depth has allowed the Giants to substitute more than most teams, and kept players fresh, a strategy that should pay off as the season continues.

Even if they have to suspend a star or two along the way.

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