Giants Need Big-Time WR, Plax or Otherwise

Amazing, isn't it? We are two months removed from the season and four months from the night he decided to bring a pistol into a Manhattan night club, and the main topic surrounding the Giants remains the same.

Plaxico Burress.

Will he be wearing Giants blue or jail-bird orange when training camp rolls around this summer?

Will he be spared jail time from a gun charge when his piece accidentally went off inside the club, piercing Burress' right thigh and placing a more damaging divot in the team's season? Will he be disciplined by the league whether he walks or not? Will he attempt to transform his destructive personality to become a productive member of the team?

As usual with Burress, there are very few answers.

The Giants can make a million roster moves. They can continue to stack their defense. But if they go into the season without Burress or another legitimate No. 1 receiver, the Giants will face the same obstacles they encountered down the stretch this past season.

They might be dominant defensively. But there are no guarantees that will be the case, no matter how many defensive linemen have been added.

The consensus seems to be that Bill Sheridan will provide a seamless transition from departed defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. And as someone who enjoyed an up-close view of Sheridan's work at Army many years ago, I hope he makes fans forget Spags.

But Spagnuolo had a special touch with this defense. He made players better. Similar schemes from Sheridan don't guarantee similar results.

"I don't think anybody can deny that was one of the reasons we had that (Super Bowl) run was because of the dominant play of the D-line,'' Justin Tuck said. "We are trying to get back to that point and I think adding (Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard) definitely has us headed in that direction.''

There will be three different bodies from the 2008 season counting Osi Umenyiora. You can bet Umenyiora will have a special edge after missing all of '08 with a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee. Tuck, too, still has some things to prove, namely that he can get through a season as a starting defensive end without limping to the finish line.

Umenyiora and Tuck are among eight quality defensive linemen. Tom Coughlin can talk all he wants about how such depth will help the Giants. But eight solid linemen? It's hard to imagine a scenario that would give them all satisfactory playing time. The last thing a team wants is to have big-league talent sitting on the bench.

So you have to wonder if the Giants will dangle one or two of them as trade bait or for the purpose of moving up in the draft. Or, and I'm sure it's crossed his mind more than once, Mathias Kiwanuka will make his annual shift between defensive end and linebacker, this time returning to backer.

But the Giants' grand plan always includes Burress as the centerpiece. The easy part would be to cut him loose, let him become somebody else's problem. You can bet a decent percentage of Giants fans would applaud the team for taking a stance against a player continually exhibiting such nonsense.

But it lacks practicality. Burress gives the Giants the best chance of winning another Super Bowl. He would have been kicked to the curb long ago if that weren't the case. So the Giants will eagerly take him back if he can avoid jail. Judging by their comments, teammates have grown weary of Burress' act, and the popular sentiment is that he either follows the straight and narrow or follows the road signs leading out of East Rutherford.

Still, it's hardly a given that Burress will have his legal tangles behind him and receive Roger Goodell's rubber stamp by training camp. If not, Giants fans are looking at a shaky group of receivers: Steve Smith, Domenik Hixon, Sinorice Moss, Mario Manningham and David Tyree.

The wild card is Manningham, who often appeared utterly lost trying to navigate through his rookie season. No less an authority than Eli Manning believes Manningham can be the deep threat the Giants dearly need. Or is Manning, in that robotic delivery of his, trying to convince himself that Manningham can handle such a vital chore? In fact, when asked about a potential deep threat, Manning's indecisiveness was telling.

"I think we have guys who can do that, but we'll see what happens the rest of the offseason and in the draft,'' Manning said. "Maybe we'll add another guy. Some of that is going to depend on Plaxico and what he's going to do.''

Manning took a lot of heat in the season-ending loss to Philadelphia. Folks harped on his struggles in the Giants Stadium wind. But the larger picture tells the story of a quarterback who made strides in his fourth full season as the starter.

Manning cut his interceptions in half, from a career-high 20 to a career-low 10. His quarterback rating of 86.4 was a career best. And if he's so lousy in the wind, how did Manning manage a 7-1 regular-season record and complete 58.4 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and three interceptions at Giants Stadium? Entering the season, Manning was 14-14 as a starter at home with 41 touchdowns, 35 interceptions and a 53.2 completion percentage.

So it's silly for folks to hop back aboard the anti-Eli train. He'll be just fine. And he will be better than fine if he gets to play pitch and catch with a big-time target.

Kevin Gleason covers the Giants for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y.

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