Eastern Front: Giants Like D's Potentential

The Eastern Front 05.28.06--In New York and Dallas, the focus is on building a championship defense. The Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware is looking to contribute a lot more in the way of big plays and the Giants eagerly anticipate the additions of LaVar Arrington and Sam Madison.

New York Giants

Hot Topic

For decades, the Giants have been known for their linebackers, from the days of Sam Huff and Harland Svare through Brad Van Pelt and Harry Carson to Lawrence Taylor and Carl Banks, the team has been "Linebacker Graduate School."

Now it appears that Giants linebackers are making a strong comeback. The starters now figure to be Antonio Pierce in the middle, LaVar Arrington (signed as a free agent from Washington) on the strong side and Carlos Emmons on the weak side.

Backups will include Chase Blackburn (middle), Reggie Torbor (strong side), converted defensive end Eric Moore, first-round draft pick Mathias Kiwanuka (a defensive end with decided strongside potential, according the coaches), third-round pick Gerris Wilkinson and a good-looking free agent rookie named Nick McNeil.

"You win with defense," coach Tom Coughlin has pronounced.

The Giants also have -- and this might sound like an afterthought but it isn't -- a pair of Pro Bowl defensive ends in Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora, a few nose tackles/defensive tackles to choose from, including William Joseph, Fred Robbins and fourth-round draft pick Barry Cofield; a former Pro Bowl cornerback in Sam Madison (a free agent from Miami), free safety Will Demps (a free agent from Baltimore), cornerback R.W. McQuarters (a free agent from Detroit), returning strong safety Gibril Wilson, and returning cornerback Corey Webster, last year's second-round pick.

All the potential of the defensive unit is enough to make coordinator Tim Lewis rest comfortably in his down quilts at night.

The NFC East, which includes the Giants, Eagles, Cowboys and Redskins, is considered perhaps the strongest division in the NFL. Yet with the additions made by general manager Ernie Accorsi (and some of the subtractions, which might prove to be additions), it would appear the Giants have managed to stay ahead of the pack.

They won the NFC East last year at 11-5, a five-game improvement from 2005.

If they win it again, it seems they'll do it with a solid defense anchored by a fierce set of linebackers.

Just like the old days.

Player Notes

--The expected ax fell on CB Will Peterson when he was released May 25. Peterson has been bothered by back troubles since last season, and his contract was terminated with the designation failed physical.

--Third-round draft pick LB Gerris Wilkinson played for Georgia Tech against Miami two days after his mother died last season. "We're from California," he said, "and my entire family told me that what she would have wanted most was for me to play." He did, and Georgia Tech upset the Hurricanes 14-10.

--Former George Mason basketball star Jai Lewis was signed as a rookie free agent and placed at offensive tackle. He's 6-7 and 290 pounds. "I played high school football and a few big schools offered me scholarships," including North Carolina and Wake Forest, he said. "Now I'm happy to get the chance again."

--LB Gerris Wilkinson almost had fourth-round pick DT Barry Cofield as a college teammate. "I had choices like Notre Dame, Northwestern, Ohio State and Georgia Tech," Cofield said. "I picked Northwestern, but Georgia Tech was second."

--Second-round pick WR Sinorice Moss (University of Miami) said that since he's been drafted he has received advice from Giants' TE Jeremy Shockey, a known loose cannon. "He's telling me what to do and what not to do," said the younger brother of Santana Moss (Redskins). "I'm thinking I won't do most of the things he said I can do."

Dallas Cowboys

Hot Topic

Picked 11th overall in last year's draft by the Cowboys was not a dream come true for linebacker DeMarcus Ware.

Rather, it was like hitting the lottery.

Ware was overlooked coming out of high school, forcing him to play football at Troy University. Though he was an immediate contributor who improved every year, he didn't expect rise as high as he did in the NFL draft.

He was considered a mid- to late-round pick before his senior year but rose because of his work at the scouting combine and the Senior Bowl.

Ware lived up to expectations as a rookie, tying for the team lead in sacks with eight and earning all-rookie honors.

Still somewhat overwhelmed, Ware said he's ready to take the next step, from hitting the jackpot as rookie to providing a bounty of sacks and big plays for the Cowboys.

"In looking back, it's still kind of overwhelming," Ware said. "Everything I went through, where I came from. It was like hitting the lottery."

Ware did hit the lottery contract-wise, getting $13 million over five years, with $10 million guaranteed.

However, he knows he can't rest on his laurels and that more work needs to be done.

The Cowboys took a step toward helping Ware get better in 2006 by drafting Ohio State linebacker Bobby Carpenter to play opposite him.

The hard-nosed Carpenter can do it all -- rush, stop the run and play pass defense -- and should be a perfect complement to Ware.

But Ware plans to do his part. His focus is on building on his rookie year and becoming a consistent dominating force for the Cowboys.

After notching eight sacks last year, Ware's goal is to get 15 in 2006.

"I have been working all off-season," Ware said.

"I have gained weight. But mainly I have studied. I have learned formations. I have watched what I did wrong last year. I want to be more instinctive so I can just play without thinking."

Ware said he was purely a speed rusher last year. This year he will use his hands more and do other things to add to his pass-rush arsenal.

"Anybody can stop speed, just cut off," Ware said. "I need to do stuff to counter that."

Player Notes

--Former Cowboys quarterback Quincy Carter still has not recovered from his departure from the Cowboys. Carter was released by the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League less than two weeks into training camp. Carter was trying to revive is career after sitting out last season. He played with the Jets in 2004 after being released by the Cowboys in training camp.

--The Cowboys have not signed former South Carolina running back Demetrius Summers but they did like what the saw from him in the rookie mini-camp, so much so that they are inviting him back to the veteran mini-camp June 2-4 for another tryout.

If Summers shows well, he will likely be offered a contract for training camp

Philadelphia Eagles

Hot Topic

The scar from the gunshot wound runs down Jerome McDougle's stomach. Framing it are the words: "True Story."

"You go through something life-changing like that, it's something besides the scar to remind me of what I went through," said the Eagles defensive end, who missed all of last season after getting shot in the abdomen during a robbery attempt right before training camp. "Everybody loves a story. Everybody has a story. You tell people what you've been through, and they're like, `For real?' Yeah, true story. For real."

McDougle was shot the night before he was scheduled to fly to training camp from his south Florida home. He recovered, but in mid-October, the day he was supposed to return to the practice field, he underwent emergency surgery for a hernia caused by scar tissue and adhesions from the gunshot, ending his season.

The Eagles had high hopes for McDougle when they drafted him in 2003. They traded up 15 spots in the first round to select him with the 15th overall pick. But he has often been injured, playing in just 19 regular-season games the past three years. He has just two career sacks and 29 tackles.

Coach Andy Reid can't afford to wait for McDougle to finally stay healthy and live up to first-round expectations. He went out and signed free-agent defensive end Darren Howard in the off-season. Anything McDougle gives the Eagles this season will be considered a plus.

But he looked good in mini-camp earlier this month.

"He's made tremendous improvement," defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said. "To me, he was one of the bright spots at mini-camp. He looks like the McDougle we talked about."

McDougle is just happy to be practicing again.

"It feels good to be back in the swing of things," he said. "It feels real good after everything I've been through, to get back out there and get that behind me."

Player Notes

--DT Paul Grasmanis announced his retirement. The 32-year-old Grasmanis has logged 10 NFL seasons, the last six with the Eagles. But Achilles' tendon injuries have limited him to just six games over the last two years. He faced an uphill battle to make the team this summer.

"He was a tough player who gave everything he could possibly give to a football team," coach Andy Reid said. "He played a lot of valuable snaps for us and helped us win a lot of football games."

--The Eagles traded wide receiver Billy McMullen to the Minnesota Vikings for undrafted rookie wide receiver Hank Baskett. McMullen, a third-round pick in the 2003 draft, had been a disappointment, catching 22 passes in three seasons. The Eagles worked out the 6-4, 220-pound Baskett before the draft and were considering signing him, but the Vikings beat them to the punch. "Philadelphia traded a third-round draft pick for me," Baskett said. The Eagles drafted two wide receivers -- Jason Avant (fourth round) and Jeremy Bloom (fifth round), but neither has Baskett's size or leaping ability. They have the option of putting him on the practice squad next season, which they didn't have with McMullen.

Breaking Burgundy Top Stories