New York Giants
Issue No. 1: Can Hakeem Nicks capably replace Plaxico Burress as the team's top receiver?
Answer: While Nicks wound up being New York's first-round pick this year, he has a long way to go to prove he can adequately replace Burress.
Lets take a look at what Burress, one of the league's most gifted receivers, brings to the table:
Burress is one of the few receivers in the league that can attract a double team consistently. And for a guy his size, Burress runs very well. Just ask the Philadelphia Eagles defensive coaches how much easier it was to game plan last season against the Giants with Burress out of the lineup.
Burress is almost impossible to cover in the red zone area because he towers over defenders.
Nicks, on the other hand, measured in at shorter than 6-1 at the NFL combine back in February, and he doesn't run nearly as well as Burress.
But what Nicks brings to the table are strong hands and good route running. Some scouts said that on tape he seemed to have a knack of finding open spaces in zone defenses. That will become very important at the professional level since most teams play with the zone scheme.
While no one should read a lot into it this year, Nicks is currently running with the third-team as he tries to learn the Giant offense. Domenik Hixon has been working in Burress' spot with the first-team offense during New York's OTAs.
Finally, can Nicks command double teams? That remains to be seen. Will defenses game plan to stop him? Time will tell.
Issue No. 2: Will Bill Sheridan keep the defense playing at a high level like his predecessor, Steve Spagnuolo?
Answer: There's no doubt that the Giants are loaded in their front-seven. Sheridan, the new defensive coordinator, certainly will have plenty of talent to work with. He gets back a healthy Osi Umenyiora from missing all of 2008 with a knee injury. He'll get versatile DL Chris Canty added to the front-four. And at linebacker, former Falcon Michael Boley gets added as his starter on the weak-side to go along with talented second-round pick Clint Sintim, who is expected to compete for the strong-side job. So, is there any reason why he won't succeed?
Keep in mind that this will be the first time in Sheridan's 25-year coaching career, which goes back to the high school level, that he'll be handing a defensive coordinator role. He'll be calling the plays on a defense which became very aggressive under Spagnuolo. I've always felt that play calling is an art and it making the right calls all the time doesn't happen over night. Not only is making the right call a challenge, using the right personnel packages against offenses is also something that will test Sheridan. So, thinking that he'll have immediate success might not be that realistic. Some might recall that Spagnuolo didn't have immediate success, but that might have been more because he was installing a new defense and it took time for the players to understand it.
The good thing is Sheridan coached the linebackers for the two years Spagnuolo was with the team, so he has a full understanding of the scheme. It's now just a matter of him using the plethora of talent at his disposal in the right way.
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