With the 2012-13 season just a few months away, the New York Giants are looking to repeat as champions. They know they have a target on their back. They also know they're being over-looked. They lost a few important pieces in the offseason, and have addressed those needs via free agency, the NFL Draft and internally (with the players already on the roster).
I took a look at five players/positions that I feel will be important if the Giants want to repeat. Some guys may be expected by many to be big role players and others could be under the radar. Either way, the Giants are hoping for a group effort to make a return trip to the big game.
Barden leaps for a catch in a game against the New England Patriots.
Ramses Barden was drafted in 2009 with hopes he would become a red-zone target for Eli Manning. He stands at 6'6" and you would think he would have made an impact in the three seasons since he's been drafted.
Well, not so much.
Barden hasn't played more than eight games in a season and has zero, yes zero, touchdown catches in his three seasons. A lot of that is attributed to him not being able to stay on the field.
He's missed the majority of the past three seasons with a broken ankle and ligament damage. He played sparingly last season, partially due to the big three of Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham getting a majority of the workload. Now, all that has changed. Manningham is now a 49er and Hakeem Nicks is recovering from an ankle injury himself. This is the time for Barden to make a name for himself.
He can emerge as a legitimate target for Eli with his size and hands. He gives Eli a target to throw the ball up and let him get it with his 6'6" frame. He clearly has a size advantage over NFL DB's and needs to utilize it if he plans on sticking around much longer. The Giants know he has the talent, they just want to see their big receiver use it.
I feel in this upcoming season, Barden will make his presence felt, just like Cruz did last year. If Eli can find a comfort zone with Barden, I can see Barden being a 6-9 touchdown guy. He has the height and pretty good speed for a guy his size (he ran a 4.61 in the 40 yard dash at the 2009 NFL combine). Let's see if he makes the most of his opportunities this season. The Giants are sure hoping so.
Amukamara chases down Aaron Rodgers in a game against the Green Bay Packers.
The Giants secondary was much maligned last season. Prince Amukamara was one of those casualties.
The day after he signed his rookie contract last season, the 2011 first-round draft pick suffered a broken left foot.
Not a good way to start your NFL career.
Amukamara rehabbed and worked hard to return to the Giants lineup. He made his return in week 11 against the Philadelphia Eagles, and recorded his first ever NFL interception. It was the only one of the season. He did a pretty good job during the limited time he received, but was exposed on a couple of occasions. Rookie mistakes.
Amukamara is healthy coming into the 2012 season, as well as the rest of the Giants' secondary. Prince will need to be a factor in his second NFL season if the Giants hope to contain the likes of Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo.
The Giants' pass rush will lead to a few hurried passes which will help the secondary. With Amukamara, Terrell Thomas and Corey Webster, the Giants are looking to form one of the better secondaries in all of football. If they can stay healthy, the Giants can be a surprisingly stingy defensive team. NFC foes, look out.
Rivers looks to have an immediate impact on the Giants defense this season.
The Giants traded their fifth-round draft pick for linebacker Keith Rivers. Not a bad swap in my opinion.
I liked Rivers coming out of USC, and he had some decent seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. He went from seven games played in his rookie campaign to 15 last season. His numbers improved over the years but not by much. With the Giants' linebackers being nicked up last season, they look to Rivers to provide some stability at the position.
Michael Boley looks to be the starter at middle linebacker, with Mathias Kiwanuka roaming the field as a linebacker/defensive end hybrid. After that, it's pretty much up for the taking.
With young players in Greg Jones, Mark Herzlich, Spencer Paysinger, Clint Sintim, Jacquian Williams and veteran Chase Blackburn all vying for playing time, Rivers looks to separate himself from the rest.
The Giants are young at linebacker which is a good thing for the grand scheme of things. They can learn and grow under Perry Fewell's defense. Rivers has had more time on the field than the other players but is new to the Giants' defensive scheme. If he steps up in training camp and in preseason, look for Rivers to have a big impact on the G-men's defense.
Wilson looks to carry the load that Brandon Jacobs left behind.
Wilson, the 2011 ACC offensive player of the year was the Giants' first-round pick this past draft. He looks to take over the void left behind by Brandon Jacobs. He was regarded as a top-five running back by many scouts and when he fell to the Giants at No. 32, they gladly scooped him up.
It helped fill the hole at the backup running back position and will help ease the workload of Ahmad Bradshaw. At 5'10", 205 lbs, Wilson is a strong runner with speed. He reminds me a bit of Bradshaw. He can run between the tackles and can also bust out the big run.
Wilson and second year back Da'Rel Scott look to split some of the work as the third-down back, with D.J. Ware in the mix as well. Hopefully, Wilson can help the Giants as a dual threat, running the ball and catching out of the backfield. With 363 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns for Virginia Tech, Wilson hopes his college success transfers to the NFL. The Giants are banking on the same as well.
Bear Pascoe scores a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers during the 2012 NFC Championship game.
Jake Ballard, gone. Travis Beckum, injured. With the Giants top two tight ends from last season either gone or injured, they are looking for production from a cast of tight ends.
They signed Martellus Bennett in the offseason with hopes he can be the athletic tight end the Dallas Cowboys drafted in 2008. Problem with that is, he came into OTAs weighing in at 291 pounds, closing in on offensive lineman status. The Giants have one thing in their pocket that they're hoping will change Bennett.
If there's anyone that can snap Bennett into shape and fix his attitude, it's Coughlin. If not, they look for rookie tight end Adrien Robinson and fourth-year tight end Bear Pascoe to help pick up the load.
Pascoe played a role in the Giants' run last season. He scored an important touchdown against the 49ers in the NFC Championship game, as well as four catches for 33 big yards against the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. He was a big part in the running game as well; he opened up a bunch of holes for Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. The Giants are hoping for his postseason success to carry into the 2012-13 season.
Giants GM Jerry Reese was quoted as saying, "We think this guy is kind of a JPP of tight ends."
High praise coming from the GM.
If Robinson can be anywhere near the type of player Jason Pierre-Paul is, then the Giants got a steal at the end of the fourth round. He is a big guy who didn't get many opportunities at Cincinnati, but the Giants feel he is another player with a ton of potential. With the right coaches around him, the Giants may have themselves another x-factor in their quest for a repeat performance.