New York Giants: 4 Potential Unsung Heroes as Rush Toward Postseason Begins
Al Bello/Getty Images
The New York Giants are an established football team with two Super Bowl championships in the past five seasons. Many of the squad’s superstars have become household names, as leaders like quarterback Eli Manning and defensive end Justin Tuck have valiantly paved the way into the playoffs time after time.
All too often, however, the lesser-known, dirty jobs go unnoticed or underappreciated. Those who perform these duties can be overlooked for entire seasons, never receiving an ounce of their due credit.
As Manning, Tuck and the rest of the Giants make a final push toward the postseason, New York needs its role players to step up accordingly. The role player who proves to be most valuable to the team’s success will be the Giants’ unsung hero.
In July, I named offensive lineman Kevin Boothe as New York’s unsung hero for the 2011 Super Bowl season. This article will highlight four potential recipients for the 2012 season.
RB Kregg Lumpkin
RB Kregg Lumpkin could make a difference on third downs.
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
When the Giants hosted several free-agent running backs for a workout in late November, Kregg Lumpkin’s name was not one that turned many heads.
However, along with former Redskin Ryan Torain, Lumpkin grabbed the attention of the coaching staff during his tryout, earning himself a roster spot when Andre Brown was placed on injured reserve.
Lumpkin’s career statistics before this season were not jaw dropping. His 2011 season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was by far his most productive, as Lumpkin rushed for 105 yards on 31 carries and added 291 receiving yards on 41 catches.
In Week 13 versus Washington, Lumpkin’s first game in Giants blue, New York fans caught a glimpse of what the newly acquired back will provide for the shaky offense. Although Lumpkin did not record a touch while splitting an incredibly limited amount of playing time with rookie David Wilson, I likened his style of play to that of reliable ex-Giants running back D.J. Ware.
Similar to Ware, Lumpkin played primarily in passing situations, illustrating his ability as both a pass catcher and protector. As Bradshaw eventually wears down—he won’t be able to handle 20-plus carries on a weekly basis—the Giants will have to start relying on another back.
With Wilson struggling, Lumpkin could run away with the opportunity before him.
WR Domenik Hixon
WR Domenik Hixon may get involved in the return game.
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
For many ailing Giants, the late bye week provided some crucial resting time. But for wide receiver Domenik Hixon, the Week 11 bye was not enough time to fully recover from an ankle injury that has bothered him since the Cincinnati Bengals game. Hixon was inactive in each of the team's past two games.
In his absence, rookie Rueben Randle has emerged as the team’s third wideout. Randle, the Giants’ second-round draft pick, has more upside than Hixon, and it makes more sense for him to remain in the lineup moving forward.
However, even though Randle has usurped the majority of Hixon’s duties, the veteran receiver will still have a presence in the Giants’ game plan.
If Hixon is prepared to gear up for this Sunday’s matchup with the New Orleans Saints, special teams coordinator Tom Quinn says he may be utilized in the return game, especially if Wilson’s role expands on offense (via Jenny Vrentas of The Newark Star-Ledger). As a special teamer, Hixon knows how to provide a spark.
Hixon is both the last Giant to return a punt for a touchdown (Dec. 13, 2009 vs. Philadelphia) and the last Giant to return a kick for a touchdown (Dec. 29, 2007 vs. New England). He has career punt and kick return averages of 10.9 and 24.6 yards, respectively.
In recent years, New York’s return game has been painfully pedestrian, but Hixon has the capability to quickly turn things around.
P Steve Weatherford
P Steve Weatherford needs to cut back on touchbacks.
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
With a considerably “soft” defense and an offense that tends to trade touchdowns in for field goals, the Giants will need to excel in the undervalued aspects of the game over the next month of football.
Punter Steve Weatherford is one special teamer who needs to take his game to the next level as New York tries to fend off its division rivals, Washington and Dallas (both 6-6), in the final quarter of the season.
Weatherford’s leg played a large part in the Giants’ Lombardi pursuit in 2011, but his performance this season has actually improved in multiple categories.
Weatherford has kicked far less in 2012 (43 punts to date) than he did in 2011 (82 punts), but his yards per punt (46.9), longest punt (68) and inside the 20-yard line percentage (32.6 percent) have all improved from a season ago. Still, there’s plenty of room for the punter to improve.
Of Weatherford’s 43 punts this season, six have traveled too far, resulting in a touchback. That number may not sound like much, but it’s a touchback rate of 14 percent. Only Philadelphia’s Matt McBriar is punting with a higher touchback rate (16.7 percent).
Football is a game of inches, and if Weatherford is able to turn a few of those touchbacks into coffin-corner kicks, the Giants will be able to control the field position game more effectively.
OL Kevin Boothe
OL Kevin Boothe hoists the Lombardi Trophy.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Never count out New York’s defending unsung hero, left guard Kevin Boothe. The 320-pounder will rarely wow spectators with a flattening pancake block, but his value to the team supersedes his athletic ability.
Boothe was last year’s unsung hero for his performance off the bench. When a detached retina cut left tackle Will Beatty’s 2011 season short, the Giants’ offensive line had to be reshuffled. Boothe, a versatile backup, landed the starting left guard spot and has held it down ever since.
Boothe has also effectively stepped in at center for New York when starter David Baas was unable to go. At Cornell, Boothe excelled at all four offensive tackle and guard positions, earning All-Ivy League honors three times and All-American honors once.
Boothe has done a good job staying healthy in 2012, but along the Giants’ offensive line, he is one of few. Baas has started every game this season but has been listed on the injury report for each of the past six games. With tackle Sean Locklear now out for the remainder of the season, Beatty and David Diehl will be asked to carry the load on the edges.
If the Giants suffer any more injuries on the offensive line, the team will be forced to rely on Boothe to prevent a total collapse up front. If that ends up being the case, Boothe will be New York’s unsung hero for a second consecutive year.