The New York Giants will enter the 2009 season with high expectations. Certain areas of the team, such as the offensive and defensive lines, are considered among the best in the league. Other areas, however, are unproven and will be the focus of training camp as the Giants begin their campaign towards another Super Bowl appearance.
While the New York defense has been the identity of the team for the past few seasons, its linebacking core has been the clear weak point of an otherwise dominating unit. Antonio Pierce isn't getting any younger, but both Chase Blackburn and Jonathan Goff are inferior players and Pierce will man the middle and remain the captain of the defense.
At weak-side linebacker, Michael Boley was signed to a five-year deal and presents an immediate upgrade to a position that was split between Gerris Wilkinson, Bryan Kehl and Blackburn last season. Boley's speed and athleticism should help him thrive in the Giants' 4-3 scheme.
The strong-side spot is where the competition will be fierce when camp opens. Veteran Danny Clark is back after starting last season, but GM Jerry Reese drafted Clint Sintim out of the University of Virginia in the second round to bring some competition to the position.
Sintim played in a 3-4 scheme in college, and comes in as a phenomenal blitzer off the edge. There are concerns about Sintim's coverage abilities, but he should be another weapon to the Giants' blitzing attack immediately, even if he does not win the starting job outright in camp.
The wide receiver position presents the biggest battle, and not just between two players, but between every wide receiver on the Giants roster. Plaxico Burress was released and Amani Toomer was not re-signed, leaving the Giants without many proven commodities.
Steve Smith will enter his third season, and is the most reliable option that the Giants have. Smith lacks great size however, and is most effective when playing in the slot when he can use his superior route-running to pick apart defenses. As of right now, he is penciled in as one of the starters.
Battling for the second and third spots will be a plethora of young and unproven talent. David Tyree will return from a knee injury that sidelined him for all of last season, but the Super Bowl hero has mainly been a special teams ace in his time with New York. The diminutive Sinorice Moss has never lived up to his potential, although last season represented his best effort thus far.
Mario Manningham will try to separate himself from the pack after a quiet rookie year. The Michigan product excelled at getting down the field in college, a quality that the Giants sorely need after the release of Burress.
Domenik Hixon made his mark as a return man for the Giants, and was forced into a starter's role when Burress went down last year. He demonstrated the ability to get open deep and to catch the ball over the middle, but inconsistency plagued his game, especially down the stretch.
Sensing a major hole in their offense, the Giants also drafted Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden in the draft. Nicks, their first-round selection, comes in as a polished player, but is lacking speed and height. His superior route-running and excellent hands should make him a candidate to contribute immediately. Both the Giants and their fans are counting on Nix to excel quickly.
At 6'6", Ramses Barden is a massive target and the team hopes he will at the very least prove to be a valuable weapon in the red zone. Barden played his college ball at Cal-Poly in the FCS, and is a very raw prospect at this stage. He should find himself on the roster due to his unique skill set.
While these receivers are on the team at the present time, there can always be changes. Jerry Reese was quiet during free agency as he didn't even get in the race for T.J. Houshmandzadeh, but in the weeks leading up to the draft the Giants were connected in trade talks for both Anquan Boldin and Braylon Edwards.
Boldin remains a longshot due to contract demands, but Edwards hasn't been quiet about his desire to get out of Cleveland and move to New York. Cleveland wants more than New York is willing to give—for now. It wouldn't be a surprise to see a deal go down before the start of the season, especially considering that Edwards is entering a contract year and almost certainly will not re-sign with the Browns.
Look for Sintim and Clark to begin the year as co-starters at strong-side linebacker, with Sintim coming in mostly for passing situations where his skills can be utilized. It looks like the fans may have a wait-and-see approach at the wide receiver position. The possibility of a trade remains high, but if nothing manifests than it may be up to Hakeem Nicks to step into the spotlight early in his career.