Giant Battles: Looking at New York's Training Camp Competition
5. What will be your team’s biggest positional battles (veterans vs. emerging youngsters, rookies battling it out to make an impact on the roster) of summer camp?
With Giants training camp fast approaching, let's take a look at four interesting battles for playing time that should unfold in Albany.
1) WIDE RECEIVER
RETURNING STARTERS- No full-time starters return. Domenik Hixon logged eight starts and Steve Smith was not listed as a starter but has seen a starters amount of reps.
LOSSES-Plaxico Burress (Released), Amani Toomer (Unsigned as of May 18)
OTHER RETURNEES-Mario Manningham, Sinorice Moss, David Tyree
NEW FACES-Hakeem Nicks (North Carolina-first round), Ramses Barden (Cal Poly-third round)
TRAINING CAMP STORYLINES-Do Hixon and Smith, those who have seen the most action at wideout, cement their positions, or get beaten out by the talented youngsters? If they retain their positions, who's next in line?
Do rookies Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden burst onto the scene, or wait patiently to earn time?
The smart money is on the Giants giving Hixon and Smith the benefit of the doubt that a full offseason and training camp as Eli Manning's main targets will see this tandem mature into a reliable combination with more big-play capability than they showed down the stretch of the season.
While the Giants struggled to score at times following Burress' suspension, Hixon (43 catches for 596 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Smith (57 catches for 574 yards, 1 touchdown) have both been solid contributors who deserve the opportunity to thrive as starters.
It is likely that the more intriguing training camp battle at receiver will revolve around who emerges as the primary backup, and as the third receiver in multi-receiver sets. This will be an interesting battle, with plenty of candidates eager to fight their way into the rotation.
Entering his fourth season, Sinorice Moss is the most experienced of the second tier of receivers, with 33 catches and 2 touchdowns the past two seasons combined.
However, he has never been able to play himself into a consistent role and with the investment the Giants made in first-round pick Hakeem Nicks, and their possible desire to use the lanky (6'6'') Ramses Barden as a red-zone specialist, Moss could be caught on the wrong side of a numbers game.
Second-year man Mario Manningham had a great career at Michigan but spent his rookie season largely on the inactive list. He is a bit of an unknown quantity at this point but could earn playing time with a solid camp.
One receiver who is a highly known quantity thanks to his Super Bowl heroics is David Tyree, who returns after a year on injured reserve.
Tyree is likely to earn a roster spot due to his special teams ability, but it is hard to envision him earning much time at receiver after a year on the sidelines. But as his Super Bowl performance showed, Tyree can never be counted out.
RETURNING STARTER-Danny Clark
OTHER RETURNEES-Gerris Wilkinson, Chase Blackburn, Bryan Kehl, Jonathan Goff
NEW FACES-Clint Sintim (second round-Virginia)
TRAINING CAMP STORYLINE-Youth vs. Experience.
While 10-year veteran Clark started 15 regular-season games and the playoff loss to Philadelphia, he will have to fight off a slew of younger players if he is to retain his position.
Clark had a solid year in his first season with the Giants, but linebackers playing well into their second decade in the league this side of Lawrence Taylor are rare and this appears to be a position where the Giants could make a change coming out of training camp.
Clark's prime competitors for the position appear to be fourth-year man Gerris Wilkinson, second year man Bryan Kehl, and rookie Clint Sintim.
Wilkinson has been a part-time starter in his first three seasons and has shown flashes, but has been somewhat injury prone. Kehl was highly productive in a limited role in his rookie year, filling up the statsheet with 17 solo tackles, a sack, and an interception in just two starts and some fill-in time of the bench.
The rookie Sintim had a great career at Virginia, highlighted by 11 sacks his senior year, and will at least get a look in camp.
Regardless of who emerges as the starter at strongside linebacker, it appears the Giants have upgraded both the overall linebacking unit.
Combine the signing of Michael Boley to man the weakside with Kehl's likely improvement in his second year, Sintim's potential, and solid veterans like Clark, Wilkinson, and Chase Blackburn still in the fold to fill in or spot start if necessary, and the linebacking corps is very solid.
THIRD RUNNING BACK
LAST SEASON'S No. 3-Ahmad Bradshaw
THIS SEASON'S BATTLE-Danny Ware vs. Andre Brown (N.C. State-fourth round)
Even after his great performance down the stretch of the 2007 season and his newfound cult hero status amongst Giants fans, Ahmad Bradshaw was unable to maintain an increased role in the backfield following Derrick Ward's return from injury.
Relegated to the third string, Bradshaw still saw enough time to log 67 carries and 355 yards last season. With Ward gone to Tampa Bay and the championship-winning one-two punch of Brandon Jacobs and Bradshaw restored, there will be a new battle for the third running back spot this summer.
While this is not as sexy as a starting quarterback battle per se, the third running back does see some time, and is one injury away from stepping into the two-back rotations that the Giants have been employing since Tiki Barber's retirement.
Practice squad graduate Danny Ware has the inside track for the position, but will have to hold off fourth round pick Andre Brown.
Ware had a solid preseason in 2008, rushing for 200 yards on 33 carries to earn a roster spot and dressed for five regular-season games. Ware has been outspoken this offseason about his excitement to compete for more time following Ward's departure, and will be an interesting player to watch in camp.
To earn an increased role, Ware will have to hold off rookie Andre Brown. The early buzz on Brown has been that sharing time in the NC State backfield held back Brown's statistics and thus pushed him down the draft board.
It has been quietly bantered about that Jerry Reese believes that in Brown, he has found another late-round running back steal a la Jacobs and Bradshaw.
PUNT AND KICKOFF RETURNERS
LAST SEASON'S RETURN SPECIALISTS- R.W. McQuarters (Punts), Domenik Hixon (Punts and Kickoffs), Ahmad Bradshaw (Kickoffs), Sinorice Moss (Kickoffs)
LOSSES-R.W. McQuarters (Unsigned as of May 18)
TRAINING CAMP STORYLINE-Any non-starters here know how to return kicks?
While Domenik Hixon and Ahmad Bradshaw are still on the roster, head coach Tom Coughlin has previously preferred to avoid using starters as return specialists if possible. With Hixon a probable starter and Bradshaw due for more time, the Giants will likely be looking for some new return specialists this summer.
Considering the Giants failed to score one touchdown last season in the return game, this should be a good thing.
In past seasons, the Giants have used several returners with nickelback R.W. McQuarters the primary punt returner before giving way to Hixon, and a rotating cast of backup running backs and receivers at kickoff returner.
Looking ahead to this year's return game is quite a mystery that will not be cracked until well into training camp. As of now, it's all hands on deck amongst backup receivers and running backs for these positions.
According to the Newark Star-Ledger, candidates at punt returner include receivers Hixon, Mario Manningham, Sinorice Moss, rookie Hakeem Nicks, and cornerback Stoney Woodson.
As for the kickoff return position, all backup receivers save for Barden are possibilities, as are the backup running backs Andre Brown and Danny Ware. Throughout the Coughlin era, just about every backup running back has logged some time at kick returner.
This included Ward, Bradshaw, Reuben Droughns, and even Brandon Jacobs (Yes, power-back Brandon Jacobs somehow returned 5 kickoffs in '05 and '06).
While the return positions are certainly up for grabs, one thing is certain: There are clear opportunities for players to emerge and improve the Giants mediocre return game.
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