The New York Giants have thrived on a strong rushing attack behind Brandon Jacobs since the retirement of Tiki Barber, and things will likely stay the same as the 2009 season approaches.
Derrick Ward was lost to free agency, but the Giants still possess a healthy stable of running backs to relieve Jacobs. Ahmad Bradshaw will likely see an increased role, while Danny Ware and rookie Andre Brown will provide relief as well.
Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride relied heavily on off-tackle and counter plays out of the I-formation, utilizing the superior blocking skills of his offensive line and fullback Madison Hedgecock to open up holes for Jacobs last season.
That recipe for success will likely remain the same, but with their rushing and receiving threat and Ward gone, their secondary attack is still unknown.
In mostly garbage minutes with the Giants last season, Bradshaw failed to live up to the hype after a strong close to his rookie season. Bradshaw has proven to be a strong runner in between the tackles and his extra gear has enabled him to turn nothing into extremely long gains on more than one occasion.
Bradshaw will most likely be used in the shotgun formation, much like Ward was this past season. It remains to be seen whether Bradshaw can repeat the success that Ward experienced, especially in the passing game.
If Bradshaw gets off to a slow start, both Danny Ware and Andre Brown may get looks, but right now they will strictly be in a reserve role.
In terms of the passing game, the Giants sorely missed the downfield threat of Plaxico Burress during the stretch run last season. General Manager Jerry Reese drafted Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden in the draft in hopes of stabilizing his receiving core, but the Giants will enter the season with a largely unproven group.
Hakeem Nicks and Domenik Hixon remain the two best bets for the role of downfield threat, but Nicks lacks elite speed and Hixon suffered through inconsistent hands late last year. Mario Manningham, a big-play receiver at Michigan, could also see an increased role.
With the lack of a proven downfield threat, however, the Giants may resort to a more intermediate passing game. Steve Smith is one of the best slot receivers in the league in just his third season, and the aforementioned Nicks comes in as a very polished route runner with a strong set of hands.
Opposing defenses will almost assuredly load of the box and force Manning and his young group of wideouts to beat them through the air, so the running game may suffer early. The Giants wide receivers will need to prove themselves to really open up the Giants running game.
However, if one word were to sum up head coach Tom Coughlin, it would be stubborn. Coughlin loves to pound the ball, and with horses like Jacobs, Bradshaw and Ware, he will have the ammunition to due so.
Last season, the Baltimore Ravens put eight men in the box on every down versus the Giants, and it didn't matter. The Giants still racked up 207 yards on the ground, despite Baltimore's efforts to slow them down.
Look for much of the same from New York early in the season, until they find a wide receiver who can routinely get down the field.