The game of football is far from a static one. Rather than consisting of players and teams that consistently perform in the same manner year after year, those who participate in the NFL demonstrate a dynamic that may be greater than that of any other sport.
Every year during training camp, players are given the opportunity to improve themselves in their weakest areas, thereby allowing those who put in the work to dramatically improve both their personal success as well as the success of their respective teams.
With that said, I would like to take this time to assess five players from the New York Giants who can significantly impact the team by improving themselves in a specific aspect of their game.
5) Brandon Jacobs: Pass Protection
While Brandon Jacobs is very well known around the NFL for his powerful running style and gargantuan build, one area in which he still needs a great deal of work in is his pass protection.
While being an elite pass protector from the running back position certainly won’t sell many jerseys for you or put you in the pro bowl, being a good pass protecting back is a great way to improve the success of your team.
While Brandon undoubtedly has all of the physical tools to excel in this area, he has not yet developed the form necessary for him to become an above average back in pass protection. This can likely be attributed to his lack of experience, as Jacobs was a backup in college and likely didn’t spend very much time in such a role.
In order to become an elite pass protector, Jacobs will have to learn to create leverage from his stance and shoot his hands into the inside of the pass rusher’s shoulders, thereby neutralizing the momentum of the defender.
If Jacobs is willing to put in the work this offseason, I believe he can greatly improve in this aspect of his game, and significantly help his team in doing so.
4) Aaron Ross: Tackling
Coming into his third season in the NFL, the former Texascornerback has established himself as a solid cover cornerback who excels in man to man coverage. However, despite his physical style of play, Ross still has a lot of work to do in terms of his tackling ability.
Like most young defenders in the NFL, Ross still has a tendency to sometimes wait too heavily for the opportunity to deliver a big hit, thereby increasing the likelihood that he will miss the tackle.
Furthermore, on runs to the outside, he has to improve at getting low on the runner and wrapping him up. By sometimes going too high on a tackle or failing to wrap, running backs can manage to elude or over power Ross, thereby setting up a big run.
If Ross can improve his run defense by working on his tackling ability and shedding the blocks of opposing wide receivers, Ross can become an incredibly valuable asset to this football team.
3) Madison Hedgecock: Receiving
In 2008, Madison Hedgecock established him self as one of the best run blocking fullbacks in the NFL. Through his brutal bulldozer like blocks, Hedgecock went from being a fringe player to a pro bowl caliber talent in less than a year.
However, while Hedgecock’s blocking is already as good as it gets, he still has ways to go in terms of his receiving. While Tom Coughlin seldom uses his fullbacks as runners in his offense, he does sometimes use the fullback as an extra receiver, thereby forcing the defense to expand their coverage at the expense of their pass rush.
This technique has proven to be especially effective against Dallas, as their 3-4 defense is so centered around the outside pass rush that there is often no defender available to pick up the fullback is he curls out to the outside.
While Hedgecock is capable of making simple receptions, he still has much work to do as a receiver. His route running is still raw at best, and his hands are far from consistent. If Hedgecock can devote a serious amount of time this offseason to improving his receiving ability, he can become a serious weapon for the New York Giants in 2009.
2) Steve Smith: Big- Play Ability
While this particular aspect of football is far less tangible than those previously mentioned, it is undoubtedly vital towards the success of the New York Giants.
Due to the turbulence that has led to the release of Plaxico Burress and the ambiguous status of aging veteran Amani Toomer, Steve Smith will likely be forced to step up as the number one receiver for the Giants in 2009.
While thus far in his NFL career Smith has proven himself to be a reliable option in the mid-range passing game, he has been a virtual non-factor as far as the deep-passing game is concerned.
In order for Steve Smith to succeed as a No. 1 receiver for this football team, he will have to learn to beat defenders in man coverage and catch the ball in stride for a long touchdown.
Currently, Smith excels at busting the middle of zones, but he seldom is seen beating his man downfield. If Steve Smith commits the time this offseason towards working with Eli on deep routes and breaking away for yards after the catch, Smith will become a major key to the success of the Giants in 2009.
1) David Diehl: Pass Protection
This last category may come somewhat as a shock to many casual Giants fans who believe that David Diehl is currently an elite left tackle. After all, the Giants’ offensive line has been among the best in the league for the past couple of seasons, so obviously the left tackle must be responsible for much of that, right?
Well actually, this isn’t really true at all.
The fact is, while David Diehl has performed admirably since converting from the guard to the tackle position, the fact remains that Diehl still has much work to do in terms of his pass protection.
In 2007, statisticians assessed Diehl to have allowed more sacks than any single tackle in the league, while in 2008 he infamously was torn apart by Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware during one of their regular season matchups.
While David Diehl is one of the premier run-blocking tackles in the league, his inexperience at the tackle position leaves him a great deal of room to improve in protecting his quarterback’s blindside.
While he has undoubtedly made some tremendous strides in this area, he still needs significant work in getting to the outside to protect against some of the league’s speedier pass rushers.
Unlike a guard, tackles are often required to have quick horizontal movement so that they can cut off the corner when a pass rusher attempts to circle around them.
A guard, on the other hand, can often take advantage of their cramped space to limit the mobility of the larger and slower defensive tackles. In order to improve in his pass protection, Diehl should put a lot of work into moving horizontally and reading the intentions of the opposing pass rusher.
If he learns to cut off the corner against dominant pass rushers like Demarcus Ware, Eli will have all the time in the world to make a pass, as Diehl already has established the strength to neutralize most pure power rushers.
If David Diehl can improve this aspect of his game significantly this offseason, he may be single-handedly responsible for the ring that will be placed on the fingers of each and every one of his teammates at the end of the 2009 football season.
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