Its getting close to that time of year—football season.
Prior to the start of each year, teams gather in the heat of August to begin their preparations for the coming season.
After such an exciting offseason for the Giants and their fans, training camp is sure to draw a ton of interest.
Before getting into the pivotal aspects of camp itself, let's examine some spring trends which need to continue.
Moss steps up
Reports out of just about everywhere reflected that Sinorice Moss was doing fantastically at mini-camp. If this trend continues, he is sure to become a serious threat to go deep every time he is on the field.
Pierce back to old form
With Bill Sheridan taking over the defensive play calls, it will be up to middle linebacker Antonio Pierce to maintain a feel for the flow of the game.
He will need to make the right audibles in order to put Big Blue's star-studded defense in a position to make a play.
Eli doing his Peyton impression
Now that the egos have been cleared out and Eli is able to work with his receivers on a more consistent basis, he is one happy camper.
Eli can now simply read and react, as he has a great relationship with his receivers. As talented as Plaxico Burress was, he was rarely on the same page as Eli was—resulting in a ton of intercepted balls intended for Burress.
With the speed New York has, Eli will have to make less reads and rely on his speedsters to simply go long or make a play after the catch.
The Key positional Battles
Wide Receiver: The beginning of a new era
Since Eli Manning’s arrival in New York, it has been nearly a foregone conclusion that Amani Toomer and Plaxico Burress would lined up at the receiver position.
Those days are over.
With Toomer unsigned and Burress facing jail time, there is an open competition at the position.
One thing is for sure when it comes to the New York receiving core—they are young. The elder statesman is David Tyree at age 28 (seven years pro), and the next longest tenured receiver is Sinorice Moss, who is entering his fourth season.
Moss was not too shabby in limited duty in 2008, catching 12 out of 12 passes thrown his way. The 5’8” speed demon does bring an intriguing skill set to the table, as he can certainly stretch the field.
Every time Moss has stepped foot onto the field in his career, the corner has lined up ten or more yards off of him, fearing his ability to get down the field. With a strong camp showing, he could end up as high as third on the depth chart.
Mario Manningham, the second year player out of Michigan, is a player the Giants hold in very high regard.
When asked about how the Giants’ passing game would compensate for the loss of deep threat Plaxico Burress, Eli Manning stated, “I think we’re hoping Mario Manningham can do that for us and be one of those guys who has speed and can run and make those deep catches."
Manningham was an electric playmaker at Michigan, averaging over 17 yards per reception, and could be a candidate for one of the two starting slots.
Steve Smith, the third year player out of USC, is undoubtedly the leader of the receiving core for New York as of now.
Smith’s cat-like quickness, coupled with his superior route running, give him the potential to be a Marvin Harrison-like target in terms of reliability and clutch play.
I fully expect Smith to be an every down player, starting out wide while moving into the slot in three wide receiver sets.
Hixon’s lack of reliability late in the season in 2008 may cause him to lose playing time in favor of younger players whom the organization believes have a higher ceiling.
This may prove to be a good move for all parties, as it allows Hixon to focus on kick return duties while younger, more dynamic receivers like Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks get the majority of the snaps out wide.
The rookies, Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden, may very well be the most interesting pieces to the puzzle that is the New York Giants receiver position.
Nicks was selected in the first round for his big play ability and knowledge of the pro-style game, and both are assets that Big Blue’s receiving core could use immediately.
The last of the receivers is David Tyree, the seventh year man out of Sryacuse. Tyree will secure his usual place as a special teams ace, but his sneaky reliability as a receiver may incline the coaching staff to move him as high as third on the depth chart.
I envision Hixon and Smith in starting roles, with Moss in the slot and Nicks seeing a lot of time as the No. 4 guy—as well as a major go-to guy in the red zone.
Furthermore, I believe that Manningham will take over as the primary returner, which
will give him six or seven opportunities a game to show off his skills. This distribution of the workload gives each of New York's playmakers plenty of touches.
Strong Side Linebacker: Will youth trump experience?
One of the most intriguing positions in Big Blue’s front seven is the strong side linebacker position. The outside linebacker position for the Giants has seen little stability in the past few years—Chase Blackburn, Danny Clark, and Bryan Kehl all start at some point in 2008.
The acquisition of Michael Boley should provide some much needed stability at the weak side, but the strong side is still up for grabs.
The candidates to start at the strong side are Danny Clark, Chase Blackburn, Bryan Kehl, and Clint Sintim. Both Kehl and Blackburn are natural weak side linebackers, whose job is typically to run and chase, as opposed to engaging opposing blockers.
This leaves Clint Sintim and Danny Clark as the remaining candidates.
Clark had to make the transition from a 3-4 defense after arriving from Houston, which is something that Sintim will have to do as well. Clark’s experience in making the transition may help the young Sintim do just the same.
I believe that experience is key here, and that Clark may gain the edge because he has just that. Furthermore, there are some red flags concerning Sintim which may limit him early on as he transitions to the NFL.
While playing at Virginia, opponents ran nearly 70 plays directly to Sintim’s side, and he allowed almost 400 yards—a very poor rate. In all fairness to Sintim, he was matched up against right tackles in majority of those cases—a task he won't be asked to do much in the NFL.
On the other hand, Sintim did lead the nation in sacks from the linebacker position in 2008, and possesses a superfluity of pass rush moves and combinations.
Sintim’s pass rush abilities will prove to be an asset to the Giants' defense, and his skill set will eventually help him win the strong side job for good.
But I expect Danny Clark to be penciled in as the week one starter. Sintim has a great chance to steal some playing time early on, though. And if he impresses, he could win the starting job by mid-season.
Final Depth Chart Prediction- Danny Clark, Clint Sintim, Bryan Kehl
Other Key Battles
Second Tight End
Kevin Boss should easily retain his starting job, while new addition Travis Beckum will have his own role as an H-Back.
This leaves Lee Vickers, Michael Matthews, and George Wrighster to battle it out for the second job. Wrighster should give Matthews a run for his money, as he is a three year veteran—coming off his best season yet with 39 receptions.
If Wrighster shows that he has what it takes, he may win the job. Vickers is a solid blocker, but Wrighster is just as good with more upside as a receiver.
With Derrick Ward out of the picture, the opportunity is wide open for one of the younger backs to get the lion’s share of the carries after Jacobs.
Ahmad Bradshaw showed everyone his big play ability down the stretch in the 2007 season, but struggled in 2008. After spending some time in jail, Bradshaw gained weight and developed a fumbling problem—propelling him to Tom Coughlin’s dog house.
Former Georgia running back Danny Ware has a lot of fans excited about his big play ability, and he will really give Bradshaw a run for him money. One fumble here or there could decide this battle.
Lastly, don’t count out the new guy: Andre Brown. Brown has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and is very tough in short yardage situations, so he is also breathing down Bradshaw’s neck.
Nothing will be handed out at this position, but the job is Bradshaw’s to lose.
The myriad of skill sets at this position, coupled with the big play ability, offer even more flexibility to an already flexible offense.
In mini camp, Tom Coughlin articulated his message well, telling the team to use last January's demise as motivation.
If the Giants can take his message to heart, they will be able to make enough plays to put themselves in the position they need to be in come January. Let's hope Tom continues to drill this message throughout camp.