The 2009 season is a pivotal one for the New York Giants.
Was 2008's successful season a fluke? There is only one way to tell, and that will be to watch the G-men this coming season.
Last year was fantastic for the Giants...well, at least the start was.
The Giants finished 12-4, but were bumped in the Divisional round of the playoffs by their hated rivals from Philly.
This year, the Giants will start the season as reigning regular season champs of the NFC and will have to defend their NFC East crown.
But a lot has changed since then.
The offseason seemed bleak at times in New York, as their fans watched big time players such as Derrick Ward, Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer, Sam Madison, R.W. McQuarters, and John Carney go. Reuben Droughns, Grey Ruegamer, and Jerome McDougle will probably be among that list of players who won't be suiting up with the Giants this year.
But there are plenty of positives to come out of this past offseason for the Giants as well.
Michael Boley, Chris Canty, Rocky Bernard, Lee Vickers, C.C. Brown, and Kelvin Smith are notable names that have signed with the Giants. Also joining the squad are Andrew Carnahan, Shaun Bodiford, Allen Patrick, and Tutan Reyes.
The draft was a success for the Giants, as they managed to fill some holes at crucial positions. The highlight of their draft was the stud receiver Hakeem Nicks, who they chose in the first round out of North Carolina. Clint Sintim, William Beatty, Ramses Barden, Travis Beckum, Andre Brown, Rhett Bomar, DeAndre Wright, and Stoney Woodson were their other draftees.
The Giants took another big hit when Steve Spagnuolo, one of the league's greatest defensive minds, opted to take over as head coach of the St. Louis Rams. Linebackers coach Bill Sheridan has been promoted to fill the gap at defensive coordinator.
The quarterback situation is already set for the Giants, unlike for another team that plays in New York.
Eli is the man who will call the shots for the Giants, with David Carr as his trusted backup. Beyond that, Andre' Woodson and Rhett Bomar will have to fight for third-string duties.
Manning was inconsistent in the first couple of years of his career, but last year he looked like a different man. Calm, cool, and clutch, he lead the Giants to one of their best starts in recent memory. Sure, it's a disaster when Eli loses confidence, but he is a spinning image of big-brother Peyton when he finds his rhythm.
Brandon Jacobs will take the thick of the carries for Big Blue. There aren't many guys you could want to be taking hand-offs for your team.
Jacobs is a monster, standing stall at 6'4" and weighing around 264 lbs. He is one of the most physical players in the league, powering his way through linebackers and defensive linemen, making defenses pay for not going at him one hundred percent. He is very swift and quick considering his size, making him one of the most dangerous players in the league.
Think of a piano on wheels, rolling down a steep hill. That's what you are essentially dealing with when you go against "The Baby Rhinoceros."
The departure of Derrick Ward, one of the league's top backups, will open the door for the other backs on the team. Already proven is Ahmad Bradshaw, who will now have the chance to establish himself in the league as Ward did. The search for the new third member of the Giants' three-headed monster has come down to Danny Ware and Andre Brown. Neither has much of a track-record in the NFL, but so far Ware is the favorite.
At fullback, the Giants have Madison Hedgecock, a guy who does not receive nearly the credit he deserves. He is any running back's best friend, leading the way into the hole, taking out defenders left and right. Quarterbacks love him too, being that he excels as a pass blocker. If Hedgecock were to move on to another team, you would probably see a drop-off in the Giants' rushing numbers.
Wide receiver is the position that has caused the most turmoil for the Giants. After multiple trade attempts to bring in a receiver fell through, the Giants decided to turn to the draft to do their wide-out shopping. The draft produced two new Giants' receivers: Hakeem Nicks, who is North Carloina's all-time leading receiver, and Ramses Barden.
The competition looks wide open as of right now, with nearly all of the receivers having an equal shot. The front runners are Nicks, Steve Smith, and Domenik Hixon. Sinorice Moss and David Tyree will also be given plenty of opportunities. Barden and Mario Manningham will probably find their way onto the field as well.
The Giants' tight end situation includes a few young guys who have a lot of potential. Kevin Boss is the clear-cut starter, as he has developed into a pretty good player for the Giants. He is reliable as a receiver and is developing his blocking skills.
Behind Boss is Darcy Johnson, a big blocking tight end who has great hands and is a red-zone threat. Johnson plays mostly in double tight end sets and on special teams. Then there is Travis Beckum, a third round draft choice for the Giants. He is a very good receiving tight end, and is really closer to a wide receiver than an end.
Then there is that fantastic Giants' offensive line.
Lead by center Shaun O'Hara and guard Chris Snee, their O-line is solid. These two are reigning Pro Bowlers, and rightfully so, as they do quite a lot for New York's offense. They are incredible performers and command the attention of their teammates.
Other top-notch offensive linemen on the Giants are guard Rich Seubert and tackles David Diehl and Kareem McKenzie. If any of these guys are injured, tackle William Beatty and guard Kevin Boothe are big, young-gun linemen, and among a group of players that will fill the voids very well.
Now we move to the defense, which is one of the most stacked in the league. The G-men have one of the strongest front sevens of all NFL teams, starting with their defensive line.
Starting at the outside will be Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck. Having a pair of Pro Bowlers as your defensive ends always helps. These guys are enormous, athletic, and powerful compared to other D-ends in the league. They are absolute sacking machines and will make a very dynamic pair in 2009.
Rotating in with both Umenyiora and Tuck is Mathias Kiwanuka, who is another phenomenal young end who would start on most other teams—giving the Giants what is probably the most dangerous trio at defensive end in the entire NFL.
There are other guys like David Tollefson, and maybe Chris Canty, who will see looks at D-end as well. But it seems he is being converted to a tackle, and that is where he will start for the Giants. Canty was brought in from Dallas as a big-time playmaker.
Also starting at tackle will be Rocky Bernard, who was also picked up as a free agent this past offseason. He was very good in Seattle, and looks to continue his success in New York.
In addition, Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield will see some time in the middle, as they were productive as the Giants' starters last year. Jay Alford will also earn some playing time being that he has done good things for his team in the past.
Linebacker is another fairly solid position for New York. They've got Antonio Pierce playing the role of middle linebacker and defensive leader. Built like a tank and and strong as anyone, Pierce forces offenses to work around him. He's a stand-out player and potential Pro Bowler, making him a vital ingredient to his team's success.
Michael Boley joined the squad this past offseason and will an make immediate impact as a starting outside linebacker. He did very well in Atlanta, and will have to continue to do so as he makes his transition to the Meadowlands. The other starter will be Danny Clark. He is a very good player and will have his chances to prove how valuable he is.
Pierce will be the best, followed by Boley and Clark. Other guys who will have to work their way in are Chase Blackburn, Zak DeOssie, and Clint Sintim.
Pierce is the strong, fierce pit-bull type, while Boley is tall, sleek, and athletic. Clark is actually the biggest of the three and plays with an instinctive, hard-hitting style. All of these players' different styles compliment each other giving the Giants balance in their linebacker corps.
Next we have the young and inexperienced defensive backfield. Led by cornerback Corey Webster, the Giants are recovering from losses in the backfield over the past two offseasons. Webster is a great young talent who is a potential Pro Bowler.
Other guys like Aaron Ross, Kevin Dockery, Terrell Thomas, and DeAndre Wright also will be contributing at the cornerback position. Besides Webster, who is going into his fifth season, none of these have more than three years of experience. Alongside Webster, Ross will start, with Dockery backing them up and seeing decent playing time.
At safety, the trend of young DBs continues.
Michael Johnson, who will start as the strong safety, has only two years of NFL experience under his belt. Free safety Kenny Phillips was a rookie last season, but both of these guys appear to be reliable and play a balanced game.
Behind them are C.C. Brown, who was an offseason and addition from Houston, and Steve Cargile. Sha'reff Rashad is also doing well in the Giants' offseason activities, which means he will probably get into the mix. None of the backups have more than four years of experience, but it looks like Brown is a capable defender.
Finally, we have the special teams. Now that the 45-year-old John Carney has been deemed too old to kick, Lawrence Tynes will take over. Tynes, who at times struggles with his accuracy, is favored by the coaching staff because of his strong leg and youth. He is able to kick in swirling winds, a problem they have in the Meadowlands.
The punter is Hall-of-Famer-to-be Jeff Feagles. Although old, it's safe to say that nobody can match his angle-punting skills. He can put the ball where the other team cannot return it every time he punts, which is why he is a perenial Pro Bowler.
Returning the kicks will be Ahmad Bradshaw and Domenik Hixon. Bradshaw will probably handle kickoffs, while Hixon will return mostly punts, but looks to see time on kickoffs, too. Bradshaw has shown that he has big play ability, while we have seen that Hixon can take it the distance on multiple occasions.
One of the best long snappers and special teams players in the league is Zak DeOssie, who will try to make back-to-back Pro Bowls, while in New York. Jay Alford can also handle the long snaps if he is needed.
With a strong offense, indomitable defense, and solid special teams, the G-men look like a well rounded squad.
With all that being said, it looks like the Giants are headed for another fine year.
Expect no less than 10 wins in 2009. Their victory total will probably reach no more than 13 though. They are a legitimate contender to take home the NFC title.
Super Bowl contenders?
They've got the talent to pull it off, and Tom Coughlin has won over the players in the locker room. They have a very realistic chance of winning the NFC East, a tough division nonetheless. All four NFC East teams are very strong, so do not be surprised if the Giants have to settle for a Wild Card berth.
However they get in, the Giants will probably be playing come January. They are less prone to a collapse, unlike say, the Dallas Cowboys, because the Giants have great team chemistry. They have a very optimistic outlook on the 2009 season.
There is a lot skill and potential at each of their positions, which makes the Big Blue Wrecking Crew a team to look for come playoff time.