Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Another Brick in the Wall: Offensive Line Draft Preview

(This is Part 1 of 5 in a series of articles that will examine some positions of interest for the Giants as they approach this year's draft. Part 1 will take a closer look at one such position: the offensive line.)

The New York Giants' offensive line is one of the team's greatest strengths, and arguably one of the best front five in the NFL. ESPN the Magazine featured a cover story last season suggesting the group was in fact the NFL MVP.

The unit combines quality, cohesion and consistency, boasting two Pro-bowlers in C Shawn O'Hara and G Chris Snee, G Rich Seubert - a solid, athletic veteran - and tackles Kareem McKenzie and David Diehl. All five have started the last 32 consecutive regular season games together, and all five are signed to long-term deals. If any starting unit is set on this team, it's the offensive line.

Someone's about to get trucked...

But it's beyond the starting unit where the offensive line corps begins to come into question. The past few seasons, the Giants have relied on veteran Grey Ruegamer to fill in on the inside while counting on young developmental talents like Kevin Boothe and Guy Whimper to back up the tackle positions. Ruegamer has been a solid six man, and his free agent status only exacerbates the Giants' depth concerns on the line. Whimper and Boothe have seen limited action in reserve duty and goal line situations. Whimper has struggled with injuries and Boothe, a converted guard, has shown that he is just that, often struggling to fend off pass rushers on the edge.

With a deep and talented O-line class, this year's draft presents a good opportunity for Big Blue to invest in their future, and pick up some top-shelf college talent with one of their ten draft picks. Let's take a closer look at some possible candidates and see where they might be available for Jerry Reese and company on draft day.

Top Dogs

It's likely we could see a similar run on OT’s in the first round to last year. The class is deep, and offensive tackles Eugene Monroe, Andre Smith, Jason Smith, Michael Oher and Eben Britton are all projected to go in the first round before the G-men even get on the board with the 29th pick. It’s unlikely the Giants would spend their first round pick on linemen to begin with as, as we’ve seen, the starting unit is in pretty good shape for the immediate future…

(For those who argue that David Diehl (a converted LG) is only a temporary solution at left tackle and the Giants should draft a tackle to replace him, I suggest you get your head examined. The guy is one of the toughest, most hard-working players in the league. He’s never missed a game (and only a handful of practices at that) since he was drafted. In the two years he’s started at left tackle, the offensive line has been dominant. Last year he allowed only 6.5 sacks against the likes of Julius Peppers, Jared Allen, and others. If you exclude DeMarcus Ware, the number’s probably closer to 3. He was second team All-Pro in 2008 (i.e. 2nd best LT in the league). Stop, stop, stop suggesting Diehl is a temporary fix!)

Double D!

More Bricks for the Wall

It’s still very possible though (if not likely) that the Giants could draft an offensive lineman on the first day, from the second round on. The Giants have needs to fill at OT and on the interior of the line in the event Ruegamer does not return. An early to mid-round pick would immediately put a serviceable back-up on the bench and go far towards improving the depth and long-term durability of the unit.

Finding talent at tackle can be a challenge, and that position is arguably of greater need for the Giants right now, as Kevin Boothe could be converted back to a back-up guard. Some names projected to go in the 2nd and 3rd rounds include William Beatty from UConn, Phil Loadholt from Oklahoma, and Jamon Meredith from South Carolina.

Beatty is a great athlete with size and strength. One area in which he could stand to improve is run blocking. Loadholt has a huge frame and is a physical and athletic tackle. He does struggle on occasion against outside rushers and has had a few run-ins with the law. Meredith is an impressive athlete with strength, quick feet and agility for a man of his size. He’s also a smart player, and excels against the pass. The first two are slated to go in the early 2nd round, but Meredith could be available for the Giants at either of their two second round picks.

The Giants could chose to address the interior of the line on the first day as well, and there are some excellent players to choose from. One name being thrown around as a potential first 2nd round pick for Big Blue is Max Unger, Center from Oregon. Unger is a smart player with great awareness, a complete physical skill set, and versatility on the inside of the line. He has the work ethic and competitiveness to fit in on the Giants’ line, and as one fan commented, “He even sounds like a Giant.” Unger could be a solid replacement for Grey Ruegamer if the veteran leaves, and he could also provide the future face at Center for the Giants as Shawn O’Hara isn’t getting any younger.

Oregon Center Max Unger is projected as the top interior lineman in the draft.

Oklahoma Guard Duke Robinson could be another option for the Giants on the first day. Scouting reports list Robinson as a physical, strong lineman with versatility. He gets good leverage against defenders and is a finisher who drives opponents to the turf on every play.

Sleeping Uglies

If the Giants are looking for more O-line help in the later rounds, a couple of names to keep your eyes on are G Greg Isdaner from West Virginia – an athletic, strong player who finishes each play – and T Mike Brown from Mississippi St. He played left tackle in college, but scouts project he will play right tackle or guard in the pros.

Another Brick in the Wall

One way or another, the Giants will be looking to add depth to their offensive line at this year’s draft. Big Blue will be looking to add tough, versatile talent who can contribute right away. For that reason, I strongly suspect the team will go O-line with one of their picks on day one. I also suspect that they will draft at least two linemen before the weekend is out. Max Unger and Jamon Meredith are two players that stand out as good fits at their respective draft positions. We will have to wait and see what draft master Jerry Reese has up his sleeve this year.

Click here for Part 2 in the series: Secondary.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

GSTV Offseason Report #2

New logos, new thoughts, same 'Steps...

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Next 17: the Giants without Plaxico Burress

The Giants began their offseason workout program on Monday. While many did attend, including some of the Giants’ new offseason acquisitions, the expected absence of Plaxico Burress provides fans with another unnecessary reminder that the Giants still face a major conundrum this offeason: who's going to catch the football next year.

After Plaxico Burress's infamous "shot heard 'round the nightclub," the Giants struggled to produce on the same level offensively last season and as a result, made a premature exit from the playoffs. With Burress’s status still unknown as his trial approaches at the end of the month, the Giants have big hole to fill on offense if they want to recover their early-season form of 2008. The Giants need a “number 17.”

The Waiting Game

The outcome of Burress’s trial will be the major factor in deciding how this situation plays out. If Burress avoids jail time and is available to play next season, signs indicate that he will be back. The management and staff publicly have left the door open for Plax’s return, and his teammates have also vocalized their desire to see him back. As big a moron as Burress seems at times, last year revealed just how valuable he is to the Giants. I think if he avoids a prison sentence, he will be back in blue.

That being said, Plax faces an uphill struggle in my opinion. I’m not sure how someone whose unlicensed gun goes off and then falls out of his pants in a public place, as he’s writhing on the ground in the pain, is not guilty of unlawfully carrying a gun. “Did someone else tuck a pistol into your sweatpants, Mr. Burress?” As obvious as the facts might seem, one should never underestimate the power of an expensive lawyer…

But then what?

But let’s assume - as the Giants are - that the Super Bowl XLII hero will not be available. The Giants will need a new number one receiver. Where to find one presents a tricky puzzle.

Four viable solutions stand out for Big Blue to fill number 17’s shoes: 1) Develop the young receivers on the roster to fill the void; 2) Sign a veteran free agent receiver; 3) Select a WR in the early rounds of the draft; 4) Trade for top-flight talent.

The Young Guns

Developing the young talent already on the roster is certainly a priority for the G-men, however it may not be the best solution to the Plaxico problem. Steve Smith, Domenik Hixon, Sinorice Moss, and Mario Manningham - three of whom were college standouts and high draft picks – are all talented young players who have had varying levels of success in their first few seasons in the league.

They will inevitably have to step up next season, regardless of what happens to Burress, as it looks the Giants will also be saying goodbye to former starter Amani Toomer. Hixon is probably the leader right now to take over Toomer’s spot. Steve Smith would start as well, without Burress in the line-up. (He would most likely move to the slot – where he excels - in multiple wideout formations.) Developing into a solid replacement for an aging veteran and developing into a defense-altering deep threat are two different things.

Last year this group not only struggled to execute in Burress’s absence, but also seemed to struggle under the burden of the increased roles that came with it. It’s easy to be an effective role player alongside one of the most dynamic receivers in the league, but can one of these talented young players emerge as anything more than a solid number 2 guy? Perhaps an entire offseason to prepare will make a difference…

Calling All Free Agents

The Giants could bring in a veteran free agent to sure up the ranks of the receiving corps. Big names like Marvin Harrison and recently released Tory Holt are available, and perhaps even Amani Toomer could be convinced of returning in a more limited role. (While this is unlikely, I think Toomer does have some gas left in the tank and could be a mentor to the younger players, much like Sam Madison and R.W. McQuarters were for the secondary last year.)

This is probably the least likely and least appealing option of the four. First, the Giants don’t have the cap space for another big signing, and the price for a Harrison or Holt will be too high. Second, these players are nearing the ends of their careers. They are no longer the dominating players they once were, and at this point I think such an addition would be like adding another second level weapon. It wouldn’t be worth it, and it wouldn’t be cost effective.

Youth over Experience?

Would adding a top-level receiver in the draft be the solution then? First of all, I think one way or another, the Giants will add a receiver in the draft. The real question is whether they do so on the first day (three picks in the first two rounds), or - if they find a guy they really like - if they trade up for a receiver.

Without question, this is a deep class of talented receivers, and with the current shortage of wide outs on the Giants’ roster right now, I am confident that Jerry Reese and Tom Coughlin will draft someone at the position. That said, I do not know that adding a talented rookie would resolve the Burress situation either. History shows (and the Giants have some first-hand experience) that wide receiver is the hardest position for players to acclimate to in the pros. I’m very skeptical, not that the Giants can’t add a contributor in April’s draft, but that they can find their new number one threat ready to make an impact on Day 1.

Trading Places

The final alternative then would be to trade for a veteran number one receiver. Personally, this is the most appealing option for me, though I think it is probably not the most likely. Keep in mind: it would only happen in the event Burress does not return to the team. People may be quick to bring up the lack of salary cap room, but in a trade scenario the Giants would be operating without Burress’s contract to consider.

Cardinals' WR Anquan Boldin is a bad, bad man.

Two names - among others - that have been circulating the past few months are Anquan Boldin and Braylon Edwards, both are Pro Bowl playmakers who could have an immediate impact for Big Blue. There are pros and cons to both, and I don’t want to delve too deeply into that here. (I’ll save that for if and when a trade takes place.) Both could be dynamic additions to the Giant offense.

The Next 17

The picture will certainly become clearer by the time April rolls around. For the time being however, it looks to me like the Giants will rely on their existing young receivers to rise to the challenge and embrace a bigger role next season, and seek to support the current crop with some talent in the early rounds of the draft. Despite the poor showing last year, I think this could be a viable solution in the event Burress does not return.

One theme surrounding this Giants’ team the past few years has been its ability to move on after the departures of prolific players, and the capacity for young talent to fill the subsequent void. 91 did it for 92, 27, 34 and 44 did it for 21, and 89 may even be better than 80. We’ll have to wait and see if history holds a similar fate for 17.

Back at ya soon,


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Monday, March 9, 2009

GSTV Returns!

The return of the rock show...GSTV checks in with some thoughts on the 2009 offseason.

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Look at the Giants' Offseason Thus Far

Coming into the offseason, I thought there were some key positions the Giants management needed to address: in order of importance, 1) Linebacker, 2) Wide Reciever, 3) Safety, 4) Offensive line depth, 4a) Defensive line depth.

Giants' GM Jerry Reese.

GM Jerry Reese and his staff have made some great moves thus far. Let's take a closer look at each position...


With the 2007 championship season being the lone exception, the Giants have struggled to find consistency at the linebacker position, exlcuding, of course, Antonio Pierce in the middle. In my opinion, it is the weakest component of the defense, and the Giants need to find some personnel who can elevate this group out of mediocrity.

The Giants have drafted linebackers the past few seasons, but none have materialized into strong players yet. The team's two rookies last season, Bryan Kehl and Jonathan Goff, both struggled with injuries, though Kehl did show some flashes of his athleticism and play-making ability in limited action. Zach DeOssie, drafted the previous season, and veteran walk-on Chase Blackburn are great special teams players but neither should start (as Blackburn did) for a potentially elite defense. The same applies for Danny Clark, although I really admire Clark's attitude and work ethic. Finally, the staff was very high on Gerris Wilkinson when they drafted him three years ago, but up to this point, it seems like he's had more knee injuries than tackles.

Even Pierce leaves some questions. His value now lies more in his role as emotional leader and field general than on on-field performance. He was in the Pro Bowl a few seasons ago, but has shown signs of slowing down over the past few seasons. In short, the unit needs a makeover.

The Giants made a major move signing free agent LB Michael Boley from Atlanta to start on the weak side next year. Boley brings speed and athleticism to the position, improving the unit's pass coverage ability and pass rushing scheme. He was a leading tackler on the Falcons a few seasons ago, but struggled under new coach Mike Smith's system last year, and lost his starting job. Coughlin and co. think he will flourish again in the Giants' scheme, behind their stellar defensive line. I'm optimistic...

Wide Reciever

Unlike LB, wide receiver is a position where the Giants have enjoyed great productivity and depth over the past few seasons. That all changed of course when Plaxico Burress dodged a bullet last year and shot himself in the leg. I say "dodged a bullet" because the moron's lucky he didn't kill or cripple himself or more importantly, someone else.

Plaxico Burress faces felony gun possession charges, which carry a minimum sentence of 3 1/2 years.

The Giants offense was not nearly as productive without Burress on the field, if not for his numbers then simply for the threat he poses to opposing defenses. With his legal status still up in the air, and the all-but-certain departure of veteran Amani Toomer, the receiving corps is suddenly looking a bit short-handed. Yes, there are still four young talented players on the roster in Steve Smith, Domenik Hixon, Sinorice Moss and Mario Manningham, but none of them were able to step up sufficiently at the end of last season and say "I'm the man, give me the ball." People are quick to blame Burress for the Giants premature exit from the playoffs. I'd say the young guns' failure to execute is just as - if not more - to blame.

How the Giants address this issue remains to be seen. A lot of it will depend on whether or not Plax goes to jail. The Giants have repeated that they would welcome him back if he gets things together. If he does do time, trading for a big-name reciever, trading up or staying put to draft a WR are other possible options.

I'm pretty sure Reese will wait until Burress's trial is over to make any moves. The Giants are looking at around 10 draft picks this year and it's unlikely so many rookies will make the team, so a trade is viable. Tory Holt, Braylon Edwards and Anquan Boldin are all names that have been thrown around. Of the three I like Boldin the best, but all have some drawbacks. Trading up to get a Michael Crabtree might also be possible. Again though, I don't expect we'll see any developments in this regard until the conclusion of Burress's trial at the end of the month.


Safety is a position of need for the Giants solely for a lack of depth. The Giants released veteran Sammy Knight and let starter James Butler become a free agent, leaving only Michael Johnson and last year's first round pick Kenny Phillips at the position. I'm excited for Philips to be a starter and okay with letting Butler go. His emergence would add a great deal to an already talented, young secondary.

The G-men signed former Texan S C.C. Brown to a one-year deal this week to add some depth and potentially compete for a starting job. Reese has had a good-eye for mid-tier talent and I'm curious to see what Brown can do for me (Haaaaaa!). There are a few other veterans out there who I wouldn't mind seeing in a Giant uniform, including Darren Sharper. We'll see who else the team brings in in the coming months.

Offensive Line Depth

Depth has been an issue on the offensive line for a few seasons now. Thankfully, the starting unit is outstanding and has been very durable the past two years. The same five guys have started every regular season game the past two seasons. Part of this is toughness, part of it luck, and from where I stand the Giants can't afford to continue to rely on luck.

The most glaring weakness is back-up tackle. The Giants have been developing young guys like Kevin Boothe and Guy Whimper the past few years into serviceable back-ups. Boothe, a converted guard, saw some action last year as RT Kareem McKenzie was bothered by injuries. Watching him get burned around the edge a few too many times though, I'm hoping the Giants look to one of their three picks in the first two rounds of the draft to bring in a young tackle with a little more athlecism and ability.

As for the interior of the line, the Giants have had a solid sixth man to rely on the past few seasons in Grey Ruegamer. Ruegamer can play all three interior positions and when he has filled in, he's performed fairly well. He started at center for an injured Shawn O'Hara in the 2008 Wild Card game in Tampa . Ruegamer is a 10 year veteran and a free agent. I'd personally like to see him resign though I'm not sure what management has planned. Perhaps they're going to shift Boothe back to a full-time guard.

Defensive Line Depth

On the other side of the ball, it's much the same story. It's hard to claim that a defensive line that features two Pro Bowl DE's (Osi and Tuck), a DT that was the best defensive player on the team last season for the first 6 games (Fred Robbins), and two other talented young starters (Kiwi and Cofield), needs any help. However, as we saw last year with the loss of Osi in preseason, and the decline in the line's productivity as the season wore on, having enough talent to offset injuries and wear and tear is essential, especially for a team that hangs its hat on the pass rush.

I was anticipating the Giants would address this during the offseason, but I thought they would have done it through the draft with a DE in the early rounds. Perhaps they still will. But Jerry Reese went the free agency route and brought in some big-time talent in Rocky Bernard and Chris Canty. These players not only add depth, but versatility as well. The Giants' pass rush is poised to return to its Super Bowl-winning form.

So far, so great...

All in all, I'm very pleased by how the Giants have addressed their offseason needs. The defense is in great shape, especially up front. The one drama remains Plaxico's legal issues and how they affect the receiving corps. If Burress avoids jail time, I would welcome him back, provided he's got his head together. If that is not an option, I think that the Giants have a surplus of draft picks that they can use to trade up or trade for a veteran receiver.

Keep up the good work, Big Blue!

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Derrick Ward signs with Bucs

Derrick Ward signed a 4-year $17 million deal with the Tampa Bay Bucs on Tuesday (watch Ward's press conference), providing a new face in the backfield of a team in the midst of an identity transformation. Ward cashed in on a very successful year in 2008, in which he rushed for over 1,000 yards as "Wind" in the backfield trio of "Earth, Wind and Fire." With "Earth," Brandon Jacobs, also a free agent heading into the offseason, it was widely suspected that the Giants would be unable or unwilling to meet Ward's price tag.

As productive as he was last year, I don't know that Ward can be effective if he's the go-to guy in a system. A major reason for the Giants' success, and Ward's, in the running game last year - after the outstanding play of the offensive line - was the fact that Jacobs and Ward could split carries (with Bradshaw working in on occasion). When everything was clicking in the run game, Jacobs would set the tone and wear down the opposing defense, enabling Ward to maximize his yardage.

Ward definitely brought a lot to the table, but I am excited to see what Ahmad Bradshaw and Danny Ware can do. The Giants' staff seems pretty high on both of these young players. Bradshaw was a major contributor in the Giants' Super Bowl run two years ago and showed flashes of his homerun ability in his limited action last year. Ware impressed me in the preseason (pretty much the only time he carried the ball last year). In one game, I recall, he picked up 100 yards on only 8 carries or something. It was pretty impressive.

I like Derrick Ward a lot. He's definitely a talented player and I hope he does well in his new home. At the same time, I think the Giants could be on the verge of an exciting discovery or two with Bradshaw and Ware. Addition by subtraction? We shall see...

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Monday, March 2, 2009

Giants Make a Big Splash in the Free Agency Pool

The last few off-seasons, particularly the last two under Jerry Reese, the Giants have been quiet, picking up under-the-radar talent and role-players on a need-basis. This year it was a different story, as the G-men made a big impact from the get-go.

On Saturday, they signed former Falcons' LB Michael Boley to a 5 year deal worth $25 million and Seahawk veteran DT Rocky Bernard to a 4 year $16 million contract. Sunday they followed up by adding the versatile former Cowboy DE Chris Canty to a six year deal. He is expected to play both end and tackle positions on the D-line.

Boley fills a need at the LB position, and by most accounts, brings a lot of tools and upside to the table. The Giants have struggled for stability at the outside linebacker position over the past few seasons, and with a few exceptions, have been forced to juggle between guys that are too green, too old, too injury-prone, too slow, or simply not that good. Boley is 26 years old, and has played in all 16 games in each of his first four seasons in the league. He brings speed and athelticism to a unit that has lacked it on a regular basis, potentially adding new layers to the pass rush and coverage schemes.

Bernard is a solid addition to a D-line that struggled in the latter stages of the season due to injury. The Giants' pass rush, which carried them to the Super Bowl two years ago, failed to maintian momentum last season in the final few months. Fred Robbins, who was having a Pro-bowl caliber season the first half of the season struggled with two broken hands, knee problems and a shoulder injury that forced him to miss two games due to injury. Kiwi, Tuck, and Cofield also were nicked up, and having lost Osi Umenyiora before the season even started, the D-line could not maintain their trademark pressure. Bernard provides a solid pass-rushing threat up the middle, and with Pro-bowl ends on either side of him, I suspect his numbers will reflect that next season. He did have 8.5 sacks in 2005...

DT Rocky Bernard flatulates on QB Jake Delhomme after a brutal sack.

Finally, Canty, the most high-profile acquisition of the three - and perhaps most surprising - makes an already formidable front pretty terrifying. Coming from playing DE in a 3-4 scheme, he's stout against the run, allowing him the versatility to play both end and tackle in a 4-3. He can plug up the middle as a tackle and bring heat on the QB at the same time. In the Giants scheme, I think he has the potential to be a double-digit sack guy. Management seems to think so too, as they've locked him up for a long time.

I'm excited by all of these moves so far. The front office has been very smart and very dedicated in getting players they want. There's no reason to drop a ton of money on an Albert Haynesworth when you can get three great players for the same price. Boley might be my favorite of the three, just because I think NFL linebackers are beasts. He fills a need, but I think, more significantly, he has the potential to be a stud in the Giants defense, like a Big Blue version of Lance Briggs or Bart Scott...or Kawika Mitchell. (Haha, I really like him as a play-maker and am still sad the G-men let him go for Gimpy McGee (Gerris Wilkinson)).

The additions of Canty and Bernard create a level of depth on the D-line that is unrivaled and also unblockable. I'm envisioning Osi, Tuck will start at end, and Canty and Robbins will start in the middle, with Kiwi, Cofield, and Bernard rotating in often. This not only means a relentless pass rush each game, but a relentless pass rush for the whole season. Seriously, I think we're talking a 60+ sack total for the Giant D in 2009.

Of course, a lot of variables remain. 7 effective starters for 4 spots could mean too many cooks in the kitchen. Perhaps Reese is stockpiling talent for a trade in the event Plaxico Burress has to go to jail or doesn't return to the team. Perhaps the new signings, especially Canty's fat check, will rub existing D-linemen the wrong way and someone could want out the door. Perhaps new Defensive Coordinator Bill Sheridan will fail to fill Steve Spagnuolo's vacated shoes and the unit will struggle.

The hypotheticals are many, but the outlook as it stands now is very promising. If the Giants head into next season with the line-up they have now, I think we're looking at another solid playoff run, and quite possibly, a 22-week sack-a-thon to the big dance.

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