Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Top 5 Headlines of Giants Training Camp: Weeks 1 &2

2009 Training Camp, incredibly, is just a few more practices away from its conclusion. Just two weeks ago, I was basking in the joy of having fresh football news every day, my mind somehow convinced that the previous months of quiet had become the norm for NFL franchises year-round. Now, with the first preseason game of the year just days away, anticipation for the coming season is in hyper drive!

To transition then from camp to the preseason, I wanted to revisit some of the biggest ON-THE-FIELD stories from Giants camp 2009. The “Top 5” format has served me well as of late, helping me structure my thoughts so as not to ramble on endlessly. I will count the headlines down in just a second.

Before I do that though, there were some big stories that happened off the field that I’d like to quickly touch on in rapid fire succession:

AP exonerated in Burress case – Good. No distractions, just football. Pierce looks fit and ready to go and has that chip on his shoulder. Say what you will, but he’s the leader of this defense and we are not whole without him.

Eli’s new contract – Coming of the best season of his career, the Super Bowl MVP deserves it. Regardless of stats, he has a ring, the ultimate measuring stick. He’s one of the best clutch QBs in the league and handles the toughest media market in the NFL with poise when few others could. He’s the franchise.

RB Andre Brown Out for Season – Terrible break for the rookie. He ruptured his Achilles in the evening practice on Friday, August 14th, and will be out for the year. You hate to see anybody go down, on any team...especially this early on.

Now on to my Top 5:

5) Oh Snap!

Early on in camp, it seemed the only thing outnumbering the passes picked off by the defense (which we will get to later) was the number of botched snaps by the back-up Centers. Adam Koets, Tutan Reyes, Kevin Boothe, and perhaps others, were sailing balls over quarterbacks’ heads, or worse, with alarming regularity throughout Week 1. The frequency decreased into Week Two, but to paraphrase Coach Coughlin: “One a day is too many.” If things continue at this rate, the Giants front office will be forced to look elsewhere for a back-up to Shawn O’Hara. The offensive line’s reliable sixth man over the past few seasons, Grey Ruegamer, signed with the Seahawks on August 5th.

4) Tour de Albany

On the other side of the ball, the Giants made a big splash in the offseason to improve the quality and depth of the front seven. The full scope of what that group might look like has yet to be revealed however as a number of players have been out recovering from injuries. DE’s Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora and DT Barry Cofield have all been limited in action. LB Michael Boley is still out recovering from hip surgery, DT Rocky Bernard is on the non-football injury list, DE/DT Chris Canty was out a number of days with a hamstring injury, and DT Fred Robbins was only activated off the PUP list on, August 9.

Starting CBs Aaron Ross and Corey Webster joined their teammates late into Week 1, as did WRs Steve Smith, David Tyree, Mario Manningham and rookie Hakeem Nicks. Sinorice Moss also has been dealing with some hamstring issues. The interior offensive line has rotated on the bikes, with Rich Seurbert, Shawn O’Hara and Chris Snee all spending time on the sidelines.

This sort of wear and tear is normal for training camp, but with so many guys limited or missing practices, it’s hard to get a sense of what the Giants are really working with. Let’s hope this bike race ends quickly…

3) Young Defensive Players Stepping Up

The positive side of this coin is that it opens the door for young guys to step up and make an impression. Third year DT Jay Alford has looked good in his work with the first team. I believed from the beginning his role as snapper on the field goal unit and his pass-rushing skills would earn him a spot on the team despite a wealth of DTs this year. Glad to see he’s making a strong impression, especially if that injury list doesn’t get shorter.

Second-year LB Bryan Kehl also has been seeing significant work with the first team, and making a compelling case to be the starting WLB in Michael Boley’s absence, maybe even see regular time when Boley returns. Kehl has always been recognized as a tremendous athlete, and as I’ve said repeatedly, he flashed some impressive play-making potential when he saw the field last year. What’s exciting about his play early in camp, is that he’s now combining those athletic abilities with physicality and aggression, traits he’s often been knocked for lacking.

Second year LB Bryan Kehl makes a play in camp.

Rookie DB Stoney Woodson is also drawing the attention of the coaches for his consistently impressive play. He has made a number of impressive plays on the ball and has performed well in coverage. Mike Garafolo posted a nice story on him (click here for story) on August 12.

2) The Rise of Ramses

Of course, the real position everybody is eyeing to see which young players will step up is Wide Receiver. Ironically, the player many fans assumed would be the slowest to contribute is having the most impressive camp of the group: third round draft-pick Ramses Barden.

The former Cal Poly standout is catching everything thrown his way. His Plaxico-like frame gives him what GM Jerry Reese calls a “big strike zone” and “The Prince,” as he has dubbed himself, is using it to his advantage. He has digested the playbook and probably is the team’s most pleasant surprise on the offensive side of the ball thus far.

Unless Dwight Howard signs to play CB in the NFL, this move could be tricky for opposing defenses.

Depending on how he performs in preseason, “The Prince” could be ready to rule the red zone early on in 2009.

1) You Will Know Their Names

By far the most impressive play in training camp has been that of the secondary. LB Antonio Pierce admitted as much in an interview with Mike Francesa on August 12th. Even with starters Webster and Ross on the sidelines, the unit has shined thanks to the impressive play of second year players S Kenny Phillips and CB Terrell Thomas and other young talent. Phillips and Thomas in particular have displayed impressive athleticism and play-making ability, tracking down balls and covering the field very well.

Kenny Phillips...Pick!

The defense has approximately 25 interceptions through the first two weeks, and that’s without a live pass rush. When the starting unit takes the field intact, this defensive backfield could become a take-away machine. Big Blue’s D had 17 interceptions in the 2008 regular season.

In any event, with the addition of Kenny Phillips to the starting line-up – who by all estimates is poised for a break-out season – the development of Thomas, the revival of Ross (click here for article), and the under-the-radar but ELITE play of Corey Webster, this young unit could be outstanding in 2009. I believe they will provide an equally formidable compliment to an imposing defensive line.

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