New York Giants: Osi Umenyiora

CANTON, Ohio -- Michael Strahan says he doesn't get to visit the New York Giants' team facility as much as he'd like to. But when he does, the newly minted Pro Football Hall of Famer likes to have an impact at the ground level. Strahan spoke Friday about the work he's done with current Giants pass-rushers Jason Pierre-Paul and Damontre Moore on some very basic football details.

"I sit with those guys and teach them how to watch film," Strahan said Friday, a few hours before receiving his gold jacket as a member of the Hall of Fame class of 2014. "They were just watching. This is your job. You have to pay more attention to the details. Where's the tackle's hand? How are his feet? How is the stripe on his helmet when he's going in a certain direction? How's the quarterback? Does he do anything special before the ball is snapped? Does the center squeeze his off-hand before he snaps the ball? All those little things you have to pay attention to if you're a student of the game."

Strahan raved about the Giants' pass-rushers who've followed him, saying they have more pure talent than he did.

"If you look at Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul, I'd be No. 4. Easily," Strahan said. "Talent-wise, and looking at what these guys can do on the field, I'm No. 4. Believe me."

He also singled out Moore, the Giants' second-year pass-rusher, as a player he's enjoyed trying to mentor. Moore has received praise from Giants coaches and teammates this offseason for the progress he's making with the defensive playbook, and his raw athleticism was obvious last year even if only on special teams. Strahan will make some appearances in East Rutherford this season to check in on his progress.

"I'd love to be be over there all the time, but I've never wanted to be a coach on a staff because I like having that freeness to come and go as I want," Strahan said. "But I also want to pass on a lot of the things I've learned. How to prepare, how to mentally get where you need to be to compete every week."

The Giants pay attention when Strahan shows up, and they'll be paying close attention to him Saturday. The team is flying in early and will get a private tour of the Hall of Fame. Then some members of the team, coaching staff and front office will stay and watch Strahan's enshrinement ceremony Saturday night. The Giants play the Buffalo Bills here Sunday night in the first game of the NFL preseason.
What we know about Justin Tuck is that he'll turn 31 in March, he had 11 sacks this year and is a free agent who wants to re-sign with the New York Giants. He's won two Super Bowls with the Giants, is one of their defensive captains and will be a franchise legend whether he re-signs this winter or not.

[+] EnlargeJustin Tuck
AP Photo/Peter MorganJustin Tuck, a nine-year veteran, has an uncertain future ahead as he enters free agency in March.
What we don't know is how far the Giants will be willing to go to re-sign Tuck. Great year in 2013, for sure, but not so great in 2011 and 2012. At what price will and should they be willing to commit to him to keep him in blue?

Let's start with Osi Umenyiora, who was 31 last year when the Giants decided to part ways with him and he signed a two-year, $8.5 million deal with the Atlanta Falcons. Tucks' situation is different from Umenyiora's in a couple of important ways. He's coming off a better season than Umenyiora was a year ago, and his relationship with the team appears to be quite strong, whereas Umenyiora's was damaged beyond repair after years of constant griping about his contract. Tuck has been the good soldier, not to mention a better player, and can reasonably ask for more than the $4.25 million per year that Umenyiora got out of Atlanta.

Now let's look at Mathias Kiwanuka, who signed a three-year, $17.75 million extension with the Giants two offseasons ago and hasn't really played up to it. Tuck's a better and more important player to the Giants than is Kiwanuka, who also turns 31 in March, so you'd think he could reasonably ask for more than Kiwanuka's $5.92 million per year. Of course, the Giants may be about to cut Kiwanuka or at least ask him to take a pay cut, so that comparison may not hold water.

Does Tuck deserve to be paid in the $6.5 million-per-year range, along with guys like Miami's Cameron Wake and Seattle's Cliff Avril? Does he deserve to be paid the same $6.2 million per year he was making on his expiring contract? Could the Giants make an argument that they've paid him more than he's earned over the life of that deal and convince him to take less because it's in his best interest to stay in New York?

If Tuck was status-obsessed and determined to get paid as much as possible as a reward for his years of service and the championships he's helped deliver, I don't think this negotiation would ever get off the ground. But Tuck has made a ton of money, not just from the Giants but from Subway and Nike and other high-level endorsement deals. He's spoken openly about his appreciation for the platform the New York market offers him as someone determined to give back through his charitable work. There are more important things, in other words, to Justin Tuck than the number on his paycheck.

For that reason, I think the Giants probably could convince Tuck to stay on a three-year deal that paid him something like $5.5 million per year. The question is whether, given their myriad other needs, they want to. I think he's a player they like a great deal and, dollar for dollar, a better investment for them than whatever else is out there on the pass-rusher market this offseason. With another question looming next year about Jason Pierre-Paul and with Damontre Moore still in the project stage, the defensive end position is in an uncertain place for the Giants right now. Tuck brings a level of certainty for which they should probably be willing to pay.

Twitter mailbag: A new starting corner?

November, 9, 2013
11/09/13
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With all due respect to the established and comfortable structure of the in-season NFL week, I simply do not care what Carl Banks or Antrel Rolle or anyone else had to say when offered an opportunity to voice their frustrations about the New York Giants in their paid weekly radio appearances. "Giants unhappy because they lost and looked bad doing it" is not news. It's noise.

I personally believe it would be more interesting to hear from someone qualified to explain the root of the problems the Giants are having and to offer substantive thoughts on potential solutions. I think Giants GM Jerry Reese fits that profile, and I think it would be good for him to speak publicly this week. Not today, necessarily, with the organization supporting coach Tom Coughlin on the day of his brother's funeral. Some things -- many things, actually -- are more important than football, and certainly this can wait. But when we all go back Wednesday and Thursday for interviews and news conferences in East Rutherford, I don't think it's too much to ask for the team's general manager to come out and answer some questions.

[+] EnlargeJerry Reese
William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY SportsGM Jerry Reese has some difficult questions to answer concerning the Giants' early struggles.
Requests to interview Reese on Monday were declined, and it has been explained to me that he rarely talks in-season, with the possible exception of the bye week. The Giants' power structure is well established and respected by all involved. Reese's job is to put the roster together. Coughlin's is to coach the team. Reese giving all kinds of interviews in-season the way owner/GM Jerry Jones, for example, holds court in the locker room after every game would be unseemly given the separation of powers in the Giants organization. Fair enough.

But when the team starts 0-3 and there are legitimate questions being asked about whether it's actually built to win, it's time to consider making an exception. Accountability is always in-season, and there are questions that Reese is more qualified to answer right now than are the coaches and players who are giving interviews daily. Questions such as:

  • As an organization that believes in developing internal solutions to its roster issues, where on your roster do you believe improvements on the offensive line can come, in the short term as well as the long term?
  • Given the health issues he had last year and the surgery he had this spring, do you expect Jason Pierre-Paul to make a full return to the form he showed in 2011 and early 2012? And if so, how much longer do you expect to have to get by with this obviously diminished version of him?
  • Based on your pre-draft evaluations of him, and factoring in what you've seen on the field so far, do you believe Justin Pugh is ready for continued full-time duty as your right tackle? Or would he benefit from a move inside or even to the bench once David Diehl is ready to return?
  • Are there any external moves you believe can be made in-season to address the blocking issues still left over from the departures of guys such as Ahmad Bradshaw and Martellus Bennett?

Those are just a few samples, and I'm sure other people have others. And look, this isn't about assigning blame or railing that Reese didn't do enough. I've gone down that road before. Wrote that column in August 2011. I was wrong then, and it's entirely possible that those who want to hammer Reese now will turn out to be proven wrong months down the road. I'm not necessarily betting on it, but I've learned a lesson or two about rushing to conclusions that run counter to people's track records.

I don't think Reese was wrong to let Bradshaw and Bennett and Osi Umenyiora leave given what they would have cost him. I do think it's possible he didn't do enough to replace them, and that the Giants may be entering something of a rebuilding phase as a result. I'd like to get his thoughts on that. And I think if others in the organization are out there answering for the 0-3 start, it's not too much to ask the same of the man who assembled the so-far overmatched roster.
In the final 20 days before the start of the regular season, we are counting down the top 20 players in the NFC East. For a full explanation, see this post. And if you want to read any of the other posts that have run since we started this series, you can find them all here, in this link.

Pierre-Paul
No. 6 -- Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants DE

(Last year: No. 5)

His sack total dropped from 16.5 in 2011 to 6.5 in 2012, but watching Pierre-Paul play last year didn't reveal that significant a drop-off. He faced more double-teams and shouldered more responsibility due to the struggles of Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora on the other side of the line. And while he might not have been as proficient at bringing down quarterbacks as he was during his breakout sophomore season, Pierre-Paul remained a disruptive presence in the opponent's backfield. He was credited with 43 quarterback hurries and was strong against the run as well.

Pierre-Paul is only 24, and there's little reason to believe he can't be the kind of sack artist he was in 2011 at some point (or at many points) in his future. He's got freakish speed and athleticism to go with his massive size, has learned the NFL game extremely quickly and has already played at the highest possible level in the biggest possible games. You can call Pierre-Paul a "bounce-back" candidate in 2013, but I don't think he has to bounce quite as far back as those sack numbers might make it look. This is an elite pass-rusher who has yet to enter his prime, and he's a sky's-the-limit type of player, this year and in years to come.

The rest of the rankings:

7. Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys

8. Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins
9. Victor Cruz, WR, New York Giants 10. Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys
11. Jason Peters, OT, Philadelphia Eagles 12. Sean Lee, LB, Cowboys
13. Trent Williams, OT, Redskins
14. Evan Mathis, OG, Eagles
15. Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants
16. DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles
17. Anthony Spencer, DE, Cowboys
18. London Fletcher, LB, Redskins
19. Brian Orakpo, LB, Redskins
20. Jason Hatcher, DL, Cowboys

Camp Confidential: New York Giants

August, 7, 2013
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The buzzword around the New York Giants the past few years has been "consistency." As in, they need to find ways to be more consistent week-to-week, month-to-month in order to achieve their goal of making the playoffs. When they make the playoffs, the Giants are a threat to win the Super Bowl, as they showed two seasons ago. But in three of the past four seasons, they have failed to qualify for the postseason.

The issue, ironically, is that for all of their in-season inconsistencies, the Giants are actually one of the most consistent teams in the league year-to-year. Their regular-season win totals the past four seasons are 8, 10, 9 and 9. There are teams all over the league that would kill for that kind of consistency -- to stay annually in the division race deep into December and be in position to get themselves into what Giants general manager Jerry Reese calls "the tournament." But for the Giants, it's not good enough.

"I guess we are consistent when you look at it that way. So we need to be better," quarterback Eli Manning said before Giants training camp practice Friday. "We expect to be a team that can get 11 wins, that can get 12 wins in a season. So I think it's really just playing to our potential, is really what we're saying. We've got to avoid the bad games. We should be in every game we play."

There are multiple levels on which to attack the problem. Manning himself says he's working to improve his accuracy, especially insofar as it helps the Giants get back to hitting big plays in the passing game. Around him the offensive line and the receiving corps are working to get and stay healthy and be cohesive. The run game is transitioning to younger players. On the other side of the ball, the Giants hope the pass rush can rebound from a 33-sack season (the Giants' lowest team total in that category since 2009) and return to the dominant form that helped it win the Super Bowl two seasons ago. If that happens, they believe the secondary will play better and a defense that allowed the second-most yards in the NFL last year will necessarily improve its ability to control games and steer away from the annual potholes.

"Since I've been here, we've kind of fallen into that same trap. We've had that midseason letdown," said safety Antrel Rolle, who's entering his fourth season with the Giants. "And I'm not quite sure why that's happened, but we definitely need to break that mind frame and get above the nine, 10 wins, because we're better than that. Our standards are way beyond that."

The Giants are holding training camp this year at their regular-season practice facility, mere yards from the stadium in which the Super Bowl will be played six months from now. The view of hulking MetLife Stadium from their practice fields, along with the Super Bowl countdown clock Reese installed in the locker room, is making sure the Giants keep their very high goals in mind as they prepare for the 2013 season.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeDavid Wilson
AP Photo/Seth WenigDavid Wilson will now have the chance to be the lead back in New York's running attack.
1. Who will carry the ball? With mainstay Ahmad Bradshaw off to Indianapolis, the running game is in the hands of 2012 first-round pick David Wilson and Andre Brown, who was the Giants' goal-line back before an injury ended the 2012 season for him. Wilson has everyone excited because of his game-breaking potential, but it's clear that whichever of these guys shows the most as a pass-blocker will get the bulk of the carries.

"You really can't play unless you can protect the quarterback," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "Fortunately, those two young men as well as our other running backs have had the opportunity to look at Ahmad's film and get a better understanding of the complexities of our protection packages. Those two guys are very, very fast and very skilled, and we definitely believe in the balance theory. To play great football, we're going to have to run the ball."

Expect a carry split not unlike what the Giants have shown in years past. But if Wilson shows he can stay on the field for three downs, he could emerge as a star. No Giants back in recent memory has been as explosive a runner as he is.

2. Can they get to the quarterback? The pass rush is in flux as well. Osi Umenyiora is in Atlanta. Jason Pierre-Paul is recovering from back surgery and may not be ready for Week 1. Justin Tuck has 12.5 sacks in his last 32 games. Mathias Kiwanuka is moving back up to the line after a couple of years in the linebacking corps. And they only had 33 sacks last year. The Giants, historically, do not have the kind of success they intend to have without a dominating pass rush.

Tuck says he's rejuvenated after two tough years -- healthier than he's been in any camp since 2010. He's in the final year of his contract, and if he looks like his old self this year, he and the team will benefit dramatically. Toughening up inside at defensive tackle should help as well, and if Pierre-Paul makes a full recovery, this will be a driven unit capable of much bigger things.

3. Last stand for the old guard? "Me worrying about contracts or things that are going to happen in the future doesn't really help me in the present," Tuck said after practice last Friday. "I've never been a player that played the game for money or played for a big contract. If I did, don't you think I'd have been more inclined to play well the last two years and not have to worry about the contract now? I just want to go out there and prove to people that Justin Tuck can do still do his job very well."

Tuck's feelings echo those of teammates David Diehl and Corey Webster. All three are proud Giant champions who took a lot of criticism for their disappointing play in 2012. All three are determined to play better in 2013. All three are likely done in New York next year if they don't. The Giants are placing a big bet on the professional and personal pride of some of their title-team cornerstones. They're all talking tough in August, but it's got to translate into turn-back-the-clock production for the Giants' key veterans.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
AP Photo/Seth WenigEli Manning has plenty of offensive weapons this season and the unit will be capable of putting up a lot of points.
Manning is always the biggest reason for optimism in East Rutherford. Steady, reliable and capable of making every clutch throw there is, the Giants' franchise quarterback is the sun around which their current universe revolves. With Victor Cruz back in the fold after an offseason contract dispute, Rueben Randle looking good as he prepared for his second season, the young legs in the run game, and a new tight end in Brandon Myers who caught 79 passes in Oakland last season, Manning is surrounded by exciting weapons on offense. And if top receiver Hakeem Nicks can shake his latest offseason injury bout and stay healthy all year, this is an offense capable of scoring a lot of points in a hurry.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

The one issue on offense -- and it's a big one -- is the blocking. Bradshaw was a great blocking back, and as we've already discussed we don't know what Wilson and Brown can bring as blockers over a full season. Martellus Bennett was a great run-blocking tight end, and that's not a strength of Myers' game. Diehl is proud, determined and worthy of the benefit of the doubt, but he's coming off a bad season. Interior offensive linemen Chris Snee and David Baas have struggled the past few years with injuries. All of the skill-position talent is exciting, but it could be undone if the Giants can't answer some of their big blocking questions.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Rolle said that when Kenny Phillips went down with his injury problems last year, he had to play a lot in the box while fellow safety Stevie Brown handled the post safety role. Brown did collect eight interceptions in that role, but the Giants want him to be more versatile now that Phillips is gone and he's a full-time starter. Having a full training camp to work as a starter is helping Brown become the kind of interchangeable safety they need him and Rolle to be. "We already know he's a ballhawk and can go and he can go get the ball and do something with it once he gets it," Rolle said. "Now he's showing us that he can play in the box and definitely be a versatile safety."
  • They don't want to talk about it because they don't want to give away their plans, but the Giants have worked on some different alignments of the defensive front seven this camp. Usually a strict 4-3 team, the Giants have tried some 3-4 looks or some hybrid looks that ask their defensive ends to stand up and either play outside linebacker or at least look as though they might. The idea is to confuse the offense and possibly to be in better position to react to the run-heavy, read-option offenses in Washington and maybe Philadelphia.
  • Third-year cornerback Prince Amukamara is healthy and hoping to build on his solid second season. He said his goal is to play well enough that he's able to stay on one side and Webster on the other side of the field for the whole game, rather than having Webster assigned to the other team's No. 1 receiver regardless of where he lines up. The coaches say that's their goal for their cornerbacks as well, and Amukamara's strong camp is leading them to believe they can play that way.
  • Former Eagle Cullen Jenkins has worked some at defensive end as well as tackle. His experience playing different positions in 3-4 and 4-3 fronts could help the Giants if they plan to be varied and have multiple looks on defense.
  • Randle, the team's second-round pick in 2012, is a big-bodied outside threat who could keep Cruz in the slot where he's at his best. It's still premature to project Randle as Nicks' long-term replacement, but from what I saw he's a guy who knows how to use his size and his leaping ability to out-fight a defensive back for a ball in traffic. His speed becomes more of an asset the further he gets down the field, because of his long strides.
  • The biggest-impact 2013 draft pick could be second-rounder Johnathan Hankins, who looks like a valuable part of the rotation at defensive tackle. Third-rounder Damontre Moore is at least a situational pass-rusher at this point, and it's easy to see the way those playmaking instincts help him get off the ball and into the backfield. First-round pick Justin Pugh isn't running with the first team (and he's actually out right now with a concussion), but they have worked him at tackle and guard and they believe he's going to be a valuable long-term piece for them at some position on the line. Right now, though, he's clearly behind Diehl at right tackle.
  • We've come this far without mentioning linebacker, and I don't have much to report. Between their nickel packages, the three-safety looks they like so much, and the possibility that they might show some 3-4 here and there, it's just not a high-priority spot. Spencer Paysinger is making a push for the starting spot at weakside linebacker, with Keith Rivers on the strong side and Mark Herzlich in the middle at least so far. But I think the linebacker alignment could depend on who shows something on special teams.

Best Giants camp battles

July, 31, 2013
7/31/13
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Tom Coughlin says he has never had a training camp competition as wide open as the one he currently has at linebacker.

Linebacker is just one of the positions where there will be competition. Here's a look at the best camp battles for the New York Giants:

1. Linebackers.

The competitors: MLB Mark Herzlich, OLB Keith Rivers, OLB Spencer Paysinger, OLB Jacquian Williams, MLB Dan Connor, OLB Aaron Curry, LB Kyle Bosworth, MLB Jake Muasau, LB Etienne Sabino.

The 411: Herzlich, Rivers and Paysinger are the starters so far in camp. Williams, Connor and Curry make up the second team. Herzlich and Connor are competing to replace Chase Blackburn, and it appears like it's Herzlich's job to lose thus far. Paysinger definitely has a chance to hold on to a starting spot. If Rivers can stay healthy, he can do some of the things Michael Boley did. When healthy, Williams can be a three-down linebacker and his speed and athleticism allows him to cover tight ends. Curry is a wild card.

What they're saying: "They told us nothing is set in stone, everybody has to work," Paysinger said of the coaches' message. "They say that when it comes to the depth chart, it can change any day, that we dictate how the depth chart goes. If one person has a great day, he might be going with the ones, if a person slips up a little bit, he might be going with the twos and threes."

2. Right tackle.

The competitors: David Diehl, Justin Pugh, James Brewer.

The 411: Diehl is the front-runner due to his experience and is the starter right now. Pugh was drafted for a reason with the team's first-round pick. Jerry Reese said there was initial concern about Pugh's arm length for the tackle position. However, the Giants will see what Pugh can do at right tackle with the second team. Brewer has been getting first-team reps at right guard while Chris Snee makes his way back from offseason hip surgery, but Coughlin says Brewer is in the mix.

What they're saying: "David Diehl is a highly motivated guy in the first place and competition always brings out the best," Coughlin said.

3. Backup defensive tackle.

The competitors: Shaun Rogers, Johnathan Hankins, Mike Patterson, Marvin Austin, Markus Kuhn, Frank Okam.

The 411: The Giants loaded up at defensive tackle in an effort to stop the run this season. Linval Joseph and Cullen Jenkins will start at defensive tackle. There will be stiff competition for the spots behind the starters. When motivated and healthy, Rogers is a load. He and Hankins, the team's second-round pick, have been working with the second team. Patterson and Austin have received third-team snaps. Austin, the team's second-round pick in 2011, is going to have to fight for a roster spot. Kuhn, who impressed the coaches last season, is on the PUP list.

What they're saying: "He's been healthy for the first time," defensive line coach Robert Nunn said about Austin. "He's where he needs to be right now. He just can't disappear when the pads come on."

4. Fourth defensive end.

The competitors: Adrian Tracy, Damontre Moore, Justin Trattou, Matt Broha, Adewale Ojomo.

The 411: With Osi Umenyiora gone, the Giants need a fourth pass rusher to emerge to play behind -- and sometimes alongside -- Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka. Tracy is the leading candidate for the fourth end spot, but Moore, the team's third-round pick, has impressed early. Until JPP is healthy, both Tracy and Moore could see snaps as the third and fourth ends.

What they're saying: "We've got some young guys that have to show up," Nunn said. "They look good when they're running around with no pads on, but you still see some things that get you excited."

5. Running back.

The competitors: David Wilson and Andre Brown.

The 411: Wilson and Brown technically are competing for the starting spot. But Wilson is the starter in camp and should be the starter for the season. Still, the two running backs likely could share carries with the hot hand getting the majority of the carries in any given game. Brown is expected to resume his role as goal-line back as well.

What they're saying: "David is a different style of back than we've ever really had here at the Giants over the years," quarterback Eli Manning said. "A lot of speed and explosiveness. Both of them [Wilson and Brown] are different style runners and we'll kind of understand that and put them in to do things that they are best at."

Camp preview: 10 hottest issues

July, 23, 2013
7/23/13
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The New York Giants open camp with their first practice on Saturday.

Here are some pressing issues Tom Coughlin's team will face in camp:

1. JPP's back injury: Jason Pierre-Paul underwent back surgery in the offseason and might not be ready for the season opener. Mathias Kiwanuka will start until JPP is healthy. Pierre-Paul's timetable for recovery has him potentially being ready for the season opener, but the Giants should be cautious with their franchise defensive end. JPP's health could decide just how good the Giants will be defensively this season.

2. Hakeem Nicks' health: Nicks is entering the final year of his deal, and it's a big year for him. He did not participate in voluntary OTAs this offseason; one positive is that Nicks did not risk potential injury. A healthy Nicks is critical for the Giants' success this season after the offense struggled with him laboring through knee and foot injuries last year. Expect Nicks to be cautious to make sure he enters this contract year healthy and at full strength. Health, overall, is a major issue with the Giants since G Chris Snee and C David Baas also are coming off offseason surgeries.

3. Right tackle: Who will start? David Diehl enters camp as the starter and likely favorite, but he might have to hold off first-round pick Justin Pugh and James Brewer. The Giants coaching staff values Diehl's experience and versatility. Pugh is a first-round pick for a reason, but the Giants typically like to develop their rookies before playing them a ton of snaps.

4. Reviving the pass rush: Justin Tuck, JPP and Kiwanuka have to get after the quarterback. And a fourth pass-rusher must emerge with Osi Umenyiora gone. Adrian Tracy, Damontre Moore, Justin Trattou and Adewale Ojomo will all have opportunities to show what they can do in camp.

5. Stopping the run: The Giants struggled against the run last year and finished 31st overall in total defense. Co-owner John Mara wanted his team to fortify the defensive line and Jerry Reese signed Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson, re-signed Shaun Rogers and drafted Johnathan Hankins to beef up the front line.

6. Secondary: Corey Webster needs a bounce-back season after struggling last year. Prince Amukamara also has to continue to ascend. The Giants brought back Aaron Ross to join Jayron Hosley for depth. And Terrell Thomas is making another comeback. Still, the Giants' secondary can't afford many injuries. While it should be better than last season, it remains to be seen how much more improved the secondary will be. The Giants can use some surprises in camp to emerge as backups to strengthen the depth.

7. Linebacker: Who will replace Chase Blackburn and Michael Boley? Mark Herzlich and Dan Connor hope to fill Blackburn's cleats at middle linebacker and will be two participants in one of the most-watched competitions of camp. It's a big season for Jacquian Williams. If he can stay healthy, he could be a three-down linebacker. The Giants will also depend on Keith Rivers and need him to stay injury-free. Spencer Paysinger could be a dark horse for more snaps and Aaron Curry hopes to realize his potential with the Giants.

8. Replacing Ahmad: Can David Wilson and Andre Brown fill the Ahmad Bradshaw void? Wilson should inherit Bradshaw's starting spot, but Coughlin will likely split carries between Wilson and Brown. And Brown plans on pushing Wilson for the starting job. The two combined should make for a nice one-two punch, especially if Wilson can pass-protect. And at fullback, tight end Bear Pascoe likely will fill in until the injured Henry Hynoski is ready to return from offseason knee surgery.

9. One more time: A few long-time veteran Giants need to step up in what could be their last go-around with the team in the final year of contracts. Tuck, Diehl and Webster -- three Giants who helped the franchise win two Super Bowls -- could all be entering their final seasons as Giants. They are loaded with pride and are highly motivated to lead the Giants back to the postseason.

10. Victor Cruz: The salsa is here to stay after Cruz re-signed with the team. But he missed all of OTAs and minicamp. He has some catching up to do, but it shouldn't be an issue considering his outstanding chemistry with Eli Manning. Cruz also looked to be in excellent shape.

Camp preview: Defensive line

July, 22, 2013
7/22/13
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Justin TuckJim McIsaac/Getty ImagesJustin Tuck did everything to stay strong this offseason but walk on hot coals. Wait, never mind ...
We're counting down to training camp with a look at the Giants, position by position.

Position: Defensive line

Projected starters: DE Jason Pierre-Paul (injured), DE Justin Tuck, DT Linval Joseph, DT Cullen Jenkins

Projected reserves: DE Mathias Kiwanuka, DT Mike Patterson, DE Adrian Tracy, DE Damontre Moore, DT Shaun Rogers, DT Johnathan Hankins, DE Justin Trattou, DE Adewale Ojomo, DT Marvin Austin, DT Markus Kuhn, DE Matt Broha, DT Frank Okam

New faces: Jenkins, Patterson, Moore, Hankins, Okam

Going, going, gone: DE Osi Umenyiora, DT Chris Canty, DT Rocky Bernard

Player to watch: Pierre-Paul. The team and fans will have to hold their breath until JPP returns healthy from offseason back surgery. His projected timetable for recovery takes him right up to the season opener. Kiwanuka is starting at defensive end until JPP is healthy and could potentially be the starter against Dallas in the opener. If Pierre-Paul doesn’t return to full strength later this season, the defense will be dealt a mighty blow. The Giants likely will take every precaution with the foundation of the defense. In order to contend, the Giants need their best defensive player to be healthy and dominant again.

Potential strength: The run defense was a weakness last season as the Giants finished 25th against the run and 31st in total defense. But GM Jerry Reese beefed up his front line by adding Jenkins and Patterson, re-signing Rogers and drafting Hankins. With Austin and Kuhn, as well, the Giants will have some serious competition at DT in camp. If Jenkins pans out the way they envision and the Giants can slow down opposing running backs, that will be a major start for a defense looking to rebound from a disappointing season.

Potential weakness: It’s hard to believe it, but in a worst-case scenario, the Giants’ pass rush could be a weakness. What if JPP doesn’t return to form after back surgery? What if Tuck doesn’t regain his old dominant level of play in a contract year? What if the Giants miss Osi more than they think they will and a young player (such as like Tracy, Moore or Ojomo) doesn’t emerge as an extra rusher? The Giants must get back to harassing quarterbacks and establishing an intimidating pass rush. If not, it could be another long season for Perry Fewell’s defense.

Wild card: Tuck. This is a big year for the defensive captain. If Tuck has a monster year in a contract year, the Giants' defense will simply be better. Tuck has certainly worked hard this offseason and is in tremendous shape. He even tried improving his mental game by seeing motivational speaker and coach Tony Robbins and walking over hot coals. With JPP’s back on the mend, Tuck can give the Giants a major boost by getting back to his double-digit sacks level.

Tell us what you think of the Giants' defensive line entering the season.

Coach talk: Nunn on defensive line

July, 10, 2013
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With the Giants off until training camp, we're periodically taking a look at what the coaches are saying about how their positions looked this offseason in OTAs.

Today, we look at Robert Nunn's thoughts on the defensive line.


Young guns: Osi Umenyiora's departure and Jason Pierre-Paul's rehab will allow the Giants to take a long look at some of the younger pass rushers they have behind Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka.

[+] EnlargeRobert Nunn
AP Photo/Scott BoehmGiants defensive line coach Robert Nunn will rely on some younger pass rushers this year.
Adrian Tracy, third-round pick Damontre Moore, Justin Trattou and Adewale Ojomo will compete to be a part of the defensive end rotation.

Tom Coughlin said he was impressed at times with Tracy and Moore in OTAs and minicamp.

"Damontre has come in and has shown flash in some good things," Nunn said during OTAs. "He has a long way to go -- a lot to learn in a short time."

"I'm really pleased with the way Adrian Tracy [has progressed]," the defensive line coach later added. "He is further along right now than he has ever been in his career at this time. He has got to keep moving forward and come in here in great shape, which I know he will. He has proven, as a special teams player, that he has got to go out there and be consistent playing the run and pass on Sundays on defense."

Ojomo's goal: Ojomo was one of the surprises of last year’s training camp. An impressive preseason earned him a spot on the roster. But his inconsistency kept him from playing last year.

"He's got to do other things than just get after the quarterback," Nunn said of the power rusher. "When everybody sees that we're not getting after the quarterback, there's a lot of factors involved. I am not going to get into it too much but bringing in a guy that is just a pass rusher, that wasn't going to be the answer.

"That's the thing that he has got to do, is get more consistent with other things, playing the run, understanding what we are doing with game plans and then helping the special teams. He has got to do those things to get a helmet on Sundays."

Versatile Cullen: Nunn says defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, the team's biggest defensive addition in the offseason, can be utilized inside to stop the run and on the outside as a pass rusher if need be.

"Cullen has played out there," Nunn said. "When I was at Green Bay with Cullen, we used him inside and outside. And I would feel comfortable to move him around a little bit in emergency situations."

Tell us what you think about what Nunn is saying about the DL going into camp.
Justin Tuck knows the New York Giants will go as far as Eli Manning takes them.

Still, the defensive captain wants his unit to start thinking that it must carry the Giants and not have to rely on the offense to lead the way to victory.

“I hope this defense can carry the team,” Tuck said last week at the Big Daddy Celebrity Golf Classic at Oheka Castle in Huntington, N.Y. “Every time we go out on the field this year, we can’t think that [the offense will carry the team].”

[+] EnlargeJusin Tuck
Elsa/Getty ImagesJustin Tuck has a new task for the defense to tackle.
“We have to think like we are going to carry this team,” Tuck added.

Last season, the Giants averaged 26.8 points, sixth best in the NFL. The defense allowed 21.5 points to finish 13th among defenses. But the Giants finished 31st in total yards allowed (383.4), 28th in passing yards allowed (254.2) and 25th in rushing yards allowed (129.1).

GM Jerry Reese made changes to the defense in the offseason. Osi Umenyiora, Michael Boley, Kenny Phillips, Chase Blackburn and Chris Canty are gone.

Reese focused on beefing up his defensive line by adding defensive tackles Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson and drafting Johnathan Hankins. He brought back Aaron Ross and Shaun Rogers and signed Aaron Curry and Dan Connor, among other moves.

But Tuck thinks the Giants can also improve from within by altering their mindset. He wants his defense to adopt an old school Giants' defensive mentality and stop relying so much on the offense.

“That might be something we lack because our offense is so good, thinking to ourselves that we can kind of give up this and that,” Tuck said. “[We have] to kind of get away from that and approach the game in a way that those '80’s teams did with [Lawrence Taylor] and all those guys.

“They went out into a game trying to kill an offense and not give them anything,” Tuck continued. “We have to get back to that on defense. I don’t care if our offense puts up 40 points a game. We have to put up six.”

Tell us what you think of the Giants' defense this season.
HUNTINGTON, N.Y. –- A month before training camp starts, Justin Tuck looks and feels like he's in terrific shape.

He has been training and eating right, and the New York Giants defensive end even walked over hot coals to improve his state of mind.

"For whatever reason it is, I feel more alive in a football sense than I have in a long time," Tuck said at an appearance at the Big Daddy Celebrity Golf Classic at Oheka Castle. "And that is a huge motivation for me this year.

[+] EnlargeJustin Tuck
Debby Wong/USA TODAY SportsJustin Tuck is entering the final year of his contract, but vows not to focus on that. "The thing I can't control is the contract," he said.
"I don't know if it is last year, or people saying a lot of things around this team and myself," Tuck added. "I don't know what it is. But I am in a good state right now."

Tuck knows full well he is entering the final year of his contract. But he says he doesn't want to think about a new deal. Where his mind is at right now is currently "in a great place."

"Football is a draining sport sometimes," Tuck said. "And being in New York City and trying to do as much as I do off the football field, it kind of drains you a little bit and you start to [take] things for granted. Maybe I did. Not on purpose. You just don't even know it until somebody taps you on your shoulder and is like, 'What are you doing?'

"So, my focus is football," Tuck added. "Family and football. That's it. You won't see me out as much [doing appearances] as I have been in previous years. I have kind of dedicated myself to doing a lot of that this offseason so when football comes in, that is where I am at."

Tuck, 30, is motivated to lead the Giants back to the Super Bowl -- which will be held at MetLife Stadium. In order for that to happen, he'll likely have to be the Tuck of old, with Jason Pierre-Paul recovering from back surgery and Osi Umenyiora gone to Atlanta.

After collecting 11.5 sacks and six forced fumbles in 2010, Tuck has been limited to a total of nine sacks in the past two regular seasons. In 2011, Tuck battled through neck, shoulder, groin, ankle and toe injuries, and also dealt with the loss of his grandfather and two uncles.

Tuck is feeling better these days, body and mind. He and his wife just celebrated the birth of their second son, on Father's Day.

And he's motivated to return to his old Pro Bowl form, but not because it is a contract year.

"I am not going to allow this whole circumstance to put pressure on me to perform," he said of his contract year. "I put enough pressure on myself to perform. I am not even thinking about contractwise. I don't care if I come out in the first three games [and] I have 10 sacks. ... I don't want to hear about contract at all. That is not my focus.

"I am worried about getting this football team to another Super Bowl and winning it," Tuck added. "If that happens, then all the rest will take care of itself."

Tuck has seen how Umenyiora and Victor Cruz have had to deal with their own contracts.

"I understand that me concentrating on a contract takes my mind, a lot of my concentration, off what it should be on," Tuck said. "The thing I can't control is the contract.

"I've seen players have great years and end up not being there next year," Tuck added. "I can control how I go out on the football field and play. The only way I can control the contract stuff is if my name is Mara and Tisch."

Kiwanuka becomes key without JPP

June, 7, 2013
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –- The plan early in the offseason was to move Mathias Kiwanuka back to defensive end.

With Osi Umenyiora certain to leave in free agency, the Giants were ready to put away Kiwanuka’s linebacker duties and return him to his natural position, to rotate in behind Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul.

[+] EnlargeMathias Kiwanuka
AP Photo/Bill KostrounMathias Kiwanuka at the Giants' OTA on Thursday.
It made all the sense in the world with Umenyiora leaving for Atlanta. But now the shift takes on even more significance with Pierre-Paul’s recent back surgery. Kiwanuka will start at defensive end until Pierre-Paul is ready to return.

Considering that Tom Coughlin can’t say whether Pierre-Paul will be ready for the season opener about 13 weeks from now, Kiwanuka could very well start at Dallas on Sept. 8.

Losing Pierre-Paul for any extended amount of time is a serious blow to the Giants' defense, but they have the luxury of plugging in Kiwanuka, who relishes the opportunity to show why he should be a full-time pass-rusher in this league again.

“There’s no doubt in my mind,” Kiwanuka said of how confident he is returning to defensive end. “That was the position I came into this league playing, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity. Obviously, we would love to have [Pierre-Paul] back, and I’m sure he’ll be back ready to go at a certain point. But we’re not going to rush him back for any reason.”

The estimated timetable for Pierre-Paul’s recovery is 12 weeks, which would take him to a week before the season opener. But there really is no reason why the Giants should be anything but conservative with one of the cornerstones of the franchise.

Kiwanuka allows the Giants to not rush the Pro Bowl defensive end back. And Kiwanuka knows what it's like to start in place of an injured star end.

In 2008, he entered training camp as the starting strongside linebacker but ended up moving to right defensive end when Umenyiora suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason. Kiwanuka started all 16 games and had a career-high eight sacks that year.

“I remember Osi going down, and I think me and Kiwi had probably our best years as a professional,” said Tuck, who had a career-high 12 sacks in 2008. “The one thing about this unit I am not worried about is we will be ready to play when we need to be ready to play.”

Since returning from a bulging herniated disk that ended his season in 2010 after three games, Kiwanuka has started at strongside linebacker while also rotating in as a defensive end on passing downs.

He has a total of 6.5 sacks the past two years while working in a hybrid role. But last season, he saw his tackles dip from 84 in 2011 to 37, as defensive coordinator Perry Fewell mixed in different packages.

“We felt like, in the middle of the season, toward the end [of last year], that Kiwi wasn’t really comfortable with what we were asking him to do,” defensive line coach Robert Nunn said. “And so we felt that he would be more comfortable at defensive end.

“We were able to tell him that early, and he is really off to a good start. So he looks solid.”

Kiwanuka has always done whatever the team has asked of him. He’s been a defensive end, switched to linebacker, played a hybrid role and overcome a serious injury. Now he’s ready to show everybody what position he was drafted to play -- again.

“It’s been a long road for me,” Kiwanuka said. “I’ve been starting at multiple positions. I’ve been up and down and back and forth. Moving around and changing ... that’s not the big deal to me.

“The big deal for me is going out there and making sure that I do my job correctly and when I get the opportunity I make the best of it.”

'Yosi' ready to seize opportunity

June, 5, 2013
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With Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul absent from a voluntary OTA last week, Adrian Tracy was elevated to the first team.

And Tracy was happy for the opportunity to work with Mathias Kiwanuka as the starting defensive ends in practice last Thursday.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Tracy
Jim O'Connor/USA TODAY SportsAdrian Tracy has an opportunity to prove he is ready for a bigger role in the Giants' defense.
With Pierre-Paul sidelined now for an expected 12 weeks due to back surgery, Kiwanuka will clearly benefit the most and is likely to move up to the first team with Tuck.

But Tracy will see plenty of chances to prove that he is ready for a much bigger role. The young defensive end nicknamed "Yosi" -- as in Young Osi -- hopes he can help fill the void left behind by Osi Umenyiora’s departure to Atlanta and serve as the third defensive end now while JPP is sidelined.

"It is big not only for me but for everybody," Tracy said last week of the opportunity to move up with Umenyiora gone. "Somebody of that stature leaves for whatever reason, an opportunity always opens. Whoever seizes it will step in that place and hopefully that is me this year."

Tracy was drafted in the sixth round in 2010, the same year Pierre-Paul was selected 15th overall by the Giants.

But Tracy, who was converted to linebacker as a rookie, spent 2010 on injured reserve with an elbow and biceps injury. In 2011, Tracy was a practice squad player as the Giants made their Super Bowl run.

This past season, Tracy saw his first playing time, albeit sparingly. Rotating in behind a stacked rotation of Tuck, Pierre-Paul, Umenyiora and Kiwanuka, Tracy had 12 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble in 16 games.

His best game came in the Giants’ 26-3 rout in San Francisco in Week 6. Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell threw a wrinkle in his game plan by utilizing Tracy from different spots on the field. And Tracy responded with four tackles and one sack.

Tracy believes he will be able to show more of what he can do with more opportunities like that Niners game.

"I am very confident in my skills and my abilities," he said. "And I think the coaches recognize my versatility and what I can bring to the table."

Tracy will not be the only defensive end to get a chance to show what he can do. Third-round pick Damontre Moore, 20, collected total of 26.5 sacks in three seasons at Texas A&M, including 12.5 sacks this past season.

Adewale Ojomo turned heads last summer in training camp and will certainly get a shot to do the same again this summer. And Justin Trattou is hoping to show what he can do when healthy.

"There are some flashes," head coach Tom Coughlin said of what he saw from the young pass rushers in OTA last week. "Some good things are happening. He has shown some good ability to get off on the snap ... Tracy, Moore and a couple of these guys."

There’s always a chance the Giants will go out and sign a veteran defensive end, but they may want to first see what they have in Tracy and their other young pass rushers.

"Anytime you have an opportunity, you got to take it," Tracy said of getting to work with the first team last week. "Anytime you have an opportunity and you don’t, somebody else will take it.

"For me personally," Tracy continued. "If you give me an opportunity, I will take it and make the most of it."

Behind the red carpet at Tuck's event

June, 4, 2013
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TuckJohnny Nunez/Getty ImagesJustin Tuck hosted the 5th Annual Celebrity Billiards Tournament last Thursday at Slate.
Justin Tuck was standing on the red carpet posing for pictures with celebrities when an old friend gave him a big bear hug.

Osi Umenyiora came out to attend Tuck's charity billiards event at Slate last week, and the two quickly caught up and shared some laughs.

Tuck and his pregnant wife, Lauran, had another successful night for their charity R.U.S.H. for Literacy. The couple helped raised $460,000 to bring R.U.S.H. past the $2 million mark since the charity’s inception in 2008. Attendees of this year’s event also helped the United Way Hurricane Sandy Recovery Fund with $25,000 of the net proceeds donated to schools affected by Hurricane Sandy.

While you may not have been at his celebrity charity event, ESPNNewYork.com takes you inside the red carpet as we do every year at Tuck's party.

[+] EnlargeTuck
Johnny Nunez/WireImageMany stars were in attendance, including pool player Jeanette "The Black Widow" Lee.
Many of the same familiar faces showed up to support Tuck like professional pool goddess Jeanette "The Black Widow" Lee, actresses Vivica Fox and Melissa Joan Hart, comedian/actor Anthony Anderson, former Knick John Starks, Toronto Raptors forward Rudy Gay, Cake Boss Buddy Valastro and Naughty by Nature. Teammates like Eli Manning, Victor Cruz, Antrel Rolle, Chris Snee, Terrell Thomas and several other Giants also attended or played in the billiards tournament.

Tuck's event allows fans who purchased a ticket to mingle in a club-like atmosphere with athletes and celebrities. Downstairs, two Giants fans raved about how nice Thomas and first-round pick Justin Pugh were. There was also a table full of sandwiches courtesy of one of Tuck's biggest sponsors -- Subway. Upstairs, fans ate pizza from Umberto's and ice cream and listened to old school music spun by DJ Mad Linx.

The dance area, though, was crowded as fans lined up to snap pictures with Jason Kidd and Brooklyn Nets' point guard Deron Williams. The two repeatedly posed for several pictures with fans as the two caught up at the party. Not long after those two left, Cruz walked in and was mobbed by friends and fans as the receiver politely and patiently took several pictures with fans.

Not far away, "The Black Widow" took on challengers at her table and had fun toying with those who dared to play against her all for a good cause.

"It is our passion and a fun way to come out and raise money for a great cause," said Tuck, who also hosted his football camp of over 325 kids in Englewood, N.J. last weekend. "I got a lot of great friends here. For me education is a passion. Me and my wife talked about it when we started this about five years ago.

"We said if you are building a house of education, how would you build it," Tuck continued. "You got to start with the foundation. And we feel the foundation for education is literacy. That is how we chose literacy as a champion cause."

Diehl on concussions: On Monday night, David Diehl spoke at a seminar on the dangers of concussions in youth sports at the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center in Little Falls, N.J.

Diehl was the spokesperson for the Matthew J. Morahan III Health Assessment Center for Athletes at Barnabas Health. Joined by John Gallucci, Jr., president of JAG Physical Therapy, Diehl spoke to 125 local coaches, athletic trainers and athletic administrators about taking the necessary time to recover from a head injury.

Diehl stressed that "sitting out a season could give you back the rest of your life to live."

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