EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It has been suggested, by myself and others, that the New York Giants' passing game could suffer for the loss of reliable targets such as tight end Kevin Boss (who left and signed with the Raiders) and wide receiver Steve Smith (who remains unsigned, is coming off knee surgery and likely won't be ready for the start of the season anyway). It has been suggested, by people who follow me here and on Twitter, that I am overreacting. So, in an effort to gain some relevant perspective, I asked Eli Manning what he thought about it. He sounds as if he'll miss Smith, at least, a great deal.
"When we've gotten in trouble in the past, we always had Steve in the slot, and that's kind of all we worked on -- Steve's in the slot, there you go, he's got it down," the Giants' quarterback told me before this afternoon's practice. "And so last year, when he got hurt, we were in trouble. No one else really knew how to play it. So this year we're putting everybody -- Hakeem (Nicks) is in there, (Mario) Manningham's getting in here, we're getting a lot of people in there to get them to learn some of it, so that'll probably create some more opportunities for us to move guys around and get some mismatches."
Manning didn't say he was worried about losing as reliable a target as Smith, but he definitely indicated that his absence would be noticed. He mentioned Nicks and Manningham, both of whom are very good but were already significant contributors, and said they'd either have to do more or get some help from further down the roster.
"Both of them caught a bunch of touchdowns and had a lot of big plays for us last year," Manning said. "We need to continue to get those big plays, but also get more consistent at being able to pick up those tough third-and-five, third-and-sixes. That's where Steve was so helpful. So either we need one of them to take over that or get it from someone else -- whether it's (Domenik) Hixon, a guy who has kind of played that slot position some, or see if Victor Cruz or someone else can get in there."
Smith visited Giants training camp this week and could be moving toward re-signing with the team. But even if he does, no one knows how much he can contribute this season. Without him in the latter part of last year, the Giants' passing game looked a lot different. Manning's season could rest, at least in part, on how well the Giants do at trying to replace him.
"Each year, you're going to have different combinations, going to have different people," Manning said. "It's just a matter of adjusting. We might have to get into different formations. Obviously, this year, Travis Beckum is our best receiving tight end, but he's not 270 pounds like Kevin Boss. So we'll have to create some different formations and different ways to kind of run our offense. But that's common, and you advance, and you put your players in the best positions to be successful."