Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL
One thing of which I'm certain: Swagger. The Giants aren't cocky or overconfident, but quite a number of them have now won two Super Bowls, including the most recent one. That buys you the right to carry yourself with confidence, and there's no shortage of confidence in the Giants' locker room as they get set to defend their title. Defending champions get to answer their training-camp questions with a little bit more credibility than other teams do, because we've seen them overcome injuries and other obstacles and we know they have the ability to do it. We don't have to wonder how the Giants will react to adversity, and they're justifiably proud of that.
QB Eli Manning and others have said more than once this offseason that the Giants need to remember they were only 9-7 and barely made the playoffs last year, and need to make sure to improve on that. And that's true. Coach Tom Coughlin is sure to set the proper tone, and he's just the biggest part of a Giants leadership structure that will make sure the team's focus is where it needs to be. But when you're a coach standing in the middle of the room telling your team everything will be all right if you stick to the plan, it really helps to have the proof of that fresh in everyone's mind. That's the environment in which Coughlin gets to coach and the Giants get to prepare this summer.
One thing that might happen: A rookie running back could emerge. The Giants drafted David Wilson at the end of the first round, and while he faces competition, he has a real chance to win the backup running back spot vacated by Brandon Jacobs. No one from the incumbent group of D.J. Ware, Andre Brown and Da'Rel Scott has distinguished himself enough to earn the spot, and Wilson is getting rave reviews this offseason for his speed. It remains to be seen whether he can pick up the offense quickly enough and/or prove himself an asset in pass-blocking or receiving. And if he doesn't, he might start the season further down on the depth chart. But if he performs well in camp, he has a chance to be Ahmad Bradshaw's backup .
One thing that's important to remember is that Wilson represents a much bigger change of pace than you might think. A popular misconception among casual observers has long been that Bradshaw was the speedy, open-space complement to Jacobs' size and power. But the fact is that Bradshaw is also a power runner -- just a smaller one than Jacobs, because all running backs are smaller than Jacobs. Wilson is a different kind of running back than the Giants have had in recent years, and if he proves able, he could open up the playbook and allow them to do things they haven't been able to do because Bradshaw and Jacobs had similar styles. It's a big "if" with a rookie, and he hasn't shown it yet, but the opportunity is there for Wilson to become a factor in the offense.
One thing we won't see: Osi Umenyiora contract drama. The Giants' perpetually disgruntled defensive end has been gruntled. Umenyiora is signed and happy and planning to report to camp on time and start practicing right away. This is huge for the Giants, because if he's healthy and productive along with starting defensive ends Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul, that allows the team to employ its favorite advantage over other teams -- the ability to rotate three of the best pass-rushers in the game and keep them all fresh.
The Giants' defense is built around the pass rush, and that pass rush is at its best when Umenyiora is a part of it. He may no longer technically be a "starter," as Pierre-Paul's breakout 2011 season while Umenyiora moped and healed from injury thrust the youngster into that role. But when he was on the field late last year and in the postseason, Umenyiora showed that he can still do things that other defensive ends simply can't do. He's quick and athletic and a major asset to the Giants, who are happy they don't have to watch him ride an exercise bike while everyone else practices and listen to him complain about his contract anymore.