NFC East: Antonio Pierce

When Antonio Pierce retired from the New York Giants following the 2009 season, two of his former defensive coordinators -- Steve Spagnuolo and Gregg Williams -- asked if he'd want to attend a coaching internship program. Pierce says now that he didn't feel up to the time commitment that would have required and preferred to spend his immediate post-career time reconnecting with his family.

But he also says he always wanted to go into coaching, so the opportunity to become head coach at Long Beach Poly High School in California was perfect for him. Pierce will be announced as that school's head football coach Thursday afternoon. He'll continue to work as an ESPN studio analyst, with his assistant coaches handling practices on days he's in Bristol. (Former NFL quarterback Mark Brunell, who works at ESPN and also coaches high school football in Jacksonville, has a similar arrangement.) And Pierce said some of his assistants will be former NFL players, including former Giants running back Derrick Ward and former NFL wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. He said he'd also solicit the help of Long Beach Poly alums like DeSean Jackson, Winston Justice and Willie McGinest.

"I know how much it means to kids to see somebody who came from their situation and who's made it that far," Pierce said. "I always joked around that if I knew 5 percent of what I know now when I was in high school, in terms of technique, watching film, all of that, I would have been so much better."

Pierce has a son at the school but is not himself an alum, as he was born in Long Beach but raised in Compton. He said he expects the fact that he's a former NFL player with a Super Bowl ring to help him get the attention of his new charges, but "one thing I don't have is a CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) title, so that's still a goal of mine."

Scouting Giants LBs with Kiwanuka

August, 20, 2013
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Oh yes, Mathias Kiwanuka remembers Mark Herzlich from when Herzlich played in college. Herzlich played at Boston College, Kiwanuka's alma mater, and wore No. 94, Kiwanuka's number, and so Kiwanuka was watching him closely as he blossomed into one of the most fearsome defensive players in the college game before being diagnosed with cancer.

"I remember watching and just thinking, 'That's it,'" Kiwanuka said after New York Giants practice Friday. "'They're going to retire No. 94 at Boston College, but it's not going to be for me.'"

The two are now Giants teammates. And while Kiwanuka is going to play defensive end this year, he spent the past two years as a linebacker, in the meeting room with many of the linebackers who are getting attention this summer for being ... well, not very exciting. The Giants' linebacker crew is something of a mishmash of undrafteds, underdrafteds and retreads out of which the team is hoping to find something reliable. But while the group may not look like anything special from the outside, there are things about each player that the team likes. So I asked Kiwanuka to break down some of the guys with whom he spent so much time the past couple of years, starting with his fellow Boston College Eagle.

[+] EnlargeSpencer Paysinger, Keith Rivers and Mark Herzlich
John Munson/The Star-Ledger/USA TODAY SportsWith Spencer Paysinger, Keith Rivers and Mark Herzlich at LB, teammate Mathias Kiwanuka says the Giants' defense is high on potential.

"He's a very cerebral player, and I hate to say that about somebody, because then it sounds like maybe he's not as good of an athlete. But I went to BC and he wore 94, so I was tuned in the second he stepped on the field. He's every bit as good of an athlete as you're going to find on the field. The difference is that he has that middle linebacker mentality, meaning that when he goes in to study, he studies the entire offense and he studies what our defenses are and where we can be hurt, so he knows when he walks out there what the calls are and what the checks are going to be before he even gets the call a lot of the time. So he's a solid middle linebacker.

"Since I've been here, we've had Antonio Pierce and we've had Chase Blackburn, and I think Mark Herzlich is right in that same category. A.P. and Chase could tell you ... I'd say maybe 50-50 chance, but they could tell you a decent amount of what the play was going to be, run or pass. And in our division, I think they could tell you,like, which direction the run was going to go and what possibilities of which gap it was going to be through. And he's up there."

(Note: Herzlich is competing with Dan Connor for the starting middle linebacker job, but Kiwanuka didn't feel as comfortable breaking down Connor, since Connor wasn't on the team last year and he doesn't know him as well.)

Jacquian Williams

"He's probably one of the faster linebackers out there. I think he's got the capability of playing nickel in some systems, so it gives us a lot of versatility in terms of what you can do, specifically, on passing downs. You leave him on the field, he can cover any receiver the offense is going to put out there. He also blitzes like a big-time linebacker and he can stop the run, too. I think he has Pro Bowl-caliber play in him. As long as he stays healthy, he'll be good.

"You can put him on your best pass-catching receiver or your receiving tight end and he'll more than hold his own. But what I'm saying is, you can also put him on a legitimate slot receiver and leave him out there and he'll do his job."

(So, what does Williams still need to work on?)

"It's just mental. He came in as such a good athlete that he could recover from a lot of situations that he found himself in, and as he gets older, he has to learn that people are going to read and scout him and he's going to be a focal point of who you need to beat in order to get get past the Giants defense. So people are going to be targeting him and he needs to be more disciplined in his reads, but he'll get there."

Spencer Paysinger

"Up and comer. I think maybe he didn't get as much time on the field last year, but he's a spectacular athlete. I think in his first preseason game you saw that he was all over the field. He's another one of those guys in the field that I think has it all put together, just needs to go out and do it on Sundays. Definitely the kind of guy who could be a three-down linebacker, for sure."

Keith Rivers

"He's a veteran. He's a speed guy. If you put him out there and somebody's going to try to turn that corner on him, you see the wheels turn. I think he's proven what he can do on the field. He was a high draft pick and this and that, so everybody knows he has the intangibles. It's more about fitting into the system and getting comfortable with it."

So there you have it. Take it for what it's worth -- this is a teammate, with an interest in pumping these guys up. But I thought it was worth finding out from someone on the inside what it is the Giants see in terms of potential when they look at their linebacker corps.
The extremely helpful and hard-working folks at ESPN Stats & Information have crunched a bunch of their "next-level" numbers to dive deeper into the draft needs of the NFL's 32 teams, and we're taking a team-by-team look at what they found in the NFC East. Next up, the New York Giants, whose needs in order were found to be defensive back, linebacker, offensive line and defensive end.

Stats & Info notes that the Giants ranked last in the NFL in 2012 in completion percentage allowed, yards per attempt allowed and 30-yard plays allowed on throws of 11 or more yards downfield. They did have the second-most interceptions in the league on such throws, but if they didn't pick the ball off they were liable to give up a big play. The Giants have used their first draft pick on a defensive back in four of their last eight drafts. And while that might indicate they shouldn't need help there, it also indicates that they don't think they can have too many high-quality defensive backs.

Linebacker shows up as a need, S&I says, because the Giants' 3.0 yards allowed per rush before first contact last year was the fourth-worst figure in the league. That figure has gotten worse every year since 2009, which they point out was Antonio Pierce's last season as the Giants' middle linebacker. The Giants haven't taken a linebacker in the first round since Carl Banks in 1984.

On the offensive line, the Giants could use more consistency of personnel groupings. According to Stats & Info, the Giants used 16 different offensive line combinations in 2012, tied for the sixth-most in the league. They re-signed starting left tackle Will Beatty and starting left guard Kevin Boothe, but they need consistent health from center David Baas and right guard Chris Snee, and it might not hurt to find a reliable starter at right tackle, which is a question mark right now. The Giants haven't drafted an offensive lineman in the first round since Luke Petitgout in 1999.

Finally, Stats & Information points out that the Giants' four-man pass rush recorded 13 fewer sacks in 2012 when sending just four after the passer than it did in 2011. "The Giants sent four or fewer pass-rushers on a higher percentage of drop-backs in 2012 than in 2011 but were unable to get to the quarterback as often." With Osi Umenyiora having left as a free agent, it's possible the Giants will look to draft a pass-rushing defensive end early to deepen and improve that pass rush. Improvement in the pass rush is also likely to help out that struggling secondary we discussed a few paragraphs back.
Thoughtful piece here from Paul Schwartz, with the help of former New York Giants tackle Luke Petitgout, on the Giants' preference for parting ways with players before those players lose their effectiveness. At the end of the week in which the Giants cut two-time Super Bowl-winning running back Ahmad Bradshaw, as well as linebacker Michael Boley and defensive tackle Chris Canty, Petitgout remembers his own experience and sees it reflected in what's going on now:
“The Giants are a family,’’ Petitgout said. “It’s something tough to accept, like when a girlfriend dumps you. They know when your time is up. Some guys may buck the trend and have a good couple years after that but if you’ve been there a long time, they know your medical history, they know your aches and pains, they usually make the right decision. I basically had a time bomb in my back and when I went to Tampa it went off. The Giants knew what they were doing.’’
[+] EnlargeAhmad Bradshaw
Jim O'Connor/USA TODAY SportsThe Giants parted ways this week with Ahmad Bradshaw, who was their leading rusher the past three seasons.
It cannot have been easy for GM Jerry Reese to say goodbye to Bradshaw, who played through significant pain to help deliver the team's Super Bowl title last year. But between Bradshaw's salary and the chronic foot injuries that kept him from practicing during the week or playing at full strength on Sundays, the Giants believed it was the right thing to do. It's not the first time they've cut a player while he was still an effective producer for them, and if Bradshaw's best days are behind him, it won't be the first time the Giants cut a still-productive player just in time:
Reese is rarely wrong. As a former scout, his eye for talent isn’t confined to youngsters. Steve Smith and Kevin Boss haven’t done a thing and haven’t stayed healthy. He traded away Jeremy Shockey. He did not re-sign Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward or Amani Toomer. He cut Shaun O'Hara, Rich Seubert and Kareem McKenzie. He didn’t think Antonio Pierce's neck was sound enough to continue playing. He passed on bringing back Plaxico Burress. In the same purge that caught Petitgout, Reese also jettisoned Carlos Emmons and LaVar Arrington. Did any of these players prove Reese wrong?

Pretty amazing list. Combine this idea with what we wrote about here Thursday -- the Giants' organizational belief in developing young players in their system so they're ready to take over when it's time for the veterans to go -- and it's easy to see that Reese has a definite plan and is sticking to it. Will it work? No way to know. If the Giants are in something of a rebuild mode, they're going to need many of their young players to be as good as the team thought they'd be when it drafted them. And not even Reese, with all of his track record, can predict how players are going to play. The point is, even as things change with the Giants and people come and go, it's still easy to see the consistency with which they operate, and it has served them well.

ESPN NFL analyst Antonio Pierce, who played for the Redskins in 2004 when Gregg Williams was their defensive coordinator, had some thoughts on the audio of Williams' pregame speech that was released Thursday. Antonio sat down with Rachel Nichols for a discussion that aired on "SportsCenter," in which he said the stuff he heard in the Williams speech sounded very much like speeches he'd heard throughout his NFL career, including from Williams.
"It took me back to 2004, honestly. I know the tone. That was Gregg Williams. I love him for it. I loved his approach to the game. If I had to play for him today, I would, no problem."

Fine. Understood. The opinions of our former-NFL-player analysts are very much worthwhile, and it's good of them to be open about sharing them. But they're all missing the most important point in all of this.

This discussion has moved beyond the issue of bounties, well beyond the issue of what kind of motivator Williams is, and it needs to move beyond the issue of how common these speeches are. We get it. This stuff gets brought up. Players are made aware of opposing players' injuries so that they might take them into consideration when they decide how and much and how hard to hit them.

Happens from high school on up. We all completely get that this is common practice and has been for a long time.

But the real point in all of this is that it has to change, along with many other time-tested aspects of physical football, to fit in with today's player-safety-conscious NFL. You can argue that the league is hypocritical. You can argue that it was late to the party. You can argue that all of the player-safety initiatives and related discipline are a reaction to the proliferation of lawsuits by former players who claim the league ignored or covered up serious injuries for years. All of that is absolutely true. But what's also true is that, whether fans like it or not, player safety has become a paramount issue in today's NFL, and it's not going the other direction anytime soon.

That being the case, the idea of a motivational speech that urges players to target opponents' specific injuries is either outdated or must become so. If you're a defensive coordinator, and you're watching what's going on the past couple of days and weeks, and you're smart, you're leaving that kind of stuff out of your pregame speeches from this point forward. It's entirely possible to fire up your players without mentioning anything about concussions or ACLs, and given what's happened to Williams and the Saints, smart coaches are going to realize that and stop talking like this. Because whether you or I or anyone who's ever played football like it or not, the NFL is going to be very interested in knowing who does and who doesn't.

Breakfast links: Franchise Spencer?

February, 16, 2012
Less than a week until the combine. Less than a month until free agency. Still a ways to go before the draft. This is humbly, simply, Thursday, which doesn't have much going on but is nonetheless proud of its links.

New York Giants

Less than two weeks since their Super Bowl title, the Giants aren't even the biggest sports story in New York right now. Antonio Pierce asked his Twitter followers which out-of-nowhere star was the bigger surprise — the Giants' Victor Cruz or the Knicks' Jeremy Lin — and is asking for your vote on that question. Lin's winning the poll big, and I think he's the right answer. But Cruz isn't a bad comparison.

Chad Jones, the former LSU safety who nearly died in a car accident shortly after being drafted in the third round by the Giants in 2010, is apparently cleared to play and plans to be at minicamps and OTAs this year. Interesting to see whether he can author this comeback story. If he can, the Giants' secondary will be able to find a place for him.

Philadelphia Eagles

Howard Bryant says one of DeSean Jackson's big problems is the NFL's franchise player rule, which he thinks is unfair and should have been a target of the players' union in last year's collective bargaining negotiations. I talked with Howard about this column, and he asked if I thought Jackson would play well if he got the franchise tag and no new contract this year. I think he would, since he'd be happy with the nearly $9 million raise that would represent. But I still think it's likely the Eagles will look to trade him after franchising him, and that his best bet for a big new contract is with some other team.

The Eagles have announced that they will not raise ticket prices for 2012. I consider this a wise decision.

Dallas Cowboys

Troy Aikman isn't sure he and the Cowboys could have won those three Super Bowls without the help of Charles Haley, and he'd like to see Haley get into the Hall of Fame.

I don't know if the Cowboys will franchise Anthony Spencer, and I haven't decided whether I think they should. Spencer's heard the talk, and he says he's surprised by it and would prefer to hit the market and get a long-term deal from Dallas or some other team. But he doesn't sound as though he'd be crushed if he were franchised. I promise to keep thinking about this and eventually post a reasoned opinion. Just don't have one figured all the way out yet.

Washington Redskins

John Keim breaks down the pros and cons of a Redskins pursuit of Robert Griffin III. Look, in a vacuum, with everything being equal, I believe Griffin is the best option for the Redskins this offseason at quarterback. But all things are not equal, and the price for trading up to the No. 2 pick and getting Griffin could be too high. If it is, the Redskins need to find out soon so they know how to proceed in free agency with guys like Peyton Manning, Kyle Orton and Matt Flynn.

Mark Rypien says a Manning pursuit would not constitute a reversion by the Redskins to their old methods of signing old, big-name stars without thinking about how they fit, because (if healthy) Manning's a different case. What I have learned today is that Mark Rypien is a smart man, a rare voice of reason amid the cap-city cacophony spouting too-simple comparisons to years past without appreciating what's different about the team's current management structure. Thank you, Mark Rypien. Those of us trying to inject sense and nuance into this discussion need all of the help we can get.

Easy with the '07 Giants comparisons

January, 2, 2012
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — When people disappear for a few weeks, it can be easy to forget them. The New York Giants played long stretches of this season without defensive end Osi Umenyiora, but many Giants fans shrugged it off. Jason Pierre-Paul was playing so well on the side opposite Justin Tuck that it didn't much matter. Umenyiora had been effectively replaced.

But then Umenyiora shows up for the final game of the season, finally healthy enough to play in the same game as Pierre-Paul and Tuck, and we are reminded. He flashes his game-disrupting speed off the edge, sacks Tony Romo twice and reminds everybody about the way the Giants' defense was supposed to work all along. Is he better than Pierre-Paul? Debatable right now. But if Umenyiora is the third-best pass-rusher on his team, as Eagles running back LeSean McCoy famously tweeted last summer, then his team has one heck of a pass rush.

[+] EnlargeOsi Umenyiora
Julio Cortez/AP PhotoGiants defensive end Justin Tuck, right, is congratulated by Osi Umenyiora after Tuck sacked Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
"To be able to put those combinations together and feature those guys and the outstanding pass rushers that they are, it's going to give us a real good shot in the arm," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "You can't double everybody. To have the defense play well, it gives us a chance to play some Giants football."

I think that's a really good way to put it: Gives them a chance. There's this rush today all of a sudden to compare these Giants to the 2007 version that finished the year hot, put together a run and knocked off the Patriots in the Super Bowl. And I understand. Comparisons like that are what we do. Plus, same quarterback, same coach, some of the same players we all know won't be affected by playoff pressure... and a defensive front capable of getting pressure on the quarterback without blitzing. That's what wrecked Tom Brady's undefeated season, and the Giants the last couple of weeks have played defense well enough to remind people of the way they played it that year.

"The way those guys rush, it's just like blitzing," Giants linebacker Michael Boley said. "For them to get up there and rush the way they rush, that takes a lot of pressure off of us in the back end."

Which is the plan, of course, but let's not get too crazy here. The Super Bowl champion Giants of four years ago were a much more complete team than this one is. They had the fourth-best rushing offense in the NFL that year, for example, averaging 134.3 yards per game on the ground. This year's Giants were the worst rushing offense in the league, at 89.2. That year's team had Antonio Pierce playing middle linebacker — a spot currently manned by rookies when it's manned at all. And whatever you want to say about this year's great pass rushers, not one of them is — at least to this point in his career — Michael Strahan-great.

Four years ago, the play of the defensive line elevated the Giants from "good playoff team" to "world champion." This year's defensive line, if it can continue to play the way it played Sunday night, elevates the Giants from "mediocre, flawed team that got outscored by its opponents in the regular season" to "team that might be able to make some noise." The 2007-08 run was a once-in-a-lifetime treat. Even if the Giants do make another one this year, it will stand on its own in team history, built more on clutch performance by this year's stars than on a four-year-old formula for success. But they will need the defense to make it happen.

"We have a very good offense, an outstanding quarterback, and as long as we're able on defense to help keep the team in the game, we have a chance to do something special," Umenyiora said.

A chance, yes. Eli Manning and his receivers can put points on the board with anyone -- yes, even the Packers and the Saints. The question is whether the defense can keep the other team from scoring more. The Cowboys' receivers were consistently beating the Giants' defensive backs Sunday night, but the Giants' pass rush didn't give Romo enough time to find them. That's the formula. If they can't get to Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan consistently and violently on Sunday afternoon, Ryan and his receivers will torch them. If they do that and can't get to Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers the following week in Green Bay, Rodgers and his receivers will torch them.

Right now, though, it looks as though the Giants can get to the quarterback -- maybe as effectively as they have all season. And if they can do that, then yes, they will have a chance.
Tuesday is a big day on the NFL page. To make sure you have the energy to power your way through it, let's make sure you get your links.

New York Giants

Injured defensive end Justin Tuck says he's "confident" he'll play in the Giants' next game, which is the week after next against the Dolphins. Tuck has endured a lot of frustration connected with his neck injury, including missed games and surprise criticism from former teammate Antonio Pierce. He desperately wants to play, and while the Giants are getting strong defensive end play from Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul in his absence, there's no denying they're a better defense when he's in there.

The Giants are hoping to get a lot of people back from injury when they return from their bye week. The list, according to Tom Canavan, includes right guard Chris Snee, running back Brandon Jacobs, receiver Ramses Barden and rookie cornerback Prince Amukamara. Now, the first two, sure. But Barden? We'll believe he's a factor once he's finally on the field and contributing. And while everybody's been excited about Amukamara since draft day, it's worth remembering that he's still a rookie who had one NFL practice before his injury and will be playing, I believe, with screws in his surgically repaired foot. His presence could help snap some people (Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant in particular) back into their more appropriate roles, but I think expectations for Amukamara should be a little more tempered than they seem to be at this point.

Washington Redskins

The play of the Redskins' offensive line has been a major reason for their success this year, and with left guard Kory Lichtensteiger out for the year and left tackle Trent Williams likely out a few weeks, they have some shuffling to do. As coach Mike Shanahan pointed out, the Lichtensteiger injury is especially tough, since he was playing "at a very high level," and I'm interested to see what impact this has on the Redskins' run game the rest of the way.

LaVar Arrington has some advice for Rex Grossman if he does get another shot at the Redskins' starting quarterback job. LaVar thinks Grossman should stop making predictions and let his play on the field do the talking for him. Of course, having watched him play Sunday, I wonder if maybe that's what Grossman was afraid of doing all along.

Dallas Cowboys

Todd Archer's got a source saying Felix Jones could miss 2-to-4 weeks with a high ankle sprain. This would be a tough to overcome for a Cowboys team struggling to find its offensive identity. Jones' preseason performance was a real reason for optimism as the Cowboys' season began last month, but he's been unable to build off of it, and for the time being the run game looks to be in the hands of Tashard Choice and DeMarco Murray.

And Calvin Watkins engages in some speculation about players the Cowboys could potentially bring in to address their injury-wracked offensive line situation, including former Cowboy Montrae Holland and former Eagle Nick Cole. Again, speculation by Calvin, as he admits, but things do seem to be getting a bit thin up front. Again.

Philadelphia Eagles

Because Sheil Kapadia is Sheil Kapadia, he took a detailed look at each of the 12 run plays the Redskins ran against the Eagles on Sunday and identified what the Eagles did, play by play, to stop the run. The upshot is that they didn't use as much "Wide 9" on the defensive line as they'd been using all season. The Eagles' coaches have explained that they tightened their line formations because they believed that to be the best way to combat the Redskins' zone-blocking run scheme. If you're an Eagles fan, it's got to be nice to know the coaches are willing to be flexible and not too stubborn to tinker with their philosophy when the situation calls for it.

And Jeff McLane muses on whether the Eagles could make a move in advance of Tuesday's trade deadline. Jeff points out the Eagles' obvious depth at cornerback, and surely they could trade from that group to address an area of need such as linebacker. And he mentions the depth on the defensive line as well, especially considering the possibility that it could get Brandon Graham back at some point after the bye. So we'll see. The Eagles could deal from strength if they were so inclined.

You know the Tuesday drill. We'll do our chat at noon ET. We'll have Power Rankings. We'll have Stock Watch. We'll have various other goodies sprinkled throughout the day. So keep coming back. We'll make it worth your while. I promise.
All four NFC East teams are back in action this week, so we turn directly to the links, which never take a bye week.

Washington Redskins

Rex Grossman and Fred Davis got some practice time together last week when they both found themselves at the Redskins' team facility during the bye. Davis says he's eager to get back to the way things were in the first couple of weeks of the season. Remember? When he was the second coming of Jerry Rice?

I wondered, when Al Davis died Saturday, what Mike Shanahan would have to say about him, since the two were obviously nothing close to friendly after Davis fired Shanahan in Oakland and the two bickered about money. Shanahan offered a simple, classy statement saying he never met anyone with more passion for the game and that he "learned a lot" from Davis, and I imagine he'll leave it at that.

Dallas Cowboys

Anthony Spencer is a more serious, focused and determined player this year than he was in 2010, and it's showing on the field. Could it have something to do with the fact that he's playing for a contract?

Jason Garrett is so determined to stick with his idea of "situational football" in practice that he has added scoreboards to the Cowboys' practice fields at Valley Ranch to help keep the team focused on the fictional situations he's creating for them every day.

New York Giants

Justin Tuck clearly isn't happy about former Giants teammate and current ESPN analyst Antonio Pierce apparently calling out him and Brandon Jacobs for not playing in spite of their injuries. Tuck says he and Pierce have discussed the matter, and that Pierce doesn't understand the extent of Tuck's injury. Jacobs has nothing to say on the matter, since he apparently only talks on Thursdays. You know, like every other backup running back in the league does.

The Giants haven't changed their philosophy on the importance of running the ball. They just haven't been able to make it work so far this year, and they're as curious about why that is as the rest of us are.

Philadelphia Eagles

Things have gone from ugly to uglier in Philadelphia, where heads continue to be called for. Kevin Callahan says the first thing the Eagles need to do is fire rookie defensive coordinator Juan Castillo and the second is to move head coach Andy Reid into a GM role. Neither of those things is about to happen during the season, by the way.

Jeff McLane argues for scrapping the "Wide 9" defensive philosophy the Eagles adopted for the first time this season, and he's clearly right that they don't have the linebackers or safeties they need to make it work effectively. Reid says it worked better in the second half against the Bills, and he's right. The defense actually did manage to make a couple of stops and get off the field in the second half, and turnovers by the offense cost the Eagles the game. But the Eagles' defense takes too long to get going, and they simply can't wait until the second half every week for the scheme to start working.

It's Tuesday, which means we'll chat at noon, we'll have Power Rankings in the afternoon and Stock Watch as well. Keep checking back for all of the Tuesday goodies.
Good morning, all. Yes, in spite of the hang-wringing and incredulous impatience of last night, I really believe today is the day. I think the players didn't like the way the NFL handled things last night, don't want to be forced into re-establishing their union if they don't want one and honestly felt they needed time to look over the deal the owners handed them before agreeing to it. I think all of this is reasonable. And from all I've been told, I have no reason to think any of it will hold up the deal beyond today. Could the players vote no and surprise me? Sure. But I think (a) this is a really nice deal for them and (b) they all want to get back to work. So, in the spirit of justified optimism, we link:

Dallas Cowboys

Skip Bayless and Chris Broussard debated on "First Take" on Thursday whether this is a "make or break" season for Tony Romo in Dallas. Skip says it is. Chris says he's nuts. Chris is right. If Romo throws for 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns and the defense gives up the second-most points in the league again and they miss the playoffs, how exactly would that be Romo's fault? Said it before, say it again: Romo is the least of the Cowboys' problems.

Calvin Watkins' "Old School" series checks in with Nate Newton, who thinks, among other things, that the Cowboys should have designated Doug Free as their franchise player before the lockout began.

New York Giants

Mike Garafolo listened to Ahmad Bradshaw do an interview with a Miami radio station and couldn't figure out which way he was leaning -- Giants or Dolphins. On the heels of Drew Rosenhaus' comments about Bradshaw and the Dolphins earlier this week, Bradshaw sounds like a guy who wants and expects to be back with the Giants but is trying to use the Dolphins' potential interest as leverage for the best possible deal. Of course, the Dolphins really could use him and could make an offer to lure him away. It was Dolphins versus Giants last year for Antrel Rolle, and Miami was upset to lose out. Revenge? asks who was the Giants' best free-agent signing of the past 15 years -- Kerry Collins, Michael Barrow, Shaun O'Hara, Antonio Pierce, Kareem McKenzie or Plaxico Burress? Honestly, given where they were at quarterback before he signed, I might go with Collins here.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles are ready to begin training camp next week if the players sign off on the deal, and they still expect to have it at Lehigh.

And we have this latest entry on why it would be better for the Eagles to sign a cornerback who's not as good as Nnamdi Asomugha than it would be for them to sign Asomugha himself. It's twisted logic every time I read it, and yet it's become something of a consensus. Fine. You guys want Ike Taylor, go get him. You just won't be as good as you could have been. I mean, jeez. If Asomugha doesn't fit into the defense you're planning to run, but you can afford him and he wants to sign with you ... maybe you should be running a different defense.

Washington Redskins

Jason Reid says the Redskins will be one of the teams most affected, in a negative way, by the lost offseason: "The accelerated schedule poses problems for ballclubs relying on inexperienced quarterbacks and those envisioning significant roster turnover, both of which describe the Washington Redskins' situation." I'll add that I also think they're hurt because this second year of Jim Haslett's 3-4 is a critical one in that transition, and they really didn't get to have the offseason I'm sure Haslett wanted to have with it.

Mike Jones lists Kevin Barnes, Keiland Williams, Graham Gano, Perry Riley, Anthony Armstrong and LaRon Landry as potential "breakout" players for the Redskins in 2011. Mike has written on Barnes a lot this offseason, wondering if the Redskins will indeed make him a starting cornerback and address other free-agent needs instead. Worth watching.

All right. More later. It's Friday, so you know we have plenty. But right now I have to go vote on a proposed bowl of cereal, pending the addition of a glass of orange juice.

Report: Brandon Jacobs wants a trade

September, 20, 2010
The New York Giants' embattled running back Brandon Jacobs will request a trade Monday, according to the Bergen County Record's Vinny DiTrani. Citing an anonymous source, DiTrani reports that Jacobs will approach general manager Jerry Reese with his trade request.

And from what I know about Reese, he'll calmly tell Jacobs to return to the locker room and focus on helping his teammates. This is a player who used to give New York's offense an identity in the power running game. But over the past few weeks, Jacobs has stood out more for his whining and immature behavior. Whether intentional or not, it was still ridiculous for the running back to fling his helmet into the stands last night during the third quarter of a 38-14 loss to the Colts.

Jacobs embarrassed the organization and he didn't help matters by reportedly shouting at Newsday beat writer Tom Rock after he asked a perfectly logical question about Jacobs' playing time in the second half. I'm sure that coach Tom Coughlin and Reese will both have conversations with Jacobs today during which they'll try to convince him to place his teammates ahead of his ego.

This is a prideful guy who's been humiliated by his demotion. And even if the Giants wanted to trade him, is there a huge market for a 264-pound tailback who occasionally forgets that he's not Barry Sanders? I'm sure the Giants knew there would be fallout from demoting Jacobs, but they probably didn't think he'd act irrationally for weeks at a time.

Pro Bowl defensive end Justin Tuck appeared to admonish Jacobs last night on the sideline and I think he'll continue to drive home his point Monday. With the retirement of Antonio Pierce, Tuck is now the most vocal leader on the team. But right now, the loudest voice in the locker room belongs to

Keith Bulluck in the middle

July, 28, 2010
Keith Bulluck was primarily an outside linebacker with the Titans, but he doesn't think a transition to the middle for the Giants will be a problem. In a conference call Tuesday, Bulluck talked about what will be required of him at the new position.
"I take on guards, I take on centers," said Bulluck. "A lot of times when I was in Tennessee, I would get blocked by a guard and a center. My work was always cut out for me; I don't think it'll be any different here. I haven't really even thought twice about it. It wasn't a matter of me getting the confidence to play the middle. Confidence has never been an issue with me when it comes to this game."

Bulluck was dubbed "Mr. Monday Night" when he was with the Titans because he had a knack for making big plays in those games. Now, he'll enjoy more national exposure playing for the Giants. I thought Danny Clark was a good veteran presence for the Giants, but Bulluck is a lot more vocal. He'll be a really good for a defense that lost an emotional player in Antonio Pierce.

Beastlines: Giants' Smith wants new deal

July, 9, 2010
Dallas Cowboys

As part of a series on non-starters with a lot to prove this summer, Tim MacMahon of takes a look at Michael Hamlin.

MacMahon also blogs that quarterback Tony Romo has become the team's unquestioned leader.

The Dallas Morning News' David Moore takes a look at the Cowboys' tight ends.

Former Cowboys great Emmitt Smith didn't make it very far in this year's World Series of Poker.

New York Giants

Former Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce is retiring and will join ESPN as an analyst.

Giants receiver Steve Smith wants a new deal, but won't stage a hold out, says Paul Schwartz of the New York Post.

Philadelphia Eagles

Quarterback Michael Vick was scheduled to appear at former teammate Keion Carpenter's football camp, but will not attend.

Former NFL coach Tony Dungy said Vick "didn't use very good judgment."

Sixth round draft choice Charles Scott is still unsure of what his role will be with the Eagles.

Washington Redskins

Rocky McIntosh is the latest to bash the Redskins' Albert Haynesworth.

Donovan McNabb's jersey is the second highest seller in the NFL.
Tom CoughlinJohn Munson/US Presswire Tom Coughlin knows his job could be on the line if there is a repeat of the 2009 season.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Is New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin on the hot seat this year?

The short and simple answer to that question is yes. It’s more complicated than that, but around the Giants' minicamp these days there is no parsing out blame for last year’s 8-8 collapse or responsibility for this year’s full recovery.

Former Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora, standing in front of his locker, was asked who was under extreme pressure to ensure that the Giants find a way back to the top of the NFC East. He answered: "Everybody and everything around here. ... We must win."

But Coughlin? He’s just two years removed from putting another piece of Super Bowl hardware in the Mara family trophy case. But after spending nearly $86 million on salary and bonuses to fix the Giants' defense last season, team president and CEO John Mara was uncharacteristically caustic, saying he was "unhappy with everybody."

Facing a near player revolt, myopic defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan was fired after one miserable season. Enter the fiery -- but unproven -- Perry Fewell from Buffalo.

The Giants then used five of their seven 2010 draft picks to repair a defense that surrendered 41 or more points in three of its final four games. The Giants finished 3-8 in their final 11 games.

This spring, Mara signed free agent Antrel Rolle, a Pro Bowl free safety from the Arizona Cardinals. So far, Rolle seems to be settling down a secondary that last season allowed 27 completions on balls thrown 20 yards or more -- tied for second most in the league.

Asked recently whether he was happy now with the team, Mara told "We should be a better team than we were last year. We better be."

(Read full post)

Gerris Wilkinson changes number

June, 5, 2010
The New York Giants have had some outstanding linebackers wear No. 58. Carl Banks and Antonio Pierce quickly come to mind. Now, former third-round draft pick Gerris Wilkinson is hoping to change his fortune by trading in No. 59 for No. 58. Starting weakside linebacker Michael Boley reportedly paid a nice sum for his old No. 59.

But it's not like the number had been a good omen for Wilkinson, who has battled injuries and inconsistency during his four years in the league. Wilkinson recently told Mike Garafolo of the Star-Ledger that he understands his new jersey comes with some history.

“I know 58 comes with a lot of stuff behind it in terms of A.P. and Carl Banks,” Wilkinson told Garafolo. “And I think people see it as more of a middle-linebacker-type number so I was happy about the change."

It's interesting that Pierce's release may provide Wilkinson an opportunity to reset his career. During the run to the Super Bowl in 2007, I thought the former Georgia Tech star was making a serious move. But the guy just can't stay on the field because of injuries. Now, Wilkinson has a puncher's chance to start at middle linebacker. It's not like Jonathan Goff and rookie Phillip Dillard have a huge advantage on Wilkinson.

"The tough part about it is getting 4 or 5 reps in a practice and [defensive coordinator Perry Fewell] wanting you to be that guy,” Wilkinson said in the Star-Ledger interview. “To be that guy you have to get those reps in and earn the respect of your teammates. That comes with making plays and being on the field, which everybody will have a chance to do once camp starts and once we start playing some games."

At this point, Wilkinson should thank his lucky stars that he's getting any reps with the Giants. He's benefited from the club being thin at the position.