NFC East: dan connor

IRVING, Texas -- Last week, Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones was praised for making the difficult decision to release DeMarcus Ware.

For all that Ware accomplished (team's all-time sack leader) and for all that he meant to Jones, the owner stuck to the disciplined outline the Cowboys are operating under in 2014.

So now that Henry Melton and Jared Allen have come and gone from Valley Ranch, you can't blame Jones for not being willing to spend big bucks on somebody he just met.

If he was "right" in deciding to part ways with Ware -- for the record, I think it was the wrong move and would have signed him to a re-worked deal although not at the level the Denver Broncos paid Ware -- then at least he is being consistent by not giving into the contractual demands of Melton and Allen.

At least for now.

We'll find out this season if Jones was "right" in holding strong if they don't end up joining the Cowboys and go to another team and either play well or they don't play well.

Melton is off to his fourth team on his free-agency tour with the St. Louis Rams. He also met with the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks. Allen has also met with the Seahawks.

Generally speaking, the more visits a player makes the more it means he is not getting the deal he wants. It is well within the player's rights to shop for the best deal on the open market. Jason Hatcher met with the Seahawks, Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Titans. The one team he didn't meet with face to face, the Washington Redskins, made the best offer that even Hatcher said blew the other offers out of the water.

At the NFL scouting combine, executive vice president Stephen Jones said the Cowboys would be efficient spenders in free agency. Giving Melton, who is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament, the moon, and Allen, who turns 32 next month, the stars would not be efficient spending.

When a team acts desperately in free agency, they tend to make a mistake. One of the best free-agent signings the Cowboys made was inking La'Roi Glover in 2002. One of the least productive was signing Marcellus Wiley to a four-year, $16 million deal in 2004. He produced three sacks, but the Cowboys had to have him.

In 2012, the Cowboys recruited Brandon Carr, Nate Livings, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Dan Connor and Kyle Orton in free agency. They were closers. They used the digital board to show the team's history and most of the players' highlights to help close the deal. They also paid an awful lot of money for them.

The Cowboys weren't able to close the deals for Melton and Allen on their visits, but that doesn't mean they won't sign them eventually.

And if they do, then it likely won't be for the stars or the moon.
IRVING, Texas -- The free-agent shopping starts today at 3 p.m. CT.

If the Dallas Cowboys have learned anything, it’s that they should use coupons.

From 2006-11, the Cowboys signed 12 players in unrestricted free agency. Only two players who signed multi-year deals reached the end of their contracts: Kyle Kosier signed a five-year, $15 million deal with the Cowboys in 2006 and was with the team through 2011. Keith Brooking signed a three-year, $6 million deal in 2009 and was a contributor through 2011.

Igor Olshansky (2009), Leonard Davis (2007) and Akin Ayodele (2006) are the only other players who made it more than one season on their original deals, and Olshansky and Ayodele made it only two seasons.

The Cowboys signed seven unrestricted free agents in 2012 and three lasted one season (Dan Connor, Nate Livings and Lawrence Vickers) on multi-year deals. Brodney Pool signed a one-year deal and barely made it to training camp.

Three members of the 2012 free-agent class remain: Brandon Carr (five years, $50 million), Mackenzy Bernadeau (four years, $11.5 million) and Kyle Orton (three years, $10.5 million). Carr is coming off a disappointing 2013 season, Bernadeau took a pay cut last week and Orton is not sure he wants to play.

Spending money in free agency is hardly ever the answer. The Cowboys will not have a ton of money available to them when the market opens until the DeMarcus Ware situation is resolved, and even then they will have to be wise with how they spend it and who they spend it on.

The needs are obvious: defense, defense and more defense. That’s what happens when a unit finishes last in the NFL in 2013. But the Cowboys could use a veteran presence at wide receiver (Robert Meachem, Jason Avant) and a backup quarterback if Orton walks away (Shaun Hill).

Finding defensive line help is a must, but the Cowboys will have to be budget conscious. They have had on and off talks with Jordan Woy, who represents free agents Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer, for most of the offseason. Both players could find better financial opportunities elsewhere.

Hatcher turns 32 in July and is coming off a career-high 11 sacks. He was added to the Pro Bowl. Spencer played in only one game in 2013 because of a knee injury that will not be healed enough for him to be 100 percent ready for training camp.

How much of a commitment can the Cowboys make and feel like they will get their money’s worth?

Ties to new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli could help in the pursuit of Henry Melton, but he is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Value is often the most overlooked part of free agency. The big-money signings lead to the biggest headlines, but do not correspond enough to wins and losses.

The Cowboys found value in Kosier, Brooking, Gerald Sensabaugh and Bernadeau but did not or have not received enough bang for the buck in Carr ($26.5 million guarantee) and Davis ($18.75 million guaranteed).

As the Cowboys look to clear this 8-8 bump that has turned into Mt. Everest, they need to spend wisely, but more importantly they need to choose wisely.
IRVING, Texas -- As thrilling as Sunday’s 24-23 win against the Washington Redskins was, it might have only delayed the inevitable for the Dallas Cowboys.

With a loss this week against the Philadelphia Eagles in a third straight NFC East championship game, there will be change. Actually, win or lose there will be changes, because that is just the nature of the NFL. How grand and how widespread are the questions.

Speculation abounds about Jason Garrett’s future. Twice in the past two weeks Garrett said he is focused on doing his job to the best of his ability. There is nothing else he really can say. Would Jerry Jones have the patience to bring Garrett back for a fourth season after three crushing Week 17 losses?

After last season’s loss to the Washington Redskins, Jones promised an uncomfortable season for everyone in the organization ... not named Jones.

Would it have made a difference if the Cowboys beat the Redskins last season? Would Jones have stayed with the status quo? They didn’t win, so changes were made.

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was fired. So was running backs coach Skip Peete. Special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis was allowed to leave for the Chicago Bears. Garrett’s brother, John, was allowed to leave for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Wide receivers coach Jimmy Robinson was named “senior coaching consultant,” however, he has not been seen at one practice the entire season.

Ryan’s replacement, Monte Kiffin, would appear to be on thin ice after this historically bad season as the Cowboys switched to the 4-3. He has consistently said retirement is not in his plans, but at 73 years old that could change quickly.

Players, like Gerald Sensabaugh, Marcus Spears, Lawrence Vickers and Dan Connor, were cut in the offseason. Doug Free had his base salary cut in half. Players like DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin could be in the crosshairs this year win or lose to the Eagles.

A lot is at stake against the Eagles, and for some people it could be more than just a playoff spot.
Your daily morning check-in on news and notes about and of interest to the New York Giants.

The News of the Day: This Friday the 13th is an unlucky one for Giants linebacker Dan Connor, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve Thursday with a neck injury. (Clearly, as we have already noted here, he wasn't faking.) The Giants won a waiver claim on former Seahawks linebacker Allen Bradford, who was a running back in college and fails to address the linebacker problem the Giants refuse to admit they have. They'll open and spend most of the game in nickel again Sunday, and they'll continue to de-emphasize the linebacker position, and tight ends will likely continue to have big games against them. Not to say they can't win like that, especially once the pass rush is at full strength. Just my $0.02, is all.

Behind enemy lines: While the Giants are down to Mark Herzlich at middle linebacker, the Broncos are getting healthier at that spot. Wesley Woodyard, who injured his ankle in Denver's opener, returned to practice Thursday and says he's expecting to play in Sunday's game at MetLife Stadium. A case of the extra time between games (Denver opened on a Thursday) helping out.

Around the division: The Eagles beat the Redskins on Monday night, in part, by blitzing them more than teams tended to blitz Robert Griffin III in his rookie season. Could be a recipe for rattling Griffin, though the Redskins bravely insist they hope the trend continues because they believe it will play into their hands.

Around the league: The Detroit Lions spent a portion of their Thursday working to refute a report that their stadium charges the highest price per ounce for beer in the NFL. Must be nice to be 1-0 and have this be your biggest problem, right?
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants' offensive line got some good injury news Thursday. Its secondary did not.

Starting cornerback Prince Amukamara, who suffered a concussion Sunday night in the season opener in Dallas, still was not cleared to practice Thursday and is in danger of missing Sunday's home opener against the Denver Broncos. Giants coach Tom Coughlin said that, if Amukamara is able to practice Friday and gets a full day of work in, he'd likely be OK to play Sunday. But Amukamara still needs to follow the NFL's concussion protocol and pass the appropriate tests before he's allowed to practice and/or play.

If Amukamara can't go, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said, it "would be a really big blow" to a Giants' defense that will need all the help it can get against Peyton Manning and the Broncos' passing attack. Aaron Ross would likely take Amukamara's place as the starting corner opposite Corey Webster, with Terrell Thomas manning the same slot cornerback role he played in Dallas and throughout the summer.

As for the line, center David Baas was listed as a "limited" participant in practice, but he said his injured knee is feeling much better and that he's planning to be able to play Sunday.

"My plan is to be out there," Baas said. "As long as everything keeps feeling good, I should be fine."

Baas sprained his knee in the preseason game against the Colts and hasn't played since. His return would allow Kevin Boothe to move back over to left guard and send James Brewer back to his reserve lineman role.

In other Giants injury news:
  • Linebacker Dan Connor remained out of practice with a neck injury and seems unlikely to play. That would elevate Mark Herzlich to starting middle linebacker leave the Giants with only four linebackers, which may be fine since they expect to be playing a lot of nickel defense anyway against the Broncos' three-receiver sets.
  • Running back Da'Rel Scott, who injured his knee in Wednesday's practice and had an MRI, was a full participant Thursday and appears fine.
  • Defensive end Damontre Moore, who's been dealing with a pesky shoulder injury and hasn't played since the first preseason game, was a limited participant in practice.
  • Tackle David Diehl (thumb) and tight end Adrien Robinson (foot) did not practice and are not expected to play.

Practice report: Baas back

September, 11, 2013
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- David Baas appears to be nearing a return.

The Giants center was back on the field on Wednesday during the early portion of practice open to the media. The team will reveal later today how much Baas practiced when it releases its injury report. Baas has been out since the second preseason game after injuring his left MCL. He had been considered week-to-week following the injury.

Whenever Baas is cleared to play, Kevin Boothe can slide back to left guard from center. That would send James Brewer, who was at left guard with Boothe at center, back to being the extra offensive lineman.

While Baas is making his way back, middle linebacker Dan Connor (neck) was not seen on the field at the start of practice. Cornerback Prince Amukamara (concussion) did some running on the side and it appears he is getting better and could be cleared later this week.

Tackle David Diehl (thumb) and tight end Adrien Robinson (foot) also both did work on the side. Defensive end Damontre Moore (shoulder) was on the field working.

Also, in case you were wondering, Brandon Jacobs is wearing a new jersey number (looks very Bo Jacksonesque right?).

Injury report: Amukamara's concussion

September, 9, 2013
ARLINGTON, Texas -- New York Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara left Sunday's season-opening game in the second quarter with a concussion and did not return. His status for next week's home game against Denver is, due to the nature of concussions and the league's policy for dealing with them, far from determined. Amukamara likely will have to undergo tests before he is cleared to practice this week, and continued testing throughout the week before he can be cleared to play.

The Giants offered no update on Amukamara's status after the game. Concussion recovery times vary greatly from case to case and player to player.

Amukamara was injured when he and Giants safety Ryan Mundy collided, head-to-head, while making a tackle. Amukamara's neck snapped backwards, and he crumpled to the ground, but he did not appear to lose consciousness and he walked off the field on his own power. Mundy did as well, and he was cleared to return to the game and did.

"I'm good," Mundy said after the game. "It's a tough situation -- a quick slant, and I'm the deep middle safety and I'm breaking to the ball. Anytime the ball is thrown over the middle, a violent collision is highly likely."

If Amukamara can't play Sunday against Peyton Manning and the Broncos, the Giants likely would start Aaron Ross at cornerback opposite Corey Webster and play Terrell Thomas in the slot against Wes Welker. Thomas worked exclusively in the slot Sunday night (mainly against Miles Austin) before and after the Amukamara injury.

The Giants' secondary is already thin due to the loss of starting safety Stevie Brown for the season after he tore his ACL in the preseason. That injury elevated Mundy to a starting role and left rookie Cooper Taylor as the only backup safety on the roster.

Other injury updates:
  • Linebacker Dan Connor also left the game in the second quarter with what the team called a "burner." He did not return to the game, and his status for next week is also up in the air. His replacement at middle linebacker Mark Herzlich, had a tough time trying to handle tight end Jason Witten. And not to harp on this stuff, but the Broncos have a tight end, Julius Thomas, who had five catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns in their season opener Thursday.
  • On the play after Connor was hurt, defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins went down as well, but this one was fishy. The Cowboys accused Jenkins, during and after the game, of faking the injury to slow down their no-huddle offense during a portion of the game at which the Giants' defense had been on the field forever and was getting tired. Dallas ended up scoring on the drive anyway, but let's just say I wouldn't fret over Jenkins' status for next week's game.
  • Fullback Henry Hynoski, who missed the preseason with a knee injury, was active and started the game but did not appear to play as much as he normally does.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The bad news: It is difficult to imagine the New York Giants playing any worse than they played in the first half of their regular-season opener Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys. The good news: They're only down 13-10 at halftime.

It has been a bizarre game in which neither offfense has looked consistently competent. The Giants have 174 yards of total offense, but 127 of them came on two plays -- a 57-yard pass from Eli Manning to Hakeem Nicks in the first quarter and a 70-yard touchdown pass from Manning to Victor Cruz in the second.

The larger issues for the Giants are the three turnovers they have committed and the stunning 21:31/8:29 time-of-possession ratio that favors the Cowboys. The latter resulted in a completely exhausted Giants defense that allowed Tony Romo the Cowboys to go down the field against them for 71 yards in nine plays and score a touchdown that put them up 13-3 with three minutes left in the half. Had Cruz not got behind confused Cowboys safety Will Allen for the 70-yard score a minute or so later, the Giants would be in far worse trouble.

As it stands, they may still be. The Giants lost two members of their secondary to injuries when cornerback Prince Amukamara and safety Ryan Mundy collided face-to-face at high speed making a tackle in the final minute of the half. Both went to the locker room, and we await further word. They also lost middle linebacker Dan Connor to a "burner" (whatever that is) during the long touchdown drive, and his absence showed up as Romo picked apart backup Mark Herzlich with those passes to Jason Witten over the middle.

Romo also left the game in the final minute, but the Cowboys say he merely had the wind knocked out of him and will return.

Some other thoughts:
  • Poor David Wilson is going to end up being known as the guy who fumbles in the opener against the Cowboys every year. Of greater concern, I think, is that he blew a pass-protection assignment that resulted in a George Selvie sack of Manning. Tom Coughlin criticized Wilson in the preseason for not diversifying his pass-blocking moves. On this play, he tried to go low on Selvie and whiffed.
  • Terrell Thomas is getting a lot of time on the field as the nickel cornerback, and Romo is finding Miles Austin against him in the slot a lot. Thomas is tending to play off of Austin, and he's made some nice tackles, but Austin already has 61 yards on eight catches. Witten has 62 on six as the Cowboys are targeting that middle part of the field against Thomas and the linebackers.
  • The Giants have been shading a safety to whichever side Dez Bryant has been lining up on. Bryant only has 13 yards on two catches, but he was a second-half monster for the Cowboys last year and could still come alive, especially if Amukamara and Mundy are out.
  • Jason Pierre-Paul is active but isn't playing on every play. They seem to be using him on third downs mainly.
Jason Pierre-PaulJohn Munson/USA TODAY SportsJason Pierre-Paul could be ready for the Giants' regular season opener in Dallas on Sept. 8.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who was activated from the physically unable to perform list and practiced for the first time Monday, was back on the field Tuesday afternoon.

After just doing individual work Monday, Pierre-Paul took some 11-on-11 team reps on Tuesday and looked good, making it more likely he will be ready for the team's regular- season opener in Dallas on Sept. 8.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin said the trainers gave Pierre-Paul permission to do more. "He jumped in there, did a couple good things," Coughlin said.

In other news from Tuesday's practice:

• Coughlin stuck with the same revamped first-team offensive line he unveiled on Monday. Kevin Boothe remained at center and James Brewer at left guard, along with left tackle Will Beatty, right guard Chris Snee and right tackle Justin Pugh.

You can expect that to be the starting O-line on Thursday against the Patriots.

• On defense, Dan Connor continued to get the first-team reps at middle linebacker, over Mark Herzlich.

The starting secondary remained intact, with Ryan Mundy replacing the injured Stevie Brown at safety. But interestingly, when the Giants unveiled their first-team nickel unit, Terrell Thomas was the third cornerback alongside Prince Amukamara and Corey Webster, while Aaron Ross was on the second unit. The Giants are showing great confidence in Thomas, who's coming off a third ACL surgery.

Giants-Jets: What I'll be watching

August, 24, 2013
Yeah, I'm'a mosey on down Route 17 tonight for the preseason game between the New York Giants and the New York Jets. Maybe I'll see you there. Hopefully everybody's behaving themselves in the parking lots. It's only preseason, after all.

Anyway, assuming I make it in, here are some things I'll have my eye on from the Giants' end of things in the third game of the preseason:

Justin Pugh. The Giants' first-round pick wasn't necessarily supposed to play right away, but the loss of two starting offensive linemen to injury this week elevated him to the starting right tackle position. If he shows in the next couple of preseason games -- and in the next couple of weeks of practice -- that he can't handle it, the Giants surely will move on to Plan C. But while they don't tend to like throwing rookies into positions of significant responsibility right away, the Giants would love it if Pugh took this particular opportunity and ran with it.

The running back rotation. Sunday night against the Colts, David Wilson handled first-down and second-down responsibilities and Andre Brown got the ball on third downs and at the goal line. The Giants love Wilson's big-play ability and surely will get him plenty of carries this year, but Brown has looked too good in practice and in the games to keep off the field. They also seem to trust him more in pass protection. So I'm interested to see whether that Sunday night arrangement continues, since it appears to make a lot of sense for the Giants based on the way they like to use their running backs.

Middle linebacker. With Dan Connor appearing to have pulled ahead of Mark Herzlich in the competition for the starting middle linebacker job, will the Giants give him more snaps with the first team in this game? Or will Herzlich get the opportunity to muscle his way back into the competition?

Terrell Thomas. The Giants' cornerback will be playing in his first game since he tore an ACL in a preseason game against the Bears two years and two days ago. He tore the same one in training camp last year and has endured two years of painful rehab in an effort to resume his career. Can he make the team and factor as a reserve defensive back this season?

There's more, including opportunities for guys like Jim Cordle at center and Jerrel Jernigan as the slot receiver with Victor Cruz hurt. But those are some of the big ones to watch. I'm headed down there now. Say hi if you see me.

Stock Watch: New York Giants

August, 21, 2013
A look at whose stock is rising and falling for the New York Giants during the third week of the NFL preseason.


Justin Pugh, OL. The knee injury suffered Sunday night by starting center David Baas led to a reshuffling of the offensive line. For practice Tuesday, Kevin Boothe moved from left guard to center, David Diehl moved from right tackle to left guard and Pugh, the Giants' first-round draft pick this past April, was installed as the starting right tackle. Baas said he believes he can be back in time for the regular-season opener Sept. 8, so the moves may be temporary. But it looks as though Pugh will get a chance to start at right tackle in at least Saturday's preseason game against the Jets. If he impresses, then it's possible he could keep Diehl's job even once Baas returns and Boothe goes back to guard.

[+] EnlargeAndre Brown
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesAndre Brown is stepping up his game in hopes of earning more playing time.
Andre Brown, RB. Sure, David Wilson is the 2012 first-rounder and the darling of this summer's fantasy drafts. But the Giants still list Wilson and Brown as co-starters at running back, and Brown was in the game for 18 offensive snaps Sunday night to Wilson's 21. More telling than that, Brown replaced Wilson as the halfback on every third down during the portion of the game the starters played, which indicates that the coaches trust him more right now in pass protection. (Brown also was in on goal-line situations, as he was last year when he was vulturing touchdowns from Ahmad Bradshaw.) Neither Wilson nor Brown was called upon much in pass protection Sunday, though Brown did have one play on which he picked up a blitzing safety. But the playing-time pattern portends a time share, and Brown continues to play well enough to demand to be a part of it.

Justin Tuck, DE. Yes, a hamstring injury forced him out of Sunday's game, but he was back on the practice field Tuesday, so it's safe to assume it wasn't major. Early in the game, Tuck looked fast, fearsome and energized, and if he's those things, the Giants have reason to be optimistic about a rebound for their pass rush after a disappointing 33-sack season.


Mark Herzlich, LB. It seems as though the Giants would love for Herzlich to take a big step forward and claim the middle linebacker job, but it also seems he has not been able to do so. Dan Connor has been working with the first team this week and appears to be the leader in this competition. Teammates rave about Herzlich's knowledge of the defense, but he hasn't made enough plays.

Aaron Ross, CB. The play on which he lost the ball in the lights and turned an easy interception into a miracle Reggie Wayne touchdown was embarrassing, as Ross admits, but he was picked on all night and really struggled in coverage. Ross surprised with his performance as a starter when pressed into duty in 2011 after Terrell Thomas' injury, but it looks now as though he's more useful in specific packages, as opposed to as a replacement starter with Corey Webster hurt.


David Diehl, OL. Yes, he had a bad game Sunday in pass protection. And yes, as we mentioned earlier, he could be in the process of losing his starting job to a rookie. But I don't think Diehl's stock is falling in the eyes of the Giants' coaches. They view him as versatile and reliable and willing to play wherever they need him to play. And the Giants are an organization that likes to reward those things with continued faith. Fickle fans may be sick of Diehl, but the Giants haven't soured on him. Pugh may not be able to handle starting tackle responsibilities just yet, and if he can't, the coaches will be very happy to know their old warhorse can step back in.

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.

Observation deck: Colts-Giants

August, 18, 2013

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- For the benefit of those who are new around here, I'll restate this: I simply will not overreact to preseason NFL games. If you, as a fan, want to do that, that's fine with me. But don't come here expecting me to join in. So if you want me to tell you to be worried that the New York Giants had trouble scoring in the red zone in Sunday night's 20-12 "loss" to the Indianapolis Colts, or that they struggled to cover receivers, or that Eli Manning didn't look sharp, too bad. You're going to have to go get that somewhere else. History clearly shows us that preseason games offer no predictive value whatsoever. Teams aren't game-planning for each other this time of year, and the fact that one team's offense/defense was effective/ineffective against another's on Aug. 18 is simply immaterial. How bad the Giants looked Sunday night means no more than how bad the Cowboys looked Saturday or how good the Eagles looked Thursday. It's the wrong place to focus.

So what we do here when we break down preseason games is highlight some individual performances or personnel patterns that might turn out to be noteworthy or significant. And, of course, we discuss injuries, which is where we will start Sunday night.
  • Wide receiver Victor Cruz and center David Baas both left the game during the first offensive series for X-rays, which turned out to be negative. The Giants say Baas has a knee sprain and Cruz has a heel bruise. Both are likely to get more tests, Baas especially. And while the news on Cruz obviously could have been worse, it's worth watching to see whether this is something that limits him this week in practice.
  • "He runs to make his living, and, obviously, he's got an issue with his heel," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said of Cruz. "Hopefully, it's not going to be a long thing. They're going to continue to do some tests on him."
  • Justin Tuck also left the game with a hamstring injury. Prior to that, I personally thought Tuck looked great. I'd singled him out prior to the game as someone I was going to watch, and in the first quarter he looked quick and energized as he hassled Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and batted down a pass. An energized Tuck would be a tremendous positive for the Giants this season, provided, of course, that energy comes with fully healthy hamstrings.
  • David Wilson is a lot of fun to watch run. He broke a 21-yarder and threw in a 16-yard reception on which he almost impossibly avoided falling to the ground along the sideline. But unless I missed one, there wasn't a single third down during his part of the game on which he wasn't replaced by Andre Brown. We know how important pass protection is going to be when evaluating these running backs and assigning them carries, and it seems clear that the Giants trust Brown more in pass protection right now than they trust Wilson. Brown looked good picking up blitzing safety Antoine Bethea on a third-down play in the second quarter that resulted in an 11-yard pass to Rueben Randle. Can that change before the season starts? Sure, and certainly before it ends. But a Wilson/Brown backfield committee looks like the plan right now. Brown had 36 yards on eight carries and caught one pass. Wilson had 34 yards on eight carries and caught two passes. Wilson did not return any kickoffs.
  • Michael Cox looks like a keeper, and not just because he looks like a non-Wilson option on kick returns. Cox had just two carries for four yards but also had two long receptions out of the backfield -- one for 20 yards and another for 28. "He's got a lot of fight," Coughlin said. "He breaks tackles, and he's very persistent in what he does. And he does the same thing on special teams, so he's making good progress." Cox is obviously ahead of Da'Rel Scott, who did not play in the game, in pursuit of a roster spot. And it's possible he could pass Ryan Torain on the depth chart as well, though Torain went into the game before he did and shows a lot as a blocker.
  • Right tackle David Diehl got beaten badly on a couple of plays, one of which resulted in an Erik Walden sack of Manning. But the Giants seem committed to playing him at right tackle over first-round rookie Justin Pugh, who's being brought along slowly. The offensive line is tough to judge because right guard Chris Snee barely played (he's still recovering from offseason hip surgery) and Baas went out early.
  • Lots of moving the linebackers in and out. Tough to pick out anything that either Mark Herzlich or Dan Connor did to separate himself in the middle linebacker competition. Jacquian Williams showed excellent speed and quickness in short-range coverage on a third-down pass attempt by Matt Hasselbeck to Robert Hughes in the third quarter. Williams is likely the Giants' best coverage linebacker and as such was used mainly on passing downs.
  • Justin Trattou had a sack on which he got help from Marvin Austin and Adewale Ojomo in collapsing the pocket. It was a decent night for the Giants' backup defensive ends in terms of creating pressure, even though they got only one sack. As for the defensive tackles, Austin looked fine on that one play but, in general, doesn't show much power at the point of attack. Second-round pick Johnathan Hankins looks like he could stand to get stronger as well.
  • Coughlin said last week that David Carr would play this game and Curtis Painter would play Saturday's game against the Jets. With fourth-rounder Ryan Nassib sure to make the team as the No. 3 quarterback, Carr and Painter are competing for the No. 2 job. Carr was just meh -- seven for 11, 57 yards -- and he got sacked three times. I guess if Painter looks great, he could win the job. But the Giants know and like Carr, so it's no sure thing.
  • And, finally, on the Reggie Wayne touchdown catch that first bounced off the hands of cornerback Aaron Ross: Ross said the lights blinded him and he lost the ball. He said he usually wears eye black or special contact lenses that help with that, but for some reason he wasn't wearing them Sunday. "Just one of those freak plays that thankfully doesn't count," Ross said. "I knew he was behind me, so as soon as I hit it, I looked back and … it was bad."

Preseason, though, Aaron. Just preseason. As Ross pointed out, it didn't count. None of it. And while Coughlin was annoyed about the performance, that's his job -- to keep giving these guys things to work on in the final three weeks before the start of the regular season.
As rallying cries go, "Hey, we may not be so bad!" isn't an all-timer. But a little realism is OK, even in mid-August, and at this point that's about all the New York Giants' linebackers have. Per Ralph Vacchiano:
“I mean, it’s natural for fans to kind of fear the unknown,” Spencer Paysinger, currently one of the Giants’ starting outside linebackers, told the Daily News. “Obviously the Giants have a great legacy in terms of linebackers and this is kind of scary territory for them because they don’t have a big-name linebacker to come in and pretty much set the tone.

“But just a word to the public: We have some capable guys.”

Love it. I could see it as a new marketing slogan. "The 2013 New York Giants: We have some capable guys." Fans could get customized jerseys with the linebackers' numbers and the word "CAPABLE" across the back shoulders instead of the player's name. It'd be a thing, and if the Giants' linebacking corps were to end up having a big year, it'd be a fun running joke for years to come.

Truth is, though, linebacker is the most questionable position on the Giants' roster for good reason. They simply don't invest in it. As much time as they spend in nickel packages or three-safety looks, and because their defense is designed around the concept of generating a pass rush with the front four, it's not worth their top resources.

Of the seven linebackers addressed in Ralph's story, three were undrafted and another, Jacquian Williams, was a sixth-round pick. Dan Connor is a former third-round pick of the Carolina Panthers who came cheap as a free agent after a disappointing year with the Cowboys. Keith Rivers and Aaron Curry are both former top-10 overall picks who were on the market because their original teams (and, in the case of Curry, a second team) gave up on them.

So it's little surprise that there's not much about which to be fired up. And Paysinger's assessment is likely just fine. If the Giants can find three "capable" starting linebackers, then they'll be happy with that. It's all they really want out of the group. There's some upside potential, of course. Mark Herzlich was a brilliant college player before he was diagnosed with cancer. Curry was talked about as a possible top overall pick in his draft year. Williams was a valuable piece of the Super Bowl title team two years ago and has looked more than "capable" as a coverage linebacker when he's been healthy. But the Giants don't need their linebacking corps to carry on the great tradition of Giants linebackers of the past. The Giants defenses of the present are built on the line and the secondary. That's where they spend their money and their high draft picks, and those are the players who need to play like stars in order for the Giants to succeed. Any greatness they get out of the three guys in the middle of the defense is kind of a bonus.
OXNARD, Calif. – Much was made of Dallas’ free agency shopping spree in 2012. Less than a year and a half later, the Cowboys don’t have much to show from the seven-player class.

If the Cowboys had their choice, only one of those players would see significant playing time for the team this season.

A quick recap on the class’ contributions to the Cowboys and where they stand with the franchise now:

CB Brandon Carr (five years, $50 million): Jerry Jones readily admitted the Cowboys paid “retail” to fill a major need. Carr had a solid first season in Dallas but didn’t perform well enough to merit serious consideration for his first Pro Bowl appearance. The hope is that he’ll benefit from Monte Kiffin’s scheme, which relies on cornerbacks to get in receivers’ faces and play physical.

OG Nate Livings (five years, $18.7 million): The Cowboys hoped that Ronald Leary would beat out Livings even before the veteran needed arthroscopic surgery on his knee, likely sidelining Livings for the rest of training camp. The question now is whether the Cowboys will cut Livings despite his $1.7 million salary being guaranteed this season.

OG Mackenzy Bernadeau (four years, $11 million): The Cowboys tried to replace Bernadeau with Brandon Moore, but the ex-Jet changed his mind and decided to retire. Bernadeau, who was demoted to a backup his last season in Carolina, has had injury issues since arriving in Dallas. The Cowboys clearly aren’t confident that they can count on him after he struggled last season, missed all of offseason workouts while recovering from shoulder surgery and was sidelined the first two weeks of camp with a strained hamstring.

QB Kyle Orton (three years, $10.5 million): Orton threw only 10 passes last season. The Cowboys would love it if he played that little again this year. They signed him purely as an insurance policy, albeit a pretty expensive one. They’re confident that they’ll have an adequate quarterback if Tony Romo goes down, but it’d be a major dropoff.

LB Dan Connor (two years, $6.5 million): It’s funny to think that a year ago Connor vs. Bruce Carter was considered one of the best position battles in camp. Connor, who got a $2.7 million signing bonus, became a cap casualty after a 58-tackle season. He signed a one-year, $780,000 deal with the New York Giants.

FB Lawrence Vickers (two years, $2.4 million): Vickers was a bit player for a team that statistically had the worst rushing attack in franchise history. He’s out of football now, cut by the Cowboys after they decided to scrap the fullback position in favor of using multiple tight ends.

S Brodney Pool (one year, $1.1 million): Pool was guaranteed only $100,000. He didn’t exactly earn that money, flunking the pre-camp conditioning test and getting cut soon thereafter when it was clear he had no chance to beat out Barry Church for the starting job.