NFC East: Danny Ware

The Super Bowl champion New York Giants open their preseason schedule tonight at 7:30 pm ET in Jacksonville. I'll be watching, and tweeting, of course, and I will offer my observations after it's over. But to get you ready for the singular experience of watching the game along with me on Twitter, here are three of the things I'll be watching closely in the game:

1. The wide receivers: With Hakeem Nicks still out with a foot injury, veteran Domenik Hixon will start opposite Victor Cruz. Hixon is competing, along with Rueben Randle, Jerrel Jernigan and Ramses Barden, for the No. 3 wide receiver spot, and Nicks' injury is opening an opportunity for all of them to get quality preseason reps. My hunch has been that Hixon, if he can keep his knees healthy, is the leading candidate because he's been around the longest and the Giants have been trying to give him a shot each of the past two years. But we'll see how he performs on the outside, especially compared to the rookie Randle. When the Giants go to three wide receivers, I think they still plan to use Cruz in the slot, so the No. 3 will have to be an outside guy like Mario Manningham was.

2. The running backs: Starter Ahmad Bradshaw says his feet feel better than they have in years, but I still expect the Giants to limit his preseason reps as a health precaution, and to get a look at the backs behind him. While they drafted David Wilson in the first round, I don't think that automatically makes him the favorite to be the No. 2 back behind Bradshaw. He'll have to show NFL-caliber ability as a runner and, maybe more importantly, in pass protection. The fact that Danny Ware has been in the system a few years works against Wilson, but the fact that Ware hasn't shown consistent production during that time opens the door for Wilson.

3. Prince Amukamara: With Terrell Thomas injured, the Giants' 2011 first-round pick looks as though he'll get the start at cornerback opposite Corey Webster. The Giants would like to see Amukamara take a big step forward this preseason, in case Thomas' health is going to be an issue all year and they have to use Amukamara as a starter. I'm also interested to see how they use their cornerback depth behind Amukamara. Will safety Antrel Rolle have to play the nickel corner spot again with Thomas out, or do they have another solution at that spot? And if not, who fills in at safety for Rolle when he moves to corner? A lot of those problems will look a lot smaller if Amukamara looks like he can handle the starter's job.

Observation deck: Giants-Panthers

August, 13, 2011
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The New York Giants could have used a feel-good preseason opener Saturday night. No, I don't think you can read much into these preseason games. You don't know which teams are game-planning and which aren't. You can make judgments on individual efforts in certain cases, and get a sense of what teams might be planning in terms of playing time and defensive and offensive alignments. But when we say a team looked good or bad in a preseason game, we are not making any predictions or judgments about the way the season will go based on that.

All of that said, after a week in which they got knocked around in free agency and faced questions about whether their offseason plan was sound or even extant, the Giants could have used a match that left them feeling good about things. Kind of like the one the Redskins had Friday.

They didn't get it.

Yeah, some good things happened in their 20-10 exhibition loss to the Carolina Panthers. Jason Pierre-Paul was the star of the first half, looking fast, athletic and hungry as he recorded two sacks. Both punters looked good, third receiver candidates Domenik Hixon and Victor Cruz had nice moments, and Michael Boley ran back an interception for a touchdown on the first series of the game. But all in all, it wasn't a good night. There were tackling issues, communication issues and special teams issues. The backup offensive line was so bad that it may have gotten kicker Lawrence Tynes hurt.

Other than the Tynes thing, none of this is cause for any reason concern. Just because they were sloppy Saturday night doesn't mean anything about the season. I'm just saying, given the way their fans were feeling in the wake of the free-agent departures of Steve Smith, they could have used a better performance.

Here's some stuff I saw:

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonJason Pierre-Paul nabbed two sacks and could be a viable replacement if Osi Umenyiora continues to sit out.
1. Pierre-Paul looks like a monster. The Giants' 2010 first-rounder has been getting a lot of snaps with the starters in practice with Osi Umenyiora sitting out, and he looked fantastic Saturday night. Two sacks, pressure on almost every play, quickness off the edge, athleticism, determination -- everything you want in a pass rusher. If Umenyiora wants to continue to sit out because of his contract, the Giants have some tape they can show him of a guy who looks like a very capable replacement. If Umenyiora wants to come back, the Giants have even more depth on the offensive line and can keep Mathias Kiwanuka at linebacker. Pierre-Paul's rapid development would be a very useful thing for the Giants.

2. Other good stuff from the defensive line. We saw encouraging play from the defensive tackles, too, with Chris Canty getting into the backfield, Rocky Bernard getting a sack, rookie Marvin Austin playing well in the second half and the Giants generally producing a lot of pressure with their defensive front. As expected, they moved Kiwanuka up to the line in passing downs, and they did the same thing with Adrian Tracy when he replaced Kiwanuka in the second quarter. Tracy played well, helping generate the pressure that led to the Bernard sack as well as Alex Hall's. The Giants are looking for depth at linebacker, and Tracy could help if he plays like this.

3. The punters look good. The coverage? Not so much. Matt Dodge hit a couple of nice punts, including one that looked a little bit like a Jeff Feagles directional special. But Steve Weatherford was one of the best punters in the league the last couple of years and hits the ball farther than Dodge does. Could be tough for Dodge to win this competition. And regardless of who wins it, the coverage team will just have to do a better job. This is one area that actually does mean something in preseason, because the guys on special-teams coverage units should be playing hard and trying to win roster spots. They were miserable all night until Cruz came up with a big solo tackle on a punt return in the third quarter. A guy like Michael Coe, who has an opportunity with the Giants losing so much depth at cornerback, needs to come up bigger than he did on Armanti Edwards' long first return.

3a. Also, one punt-related question: Why in the world did Tom Coughlin call for a 56-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter when Tynes is coming off knee surgery and he's trying to get a look at two punters? Just wondering. Seemed like a weird decision. Tynes, who is also the only kicker I've seen so far this preseason who hasn't been able to kick it through the end zone on kickoffs, missed the attempt.

4. William Beatty -- some good, some bad: The new starting left tackle got manhandled a bit on the first two offensive series, looking overwhelmed and doing a lot of reaching and grabbing as he was getting beaten off the edge. But he seemed to settle in and looked much more authoritative and aggressive on the next few series. He stayed in longer than did the other starting offensive linemen, and it's no coincidence. Whether Beatty is ready to handle his new full-time job will go a long way toward determining how well the Giants handle their transition to this new offensive line assignment.

5. Brian Witherspoon was a bright spot. The Giants' starting secondary looks as though it should be very good (though there did seem to be some communication issues there early on). The question is whether they have depth behind the starters, with Prince Amukamara and Bruce Johnson hurt. Witherspoon was a star of the second half on special teams as well as at cornerback. A guy to watch as the preseason rolls along.

6. Quick hits: It was fun to watch top draft pick Cam Newton get his first game action for the Panthers. He beat Giants rookie Tyler Sash with a great throw on his first drive, but Sash and Coe made good plays to help keep him from capping that drive with a touchdown pass. ... It appears as though Hixon is the leader for that No. 3 receiver spot. He got a lot of work in the slot in the second half with Sage Rosenfels throwing to him. ... I thought Danny Ware looked all right as a third-down back catching screen passes. ... The word on Tynes was a thigh contusion, which is better than a knee injury for sure.

More on the Giants on Sunday, as you'll get my "Camp Confidential" report on them. Meantime, let me know what you thought.

So what's up with Brian Westbrook?

June, 25, 2010
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It's been a month since Mike Shanahan made a public plea for Brian Westbrook to sign with the Washington Redskins, but there's apparently been no movement. Perhaps it's because the former Eagles running back has drawn the interest of additional teams, according to NFL.com's Steve Wyche.

Westbrook
We already knew the Rams and Broncos had shown interest this offseason. But Wyche did not reveal the identities of the other additional teams. I'm wondering if the New York Giants might have a little interest in Westbrook. He's pretty much the entire reason they went out and signed linebacker Michael Boley in free agency in '09. Giants coach Tom Coughlin and general manager Jerry Reese have immense respect for Westbrook because he's had so much success against them over the years.

And it's not like the Giants have a sure thing at third running back. Andre Brown's returning from a ruptured Achilles tendon and Danny Ware doesn't exactly inspire a lot of confidence. I think Westbrook would make an excellent third-down back if he's able to put his pride aside and embrace the role.

What do you guys think? Would Giants fan welcome Westy with open arms?

How I See It: NFC East Stock Watch

December, 1, 2009
12/01/09
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Falling

1. Giants' running game: Brandon Jacobs' struggles this season are well-documented. He doesn't look like the same player. Danny Ware's getting more time because of an injury to Ahmad Bradshaw, but he had a big fumble in the loss to the Broncos. Believe it or not, the Giants are 10th in the league in rushing. But the fact that they've only had six runs of 20 yards or more says a lot. There's no explosiveness in this running game -- and this offensive line doesn't appear to be blowing open holes like it has in the past.

2. Eli Manning, Giants quarterback: I'm not going to give him the injury excuse. If he says his right foot is fine and he's able to play on it, then we're going to continue holding him to a high standard. Sometimes a franchise quarterback needs to put his team on his back. Against the Broncos, Manning engineered a lifeless offense. Osi Umenyiora got so sick of watching the offense that he started shouting at players on the sideline. Manning needs to have his best game of the season against the Cowboys on Sunday. This is about as close to a must-win as a team can have at this juncture in the season.

3. Jim Zorn, Redskins head coach: I realize that it's fashionable right now to praise Zorn for the way his team continues to fight. But I don't like the way he went conservative when the Eagles had first-and-goal at the Eagles' 10-yard line in the fourth quarter Sunday. Zorn can hear what the Skins' play-calling duo of Sherm Smith (runs) and Sherm Lewis (pass) are coming up with, so I assume he can set the tone for what the team is trying to accomplish. The Skins appeared to play for a field goal when a touchdown would've put them up 28-16. I wish someone would explain to me why a 3-8 team has played conservatively on offense in two division games they should've won. Zorn's still listed as head coach of this team, so that's who I'm going to criticize for Sunday's loss.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
Hunter Martin/Getty ImagesLeSean McCoy has taken advantage of additional practice and game reps.
Rising

1. LeSean McCoy, Eagles running back: After being frozen out of the game plan Nov. 15 in San Diego, McCoy has rushed for 175 yards and a touchdown over the past two games. He also had a huge second-effort play on the Eagles' game-tying two-point conversion against the Redskins on Sunday. With Brian Westbrook still out with a concussion, McCoy has taken advantage of the extra reps in practice. He's becoming more and more comfortable. Other than the fumble in Chicago, he's played really well the past two games. And he's the reason Andy Reid seems to have a lot more confidence in the running game right now.

2. Miles Austin, Cowboys wide receiver: With one catch early in the game against the Raiders, Austin helped establish the tone for a lopsided win. The Raiders thought their physical corners could succeed against Austin in man coverage -- and he made them pay. The Packers and Redskins wisely stayed back and kept everything in front of them. Tight end Jason Witten's still the key to this passing game, but Austin's the big-play threat. With seven catches for 145 yards, he shredded the Raiders' secondary and continued his memorable season.

3. Asante Samuel, Eagles cornerback: Samuel often gets criticized for shying away from contact, but it doesn't matter when he's picking off two passes per game. He's one of the best corners in the league at baiting quarterbacks into poor decisions. His two interceptions in the first half kept the Eagles in a game in which they were being outplayed. Samuel now has seven interceptions on the season and he has a really good chance to get into double digits.

The non-tackle heard 'round the world

November, 30, 2009
11/30/09
4:41
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Jenkins
IRVING, Texas -- The fact that Cowboys cornerback Mike Jenkins can joke about his non-attempt to tackle former Giants running back Derrick Ward is probably a good sign. At one point, it must've seemed like the play would define his career. Ward was racing toward the end zone with only Jenkins standing in his way, and at the last minute, the Cowboys' cornerback darted in the opposite direction. For folks who thought the Cowboys were a soft team in '08, Jenkins' non-tackle provided important evidence. But here's what Jenkins is saying now:

"At first, it was a hassle, but as I worked out and went through the offseason, it definitely became a motivation,” said Jenkins, who still struggles to get the play out of his head. “Every week I try to make big hits. Sometimes I knock myself out trying to overdo it. But it’s definitely a motivator."

Fortunately for Jenkins, Ward now plays for the sad-sack Bucs. And the Giants suddenly have an anemic running game with Brandon Jacobs and Danny Ware, so maybe Jenkins won't have to concern himself with run support.

The post-Thanksgiving knee-jerk report

November, 27, 2009
11/27/09
9:59
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I've read almost every account of the Cowboys' 24-7 win over the Raiders and the Giants' 26-6 loss to the Broncos. Here's a look at what folks around the country are saying about those games:

Cowboys
  • Todd Archer talks about how Jason Witten and Tony Romo both played through pain against the Raiders.
Giants

Wrap-up: Broncos 26, Giants 6

November, 27, 2009
11/27/09
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Turns out that the overtime win over the Falcons wasn't a sign of better things to come for the Giants. With a shameful performance on the road in Denver on Thursday evening, the Giants fell two games behind the Cowboys in the NFC East, and there's a good chance they'll be a game behind the Eagles by Sunday evening.

The Giants can forget about a division crown. At 6-5, they would not go to the playoffs if the season ended today. Facing a Broncos team that had dropped four straight, the Giants didn't even show up in the first half. The offense put up 38 yards of total offense in the first half and the Broncos took a 16-0 lead.

The Giants are a team without an identity at this point. They can't run the ball with Brandon Jacobs. And even when Danny Ware broke off a nice little run, he was stripped of the ball and the Broncos recovered. The secondary continues to have trouble making plays on the ball, although Brandon Marshall made a couple of incredible one-handed catches. The Broncos' final touchdown to Brandon Stokley came against busted coverage. You couldn't tell whose fault it was because there wasn't a Giants defender within 10 yards of Stokley as he raced toward the end zone.

Defensive end Osi Umenyiora spent quite a bit of energy hollering at his teammates on the sideline. And Tom Coughlin had a bewildered look on his face throughout the evening. The Giants are a very average football team right now. They basically went through the motions on a night when they needed a win to keep pace in the playoff race.

It's hard to believe how far the Giants have fallen since their 5-0 start. They'll have a chance to climb back into the playoff picture against the Cowboys in 10 days, but they have a lot to work on between now and then. They allowed a quarterback with a gimpy ankle, Kyle Orton, to carve them up for 245 yards and a touchdown. And when he finally made a mistake in the second half, the Giants could only respond with a field goal.

It was a meek performance in a big spot. I'm sure someone played well, but I certainly couldn't tell it from watching the highlights. We'll have more on this game in the morning.

Giants-Broncos: What are we looking for?

November, 25, 2009
11/25/09
4:30
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The Broncos are reeling and the Giants are finally coming off a win. I think the Giants will hand the Broncos another loss, but they need to apply some pressure to quarterback Kyle Orton in order to get it done. Here are a few things I'll be watching during tomorrow night's game:


  • Hopefully some of the Giants were watching what Bears defensive back Charles Tillman was doing to the Eagles on Sunday night. I think Knowshon Moreno is susceptible to the strip and that's why players such as Michael Boley and Aaron Rouse should be punching at the ball while someone else is wrapping up. If the Giants can cause a turnover early in this game, they can get out to another quick start. And the Broncos have shown a tendency to fight each other when things go south.
  • I could see Danny Ware having a big game for the Giants. If offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride will stick with the running game, the Giants can lean on an undersized Broncos defensive line. I would not be surprised at all to see the Giants go for over 150 yards rushing. And that will help control the clock and keep Brandon Marshall off the field.
  • Speaking of Brandon Marshall, you have to stay alert at all times. For some reason, the Redskins busted coverage twice on him, allowing long touchdowns. Rouse and Michael Johnson can't let Marshall get over the top of them. I'm sure defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan will have someone shaded to Marshall's side. Marshall also hurt the Cowboys with his ability to run after the catch. The Giants can't get caught gambling for an interception. If you have to let the guy make a 15-yard catch, so be it. Make the Broncos put together a 15-play drive to score. Don't give up the deep ball.
  • If this one's tight in the fourth quarter, Sheridan has to do a better job of calling plays. This team's attention to detail (communication) has been disturbing at times. The Giants can't get caught in the wrong coverage against the Broncos because Orton will make them pay. And by all means, get some shots on the quarterback early. He has a gimpy ankle, so it's not like he's going to be moving around much in the pocket. This is a game where one of the defensive tackles needs to collapse the pocket. We haven't seen enough of that.
  • Rotate, rotate, rotate. The Giants are playing on a short week and as CEO John Mara complained about, they're making a tough road trip. In this type of altitude, the Giants have to use their depth. Why don't we see if Rocky Bernard can actually earn his free-agency money? I haven't seen much production out of him this season. This is a game where players such as Jon Goff and Clint Sintim need to see significant snaps. Turn those young guys loose.

Bradshaw to miss Broncos game

November, 25, 2009
11/25/09
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The New York Giants have officially ruled out running back Ahmad Bradshaw (left ankle) for Thursday night's game in Denver. He was on crutches Tuesday, so this isn't a surprise. And it could clear the way for Danny Ware to have an increased role in the offense.

In limited action, he's shown a good burst and a willingness to pick up the blitz. I'd be very curious to see what Ware could do against a Broncos defense that allowed Ladell Betts to go off recently. I could see Ware getting 10 to 12 touches in this game, especially since starter Brandon Jacobs has been banged up.

It's a great opportunity for Ware to showcase his ability. How long will be Bradshaw out? There's really no telling. He's fought through an injury to his right ankle. Now he'll be operating on two bum ankles. If Ware seizes this opportunity, we might not see much from Bradshaw down the stretch. Just a thought.

Bradshaw visits a foot and ankle specialist

October, 28, 2009
10/28/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

New York Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw was not in practice Wednesday because he was flying to North Carolina to meet with noted foot and ankle specialist Dr. Robert Anderson. Bradshaw's been spending part of the week in a boot since tweaking his foot/ankle injury in Week 3 against the Bucs.

It's part of a growing trend among NFC East running backs. Clinton Portis hasn't looked like himself this season while fighting through a variety of injuries and the Eagles' Brian Westbrook is suffering from a concussion and a knee injury. In Dallas, Felix Jones finally appears to be 100 percent, but starter Marion Barber is still not himself because of a quadriceps injury.

I think Bradshaw will play against the Eagles on Sunday, but his absence would put the Giants in a bind. The Eagles' defense has been solid against the run, and starter Brandon Jacobs is having a down season. With Bradshaw possibly hobbled, the Giants need Danny Ware back in the lineup. Ware brings a speed element that Jacobs doesn't have.

Giants' Bradshaw shows up on injury report

September, 30, 2009
9/30/09
11:28
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who had 104 yards in Sunday's win over the Bucs, showed up on the pre-practice injury report this morning. It's listed as an ankle/foot injury, but we'll wait and see if Bradshaw practices. Here's the rest of the injury list:

DL Chris Canty (calf)

CB Kevin Dockery (hamstring)

WR Domenik Hixon (knee)

OL Adam Koets (ankle)

OT Kareem McKenzie (knee)

WR Hakeem Nicks (foot)

CB Aaron Ross (hamstring)

LB Clint Sintim (groin)

DE Justin Tuck (shoulder)

RB Danny Ware (elbow)

Coach Tom Coughlin would start easing Ross and Dockery back into practice this week. And Nicks has told reporters that he'll be practicing today. The best news is that linebacker Chase Blackburn (ankle) and guard Rich Seubert (shoulder) didn't show up on the list.

Giants' LB Boley reinstated Tuesday

September, 15, 2009
9/15/09
6:46
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


Giants linebacker Michael Boley has been reinstated and he'll be ready to play against the Cowboys on Sunday night. Will he start? Well, Chase Blackburn played really, really well against the Redskins last Sunday. But Boley's the big money guy, so I think he'll be starting sooner than later.

In other news, the Giants signed running back Gartrell Johnson, who was released by the San Diego Chargers. Johnson was a fourth-round pick out of Colorado State and I'm sure the Chargers were hoping to sneak him onto their practice squad. He'll become the third running back in the absense of Danny Ware (dislocated elbow).

The Giants also released defensive tackle Leger Douzable and offensive lineman Tutan Reyes. They also made several moves on the practice squad. More on that later.

Injury update: Ware has dislocated elbow

September, 13, 2009
9/13/09
4:26
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Giants running back Danny Ware dislocated his elbow on the opening kickoff return and he'll be out the rest of the game. Ware's the third running back on the depth chart, but he was expected to play an important role on special teams. Tough break for the Giants.

McNabb injured against the Panthers

September, 13, 2009
9/13/09
4:18
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- I haven't seen a replay yet of the touchdown run that knocked Donovan McNabb out of today's game. He had to leave the game in the third quarter after his 3-yard touchdown run. Trainers appeared to be working on his upper back, according to Philly.com.

We'll keep you updated throughout the afternoon. By the way, Giants reserve running back Danny Ware was injured on the opening kickoff and he's headed for the locker room.

The Battle of the Meadowlands looms

August, 29, 2009
8/29/09
3:22
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

OK, that headline may be a tad over the top, but tonight's Giants-Jets game should be pretty interesting. Both teams will use this third preseason game as a dress rehearsal for the regular season. I think the Giants are hoping to get off to a strong start after being called out by head coach Tom Coughlin last week.

Mike Garafolo of the Star-Ledger has a nice preview up. This is a big night for the Giants' receiving corps. If Steve Smith and Domenik Hixon can make a few plays, it would help put everyone at ease heading into the regular season.

I'm also anxious to see how Ahmad Bradshaw and Danny Ware perform against a decent front seven for the Jets. We're only about 40 minutes away from kickoff. And for goodness' sakes, stop bragging about the Giants' depth or Coughlin's going to come after all of us. I heard Jim Nantz saying the Giants were "stacked" last night during the Skins-Pats game. Coughlin reportedly has a call into Nantz about the comment.

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