- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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And a good morning to you all. Lovely one here in northern New Jersey as I head back to Giants camp for another day of interviews there. When I arrive, I expect to find the team ... looking pretty much the same as it did Wednesday.
Yeah, Steve Smith left to sign with the Eagles. No, that's not a good thing for the Giants, who'd hoped to re-sign him. But they were already preparing for life without him, since they didn't expect him to return from his knee injury and contribute right away. It's a tough break for the Giants, who haven't had a very successful free-agency period. It's another score for the Eagles, who have had the most successful one of any team in the league. But I think it's easy to lose sight of the fact that not every team has to kill it in free agency in order to be a good team.
I get called out here very often for being only negative/never positive about the Giants. This criticism is unfair and inaccurate, of course, and I fully expect this missive to be forgotten the next time a Giants fan wants to get on me for writing something about the team that isn't 100 percent positive. But the Giants, remember, won 10 games last year. Their starting lineup is loaded with very good players on offense and defense. Eli Manning is a top-10 quarterback, Hakeem Nicks is emerging as a top young receiver and they remain stacked in the running game. The defensive line, led by Justin Tuck, is also deep and talented, and the starting secondary looks stellar in practice. If they keep their key guys healthy, the fact that they couldn't get anything done in free agency shouldn't stop them from being a playoff contender.
Are there concerns? Of course there are. There are unknowns at tight end, and No. 3 receiver, and left tackle and linebacker. There's little depth behind that starting secondary and in other key spots on the roster. It's entirely possible that the cap concerns that cost them Smith, Kevin Boss, Plaxico Burress and anyone else they were hoping to get rise up and hurt them at some point in the season.
But that's not what's guaranteed to happen. The Giants believe in grooming and developing their own players. And if they've done a good job of grooming William Beatty, Jason Pierre-Paul, Travis Beckum, Linval Joseph, Domenik Hixon and guys like that, then that'll mean they didn't have as much work to do in free agency in the first place. It's a lot to count on, but that's where the Giants are right now. Some of the young guys who've been working their way toward starter's roles have to be ready to take them on. If they're not, the Giants could have problems. But if they are, there are enough established good players on the team to shake off an unsuccessful summer and still have a successful autumn.
Ralph Vacchiano continues to believe that Osi Umenyiora's visit to a knee specialist today portends an end to his contract dispute with the Giants. Ralph could be right, but as he points out, there's a chance the specialist backs up Umenyiora's claims of a knee injury, in which case the stalemate continues and things get uglier before they get better. Umenyiora is without a leg to stand on in this dispute, and it's possible he has come (or is coming) to the realization that it's time to let it go and get back on the field. But we'll see what the doctor says.
There is opportunity in the Giants' receiving corps right now, and Darius Reynaud had the best practice of anyone Wednesday. Mike Garafolo spoke with Reynaud about what drives him. (I mean what drives Reynaud, not Garafolo. It's rage that drives Garafolo. Pure rage. And coffee.)
The Cowboys have a game tonight! A preseason opener against the Broncos. Expect the rookies on the offensive line to get more snaps than the rest of the starters, and expect David Buehler and Dan Bailey to alternate kick attempts as Jason Garrett works to sort out that sticky-but-important issue.
And while several key players will miss the game with injuries, it sounds as if the Cowboys expect to get Jay Ratliff, Mike Jenkins, Andre Gurode, Keith Brooking, Tashard Choice and DeMarco Murray back when they resume practice Saturday in Dallas. Terence Newman is the only one of the critical injuries that seems long-term at the moment, as he's out through the preseason at the very least.
The Eagles have a game tonight! That's right, after all of this they still have to play. All eyes will be on the starting cornerbacks, at least while the starters are in the game. Paul Domowitch writes that the Eagles would do best to keep all three of the trio of Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and to use Asomugha in the slot while all three are on the field. Based on the conversations I had while in Eagles camp last week, it sounds as though Paul will get his wish.
As for the Philly side of the Steve Smith signing, Jeff McLane writes that it had nothing to do with the health of Jeremy Maclin, who still hasn't practiced or said why not. And I'm sure Jeff's sources are telling him the truth. But the fact is, whether it was part of their motivation or not, having Smith on the roster will, once he's healthy, give the team some coverage if Maclin does have any health issues. It also will give them some increased leverage in their contract talks with DeSean Jackson -- or coverage if they can't come to an agreement with him and he walks after the season. Depth is good and useful for many reasons, and the Eagles clearly have a great deal of depth right now -- at receiver and elsewhere.
One of the places where the Redskins have a little depth is at tight end, which is good, because this Chris Cooley knee injury is starting to sound like a serious concern. Cooley won't play Friday night, and it sounds as though quarterback John Beck's groin injury will keep that particular rocket from launching right away as well. So you'll see Rex Grossman throwing to Fred Davis. Among others.
I wrote about this a week or so ago and people were aghast, but yes, there is a chance that the Redskins don't start first-round pick Ryan Kerrigan at outside linebacker in the first week of the season. Why? Well, in case he's not ready, simple as that. They do still have Lorenzo Alexander, who played the position last year and can handle it while Kerrigan gets up to speed. They're deep at linebacker as well as tight end. So it would make more sense to take advantage of that, than to rush a kid who might not yet be ready, right?
Anyway, going to be a long day, folks. Final camp interviews at Giants include, I am told, some head-coach time with Tom Coughlin. Got a column running this afternoon on new Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo and the nutty way he carries himself at practice. And I'll be up late watching the Eagles and Cowboys games and writing those up for you here. So right now I'm going to go for a run and get some coffee so we can get this thing started off the right way.