NFC East: Louis Murphy

Nobody wants to talk about Hakeem Nicks

November, 18, 2013
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Hakeem Nicks' continued absence from the New York Giants' passing game remains one of the team's most nettlesome issues, even as the Giants have won four games in a row to dip their toe into the NFC East race. A clearly frustrated Nicks sat out a few plays Sunday, tagging out in favor of Louis Murphy, who helped cause an interception with a bad route, and sitting off by himself until some teammates went over to talk to him.

After the game, Nicks downplayed the incident, saying it was "just football," which it clearly was not. Football was being played on the field, and Nicks was not there. So whatever was going on with him was something other than football. He said he was not injured on the play a short time earlier on which the Packers' Tramon Williams was called for pass interference when the two collided. Several other Giants have hinted over the past 24 hours that whatever the situation was with Nicks, it was unusual and not one they're interested in discussing.

"That’s not something I’m going to discuss," coach Tom Coughlin said Monday. "What I did see was the play that resulted in an interception that everybody saw and the play before that, but those things will stay inside and we’ll make the corrections and we’ll do a better job of trying to get everybody on the same page and we’ll move forward."

Weird, but everything about Nicks' situation this year is weird. Playing in a contract year, he has yet to catch a touchdown pass, has not shown an explosive ability to run downfield and separate from defenders and has not been a major asset to Eli Manning in the passing game. The Giants and Nicks continue to insist he will come around, but 10 games are in the books with only six to go, and if he's going to snap out of it in time to help the Giants keep winning and/or get himself a fat new contract, he's going to have to do it soon.

Coughlin said he believed Nicks was experiencing frustration.

"I’m sure that there is, and we all share in that," Coughlin said. "We'll just continue to try to support and encourage him to be the best that he can be and it will happen. There have been opportunities, but we’ve just got to continue to try to get better, work together and it will happen."

Upon Further Review: Giants Week 11

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- An examination of four hot issues from the New York Giants' 27-13 victory against the Green Bay Packers:

Pierre-Paul
Anatomy of a game-changer: Linebacker Jon Beason said part of the scouting report on the Packers' Scott Tolzien was that the ball came out of his hand on a low trajectory. So if the Packers were going to be taking three-step drops all night, as they were, the Giants' pass-rushers were instructed to get their hands up quickly to try to bat down the ball. Jason Pierre-Paul knew this, and he said he also knew, right before that fourth-quarter play, that Tolzien was going to throw a screen pass to his side of the field. So Pierre-Paul stayed home instead of rushing and threw his hands up in the air. But he didn't want to bat down the ball; he wanted to catch it. Which he did. And then he ran 24 yards for the game-sealing touchdown.

Don't blame Eli for this one: Eli Manning's second-quarter interception was his league-leading 17th of the year, but it was clearly not his fault. Wide receiver Louis Murphy was supposed to break inside -- Giants coach Tom Coughlin said there was no option on the route, and that Murphy just blew it. What was weirder, though, was that Murphy was on the field instead of Hakeem Nicks, who appeared to hurt himself on a play earlier in the drive on which Tramon Williams was called for pass interference. Nicks sat out a few plays, and after the Murphy blunder some teammates went over to talk to and encourage Nicks, who returned to the game on the next drive and didn't want to talk after the game about what was bothering him.

Getting the ball: After allowing an average of only 206.3 yards per game during the first three games of their winning streak, the Giants gave up 394 to the Packers on Sunday. But they also got three turnovers, giving them a total of 11 during their four-game winning streak after forcing only seven during the first six games of the year. They have won the turnover battle in three of their past four games.

Looking ahead: Pierre-Paul said of the Cowboys, who come to town next week, "We're going to put it on them, man." Brandon Jacobs said, "Playing the Cowboys is always good. That's one of the opponents I love to play more than anybody in the National Football League. It means something to our football team." The Giants moved the ball against a relatively full-strength Cowboys defense in Week 1 but lost mainly because they turned it over six times. They are eager for revenge against a Cowboys defense that will be without middle linebacker Sean Lee. If the Giants' offensive line can protect Manning, the game could be a shootout. That's a big "if," but Manning's 279 passing yards Sunday were his most since Week 5, his 71.4 completion percentage was by far his highest of the season and his 92.4 passer rating was his highest since the opener in Dallas.

David Wilson is ready for more work

August, 30, 2013
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In the wake of Andre Brown's latest injury -- a left leg fracture suffered in the New York Giants' preseason finale Thursday night in New England -- running back David Wilson is prepared to work. Third-down carries, goal-line carries ... whatever they've got for him, Wilson wants it.

"I'm in shape, so I think I can handle it," the second-year back said Monday afternoon of the prospect of an increased workload. "Whatever they need me to do, I'll do. If they need me to kick a field goal, I'm going to go out there and give it 100 percent and try and make that field goal."

[+] EnlargeDavid Wilson
AP Photo/Julio CortezDavid Wilson will have to grind out tough yards for the Giants with Andre Brown injured.
It's not likely they'll need that, but Wilson could well get more touchdowns for whatever length of time Brown is out. Brown was the Giants' goal-line running back last year, collecting eight touchdowns in only 10 games before a more severe leg break ended his season early, and he was ticketed for that role again this year. But that assignment had more to do with how good Brown is at it than any concern over Wilson's ability to handle goal-line work.

"David Wilson, he runs in there hard," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "He's powerful. He's compact. He has tremendous leg strength. So for him to run the ball on short yardage and the goal line, I don't have any problem with that."

It's true that Wilson's electric speed and his relative short stature (he's listed at 5-foot-9, 205 pounds) contribute to a reputation that he's a finesse back. But when you watch him run between the tackles, it's easy to see that he runs with power.

"Don't get confused by my size," Wilson said. "I'm a physical guy. I'm from the country. I grew up chopping wood. I'm well put together."

So that shouldn't be an issue. The larger one is that Brown was the back the Giants were using on third downs and in critical pass-protection situations. The departure of Ahmad Bradshaw, who rates as one of the top pass-protection running backs in the league, has created a void in that area, and it seemed as though the Giants coaches were more comfortable with Brown picking up blitzes than they were with Wilson doing it.

But Wilson did a good job of that Thursday night, picking up a blitzing Patriots safety on a play that resulted in a 37-yard pass play from Eli Manning to Louis Murphy, and he said he's considerably more comfortable with the protection schemes than he was a year ago or even a month ago. He's been watching tape of Bradshaw and applying lessons Bradshaw and Brown have tried to teach him about blitz-pickup technique over the past year.

"He's done a pretty good job of that," Coughlin said. "The last couple of games, he's improved. He's a much improved player, much more aware of what he has to do to contribute in the entire pass-protection scheme."

Coughlin did say they wanted to monitor Wilson's snaps this year, and that there is a number they have in mind for him that won't change just because of Brown's injury. But it's possible the Giants could move more toward a "bell cow" running back scheme, with Wilson getting the vast majority of the significant carries while backups such as Ryan Torain, Da'Rel Scott and Michael Cox contribute when he needs a rest. Coughlin also said the team was awaiting the results of further tests on Brown's leg to determine how long he'd be out, and that roster cuts and the decision on whether to seek outside help at running back would wait until they had all of the information on Brown.

Meantime, Wilson is fine with whatever they throw at him. He wouldn't even mind if they gave him back those kick-return duties in which he was so explosive a year ago.

"We're still waiting for the verdict," Wilson said. "Michael Cox has been doing a pretty good job with it, so we'll see. I still want it, but if somebody's going to take advantage like he is, that's all right, too."

 
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. –- The New York Giants suffered yet another significant preseason injury Thursday, as running back Andre Brown broke his left leg during the Giants' 28-20 loss to the New England Patriots.

What it means: One week after losing safety Stevie Brown for the season to a torn ACL in a preseason game, Andre Brown breaks his left leg. It’s the same leg on which Andre fractured his fibula against the Packers on Nov. 25 last year. The Giants said Andre could have returned that season if they made it to the Super Bowl, so he could be a candidate for the injured reserve/"designated to return" spot that would allow him to come back after eight weeks.

Andre Brown’s injury is a blow to the running game. Coach Tom Coughlin wanted a one-two punch with David Wilson and Brown, who is the Giants’ most well-rounded running back. Brown could run with power and speed and catch out of the backfield and was the team’s best pass-protecting back. The team will now have to depend on and trust Wilson even more. Seventh-round pick Michael Cox might move up to the backup spot. Ryan Torain’s and Da’Rel Scott’s chances of making the team have increased with Saturday’s final cuts looming.

The Giants could also always look outside and see what is available, especially after teams make final cuts on Saturday.

More injuries: Brown wasn’t the only Giant to suffer an injury. Backup safety Tyler Sash suffered a concussion, and the Giants were already smarting there with the loss of Stevie Brown for the year. With Will Hill having to serve a four-game suspension to start the regular season, the Giants can’t afford to lose Sash for an extended amount of time. Rookie Cooper Taylor will be behind starters Antrel Rolle and Ryan Mundy if Sash has to miss time.

Also, tight end Adrien Robinson suffered an injury to what appeared to be his left foot. The severity of the injury wasn’t immediately known. Already this preseason, the Giants have watched starters such as Victor Cruz (heel), David Baas (left MCL), David Diehl (thumb) and the two Browns suffer injuries in preseason games.

Offense awakens: On a very small side note, the starting offense finished the preseason strong by scoring a touchdown in the red zone. After struggling in the preseason inside the opponent’s 20, Eli Manning orchestrated a 10-play, 91-yard drive that resulted in a 3-yard touchdown strike to Hakeem Nicks.

Manning opened the drive with a 37-yard completion to Louis Murphy. Manning also hit tight end Brandon Myers on a 10-yard gain, and Wilson had a 16-yard run as well on the drive.

One more time: Several Giants tried to make a final impression in the last preseason game. Defensive tackle Mike Patterson looked good, applying pressure to the quarterback several times and getting a sack and a half. Patterson might have solidified a roster spot with that performance. Marvin Austin, a second-round pick in 2011, might be fighting for a roster spot.

Middle linebacker Mark Herzlich also had a strong outing, snatching an interception off a deflection right before it hit the turf. Defensive ends Matt Broha, Justin Trattou and Adewale Ojomo all had sacks on Tim Tebow as well.

What’s next: The Giants will make final cuts on Saturday and play in Dallas in the season opener on Sept. 8.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Giants got one of their injured wide receivers back on the field Tuesday, as Louis Murphy did some work after being sidelined in recent days with a leg injury.

Murphy did have to leave practice briefly, but that was due to a contact lens issue, not because of his leg. The speedy Murphy looked good in training camp, and could be another weapon at the disposal of Eli Manning.

On the other hand, wideout Ramses Barden (knee) did not practice Tuesday, after returning to practice Monday. Cornerback Jayron Hosley (ankle) and defensive tackle Markus Kuhn (knee) also did not practice. All three did some running and/or agility drills on the side.

Wide receiver Victor Cruz (heel) did not practice, but spoke to reporters.

Offensive linemen David Baas (knee) and David Diehl (thumb) did not practice. When asked about Baas, coach Tom Coughlin said, "He’s working hard, and feels a little bit better each day."

Rookie defensive end Damontre Moore (shoulder) got some team reps Tuesday, after returning to practice and doing only individual work Monday. And rookie safety Cooper Taylor (hamstring), who has missed the team's first three preseason games, continued to work as well.

Coughlin indicated Taylor will play against the Patriots on Thursday, but wasn't as confident about Moore. "I don’t know; we’ll see," Coughlin said. "I’d like for him to play."
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Giants wideout Victor Cruz's bruised heel has improved to the point where he no longer needs a protective walking boot or crutches.

A source confirmed Cruz has shed the boot and crutches, which was first reported by the Newark Star-Ledger. Cruz hopes to return to practice sometime next week, before the regular-season opener against the Cowboys on Sept. 8.

Cruz injured his heel in the team's second preseason game against the Colts.

Welcome back: Safety Antrel Rolle and cornerback Corey Webster were back on the practice field Monday. Rolle is recovering from a sprained ankle, and Webster is coming off groin and knee injuries.

Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul went through individual drills after coming off the PUP list Monday, and rookie defensive end Damontre Moore also participated in individual drills. Moore has been out since his impressive preseason debut two weeks ago because of a shoulder injury.

"I hope so," coach Tom Coughlin said, when asked whether Moore is close to returning. "We’ll have to take a picture of him again (since he has been out for so long). He came out and he was excited to be out here."

DNP: Cornerback Jayron Hosley was unable to practice after injuring his ankle Saturday against the Jets. Wide receiver Louis Murphy (leg) and offensive lineman David Diehl (thumb) also did not practice.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Thursday will mark exactly two years since the last time New York Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas played in a football game. On Aug. 22, 2011, Thomas, tore the ACL in his right knee in a preseason game against the Bears. He tore it again in training camp last year -- the third time in his career he's torn the same vital ligament -- and missed a second straight season. But after yet another grueling rehab, Thomas is looking good in practice and is set to play in Saturday's preseason game against the Jets.

[+] EnlargeTerrell Thomas
AP Photo/Evan PinkusAfter two years of rehabbing ACL tears, Terrell Thomas is ready to play in another game.
"He's going to go, yeah," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Wednesday, after a practice in which Thomas snagged one interception and saw another bounce off his hands. "He looked good yesterday, too. Really moved well out there today."

Thomas says he has worked mainly as the nickel corner so far in camp, but has been also playing some on the outside and "studying the safety position" in case there are packages in which they can use him as a safety. With starting cornerback Corey Webster sidelined due to knee and groin problems, Aaron Ross has been running with the first team at corner, but Thomas has seen his practice opportunities increase along with his strength and confidence.

"Whatever they need me to do, they know I'm that utility type of player," Thomas said before practice Tuesday. "My biggest thing is just getting back on the field. I haven't played in two years. My goals of starting and getting back in the lineup and doing all that, yeah, those are my goals. But first I've got to get on the field. That's foremost. And whatever capacity they want me in, I'll do it."

My take: Thomas' story is an easy one to root for, and a lot of people around here are. To say nothing of how valuable he could be if he could approach the form he showed as a starter in 2010, there's an awful lot to admire about a guy who was willing to put himself through a third ACL rehab. I spoke with Thomas for a while Tuesday, and I'll have more on him in a story that will post later this week.

Reshuffled O-line... again: After the announcement that offensive lineman David Diehl would need thumb surgery and be out six weeks, the Giants moved Kevin Boothe back to left guard and Jim Cordle to center with the first-team offensive line Wednesday. Starting center David Baas is out with a knee injury, and the initial plan was to move Diehl from right tackle to left guard, Boothe to center and play first-round rookie Justin Pugh at right tackle. But the Diehl injury forced another change, and Cordle is getting a chance to show what he can do after filling in for Baas in Sunday night's game against the Colts.

"Cordle played very well the other night, so we thought that was the best move for now," Coughlin said. "We're really excited about the way Cordle played the other night. Hopefully he'll keep on going."

My take: I was surprised they didn't leave Boothe at center and go with James Brewer at left guard. It's possible they want to keep working Brewer at tackle in case Pugh doesn't turn out to be ready. It's possible they expect Baas back for the opener and want to leave Boothe alone and let him play guard. Heck, it's possible they're really fired up about Cordle. Nothing's set in stone. If these guys don't play well in their new spots, the Giants won't be shy about making more changes.

The rookie: Pugh said he doesn't know whether he's auditioning for a starting spot or whether he's got one now to lose, but he believes he can handle the role regardless.

"I'm ready," he said. "[Offensive line coach Pat] Flaherty's definitely making sure I'm covering all the bases and going over game film, and this week the extra things the Jets bring to the table. It's exciting that I get out there and get to play, and getting out there for the game will give me valuable experience, which is something that I need coming back from the concussion."

My take: The Giants don't rush their draft picks, even the first-rounders. If Pugh looks like he can be their starter at right tackle, he probably keeps the job even once Diehl returns. But if not, they're not going to leave him out there to take his lumps just because he was this year's first-round pick. And I'm skeptical, since all I heard pre-draft was that Pugh was better off as a guard than as a tackle at the NFL level. But we'll all find out together.

Notes: Coughlin said injured cornerback Corey Webster was dealing with a knee injury as well as the groin problem that's been holding him out of action... Wide receivers Victor Cruz, Ramses Barden and Louis Murphy all missed practice with their injuries, which resulted in a lot of opportunities for Jerrel Jernigan, who worked everywhere and is an interesting option as the slot receiver while Cruz recovers from his heel injury... Justin Tuck, who left Sunday's game with a hamstring injury, practiced for the second straight day and appears fine.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- What were you looking for in Sunday night's preseason game if you're a New York Giants fan? Not much more than "everybody comes out of it healthy."

Well, I have some potentially bad news.

Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz left the game after the Giants' first offensive possession. The team announced that he'd gone to the locker room to have an X-ray on his foot. That's all we have at this point, but I promise I will keep you posted as best I can.

Obviously, it goes without saying that a Cruz injury would be a crushing blow to the Giants' offense. Cruz has led the team in catches, receiving yards and touchdown catches each of the past two seasons and has been one of the most productive receivers in the league in that time. His ability to create and win mismatches in the slot against linebackers and safeties has been a key component of the passing offense. Even with No. 1 wide receiver Hakeem Nicks healthy and second-year wideout Rueben Randle showing improvement, Cruz would be difficult to replace. As if to prove this, his replacement, Kevin Hardy, dropped a third-down pass from Eli Manning on the second drive of the game. Louis Murphy also would be a candidate to replace Cruz in the slot, though he obviously doesn't have the same kind of chemistry with Manning.

Also injured on the Giants' first drive was center David Baas, who the team said was having an X-ray on his knee.

UPDATE: The Giants announced that X-rays on both players were negative, that Baas had a sprained knee and that Cruz had a bruised heel. That sounds like the best possible news on Cruz, though obviously it bears watching in the coming days since it's a foot injury to a speedy wide receiver. Cruz returned to the sideline in shorts and a T-shirt but with no crutches or any sort of wrap or cast on his foot, which is also good news.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Numbers are not what moves or drives him, but the New York Giants' Eli Manning is a quarterback who knows his stats. And when I asked him before practice Friday what he was hoping to improve on, personally, in 2013, his answer came quickly.

Manning
"Completion percentage," he said.

So of course I went and looked it up, and sure enough, that number has dropped in each of the past two regular seasons for Manning. From a career-high 62.9 in 2010, he dropped to 61.0 in 2011 and 59.9 in 2012 -- his first season under 60 percent since 2007. Doesn't sound like much, but it works out to 15 more incompletions in 2012 than in 2010, which is about one per game. And when you're a team that either makes or misses the playoffs by a game every year, of course that matters.

But while Manning is a guy who knows his numbers, he's not one for short answers, and he did keep talking more specifically after his initial response.

"Being more accurate and better on our deep balls," he said. "Our big plays were down last year, and that's a big part of our offense. We're going to use play-action, we're going to get the ball down the field. We're not scared about pushing the ball down the field. But it's good when it pays off and you hit big plays and game-changing plays. Last year, I think we had opportunities to hit them and we just didn't hit them. So I think that's what we've got to get better at, is just kind of connecting on some of those deep balls."

I asked him how he works on that, and he went back to the simple answer.

"Just throw 'em," he said. "Just throw a lot of 'em. I think a big part of it is not having Hakeem [Nicks] at full strength and full speed. We didn't have him on many big plays. Victor [Cruz] does a great job in the slot, and we have Rueben Randle and Louis Murphy on the outside now. But some of it is just me throwing the ball more accurately so a guy can catch it and run and take a 10-yard pass and, because it's accurate, turn it into a 20-yard, 30-yard gain. So I think you've got to keep throwing them with that faith that your guys can go get them."

So yeah, Eli Manning is a two-time Super Bowl MVP to whom numbers are of secondary importance behind team success. But he's pretty clearly bothered that last year's completion percentage started with a 5, and one of the things he's determined to do this year is turn that number back into a 6.
Justin Tuck thinks Victor Cruz "did the smart thing" by signing his restricted free-agent tender with the New York Giants, and of course he does. It's not Tuck's job to worry about the long-term financial implications of a potential Cruz holdout. Tuck's got one year left on his own deal and needs to help make this a big year for himself and for the team if he wants to stick around in New York. So of course he's happy Cruz signed the tender. Tuck's thinking about the 2013 Giants, who need Cruz. The 2014 Giants and beyond, well, they could well be someone else's problem.

Cruz
And so in reading this and thinking about it, it occurred to me that there are those two different and not necessarily convergent perspectives on the Cruz situation -- the one that regards his current mindset and preparation as it pertains to the Giants' 2013 success, and the one that regards the feasibility of him and/or Hakeem Nicks sticking around with the Giants beyond 2013.

It's my assumption that the vast majority of Giants fans, like Tuck, are more interested in the former. And I wouldn't worry about that too much. Cruz is no slacker, and I'm sure what Tuck says there in Ohm's notebook about him keeping himself in shape is true. He and Eli Manning have spent enough time together that they don't need to establish a rapport or anything like that. Assuming Cruz shows up for camp (which we can't assume, but which I imagine is more likely than not), he should be ready for the season without any trouble. And assuming he and his quarterback stay healthy, there's no reason to doubt that he can repeat his numbers from the past two seasons.

But if he does that, and if Nicks stays healthy as well, the Giants have a situation that may get tricky to resolve. Keeping both Nicks and Cruz at premium prices is going to be a challenge for a team that spends $20 million of its cap on the quarterback position and struggles to create cap room every offseason. They're likely to be faced with a tough choice, and if they are, they're likely to choose Nicks as the more complete, all-around, No. 1-type receiver. But they clearly value Cruz and want him on the team, so it's not as simple as just assuming Rueben Randle will be ready and all will be okay as the Giants transition smoothly from one receiving corps to another.

Obviously, from the Giants' perspective, Cruz signing the tender was the smart thing to do. It gives them reason to believe they'll have their team whole when the season starts and that their offense can function as they've planned it to behind Manning and a high-powered passing game. If Cruz were still a serious regular-season holdout risk, they'd be scrambling to figure out who from the group of Randle, Jerrel Jernigan and Louis Murphy could pick up the slack. And while there is some evidence for the belief that Manning gets the best out of whichever receivers he has, it's clear from significance of the Giants' reported offer to Cruz that they don't see him as immediately replaceable.

That could change in a year. Seven months from now, Cruz could look much easier or much harder to replace. The Giants would prefer to get him locked up now so they don't have to add this to their list of 2014 concerns. But since they can't, they'll have to settle for at least a short-term resolution of a larger problem.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Hey, if Tom Coughlin's going to play the part of the cranky football coach, at least he's honest about it. The New York Giants' coach said after Thursday's practice that wide receiver Hakeem Nicks hasn't been in touch about the reason he's been skipping voluntary workouts, and Coughlin made it clear that he's unhappy about it.

"Am I disappointed? No, I'm glad," Coughlin cracked when asked whether Nicks' absence was disappointing to him. "Certainly I am [disappointed]. At one point, Hakeem told me he was going to be here, and he was not here. Now, in the strictest interpretation, everyone knows it's a voluntary program."

It is that, and there's nothing in the rules that requires Nicks to tell Coughlin why he's not in attendance. Fellow star wide receiver Victor Cruz is also missing voluntary workouts, but everyone knows that's because he and the team are in a contract dispute. Nicks' absence compounds Coughlin's annoyance over not having his full team on the field for practices he considers important. My sense is that he's not annoyed at the players involved as much as he is about his own inability to compel them to be here.

"It'd be great to have all of our guys working and feeling good about the progress we're making. That's from a coach's perspective," Coughlin said. "You deal with some of this pretty much on a yearly basis, and it's a product of our system, and that's the way it is. I can complain all I want, but nevertheless it is our system."

The Giants' mandatory minicamp runs from June 11-13, and if Cruz and Nicks aren't in attendance for that, then this becomes a bigger deal. It's a bit funny to imagine how upset Coughlin would be with these guys in a situation that actually allowed him to be.

Anyway, I watched the practice, and the two wide receivers who stood out as fill-ins were Louis Murphy and little 5-foot-11 Brandon Collins, who got a surprising number of first-team reps (a lot in the slot) with Eli Manning throwing to him. The opportunity to catch passes from Manning, as opposed to one of the other quarterbacks on the Giants' roster, is one the younger, newer receivers have to enjoy, as it can only make them look good. It also helps that Manning is constantly chattering at his receivers, before and after every play, about things they do well and things they can do better. He too wishes Nicks and Cruz were here, but they're not, so he's turning his energy and attention to the guys who actually are.

"Every day, I treat it like a game, and I'm just trying to make our offense better," Manning said. "Trying to get everybody out there who's here working hard, get them where they're doing things correctly and making plays for us."

Look, if the Giants have to play without Nicks or without Cruz, they're going to struggle. If they find themselves in a situation where they had to play without either of them, they'd be toast. I fully respect Manning's ability to get the most out of whatever receivers he has. Heck, Cruz was an undrafted free agent, right? Steve Smith caught 107 passes from Manning in Cruz's slot position in 2009. But Nicks and Cruz are both proven at a high, championship level in the NFL, and guys like Murphy and Jerrel Jernigan and Rueben Randle simply aren't. The Giants need their big guys to make their passing game run. We're an awfully long way from a time at which you need to be concerned that they might not have them, but it's obviously of at least some concern right now to their coach.
Morning! I'm going to head down the road to Giants organized team activities (OTAs) today, see what's what down in East Rutherford, N.J. I'll have a full report. Or I don't know, 75 percent of a report. Anyway, some stuff. Along with some stuff on the other three NFC East teams. Starting with the ol' reliable links.

Philadelphia Eagles

Whatever Jason Peters' reason is for skipping voluntary OTA workouts, it sounds as though the team considers it a good one. I personally don't see the harm as long as Peters is healthy, which they say he is. A healthy Peters would be the least of the Eagles' problems.

Speaking of injured offensive linemen named Jason, center Jason Kelce will bear a great deal of the responsibility for making Chip Kelly's offense run in the new coach's first season in Philadelphia.

Washington Redskins

Mike Jones will have his eye on the safety competition and on defensive lineman Jarvis Jenkins, among other things, as the Redskins kick off another round of OTA practices this week.

Even as the busy part of the offseason moves into the rear-view mirror, the Redskins are still going to be close up against the salary cap and will have to maneuver carefully through the rest of the offseason as a result.

Dallas Cowboys

When you're Matt Johnson, and so much is expected of you in spite of the facts that you're a fourth-round pick and you've never played an NFL game, just practicing is a victory at this point.

Morris Claiborne, however, was a high first-round pick for whom the Cowboys traded up. And he's expecting considerably more out of himself in his second NFL season than he delivered in his first.

New York Giants

Steve Smith holds the Giants' record for receptions in a season, with the 107 catches he hauled in in 2009. But the knee injury he suffered in 2010 was too much for him to come back from. And after several comeback attempts in places like Philadelphia, St. Louis and Tampa Bay, Smith announced his retirement from the NFL on Wednesday.

Speaking of Giants wide receivers, don't write off Louis Murphy's chances of being in the mix as one of Eli Manning's targets this season. Murphy has the kind of speed that sets him apart.
These are voluntary practices, these OTA workouts the New York Giants are having this week, and what that technically means is that no one has to be there if they don't want to be there. But you know how that goes. NFL coaches expect their players to volunteer for the voluntary work and feel no compunction about expressing their displeasure when they don't. So this, according to Ohm, is what Giants coach Tom Coughlin had to say about wide receiver Hakeem Nicks' apparently unexpected absence from Wednesday's workout:
"Yeah, sure I did," Coughlin said of whether he expected Nicks to attend. "I expect everybody here. Trying to get our team better here."

"He would have some kind of [physical] limitations I am sure right away," Coughlin added. "But that is not the reason [for his absence]."

Eli Manning sounded surprised by Nicks' absence as well.

"I had no reason to think he wasn't going to be here," Manning said.

Nicks is no troublemaker, and not the kind of guy to skip a practice. So while he obviously isn't required to offer one, I'd expect that we'll hear an explanation sometime soon about why he wasn't there. Nicks' contract expires at the end of the 2013 season, and he has talked with the team about an extension, but that situation hasn't to this point come with the discontent fellow wide receiver Victor Cruz has over his current contract discussion. Cruz, as expected, was not in attendance Wednesday and likely won't be at any of the voluntary workouts unless or until he and the Giants reach agreement on a long-term contract. Manning wishes those guys were there:
"You want to make sure your guys are healthy at the start of the year and that's always the No. 1 thing," Manning said. "But you've got to get some work also. We need to improve. We've gotta rep things. We've got to make sure we're doing everything we can to make sure we're playing at our best. That involves being healthy and also involves practice and getting reps."

"You've still gotta work on your timing," he later added. "You've still gotta work on the basics. Everybody needs it. I need the basics. I mean, how many times have I thrown a hitch in my life or a curl route? I've still gotta do it. But it is good to have other guys in there running routes and getting your timing down with other guys. That's how you look at it, but you'd still like to have all your guys out there. We all need to work."

So while the absences of Cruz and Nicks offered opportunities for guys like Louis Murphy and Jerrel Jernigan to get some valuable time working with Manning, it's clear the Giants would like to see their two star wideouts on the practice field as soon as possible. To this point, there's been no reason to worry about whether there's any kind of issue that would keep Nicks from being there. We shall see whether one has begun to surface.
Some highlights from our regular weekly NFC East chat, which took place Tuesday:

Les (East Windsor, NJ): Assuming Victor Cruz returns to the Giants, what do you see as the pecking order behind him and Hakeem Nicks?

Dan Graziano: I think they'd like Rueben Randle to take a big jump forward and be the next guy in that pecking order. But they brought in Louis Murphy for returns and he could factor in. And they still think Jerrel Jernigan has something to offer. Competition will decide.

Tony D (Guam): Am I the only one that doesn't get all the hate for Doug Free. After getting flip flopped on the line the past couple of years, this might be the reason for his skid. I was watching highlights from just 3 years ago and the dude was mean. Best case scenario, I would like to see a pay cut and stay on the roster. Thoughts?

DG: But come on. The reason for the flip flop was how bad he was on the left side in 2011. You're right about the way he played in 2010, but since the contract he hasn't been remotely the same. Judging on the last two years, he's one of the worst starting tackles in the entire league.

Fran Mc (Philly): A lot of experts are predicting that Eagles' Matt Barkley starts year 2 or 3. My question is why are they assuming his better than Nick Foles? They're from the same conference. Foles was drafted a round higher.

DG: But by a different coaching staff. Look, the plain fact is, anyone who's "predicting" anything about the Eagles' QB situation, this year, next year or the year after, is guessing.

Kenny J (Martinsburg): Has Dan Snyder finally grown into a very good and responsible owner, and will Jerry Jones ever do the same?

DG: I think Snyder has honored his contractual promise to stay in the background and let Shanahan run the team the way he wants to run it. I don't imagine Jones will ever make such a promise.

Eight in the Box: WR status check

March, 29, 2013
3/29/13
12:00
PM ET
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each team look at wide receiver and what still needs to be done?

Dallas Cowboys: Dez Bryant broke out in a huge way in the second half of his third NFL season and finished the year with 92 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns. If he can keep himself in one piece, he's one of the top wideouts in the league. Miles Austin is the perfect complement on the other side -- good enough that defenses have to pay attention to him but not the kind of guy who's going to complain if Bryant gets more catches. Austin has to keep his hamstrings healthy, and if he does the Cowboys have a top one-two wide receiver combo. Dwayne Harris came on strong last year as a No. 3 wide receiver, and guys such as Cole Beasley and Danny Coale could provide intriguing depth. Dallas could look to add a veteran wide receiver to its mix heading into training camp in case the young guys don't produce, but it's not a high-priority issue.

New York Giants: The Giants are at work on a long-term contract with restricted free-agent wide receiver Victor Cruz, who has 168 catches for 2,628 yards and 19 touchdowns the past two seasons (not counting playoffs). They'd like to keep Cruz, but he wants No. 1 wide receiver money, and the Giants to this point only seem willing to make him the highest-paid slot receiver in the league. That's mainly because they view Hakeem Nicks as their No. 1 wideout, and Nicks' contract is up at the end of 2013. The Giants would like to find a way to keep Cruz in the slot, which means they'll need to develop someone like 2012 second-round pick Rueben Randle or recent free-agent signee Louis Murphy as the outside guy opposite Nicks. They'll also need to get Nicks through the season healthy. But their biggest need right now at wide receiver is new contracts for Cruz and Nicks.

Philadelphia Eagles: Starters DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin have the top-level speed everyone thinks new coach Chip Kelly wants in his offense. Jason Avant, Riley Cooper, Damaris Johnson and newly signed Arrelious Benn provide depth. Benn and Cooper provide size. The Eagles are deep at wide receiver and probably won't be looking to add. But it's a prove-it year for Maclin, who hasn't been able to stay healthy or produce like the first-round pick that he is. Much also will be expected of Jackson, who was playing well before getting hurt last season, assuming Kelly can find ways to get the ball in his hands more consistently.

Washington Redskins: The big questions at receiver in Washington are whether No. 1 wideout Pierre Garcon will be all the way over the foot problems that cost him so much time last season and who will step up as the No. 2 on the opposite side. Garcon was a difference-maker when he was on the field, and if he can put in a full 16-game season, he should produce in accordance with his 2012 free-agent contract. Santana Moss returns, somewhat surprisingly, for another year as the veteran slot man. Aldrick Robinson is a useful deep threat. And the Redskins' coaches like a lot of things about Leonard Hankerson and Josh Morgan -- they'd just like at least one of them to show starter-caliber consistency on the side opposite Garcon. Wide receiver is a position of strength throughout the NFC East, and I wouldn't think you'd see the Redskins or any of the division's other teams pushing to add here.

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