NFC East: Martellus Bennett

IRVING, Texas -- The commonly held perception is that a player makes his biggest jump in the NFL between his rookie season and second year.

Escobar
With that in mind, ESPN Insider Field Yates rates Dallas Cowboys tight end Gavin Escobar as one of 10 breakout players from the 2013 draft.

To read the full story, you need to be an Insider Insider, but here's what he said about Escobar:
Nine catches for Escobar probably wasn't the production the Cowboys had in mind for him as a rookie second-rounder, but there's plenty of reason for optimism. Some scouts believed Escobar had a ceiling as a pass-catcher that came close to Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert, and that's something Dallas will work to tap into in 2014. Escobar is still clearly a reserve to Jason Witten and must improve as a blocker, but his length and catch radius project to increased development with a full offseason at his disposal.


The Cowboys made a surprise move in picking Escobar in the second round in 2013. He was the third second-round tight end the Cowboys picked since 2006, joining Anthony Fasano and Martellus Bennett. They found more success after leaving the Cowboys. Escobar is in Witten's shadow, but he should be given more chances in 2014.

New tight ends coach Mike Pope, who has developed a number of tight ends for the better part of three decades, told Jason Garrett the Giants had Escobar in a similar spot on their draft board.

"When you have a new coach come in from a different team, I'm always interested in hearing what they thought of a player when they were coming out," Garrett said. "Was our evaluation similar to their evaluation? What round did they have him in? It's always fun to get that impression and then get that impression from afar and the impression from up close when he gets a chance to meet with him and work with him.

"I think he sees probably a lot of the same things we see: a very talented, pass-catching tight end. He has to grow and get stronger as a blocker but he has a lot of skills we want to work with."

Garrett said Escobar has gotten stronger in the offseason, "but it's not something that happens overnight." His playing time figures to grow if the Cowboys are more married to the two-tight end personnel in which Escobar works essentially as a wide receiver working the slot.

If he does, then Yates' prediction could come true.
The awkward part of New York Giants GM Jerry Reese's pre-draft news conference Thursday came when a reporter asked him about tight end. The exchange went like this:
Q: Historically, this team has relied on the tight end quite a bit. Would you be comfortable moving forward with the guys you have on your roster right now?

Reese: Historically we've relied on our tight end?

Q: Well, they've had a prominent role.

Reese: Really?

Q: I seem to remember tight ends catching important passes.

Reese: Yeah, well, we think we've got some tight ends that can catch some important passes. But "prominent role"? We want all of our positions to be prominent roles. I'm not sure if our tight ends have had prominent roles in the past. But we want a competent tight end. We think we've got a couple of young tight ends who have been here for a couple of years who we want to develop, and we'll continue to look as we move forward.
[+] EnlargeBrandon Myers
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsIn his one season with the Giants, Brandon Myers caught 47 passes for 522 yards.
I have been on the other end of that exchange in the past. I've been the one who asked Reese a question that posited a certain level of significance for the tight end position and had him reject the premise. Obviously, this does not show Reese at his most polite, but he views this idea that the Giants' offense has relied on a tight end as an especially irksome misperception. And the numbers support his side of it:
  • Brandon Myers' 47 receptions in 2013 were the second-most in a single season by a Giants tight end since Jeremy Shockey caught 57 passes in 2007.
  • Since 2007, the Giants have employed four different starting tight ends -- Kevin Boss from 2008-10, Jake Ballard in 2011, Martellus Bennett in 2012 and Myers last year.
  • Over that six-year stretch, the Giants' leading tight end has averaged 42 receptions for 539 yards and five touchdowns per year, with Bennett's 55 catches and 626 yards in 2012 and Boss' six touchdowns in 2008 the high-water marks in those categories.

Reese is not shy about telling people he thinks he can find a tight end who can catch 42 passes every year, and this is the basis on which he rejects a characterization such as "prominent role." Yes, he could be nicer about making the point, but the Giants' offense has not, in point of fact, relied on the tight end. Shockey was an exceptional case -- an exceptional talent the Giants deemed worthy of a first-round pick. And Bennett's athleticism allowed them to use him a bit more than they've used other guys after they were able to get him on the cheap prior to the 2012 season.

But the thing to remember about Bennett and Shockey is that both were excellent and willing blockers at the position. Bennett's as good a run-blocking tight end as there is in the NFL right now, and the Giants had him on the field a lot for that reason. That his size and speed enabled him to be a slightly bigger factor in the passing game than some of his predecessors were was a bonus, and the Giants were fortunate that he wasn't in demand that year due to the perception that he was a huge disappointment in Dallas. Once he played well for them, he parlayed that into a big free-agent deal with the Bears, and the Giants made no effort to spend to keep him.

So the point to be taken from this is not that the Giants don't like the tight end position but that it's not a position on which they feel compelled to spend major resources. Other than that 2002 first-round pick they spent on Shockey, they've consistently sought cheap solutions at tight end, viewing whoever plays it as replaceable from year to year. They want guys who can block, and if those guys can catch the ball, so much the better.

For that reason, it's easy to convince yourself that they won't be taking North Carolina's Eric Ebron with the No. 12 pick in the first round next week. Ebron may be an exceptional talent as a receiver, and the tight end position leaguewide may have evolved to the point where it's worth spending a No. 12 overall pick to get one who can be a difference-maker in the passing game. But Reese insisted Thursday that the arrival of new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo has not changed the way the Giants evaluate offensive players. And while Shockey was the No. 14 overall pick in that 2002 draft, it's vital to remember that Shockey was a good blocker in addition to a great pass-catcher. Ebron is a pass-catcher only. He'd be a liability as a blocker. So the comparison doesn't necessarily fit.

The Giants could find a tight end such as Jace Amaro or Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the second round if they really feel they need one, but it's possible they don't feel that way. They have 2012 fourth-round pick Adrien Robinson still on the roster and have been eager for some time to see him on the field more. They resisted putting Robinson on injured reserve all last year because they believed he had something to offer if he ever got healthy (which he finally did, only to injure himself again on the opening kickoff of the Week 16 game in Detroit). They signed blocking tight end Kellen Davis and Daniel Fells for depth at the position, and Larry Donnell has been a strong enough special-teams performer to earn more practice reps and show what he can do. That's the group Reese has, and he swears he doesn't feel the need to upgrade it in the draft. If their pick comes around and the best player still on their board plays tight end, sure, they could take him. But Reese isn't hunting for some huge solution at the position next week.

The question is whether he's right. I personally think the Giants would benefit from having a more permanent solution at this position than they've employed over the past four years. I think the way the league is going, it's more important than it used to be to have a big-time weapon at that position who can split out wide and bust matchups in the secondary. But I don't run the Giants. Jerry Reese does. And he and the Giants do things their way, and they believe in it. You can respect someone's conviction even if your opinion differs from theirs. Reese thinks he's OK at tight end -- or at least that he will be. And it's clear when he's asked about it that he doesn't understand what all the fuss is about.

Quick Take: Saints at Eagles

December, 30, 2013
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Three things to know about next Saturday's New Orleans Saints-Philadelphia Eagles wild-card playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field:

1. Unsteady Brees: It has often been said the Saints are a different team at home and on the road, but really, Drew Brees is a different quarterback. In seven home games before Sunday, Brees threw 23 touchdowns and three interceptions. His passer rating was 122.5. On the road, Brees has thrown 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions with a passer rating of 84.8. Brees averaged almost two more yards per attempt at home than on the road.

New Orleans’ defense is actually a bit better on the road. The Saints have eight interceptions and 26 sacks on the road and had three picks and 21 sacks in the Superdome before Sunday.

2. Subplots and storylines: The game will draw huge ratings in Philadelphia, New Orleans and Austin, Texas. Brees and Eagles quarterback Nick Foles went to Austin’s Westlake High School a decade apart. Foles broke Brees’ school records for touchdowns in a season and a career and yards in a game and career. Brees held on to the mark for passing yards in a season.

Saints head coach Sean Payton and assistant head coach Joe Vitt were both assistants on Ray Rhodes’ Eagles staff. Vitt coached linebackers from 1995 to 1998, while Payton coached quarterbacks in ’97 and ’98.

Saints defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley was the Eagles’ first-round draft pick in 2006. As a rookie, he played against the Saints in a divisional playoff game. The Saints won, 27-24.

Back in the 1980s, Buddy Ryan was head coach of the Eagles. Bill Davis, who had been an assistant on Dick Vermeil’s staff, was a personnel guy. They didn’t exactly get along, and Davis left in 1989.

Almost a quarter-century later, their sons are first-year defensive coordinators for the Saints and Eagles. Rob Ryan has done a dramatic job revamping the Saints' defense. New Orleans was worst in the NFL in yardage and points allowed in 2012. The Saints are fourth in yards and fifth in points under Ryan. Davis has engineered a transition to the 3-4 that has the Eagles playing markedly better defense in the second half of the season. The Eagles have held 10 of their past 11 opponents to 21 or fewer points.

3. Graham cracking: In Jimmy Graham, the Saints have arguably the most dangerous tight end in the league. The Eagles have had mixed success against tight ends this season.

San Diego’s Antonio Gates caught eight passes for 124 yards, but that was early in the season, before Davis’ unit hit its stride. Just last week, Chicago’s Martellus Bennett caught five balls for 85 yards. Tampa Bay’s Timothy Wright caught seven passes for 91 yards.

Going into Sunday night, tight ends have caught an average of 4.3 passes for 52.7 yards per game against the Eagles this season. Jason Witten had 12 catches for 135 yards for the Cowboys on Sunday.
Justin Tuck and Matthew StaffordGetty ImagesJustin Tuck, left, and the Giants will be trying to end the playoff hopes of Matthew Stafford's Lions.
It is a battle of disappointments on Sunday at Ford Field: the New York Giants, who have been disappointing all season, against the Detroit Lions, who have been one of the more surprising teams over the second half of the season -- in a bad way.

The Giants have no playoff hopes. The Lions need to win their final two games and then hope for help (i.e., losses) from Green Bay and Chicago.

Taking you through Sunday’s matchup are ESPN.com NFL reporters Michael Rothstein (Lions) and Dan Graziano (Giants).

Rothstein: The Giants have struggled all season, and Eli Manning has been at the forefront of that. What has changed there?

Graziano: It's basically just a complete bottoming-out on all fronts, starting with the protection. A line that wasn't great to begin with is down two starters and has been playing a rookie at right tackle all season. The blocking help the line used to get from running backs and tight ends disappeared when the Giants let Ahmad Bradshaw and Martellus Bennett leave in the offseason. Hakeem Nicks has had a terrible year at receiver, playing like he is more worried about staying healthy in advance of free agency than trying his best to win. There has been no run game at all for long stretches. And Manning has failed to elevate above his miserable circumstances, missing too many throws and too often looking as though it has all been too much for him. It's been a total whitewash of a season for the Giants' offense. They are the only team in the league that has been shut out even once this season, and they've been shut out twice.

What is the deal out there in Detroit? To my eyes, the Lions should have put this division away by now with Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler having been out for so long. What is the main reason they seem to have squandered such a great opportunity?

Rothstein: I don't know whether there are enough words to describe all that has gone on, although the simplest way to put it would be consistent end-game meltdowns, either from turnovers, coaching decisions or a defense that suddenly faltered.

A lot of it has to do with Matthew Stafford, who has had accuracy issues in the second half of the season. Really, there have been issues everywhere but the lines, from turnovers to coverage breakdowns on defense.

This is a team that should be safely in the playoffs right now instead of needing to win out and get help.

That obviously leads to job-security questions for Jim Schwartz. Although that doesn't seem to be the case for Tom Coughlin, has this season given any indication as to how much longer he plans to be on the sideline?

Graziano: No, Coughlin is really a what-you-see-is-what-you-get sort of guy. He's completely believable when he insists he's focused on only this week's game and doesn't want to address anything beyond this season. People close to Coughlin insist he won't quit as long as he feels he can still do the job, and there is no indication he feels otherwise. He has as much passion and energy as anyone else in the building (and right now, more than most!). I don't think Giants ownership would fire him, and I'd be stunned if he got into the offseason and decided he was done. As one person close to him told me, "He has no hobbies. There's nothing for him to retire TO." At 67 years old, he understands why the questions get asked, but he doesn't view himself as near the end of a career, I don't think. As of now, he plans to be part of the solution here, and it would be a major upset if he wasn't back in 2014.

One of Coughlin's biggest immediate problems is keeping his quarterback from getting killed. How is that Detroit pass rush looking these days?

Rothstein: Eli, meet Ndamukong. He will be the guy tossing you to the ground today. In all seriousness, though, the Lions' pass rush has been interesting. The Lions have been great at applying pressure (other than against Pittsburgh) but don't have the actual numbers to show for it, which can be confusing.

What teams have done is bottle the middle on Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, and have either a tight end or running back help on either Willie Young or Ziggy Ansah on the ends.

So to answer your question, it has been OK, but not the consistently dominant force some were expecting.

That leads into my last question. The Lions' run defense, headed by that front, has been one of the best in the league this season. Have the Giants figured any way to solve their run woes?

Graziano: Andre Brown was hot for a while when he came back from his injury, and the offensive line was starting to block better for the run. But the past two weeks have seen a step backward, and the way the line is configured now, with starting left guard Kevin Boothe playing center and backups rotating in and out at left guard, has left it very vulnerable and one-dimensional. The Giants were able to take advantage of some good matchups with Brown running well, but against tougher fronts like the one they saw against Seattle last week, they struggle. I imagine they will struggle against the Lions' front in the run game as well.

Two straight disappointing games for Stafford and Calvin Johnson. Do you expect Megatron to blow up this week and victimize the Giants' secondary?

Rothstein: Kind of. As cornerback Rashean Mathis told me this week, if the Lions don’t find their urgency now, they’ll never find it this season. So I’d imagine you would see Johnson -- who is Detroit's best player -- at the forefront of that if the Lions have any shot over the next two weeks. Plus, those two drops he had against Baltimore will gnaw at him all week long. I expect he’ll have a big game.

Stafford, on the other hand, I’m not as sure about because he seems genuinely rattled this second half of the season. Detroit needs to find what was working for him at the start of the season and bring that back, otherwise its season is over.

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Eagles' defense regroups for Bears

December, 17, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- Coming off a game in which his defense gave up 48 points and lost three more defensive backs to injuries, Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis called Sunday’s visit from the Chicago Bears “our biggest challenge of the season.”

That’s quite a distinction, considering the Eagles have faced Peyton Manning (allowing 52 points), Philip Rivers (33 points), Jamaal Charles (26 points), Larry Fitzgerald (21 points) and Calvin Johnson (20 snow-covered points).

But Davis was taking in all the factors: A game with enormous playoff implications for the Bears and possibly the Eagles; quarterback Jay Cutler and his array of weapons, including Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte, and a secondary thrown into disarray by injuries and poor performance.

“Chicago might be one of the most talented offenses we face,” Davis said. “They’re obviously in the top five in scoring. They’ve got the big, physical Pro Bowl receivers – two of them. They’ve got a tight end who’s a big, athletic pass receiving tight end. The running back is as rounded as any running back we’ve faced.”

That would sound daunting coming off the nine consecutive games in which the Eagles' defense held the opposing team to 21 points or fewer. Coming off Sunday’s debacle in Minnesota, and dealing with the smoking ruins of his secondary, you can see why Davis is concerned.

Nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin, who leads the team with four interceptions, has a concussion. His availability will be determined by the NFL concussion protocol. He would be replaced by safety Patrick Chung or cornerback Roc Carmichael, or a combination of both.

Davis may get rookie safety Earl Wolff back after a five-week absence due a knee injury. But Davis said Wolff will have to “crawl” back into the lineup before he’s completely back to where he was in early November.

Wolff’s replacement, the veteran Chung, was benched in favor of Kurt Coleman. Davis revealed Tuesday that decision was made before the game.

“Pat and Kurt knew we were rotating every two series,” Davis said. “Now we were rotating because Patrick is in a little bit of a slump. We were prepared in practice, we were 50/50 with the reps. That wasn’t something that was a knee-jerk reaction.”

Coleman injured his hamstring and spent the second half in the locker room getting treatment. Colt Anderson, who plays mostly special teams, injured his knee while pressed into service on defense.

Davis said Wolff and Coleman are “day to day,” while Anderson is “more week to week.”

And those are just the injured players. Davis also has to regroup with starting cornerbacks, Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, who are coming off their worst performance since the Denver game. Safety Nate Allen earned the distinction of being the least-bad defensive back of the day for the Eagles.

“It is a well-rounded offense that’s coming at us,” Davis said. “We had a bad day in Minnesota. They’re in the right mindset. Nobody’s pouting about last week. We accepted it, we owned up to it, we talked about the mistakes. Now we’re going forward and we’re going to attack Chicago with everything we have.”

Five Wonders: Season on line Sunday?

November, 19, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- Refreshed off the bye week, Five Wonders is back and ready for action.

We'll start with this mini-wonder: Does anybody more than wonder whether the Dec. 29 meeting between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles at AT&T Stadium will be to win the NFC East?

I wonder it, but only if the Cowboys beat the New York Giants this week.

On to the wonders:

SportsNation

Who will have a bigger impact in Sunday's game vs. the Giants?

  •  
    27%
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    73%

Discuss (Total votes: 9,336)

• I wonder if the season is on the line Sunday against the New York Giants. The Cowboys would still be alive because of the state of the NFC East, but at 5-6 and reeling it would be hard to see a turnaround. They would have lost three of four and the only win came on a 90-yard drive in the final minute against the Minnesota Vikings. The Cowboys carry emotional baggage with them no matter how much Jason Garrett attempts to keep them in the present. Injuries have piled up again. Questions about the scheme have rumbled on both sides of the ball. There is a lot on the line this week. The Giants have won four in a row to claw back into the race after a 0-6 start. Their wins have not come against the best quarterbacks but winning breeds confidence and the Giants have confidence. Maybe the feeling comes from the 32-point loss to the New Orleans Saints before the bye, but the Cowboys sure seem fragile mentally right now as well as physically.

[+] EnlargeBill O'Brien
Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times via Getty ImagesIf the Cowboys fail to make the playoffs this season, Penn State coach Bill O'Brien could be an interesting choice to replace Jason Garrett.
• I don't believe owner and general manager Jerry Jones wants to replace Garrett. I truly believe he wants Garrett to be the Cowboys' head coach for a long time. But if the Cowboys don't make the playoffs this season, it would not surprise me if Jones made a move. That would be four straight seasons without a playoff appearance. Jones can sell anything, but selling a status quo wouldn't be easy. One thing I don't wonder about is if Lovie Smith would get an interview. I believe he would. But here's another guy I wonder about: Penn State coach Bill O'Brien. I don't know all of the particulars of the buyout at Penn State, but O'Brien was tempted by the NFL last season. His background with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady gives him a plus, and how he has handled the mess that has enveloped Penn State gives him a few more pluses. His time running the Patriots' offense, however, means more to me. The Cowboys drafted Gavin Escobar to be more of a "12 personnel" team but the Cowboys have not been creative enough in getting people involved. They are running the same plays they did with Anthony Fasano and Martellus Bennett as the second tight end and they were not able to produce. O'Brien made the Rob Gronkowski-Aaron Hernandez package work well with Brady. Do I believe O'Brien would get an interview? I don't know any of it, but I would have him on the list. Not that Jones would listen to me.

• The Cowboys drafted Kyle Wilber with the idea that he could play outside linebacker in a 3-4. With the move to the 4-3, he was moved to defensive end. Now he is playing some outside linebacker again because of an injury to Justin Durant. I wonder if Wilber is a man without a position. When Anthony Spencer went down in training camp with a knee injury, Wilber got the first look and then saw Ben Bass take some of his snaps. Then it was George Selvie who took them later on. When DeMarcus Ware got hurt in the season, Wilber took over but then saw Jarius Wynn take over the starting spot. Wilber always was a tweener, but the coaches have yet to feel like he can handle the full-time duty. If they did, they wouldn't be moving him around so much, especially because the defensive end spot is much more valued in this scheme than strong side linebacker.

• I wonder if we'll see a more engaged Bruce Carter now that Sean Lee is out of the lineup. There is no other way to say it then this: Carter has been a disappointment this season. The Cowboys did not need him to be Derrick Brooks in this defense, but they needed him to be productive. He had two sacks in the first two games. He had a pass deflection and a quarterback pressure. He has just two pressures and a pass deflection in the last eight games. He has one tackle for loss. The weak-side linebacker spot is designed to be the playmaker in this defense. When the Cowboys lost Lee last year to a toe injury, Carter stepped up his game before an elbow injury KO'd him for the year. The Cowboys need that Carter and not the Carter that ended the New Orleans game. We can pick on just about everybody on defense from that game, but Carter was ready for that game to end sooner than it did.

Back in June I wondered if people were sleeping on just how effective Lance Dunbar would be when the season started. I pegged him in for 30 catches out of the backfield. I saw his speed and elusiveness as being a big part of a revamped offense. I was wrong. While not as big a disappointment as Carter, Dunbar has not been able to deliver on offense. He has four catches for 21 yards and 15 carries for 48 yards. Some of it is injury. Some of it is ball security. Some of it is scheme. Jerry Jones said he wanted to see Dunbar more involved. Bill Callahan said he would like to get Dunbar more involved. Sometimes there's just not enough of the football to go around. Dunbar has seen his role taken by Cole Beasley to a degree because of the use of the "empty” package. Maybe things change in the final six games, but I would be surprised.

Behind Enemy Lines: Martellus Bennett

October, 20, 2013
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Apparently the weather forecast might be a bigger deal to Chicago Bears tight end Martellus Bennett than anyone else. Considering his success this season, the Redskins might want to hope the forecast changes for Sunday.

Bennett has caught 31 passes for 349 yards and three touchdowns. He's listed as questionable for Sunday's game because of his knee.

“I have, like when the weather is bad I have SAD, like seasonal whatever [seasonal affective disorder],” Bennett said in a conference call earlier this week. “I suffer from weather depression basically, so I just say I’m solar-powered. So if the sun’s not out, I’m the first person that everybody comes to like, ‘Hey, the sun’s not out. No demons today. Make sure you find some kind of sunlight somewhere to go ahead and practice,’ you know, because I’m solar-powered.”

[+] EnlargeMartellus Bennett
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastTE Martellus Bennett is one of several playmakers who have emerged on the Bears' offense.
OK. Just so you know: The forecast for Sunday is mid-60s and sunny

Bennett has helped transform the Bears’ offense, part of a productive passing attack that also features receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Running back Matt Forte also is a solid all-around player and an excellent pass-protector.

Anyway, here are a couple other Bennett highlights followed by some Bears’ links:

On the Redskins’ defense: I think they have a lot of good players over there. I always look forward to playing against [linebacker London] Fletcher. He’s one of the best guys to go against. He’s got so much passion and enthusiasm when you play against him that he brings it out of you as well, so I look forward to playing against him. And then [linebacker Brian] Orakpo and [linebacker Ryan] Kerrigan, you know they come with it and then [nose tackle Barry] Cofield has been doing a great job in the middle of the front, so I think their front seven is pretty good.”

On how the Redskins cover tight ends and how that compares to what other 3-4 defenses do: “Honestly, every tight end is different. I have no clue what they will do against me because every single game, every team that I’ve played against, they’ve been playing me different than they’ve played other tight ends. I know last year when I played against them they had London on me a lot and then [linebacker Perry] Riley Jr. had the duty the second time, so I look forward to playing against them … We’ll see how it starts off this week.”

On quarterback Jay Cutler: “I think his biggest thing is he’s just trusting everybody that’s around him from the receivers to the offensive line to the coaches. I think that’s the biggest thing for him this year; he can trust everybody to do their job and he can feel like he doesn’t have to do a whole lot. It doesn’t feel like the whole team is on his shoulders. If he throws the ball up, he’s got four or five guys that can go get it. The offensive line is going to protect him so he can just focus on his drops and stepping up in the pocket. I think his biggest thing is just trusting the other guys around him and letting his body and his athletic ability take care of everything else.”

And now for some other Bears reading:
  • Chicago linebacker Lance Briggs says Robert Griffin III hasn’t lost a step. Heck, even if Griffin does lose a step he’s still plenty fast enough. Here’s what Briggs said about Griffin after seeing the Dallas game: "I don't know, that second half, that burst was there. That burst looked pretty good. Don't be deceived. Don't be deceived at all. He's playing better and better each week. Watching him in that second half against Dallas, I saw him pull away from some guys running the ball."
  • The Bears are starting rookies at right tackle (Jordan Mills) and right guard (Kyle Long). It hasn’t hurt them at all.
  • Chicago receiver Brandon Marshall said quarterback Jay Cutler is doing a great job as a leader. “Jay’s doing an amazing job of not only doing the things he needs to do, but he’s getting everyone lined up,” Marshall said. “He’s walking us through routes, showing us how he would like it. The trickle-down effect has been good from his leadership."

Redskins injury report: Healthy roster

October, 18, 2013
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ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins cornerback David Amerson said he's feeling fine and will play against the Chicago Bears on Sunday, barring any setbacks. That's good news for a secondary that has another tough assignment this week. Amerson is listed as questionable on the injury report.
Amerson
With the Bears' diverse passing game, the Redskins need a healthy secondary to continue its recent solid play. Washington benefitted against Dallas from its ability to disguise coverages, partly because it used corner Josh Wilson in a variety of roles, from slot corner to strong safety. If Amerson had to miss, then the Redskins wouldn't be able to tap into their strength in the backfield right now, which is versatility.

Tight end Fred Davis (ankle), linebacker Brandon Jenkins (ankle), center Will Montgomery (knee), corner Jerome Murphy (ankle), nose tackle Chris Neild (calf) and tight end Logan Paulsen (knee) are probable.

For Chicago, tight end Martellus Bennett (knee) and corner Charles Tillman (knee) are questionable. Defensive tackle Stephen Paea (toe) is probable and his return would be welcomed by a struggling defensive front. Others listed as probable: linebacker James Anderson (back), safety Anthony Walters (hamstring) and safety Major Wright (knee).

Redskins injury report: Amerson limited

October, 17, 2013
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Amerson
ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins cornerback David Amerson was limited again in practice, but coach Mike Shanahan said he passed his tests and if that continues he’ll play against Chicago on Sunday.

Amerson suffered a concussion in Sunday’s 31-16 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. The Redskins could use him against the Bears and their big receivers -- 6-foot-4 Brandon Marshall and 6-foot-3 Alshon Jeffery -- this weekend.

Meanwhile, every other player was a full participation in practice, including nose tackle Chris Neild who was hurt in the first half of the Sept. 29 win at Oakland.

For Chicago, linebacker James Anderson (back), tight end Martellus Bennett (knee), defensive tackle Stephen Paea (toe) and cornerback Charles Tillman (knee) were limited in practice.
Jay Cutler and Robert Griffin IIIGetty ImagesJay Cutler will use his big targets; Robert Griffin III hopes to count on a stable run game.
The Washington Redskins again are facing a must-win game -- that is, if they want to start achieving what many thought they would this season. Otherwise, they're staring at a disastrous season. The Chicago Bears don't need to win with the same urgency, but they need to keep pace with Green Bay for first place in the NFC North.

There's no doubt quarterback Jay Cutler wants a better showing than what he provided the previous time he faced Washington. Redskins corner DeAngelo Hall made the Pro Bowl after the 2010 season in large part because of his four interceptions off Cutler in the road win.

The Bears have not played in Washington since Dec. 6, 2007, when the emotionally charged Redskins, playing shortly after the death of safety Sean Taylor, won 24-16.

This also will be a reunion between Cutler and Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, who drafted the quarterback in Denver in 2006. Cutler threw for a career-high 4,526 yards in his last season with Shanahan (2008). The Redskins tried to trade for Cutler before the 2009 season.

ESPN.com Redskins reporter John Keim and Bears reporter Michael C. Wright take a look at the matchup.

John Keim: The Bears have a strong-armed quarterback who has some big targets. And the protection seems pretty solid. How dangerous is the Bears' passing game right now, and is this just about talent?

Michael C. Wright: John, it's a combination of talent and scheme. The Bears prioritized protecting Jay Cutler when new coach Marc Trestman took over. So they went out and signed left tackle Jermon Bushrod and left guard Matt Slauson in free agency, and drafted right guard Kyle Long and right tackle Jordan Mills. The Bears also added Martellus Bennett to give them a threat down the middle and somewhat of a mismatch against safeties and linebackers. The club already possessed weapons outside in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery and in the backfield with Matt Forte. So the Bears used a combination of additions and Trestman's West Coast scheme, which emphasizes getting the ball out of Cutler's hands quickly, to get to where they are today.

It's difficult for me to characterize the passing game as "dangerous" right now because we haven't yet seen the Bears put together a full game in that department. What I will say is that Cutler has more weapons at his disposal than he's used to, and he's playing a much more efficient game now than he has in the past.

Sticking with quarterbacks, RG III clearly isn't the same guy, so I've got to ask whether the Redskins are trying to find a way to compensate for that? And if so, what are they doing?

Keim: That's a tough question to answer because there have been too many games in which they had to change their offense just because they had fallen far behind, especially in the first couple of games, when Griffin was not going to run the ball. He is running much better, so they're now back to what they used to do; it's just a matter of executing.

Griffin ran the zone read-option more Sunday night at Dallas than he had all season -- the Cowboys' playing a lot of man coverage helped open the outside for him. What they need to do is stay in games and run the ball. Their offense looks different at times because they can't use as much play-action, thanks to game situations. They're so much better when they're running well and using play-action. Griffin can operate in the pocket, but it's not what he does best. And he's shown signs of growth in terms of keeping the ball alive and finding receivers and not just running.

I wonder if the Bears will be able to pressure him. I know the Bears have had injuries up front, but it still seems like Julius Peppers is a bit too quiet. Is he still a dangerous player?

Wright: You want to say Peppers is, because it's hard for me to believe he has all of the sudden lost it after back-to-back seasons of 11 sacks or more. But we might finally be seeing Peppers on the decline. In four career games against the Redskins, Peppers has registered just two sacks. So far this season, he's posted only one, which is a concern, considering Peppers collected 3 1/2 sacks in 2012 through the first six games. Certainly, the injuries inside at tackle play a role in Peppers' lack of production. The Bears lost two starters at defensive tackle in franchise player Henry Melton (six sacks last season) and his replacement, Nate Collins. The club also has played without Stephen Paea, who is fighting through turf toe. That has forced the Bears to play starting defensive end Corey Wootton inside at tackle, along with a host of unheralded players such as Landon Cohen, who signed two days before the club faced Detroit on Sept. 29, and surprisingly played in that game. I think Peppers is still dangerous, but he certainly doesn't look the part now.

It looked to me like Alfred Morris was a big part of RG III's success last year, but early on he seemed to struggle. I know lack of opportunity played a part in that because the Redskins were behind. But do you see Morris sort of regaining his form moving forward because he looked better against the Cowboys?

Keim: I like Morris a lot and it's funny because I didn't think he looked that great against Dallas, with the exception of a few runs (including his touchdown). There's no doubt the coaches want him carrying the ball more, and his main issue this season has been the lack of carries. He's averaging 5.2 yards per carry, but has yet to carry more than 16 times in a game (he had three such games last season). Morris is a better runner than a year ago; a little quicker and more knowledgeable about where to hit the hole. With his patience and vision, he does an exceptional job setting up his blocks. But he needs more work -- and unlike last year, the Redskins have been unable to establish the run early in games. That must change.

The Redskins also need to make more big plays. And I see that the Bears have allowed 29 pass plays of 20 yards or more and have a new middle linebacker this week. Where do you think the Redskins can take advantage?

Wright: Not only do they have a new middle linebacker, John, but the Bears will line up rookie Jonathan Bostic, a second-round pick. So the Redskins might be able to take advantage there. Bostic turned heads in the preseason with big hits and a couple of impressive plays. But he made too many mistakes, which is why the Bears opted to start D.J. Williams at that spot in the first place. As far as the explosive plays in the passing game go, I think they're a function of the team being unable to generate pressure with the front four, which in turn leaves the secondary in coverage for way too long. Chicago's injury situation up front likely means it won't improve the pass rush sufficiently to help out a secondary that has struggled some at the safety position with Major Wright and Chris Conte.

Let's turn to the Redskins' defense. It pretty much shut down Dallas' high-powered offense Sunday. What can Chicago expect to see?

Keim: Good question, because the defense was dreadful for the first three games and in the fourth, it faced Matt Flynn playing behind a bad line in Oakland. Sunday night was a bit of a surprise, but in reality it's how I expected the defense to play entering the season. They have the talent to be middle-of-the-road, capable of a good game and also a clunker if the matchup is bad. They have used three corners and one safety in the secondary quite a bit, adding speed and giving them the ability to disguise coverages a little longer. They will blitz, from the slot in particular. They will run stunts up front -- linebacker Brian Orakpo, end Stephen Bowen and nose tackle Barry Cofield work well together. They will use five linebackers at times in obvious pass situations, with Ryan Kerrigan in a four-point stance. They need to play out of their base defense because their main goal is to stop the run. Their secondary has done a better job lately of limiting big plays, but everything starts with their ability to stop the run. If Forte has a big game, I have a hard time seeing the Redskins limiting this offense enough to win the game.

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ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins cornerback David Amerson was limited in practice, three days after suffering a concussion in the 31-16 loss at the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. But Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said he's hopeful that Amerson will be fine Thursday.

Amerson said earlier on Wednesday that he has not felt any lingering affects from the concussion, which occurred thanks to a blindside hit on a second-half kick return. The Redskins can't afford to lose Amerson in a week where they're facing two big receivers in 6-foot-4 Brandon Marshall and 6-foot-3 Alshon Jeffery. At 6-foot-1, Amerson is the Redskins' tallest corner.

Meanwhile, backup nose tackle Chris Neild was limited with a calf injury. Linebacker Brandon Jenkins (ankle), center Will Montgomery (knee), corner Jerome Murphy (ankle) and tight end Logan Paulsen (knee) all practiced in full. Long snapper Nick Sundberg underwent surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee and now faces a five-month recovery.

For Chicago, tight end Martellus Bennett (knee), defensive end Julius Peppers (not injury related) and corner Charles Tillman (knee) did not practice. Linebacker James Anderson (back), defensive tackle Stephen Paea (toe), safety Anthony Walters (hamstring) and safety Major Wright (knee) were limited.

Upon Further Review: Cowboys Week 5

October, 7, 2013
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A review of four hot issues from the Dallas Cowboys' 51-48 loss to the Denver Broncos:

[+] EnlargeCole Beasley
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsCole Beasley scored the first touchdown of his career and finished with four receptions for 47 yards.
Empty it out: The Cowboys broke out their empty package against the Broncos and had great success. Unoffically, quarterback Tony Romo completed 10 of 13 passes for 235 yards when the Cowboys left the quarterback alone in the backfield. Only one of Romo’s four sacks came in an empty look. That was one of the bigger changes the Cowboys used to attack the Broncos and Romo made it work. Romo’s 79-yard throw to receiver Dez Bryant came out of an empty look, but Bryant’s fumble came when the Cowboys motioned to an empty look. Romo’s shortest completions in the 01 or 02 package were a pair of 10-yarders.

Finding the weakness: As head coach Jason Garrett says, every defense has a weakness and the opponents have found the Cowboys’ in their 4-3 scheme. San Diego completed 20 passes for 238 yards to running backs and tight ends. The Broncos completed 18 passes for 221 yards. They have given up back-to-back 100-yard games to tight ends in Antonio Gates (136) and Julius Thomas (121). With Minnesota’s Kyle Rudolph, New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham, Chicago’s Martellus Bennett and Green Bay’s Jermichael Finley left on the docket, the Cowboys better figure out how to defend the tight end better.

Playing to its level: The Cowboys are realizing just how valuable defensive end Anthony Spencer is to this defense. Perhaps nose tackle Jay Ratliff too. With Spencer out for the year and Ratliff on the physically unable to perform list for at least one more game and possibly a lot longer, the Cowboys' defensive line is getting exposed. Defensive end DeMarcus Ware and defensive tackle Jason Hatcher are the only players in the roles that were set before the season started. The rest of the line was hardly expected to make the roster. For as well as defensive end George Selvie and defensive tackle Nick Hayden have played at times, they were still out of work this summer and not on a team last season respectively. Defensive line coach Rod Marinelli was lauded for his work the first three games, but in the past two games the Cowboys have one sack.

Filling a role: It’s too easy to compare receiver Cole Beasley to Wes Welker. The Cowboys have found a role for Beasley in the slot. Beasley caught four passes for 47 yards and had his first touchdown, a 4-yarder in the fourth quarter. He looked positively Welker-like on his 23-yard catch, working the middle of the field with his quickness on the defensive back. He will be limited as an outside receiver, but his effectiveness underneath and the trust Romo has in him will make Beasley a factor on the offense, especially if the Cowboys continue to roll out their aforementioned empty package.

Assessing Jerry Reese's offseason

September, 30, 2013
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New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese continues to decline interview requests through the team's media relations department. The Giants insist they are not the sort of franchise whose ownership and management-level leaders hold running commentary about the season, and their 0-4 start is not going to make them be who they are not. That's fine. I can respect that. I disagree, because I think it would constitute a public show of leadership and support if Reese and/or John Mara were to talk publicly at the end of this September. But that's their way of doing business, and you have to stay true to yourself. All good. Long as they don't mind if I keep asking.

This also allows us to write whatever we want to write about Reese and the way he assembled the 2013 Giants roster, because he's not taking the opportunity to present his side of any of it. So with that in mind, I hereby present my wholly objective opinions on five of the significant Giants roster decisions Reese made this offseason.

Bradshaw
1. Releasing running back Ahmad Bradshaw

Why they did it: Cap room, and the belief that Bradshaw wouldn't be able to stay healthy enough to count on.

Were they wrong? No, not even in hindsight. Bradshaw's already hurt for the Colts, who have already spent their 2014 first-round pick on an upgrade. To look back now and call this a mistake would be an unjustified second-guess. It was time for the Giants and Bradshaw to part ways.

The impact: The problem is that Reese didn't work hard enough to replace Bradshaw (this is a recurring theme you'll see here). The thought was that second-year man David Wilson could be the primary ballcarrier and Andre Brown could handle pass-protection and goal-line duties. But Brown broke his leg in the preseason and Wilson fumbled twice in the opener, and the Giants were exposed as way too thin at running back with only Da'Rel Scott and Michael Cox on the bench. They had to go out and bring back Brandon Jacobs just to fill out the meeting room. Big mess. Where they really miss Bradshaw is in pass protection, where he's the best running back in the league at picking up the blitz. No matter who they brought in, it would have been tough for anyone to replace Bradshaw in that area. Brown was okay at it, but he has an extensive injury history that made him difficult to count on. Reese likely should have found a veteran pass-blocking back to fill out the roster in camp.

Beatty
Beatty
2. Signing Will Beatty to a five-year, $38.75 million contract.

Why they did it: The Giants gave Beatty his big deal right before free agency because they feared left tackles like Jake Long, Sebastian Vollmer and Andre Smith would push the tackle market through they roof. They had a 28-year-old who'd played well for them in 2012 and knew their system, and they got him on a cap-friendly deal before the market could act on him.

Were they wrong? Yes. The market for free-agent tackles didn't go where Reese expected it to go. Long broke the bank with the Rams, but Vollmer and Smith re-signed with their own teams for less than half of what Beatty got. And while those guys play right tackle and Beatty plays left, the difference is not what the contracts indicate. Had they waited, it turns out they likely could have had Beatty for less than they spent.

The impact: If Beatty plays like a franchise left tackle, as he did in 2012, the Giants won't regret the cost. But if he plays the way he's played so far this year -- overmatched physically and employing sloppy, inconsistent technique that's impossible for him to overcome -- then they have a long-term problem that would require him to be replaced and them to be overpaying a right tackle. Four games in, there's a question mark at a position that was supposed to be solved. And with the rest of the line looking like it needs to be addressed in the short- and long-term, that's no good. The issue on both lines is that there's too little in the pipeline -- that they haven't developed players to replace the ones they've lost. They paid Beatty as though he was the exception, and to this point he hasn't looked it.

Cruz
3. Signing Victor Cruz to a five-year, $43 million contract.

Why they did it: They view Cruz as a special talent and a long-term piece of their puzzle -- a slot receiver capable of catching the ball anywhere on the field and going all the way with it. Eli Manning trusts him completely, and he's a huge part of why their passing game works.

Were they wrong? No. They stayed patient and waited while Cruz sat out offseason practices in the hope that they'd raise their offer. Ultimately, he came to them and accepted the deal at the team's preferred price. They got the player at the cost they wanted, and it helps them as they deal with wide receiver Hakeem Nicks' free agency this coming offseason. They'd have been in a tough spot if they'd had to make decisions on both of them in 2014.

The impact: Cruz was the best Giants player on the field Sunday in Kansas City. He has scored four of their seven touchdowns so far this year. The answer to the question "Where would they be without him?" is obviously exactly where they are right now at 0-4. But they'd be there with one less bright spot to offer any hope for improvement. Cruz is a keeper.

Myers
Myers
4. Replacing TE Martellus Bennett with Brandon Myers.

Why they did it: Bennett got a four-year, $20.4 million contract from the Bears. The Giants, who have started four different tight ends the last four years, view the position as replaceable. As soon as he was getting multi-year offers elsewhere, Bennett was a goner. Myers, who caught 79 passes for the Raiders a year ago, was the most enticing of the veteran options remaining on the market.

Were they wrong? Absolutely. Not in declining to outbid the Bears for Bennett but in the steps they took to replace him. Rather than bring in Myers, who's a receiving tight end who can't block, they should have focused on replacing some of the blocking ability of Bennett, who (like Bradshaw) grades out as one of the best blockers at his position in the NFL.

The impact: It's being felt most in the run game, where the Giants are getting no effective blocking whatsoever at the point of attack. The glaring example Sunday was the third-and-1 David Wilson run to the right side where he was behind three tight ends and all three of them got smoked and Wilson couldn't get the yard. Myers is what he is, and it's not a blocking tight end. The Giants need one, and especially with Bear Pascoe having to play fullback in place of the injured Henry Hynoski, they really don't have one.

5. Drafting Justin Pugh, Johnathan Hankins and Damontre Moore in the first three rounds.

Why they did it: Pugh was the Giants' first first-round offensive lineman since 1999, and they picked him not with the idea that he'd start at right tackle this year but because they knew they had long-term offensive line needs at multiple positions and they saw him as a guy who could play tackle or guard. Hankins is a defensive tackle, and at the time of the draft they didn't realize they had two veterans in Shaun Rogers and Mike Patterson who would make their team at that position. They felt they were getting thin there, and that Hankins could help as a rotational player in his first year and a long-term piece. Moore was a pass-rusher they felt dropped too far, given his talent and his college sack numbers. They believed he could infuse the pass rush immediately, helping replace what was lost with the free-agent departure of Osi Umenyiora.

Were they wrong? Well, it hasn't worked out as anticipated. Pugh is the starting right tackle because David Diehl got hurt. Hankins has been inactive for all four games because he's fifth on the depth chart at defensive tackle. And Moore, who missed most of August with a shoulder injury, has had an impact on special teams but not yet on the defense.

The impact: Pugh is learning on the job, and it's costing the Giants in pass protection. He shows some good and some bad, as all rookies do, and at this point it looks as though he might be better off moving inside to guard. But they're right to try him at tackle to find out. He's surely not their only problem right now on the line. Hankins is developing in practice, and there's no way to know what kind of pick he'll turn out to be. But with 2011 second-rounder Marvin Austin having flopped and with Linval Joseph eligible for free agency after this year, they need Hankins to be a hit. Moore looks fast and athletic and could be a bolt of energy to the flagging pass rush, but as is the case with Wilson at running back, the coaches are hesitant to play him. The 2013 draft hasn't helped very much, which it's not necessarily supposed to in 2013. But the way the picks were made indicated that the Giants expected at least some help from the early-round guys this year, and it's possible they won't get much of it.
With all due respect to the established and comfortable structure of the in-season NFL week, I simply do not care what Carl Banks or Antrel Rolle or anyone else had to say when offered an opportunity to voice their frustrations about the New York Giants in their paid weekly radio appearances. "Giants unhappy because they lost and looked bad doing it" is not news. It's noise.

I personally believe it would be more interesting to hear from someone qualified to explain the root of the problems the Giants are having and to offer substantive thoughts on potential solutions. I think Giants GM Jerry Reese fits that profile, and I think it would be good for him to speak publicly this week. Not today, necessarily, with the organization supporting coach Tom Coughlin on the day of his brother's funeral. Some things -- many things, actually -- are more important than football, and certainly this can wait. But when we all go back Wednesday and Thursday for interviews and news conferences in East Rutherford, I don't think it's too much to ask for the team's general manager to come out and answer some questions.

[+] EnlargeJerry Reese
William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY SportsGM Jerry Reese has some difficult questions to answer concerning the Giants' early struggles.
Requests to interview Reese on Monday were declined, and it has been explained to me that he rarely talks in-season, with the possible exception of the bye week. The Giants' power structure is well established and respected by all involved. Reese's job is to put the roster together. Coughlin's is to coach the team. Reese giving all kinds of interviews in-season the way owner/GM Jerry Jones, for example, holds court in the locker room after every game would be unseemly given the separation of powers in the Giants organization. Fair enough.

But when the team starts 0-3 and there are legitimate questions being asked about whether it's actually built to win, it's time to consider making an exception. Accountability is always in-season, and there are questions that Reese is more qualified to answer right now than are the coaches and players who are giving interviews daily. Questions such as:
  • As an organization that believes in developing internal solutions to its roster issues, where on your roster do you believe improvements on the offensive line can come, in the short term as well as the long term?
  • Given the health issues he had last year and the surgery he had this spring, do you expect Jason Pierre-Paul to make a full return to the form he showed in 2011 and early 2012? And if so, how much longer do you expect to have to get by with this obviously diminished version of him?
  • Based on your pre-draft evaluations of him, and factoring in what you've seen on the field so far, do you believe Justin Pugh is ready for continued full-time duty as your right tackle? Or would he benefit from a move inside or even to the bench once David Diehl is ready to return?
  • Are there any external moves you believe can be made in-season to address the blocking issues still left over from the departures of guys such as Ahmad Bradshaw and Martellus Bennett?

Those are just a few samples, and I'm sure other people have others. And look, this isn't about assigning blame or railing that Reese didn't do enough. I've gone down that road before. Wrote that column in August 2011. I was wrong then, and it's entirely possible that those who want to hammer Reese now will turn out to be proven wrong months down the road. I'm not necessarily betting on it, but I've learned a lesson or two about rushing to conclusions that run counter to people's track records.

I don't think Reese was wrong to let Bradshaw and Bennett and Osi Umenyiora leave given what they would have cost him. I do think it's possible he didn't do enough to replace them, and that the Giants may be entering something of a rebuilding phase as a result. I'd like to get his thoughts on that. And I think if others in the organization are out there answering for the 0-3 start, it's not too much to ask the same of the man who assembled the so-far overmatched roster.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- They put a brave face on it, and they will continue to do so, but the last thing the New York Giants wanted this week was to lose two starting offensive linemen to injuries. Starting center David Baas sprained his knee in Sunday's preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts and will be out three to six weeks. And veteran David Diehl, who was the starting right tackle before Baas' injury and was going to be the starting left guard after it, underwent thumb surgery Wednesday and is out for six weeks.

"We'll be fine," guard/center Kevin Boothe said. "Obviously, Dave's injury is a tough one, but we'll regroup. Unfortunately, we've had experiences with guys going down, so we'll respond."

Which is what you'd expect them to say, and to believe, because nobody ever won anything by moaning and groaning about the bad injury breaks they got. It's not for the players who remain healthy to ponder the potentially negative consequences of injuries. That's for those of us looking in from the outside. So here goes:

The problem with offensive-line injuries at this point in the offseason for the Giants is that they hit at the most significant question mark they already had on offense -- their blocking. Theirs was not a great offensive line to begin with in 2012, but it got by with help. Quarterback Eli Manning helped out, as always, with his quick release. Martellus Bennett performed up to his reputation as one of the best blocking tight ends in the league. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw contributed his usual hard-nosed brilliance in pass protection. Fullback Henry Hynoski had a big year opening holes in the running game.

[+] EnlargeJustin Pugh
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsThe Giants will need even more from rookie Justin Pugh on an uncertain offensive line.
But Bennett and Bradshaw are gone, and Hynoski is recovering from his own knee injury, and there's only so much Manning's quick release can accomplish on its own. The offensive line is going to have to be stout in 2013, and with two and a half weeks left before the Giants open in Dallas, it's getting thinner instead.

The Giants have an absolutely loaded offense from a skill-position standpoint. The tandem of running backs David Wilson and Andre Brown looks like a potentially explosive complement to Manning and the passing game. Top receiver Hakeem Nicks is healthy, Victor Cruz's heel injury should heal in time for the opener, Rueben Randle has had a big camp and new tight end Brandon Myers caught 79 passes with Oakland last year. Manning might have more weapons at the skill spots than he has had in some time, and if he has time to distribute the ball, the Giants should be able to score a ton of points.

But that's only if they can get the plays blocked, and right now that's looking like a mildly big "if." We've seen teams in recent years (the Dallas Cowboys come to mind) that had tons of skill-position talent but couldn't cash it in because of poor play on the offensive line. The Giants aren't worried, right now, about being one of those teams. They hope for big things from first-round rookie Justin Pugh, who's running with the first team at right tackle. They're hoping Baas can return for the opener. And they always believe someone from their stable of backups at any position will be developed enough and ready to take over in a case like this. Jim Cordle at center, or James Brewer at guard or tackle, perhaps, could fit that description.

The problem is that the line is the one area of the Giants' offense that carried question marks with it into training camp. And when injuries hit you where you're already questionable, then it's only natural to wobble a bit. The problem isn't that the Giants don't have a plan or the people to replace the ones who got hurt. It's that this week's injuries came at spots where the Giants weren't their strongest to begin with. So during a time of league-wide optimism, when teams are supposed to be fine-tuning for the start of the season, the Giants have a fresh cause for concern.

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