NFC East: Osi Umenyiora

CANTON, Ohio -- Michael Strahan says he doesn't get to visit the New York Giants' team facility as much as he'd like to. But when he does, the newly minted Pro Football Hall of Famer likes to have an impact at the ground level. Strahan spoke Friday about the work he's done with current Giants pass-rushers Jason Pierre-Paul and Damontre Moore on some very basic football details.

"I sit with those guys and teach them how to watch film," Strahan said Friday, a few hours before receiving his gold jacket as a member of the Hall of Fame class of 2014. "They were just watching. This is your job. You have to pay more attention to the details. Where's the tackle's hand? How are his feet? How is the stripe on his helmet when he's going in a certain direction? How's the quarterback? Does he do anything special before the ball is snapped? Does the center squeeze his off-hand before he snaps the ball? All those little things you have to pay attention to if you're a student of the game."

Strahan raved about the Giants' pass-rushers who've followed him, saying they have more pure talent than he did.

"If you look at Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul, I'd be No. 4. Easily," Strahan said. "Talent-wise, and looking at what these guys can do on the field, I'm No. 4. Believe me."

He also singled out Moore, the Giants' second-year pass-rusher, as a player he's enjoyed trying to mentor. Moore has received praise from Giants coaches and teammates this offseason for the progress he's making with the defensive playbook, and his raw athleticism was obvious last year even if only on special teams. Strahan will make some appearances in East Rutherford this season to check in on his progress.

"I'd love to be be over there all the time, but I've never wanted to be a coach on a staff because I like having that freeness to come and go as I want," Strahan said. "But I also want to pass on a lot of the things I've learned. How to prepare, how to mentally get where you need to be to compete every week."

The Giants pay attention when Strahan shows up, and they'll be paying close attention to him Saturday. The team is flying in early and will get a private tour of the Hall of Fame. Then some members of the team, coaching staff and front office will stay and watch Strahan's enshrinement ceremony Saturday night. The Giants play the Buffalo Bills here Sunday night in the first game of the NFL preseason.
IRVING, Texas -- So far in their chase for veteran pass rushers, we know what the Dallas Cowboys wouldn't do.

Allen
They were not going to re-do DeMarcus Ware’s contract to the point where he would actually make more money in 2014 than he was scheduled to, which is what the Denver Broncos did in signing the Cowboys’ all-time sack leader to a three-year, $30 million deal. Ware will make $13 million this season and is guaranteed $20 million.

They were not going to give Julius Peppers a contract worth a maximum of $30 million over three years and guaranteed him $7.5 million, which is what the Green Bay Packers have reportedly done. Peppers was looking at the Cowboys in part so he could be reunited with Rod Marinelli, but the Packers came in with a solid offer.

So now the Cowboys will look at Allen, who has 128.5 sacks in his career.

Two questions: How far will they go in trying to sign him? How far should they go in trying to sign him?

In Ware and Peppers, the Cowboys had players they knew. Ware was a Cowboy for nine years. Peppers played for Marinelli with the Chicago Bears. The Cowboys only know Allen from afar.

Desperation can do funny things to teams. Are the Cowboys desperate for a pass rusher now? Would they pay him the Peppers’ deal or something close to it?

The model I had been working off on what the Cowboys would do with a veteran pass rusher was based off what Osi Umenyiora, Dwight Freeney and John Abraham got from the Atlanta Falcons, San Diego Chargers and Arizona Cardinals.

Freeney got a two-year deal worth $8.75 million. Umenyiora got two years and $8.5 million. Abraham got two years at a max value of $6 million. Abraham had 11.5 sacks last year. Umenyiora had 7.5. Freeney had a half sack but played in only four games.

If the Cowboys can get Allen, who turns 32 in April, at their price, that would be a good move. He has had at least 11 sacks in seven straight seasons, but he was fairly pedestrian against the Cowboys last season.

If the Cowboys are forced to sign Allen at a big price, then they should have kept Ware or made a larger play for Peppers. It is always better to sign a player you know than a player you don’t.

The Cowboys did not let Ware go and not make a harder for Peppers because of a lack of cap space. They can sign anybody they want and make it work against the cap. They let Ware go and did not make a play for Peppers because they weren’t willing to exceed the price they set.

Can they maintain their discipline?

IRVING, Texas -- Now that the Dallas Cowboys have decided to part ways with DeMarcus Ware, their all-time leader in sacks, they must figure out a way to replace his production and more than just the six sacks he recorded in 2013.

The Cowboys will gain $7.4 million in salary cap space by releasing Ware, which will give them enough room to add whoever they want to add on a defense that is in need of even more help without Ware.

As a point of reference, the Cowboys signed cornerback Brandon Carr to a five-year, $50 million deal in 2012 and his first-year cap number was $3.2 million.

The best way to replace Ware is with a number of players. The key to the Cowboys' 4-3 scheme is sustained pressure with their front four. Bringing those players in waves is what works best. With Ware scheduled to make $12.75 million in base salary and offseason workouts in 2014, the Cowboys have to re-configure that money to multiple players.

The chances of re-signing Jason Hatcher have improved, but he will receive interest from other teams and will want to check out what others have to say.

If the Cowboys can get a veteran pass-rusher at the price that teams paid Dwight Freeney and Osi Umenyiora a year ago (two years, a little more than $4 million annually), then that is a route they will go.

If they want to spend a little more, then keep an eye on Willie Young of the Detroit Lions. He is something of a forgotten man on the Lions' defensive line, but he has had his moments against the Cowboys.

This point, however, has to be perfectly clear: the defensive line has gone from a need to a must for the Cowboys.

It is quite possible George Selvie will be their top returning defensive lineman in 2013, and he did not join the roster until training camp started.
What we know about Justin Tuck is that he'll turn 31 in March, he had 11 sacks this year and is a free agent who wants to re-sign with the New York Giants. He's won two Super Bowls with the Giants, is one of their defensive captains and will be a franchise legend whether he re-signs this winter or not.

[+] EnlargeJustin Tuck
AP Photo/Peter MorganJustin Tuck, a nine-year veteran, has an uncertain future ahead as he enters free agency in March.
What we don't know is how far the Giants will be willing to go to re-sign Tuck. Great year in 2013, for sure, but not so great in 2011 and 2012. At what price will and should they be willing to commit to him to keep him in blue?

Let's start with Osi Umenyiora, who was 31 last year when the Giants decided to part ways with him and he signed a two-year, $8.5 million deal with the Atlanta Falcons. Tucks' situation is different from Umenyiora's in a couple of important ways. He's coming off a better season than Umenyiora was a year ago, and his relationship with the team appears to be quite strong, whereas Umenyiora's was damaged beyond repair after years of constant griping about his contract. Tuck has been the good soldier, not to mention a better player, and can reasonably ask for more than the $4.25 million per year that Umenyiora got out of Atlanta.

Now let's look at Mathias Kiwanuka, who signed a three-year, $17.75 million extension with the Giants two offseasons ago and hasn't really played up to it. Tuck's a better and more important player to the Giants than is Kiwanuka, who also turns 31 in March, so you'd think he could reasonably ask for more than Kiwanuka's $5.92 million per year. Of course, the Giants may be about to cut Kiwanuka or at least ask him to take a pay cut, so that comparison may not hold water.

Does Tuck deserve to be paid in the $6.5 million-per-year range, along with guys like Miami's Cameron Wake and Seattle's Cliff Avril? Does he deserve to be paid the same $6.2 million per year he was making on his expiring contract? Could the Giants make an argument that they've paid him more than he's earned over the life of that deal and convince him to take less because it's in his best interest to stay in New York?

If Tuck was status-obsessed and determined to get paid as much as possible as a reward for his years of service and the championships he's helped deliver, I don't think this negotiation would ever get off the ground. But Tuck has made a ton of money, not just from the Giants but from Subway and Nike and other high-level endorsement deals. He's spoken openly about his appreciation for the platform the New York market offers him as someone determined to give back through his charitable work. There are more important things, in other words, to Justin Tuck than the number on his paycheck.

For that reason, I think the Giants probably could convince Tuck to stay on a three-year deal that paid him something like $5.5 million per year. The question is whether, given their myriad other needs, they want to. I think he's a player they like a great deal and, dollar for dollar, a better investment for them than whatever else is out there on the pass-rusher market this offseason. With another question looming next year about Jason Pierre-Paul and with Damontre Moore still in the project stage, the defensive end position is in an uncertain place for the Giants right now. Tuck brings a level of certainty for which they should probably be willing to pay.
IRVING, Texas -- Free DeMarcus Ware?

Sounds strange, doesn't it? For all of the Pro Bowls, for all of the sacks, for all of the goodwill he earned in his first eight seasons, one poor season has Ware in the cross hairs.

He is on the wrong side of 30. He missed the first three games of his career. He had a career-low 40 tackles. More importantly he had a career-low six sacks.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware has reached double-digit sacks for seven consecutive seasons, but he'll need four sacks in the final three games to keep the streak alive.
AP Photo/James D. SmithThe Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware had just six sacks in 2013 and turns 32 in July.
With the Cowboys needing to clear salary-cap space, Ware, who is set to count $16.003 million against the 2014 cap, is one of the obvious targets for creating that room. The question is how they do it. The Cowboys can simply cut him and save $7.4 million in space. They can have him take a pay cut but offer a way to earn back some of that money through incentives. They can restructure his contract like they have the last few years.

Cutting him sounds the easiest but then you have to ask who would replace him? If you think he's done, then that's an easy question. But Ware dominated Tyron Smith every day in Oxnard, Calif. He had four sacks in his first three games before stinger, back and quadriceps injuries took their toll. The Cowboys do not have somebody who can roll out of bed and get six sacks let alone the nearly 14 a year he put up on average in his first eight seasons.

Ware already said he would not take a pay cut, amending his feelings a day after the season-ending loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Offering incentives could be a last resort type of move. Ware and his agent would have to see what kind of market would be out there for a defensive end coming off a down season and turns 32 in July. Osi Umenyiora signed a two-year, $8.5 million deal with the Atlanta Falcons last year with $5 million guaranteed. He had 7.5 sacks in 2013. John Abraham signed a two-year, $4.6 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals that included a $1 million signing bonus. He had 11.5 sacks.

Restructuring Ware's contract again would add to his already large cap figures in 2015-17. The last two years of the deal will void if he is on the roster 23 days before the 2016 league year begins. If the Cowboys restructure Ware's deal, then they could save close to $9 million against the cap but add $2.82 million to his cap number in the final three years.

Is it worth it? It might be. For the sake of this argument, let's say the Cowboys choose this route again. They can cut him after the 2014 season and save roughly $6.5 million against the cap. If they would rather make him a June 1, 2015 cut, then they could save about $14 million against the cap with $7.7 million in dead money carrying over to the 2016 cap.

Finding pass-rushers is difficult. The Cowboys have not exactly been adept at finding anybody but Ware. Anthony Spencer was a first-round pick in 2007 and had one double-digit sack season. Greg Ellis was a first-rounder in 1998 and he did not max out until Ware arrived. Bobby Carpenter, drafted in the first round in 2006 to play outside linebacker opposite Ware, did not pan out.

The chances of Jason Hatcher, who led the Cowboys with 11 sacks in 2013, re-signing are slim. Spencer's price tag will be low because of a knee injury that cost him all but one game last season but is he damaged goods? Can you bank on another seven sack season from George Selvie? Can Tyrone Crawford come back from his Achilles tear?

There is no doubt that the Cowboys would be taking a gamble by restructuring Ware's contract and pushing more money into the future.

It would be more of a gamble to not have Ware at all.

Twitter mailbag: A new starting corner?

November, 9, 2013
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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.
In the final 20 days before the start of the regular season, we are counting down the top 20 players in the NFC East. For a full explanation, see this post. And if you want to read any of the other posts that have run since we started this series, you can find them all here, in this link.

Pierre-Paul
No. 6 -- Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants DE

(Last year: No. 5)

His sack total dropped from 16.5 in 2011 to 6.5 in 2012, but watching Pierre-Paul play last year didn't reveal that significant a drop-off. He faced more double-teams and shouldered more responsibility due to the struggles of Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora on the other side of the line. And while he might not have been as proficient at bringing down quarterbacks as he was during his breakout sophomore season, Pierre-Paul remained a disruptive presence in the opponent's backfield. He was credited with 43 quarterback hurries and was strong against the run as well.

Pierre-Paul is only 24, and there's little reason to believe he can't be the kind of sack artist he was in 2011 at some point (or at many points) in his future. He's got freakish speed and athleticism to go with his massive size, has learned the NFL game extremely quickly and has already played at the highest possible level in the biggest possible games. You can call Pierre-Paul a "bounce-back" candidate in 2013, but I don't think he has to bounce quite as far back as those sack numbers might make it look. This is an elite pass-rusher who has yet to enter his prime, and he's a sky's-the-limit type of player, this year and in years to come.

The rest of the rankings:

7. Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys

8. Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins
9. Victor Cruz, WR, New York Giants 10. Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys
11. Jason Peters, OT, Philadelphia Eagles 12. Sean Lee, LB, Cowboys
13. Trent Williams, OT, Redskins
14. Evan Mathis, OG, Eagles
15. Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants
16. DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles
17. Anthony Spencer, DE, Cowboys
18. London Fletcher, LB, Redskins
19. Brian Orakpo, LB, Redskins
20. Jason Hatcher, DL, Cowboys
We have an Insider piece from Gary HortonInsider on the Giants' secondary and whether we can expect it to improve in 2013 over its disappointing 2012 performance. Gary's not the only one who thinks this way, but his chief concern about the Giants' secondary is the ability of the pass rush to rebound from its 33-sack season:
Jason Pierre-Paul must develop more counter moves and not just rely on his natural ability in order to build back up from the 6.5 sacks he recorded last season. Hybrid OLB/DE Mathias Kiwanuka probably will play a lot more snaps with his hand in the dirt, and both his edge rush quickness and athletic ability are excellent. This gives the Giants a potentially good three-man rotation at DE -- along with veteran Justin Tuck -- but there is no margin for error.

We know the Giants love their "NASCAR" package -- where they line up four athletic pass-rushers to get good blocking matchups -- but where is that fourth DE that they need to run it? For the first time in recent memory there are concerns about this unit.

When you talk to people around the Giants about the defense, and even about the secondary, they bring it back to the pass rush as well. The Giants' defensive schemes all rest on the ability to generate quarterback pressure with the front four and drop seven players into coverage. As Gary details, there's good depth at the cornerback spot, and newcomer Ryan Mundy could well fill the third safety role when the Giants go to "big nickel." If Terrell Thomas can recover from his latest knee surgery and stay healthy, the depth in the secondary only gets better. A healthy Thomas is a starter-quality player in a backup role.

But Thomas is an "if," and there are other questions on the back end, including the starting safety tandem of Antrel Rolle and Stevie Brown. Were Brown's eight interceptions last season an anomaly, or is he going to deliver on that playmaking promise again this year? And regardless, are he and Rolle going to be able to switch off as seamlessly as Rolle and Kenny Phillips used to? Brown was almost exclusively the post safety in the Giants' defense in the second half of last season, with Rolle playing mainly up in the box. But they'd prefer to be able to switch off, and they're working in camp to get Brown more comfortable with both roles. No guarantee it'll work, nor is there any that cornerback Corey Webster will get burned less in coverage this season or that Prince Amukamara will take the steps he needs to take in terms of aggressiveness.

So yeah, I'm with Gary. The Giants need Pierre-Paul healthy, Tuck to bounce back and someone from the backup group of pass-rushers (Adrian Tracy? Damontre Moore?) to step forward and fill Osi Umenyiora's shoes in the rotation. Because all of those questions on the back end of the defense are going to feel a lot easier to answer if this is a 48-sack defense than they were last season when it was a 33-sack defense.

Camp Confidential: New York Giants

August, 6, 2013
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The buzzword around the New York Giants the past few years has been "consistency." As in, they need to find ways to be more consistent week-to-week, month-to-month in order to achieve their goal of making the playoffs. When they make the playoffs, the Giants are a threat to win the Super Bowl, as they showed two seasons ago. But in three of the past four seasons, they have failed to qualify for the postseason.

The issue, ironically, is that for all of their in-season inconsistencies, the Giants are actually one of the most consistent teams in the league year-to-year. Their regular-season win totals the past four seasons are 8, 10, 9 and 9. There are teams all over the league that would kill for that kind of consistency -- to stay annually in the division race deep into December and be in position to get themselves into what Giants general manager Jerry Reese calls "the tournament." But for the Giants, it's not good enough.

"I guess we are consistent when you look at it that way. So we need to be better," quarterback Eli Manning said before Giants training camp practice Friday. "We expect to be a team that can get 11 wins, that can get 12 wins in a season. So I think it's really just playing to our potential, is really what we're saying. We've got to avoid the bad games. We should be in every game we play."

There are multiple levels on which to attack the problem. Manning himself says he's working to improve his accuracy, especially insofar as it helps the Giants get back to hitting big plays in the passing game. Around him the offensive line and the receiving corps are working to get and stay healthy and be cohesive. The run game is transitioning to younger players. On the other side of the ball, the Giants hope the pass rush can rebound from a 33-sack season (the Giants' lowest team total in that category since 2009) and return to the dominant form that helped it win the Super Bowl two seasons ago. If that happens, they believe the secondary will play better and a defense that allowed the second-most yards in the NFL last year will necessarily improve its ability to control games and steer away from the annual potholes.

"Since I've been here, we've kind of fallen into that same trap. We've had that midseason letdown," said safety Antrel Rolle, who's entering his fourth season with the Giants. "And I'm not quite sure why that's happened, but we definitely need to break that mind frame and get above the nine, 10 wins, because we're better than that. Our standards are way beyond that."

The Giants are holding training camp this year at their regular-season practice facility, mere yards from the stadium in which the Super Bowl will be played six months from now. The view of hulking MetLife Stadium from their practice fields, along with the Super Bowl countdown clock Reese installed in the locker room, is making sure the Giants keep their very high goals in mind as they prepare for the 2013 season.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeDavid Wilson
AP Photo/Seth WenigDavid Wilson will now have the chance to be the lead back in New York's running attack.
1. Who will carry the ball? With mainstay Ahmad Bradshaw off to Indianapolis, the running game is in the hands of 2012 first-round pick David Wilson and Andre Brown, who was the Giants' goal-line back before an injury ended the 2012 season for him. Wilson has everyone excited because of his game-breaking potential, but it's clear that whichever of these guys shows the most as a pass-blocker will get the bulk of the carries.

"You really can't play unless you can protect the quarterback," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "Fortunately, those two young men as well as our other running backs have had the opportunity to look at Ahmad's film and get a better understanding of the complexities of our protection packages. Those two guys are very, very fast and very skilled, and we definitely believe in the balance theory. To play great football, we're going to have to run the ball."

Expect a carry split not unlike what the Giants have shown in years past. But if Wilson shows he can stay on the field for three downs, he could emerge as a star. No Giants back in recent memory has been as explosive a runner as he is.

2. Can they get to the quarterback? The pass rush is in flux as well. Osi Umenyiora is in Atlanta. Jason Pierre-Paul is recovering from back surgery and may not be ready for Week 1. Justin Tuck has 12.5 sacks in his last 32 games. Mathias Kiwanuka is moving back up to the line after a couple of years in the linebacking corps. And they only had 33 sacks last year. The Giants, historically, do not have the kind of success they intend to have without a dominating pass rush.

Tuck says he's rejuvenated after two tough years -- healthier than he's been in any camp since 2010. He's in the final year of his contract, and if he looks like his old self this year, he and the team will benefit dramatically. Toughening up inside at defensive tackle should help as well, and if Pierre-Paul makes a full recovery, this will be a driven unit capable of much bigger things.

3. Last stand for the old guard? "Me worrying about contracts or things that are going to happen in the future doesn't really help me in the present," Tuck said after practice last Friday. "I've never been a player that played the game for money or played for a big contract. If I did, don't you think I'd have been more inclined to play well the last two years and not have to worry about the contract now? I just want to go out there and prove to people that Justin Tuck can do still do his job very well."

Tuck's feelings echo those of teammates David Diehl and Corey Webster. All three are proud Giant champions who took a lot of criticism for their disappointing play in 2012. All three are determined to play better in 2013. All three are likely done in New York next year if they don't. The Giants are placing a big bet on the professional and personal pride of some of their title-team cornerstones. They're all talking tough in August, but it's got to translate into turn-back-the-clock production for the Giants' key veterans.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
AP Photo/Seth WenigEli Manning has plenty of offensive weapons this season and the unit will be capable of putting up a lot of points.
Manning is always the biggest reason for optimism in East Rutherford. Steady, reliable and capable of making every clutch throw there is, the Giants' franchise quarterback is the sun around which their current universe revolves. With Victor Cruz back in the fold after an offseason contract dispute, Rueben Randle looking good as he prepared for his second season, the young legs in the run game, and a new tight end in Brandon Myers who caught 79 passes in Oakland last season, Manning is surrounded by exciting weapons on offense. And if top receiver Hakeem Nicks can shake his latest offseason injury bout and stay healthy all year, this is an offense capable of scoring a lot of points in a hurry.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

The one issue on offense -- and it's a big one -- is the blocking. Bradshaw was a great blocking back, and as we've already discussed we don't know what Wilson and Brown can bring as blockers over a full season. Martellus Bennett was a great run-blocking tight end, and that's not a strength of Myers' game. Diehl is proud, determined and worthy of the benefit of the doubt, but he's coming off a bad season. Interior offensive linemen Chris Snee and David Baas have struggled the past few years with injuries. All of the skill-position talent is exciting, but it could be undone if the Giants can't answer some of their big blocking questions.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Rolle said that when Kenny Phillips went down with his injury problems last year, he had to play a lot in the box while fellow safety Stevie Brown handled the post safety role. Brown did collect eight interceptions in that role, but the Giants want him to be more versatile now that Phillips is gone and he's a full-time starter. Having a full training camp to work as a starter is helping Brown become the kind of interchangeable safety they need him and Rolle to be. "We already know he's a ballhawk and can go and he can go get the ball and do something with it once he gets it," Rolle said. "Now he's showing us that he can play in the box and definitely be a versatile safety."
  • They don't want to talk about it because they don't want to give away their plans, but the Giants have worked on some different alignments of the defensive front seven this camp. Usually a strict 4-3 team, the Giants have tried some 3-4 looks or some hybrid looks that ask their defensive ends to stand up and either play outside linebacker or at least look as though they might. The idea is to confuse the offense and possibly to be in better position to react to the run-heavy, read-option offenses in Washington and maybe Philadelphia.
  • Third-year cornerback Prince Amukamara is healthy and hoping to build on his solid second season. He said his goal is to play well enough that he's able to stay on one side and Webster on the other side of the field for the whole game, rather than having Webster assigned to the other team's No. 1 receiver regardless of where he lines up. The coaches say that's their goal for their cornerbacks as well, and Amukamara's strong camp is leading them to believe they can play that way.
  • Former Eagle Cullen Jenkins has worked some at defensive end as well as tackle. His experience playing different positions in 3-4 and 4-3 fronts could help the Giants if they plan to be varied and have multiple looks on defense.
  • Randle, the team's second-round pick in 2012, is a big-bodied outside threat who could keep Cruz in the slot where he's at his best. It's still premature to project Randle as Nicks' long-term replacement, but from what I saw he's a guy who knows how to use his size and his leaping ability to out-fight a defensive back for a ball in traffic. His speed becomes more of an asset the further he gets down the field, because of his long strides.
  • The biggest-impact 2013 draft pick could be second-rounder Johnathan Hankins, who looks like a valuable part of the rotation at defensive tackle. Third-rounder Damontre Moore is at least a situational pass-rusher at this point, and it's easy to see the way those playmaking instincts help him get off the ball and into the backfield. First-round pick Justin Pugh isn't running with the first team (and he's actually out right now with a concussion), but they have worked him at tackle and guard and they believe he's going to be a valuable long-term piece for them at some position on the line. Right now, though, he's clearly behind Diehl at right tackle.
  • We've come this far without mentioning linebacker, and I don't have much to report. Between their nickel packages, the three-safety looks they like so much, and the possibility that they might show some 3-4 here and there, it's just not a high-priority spot. Spencer Paysinger is making a push for the starting spot at weakside linebacker, with Keith Rivers on the strong side and Mark Herzlich in the middle at least so far. But I think the linebacker alignment could depend on who shows something on special teams.

Best Giants camp battles

July, 31, 2013
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Tom Coughlin says he has never had a training camp competition as wide open as the one he currently has at linebacker.

Linebacker is just one of the positions where there will be competition. Here's a look at the best camp battles for the New York Giants:

1. Linebackers.

The competitors: MLB Mark Herzlich, OLB Keith Rivers, OLB Spencer Paysinger, OLB Jacquian Williams, MLB Dan Connor, OLB Aaron Curry, LB Kyle Bosworth, MLB Jake Muasau, LB Etienne Sabino.

The 411: Herzlich, Rivers and Paysinger are the starters so far in camp. Williams, Connor and Curry make up the second team. Herzlich and Connor are competing to replace Chase Blackburn, and it appears like it's Herzlich's job to lose thus far. Paysinger definitely has a chance to hold on to a starting spot. If Rivers can stay healthy, he can do some of the things Michael Boley did. When healthy, Williams can be a three-down linebacker, and his speed and athleticism allows him to cover tight ends. Curry is a wild card.

What they're saying: "They told us nothing is set in stone, everybody has to work," Paysinger said of the coaches' message. "They say that when it comes to the depth chart, it can change any day, that we dictate how the depth chart goes. If one person has a great day, he might be going with the ones, if a person slips up a little bit, he might be going with the twos and threes."

2. Right tackle.

The competitors: David Diehl, Justin Pugh, James Brewer.

The 411: Diehl is the front-runner because of his experience and is the starter right now. Pugh was drafted for a reason with the team's first-round pick. Jerry Reese said there was initial concern about Pugh's arm length for the tackle position. However, the Giants will see what Pugh can do at right tackle with the second team. Brewer has been getting first-team reps at right guard while Chris Snee makes his way back from offseason hip surgery, but Coughlin says Brewer is in the mix.

What they're saying: "David Diehl is a highly motivated guy in the first place, and competition always brings out the best," Coughlin said.

3. Backup defensive tackle.

The competitors: Shaun Rogers, Johnathan Hankins, Mike Patterson, Marvin Austin, Markus Kuhn, Frank Okam.

The 411: The Giants loaded up at defensive tackle in an effort to stop the run this season. Linval Joseph and Cullen Jenkins will start at defensive tackle. There will be stiff competition for the spots behind the starters. When motivated and healthy, Rogers is a load. He and Hankins, the team's second-round pick, have been working with the second team. Patterson and Austin have received third-team snaps. Austin, the team's second-round pick in 2011, is going to have to fight for a roster spot. Kuhn, who impressed the coaches last season, is on the PUP list.

What they're saying: "He's been healthy for the first time," defensive line coach Robert Nunn said about Austin. "He's where he needs to be right now. He just can't disappear when the pads come on."

4. Fourth defensive end.

The competitors: Adrian Tracy, Damontre Moore, Justin Trattou, Matt Broha, Adewale Ojomo.

The 411: With Osi Umenyiora gone, the Giants need a fourth pass-rusher to emerge to play behind -- and sometimes alongside -- Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka. Tracy is the leading candidate for the fourth end spot, but Moore, the team's third-round pick, has impressed early. Until JPP is healthy, both Tracy and Moore could see snaps as the third and fourth ends.

What they're saying: "We've got some young guys that have to show up," Nunn said. "They look good when they're running around with no pads on, but you still see some things that get you excited."

5. Running back.

The competitors: David Wilson and Andre Brown.

The 411: Wilson and Brown technically are competing for the starting spot. But Wilson is the starter in camp and should be the starter for the season. Still, the two running backs likely could share carries, with the hot hand getting the majority of the carries in any given game. Brown is expected to resume his role as goal-line back as well.

What they're saying: "David is a different style of back than we've ever really had here at the Giants over the years," quarterback Eli Manning said. "A lot of speed and explosiveness. Both of them [Wilson and Brown] are different style runners, and we'll kind of understand that and put them in to do things that they are best at."
Ohm Youngmisuk has this from New York Giants camp on safety Antrel Rolle, who has shown an impressive ability to pick his spots as his own type of leader during his time with the Giants, and understands that he might have to pick more of them this season:
Already considered one of the most respected veterans, Rolle realizes the Giants will be looking to him to help replace the leadership lost in the locker room, with Ahmad Bradshaw, Osi Umenyiora, Michael Boley, Chris Canty, Chase Blackburn and Kenny Phillips all gone.

Rolle
"I understand pretty much what it takes to be a leader a whole lot more this year, for whatever reason," Rolle, entering his fourth season with the Giants, said at the end of minicamp in June. "I think there are natural-born leaders. Some people try to adapt to it. I know I'm a natural-born leader."

I like Rolle as a locker-room guy for the Giants, and I think the fact that he's an unconventionally strong locker-room guy adds to his appeal. The standout moment came of course in the locker room following the loss to the Rex Grossman Redskins that dropped the Giants to 7-7 in 2011. That was the day Rolle made his comment about how guys who had nagging injuries might need to start practicing through them -- a comment that some of the more traditionally acknowledged locker-room leaders later admitted spurred them to action. But in a room filled with proud veterans, Rolle's approach to speaking up and picking his spots as a leader is appreciated, and he's probably right that he'll get (and should take) more opportunities this season.

My questions with Rolle this season are on-field ones -- specifically, what kind of player can he be in the absence of Kenny Phillips. When Phillips couldn't play last season, the answer to that question wasn't a great one for Rolle. He'll have to adjust his game this offseason knowing that Phillips won't be back (since he's with the Eagles now), and it remains to be seen whether the Giants' plans at safety will allow Rolle to settle into one comfortable spot rather than switching off roles with his opposite number as he and Phillips did so well. It's possible they'll just uncomplicate things and that Rolle will thrive, or that he'll step up his game with Phillips gone and lead a secondary that has to play better than it did last season.

What's certain is that this is a big, prove-it year for Rolle, as it is for Justin Tuck and David Diehl and some other championship-tested Giants vets. Rolle's salary-cap number is getting prohibitive, and unless he plays like a star this season, it's going to be tough for the Giants to keep him for 2014.

Links: Not rebuilding in Philadelphia

July, 22, 2013
7/22/13
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Dallas Cowboys

Defensive tackle Jay Ratliff was placed on the physically unable to perform list Sunday after suffering a minor hamstring strain during a conditioning test.

DeMarco Murray has his sights set on a big 2013 season. Murray: "This year is going to be a great year for me, I feel. I’ve come prepared, physically, mentally and emotionally. I’m definitely ready. I’m excited about this year and what we’re going to do."

New York Giants

Paul Schwartz of the New York Post: "There’s not a whole lot of buzz surrounding these Giants -- no exciting new marquee additions, no sense from outside that they are much-improved or on the cusp of shedding last year’s inconsistency. Gone are key Super Bowl cogs such as Osi Umenyiora, Ahmad Bradshaw, Kenny Phillips, Lawrence Tynes, Chris Canty and Michael Boley. There is no talk of rebuilding around the Giants -- that never is a consideration as long as Eli Manning is in his prime -- but there is more of a sense of uncertainty than previous summers."

Big Blue View's roster breakdown continues with defensive end Justin Tuck.

Philadelphia Eagles

Nick Fierro of The Morning Call: "Gone are the old training methods, workout schedules, nutrition plans, teaching routines, roster-building philosophy and play-calling system of [Andy] Reid's regime, which lasted 14 seasons. In is a fresh approach that has the veterans as excited as the rookies, if not more, with scientific research fueling the whole thing. Every single aspect of the Eagles' football operation has been changed.

Don't tell coach Chip Kelly that this is a rebuilding year in Philadelphia. "My job is to win right now," Kelly said. "How do you think I'd be received in Philly if I told them we were going to write this year off? Those people that are waving to me on the streets right now? That ain't going to happen. But that's never been my mentality, either. We're not writing anything off."

Washington Redskins

Quarterback Robert Griffin III on Wednesday will reportedly be examined by Dr. James Andrews.

In lower-profile injury news, Michael Phillips of the Richmond Times-Dispatch discusses the uncertainty along the defensive line.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at the one move each team in the NFC East needed to make but didn't.

Dallas Cowboys: Upgrade at right tackle. The Cowboys believe they improved their offensive line with the first-round draft selection of center Travis Frederick, and they may be right. But the problem is the line needed more help than that. Instead of getting the disappointing Doug Free to take a pay cut and stay, the Cowboys could have explored other options, such as using another early-round pick on a tackle or signing one of the veterans (Tyson Clabo, Eric Winston) who were cut during free agency. Cap issues were one factor, but basically the Cowboys seemed content with the idea of a right tackle platoon or training camp competition between Free and Jermey Parnell. They claim the platoon of that pair worked well late last season, but it's likely the right tackle's play looked good only in comparison to Free's terrible first-half performance.

New York Giants: Anything of consequence at linebacker. Sure, they brought back Keith Rivers. Yawn. And they signed Dan Connor. Double yawn. And they took a chance on Aaron Curry, who was once one of the top prospects in the league but has already washed out with two teams. Interesting, but certainly not a confidence-boosting sign. Mathias Kiwanuka, who was one of their starting linebackers the past two years, will move back up to defensive end to help replace Osi Umenyiora, who left as a free agent. And there are some young guys the Giants brought in as rookies two years ago who may be good enough to play or start. The Giants feel they got stronger up front at defensive tackle and never mind spending on defensive backs, but the middle of the field remains a weakness for them against offenses that are willing to exploit it. Some guys are going to have to outperform expectations at linebacker in 2013.

Philadelphia Eagles: Spend some money on the secondary. The Eagles were the only NFC East team that had cap room to burn. Even though they needed to improve all four starting positions in the secondary, they chose to go the economic route, bringing in uninspiring cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams and safety Patrick Chung. Former Giant Kenny Phillips is a premium talent at safety, but they got him inexpensively as well, and the reason is a chronic knee problem that could keep him from ever playing for them. New coach Chip Kelly was looking for physical cornerbacks with the ability to tackle, which is fine, and I can understand that the Eagles felt burned by the way the Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie moves of two years ago worked out. But the moves at defensive back feel like half-measures, and you get the feeling they'll be looking to upgrade the same spots next year. This was a team that should have at least looked into trading for Darrelle Revis, though it would have been hard to justify giving up the No. 4 overall pick in the draft for him.

Washington Redskins: Get Pierre Garcon's foot fixed. This one is on Garcon, of course. The team can't force a player to have surgery if he doesn't want to have surgery. Garcon did have a procedure to repair a shoulder problem, which is good, but it was the torn ligament in his foot that bothered him last season, cost him six games and is at risk of flaring up again if rest didn't cure it completely. Garcon was a hugely valuable part of the Redskins' offense as Robert Griffin III's No. 1 wide receiver. Everyone has heard that the Redskins were 9-1 in regular-season games in which Garcon played. The Redskins' cap problems prevented them from improving the secondary or the offensive line and from keeping special-teams captain Lorenzo Alexander. But when they look back on this offseason, their biggest regret may be that Garcon didn't get the foot surgery he needed.
Morning. Let's enjoy today, shall we? You never know when we might have to go two weeks without spending any time together at all. Could be tomorrow, something like that starts, for all you know. Could very well be. Just real hard to say. Makes it that much more important to enjoy your links.

Washington Redskins

We all know the stat about how the Redskins were 9-1 when Pierre Garcon was in the lineup last year (9-2, actually, if you count the playoff game). And while this doesn't necessarily make him the best wide receiver in the league, it indicates that he's among the most valuable to his particular team.

In his latest installment of his Redskins position series, John Keim looks at the offensive line and takes up the question of whether Trent Williams is the NFL's best left tackle.

Dallas Cowboys

Asked by our man Colin Cowherd if he was capable of a 2,000-yard season like his fellow former Sooner Adrian Peterson, DeMarco Murray said "I think I'm capable of anything." Confidence is awesome, and I like Murray a lot, but 2,000 yards is real tough to get in just 10-12 games. Just sayin'.

Sean Lee is the defense's Murray. He's got to find a way to be able to stay on the field, but if he can do that he's capable of Pro Bowl-level things.

New York Giants

Yes, the Giants knocked about $300,000 off of their 2013 salary-cap number with the Victor Cruz contract extension. Yes, that could come in handy if they continue to pursue free-agent fullback Vonta Leach. It's not until 2016 that Cruz's cap number starts to look unmanageable, and that's the first year after the end of Eli Manning's current contract, so lots of big decisions loom around that year anyway.

How will the younger pass-rushers on the Giants factor into the defensive end rotation for the Giants this year? With Justin Tuck a question mark off of two down years, Jason Pierre-Paul coming off of back surgery and Osi Umenyiora playing for the Falcons, some of them are going to have to.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles have a good number of second-year players other than Nick Foles with a chance to make a leap forward and play significant roles this year.

Lots of talk about DeSean Jackson getting the ball closer to the line of scrimmage this year. Again, not sayin', just sayin': There was talk about this last year in the summertime too. It's a real good idea, but Jackson and the coaching staff need to commit to making it happen. And they need a quarterback who can bring it off.

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