NFC East: Mario Manningham

The New York Giants hold the No. 12 pick in the 2014 NFL draft following their 7-9 season. The Giants have been the NFL's most active team so far in free agency, signing a total of 13 free agents, including 13 from outside their own organization. They have filled a lot of holes, but that doesn't mean they are without needs both immediate and long-term.

Mel Kiper's fourth 2014 NFL mock draft is out today. If you're an Insider, you have access to the three-round mock and will see that his first-round pick for the Giants fills a glaring present-day hole with a pick that could bring long-term benefits as well.


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I have to believe we sell a lot of ESPN Insider subscriptions this time of year, because the NFL draft content is just so good (and the draft of such great interest to so many) that people are more willing than ever to fork over the very reasonable fee for Insider membership.

For instance, Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay are taking position-by-position looks at prospects in their "Draft Lab" series, and their latest installment looks at the top wide receivers and tight ends in this year's draft.

So I write a New York Giants blog for ESPN.com, and I'm looking at what the Giants have right now at wide receiver and tight end (which is basically Victor Cruz and a couple of guys), and I'm thinking, "Giants fans would love this, right?"

Right?

Can't give it all away here, because ... well, you know, we want you to buy the Insider subscription. But I can offer a couple of teases.
  • Both Mel and Todd list wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans and tight end Eric Ebron as likely to go in the first 12 picks. Not a coincidence that they pick that No. 12, which is the Giants' pick.
  • Todd gives Oregon's Colt Lyerla a second-round grade but cites off-field concerns that could steer teams away.
  • Todd also names Clemson wide receiver Martavius Bryant as a possible mid-round helper at wide receiver, in case the Giants (or other teams) are still looking for possible impact there.

Again, worth your time. The only pass catcher the Giants signed among their 19 free agents was Mario Manningham, who's obviously a question mark for injury and various other reasons. They're likely to try and find help there in the draft. Todd and Mel offer some names to keep an eye on.
Always remember to use the #nygmail hashtag on Twitter, and you have a chance to have your New York Giants question answered here each Saturday morning. Thanks.

Look there's nothing wrong with the New York Giants meeting with wide receiver Mario Manningham on Monday. He's a former Giant, a Super Bowl champion who'll be 28 when the season starts, a guy Eli Manning knows well and ... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz ...

Sorry. I just fell asleep trying to write up yet another mediocre free-agent move by the Giants. My bad. I'll try and stay awake a little longer and make my way through a quickie analysis that I hope will explain the way I feel about the way the past six days have gone.

There's nothing wrong with Manningham, or with taking a look at him and his wrecked knee. Even if this is nothing more than a favor to an old friend looking for work, it's fine. The Giants need depth at wide receiver, and they just got through a season with Louis Murphy on the roster and active every week. Manningham, if he's healthy, surely would offer more than Murphy did.

[+] EnlargeMario Manningham
Al Bello/Getty ImagesMario Manningham made one of the most iconic catches in Giants' history, but his possible return to the team is nothing to get excited about.
My point is this: The Giants entered this offseason so supremely messed up and lacking at so many spots that this is almost what they had to do -- find average or below-average solutions with which to patch the many holes in their roster. Manningham wouldn't be an impact addition in any way. He's not better than Victor Cruz or Rueben Randle, and based on the way December went, he wouldn't necessarily deserve playing time over Jerrel Jernigan. He hasn't had a 60-catch season since 2010, and he's never had more than 60 catches in a season. He's just a guy. He's a guy who made one of the most important and thrilling catches in franchise history, which is why Giants fans likely feel more excited about this news than they should, but he's really just a guy.

The Giants let Hakeem Nicks, a 26-year-old Super Bowl champion, walk out the door without making an offer. They let 25-year-old Super Bowl champion Linval Joseph walk because they didn't want to spend on him. Each of those players is better than anyone the Giants could possibly get to replace him at this point, and therein lies the problem. Rather than actually upgrade the Giants at wide receiver on the front end of the roster, signing Manningham would simply fill in behind what they already have, pushing Randle and Jernigan into larger roles whether they're ready for them or not. The Giants were terrible in 2013, but it's hard to believe they would have been much better if only the backups had been getting more playing time.

The Giants have made some decent moves this offseason. Guard Geoff Schwartz was a fine and essential pickup. But they're taking chances elsewhere, bringing in guys like Rashad Jennings at running back and J.D. Walton at center with no proof that either guy can handle a starter's role. They're still thin on both lines, average at wide receiver after Cruz and have absolutely nothing at tight end. Right now, Trumaine McBride remains one of their starting cornerbacks.

Again, not all of this is their fault. They entered the week with lots of cap room, but they had so many doggone needs that the cap room vanished rather quickly even though they weren't really overspending. This is the reality of where the Giants are right now -- rebuilding their roster at nearly every position. The good news is that quarterback isn't one of the positions of need, and that there are still a number of free agents out there and the draft still to come in May. The bad news is that one offseason doesn't look as though it's going to be enough to rebuild the offense around Manning, and that this could be the beginning of a longer and slower process than many fans realized.

So if they want to sign Manningham, there's nothing wrong with that. But there's nothing about it that should get you excited about their chances this year, either. And to this point, I think that's a fair assessment of their offseason as a whole.

Source: Manningham to meet with Giants

March, 16, 2014
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Ex-Giants receiver Mario Manningham is scheduled to meet his former team in New Jersey on Monday, a source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Manningham is highly interested in returning to the Giants, a team on which he enjoyed his greatest professional success, catching 60 passes for 944 yards and nine touchdowns during the 2010 season.

Manningham has spent the past two seasons in San Francisco, where he injured his knee, but caught 51 passes and scored one touchdown.

Giants-Colts: What I'll be watching

August, 18, 2013
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Yeah, I'm gonna slip on down to MetLife Stadium and check out the New York Giants in tonight's preseason game against Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts because why not? Beats working. Wait. Actually, in my case, it is working. So strike that. I'm gonna slip on down to the Giants' game and do some work, reporting back to you, dear reader, on what I see and learn in case you have something better to do tonight than watch preseason football. Which... well, we'll leave it at that.

Here's what I'll be watching extra closely about the Giants tonight:
  • The running backs. Mixed reviews in the first game from the coaching staff on David Wilson's pass-blocking, which as we've discussed at length here is the real key to his seizing the starting running back job. Wilson's incredible to watch run -- effortless speed, more power than he gets credit for. And I think he's a willing and sufficiently physical pass-blocker. But in his second pro preseason, he admits he's still getting up to speed with the Giants' blocking schemes. And Tom Coughlin said last week he'd like to see him diversify his blocking repertoire a bit. I'm also taking a look at rookie Michael Cox, who's had a strong camp and is in the mix for kick-return duties if they take those away from Wilson. Cox could also get in the running back mix as a No. 3 behind Wilson and Andre Brown, and the Giants won't be shy about finding ways to get him the ball if they feel he can help them.
  • Can Rueben Randle get open consistently? Randle's great with the ball his hands -- a long-striding downfield threat who could fill the Mario Manningham role the Giants couldn't fill in their wide receiving corps last season. The key for Randle is his ability to stay in sync with quarterback Eli Manning on the pre-snap read, so that he's (a) open and (b) in the right spot when Manning finds him in his progression. That's where the Giants say they've seen improvement with Randle this summer, and if he keeps it up, the passing game becomes much more diversified. No. 1 receiver Hakeem Nicks is also making his preseason debut tonight, so we'll see how the offense looks with him, Randle and Victor Cruz all on the field at the same time.
  • The linebackers. We've joked a lot about how nondescript this crew is, and the thinking now seems to be that defensive coordinator Perry Fewell is going to use them in different packages and combinations depending on the game situation. Jacquian Williams, for example, may play more on passing downs because of his ability to cover tight ends. The Giants believe each of their linebackers has something at which he's good, and the challenge will be finding ways to maximize the positives in the group by running them on and off the field at the appropriate times.
  • Justin Tuck. Also making his 2013 preseason debut tonight is Tuck, who's entering the final year of his contract and says he's eager to make up for two down seasons. Tuck was looking good in practice before his recent back problems, and it'll be worth watching tonight to see whether he gets handled by the Colts' offensive line or whether he looks as rejuvenated as the Giants need him to be in order for their pass rush to return to Super Bowl glory.
  • Angry fans at the gates. Yeah, if you are going tonight, you really should read this on the NFL's new bag policy for games. The best advice is: Don't bring a bag at all. Seriously, not even a pocketbook. Especially not a pocketbook, actually, unless it's made of clear plastic. Because they're only going to let you bring in a bag if it's "clear plastic, vinyl or PVC, and does not exceed 12 inches by 6 inches by 12 inches." Or if it's it's a "small clutch bag, roughly the size of a hand, with or without a handle or strap." So like I said, best not to bring a bag at all if you can get away with that. But if you try and bring your backpack or pocketbook in and they won't let you, don't come crying to me. Cause I warned you.

I'm sure there's more, but that's what I've got for now. Say hi if you see me.

Giants keep breaking up the band

March, 28, 2013
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News overnight Wednesday included the official (and long-expected) signing of Osi Umenyiora with the Falcons and the signing of Chase Blackburn with the Panthers. Neither of these New York Giants Super Bowl heroes had been expected back in 2013, and it does not appear the Giants made any real effort to keep either one. That's the way the Giants roll when it comes to players -- they look forward and not back. But it's worth a moment to stop and consider the changes they've seen in a little over a year.

Blackburn
Umenyiora
It's been less than 14 months since the Giants beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI, and 22 of the 45 players who played for them in that game are no longer on the roster. Another -- cornerback Aaron Ross -- left for a year and came back. This is the list of the 22:
  1. DE Osi Umenyiora
  2. LB Chase Blackburn
  3. RB Ahmad Bradshaw
  4. RB Brandon Jacobs
  5. RB D.J. Ware
  6. WR Mario Manningham
  7. TE Jake Ballard
  8. TE Travis Beckum
  9. OT Kareem McKenzie
  10. G Mitch Petrus
  11. OT Tony Ugoh
  12. WR Devin Thomas
  13. K Lawrence Tynes
  14. CB Will Blackmon
  15. LB Michael Boley
  16. S Kenny Phillips
  17. S Deon Grant
  18. DT Rocky Bernard (still a free agent, could return)
  19. DT Chris Canty
  20. DE Dave Tollefson
  21. CB Derrick Martin
  22. LB Greg Jones

Some fairly significant names in there, and while I don't think any of their departures represents a bad or ill-considered decision on the team's part, I just felt like it was worth looking back and assessing the turnover in light of the Umenyiora and Blackburn departures.

This is the way things work in the NFL. The Super Bowl champion Ravens have turned over basically their whole defense, and their title was less than two months ago. So the Giants haven't been gutted or pillaged or anything like that. They view their roster as an organic, constantly evolving entity, and they're not going to hold onto guys they shouldn't keep just because those guys helped win them a Super Bowl (or, in some cases, two). Some of these players will be missed, others will not, but if the Giants get back to the Super Bowl again in the next couple of years, the team is going to have a much different look at many positions than it did in the Super Bowl they won just last year.
PHOENIX -- The NFL announced the ever-popular compensatory draft picks Monday, awarding extra picks to 16 teams whose net losses in free agency last year were deemed by the league's formula to have outpaced their net gains. The Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants each added a seventh-round pick. The Eagles' extra pick will be the 239th of the draft. The Giants' will be the 253rd.

Neither the Dallas Cowboys nor the Washington Redskins, who were both very active in free agency last year, received any compensatory picks.

The formula for determining these picks is not strictly a 1-for-1 equation. For instance, the Giants got a pick even though the number of compensatory free agents they lost (Mario Manningham, Aaron Ross and Dave Tollefson) was equal to the number they signed (Martellus Bennett, Sean Locklear and Shaun Rogers). The reason is that, according to the formula, what the Giants lost in free agency was more than what they gained. The formula, the league's official release says, is "based on salary, playing time and postseason honors."

The Eagles got the extra pick because they lost Juqua Parker and Steve Smith and signed Demetress Bell. It's safe to assume they wish Bell had performed well enough to prevent them from getting an extra seventh-round pick this year.

Breakfast links: Danny Smith leaves

January, 31, 2013
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NEW ORLEANS -- Getting there... Only three (and I guess a half) more days of hype before the big game. Then we can get back to focusing on all the stuff in our links.

Washington Redskins

The Redskins will indeed need a new special teams coach in 2013, as Danny Smith is leaving to take the same position with his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers.

Ryan Kerrigan enjoyed his first Pro Bowl experience and left Hawaii determined to make it something he does more than once in his career.

New York Giants

Mario Manningham thinks his decision to sign with the 49ers after helping the Giants beat them in last year's NFC Championship Game was a decision a lot of people would have been scared to make.

And speaking of that NFC Championship Game, infamous 49ers return man Kyle Williams says he was shocked that the Giants' players weren't disciplined for the comments they made about targeting him due to his concussion history. I think his point is not without validity.

Dallas Cowboys

The question of whether to keep Anthony Spencer is multi-layered and rooted in the cost of the decision. ESPNDallas.com debates it in this week's Hot Button.

Calvin Watkins believes the Cowboys have the personnel to help them in their switch to a 4-3 defense under new coordinator Monte Kiffin, and he explains his reasoning here.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles are managing to conduct their search for a defensive coordinator in the utmost secret, with the help of at least one of the candidates who's here in town.

Chip Kelly's offensive staff, however, is taking shape, and it appears Virginia offensive coordinator Bill Lazor is coming aboard as quarterbacks coach.
NEW ORLEANS -- Man, the food in this town is great. Even the links taste a little sweeter.

Washington Redskins

London Fletcher's teammates expect the veteran leader of the Redskins' defense to take some time before deciding whether he'll return for another season in Washington or end his outstanding career.

The mayor of Washington, D.C. is wrestling with the question of whether or not he, as a Redskins fan, can cheer for the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl.

New York Giants

Ohm Youngmisuk believes one of the most important things the Giants can do to return to the playoffs in 2013 is examine the areas in which they can add team speed.

Mario Manningham was a Giants Super Bowl hero a year ago, with a catch that will live throughout the ages. He's back again with the 49ers, though sidelined by injury and enjoying a bittersweet Super Bowl experience as a result.

Dallas Cowboys

Here's one Cowboys fan who's seriously rooting for a rapid and complete recovery by Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III.

Nick Eatman offers five stats from 2012 about which Cowboys fans should be encouraged. The issue, as Nick points out, is that they're all on the offensive side of the ball.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Baltimore Ravens recently hired former Eagles offensive line coach and defensive coordinator Juan Castillo to oversee their running game. He's in town and talking about his difficult experience of this past year in Philadelphia.

Geoff Mosher says to keep an eye on Ravens backup quarterback Dennis Dixon, a former Oregon Duck, as a guy who could soon be added to the Eagles' quarterback mix.

NFC East fantasy tidbits

August, 16, 2012
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Our man Matthew Berry has his latest fantasy football column up, and it's 10 lists of 10. Here are some NFC East-related snippets from it, and my thoughts on each:
Last season, when DeMarco Murray got 20-plus carries, the Cowboys were 5-0. When he got fewer or didn't play? They were 3-8.
My take: Those who are still expecting a timeshare between Murray and Felix Jones aren't paying attention. If Murray's healthy, he is the running back in Dallas. The offense works best with him carrying the load, and I would expect Jones to be used only as an injury replacement or to give Murray a breather.
Last year, Mario Manningham had 12 red zone targets. And Jake Ballard had 13 red zone targets, tied for the team lead with Hakeem Nicks. What if a majority of those red zone targets go to Martellus Bennett?
My take: A very interesting point. While the Giants don't throw to their tight ends as much as some other teams do these days, they do seem to like going to them in the red zone. The thing to remember, though, is that Bennett must show he can run his routes and catch the passes thrown to him, or Eli Manning will look elsewhere. (He does have quite a few good options, even with Manningham and Ballard gone.) Route-running and pass-catching were Bennett's problems in Dallas, and Giants GM Jerry Reese has said Bennett was brought in mainly to help as a run-blocker. So don't assume he becomes the new Ballard. It would be a surprise and a bonus.
Evan Royster, Redskins (16th round): At some point this year, he will start. The question is ... will you have the guts to start him, too? By the way, don't be shocked if Alfred Morris gets a start. It's Mike Shanahan.
My take: Matthew reads my stuff! I am flattered.
The Super Bowl champion New York Giants open their preseason schedule tonight at 7:30 pm ET in Jacksonville. I'll be watching, and tweeting, of course, and I will offer my observations after it's over. But to get you ready for the singular experience of watching the game along with me on Twitter, here are three of the things I'll be watching closely in the game:

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

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

3. Prince Amukamara: With Terrell Thomas injured, the Giants' 2011 first-round pick looks as though he'll get the start at cornerback opposite Corey Webster. The Giants would like to see Amukamara take a big step forward this preseason, in case Thomas' health is going to be an issue all year and they have to use Amukamara as a starter. I'm also interested to see how they use their cornerback depth behind Amukamara. Will safety Antrel Rolle have to play the nickel corner spot again with Thomas out, or do they have another solution at that spot? And if not, who fills in at safety for Rolle when he moves to corner? A lot of those problems will look a lot smaller if Amukamara looks like he can handle the starter's job.
I promised you guys more from my time at New York Giants training camp, and I keep these kinds of promises. I'm going to keep going through my notes and rolling out posts that I think are interesting, based on the interviews I did while there. As long as Camp Confidential was, not everything fit in there. So while I'm at Redskins training camp the next two days and Eagles the two days after that, you're still going to get some of my Giants reporting from late last week. Enjoy.

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Giants quarterback Eli Manning is keenly aware of the fact that he has two star wide receivers who do not carry themselves in any way that resembles the stereotype of the star wide receiver. Hakeem Nicks, who has been on the sideline for training camp practices so far as he recovers from his spring foot injury, and Victor Cruz, who is working on an encore to his brilliant 2011 breakout season, are as humble as they come.

Cruz
Nicks
"I'm very fortunate," Manning told me in an interview before Saturday's practice. "Both of them are great guys. They've worked extremely hard. They're humble. They're best friends. They room together here at training camp. They cheer for each other's success. And they know I don't have favorites. I'm going to the guy who's open. And I expect you to work hard and I expect you to know what you're doing and I want everybody to have success. Just that attitude and the way they practice, both of those guys, that's what I appreciate. That's why both of them have had great success."

Nicks, already established last year as the Giants' best receiver, took Cruz under his wing, and the pair became best friends, texting each other late at night on topics ranging from film study to parenthood. Where another star wide receiver might have feared the possibility of Cruz encroaching on his territory, or taking catches away from him, Nicks was determined to help Cruz get better. With several players, including rookie Rueben Randle, fighting for the No. 3 wide receiver spot vacated by Mario Manningham, Cruz now wants to pay that forward.

"I'm just putting myself in a position where, whatever young guys or whatever guys need help or want to talk or need any advice on the plays, I'm here for them," Cruz said. "Because I've been through the plays, I've gone through this offense, this is my third year, so I know a lot of this stuff. So I just want to be here and be a voice for the young guys or whoever needs help."

I wouldn't expect a letdown year for Cruz, or a slow start for Nicks following his injury. I think both of these guys are the real deal, are humble and driven and will continue to produce as long as they remain healthy. I also think their personalities are a key part of the leadership structure that allows the Giants to believe they can regenerate their roster from within. The young guys who come into this system learn how to play and how to carry themselves from the guys who are already there. And examples like the ones Nicks and Cruz set can only be helpful.
ALBANY, N.Y. -- The task for New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin, as he works this summer to keep his Super Bowl champions from getting complacent, is to remind them of all of the things about which they have no right to be complacent.

In a meeting on the first day of camp, Coughlin showed his team a few stats. Under the heading "Worst to Best," he reminded the Giants that they ranked last in the league in rushing offense in the 2011 regular season and 27th in total defense. He put up the number 400, which is the number of points the Giants allowed en route to a 9-7 regular-season record -- more than all but seven teams in the league, not one of which reached the playoffs.

"There's a lot of improvement to be made," Coughlin said after Saturday's practice. "And the challenge has been, 'Which team are we?' Are we the 7-7 team, or are we the Super Bowl champions?"

They are both, of course. They are the team that went 7-7 in its first 14 games, playing inconsistent defense, running the ball into the backs of its linemen and asking quarterback Eli Manning to bring it back from behind in the fourth quarter almost every week. But they are also the team that galvanized itself after its Week 15 loss to the Redskins and won six in a row, including the Super Bowl. Coughlin wants his charges to remember both parts and give them equal weight. The latter part, he says, gives the Giants the confidence to know they can fight through any challenge. The former reminds them of how much work they have to do.

"I think last year was a tale of two teams," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "The first half was the tale of a team that didn't play well together, had egos, was injured, didn't have a full complement of players. And the second half was us coming together. 'All-in' became our slogan, and guys really checked their egos at the door and sacrificed whatever personal things we had to become that great team."

The knowledge that they're capable of being the best team in the league is a helpful thing for the Giants to carry with them. But the tone here at Giants training camp is not one of cockiness or a Super Bowl hangover. The Giants are a serious, professional bunch whose hope is to maintain the intense focus of those final six games and apply it over the course of at least 16 this time around. Tuck said the Giants can trust in "the mental compass of this team" to make sure the issues that plagued them last year don't resurface, and as they go through their preparations for 2012, that is the priority.

"We've got to find a way to get our work done," Tuck said. "That's the only way you win championships."

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeWill Beatty
AP Photo/Evan PinkusInjuries have kept Will Beatty from establishing at left tackle, making him the biggest uncertainty on an uncertain offensive line.
1. Can Will Beatty play left tackle? The offensive line is the biggest question, and the key to the line is Beatty, who still has yet to establish himself as the reliable starter the Giants believe he can be at left tackle. He missed the final six games of the regular season with an eye injury and says the good thing about that is he didn't beat up his body as badly as the rest of his teammates did, but he did miss the reps and the experience he would have accrued had he been able to complete his first year as a starter. So he remains a question.

"That's definitely something that he's got to work at," right tackle David Diehl said. "When you miss that much time of football, you've got to get back at things, and he missed some time during minicamp due to a back injury, so he's got his work cut out for him to come into this season. But we all know he's physically capable."

2. Who replaces Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham? They weren't starters, but Jacobs had 167 touches last year and Manningham caught 39 passes. They will need to be replaced, and the candidates to do so are young and unproven. First-round pick David Wilson is competing with D.J. Ware and Da'Rel Scott to be the backup running back behind Ahmad Bradshaw. Second-round pick Rueben Randle is competing with Domenik Hixon, Jerrel Jernigan and Ramses Barden to be the No. 3 wide receiver. Training camp and the preseason will be a tryout camp for the guys at those positions. Starting wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are excellent, as is Bradshaw if he can keep his feet healthy all year. But this offense likes to spread it around, and some of the players in these competitions must step up as reliable options.

3. Is Terrell Thomas back? The Giants' secondary was more good than bad last year, but it did have its bad moments. Thomas, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the preseason and missed all of 2011, believes he's healthy and ready to reclaim his position as an emerging star at cornerback. If he's not, the Giants will look to 2011 first-round pick Prince Amukamara to man the cornerback spot opposite Corey Webster. But Amukamara comes with plenty of his own questions, and the Giants need this camp to help them figure out exactly what they have on the back end of that defense. The pass rush remains excellent and the linebacking depth is improved, but if there's a spot at which the defense is a bump or a bruise away from being very wobbly, it's that secondary.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

Where the Giants are strong, they are as strong as anyone in the league. The pass rush, led by defensive ends Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora, is fearsome when only two of that threesome are healthy. If all three can stay healthy this year, they should be devastating. "That's our strength, no question," Tuck said. "We know it. It's a lot of pressure on us, but we thrive on it, and hopefully we can build on last year and play 16 games together this year so we can see how scary that can be."

They're also obviously quite strong at quarterback, where Manning has established himself as the most clutch player in the league. He led seven fourth-quarter comebacks last year, including one in the NFC Championship Game and one in the Super Bowl. He never misses a game, works hard at making those around him better and has become the unquestioned leader of the team. In a quarterback-driven league, the Giants wouldn't trade their guy for anyone.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Elsa/Getty Images"Let's not overuse it," Eli Manning says of his abillity to lead late comebacks, something he did seven times last season.
The one potential downside to that last thing, however, is that the Giants may have come to count on Manning too much. Manning himself said that, while knowing you can make a fourth-quarter comeback is nice, the Giants need to stop making them so necessary.

"It kind of means, when you're doing that a bunch, that you're not playing real well the first three quarters," Manning said. "So let's step it up and play with that kind of energy and enthusiasm and that 'Hey, we need to score here' kind of attitude in the first three quarters. Obviously I still want it at the end, and there's going to be some games where you need it. But let's not overuse it, because sometimes you're going to get a bad break. Sometimes the ball's going to get tipped. Sometimes a bad play is going to happen and then you're just out of time. So let's not always put ourselves in that situation."

The Giants didn't actively go out and get many solutions to the problems that put Manning in those situations so often last year. They're relying on the guys they have to play better and stay healthier. And if they don't ... well, you just can't count on seven fourth-quarter comebacks every year, no matter how good your quarterback is.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • It looks as though Chase Blackburn will begin the season as the starting middle linebacker, though newcomer Keith Rivers could overtake him if he shows the ability to play the middle. The second-team middle linebacker right now is Mark Herzlich, who also could overtake Blackburn if healthy and leave Rivers in a utility linebacker role. This is suddenly a position of great depth for the Giants, who have four second-year linebackers they like as well as Rivers and starting outside linebackers Michael Boley and Mathias Kiwanuka.
  • Don't assume rookie Wilson wins the backup running back job just because he was picked in the first round. The Giants love him, but they'll be perfectly willing to keep him in the background and develop him if he doesn't show enough in camp and someone such as Ware does. Wilson is getting a lot of practice reps, so they will be able to make a thorough judgment on him, but he's still behind Ware on the depth chart.
  • Former Giants safety Deon Grant said last week that he expects to re-sign with the Giants at some point during camp, but I did not get that vibe from the Giants. They feel good about their linebacker and cornerback depth, and barring injury, I don't think they'll feel the need to bring back Grant and run all of those three-safety sets they ran the past couple of seasons.
  • Beatty said he came to camp lighter this year (310 pounds) than last (319). He believes he can put the weight back on as muscle now that he's able to work out again. After he injured his back and developed a sciatic nerve problem during minicamp last year, he was unable to work out the way he usually does in the summer.
  • While the Giants' pass rush is keyed around their defensive ends, they believe second-year defensive tackle Marvin Austin can help them generate more pressure up the middle on first and second downs. "He's a fast-twitch guy, especially for a 320-pounder," Tuck said of Austin, who missed his senior season at North Carolina in 2010 due to suspension and his rookie NFL season in 2011 due to injury.
  • Should something happen to Beatty or Diehl, the Giants hope 2011 fourth-round pick James Brewer can be a reliable first option as backup at either tackle position. Their hope is that he develops into a reliable right tackle who can eventually replace Diehl, though they're not expecting that this season.
  • Fullback Henry Hynoski caught passes out of the backfield early in camp. He's good at it, and especially given the Giants' questions at tight end, it's an option you should probably expect them to use in the passing game.
ALBANY, N.Y. -- At one point Saturday afternoon at New York Giants training camp, second-year wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan was running with the first-team offense. He got behind cornerback Corey Webster, but not by much, and quarterback Eli Manning hit him with an absolutely pinpoint deep pass in a spot where only Jernigan could catch it and Webster had no chance to make a play. It looked like Manning's long fourth-quarter pass to Mario Manningham in the Super Bowl, except on the opposite side of the field and without the toe-tapping sideline element by the receiver.

[+] EnlargeRueben Randle
AP Photo/Kathy WillensRueben Randle is one of several receivers in the mix to be the Giants' No. 3 WR.
The realization this sparked in me is that, as guys like Jernigan, Domenik Hixon and Rueben Randle fight it out to be Manningham's replacement as the Giants' No. 3 wide receiver, whoever's working with Manning on a given day should look a lot better than whoever's getting their reps with David Carr or Ryan Perriloux at quarterback. Nothing against those two guys, but Manning's one of the baddest dudes in the league. He makes throws others can't make. He makes his receivers look good.

Perhaps for that reason, the Giants are rotating which receivers get the first-team reps. With Hakeem Nicks out for a few more weeks with a foot injury, Hixon and Jernigan got most of the first-team reps opposite Victor Cruz on Saturday. And there were plays on which both Hixon and Jernigan were in the game with Manning. I don't recall seeing Randle with the first team, but it's possible he got some action there, too. And if they're going to give everybody the same chance, I think he ought to going forward.

Some other things I saw/thought/learned on the second day of Giants training camp:

  • Rookie running back David Wilson should sleep well Saturday night. With Da'Rel Scott sitting out practice, Wilson got the bulk of the reps with the second-team and the third-team offense, and they used him a lot. They handed off to him. They threw the ball to him out of the backfield. He ran and ran and ran. And yeah, he looks fast, but remember -- there's no hitting yet, so every running back is getting through the line and bursting upfield looking good. We'll see what happens once the pads go on, but it's obvious they want to get Wilson up to speed quickly.
  • Wide receiver Ramses Barden is also in that No. 3 wide receiver mix, and he looked good in practice. They used him on a couple of underneath routes, which is a smart way to use him, since his size is his advantage and he can use it to shield the ball from defenders in traffic. Remember, Barden usually has been hurt and not even on the field this time of year, so he's ahead of where he normally is in training camp.
  • With Chris Canty out, Shaun Rogers is getting a lot of first-team reps at defensive tackle. This is what defensive end Justin Tuck told me about Rogers today: "He seems to be as focused and hungry for a ring as I've seen anybody. He's in his 12th year, and he's told me personally, 'That's why I came here, because I want to taste what that feels like.' So hopefully his mind stays the way it is, because that guy's an absolute monster to handle. I'm already thinking about packages that will put him over that nose, and if you single him up, he's going to destroy your center, and if you double him, you've got me, Osi and JPP possibly singled up. So there's a lot of matchup problems we can create." Now, I don't know if Rogers, who doesn't have the greatest reputation, will make the team, but with Canty out he has an opportunity and he's impressing some people so far.
  • Jason Pierre-Paul went down with some kind of leg injury at one point and limped off the field but only missed a couple of plays. Could have just been a cramp.
  • Cornerback Terrell Thomas, who missed the 2011 season after tearing his ACL, had 2,400 "T2" T-shirts made up and distributed them to fans at practice. "Because they always kept me a part of it last year, regardless of a win or a loss," Thomas said of his fans. "You kind of get lost in the shuffle when you get hurt, and some fans were just there week in and week out supporting me. My mom always taught me to be thankful and to give back, so this is just a small gesture." Nice one, though.
  • I am heading home now to spend a night there before heading out again Sunday night for Virginia. I will be at Redskins camp Monday and Tuesday, then at Eagles camp Wednesday and Thursday. I'm going to Oxnard for Cowboys camp Aug. 6-7. Didn't run into any of you up here, and I'm sorry about that. But if you see me at any of those other stops, please feel free to say hi.

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