NFL Nation: Danny Clark

Looking at Saints depth chart

August, 8, 2011
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METARIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints just put out their first unofficial depth chart. It included a few surprises, highlighted by the fact the Saints aren’t trying to hide anything.

They have veteran Olin Kreutz ahead of Matt Tennant at center. That’s a bit refreshing because that’s the way the Saints intend to go. But, the flip side is they have rookie Mark Ingram as the No. 3 running back behind Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles. I will be shocked if Ingram is not the starter, or at least the feature back, by opening day.

[+] EnlargeSaints running back Mark Ingram
Derick E. Hingle/US PRESSWIRESaints rookie running back Mark Ingram is listed No. 3 on the depth chart.
Nothing shocking on the defense, although I’m not sure veterans Scott Shanle and Danny Clark will hold off challenges at outside linebacker. And I also think rookie defensive end Cameron Jordan on the third team is something that won’t happen. Also, nice job by the Saints p.r. department for not listing Tracy Porter as a starting cornerback. He probably will end up in that role, but he’s recovering from an injury and Patrick Robinson is getting his reps these days.

I'll be out at practice at Tuesday, but in the meantime, let’s take a run through the depth chart the Saints sent out and we’ll only go two deep.

OFFENSE
DEFENSE
SPECIAL TEAMS
The New Orleans Saints made several more moves Thursday night.

They agreed to terms to keep linebacker Scott Shanle. Adam Schefter reported the two-year deal is worth $4 million. James Varney reports the Saints also agreed to terms with linebacker Danny Clark and released cornerback Randall Gay.

Keeping Shanle, a starter at one outside spot last season, and Clark, a backup-and special-teams player, helps solidify the linebacker corps. Linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar also agreed to return earlier Thursday.

Releasing Gay is hardly a surprise. The Saints have Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter as their starters and second-year pro Patrick Robinson figures to be the nickel back. Gay was scheduled to count $5 million against the salary cap. The Saints freed up $4 million by releasing him.

Inactives for the Saints

January, 8, 2011
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SEATTLE – The Saints just gave out their inactives for today’s game with the Seahawks and there are no surprises.

Safety Malcolm Jenkins, defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove, tight end Jimmy Graham and linebacker Danny Clark are all out due to injuries. The other inactives are running back Joique Bell, tackle Charles Brown, receiver Adrian Arrington and linebacker Kawika Mitchell.

Chris Ivory inactive for Saints

December, 27, 2010
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ATLANTA -- Running back Chris Ivory will miss tonight’s game with Atlanta due to a hamstring injury.

Ivory highlights a list of New Orleans inactives that also includes receiver Courtney Roby, safety Usama Young, linebacker Danny Clark, offensive tackle Charles Brown, tight end David Thomas, defensive end Junior Galette and Kawika Mitchell.

Saints list inactive players

September, 9, 2010
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NEW ORLEANS -- The Saints just announced their starting lineup and their inactives for tonight.

No major surprises. Running back Chris Ivory, defensive back Chris Reis, linebacker Stanley Arnoux, linebacker Danny Clark, offensive lineman Zach Strief, tight end Jimmy Graham, receiver Adrian Arrington and defensive end Junior Galette are not active.

Clark’s appearance on the inactive list further confirms the Saints will start Jo-Lonn Dunbar at linebacker. With Clark and Arnoux inactive, the New Orleans linebacker depth after Dunbar, Jonathan Vilma and Scott Shanle is limited to Marvin Mitchell, Anthony Waters and K.C. Asiodu.

Thoughts on Saints 38, Texans 20

August, 22, 2010
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Some bullet-point thoughts on the Texans’ 38-20 loss at New Orleans Saturday night.

Impressive:
  • Neil Rackers connected on a 52-yard field goal, a nice line on his resume as he competes for the job with Kris Brown, who hit from 43.
  • Steve Slaton had a 63-yard kickoff return. Would they be willing to use him in such a capacity during the regular season? Houston’s average drive started at the 38-yard line.
  • Reserve linebacker Danny Clark pulled in an interception of Chase Daniel.
  • Dan Orlovsky produced reasonably good numbers working behind Matt Schaub, completing 12 of 19 passes for 140 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions.
Disappointing:
  • The Texans showed a serious lack of defensive intensity and said the effort looked like what they produced in their very poor three-game start in 2009. Bad tackling was an issue.
  • Reggie Bush gashed them for a 9-yard touchdown run up the middle as if he was a power back. On seven carries he averaged seven yards.
  • Arian Foster lost a fumble. We say it over and over because it’s such an issue – the Texans have to get creative and find ways to get their backs to hold on to the ball.
  • The Texans allowed the Saints two 11-play drives and a late 18-play drive. They resulted in 17 points.
  • Saints reserve quarterback Daniel looked like Drew Brees as he threw for 182 yards and three touchdowns.
  • Trindon Holliday hurt his campaign to win the return job with a fumbled punt.
  • Houston converted just 1-of-13 third downs and held the ball for only 20 minutes.

Camp Confidential: Houston Texans

August, 21, 2010
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ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 14

For three years, they’ve been picked as a breakout team. In those three years, the Houston Texans went 25-23 with zero playoff appearances.

So why are the 2010 Texans going to be different? Why do they deserve that sort of faith yet again? What’s changed when the personnel alterations have been pretty minor?

“What’s different? Experience, togetherness,” Amobi Okoye said. “I feel like by the time we will kick off, we will have the full definition of team. If there was a meter of T-E-A-M, we are right at the halfway of M… By the time the season starts, we’re going to completely spell TEAM.”

Said Bernard Pollard, the feisty safety who didn’t arrive until a few games into last season: “We have so much more team chemistry. We know and understand what we are good at. We know and understand that we can’t step out of the box and have to play our game. We’re turning that corner.”

To finally get to the postseason, the Texans have to play more complete games. They have to play better in the red zone. Perhaps above all else, they have to play better in the AFC South, where they were just 1-5 last season.

Catching the Colts is a tall task. The Texans aspire to do it, but they also know there is a route to the playoffs without a division crown. They just have to drive it more smoothly.

THREE HOT ISSUES

Can the pass rush pick it up?

[+] EnlargeMario Williams
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriThe Texans need some pass-rushing help for star end Mario Williams.
Mario Williams had nine sacks to go with a bum shoulder he’s still reluctant to talk about. He needs more support in chasing the quarterback, and the Texans need to hurry and hit quarterbacks more often to help those three young cornerbacks -- Kareem Jackson, Glover Quin and Brice McCain -- cover.

Connor Barwin should be opposite Williams on clear rush downs, and he might be the most improved player on defense. Inside, there are now alternatives to Okoye, who might just not be a good pass pressure guy. Rookie Earl Mitchell could wind up part of the nickel package along with Antonio Smith, who will shift inside to make room for Barwin.

Will the run game do its part?

Everyone is encouraged about the run game, but what’s changed? Second-round pick Ben Tate is lost with an injury. Guard Wade Smith was the only significant addition to the line, where interior issues were a big part of the problems. Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison is from the same school as predecessor Kyle Shanahan, and line coach John Benton learned under the departed Alex Gibbs.

“We have to get better running the football,” Andre Johnson said. “That helps win games, especially in the fourth quarter when you’re up and you want to kill the time, you have to go on those four-minute drives where you have to get those big fourth downs. We have to get better in that part of our offense.”

They are largely counting on young guys getting better, which begs the question: What if they don’t?

Are the supplementary pieces good enough?

[+] EnlargeMatt Schaub
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriHouston's stars, including Matt Schaub, match up with the best players on any NFL roster.
The Texans' stars match up with virtually anyone’s. But beyond Johnson, Williams, Brian Cushing, DeMeco Ryans, Matt Schaub and Owen Daniels, have head coach Gary Kubiak and general manager Rick Smith done enough to unearth the right sort of players on the next tier?

Pollard and Eric Winston certainly fit the bill. Antonio Smith, Kevin Walter and Zac Diles might. That next level of player might be where this team is a little short, and it’s those kinds of guys who might well be the key to transforming a good team into a very good team.

And so we’re watching the likes of Quin, Barwin, Joel Dreessen, James Casey, Jacoby Jones and the offensive line beyond Winston, because they might wind up telling the story.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Linebacker Darryl Sharpton: The Texans figured one of three veteran linebackers would be in the lineup during Cushing’s four-game suspension. But a combination of injuries and ineffectiveness has put Xavier Adibi, Danny Clark and Kevin Bentley on the backburner because rookie Darryl Sharpton's been such a consistent playmaker. He might be short, but he packs a good punch.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Injury to Ben Tate: As the Texans search for the right combination of running backs to help balance their offense, second-round pick Tate figured to be a key piece. But he was lost for the season with a serious ankle/leg injury in the preseason opener. That puts the load on Arian Foster, Steve Slaton and either Jeremiah Johnson, Chris Henry or a back not yet on the team.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The Texans are regarded by some as a finesse team, but the defense is emphasizing physicality. Cushing, Pollard, Smith, Jackson, Quin and Mitchell have all joined the team in the past two years and are physical players.
  • Expect Foster to get first crack at the carries closest to the goal line as the Texans really concentrate on running better at close range. Johnson definitely could be heard from in the running game, too -- he might be the best fit for the one-cut and go zone scheme Houston uses.
  • [+] EnlargeNeil Rackers
    AP Photo/Rick ScuteriKicker Neil Rackers has a chance to beat out incumbent Kris Brown.
    If Kris Brown and Neil Rackers continue to be virtually even in the kicker competition, it makes sense for the team to go with Rackers. Sometimes guys just need a change of scenery. If Brown stays and fails on a crucial long field goal on opening day against the Colts, the thinking will be, “Why didn’t they make a change?” If Rackers does the same thing, I’ll think, “At least they tried someone different.”
  • Houston’s defensive tackles are quick, up-the-field types. But they’d sure love if their one big space-eater, Frank Okam, forced his way into action.
  • The Texans want to get the ball in the hands of Jones since he averaged 16.2 yards a catch on his 27 receptions. But I am not so sure that means he’s going to nudge ahead of Walter for the No. 2 receiver job. Walter is smart and super reliable, and reliability is awfully important. Jones might displace Walter or get a share of snaps in two-wide formations, but look for Jones most in a heavy dose of three-wide formations.
  • Troy Nolan might be a credible alternative to Eugene Wilson at free safety if Wilson gets hurt again. I’ve been critical of the team for not adding to the spot, but Nolan missed his rookie season with an injury and appears to be a high-caliber special-teamer.
  • Daniels’ speed is a big part of what helped set him apart. When he returns soon from another ACL reconstruction, will he still have it in the same way? That's the big question with him.
  • The offensive line is set with Duane Brown at left tackle, Chris Myers at center and Winston at right tackle. Guard jobs remain up for grabs. It seems to me that Wade Smith, a free-agent acquisition tailored to the system, and Antoine Caldwell, a third-rounder from 2009, would make the most sense.
  • It sounds less likely that Trindon Holliday has to be a serviceable receiver to make the team than it did during OTAs. If he convinces the team he can be a consistently special return guy, he’ll stick. He looked good to me when the Texans worked with the Saints.
When Brian Cushing's suspension came to light, Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak said pretty strongly that Zac Diles has settled in so nicely on the weak side that flipping him to the strong side while Cushing misses four games wasn’t an alternative.

Things have changed according to what the coach said to Houston media Tuesday about rookie fourth-rounder Darryl Sharpton out of Miami.

From a transcript provided by the team:
On if he’s considering Darryl Sharpton as a starter: “Well there’s consideration for him being one of our top three. He’s in the mix right now. Would we flip him to Sam? Probably we would move Zac before we move him. He’s in consideration right now and we’re going to play our three best however we go to play him.”

On if Sharpton is in the running to become a starter this season: “There’s no doubt. He’s made statements since he’s been out here in camp. Obviously, the other night he did it again.”

So while Cushing’s out, instead of seeing Xavier Adibi, Kevin Bentley or Danny Clark in his place, we could see Diles flipped and Sharpton starting -- provided Sharpton keeps playing like he’s been playing.

Maybe from there we could even see him push Diles?

I’ll have an eye on Sharpton Wednesday and Thursday when I watch the Texans practice against the Saints in Louisiana.
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Falling

Brian Cushing, LB, Texans: A four-game suspension made for an awful week for the Houston linebacker.

For the first four games of 2010 -- vs. Indianapolis, at Washington, vs. Dallas and at Oakland -- he won’t be with the team. His absence will put a big damper on the hopes for a hot start against the team that owns the AFC South and the team that has such a large following in Texas and well beyond.

Here are the likely candidates to fill in for Cushing while he is out: Xavier Adibi, Kevin Bentley and newly signed Danny Clark.

In a season when the Texans face what rates as the toughest schedule in the league based on last year’s records, they’ve got a giant challenge. And how will Cushing be when he gets back for a game against the Giants Oct. 10?

Rising

Titans helping Nashville recover: In the wake of the serious flooding in Nashville, the Titans proved themselves central characters in the drama. Waters in LP Field helped draw some national attention to an under-covered natural disaster.

At a Saturday blood drive hosted by Elise Reinfeldt, daughter of the Titans' GM, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano stopped by with Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen and Nashville mayor Karl Dean.

Players, coaches and employees have been among the countless volunteers helping out those in need. And Wednesday, the team had an organized get-together working on four houses on a West Nashville street.

Ex-Giants LB Clark to join Texans

May, 11, 2010
5/11/10
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Former New York Giants linebacker Danny Clark has reached an agreement to return to the Houston Texans, according to the Associated Press. Clark, 33, played the past two seasons with the Giants but he became expendable once it was clear that rookie Clint Sintim would replace him at strongside linebacker.

Coach Tom Coughlin loved the leadership that Clark brought to the locker room, but it was obvious that he was a declining player for the Giants. Clark had watched the Giants win the Super Bowl before joining the team in 2008. He had a close relationship with Coughlin and desperately wanted to get his own Super Bowl ring.

Now, he'll try to make that happen with the Texans. The suspension of second-year linebacker Brian Cushing may have prompted the move. Clark is very familiar with what the Texans do on defense and has remained close to some of his former teammates.

Scouts Inc.: Fixing the Giants' defense

March, 1, 2010
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Considering their reputation and level of play in 2008, the New York Giants’ defense was very disappointing last season. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo took the head-coaching job in St. Louis and his innovative and timely play calling was missed. Also, there were conflicts between new coordinator Bill Sheridan and the Giants’ defensive players. Now both the run and pass defenses need an upgrade.

The Giants’ pass rush was middle of the road last year. That is unacceptable considering the talent they have at the defensive end position and the overall resources they dedicated to their defensive front last offseason. Did this dip in production stem from coaching or the players? Surely it was a little of both, but with Perry Fewell taking over the defense, expect a step up from the perimeter rushers. Fewell stresses fundamentals and is considered a players’ coach. One worry up front is the defensive tackles’ run defense, which clearly was not up to par.

[+] EnlargePerry Fewell
Steve Mitchell/US PresswirePerry Fewell takes over a Giants defense that struggled last season.
There is no getting around the problems in personnel last season in the pass defense, which also hindered Sheridan’s play-calling options. The loss of talented safety Kenny Phillips was crushing. Safety is a huge need going forward, even if he is expected to return at full strength. Michael Johnson, Aaron Rouse and C.C. Brown were simply overmatched in coverage. The Giants were very weak up the middle with their pass defense, and because it lacked qualified coverage safeties, New York forced players to line up out of position. It was a desperate -- and unsuccessful -- ploy. If Philips returns to form and the Giants add one starting-caliber safety, this secondary can be quite good. They are strong at cornerback and have found a real keeper in Terrell Thomas to go along with Corey Webster and Aaron Ross, who too often was forced to play safety instead of his natural corner position.

There are issues at linebacker though. Middle linebacker Antonio Pierce was released, which is a move I agree with. Never the most physically gifted player, it appears as though what Pierce did have from an athletic standpoint began to fail him. Much more range and playmaking ability is needed in the middle against both run and pass, especially considering the tight ends and pass-catching running backs in the NFC East.

The Michael Boley experiment on the outside did not yield enough overall, but he was particularly poor against the run. Boley is more of a run-and-hit player and running at him directly exposes his weaknesses. Perhaps his best role would be as a sub package linebacker; they need to create competition for his starting weakside spot on early downs.

While the Giants have several mediocre options for both the Mike and Will linebacker spots, I don’t see a lot of upside with that crew outside of Boley. On the strong side, Danny Clark isn’t flashy, but he is tough and effective. He is an unrestricted free agent and hopefully the Giants lock him up, but his backup, Clint Sintim, does has more ability, speed and potential. However, neither of these two project well to the middle or weak side.

Having a new coordinator could yield immediate results, but Fewell’s scheme is based a great deal on speed and range. With that in mind, New York needs to find one linebacker with elite playmaking abilities, maybe Rolando McClain in the draft or Karlos Dansby in free agency.

I see safety as the No. 1 personnel need here, followed immediately by a difference-maker at linebacker. A nose tackle-type would be third, as the foursome of Rocky Bernard, Chris Canty, Barry Cofield and Fred Robbins were all underwhelming, but there is ability among this defensive tackle rotation. Robbins can push the pocket, but more was needed from him stopping the run and his stamina is questionable. He is an unrestricted free agent and could be replaced. A second linebacker to battle for a starting spot would be ideal.

This sounds like a long list, but the Giants are set on the offensive side of the ball, so expect their resources to be dedicated to fixing this once-proud defense.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

Free agency: NFC East

February, 16, 2010
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AFC Free Agency: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

An early look at the free-agent situation in the NFC East.

Note: These projected lists reflect notable unrestricted free agents for each team. The NFL will not issue an official list of free agents until the signing period begins March 5.

Dallas Cowboys

Unrestricted free agents: G Montrae Holland

Key figures: The Cowboys don't have a huge interest in retaining Holland, a man who's never really challenged for playing time. But Dallas has a long list of restricted free agents because of the likely scenario of an uncapped 2010 season. Wide receiver Miles Austin is obviously the biggest name on the list. The Cowboys would like to get a long-term contract done, but Austin's going to be asking for big money after his breakout season. For now, the Cowboys will likely sign Austin to the highest tender, which would pay him roughly $3 million in 2010. There's also a chance Dallas will try to work something out with restricted free agent Marcus Spears. Owner Jerry Jones has been very complimentary of Spears' work in '09, so we'll see if he receives an extension. It will also be interesting to see whether the Cowboys reward safety Gerald Sensabaugh for a fine '09 season. He's seeking a multiyear extension. But with the potential of a lockout in 2011, negotiations are up in the air.

New York Giants

Unrestricted free agents: QB David Carr, LB Danny Clark, P Jeff Feagles, DT Fred Robbins

[+] EnlargeLeonard Weaver
Drew Hallowell/Getty ImagesFullback Leonard Weaver rushed 70 times for 323 yards and two TDs in 2009.
Key figures: The Giants would like an upgrade at the backup quarterback position, but it's not like there are a bunch of reliable candidates floating around. It will be interesting to see how much progress Rhett Bomar makes this offseason. Coach Tom Coughlin loves what Clark brings to the locker room, but the player looked slow in coverage and he's a progress stopper at this point in his career. It's time to let him move on. Feagles can punt until he's 50 -- and he might give it a try. Robbins was benched late in the season, so the writing's on the wall with him. His production has tailed off the past two seasons because he's been asked to stay on the field too much.

Philadelphia Eagles

Unrestricted free agents: DE Jason Babin, S Sean Jones

Key figures: The man who's missing a major payday (for a fullback) is Leonard Weaver. He was an All-Pro for the Eagles and he would be an unrestricted free agent if not for the uncapped season in 2010. The Eagles now hold the hammer in negotiations -- and they've been known to use it at times. Babin is a decent pass-rush specialist, but he sort of faded down the stretch. Jones is a capable backup, but he should not be in the starting mix. Philadelphia would be wise to work something out with restricted free-agent guard/center Nick Cole. He's a versatile player who bailed out Andy Reid when the Stacy Andrews experiment didn't pan out in '09. And no matter his status as a restricted free agent, it's time to get something done with Jason Avant. He's quietly carved out a very important niche in this offense.

Washington Redskins

Unrestricted free agents: LS Ethan Albright, OT Levi Jones, DE Phillip Daniels, C Casey Rabach, P Hunter Smith, G Mike Williams, DE Renaldo Wynn, P Todd Yoder

Key figures: Cornerback Carlos Rogers is a restricted free agent, but he's looking for a new destination. It will be interesting to see what Mike Shanahan and Jim Haslett choose to do with Rogers. Will they try to get him back on the right path or see if they can deal him for a mid-round draft pick? This unrestricted list doesn't have a lot of juice. Rabach could certainly help a team at center, but he didn't set the league on fire in '09. It's probably time to move on without aging players such as Wynn and Daniels. I enjoyed the Williams weight loss story, but it's hard to imagine him being part of the rebuilding process at Redskins Park.

This we'll be the dullest free-agency period in years, but we'll be here to cover all the non-action.

So where has this Giants' D been?

December, 22, 2009
12/22/09
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Giants defenseAP Photo/Nick WassThe Giants sacked Jason Campbell five times, including once by Osi Umenyiora.
LANDOVER, Md. -- No matter how poorly things go for the Giants, they'll always have the Redskins. Desperately needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, the Giants embarrassed Washington in front of a national audience.

The Redskins always seem to remind New York of better times. And for one night, the once-vaunted defense rediscovered its ability to harass an opposing quarterback. It certainly helps when the offense scores on its first four possessions, but for the Giants to have any hope of sneaking into the playoffs, this defense must dominate like it did against the Redskins in a 45-12 win.
Make no mistake, a win over 4-10 Washington isn't something the Giants will tell the grandkids about. The first game of the Bruce Allen era did little to inspire the FedEx faithful. But it's fair to point out that Skins quarterback Jason Campbell and his supporting cast had put together a pretty nice stretch heading into Monday's game.

Giants defensive end Justin Tuck sacked Campbell for a 9-yard loss on the Redskins' first possession. Campbell had spent the past few weeks extending plays with his legs, but he had nowhere to turn against the Giants. The Redskins finally converted a first down with 3:44 left in the first half.

"I think we really felt that we had to get after the quarterback," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "Jason Campbell had a 65 percent completion percentage and on third down had 69 percent. I think in the last five games they were over 50 percent on third downs, so we knew we had to have a pass rush."

Five different Giants players sacked Campbell, and defensive end Osi Umenyiora knocked him out of the game briefly in the first half. When the game was still in doubt (go with me) midway through the second quarter, it was rookie linebacker Jonathan Goff who knifed through and sacked Campbell after he'd taken two steps away from center.

It may be too little, too late for a team that has struggled to find an identity this season. At 8-6, the Giants need to beat the Panthers and Vikings and hope that either the Cowboys (9-5) or Packers (9-5) falter. The Giants are in position to win a tiebreaker against Dallas by virtue of their season sweep and against Green Bay because they have a better record against common opponents.

Coughlin spent the week talking to his players about playing with purpose. And it was obvious from the opening drive which team had the most on the line.

"It was a must-win for us and it wasn't for them," said Giants defensive tackle Barry Cofield, who had a sack and a tackle for a loss. "We were just playing for a lot more than they were."

Coughlin's goal for this defense each week is to hold teams to 17 points or fewer. Coming into Monday's game, though, the Giants had been giving up an alarming amount of points, causing first-year defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan's job status to become a topic of conversation.

"He's a rookie coach," said Cofield of Sheridan. "They expect a rookie coach to be flawless, but he's growing just like any other rookie."

For the Redskins, Monday's loss was another embarrassing reminder of how far they've fallen as an organization. A fake field goal attempt at the end of the first half pretty much embodies the '09 season. When the Skins suddenly had seven players sprint out to the left side, Coughlin was forced to call a timeout. But instead of changing things up, the Redskins lined up in the exact same formation.

When Todd Yoder snapped the ball directly to holder Hunter Smith, three Giants converged on him. We may never know who Smith was trying to throw to because there wasn't a Skins player within 15 yards of the ball. Giants cornerback Bruce Johnson intercepted the heave and returned it 49 yards. As the Redskins left the field, they were met with a chorus of boos and at least three or four snowballs. On this night, there was only one team on the field that had any sense of urgency.

"We came out like our hair was on fire," Giants linebacker Danny Clark said. "All that front office stuff that they were dealing with can dismantle a team. But we were also worried about it drawing them together."

Turns out Clark didn't have anything to worry about.

 
 AP Photo/Bill Kostroun
 The Giants are still grousing over Donovan McNabb jokingly grabbing one of the phones to the Giants' coaches' box during last season's divisional playoffs.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

The memory is etched in the minds of every Giants defender. But just for good measure, they kept a picture of the moment hanging in their locker room this past offseason.

The Eagles had taken control of last January's divisional playoff game when quarterback Donovan McNabb decided to have a little fun at the expense of the Giants. Following an 8-yard run in the fourth quarter, McNabb stepped out of bounds and then grabbed one of the phones to the Giants' coaches' box.

Even stoic Eagles coach Andy Reid had a laugh about the incident following the game, but the Giants failed to see the humor. In a part of the locker room that is off limits to reporters, a large color photo of McNabb's impromptu phone call has served as a reminder of that bitter feeling from the playoffs. But with Sunday's division game against the Giants looming in Philly, McNabb isn't serving up apologies. In fact, he's still laughing about his sideline act.

"Verizon wasn’t working," McNabb said. "There was nothing over there."

Honestly, it's not like the Giants should need extra motivation for Sunday's game. After a 5-0 start, they've dropped consecutive games to the Saints and Cardinals. Three weeks ago, a lot of us thought they were one of the best teams in the league. Now they're in a fight to stay atop what's looking like an overrated NFC East. The Giants haven't had a three-game losing streak since their infamous second-half collapse in '06. That team was 6-2 at the midway point before dropping four consecutive games. The '06 season ended with a 23-20 playoff loss to the Eagles -- and coach Tom Coughlin's job was in jeopardy.

Because of their Super Bowl title in '07 and division title in '08, the Giants get the benefit of the doubt after losses. But a three-game losing streak would bring scrutiny that hasn't been felt since that '06 season. Quarterback Eli Manning might be a made man in the Meadowlands based on his Super Bowl MVP, but he's played like a chump the past two games. He needs to be a lot sharper Sunday for the Giants to have a chance to win. All the pre-snap gyrations have become a little much, so maybe he should simply focus on beating the play clock.

The good thing for the Giants is that their rivalry with the Eagles is a separate entity from games against non-division teams. Because of the Giants' proximity to the Eagles in the Northeast, I think the Giants will be able to put some of the distractions (injuries) aside and focus on winning a game. This is supposed to be one of the best bounce-back teams in the league, but they certainly didn't respond last Sunday night against the Cardinals. Perhaps the sight of Mr. Telephone Man will be enough to get the Giants going. McNabb has been awful against the blitz -- 4-of-19 for 40 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information -- and I think Giants defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan will bring the heat Sunday.

"It sits pretty heavy on us," Giants linebacker Danny Clark said of McNabb's prank call.

But I'm with McNabb on this one. These are two teams trying to establish some sort of identity. The last thing that anyone needs to be thinking about is a phone call that was placed last January.

"No, I don’t have any regrets for doing it," McNabb told Giants beat writers on a conference call Wednesday. "But in this game, do you really need any psychological motivation? I don’t think so. This is a game you dream about playing and you love competing -- no matter who you play. We’ve played each other for years and I don’t think you need any type of motivation to play this game. If you need any little thing that happened during a game last year or years before, then really you’re not truly focused on week in and week out trying to be the best at what you do."

And it's not like the Eagles are the same team that beat the Giants twice in a one-month span last season. They've had to rotate several offensive linemen because of injuries, and they feature a middle linebacker who was playing for the Rams two weeks ago. Oh, and there's a pretty good chance star running back Brian Westbrook will miss the game with a concussion.

The Giants based at least one expensive offseason move (LB Michael Boley) on the fact that Westbrook exposed their lack of speed at linebacker last season. With Boley and Westbrook both expected to miss Sunday's game, it will be up to Eagles rookie running back LeSean McCoy to try and expose the Giants' linebackers. He's shown flashes this season, but he's not as dangerous as Westbrook at this point.

This is a huge game for two teams that appear to have some serious flaws. And the Giants are hoping McNabb won't be able to answer the call this time around.
 
  Rich Kane/Icon SMI
  Osi Umenyiora is back from an injury and the Giants have high expectations for him.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

ALBANY, N.Y. -- The Giants are in desperate need of a preseason game, which will happen Monday night against the Panthers. In recent weeks, practices on the lower fields at the University at Albany have featured brawls on a daily basis.

On Wednesday evening, I watched Tom Coughlin leave his post during a goal-line drill to wade into a fight that had broken out away from the action. Earlier that day, it was Coughlin who provided the fireworks when he launched into a tirade when an offensive lineman didn't finish a block during a brutal 9-on-7 drill. Is this the same cuddly grandfather character who we read so much about leading up to Super Bowl XLII?

Everyone seems angry around here, and for the most part, I think Coughlin's pretty comfortable with that atmosphere. At this time last year, players and coaches were being asked how difficult it would be to defend a Super Bowl title.

Camp Confidential: NFC East
Cowboys: Fri., Aug. 7
Eagles: Tues., Aug. 11
Giants: Mon., Aug. 17
Redskins: Fri., Aug. 21
Training camp index

Now, the focus is on making amends for a season that went belly-up in December and January because of the infamous Plaxico Burress incident and a host of injuries along the defensive line. The Giants won't be able to replace a unique talent such as Burress right away, but third-round draft pick Ramses Barden is doing his part. Barden, who played at Cal Poly, was supposed to have a tough adjustment to this level. Instead, he has become the toughest player to cover in camp, providing daily highlight-reel catches that included a one-hander in the end zone Aug. 8 that folks in Albany are still talking about. General manager Jerry Reese tried to temper all of the enthusiasm for Barden, but the huge grin on his face suggested those were just words.

"He's big and he catches everything," Reese said of Barden. "He's a quick learner and he's gigantic. He's got a huge strike zone. He had the stigma of the small school, but so did [Kevin] Boss. If a guy doesn't jump off the screen at a small school, he can't play at this level. Barden jumped off the screen. And he didn't look out of place at the combine. And if you talk to him, he's very bright. We expect him to play right from the start."

 
  Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
  Rookie Ramses Barden is turning heads in his first training camp.

Reese's first priority this offseason was to re-stock a defensive line that wore down last December. The Giants' rotation along the defensive line in '07 was the biggest factor in taking down the Patriots -- at least in my opinion. And by adding Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard in free agency, the Giants are once again loaded. It doesn't hurt that the lone Pro Bowler from the Super Bowl team, defensive end Osi Umenyiora, is back from a knee injury that knocked him out for '08. I asked Reese what he learned from the '08 season.

"Well, I learned a lot of things," he said. "We got hit right out of the gate last year with a Hall of Famer retiring [Michael Strahan] and a Pro Bowler [Umenyiora] going down. We made it through three quarters of the season, but then we got worn down. I'll try not to let that happen again. We have to sustain the madness up front."

Key Questions

1. How will the Giants replace Burress at wide receiver?

It's not like Burress was putting up big numbers last season, but his presence alone opened things up for the rest of the offense. Without him, the offense became easier to defend -- as the Eagles showed twice in December and January. I don't think the Giants have a true No. 1 receiver, although third-year player Steve Smith will take on a larger role. Quarterback Eli Manning is gaining faith in Mario Manningham by the day and Sinorice Moss is quietly putting together a pretty nice camp.

The Giants will have to make some tough decisions because there are at least seven players in the mix for a roster spot, and that seems excessive. Barden could immediately be a threat in the red zone and remember that veteran David Tyree's still on the roster. He's known for the catch in the Super Bowl, but he's also a former Pro Bowl special-teams player. I think there's a chance first-round pick Hakeem Nicks will have a hard time seeing the field early in the season. He's been slowed by a hamstring injury, and those things annoy Coughlin to no end. I think Domenik Hixon and Smith will be the starters, but they will face some major competition throughout the season.

2. Who will replace Derrick Ward as No. 2 running back?

 Ware
 Bradshaw

Unfortunately, the player who most reminded Reese and Coughlin of Ward, rookie Andre Brown, ruptured his Achilles' tendon in Friday's practice and will miss the season. That leaves Danny Ware and Ahmad Bradshaw in competition for the backup role. Ware has looked solid in camp, but Reese tells me that it's Bradshaw's job to lose. A lot of it has to do with who's willing to pick up the blitz. When Jacobs first came into the league, he just wanted the ball. He didn't have any interest in picking up the blitz. Now he's become an excellent blocker and the Giants are hoping Bradshaw and Ware follow that path.

Bradshaw has some power to go along with his speed, but there are people who still wonder how he'd do if Jacobs misses a game or two. There's a good chance that will happen at some point, so Bradshaw must be ready. I think he'll be up to the task.

3. With Michael Boley suspended for the first game, who's stepping up at linebacker?

The Giants have created an intense competition at linebacker while Boley recovers from a hip injury. Former BYU standout Bryan Kehl has always had the physical tools to make an impact as weakside linebacker, but he needed to become a more physical player. He seems to be taking that next step in this camp. Gerris Wilkinson is also in the mix to start in that first game. He's a talented player who's never been able to stay healthy.

Boley was brought in so that he could cover running backs such as Brian Westbrook and Felix Jones. He's an excellent coverage linebacker, but he needs to get back on the field soon and start playing his way into game shape. I like what Chase Blackburn's been doing in practice. He's one of those players who's always around the ball. I saw him leap to pick off a David Carr pass in last Wednesday's evening practice.

Market watch

 Phillips

As I've written before, I think second-year safety Kenny Phillips is about to become a star in this league. He's a graceful player with a knack for arriving at the right moment. He's made some outstanding plays on the ball in camp and I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up in the Pro Bowl. At cornerback, second-year player Terrell Thomas out of USC is making a move in this camp. I don't know how much longer Kevin Dockery can hold him off at the nickel spot.

Newcomer to watch

I've already mentioned him once, but keep your eye on Barden in the preseason. He's been unstoppable in training camp. The one-handed, twisting grab he made Aug. 8 has already become part of Giants training camp lore -- if there is such a thing. Even when he's tightly defended, Barden will climb the ladder and use his 6-foot-6 frame to block out the defensive back. The starting corners were out with injuries when I was in Albany, but he was tearing up the other defenders. If you asked Manning what's been the most pleasant surprise at camp, I think Barden's the direction he goes. And I'm ready to see more of Stoney Woodson at cornerback. He's a seventh-round pick who already looks like he belongs.

Observation Deck

 
  AP Photo/Mike Groll
  Mathias Kiwanuka has turned in a solid camp for the Giants.

The fact that Mathias Kiwanuka hates being referred to as a backup is a good thing for the Giants. When he lines up with the second team, he's destroying offensive tackles -- both first- and second-teamers. He almost flattened the 315-pound Kevin Boothe on an inside running play. ... I guess no one's told wide receiver Derek Hagan he's not supposed to make this roster. He has had an excellent camp and taken advantage of Smith and Nicks missing time with injuries. ... Safeties coach Dave Merritt is asking players to treat incomplete passes as live balls. He wants his young players to learn how to properly recover a fumble. And that's why rookies such as Woodson will go racing to the ball after it hits the ground. By the way, I think the Giants are stacked at cornerback right now. Everyone wants to talk about the reinforcements on the defensive line, but this team is even deeper in the secondary. ... Second-round pick Clint Sintim is a total Reese guy. Big, fast and ridiculously long arms. I saw him tip a ball at the line of scrimmage and then almost make the interception. He's a little hesitant right now, but I don't think it will take him a long time to make an impact. ... If the season started today, your starting linebackers are Kehl (in place of Boley), Antonio Pierce and Danny Clark. ... Blackburn is a fiery guy who takes practices to another level. He's certainly not the best athlete on the field, but he'll sort of blend in and then make an interception out of nowhere. Carr never saw him on a pass across the middle last Wednesday. ... I thought Andre Woodson's days were numbered as a third-string quarterback, but he's held up well against fifth-round pick Rhett Bomar. Woodson's been a lot more accurate and he's getting the ball out faster than Bomar. I'm eager to see how he plays in Monday's preseason game. ... Backup center Adam Koets must get it together before Coughlin completely loses his patience. He botched a snap in the practice I watched and I'm told that's a common occurrence. ... DeAndre Wright, a rookie cornerback out of New Mexico, made some nice plays in last Wednesday's practice. Wright and Woodson are doing a great job of soaking up what Corey Webster and Aaron Ross are telling them. Other than R.W. McQuarters, Ross and Webster didn't get a lot of help from the veterans when they were breaking into the league. And that's why they're spending a lot of time with the young guys. By the way, kudos to Dockery. He refuses to give in to the more talented Thomas.

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