NFL Nation: Devin Thomas

CampTour'12: Bears Day 2

July, 27, 2012
7/27/12
7:15
PM ET
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Let's roll through some thoughts and observations after watching the Chicago Bears' second training-camp practice:

  • One of the prettiest plays in 1-on-1 drills came when receiver Earl Bennett hauled in a long pass down the right sideline from quarterback Jay Cutler. Bennett used some crafty veteran contact with his left arm to keep cornerback Kelvin Hayden at bay.
  • After fans cheered Bennett's catch, cornerback Tim Jennings turned to the crowd and said: "Hey, we [cornerbacks] play for you guys, too." Jennings drew a laugh.
  • The Bears' three-receiver set has been pretty consistent: Brandon Marshall, Devin Hester and Bennett usually in the slot. When Hester was shaken up briefly during team drills, rookie Alshon Jeffery replaced him on the outside. So that gives you a clear sense of the depth chart as it stands now. If the Bears keep veterans Devin Thomas and Eric Weems for special-teams purposes, and that is quite possible, it will be difficult for 2011 slot receiver Dane Sanzenbacher to make the team.
  • Special-teams coordinator Dave Toub put out some interesting lineups during kickoff-return drills. Bennett was among those manning a front-line position. Two others were rookies, safety Brandon Hardin and tight end Evan Rodriguez. Historically, it's fair to make assumptions about a young player's chances to make the team based on his standing on special teams. In other words, it's looking good very early for Rodriguez, especially. Hardin was already a lock to make the team.
  • We didn't see new defensive tackle Brian Price on Friday, a day after the Bears acquired him in a trade from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, because his physical was not complete. The Bears indicated that should happen Saturday. According to the collective bargaining agreement, however, Price must ease into training camp with three unpadded practices before he can join the team fully. So it will be a bit of time before Price is up to speed.
  • For those interested in such things, during team drills, it was quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates who relayed plays via radio to Cutler. Bates stood next to offensive coordinator Mike Tice during the process.
  • In person, running back Michael Bush proved to be a much bigger dude than I thought he was. The Bears list him at 6-foot-1 and 245 pounds, but when you see him in a T-shirt on rather than a jersey, you could easily mistake him for a linebacker or even a small defensive end.
  • The Bears' first full-pads practice is scheduled for Saturday night. I won't miss it.
If you're like me, when you heard the part of the ugly Gregg Williams audio that touches on the concussion history of 49ers receiver/return man Kyle Williams, you flashed back to the aftermath of the NFC Championship Game. Remember? When Giants special-teamers Devin Thomas and Jacquian Williams said they'd known about Kyle Williams' concussion history and played with that in mind? Here's a rundown from late January in the New York Times:
[+] EnlargeKyle Williams
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesIt appears Kyle Williams' concussion history was discussed among Giants special-teamers before last season's NFC Championship Game.
"The thing is, we knew he had four concussions, so that was our biggest thing, to take him out of the game," Jacquian Williams said of Kyle Williams, who had replaced the injured Ted Ginn Jr. as San Francisco’s punt returner.

Devin Thomas, a wide receiver and special-teams player who recovered the ball both times, said: "He's had a lot of concussions. We were just like, 'We've got to put a hit on that guy.' "

The Giants went into spin-control mode a few days later, with players such as Justin Tuck and Michael Boley saying they'd never gone into a game with the intent to injure anyone. And NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in that same Times story that the Giants were in no trouble from the league because "players are held accountable for their actions on the field" and "there were no illegal hits to the head or neck area against Kyle Williams on Sunday. There was no conduct by the Giants of any kind that would suggest an effort to injure Kyle Williams in any way."

When I reached out to Aiello on Thursday to ask him about this issue, he referred me to those comments and the Giants' denials and reiterated that the Giants were in the clear as far as the league is concerned. And that makes sense. After all, there's nothing to indicate that the league is going to take any action against Williams for the audio that came to light Thursday morning courtesy of Yahoo! Sports' Michael Silver. That tape would seem to be just more dirt on the grave of Williams' NFL coaching career, as Mike Sando points out.

Here's what I think about all of this:

It seems clear that it's completely routine for opposing players' injuries to be discussed in defensive team meetings. It seems clear, in spite of the denials after the fact, that Williams' concussion history was a topic of discussion among Giants defensive and special-teams players (and likely coaches) before the NFC Championship Game. I mean, no way did Devin Thomas and Jacquian Williams just think that up independently during postgame interviews. Their lockers were clear across the room from each other.

But it's entirely possible that such issues are raised in non-aggressive ways. There's nothing to indicate that the Giants' plan, knowing Kyle Williams had a concussion history, was to give him another concussion. It might well be that the discussion was about whether the concussion history would lead Williams to shrink from a big hit, or do something potentially game-changing, like muff a critical punt deep in his own territory, if the Giants made a point to be physical with him. Scaring or intimidating a guy would seem to be fair game. Intent to injure, which is what they have Gregg Williams and Sean Payton for based on evidence that predates the 2011-12 playoffs, is a far different thing. And whether the Giants were talking about Kyle Williams' concussions before that game or not, there's no evidence that they set out to injure him. Thomas said as much to Newsday's Bob Glauber in the days that followed:
"It was more about understanding personnel," Thomas said. "You want to find every strength and weakness you can. The whole concept of him having concussions is you know he's been hit a lot. I've had a concussion. When you get rattled like that, your judgment sometimes changes. You worry about getting hit instead of worrying about protecting the ball or whatnot. He's the backup returner, so he's being put in a huge role for a huge game. There's things like that that you key on putting an emphasis on putting a good hit on him. Legal hit, no cheap shots. Let's see if we can get a turnover."

Thomas said the Giants weren't attempting to give Williams another concussion. "That's not the concept," he said. "It's just going after somebody knowing you can do something to change the game."

Fine lines? Sure. But these are the kinds of discussions that will dominate in the present and future NFL. This league is being sued pretty much weekly by hundreds of former players who claim it covered up their injuries. Whether fans like it or not, player safety has become a paramount issue for the NFL, and it will continue to take it very seriously. If the Giants had been flagged for even one illegal hit to the head of Kyle Williams in the NFC Championship Game and then said what their players said after the game, they'd likely be in huge trouble. That they weren't could be good fortune, could be coincidence, or it could reflect the difference between big pregame psych-up bluster and the reality that most players aren't comfortable with the idea of trying to injure (or re-injure) someone.

In the end, my conclusion is that it might be a good idea for coaches and players to stop pointing out their opponents' specific pre-existing injuries in their pregame meetings. That seems like a lesson everybody would do well to take from today.
Wide receivers Vincent Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Reggie Wayne, Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal, Laurent Robinson, Josh Morgan, Eric Weems and Harry Douglas have found new homes after hitting the NFL's free-agent market.

Franchise tags essentially removed from consideration Dwayne Bowe, Wes Welker and DeSean Jackson.

Others, such as Marques Colston, re-signed before free agency.

Teams still searching for help at the position -- that would be pretty much everyone but Seattle in the NFC West -- are left with a picked-over group of free agents.

Jerome Simpson, Burress, Brandon Lloyd, Legedu Naanee, Devin Aromashodu, Roy Williams, Mario Manningham and Early Doucet are the only ones remaining to have played at least half of their team's offensive snaps during the 2011 season.

As the chart shows, Burress was particularly effective in the red zone for the New York Jets. He converted first downs 38 times in 45 receptions for the third-highest percentage among wide receivers with at least 40 receptions, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Burress is also up there in age. He's among 12 available wideouts already in their 30s: Hines Ward (36), Burress (34), T.J. Houshmandzadeh (34), Kevin Curtis (33), Patrick Crayton (32), Deion Branch (32), Rashied Davis (32), Donte Stallworth (31), Jerheme Urban (31), Bryant Johnson (31), Lloyd (30) and Williams (30).

Of them, Lloyd has visited the San Francisco 49ers.

Nine more are 29 years old: Greg Camarillo, Keary Colbert, Mark Clayton, Jerricho Cotchery, Roscoe Parrish, Michael Clayton, Courtney Roby, Michael Spurlock and Braylon Edwards.

Still interested?

OK, let's check out 18 others, all younger than 29: David Anderson, Legedu Naanee, Devin Aroshamodu, Donnie Avery, Anthony Gonzalez, Maurice Stovall, Derek Hagan, Mike Sims-Walker, Ted Ginn Jr., Andre Caldwell, Steve Smith, Doucet, Brett Swain, Chaz Schilens, Simpson, Manningham, Devin Thomas and Kevin Ogletree.

Schilens visited Arizona and San Francisco. Manningham visited the 49ers and the St. Louis Rams.

I've also broken down the available wideouts by drafted round:
  • First: Williams, Burress, Ginn, Stallworth, both Claytons, Johnson, Gonzalez and Edwards
  • Second: Avery, Thomas, Simpson, Smith, Parrish, Branch, Colbert
  • Third: Roby, Doucet, Hagan, Stovall, Manningham, Caldwell, Curtis, Sims-Walker, Ward
  • Fourth: Cotchery, Lloyd
  • Fifth: Legedu Naanee
  • Sixth: none
  • Seventh: Houshmandzadeh, Crayton, Schilens, Aromashodu, Anderson, Swain
  • Undrafted: Davis, Urban, Camarillo, Spurlock, Ogletree

Only a handful of the available receivers project as starters. None would qualify as an outright game-breaker.

The Rams in particular need playmakers, but in looking at what is available, how many would qualify as dramatically better than what they already have? Austin Pettis, Brandon Gibson, Danario Alexander, Dominique Curry, Greg Salas and restricted free agent Danny Amendola are their current wideouts.
The New York Giants wanted to do more than knock out the football from San Francisco 49ers punt returner Kyle Williams.

They also reportedly wanted to knock out Williams, or at least inflict a concussion on him.

"He's had a lot of concussions," the Giants' Devin Thomas told the Newark Star-Ledger. "We were just like, 'We gotta put a hit on that guy.' [Tyler] Sash did a great job hitting him early and he looked kind of dazed when he got up. I feel like that made a difference and he coughed it up."

These types of comments invite important questions.

How would Giants players know about the medical history for a second-year 49ers backup receiver? Were they coached on it? Who is the "we" Thomas referenced? Was he talking about players only? Coaches, too? Were bounties involved? Was this a coordinated strike? A premeditated act?

This revelation illustrates why NFL players and coaches often want to reveal as little information as possible regarding injuries. They know some opponents will target those injuries especially.

Those seeking to inflict such damage generally do not reveal their tactics.

Thomas made an exception following the Giants' overtime victory in the NFC Championship Game. I did not notice the Giants taking any illegal shots at Williams, or targeting his head. Perhaps the NFL should take a closer look.

Note: Thanks to @kk704 for pointing out this nymag.com piece aggregating comments on the matter. That piece links to the Star-Ledger report.
Devin ThomasAP Photo/Paul SakumaNew York's Devin Thomas recovered two key fumbles on punt returns by Kyle Williams.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Stuck in traffic on a bus headed for rainy Candlestick Park on Sunday afternoon, Devin Thomas had a vision. Thomas is the No. 4 wide receiver for the New York Giants, and as such he doesn't get too many chances to make plays. He's a special teams guy, mainly, and not even a return man anymore after flopping in that role earlier this season. So when Thomas has a vision of himself making a huge play to help win a game, it's a special teams play -- a frantic, full-speed crazy play that no one could have seen coming.

"I knew I was going to do it," Thomas said. "I was just thinking today was one of those crazy days where something crazy's going to turn the game. And I had a vision in my mind that I would be the guy who did it."

Thomas made two such plays Sunday. He recovered two fumbles on punt returns by Kyle Williams, the 49ers' backup return man. The first set the Giants up for a go-ahead fourth-quarter touchdown at a time when they appeared totally incapable of moving the ball against the San Francisco defense. The second came in overtime, and a few minutes later, after Lawrence Tynes kicked the second NFC Championship Game-winning field goal of his career, the Giants had a 20-17 victory and a date with the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.

"Our guys never quit, never have any doubts," said Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who spent his night being knocked around by fearsome 49ers defenders but never flinched, completing 32 of 58 passes for 316 yards and two touchdowns. "We just keep believing and keep fighting until the very end, no matter what the circumstances are."

These Giants are as improbable a Super Bowl participant as the NFL has seen in some time. Widely predicted (especially here) to miss the playoffs during the preseason, losers of four games in a row in a tough stretch in late November and earlier December, their record stood at 7-7 after a Week 15 loss to the division-rival Redskins. They have not lost a game since. If they had -- if they'd lost even one of the five games they've played since that loss to Washington -- they would not still be playing. The defining aspect of these Giants is their toughness, but out of that over the past five weeks has grown a patience and a discipline that's rooted in intense self-belief and has propelled them to unexpected heights.

"They have grit, now," a beaming head coach Tom Coughlin said of his second Giants Super Bowl team. "We've had five straight single-elimination games. We've played an awful lot of superior football teams this year, and that has certainly helped."

But no one could have seen this coming. Not from 6-6 or 7-7 and certainly not from the preseason, when they were dealing with a major injury per week and everybody was in love with the offseason the Eagles had. Back then, there was no way to know that Jason Pierre-Paul would become one of the best pass rushers in the league or that Victor Cruz would become one of its best wide receivers. The odds against both of those things happening were astronomical.

"I think we knew, here in this locker room," said rookie linebacker Jacquian Williams, who stripped the ball from Kyle Williams so that Thomas could pounce on it in overtime. "You see the talent those guys have on the practice field and you know it's just a matter of when they're going to get their opportunity."

[+] EnlargeVictor Cruz
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesVictor Cruz had 142 yards on 10 catches in the Giants' win.
From October, you couldn't have seen Williams coming. But he's become a critical asset in the Giants' coverage units over the past couple of months, and as he showed Sunday, he's capable of making game-changing plays on special teams. He laughed when I asked him how this was matching up to the expectations he'd had for his rookie season.

"Rookies don't usually have an opportunity to play," he said. "Especially when you got picked in the sixth round."

But this has been an all-hands-on-deck kind of season for the Giants, and opportunities have piled up. Brandon Jacobs got an opportunity to be a big part of the running game again when Ahmad Bradshaw got hurt. Bradshaw had the bigger game Sunday, but Jacobs has been a key part of the current streak. Osi Umenyiora came back from a late-season ankle injury and has elevated the pass rush to teetering heights, terrorizing quarterbacks and forcing fumbles during this run and helping Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck get free to wreak their own havoc.

"I love these guys. They've had my back the whole time," said Umenyiora, who's transformed from cranky contract complainer to peaceful, happy team player in a span of a few months. "So I wasn't going to come back and be selfish. I just wanted to come back and do what they need me to do, whatever that is. That's what I've done and it's had an impact."

This Giants team may have led the league in surprise clutch performances. You may be able to say you thought Cruz would be good, or that Pierre-Paul would come on quickly, or that Umenyiora would put his personal stuff aside for the good of the team. You may be able to say you knew Manning was going to play turnover-free football in the conference title game against a team that forced 43 turnovers in its first 17 games. You may be able to say you knew Mathias Kiwanuka was going to change positions and be a critical part of the defense, or even that you believed Williams and Thomas would be making key plays in the biggest game of the season.

But to say you saw all of that coming? You'd have to be crazy to expect anyone to buy that. These Giants represent the reason we watch sports -- to be surprised and amazed, to see human beings push their own limits and achieve things few expected of them. These Giants are overachievers, a team that has found ways to win all year when it didn't appear they should. And you can't be that without getting big-time contributions from every corner of the roster.

"I think we always believed -- in ourselves, in our coaches, in our plan, in each other," wide receiver Hakeem Nicks said. "And that's the reason why we're here."

There are so many reasons, and they range from the obvious to the obscure. Nobody picked Thomas to make the plays that won the NFC Championship Game, because Thomas is the kind of guy you have to work hard to remember is still on the team. But as the Giants left their locker room late Sunday night, Thomas carried the ball he'd recovered in overtime and got right back on the bus where he'd envisioned himself doing just that. It may have been a surprise to the rest of us, but it wasn't to Thomas, and it wasn't to the Giants. There are many, many people who are surprised to find the Giants still standing. But the Giants are not among them. They may not have known how they were going to do this, but they always believed they would. And it's quite a varied and remarkable collection of players that has found a way.
Eli ManningChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesAfter two straight interception free performances, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning takes the top spot in the divisional rankings.
Back with another edition of the NFC East's rolling All-Division Team, which this week features yet another change at quarterback. The New York Giants' Eli Manning has taken over the top spot after a second straight interception-free victory. Tony Romo has more yards and a better completion percentage, but Romo has also cost his team two games with second-half interceptions while Manning has been the steady leader his team has needed him to be while recovering from its early-season injury problems. Since the second quarter of the Week 2 game against the Rams, Manning has been unflappable and, when it's been needed, excellent.

The Eagles' Michael Vick had the best individual Week 4 game among division quarterbacks, but while I'm sure the vast majority of people who comment on this post and harass me on Twitter about it will ignore what I am about to type here: This list is meant as an overall evaluation of the way the players have played to date, in all four games this season. It is not -- I repeat, NOT -- based solely on performance in this past week's games. (For example: Ryan Torain is not the running back, because LeSean McCoy has had the better year.)

That out of the way, here is the list to which you're all scrolling down anyway. Some notes will follow:

Quarterback: Eli Manning, Giants (Last week: Tony Romo)

Running back: LeSean McCoy, Eagles (McCoy)

Wide receiver: Hakeem Nicks, Giants; Jeremy Maclin, Eagles (Maclin, Miles Austin)

Tight end: Jason Witten, Cowboys (Witten)

Fullback: Owen Schmitt, Eagles (Darrel Young)

Left tackle: Jason Peters, Eagles (Peters)

Left guard: Evan Mathis, Eagles (Kory Lichtensteiger)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (David Baas)

Right guard: Chris Snee, Giants (Snee)

Right tackle: Tyron Smith, Cowboys (Smith)

Defensive end: Trent Cole, Eagles; Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants (Cole, Pierre-Paul)

Defensive tackle: Cullen Jenkins, Eagles; Jay Ratliff, Cowboys (Jenkins, Ratliff)

Outside linebacker: DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys; Brian Orakpo, Redskins (Ware, Ryan Kerrigan)

Inside linebacker: Sean Lee, Cowboys; London Fletcher, Redskins (Lee, Fletcher)

Cornerback: Asante Samuel, Eagles; Aaron Ross, Giants (Samuel, Mike Jenkins)

Safety: Kenny Phillips, Giants; LaRon Landry, Redskins (Phillips, O.J. Atogwe)

Kicker: Dan Bailey, Cowboys (Bailey)

Punter: Sav Rocca, Redskins (Rocca)

Kick returner: Devin Thomas, Giants (Brandon Banks)

Punt returner: Brandon Banks, Redskins (Banks)

  • Austin and Darrel Young lose their spots due to injury, and Nicks and Schmitt delivered performances worthy of those spots anyway.
  • On the offensive line, I'd had Mathis and Lichtensteiger very close for the past couple of weeks, but I just think Sunday moved Mathis past the Redskins' guard ever so slightly. Washington's offensive line has been underappreciated as a reason for the early success, and they get consideration at every position. (Chris Chester is playing great at right guard but trapped on this list behind maybe the best one on the league). Will Montgomery at center has been a revelation, and replacing Casey Rabach with him might have been one of the critical moves the Redskins made in the offseason. Don't begrudge Tyron Smith that big late sack. He's been a monster all year and done much more to help the Cowboys win than to help them lose. And yes, I'm interested to see who steps up and takes the left tackle spot with Peters out a few weeks. No one's really pushed him for it yet this year, though Doug Free finally had a good game Sunday.
  • Did some Redskin-shuffling on their excellent defense. I doubt Kerrigan will mind losing his spot to Orakpo, his mentor, who had a monster game. Those two could trade off all year. And I thought about rewarding Rocky McIntosh for his big game by giving him Fletcher's spot, but Fletcher's been that defense's heart and soul all year and has done nothing to lose it. Oh, and I moved Landry in at safety over Atogwe because, while it's only been two games... wow.
  • Cornerback was tough, as it's been all year because so few in this division are playing it well. Ross' assignment wasn't as tough Sunday as was that of Corey Webster, who had to take on Larry Fitzgerald. But Ross has been delivering excellent, reliable coverage all year for the Giants with very few (if glaring) mistakes, and I think he deserves this spot. Jenkins has been fine, but I think overall Ross has played a little bit better and should be acknowledged, especially since he's outperformed the expectations that attended his ascension to the role when Terrell Thomas got hurt.
  • I keep waiting for Brandon Banks to break a big kick return, but he hasn't done it, and I think Thomas has looked a little better overall. Banks still remains unchallenged in the punt-return category.

Okay, fire away. Let me know where I screwed up.

Chasing more return touchdowns in Week 2

September, 15, 2011
9/15/11
7:56
PM ET
There were three kickoff returns of 103 yards or longer in 256 NFL games last season.

There were two during 16 games in Week 1 this season, plus Ted Ginn Jr.'s 102-yarder for the San Francisco 49ers.

We're seeing far more touchbacks since the NFL moved kickoffs from the 30- to 35-yard line. That was predictable. The kickoffs that get returned for touchdowns will also be longer, but will there be more total return touchdowns despite far fewer return opportunities overall?

There were more of them in Week 1. Consider:
  • Twenty-three of 2,033 kickoff returns went for touchdowns last season. That is 1.1 percent.
  • Three of 80 went for touchdowns in Week 1. That is 3.3 percent.

One week does not make a trend, but the results from Week 1 were interesting. Randall Cobb, Percy Harvin and Ginn accounted for the three kickoff-return touchdowns.

The chart breaks down kickoff return stats for all but onside kicks. The touchback percentage jumped to the highest since at least the 1970 merger, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

A quick look at the returners NFC West teams are facing in Week 2:
  • Seattle at Pittsburgh: The Steelers' Antonio Brown averaged 34.3 yards on his three returns against Baltimore in Week 1, with a long return of 41 yards. The Steelers allowed one return for 37 yards. Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham has one touchback on two kickoffs.
  • St. Louis at New York Giants: The Giants' Devin Thomas had one return for 21 yards. D.J. Ware recovered another kickoff for no gain when Thomas let one get past him, nearly resulting in a Redskins recovery. Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes has one touchback on three kickoffs.
  • Arizona at Washington: The Giants' Brandon Banks had two returns for 24 yards. The Redskins allowed two returns totaling 21 yards. Redskins kicker Graham Gano has three touchbacks on five kickoffs.
  • San Francisco vs. Dallas: The Cowboys' John Phillips had one return for 16 yards. Teammate DeMarco Murray had one return for 14 yards. The Cowboys allowed four returns for 78 yards, with a long of 27 yards. Cowboys kicker David Buehler has one touchback on five kickoffs.

The NFC West has multiple dynamic returners, but the Seahawks' Leon Washington is coming off a rough week, and the Cardinals' LaRod Stephens-Howling has a hand injury. Ginn will be facing a Cowboys coverage team that allowed 19.5 yards per kick return on four returns to the New York Jets.

New York Giants cutdown analysis

September, 4, 2011
9/04/11
8:19
AM ET
Click here for a complete list of the New York Giants' roster moves.

Biggest surprise: Four rookie linebackers made the team. And yes, I know some of you were telling me that would happen Friday, but I expected Adrian Tracy to make the team and I was wrong. He was one of three 2010 draft picks -- including fellow linebacker Phillip Dillard and punter Matt Dodge -- among Saturday's cuts. But in part because of the way they played on special teams, rookies Mark Herzlich, Greg Jones, Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger all made the team. That's the corps of backup linebackers behind starters Jonathan Goff, Mathias Kiwanuka and Michael Boley.

Running backs D.J. Ware and Da'Rel Scott made the team while 2009 draft pick Andre Brown was cut. Devin Thomas made the team as a wide receiver over Michael Clayton based on a strong preseason showing. And the Giants basically keep three tight ends -- Travis Beckum, Jake Ballard and Bear Pascoe with rookie Henry Hynoski slated to be the starting fullback.

No-brainers: Dodge had a very good preseason, has a lot of talent and probably will find work somewhere. But once the Giants brought in Steve Weatherford, who's been one of the best punters in the league the past two years, Dodge's days were numbered. Weatherford will be the punter, and the bad memories of Dodge and DeSean Jackson can begin to fade. Health issues cost Sage Rosenfels the backup quarterback job, which goes back to David Carr.

What's next: I think they need to sort through the Eagles' castoffs. In particular, tight end Donald Lee and nickel cornerback Joselio Hanson make a lot of sense for the Giants, as the former would fill a huge hole and the latter would allow them to keep Antrel Rolle at safety. And personally I always think they need linebacker help, but they disagree and they like their rookies, so I guess we'll see.

Observation deck: Giants-Patriots

September, 2, 2011
9/02/11
4:19
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OK, there are a number of reasons this took all day and you don't want to hear any of them. It suffices to say I am ecstatic to be done watching preseason football for another year and more ready than ever for the real thing.

As for our New York Giants, who finished their preseason by scoring 15 points in the fourth quarter for a meaningless 18-17 victory over the Patriots in New England ... I don't know. I'm trying to be open-minded about what I see, but what I see with the Giants is almost all disheartening. They just do a lot of things wrong. And yes, it was all backups Thursday night, and if David Carr ends up playing significant minutes at quarterback they're cooked anyway. But there were a couple of things that could matter if they leak into the regular season, and I'm 100 percent certain the Giants' coaching staff feels the same way.

For example, when one of your biggest areas of concern is special teams and you get banged for an illegal wedge penalty on the return of the opening kickoff, that's not a good thing. When you're trying to find a No. 3 receiver and one of the candidates (Domenik Hixon, in this case) fumbles on the first play from scrimmage, that's not a good thing. When you're trying to use a rookie punt returner and the kid can't catch the ball, that's not a good thing.

The Giants had holding penalties and illegal-hands-to-the-face penalties that stopped offensive momentum. They had another significant injury, this one a season-ending ACL tear for linebacker Clint Sintim. They fumbled at the Patriots' 1-yard line. They're effectively playing without a useful tight end. Tom Coughlin's challenges aren't even working.

Now, I continue to believe preseason doesn't mean anything -- that it has no predictive value at all in terms of what will happen once the real season starts. The Giants could snap awake nine days from now and start playing well enough to make everyone forget how inept in so many facets of the game they looked in the preseason. But what we have right now to evaluate is what they've done over the past month, and not even the most myopically optimistic Giants fan can credibly say the preseason went well for them.

Some specifics on what I saw in the Giants' (mercifully) final preseason game of this year:

1. Give Jerrel Jernigan credit for toughing it out. And give the Giants credit for sticking with the rookie even as he continues to struggle with the most critical part of punt returns -- actually catching the ball. He ripped off a 42-yard return on his first chance of the night, which showed why they're giving him all of these chances. But then he muffed two in a row, and there's all kinds of footage of Coughlin and Aaron Ross and everybody you can think of working with Jernigan on the correct form to use when catching a punt. I guess I wonder how hard it is to learn something like this and why they believed he'd be a good punt returner if he didn't already know it. But once the ball is in his hands, it's clear Jernigan can do some things with it. So it appears as though they'll keep giving him chances, even if it could cost them early on. The night had a happy ending for Jernigan, as he made a tremendous catch on the two-point conversion pass that sealed the victory. You had to feel good for the guy, after the month he's had.

2. Tyler Sash looks like an athlete. The rookie safety looked quick and nimble and decisive as he came up with two sacks (one of which forced a fumble) and moved well all over the field. There were a couple of times where Tom Brady and the Patriots' offense ran some tricky looks that caught Sash out of position, but that's bound to happen and there are worse things than getting schooled by Brady in a preseason game. You still get the lesson, and it doesn't count against your record.

3. I like Da'Rel Scott better than Andre Brown. It's not personal. I don't even know Andre Brown. I'm just talking about what they look like when they run. Brown looks fine when he has room to run, but he doesn't blow you away as anything special and he doesn't look as though he does much to make it difficult to tackle him. Scott seems to have more speed, keeps his feet moving better and runs with more determination. He earned those 65 yards he got on that fake-punt touchdown, and with cuts looming tomorrow, that's the kind of play that makes it hard for a coaching staff to keep a guy off the roster.

4. I like Devin Thomas, too. Specifically, I like what he does after he catches the ball. He seems to know where his feet are and what he needs to do to find the sideline or the extra yard or two he needs. He seems like he knows how to keep his body between the ball and the defender and protect it while making those moves. He's got the skills in the return game, and the speed, but I was surprised how much I liked him Thursday night as a receiver.

5. The Sintim injury hurts. But there are rookies to take his spot, and it might help someone like Mark Herzlich or Spencer Paysinger make the roster and/or claim more playing time. The Giants liked the way Sintim had been playing, and he was their clear first option off the bench in the case of an injury to one of their starting linebackers. Now it's not as cut-and-dried, and they'll hope somebody from the rookie group can step in when they need to spell a starter.

Observation deck: Giants-Bears

August, 22, 2011
8/22/11
11:33
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Observations from the Giants 41-13 preseason victory over the Chicago Bears on "Monday Night Football":

We preach all the time that preseason games don't matter, but so few people really take it to heart. Fans like to hang on every play, to wonder whether or not it matters that Eli Manning doesn't look sharp, or to try and figure out whether or not Brandon Jacobs deserves more carries than Ahmad Bradshaw. But in the end, there are no accurate judgments to be made off of these games and the only thing that actually matters in any of them is that nobody gets seriously hurt.

And that's why, regardless of the final score or the potentially very encouraging way the rest of the team played during the game itself, Monday night's victory over the Bears was a disaster for the New York Giants.

Shortly before halftime, Giants starting cornerback Terrell Thomas collided with Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and limped off the field. At halftime, Giants coach Tom Coughlin revealed to ESPN's Suzy Kolber than Thomas had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and would miss the entire season.

[+] EnlargeNew York Giants Terrell Thomas
AP Photo/Bill KostrounNew York Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas has a torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and will miss the entire season.
This is devastating news, first and foremost, for Thomas, one of the very good guys and leaders on the Giants' roster and a player who has one year left before free agency. Thoughts go out to him, and best wishes for a speedy recovery.

But it's also awful news for the Giants, who earlier this preseason lost cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Bruce Johnson to major injuries (and later in this game saw Brian Witherspoon carted off with a knee injury). Amukamara is out for at least a couple of months, Johnson for the year and now a team that was already struggling for depth at cornerback has lost one of its starters. They've gone from hoping Aaron Ross could be a reliable No. 3 corner and play as their extra defensive back in passing situations to hoping Ross can be a reliable starter and probably using safety Deon Grant in that role as they did last year. The Giants weren't deep to begin with, and they came out of their second preseason game with a major hole on the roster and in the starting lineup.

So that's all that matters from this game, period. But if you want to know what else I saw that might have a chance to matter down the road if by some coincidence regular-season developments jive with preseason performance in specific areas, here you go.

1. On the bright side, Ross looked very good. He knocked down two Jay Cutler passes intended for Roy Williams on third down early in the game. He made another play on a receiver later to prevent a touchdown (though he may have pushed off on that coverage). He made a nice tackle on Marion Barber behind the line of scrimmage in the third quarter. You could do worse than Ross as a fill-in cornerback when one of your starters gets hurt, and it's encouraging that he played well. But again, the Giants were figuring on Ross as their third corner, not one of their top two.

2. Oh, and X-rays on William Beatty's foot were negative. Which is a good thing. Beatty didn't have to take on Julius Peppers all night as we expected, since the Bears moved Peppers over to the other side to terrorize Kareem McKenzie and the Giants' overmatched tight ends. Beatty looked better overall in this game, holding his own and keeping his man off the quarterback, though he still looks a little grabby to me. You don't like to see a left tackle reaching quite as much as Beatty does to try and prevent the edge rush. He's got to do a better job of getting his whole body in front of his guy, or he's going to be a walking holding penalty.

3. Giants' special teams looked better. Devin Thomas is really showing his speed and athleticism on kick returns. Matt Dodge and Steve Weatherford both bombed huge punts all night. There was good kick coverage, including a big tackle by receiver Victor Cruz as he continues to work to try and secure a spot in the receiving corps. Jerrel Jernigan doesn't show much on punt returns, but the Giants had so many problems on special teams last year that if they can get it down to just one, Coughlin is going to be ecstatic.

4. How did those receivers keep getting open between Corey Webster and Kenny Phillips? It happened twice in the first half, and Cutler hit it for a big gain each time. It looked as though the receiver got by Webster and Phillips didn't get over in time to help. There are three possibilities that I can see: 1. Webster let his man go by him without making sure he had the safety help; 2. Phillips was supposed to help but was slow getting over; 3. Phillips went with the tight end up the seam after the tight end got by middle linebacker Jonathan Goff, which would kind of lead back to (1.) though with some blame to be shared by Goff. Either way, I'm certain it'll be discussed in detail in meetings this week. The Giants will obviously need mistake-free play from Webster and Phillips with as vital a piece as Thomas now missing from the secondary.

5. Victor Cruz, preseason wonder. Domenik Hixon had the big touchdown catch, but I really believe the Giants are trying to bring Hixon along slowly as he's coming back from his knee injury. And if that's the case, it opens up opportunities for guys like Cruz to get more reps at wide receiver. Cruz lined up with the starters in the team's three-receiver sets at the start of the game, and he did a lot of good, athletic, impressive things, just like he did last year in the preseason. As long as he keeps contributing on special teams, he's a good bet to make the roster. And if he does and Hixon is still being babied come the regular season, Cruz should get a serious chance to show whether or not his preseason success can carry into the regular season this time.

6. Some notes on the sure things. Manning looked fine, though I wouldn't put him in John Beck's class as a preseason quarterback. (Easy, folks... I kid because I love...) Brandon Jacobs looked especially spry on his touchdown run. And how about Justin Tuck's downfield tackle on Matt Forte? Tuck's a beast, but I couldn't help thinking a linebacker or a safety should have made that unnecessary. Overall, the Giants' defense looked very good, especially when it came time to keep the Bears out of the end zone in goal-line situations. Mark Herzlich's interception on the fourth-down play late in the fourth quarter was the most fun of the stops.

7. Still could use a tight end. Not that this is a Priority No. 1 at this point, but Travis Beckum and Bear Pascoe have been fully underwhelming at a key position for the Giants' passing game. We saw Manning audible at the line a few times and look to check it down, but with Steve Smith in Philadelphia and Kevin Boss in Oakland, he's still looking for reliable options to serve as safety valves. There was a third-down throw on which he and Mario Manningham couldn't connect that made you think he missed Smith. But two more preseason games to go and work still to be done, as is the case with every team.

Asante Samuel will play for Eagles

December, 19, 2010
12/19/10
12:08
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Philadelphia Eagles will be back to full strength at cornerback with the return of Pro Bowler Asante Samuel on Sunday against the New York Giants. Samuel was a game-time decision because of a knee injury, but he'll be ready to go. Dimitri Patterson will start on the other side and Joselio Hanson will go back to his nickel role.

The bad news for Eagles fans is that right tackle Winston Justice is once again inactive. He'll be replaced by King Dunlap at right tackle. And that means that Dunlap will see a steady diet of defensive end Justin Tuck in this game. Eagles new defensive end Derrick Burgess is also inactive. Rookie defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim should see some time in today's game. Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson (foot) will also be ready to go today.

Giants inactives: RS/WR Darius Reynaud, DB Michael Coe, TE Jake Ballard, G Mitch Petrus, OL Jamon Meredith, WR Devin Thomas, DE Alex Hall, DT Linval Joseph

Eagles inactives: QB Mike Kafka, CB Brandon Hughes, LB Stewart Bradley, LB Keenan Clayton, T Austin Howard, DE Derrick Burgess, T Winston Justice, TE Garrett Mills

Final Word: NFC East

December, 10, 2010
12/10/10
4:00
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14.

[+] EnlargeJason Witten
AP Photo/Bill NicholsJason Witten had 10 catches for a season-high 99 yards against New Orleans in Week 12.
The Philadelphia Eagles' defense will have to slow down Jason Witten. Dallas Cowboys quarterback Jon Kitna loves throwing the ball to Witten. Over the past three games, Witten has been targeted 20 times and has 19 catches. He's always been a matchup problem for the Eagles, and there's no way that middle linebacker Stewart Bradley can cover him one-on-one in the middle of the field. Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott has immense respect for Witten, so he'll probably use safeties Nate Allen and Quintin Mikell against him at times.

The New York Giants need to continue their emphasis on starting fast. In last week's win over the Washington Redskins, the Giants scored a touchdown on their opening possession for the first time this season. Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride has placed more emphasis on scoring quickly, and it's paid off in recent games. With David Diehl likely returning to the lineup at left tackle, look for the Giants to run right at Vikings defensive end Jared Allen. Brandon Jacobs raced for 39 yards on a carry to the left side on the first possession against the Redskins. I think the Giants will try the same thing against the Vikings. If they can score quickly, it will take one of the loudest crowds in the league out of the game.

It's time for Mike Shanahan to bust out the running game. The Redskins should have tailback Ryan Torain in the starting lineup against Tampa Bay on Sunday. Torain had back-to-back 100-yard rushing days earlier in the season, but we haven't seen him since Week 8 because of lingering hamstring issues. The Bucs are 26th in the league against the run, allowing 128.5 yards per game on the ground. If Trent Williams can come back strong at left tackle, I think Torain will have some success on that side. Stephon Heyer was overwhelmed at left tackle last week, which pretty much fouled up everything. Williams hasn't been great in his rookie season, but he's about the best the Skins have to offer at this point.

The Cowboys will try to follow the Chicago Bears' game plan against Michael Vick: The Cowboys may blitz a little more than the Bears did against Vick two weeks ago, but they'll rely heavily on their defensive front. Safety Gerald Sensabaugh told me Wednesday that the secondary has watched all of the double moves DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin like to use. Sensabaugh said the key will be not taking his eyes off the receiver too soon. If you look up to get your bearings, one of the Eagles receivers will race past you for a touchdown. The Cowboys will probably play their safeties deeper than usual, and they'll try to frustrate Jackson by not allowing him to have anything downfield. The Cowboys did a great job against Jackson last season. One matchup to keep an eye on will be Jason Avant versus Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick. If Scandrick is unable to play because of a concussion, look for rookie Bryan McCann to line up across from Avant, one of the most underrated receivers in the league. He and the Giants' Steve Smith do a superb job on third downs.

Will the New York Giants face Brett Favre or Tarvaris Jackson? The Giants spent most of the week preparing for Favre, but they'll be ready to adjust if the famous streak ends. I think the Vikings are actually more dangerous with Jackson right now. He moves around the pocket much better than Favre and he's a threat to take off when everybody is covered. Much like they did in the second half against Vick, the Giants need to knock down Jackson. With Favre, I think the key will be to make sure you catch those interceptions. He's going to make some mistakes, and right now this Giants defense is doing a good job of capitalizing. If Devin Thomas can mix in another partially blocked punt, the Giants will be in business.

How I See It: NFC East Stock Watch

December, 8, 2010
12/08/10
1:16
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Mike Shanahan, Washington Redskins head coach: The Redskins were so dreadful against the New York Giants on Sunday, it's hard to single out a player. So let's just go with the head coach this week. Shanahan made the decision to suspend Albert Haynesworth for the final four games for conduct detrimental to the team. But Haynesworth's conduct last week really wasn't anything new. The Redskins coach let this thing go too far in the first place. This guy had no business still being on the roster.

2. Albert Haynesworth, Washington Redskins defensive tackle: When you get suspended for the final four games because you apparently refused to participate in certain defensive packages, I think you've earned a spot on the "falling" list. But hey, at least Haynesworth gave the Skins those 6.5 sacks in his 20 games.

3. Donovan McNabb, Washington Redskins quarterback: OK, I better single someone else out. McNabb was victimized by several drops and the lack of any semblance of a running game. But he still makes too many mistakes in the pocket. The Giants forced six turnovers in this game. When the Skins had a chance to trim the lead to 28-14, McNabb fired an awful pass into the end zone that was easily intercepted by Terrell Thomas. You can't pin this mess solely on McNabb, but the quarterback deserves some of the blame.

[+] EnlargePat Lee
AP Photo/James D. SmithSean Lee returned one of his two interceptions Sunday for a touchdown.
RISING

1. Sean Lee, Dallas Cowboys linebacker: You're starting to see why the Cowboys were so thrilled to land him in the second round of the draft. The former Penn State star was named the NFC defensive player of the week after grabbing two interceptions against Peyton Manning and the Colts. He'll probably take over as the full-time starter next season.

2. Mat McBriar, Dallas Cowboys punter: The Australian punting phenom has quietly put together a Pro Bowl season. He leads the league in net punting at 41.9 yards per kick and he's also at the top in gross at 48.2. Normally I don't put much stock in gross average, but it's pretty remarkable that McBriar's sitting there at 48.2 when he has so many of those purposefully short end-over-end punts from close to midfield that cause opponents to field the ball near their 10-yard line. He's the best punter in the game by a long shot this season. Keep that in mind when you're filling out your Pro Bowl ballots this holiday season.

3. Devin Thomas, New York Giants wide receiver: Thomas was brilliant against his former team Sunday. He downed a punt at the 5-yard line, made a nice tackle on speedster Brandon Banks and then partially blocked a punt that traveled 8 yards. And I'd also like to give a nod to Brandon Jacobs for his powerful performance against the Skins. He rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries. I'd say that's pretty efficient.

Giants on way to blowing out Redskins

December, 5, 2010
12/05/10
2:42
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Let's take a quick look at how the New York Giants have dominated the Washington Redskins in jumping out to a 21-0 lead.
  • It should be 28-0, but Eli Manning decided to throw into triple coverage in the end zone and was picked off by Redskins linebacker London Fletcher.
  • The Giants are missing two full-time starters on the offensive line, but that hasn't mattered at all in this game. The Giants have rolled up 139 rushing yards. Brandon Jacobs had a 39-yard carry on the Giants' first possession and Ahmad Bradshaw has 14 carries for 66 yards and two touchdowns.
  • Former Redskins second-round draft pick Devin Thomas is having a great day on special teams. He raced down and tackled Brandon Banks on a kickoff return and then he downed a punt deep in Redskins territory. Excellent performance from a guy who wants to show the Skins that they gave up on him too quickly.
  • Donovan McNabb isn't getting any help from his teammates. Chris Cooley dropped a perfect pass at the end of the first half and then Fred Davis has already dropped one early in the second half.
  • Manning was incredibly sharp in the first half -- when he wasn't throwing a ridiculous red zone interception. He was 9-of-11 for 98 yards.
  • The interior defensive linemen for the Skins are getting destroyed in this game. I sure hope Albert Haynesworth is going to be OK from this illness that caused him to be inactive today. What a joke.

NFC East Week 5 decisive moment

October, 12, 2010
10/12/10
1:04
PM ET
NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

The Washington Redskins didn't have much of a running game against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday and Donovan McNabb had been streaky in the passing game. But on the Skins' second possession of the fourth quarter, a leaping 48-yard touchdown catch by Anthony Armstrong changed everything.

Before that play, the Redskins trailed by 10 points and it was hard to imagine them rallying against a Packers defense that kept them bottled up for much of the afternoon. Armstrong's catch galvanized the offense and appeared to inspire the defense as well. Suddenly Washington was in a game it seemed destined to lose.

"Armstrong is just kind of that big-play guy," McNabb told reporters after the game. "You never know when he'll explode for that 40- or 50-yard catch."

Tight end Chris Cooley, who has been one of McNabb's favorite targets, has praised Armstrong's route running and calls him "sneaky fast." Armstrong's emergence probably made it easier for coach Mike Shanahan to cut ties with former second-round draft pick Devin Thomas, who had only played one snap on offense this season.

If the Redskins go on to have an excellent season, say 9-7, I think we'll look back at that Armstrong catch as one of the defining moments. Washington is in desperate need of another playmaker on offense and Armstrong might be that player.

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