NFL Nation: Madison Hedgecock
Nicks has emerged as the Giants' most explosive receiver and it's likely that he'll test Cowboys cornerback Mike Jenkins early in this game. Here are the other inactives for the Giants and Cowboys:
Giants: DB D.J. Johnson, FB Madison Hedgecock, LB Phillip Dillard, G Mitch Petrus, T Will Beatty, T Jamon Meredith, DE Mathias Kiwanuka, DT Linval Joseph.
Cowboys: QB Stephen McGee, LB Leon Williams, LB Jason Williams, G Kyle Kosier, T Sam Young, T Jermey Parnell, WR Kevin Ogletree, DE Sean Lissemore
ALBANY, N.Y. -- The New York Giants are going through an identity crisis. Just when we had them pegged as a perennial playoff team, they went out and lost eight games in one season.
There are plenty of players on the roster who own Super Bowl rings from the '07 season, but some of them also took the field in disgraceful losses to the Panthers and Vikings to close out '09. Coach Tom Coughlin seemed invincible two years ago, but it's not a stretch to say that his job's on the line heading into this season. Co-owner John Mara has suggested that's not the case, but it's hard to envision Coughlin surviving another .500 season.
The good news for Giants fans is that Coughlin's been here before, and he's come out on the other side. He told me Monday that two books he read over the summer -- a biography of Harry Truman and a remarkable story involving four Navy SEALs -- have had a profound effect on him. He'll spend the next three weeks in training camp attempting to inspire his players to be "uncommonly good."
"I don't remember anyone saying I was on the hot seat when we were 5-0," he said Monday. "But believe me, the most intense pressure comes from within. The outside stuff doesn't affect me."
Coughlin has personally challenged veteran players such as defensive end Justin Tuck to get out of their comfort zones and take larger leadership roles. He also brought in fiery defensive coordinator Perry Fewell to create more energy on the practice field. The former Bills assistant can be heard from across the University at Albany campus shouting at his players and he even tried to throw a block for cornerback Corey Webster during an interception return Monday.
"With our group of players, a coach has to do something phenomenal for us to wholeheartedly follow you," Tuck told me Monday. "[Fewell] had to win our trust. But every day, he shows us how much he loves the game with his actions. And when you see a guy with that much energy, it's hard not to get behind him."
Shortly after Fewell was hired, Tuck stopped by his office to say hello. When he walked into the room, he said Fewell grabbed a marker and started drawing plays on the board.
"He went through a bunch of different scenarios and then asked me how I thought they might work this season," said Tuck. "I got more and more excited as he talked about all the possibilities."
Tuck didn't want to give too much away, but he did disclose that one of the scenarios involved him and Osi Umenyiora both playing linebacker at the same time. But keep that confidential if you would.
THREE HOT ISSUES
The good thing is that Fewell's going to be up front with all of his players and let them know where they stand. Coughlin remembers how the Giants came at teams with waves of pass-rushers in '07 and '08. Tuck, Umenyiora, Kiwanuka and first-round rookie Jason Pierre-Paul have the talent to be a special group. But last year players along the defensive line started trying to do too much individually and didn't play as a unit. I don't see any circumstance where Umenyiora embraces a reserve role, so that will put the coaching staff in an interesting situation. My guess is that Umenyiora meets the challenge and wins back his job.
"Osi's in for a fight because Kiwi's not going to back down," said Tuck. "Those two are going to push each other and I think that's a good thing."
2. Is former second-round pick Will Beatty ready to take over at left tackle?
Coughlin and general manager Jerry Reese love creating competition and it's going to be interesting to see if David Diehl can hold onto his left tackle spot. The good news for Diehl is that he's going to end up starting on the offensive line no matter what happens in that competition. Coughlin's going to do whatever's best for the team, and I think that will ultimately be Beatty at left tackle and Diehl at left guard. Beatty, a second-year player, has shown a lot of quickness in the first three practices of training camp.
It won't be a completely smooth transition, but I believe he has the athletic ability and size to succeed at left tackle. The Giants have had a lot of continuity along the offensive line, but that won't keep Coughlin from pulling the trigger on a move. In talking to Reese, I get the feeling he's enjoying this competition quite a bit.
3. Can the Giants re-establish the running game?
The Giants went from the No. 1 rushing team in the league in '08 to a No. 17 ranking in '09. They averaged almost a full yard less per carry in '09, which put too much pressure on Eli Manning and the passing game.
Tiki Barber told me early last season that he'd advised Brandon Jacobs to learn how to protect his body more on runs. It may have been solid advice, but Jacobs appeared tentative in '09 and began to doubt himself as the season unfolded. If he looks tentative early in this season, I believe a healthy Ahmad Bradshaw will be prepared to take over as the featured back.
I've been impressed with how quick and decisive he's looked in camp. And Andre Brown appears to have regained his speed after missing last season with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Brown should be a good change-of-pace back and he has soft hands that could make him a decent option on third down.
I think the most pleasant surprise so far is the Giants appear to have a ton of competition at cornerback. Aaron Ross missed so much time last year because of hamstring issues that he sort of faded out of the picture. Now, he's getting his hands on lots of footballs and he's regained that quickness that we saw a couple seasons ago. The problem for him is that Terrell Thomas and Webster have both been excellent in this camp. Webster was a disappointment last season, but he's been one of the best players in camp through three practices.
It's hard to give up on someone after three practices, so I'll go with an injured player in safety Kenny Phillips. He has an excellent attitude, but the fact that he's on the physically unable to perform list isn't a great sign. He was on the verge of stardom before a serious knee condition required microfracture surgery. The Giants brought in plenty of insurance for Phillips this season, but it would be really disappointing if he's not able to make a full recovery.
- If you think the Giants are going to slowly bring along Pierre-Paul and Linval Joseph, think again. They want Joseph breathing down Rocky Bernard's neck this season. And so far, Joseph's done a tremendous job soaking up a lot of information. But when Coughlin's standing a few feet away, Joseph had better know when he's supposed to be in a drill. Reese told me Monday afternoon that Pierre-Paul and Joseph have to help out immediately.
- I thought former Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck would look a little stiff since he hasn't done any live scrimmaging since his ACL surgery last December. Instead, he's moved around really well and seems to be comfortable in Fewell's defense.
- Second-year tight end Travis Beckum's going to get every opportunity in the world to contribute, but it's not good to flat-out drop a ball when Rhett Bomar threads the needle in team drills.
- Defensive end Dave Tollefson is one of those steady players who refuses to go away. Nothing flashy, but he's relentless in pursuing the quarterback. I noticed that he's added a little inside spin move to his game. Some of the young offensive linemen haven't known what to do with him.
- Sixth-round draft pick Adrian Tracy is a fish out of water at linebacker. The former William & Mary defensive end has some athleticism, but he could use a redshirt (practice squad) year.
- Former Cowboys defensive end Chris Canty is in remarkable condition in this camp. Even Coughlin marveled at how Canty breezed through sprints. Canty has some close friends with the Cowboys (Jay Ratliff, Stephen Bowen, Jason Hatcher) and he'd like to send a message that Jerry Jones made a mistake in letting him walk.
- I've given up trying to cut Sinorice Moss. I already have him on my 2013 projected Giants roster. It's crowded at receiver again, but the little guy won't go away. And he had a really nice day Monday.
- If Ramses Barden ever finds a way to take his practices to the games, the Giants will have a remarkable weapon in the red zone. Manning told me Monday that Barden has won him over. He has some Plaxico Burress-like tendencies -- and I'm talking about the good tendencies. Even when he's covered, Barden has a knack for making catches. He's just an enormous target.
- Reese refuses to give up on linebacker Gerris Wilkinson. The former Georgia Tech player has teased the Giants with his athleticism, but his career has been hampered by injuries and inconsistency.
- Fullback Madison Hedgecock has a little competition in rookie Jerome Johnson. Hedgecock drops way too many passes. If Johnson shows anything in the passing game, this thing could get interesting.
- I don't know if he'll hold off Bulluck, but middle linebacker Jonathan Goff looks so much more confident to me in this camp. He's doing a great job communicating and he's done a nice job in coverage.
- Clint Sintim went through some growing pains last season, but he looks the part of a starter now. He hasn't let any of the Giants' misdirection plays fool him.
- Either Antrel Rolle is really, really good at safety or I spent too much time watching C.C. Brown and Aaron Rouse chasing cars last season. I think Rolle's an excellent fit for Fewell's defense. If Phillips can return to form, he and Rolle could be one of the best tandems in the league. Deon Grant was a good pickup because of his durability. He just doesn't miss any games, and the Giants need more of those players.
- I know Steve Smith had a breakout season, but Hakeem Nicks looks like a No. 1 wide receiver to me. I thought it was telling that he was the one receiver whom Manning asked to join him at the Manning Passing Academy. Those two are putting on a show early in camp.
On Monday morning, Coughlin turned up the tempo in practice and wanted to see his players hustling between drills. He was not thrilled when a certain rookie defensive tackle (Linval Joseph) didn't know he was supposed to rotate into team drills. It was clear from the beginning of Monday's session that this coaching staff isn't going to wait for the young guys to catch up to the veterans. Either you keep up or you'll end up at the house. Here's what stood out to me during this morning's session:
- It's remarkable how much of a presence new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has in practice. You can hear him from anywhere on the University at Albany campus. When Mario Manningham caught a pass across the middle, Fewell shouted, "That's [expletive!]" to no one in particular. And when cornerback Corey Webster snagged a one-handed interception, Fewell raced up the left sideline and threatened to throw a block on an unsuspecting tight end. From talking to Tuck and other players, you can tell the Giants truly missed Steve Spagnuolo's dynamic presence in practice last season. Fewell brings that same type of energy. Of course, none of that will matter if the Giants give up a ton of huge plays. But at this point, Fewell has been the story of camp. Coughlin hired Fewell years ago and then admired him from afar as he blossomed into a highly regarded coordinator. I think the fact that Fewell held the Bills together during difficult circumstances was also a big factor in him being hired by the Giants.
- For those of you who have been asking, Ahmad Bradshaw looks completely healthy to me. He had to bounce a run outside Monday because linebacker Clint Sintim came knifing through the line of scrimmage and he showed that same quickness that I remember from a couple years ago. The Giants will be very cautious with Bradshaw in camp, but he doesn't have any limitations at this point.
- Staying with running back, I can see why general manager Jerry Reese and Coughlin still have a lot of hope for Andre Brown. He ran a nice little wheel route in Monday's practice and then just exploded down the sideline. The Giants beat writers tried to identify a running back who's made it all the way back from a ruptured Achilles' tendon. They came up empty. Perhaps Brown can make some history.
- One of the few encouraging things from last season was Manning's ability to connect on some deep balls. On Monday, he put the ball in a perfect spot for Steve Smith, but the receiver had it glance off his hands. Safety Deon Grant was responsible for helping Webster on the play and he made the mistake of letting Smith get behind him.
- Rolle just has a swagger that you didn't see in the Giants secondary last season. I think he's excited about playing on a bigger stage and he acts like he's been around forever. It really has been a seamless transition and I think he'll make a ton of plays for Fewell.
- The Ramses Barden Show continued Monday morning with the wide receiver making nice catches in traffic. Manning has a lot more confidence in Barden at this point, but the second-year player still has to take it to the field. Coughlin and Reese seem convinced that Barden's on the verge of being something special. He was a big story in last year's camp, but in the two practices I've watched, I like how he's catching the ball on the run. There's none of that hesitation that some young receivers have.
- Rough day at the office for Madison Hedgecock. He dropped both of the passes that Manning sent his way. And it's not just a case of having hands of stone. For whatever reason, he doesn't look the ball into his hands.
- Duke Calhoun is a free-agent rookie out of Memphis who is displaying excellent hands early in camp. He's made a couple of catches in traffic and I could tell that Coughlin was watching him closely today.
- Catch of the day goes to second-year tight end Bear Pascoe out of Fresno State. He was racing down the seam and then he went into a full dive to haul in a Rhett Bomar pass. And speaking of Bomar, he was on the money in team drills. He's gained a lot more confidence and he gets the ball out quickly. At this rate, he may push Jim Sorgi for the backup spot. We pretty much know what Sorgi's going to be at this point. Bomar has a live arm and he's not afraid to zing it into traffic. Safeties coach Dave Merritt was frustrated a couple of times because his players couldn't get their hands on Bomar's passes. But it's not like he's floating anything out there.
- No one ever talks about defensive end Dave Tollefson, but he's a steady player. He looked solid against the run Monday morning and it looks like he's quicker off the ball than I've seen him in the past. Defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka made an outstanding play in team drills to force Bradshaw to reverse field.
- Travis Beckum will receive a ton of playing time in the preseason. He's a big, speedy target for Manning. But when Bomar fired a nice pass across the middle, Beckum couldn't bring it in. With Kevin Boss only practicing once a day, Beckum's going to get treated like a starter. He has to make that play. A tight end out of Ohio State named Jake Ballard also had a bad drop on a pass from Bomar.
- I took a long look at rookie defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul today. He's extremely gifted, but he's having a tough time getting off blocks at this point. Second-year offensive tackle Jacob Bender didn't have any problems with Pierre-Paul when I was watching today. The good news is that Pierre-Paul seems to have an excellent attitude. He and Joseph are hanging out with the veteran players asking questions all the time.
- Center Shaun O'Hara (ankle) will sit out both practices today, but Osi Umenyiora (hip), Hakeem Nicks (toe) and Boss (knee) will all return. It also looks like the Giants are going to be cautious with Keith Bulluck's knee. He stayed on the sideline today while Jonathan Goff continued to run with the first team. I'm going to focus on Phillip Dillard for a little bit in practice this afternoon and see how he's coming along.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
It was another epic Cowboys-Giants game in what is becoming one of the best rivalries in the game. Before I start focusing on the Skins and Eagles (promise), here are my final thoughts on what took place Sunday night at Cowboys Stadium:
- Mario Manningham and Steve Smith were the two best players on the field. It's one thing to make plays in the first half, but Manningham and Smith were making big catches on the game's final drive. Eli Manning has complete trust in both players and that showed up on the game-deciding drive. Honestly, is there anyone else in the NFC you'd want behind center with three minutes left at your own 15-yard line? I guess some folks would say Drew Brees, but give me Manning every time. After the game, Manning credited Manningham for coming to him in the offseason and asking which parts of his game he needed to improve. This is the type of win that could springboard the Giants to an 8-0 start.
- I don't want to lose sight of the play Giants linebacker Bryan Kehl made late in the first quarter. On the official stat sheet, Kehl was given credit for a forced fumble, but replays appeared to show him poking the ball away from Felix Jones during a kickoff return. Kehl then recovered the fumble, which set the Giants for a field goal. Kehl's got all the ability in the world, but he's never been the most aggressive player on the team. It's a good sign that he's making big plays on special teams and the fumble recovery certainly qualified.
- It's not like you can work fullback Madison Hedgecock's name into a column following a 33-31 outcome, but let's mention him here. I happened to watch Hedgecock a few times in the second half and he absolutely pancaked Cowboys inside linebacker Bradie James. The Cowboys did a really nice job against the run in the first half, but the Giants had some success in the second half. Hedgecock is a valuable player who doesn't receive a lot of attention.
- As I've said several times, safety Kenny Phillips has the ability to become an All-Pro type player. The ball seems to find certain players, and Phillips fits in that category. His second interception came on an awful throw from Romo, but the first one was a heads up play on a ball that caromed off Jason Witten's foot. No one in the stadium knew what had happened -- except for Phillips of course. And the massive HD scoreboard revealed that Phillips had indeed made the interception before someone in production abruptly ended the replay. Coughlin joked about how the replay came to an abrupt halt after the game.
- Several Giants players joked that their necks were hurting from looking up at the scoreboard. Mathias Kiwanuka said he might need a massage after craning his neck to see the 60-yard-long scoreboard hanging from the top of Cowboys Stadium. Kiwanuka said he's always been fascinated with seeing different venues on TV and that he was very impressed with the Cowboys' new home. He had no comment on the Miller Lite dancers who were stationed on platforms in one end zone.
- The Giants will have to shore up their run defense in the coming weeks. The Cowboys dominated the line of scrimmage in the running game from the start. Linebacker Danny Clark told me after the game that the Giants didn't "maintain their gap responsibilities." It looked like the defensive ends were getting sealed by left tackle Flozell Adams and right tackle Marc Colombo quite a bit. And inside the 10-yard line, the Giants were stunting, which left gaping holes up the middle. On Tony Romo's touchdown run, Barry Cofield took himself right out of the play.
- Here's where I thought everything changed: When Romo threw the interception to Phillips late in the third quarter, the Giants took over at their own 27-yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, Eli Manning found Mario Manningham streaking down the middle of the field for a 49-yard completion. The Giants picked on both Terence Newman and Orlando Scandrick all evening. On that play, Manningham beat Scandrick one-on-one. I'm still not sure whether Scandrick was supposed to have help over the top from Ken Hamlin, who appeared to bite on Manning's play fake. One of the things the Manning brothers have in common (other than a ring) is the ability to really sell play fakes. Seems like a fairly simple thing, but they've both spent a lot of time on it. It's a very exaggerated move -- and it tends to work on safeties who are trying to peek in the backfield.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
PHILADELPHIA -- Here's a healthy portion of Beastlines as we prepare for tonight's game. Gorgeous day in Philly. High 50s with sunny skies. Temperatures will dip this evening, but nothing too severe. Now settle in for some of today's headlines from Philadelphia and New York:
- Here's a gripping piece in the Washington Post about former Bucs and Eagles offensive lineman Tom McHale.
- Bob Ford attempts to put tonight's game in perspective. He doesn't think the Eagles' season is over if they lose.
- Ashley Fox writes the definitive Steve Spagnuolo story.
- New Inquirer Page 2 columnist John Gonzalez wants to know why the Eagles are favored to win this game.
- The Daily News offers up some of the key matchups for tonight's game.
- Sean McCain takes a look at the two quarterbacks.
- Reuben Frank talks about the Giants-Eagles rivalry.
- Former Harding star Tank Daniels has always had good timing.
- Interesting story in the Times about how the defensive line prepares each week.
- Giants aren't planning to take mercy on Donovan McNabb in aftermath of the ridiculous Tuck penalty (which has been rescinded).
- Gary Myers of the Daily News makes predictions for the rest of season.
- Steve Serby of the Post thinks we may be watching a preview of the NFC Championship Game.
- Back by popular demand, another Steve Spagnuolo story.
- Jenny Vrentas has breakdown of tonight's game in the Star-Ledger.
- Tom Rock of Newsday writes about Philly fans.
- Mike Garafolo stops by Madison Hedgecock's farm.