NFL Nation: Rocky Bernard

On Thursday night, the New York Giants added a big piece to their aging offensive line with first-round pick Justin Pugh. On Friday night, in the second round of the NFL draft, they did the same for their defensive line, selecting Ohio State defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins with the 17th pick of the round (49th overall).

Hankins is a run-stuffing defensive tackle who likely projects as a rotational player of the kind the Giants like to use on the interior of their defensive line. They are undergoing a transition of sorts in there, as Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard have left and been replaced by guys like Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson. Linval Joseph remains as a reliable performer at defensive tackle, and they brought back Shaun Rogers and still like Markus Kuhn, so Hankins joins a deep stable of interior defensive linemen in New York. As is the case with the first-rounder Pugh, this is a guy who could contribute right away if he shows enough in the offseason and training camp but doesn't have to. If he needs time to develop in their system, they have enough bodies at his position to allow him that.

Giants owner John Mara said earlier in this offseason that the team needed to get tougher and meaner on both lines, and with their first two picks of this year's draft, they appear to be paying attention to their owner's mandate.

Giants keep breaking up the band

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

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

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

This is the way things work in the NFL. The Super Bowl champion Ravens have turned over basically their whole defense, and their title was less than two months ago. So the Giants haven't been gutted or pillaged or anything like that. They view their roster as an organic, constantly evolving entity, and they're not going to hold onto guys they shouldn't keep just because those guys helped win them a Super Bowl (or, in some cases, two). Some of these players will be missed, others will not, but if the Giants get back to the Super Bowl again in the next couple of years, the team is going to have a much different look at many positions than it did in the Super Bowl they won just last year.
Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher missed practice Wednesday and Thursday because of a hamstring injury and balance problems he's been having. But he returned to practice Friday and it appears his streak of 231 consecutive games played -- the longest among active players -- stands a good chance to continue Sunday. The Redskins officially listed Fletcher as questionable, and coach Mike Shanahan said the decision on whether he'd play would be based on how he feels over the next 48 hours. But they are encouraged.

Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon (foot) and safety Brandon Meriweather (knee) have been ruled out for Sunday's game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh

In other NFC East injury news ...

New York Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw was a limited practice participant Friday after sitting out Wednesday and Thursday because of his foot injury. The Giants are listing him as questionable, and he says he's "good," but we'll know more about his chances when we see whether he makes the flight to Dallas on Saturday.

The Giants list safety Kenny Phillips and defensive tackle Rocky Bernard as doubtful after Phillips practiced on a limited basis this week. I wouldn't expect to see either (hence, "doubtful"), but you never know. Linebacker Jacquian Williams is officially out for the game with a knee injury. Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks and center David Baas are probable.

Philadelphia Eagles right guard Danny Watkins missed practice with an ankle injury and is doubtful for Sunday's game against the Falcons. Dennis Kelly would play in his place. Eagles coach Andy Reid called Watkins' injury "chronic" and says he's had it for years, which offers further ammunition to those who already questioned the wisdom of using a first-round pick on a 26-year-old Canadian firefighter who plays guard.

All other Eagles practiced in full, though defensive end Phillip Hunt is listed as questionable with a calf injury.

For the Dallas Cowboys, running back DeMarco Murray will miss his second game in a row because of a foot injury, and backup Felix Jones is questionable with a knee injury. The sense is that Jones will play, but how much and how well remains to be seen. Could be a chance for Phillip Tanner to show his stuff.

Center Phil Costa and defensive end Sean Lissemore are listed as out for the game. Linebacker DeMarcus Ware missed the past three days of practice because of an illness, but he's listed as probable and should play.

All-NFC East Team: Week 1 Update

September, 12, 2012
One of the in-season features I really liked last year was our weekly, running All-Division Team, where we'd pick the best player at each starting position in the division and continue to update it as the weeks went along. Over the course of the year, some things changed from week to week (I could never seem to figure out cornerback, mainly because very few NFC East cornerbacks were having good years) and some players solidified their positions with consistent excellence (LeSean McCoy jumps to mind).

Anyway, it's back. We'll do this every Wednesday. And while it is meant to be an All-Star team based on cumulative season performance to date, each team has so far played only one game. So for this week only, yes, this All-Division Team is based only on the performances of the past week. This week's team includes nine Eagles (they did play very well on defense), seven Redskins, five Cowboys, five Giants, one DeMarco, one DeMarcus, one DeMeco and a Dominique.

I'll give you the team and then offer some comments at the end. Enjoy.

Quarterback: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins

Running back: DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys

Wide receiver: Kevin Ogletree, Cowboys; Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles

Tight end: Martellus Bennett, New York Giants

Fullback: Darrel Young, Redskins

Left tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins

Left guard: Evan Mathis, Eagles

Center: Jason Kelce, Eagles

Right guard: Chris Snee, Giants

Right tackle: Todd Herremans, Eagles

Defensive end: Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants; Jason Hatcher, Cowboys

Defensive tackle: Rocky Bernard, Giants; Fletcher Cox, Eagles

Outside linebacker: Ryan Kerrigan, Redskins; DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys

Inside linebacker: Sean Lee, Cowboys; DeMeco Ryans, Eagles

Cornerback: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Eagles; Josh Wilson, Redskins

Safety: Kurt Coleman, Eagles; Antrel Rolle, Giants

Kicker: Billy Cundiff, Redskins

Punter: Chas Henry, Eagles

Kick returner: Brandon Banks, Redskins

Punt returner: Brandon Banks, Redskins
  • Quarterback was obviously very close between Griffin and the Cowboys' Tony Romo, who both had excellent games in big road victories. Griffin edged out Romo because of his rushing yards and a little bit of added degree of difficulty for the venue in which he won. Both quarterbacks excelled at keeping plays alive and finding success downfield in difficult circumstances. Each handled the rush well. Could have flipped a coin.
  • Maclin was a close call over Washington's Pierre Garcon for that receiver spot, but Maclin played more and caught more passes, so he got the nod.
  • Bennett might or might not continue to catch passes for the Giants, but regardless of whether he does, he's going to merit a look here each week. That guy can seriously block.
  • Williams' and Kelce's were the only performances among the offensive linemen that I thought were particularly strong. The other three offensive linemen were kind of best-of-a-bad-bunch selections on a week in which none of the lines played very well. The Eagles' linemen do stand out at bit when you watch the games back, though. I wonder how much of that is the difference between Howard Mudd's blocking schemes, which require linemen to push upfield and establish new blocking points, and a more standard scheme. Washington's line played okay, and I thought about Will Montgomery at center over Kelce.
  • Defensive end was tricky. Pierre-Paul didn't get a sack, but he was clearly the most disruptive player among the 4-3 ends this week and required an overload of attention from the Cowboys. Hatcher gets the other spot over Jason Babin, which I admit is rare -- a 3-4 end beating out a 4-3 end on a team like this. But that word "disruptive" again is the best to describe Hatcher's night against the Giants.
  • Ditto Kerrigan at outside linebacker. What a game he had.
  • Rolle played the run very well, which is something the Dallas safeties didn't do in the same game. Now, maybe they weren't asked to. I understand that's possible. But Rolle's individual performance deserves the recognition.
  • Fine debut for Cundiff, who showed on kickoffs why they got him. Six of his nine kickoffs were touchbacks.

So that's the first one of these. I welcome your thoughts.

Rapid Reaction: Cowboys 24, Giants 17

September, 5, 2012

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' season-opening 24-17 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants on Wednesday night at MetLife Stadium.

What it means: That the Cowboys intend to be a factor in the NFC East race this year. They needed this game much more than the Giants did, if for no other reason than to let the Giants and the rest of the world know they don't plan to be the same kind of big-game pushover they were last year. Given their history, it's safe to assume the Giants will recover fine from this, address their issues and remain in the race all year long. But of the three teams expected to compete for the NFC East title this year, the Cowboys are the one that came into the season with the most questions. They get 11 days off now before their next game to feel very good about their initial answer to those questions.

He's No. 3: I don't expect to get quite as many panicked questions from Cowboys fans this week about whether their team will or should sign a veteran wide receiver such as Plaxico Burress or Chad Johnson. The Cowboys believed they had enough depth at receiver, and Kevin Ogletree followed up a strong preseason with the game of his life. Ogletree caught eight passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns, including a 40-yarder on which he got behind the Giants' best cornerback, Corey Webster, and burned him for the score. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo seemed to seek out Ogletree pretty consistently on third down, and Ogletree responded by showing an ability to get open, catch the ball and move the chains. His biggest catch may have been a third-and-12 that converted a first down just before the two-minute warning and prevented the Giants from getting the ball back with time to tie the game. Remember, as you ponder whether or not to add Ogletree in your fantasy league this morning, that the guy who played that position last year put up some pretty big numbers.

Secondary issues: With Terrell Thomas out for the year with a knee injury and Prince Amukamara out for the game with a sprained ankle, the Giants were forced to start Michael Coe at cornerback opposite Webster and put rookie Jayron Hosley on the slot receiver. Webster played Dez Bryant most of the night (I still don't know why he was on Ogletree on the one play), and Coe played Ogletree or Miles Austin, whichever lined up outside. Coe played pretty well, but he hurt his hamstring in the third quarter, and the Giants were forced to go to fourth option Justin Tryon, who got beaten badly by Austin on the fourth-quarter touchdown catch that sealed Dallas' victory. By contrast, the Cowboys' revamped secondary with Brandon Carr and rookie Morris Claiborne at corner and Barry Church and Gerald Sensabaugh at safety, covered very well all night. They were even able to get a handful of sacks when they blitzed, which was something they couldn't do against Eli Manning and the Giants last year because they couldn't trust their coverage to stay sound long enough to get to the quarterback. Claiborne looks like he needs work, as you'd expect, especially in run support. But for this night at least, the Cowboys' plan to fix their defense from the back end forward appeared to succeed.

Wobbly champs: Part of the issue Manning and the Giants had on offense was the inability of their receivers to get separation. That speaks to the Cowboys' coverage, of course, but also to a relative lack of options in the passing game. Manning did find Domenik Hixon in coverage for a long gain one time, but it took a spectacular grab by Hixon (and a whiff in coverage by Carr) to complete that one. And none of the Giants' third wide receiver options looked anywhere near as reliable as Ogletree looked for Dallas. Manning targeted Victor Cruz the most by far, and Hakeem Nicks the second-most, and he looked the way of Hixon and tight end Martellus Bennett a fair bit, and Bennett made a nice catch for a late touchdown. But Manning was just a bit off with some of his throws, and overall the Giants' passing game appeared rusty. One has to believe that will turn out to be the least of their problems.

Leaky lines: Both offensive lines looked awful. The Cowboys' guards couldn't hold off the interior pass rush of the Giants, and the tackles couldn't stop committing false starts. Tyron Smith had an especially tough first game at left tackle. The Giants, who ranked last in the league in rush yards last year, couldn't open holes for running back Ahmad Bradshaw (or David Wilson, who got some early carries before fumbling and getting benched) and were unable to sustain drives as a result. The offensive lines still figure to be the biggest areas of concern for both of these teams going forward (assuming the Giants can get their secondary healthy), and it's doubtful either offense will be able to function at its best from week to week if they can't get some of the issues fixed.

Individual stars: DeMarcus Ware, Sean Lee, DeMarco Murray and of course Romo all had standout performances for the Cowboys (though I have no idea why Murray turned inside on his long sideline run when it appeared he'd have a touchdown if he kept running straight). Austin and Bryant each made important catches at big times. For the Giants, defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Rocky Bernard each had a sack, and Jason Pierre-Paul was nearly impossible to stop all night. Keith Rivers also was a factor early at linebacker before an injury forced him from the game. Both punters were excellent, and you know how much we love punters on the NFC East blog.

What's next: Dallas will play the Seahawks in Seattle on Sunday, Sept. 16, and they'll hope that this long break between games will be enough to get nose tackle Jay Ratliff and cornerback Mike Jenkins healthy and get their offensive lineman to stop false-starting on every other play. The Giants will be back home that same day to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They'll hope that Amukamara and/or Coe can get healthy by then and they'll have more in the secondary than they did Wednesday night.

Observation deck: Patriots-Giants

August, 30, 2012

I don't know why New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin played his starting offense for four series in Wednesday night's 6-3 preseason victory over the New England Patriots. It's kind of accepted that you're not supposed to play your veteran starters in the final preseason game, and it does seem silly to risk injury to them with a week left before the first game that actually counts. But Coughlin knows what he's doing, and he tends to do it his way. And hey, maybe Eli Manning really is indestructible -- and while we just joke about it, Coughlin knows for sure.

Anyway, everybody came out of it fine, including star wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, who only played the first two series as he got his first game action of the preseason. Nicks didn't show any effects from the foot fracture he suffered in the spring, and he should be good to go next Wednesday night against the Cowboys.

As for this game, in the four series he played, Manning didn't look in sync with his receivers, the offensive line looked awful in run-blocking and (likely as a result) the running backs didn't show much. No, not even David Wilson. What's it all mean? Absolutely nothing, of course. There's no way the Giants game-planned for this game and no way they were going to put anything on tape Wednesday night that might have been potentially helpful to the Cowboys next week. Manning and his gang will be ready, of that there should be no fear. Not now that they've made it through the preseason games healthy.

What else did we see in this fiasco of a non-game?
  • Defensive end Adewale Ojomo has to make the team, right? I don't know whether that means Adrian Tracy has to go or what, but Ojomo's done nothing to deserve being cut. Another sack, and man did he look good stuffing the run. If these games are ways for off-the-roster guys to make the roster, Ojomo could end up being this year's prime example.
  • While we're on the defensive line, Linval Joseph has flat-out been one of my favorite players to watch in this preseason. He's playing like a man possessed, and between him and Rocky Bernard the Giants shouldn't miss a beat in the first half of games in spite of their injuries at defensive tackle. My only question is if they have the depth they need to spell those guys and make sure they don't wear down in the second half or as the season goes along. But when Joseph is on the field, they have another dimension to the line. He's everywhere making plays right now.
  • The other line? Not so much. Chris Snee and Will Beatty sat this one out with injuries, and the issue with the line continues to be depth. Mitch Petrus had some trouble at guard, and the interior of the line just gets pushed back too easily, especially on run plays. They need to find better ways to extend forward and open some holes for the backs than they did this preseason. And last year, for that matter.
  • Ramses Barden made a highlight-film catch, reaching behind himself and a defender, and continues to impress. Finally healthy and producing, Barden looks like he's got a chance to make the team and an impact. Jerrel Jernigan helps more on special teams, and it's hard to see them cutting him so soon after drafting him so high, but again, Barden has outplayed him.
  • They're still using D.J. Ware as the third-down back, even with Wilson in the game, and that tells you what they think about Ware (and maybe Wilson) in pass protection.
  • I saw some nice plays by linebackers Greg Jones and Mark Herzlich in the third quarter. But I was watching three games at once by that point, so I can't tell you how they looked overall.
  • Can't imagine that Andre Brown fumble makes him feel real good about his chances with 36 hours left until final cuts are due.
  • Steve Weatherford is fantastic. He must really like punting against the Patriots.

Observation deck: Giants-Jets

August, 18, 2012

The good postgame news for the New York Giants following their 26-3 preseason victory over the Jets is that starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw's hand seems OK. The Giants took X-rays that came back negative, and Bradshaw told reporters after the game that he had a cyst on his hand that burst when he hit it on someone's helmet. I do not know why a cyst bursting would require an X-ray, but I am not a doctor. Upshot appears to be that Bradshaw will be fine, which is significant for a Giants team whose running game still needs work.

The Giants finished 32nd in the league in rush offense in the regular season last year, mainly because of a line that couldn't get any push forward in the run game. That was on display again Saturday night, as neither Bradshaw nor D.J. Ware nor Andre Brown nor David Wilson could find a hole all night. The Giants finished with 58 yards on 32 carries, which is dreadful. Now, rush defense appears to be one of the few things the Jets do well, so that might have had something to do with it. But the concern with the Giants when they struggle is that they get physically handled in the trenches. The offensive line struggled with that last year and has so far in this preseason.

Now, that intro breaks my general rule about trying to open with a positive in these preseason game reviews. But I thought Bradshaw was the biggest news of the night, and in fairness it is a positive that his hand is not broken. And there are a ton of Giants positives in the remainder of my review of what I saw Saturday night:

1. The defensive line looks as though it will be just fine. Even with Justin Tuck leaving early with a neck injury (he also said he was fine), the Giants' pass rush completely abused Wayne Hunter and an overmatched Jets offensive line. Jason Pierre-Paul and reserve defensive end Adewale Ojomo each had two sacks and the Giants had seven as a team to go with their nine quarterback hits and nine tackles for loss. But what I thought was most impressive while the first-team defense was in there was the performance of starting defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Rocky Bernard, who forced the issue in the middle of the line and limited the Jets on the ground as well. The Giants are banged up at defensive tackle with Chris Canty and Marvin Austin on the shelf, but Bernard and Joseph played as though they didn't want anyone to worry.

2. Eli Manning likes throwing to Victor Cruz. Manning didn't do a lot to help the Giants find their No. 3 wide receiver. Five of his seven completions were caught by Cruz, and while that was fun for Giants fans to watch, everybody already knew that hookup worked. Ramses Barden did drop one Manning pass early on, which didn't help his case. Overall, Manning had a poor night, completing 7 of 14 for 62 yards and an ugly overthrow interception. But he's obviously the least of their worries.

3. As for those No. 3 receiver candidates ... Rookie Rueben Randle made the best catch of the night, a leaping 49-yarder from David Carr. But it was his only catch of the game. Jerrel Jernigan caught two passes for 26 yards, Domenik Hixon one for four yards and Barden was shut out. The buzz during the week was about a Manning quote that said they could rotate guys into that role and into situations that maximize their different strengths, and that's a reasonable way to handle the situation. But I still think Barden's going to have to grab that role if he wants to make the team. The other guys help on special teams.

4. Chase Blackburn's probably safe for a while. Blackburn and Kenny Phillips combined to fill a gap and make a nice stop on Shonn Greene on a second-down run. Later in the game, Mark Herzlich suffered a hip pointer. Blackburn's the starting middle linebacker for now, and Herzlich's going to have to come and take the job from him. Blackburn hasn't done anything to lose it, and now Herzlich's hurt. Keith Rivers, by the way, looked active on the outside, starting in place of an injured Michael Boley.

5. Got to like Jayron Hosley. The rookie cornerback was a star of the game on defense and on special teams, where he returned an interception 77 yards for a touchdown. Reports from the postgame locker room say Hosley had his foot in a walking boot, so it seems as though he got injured, too. Would be a shame if he had to miss time. It looks as though the Giants want to use him a lot, and other than last week's muffed punt, everything he's done on the field has made him look like a very useful guy.

6. Wilson does show something. The rookie running back out of Virginia Tech was a first-round pick for a reason. You can see, when he gets room to run, what he brings in terms of explosiveness. I believe he'll be a good player for the Giants. He even looked good in blitz pickup once he got into the game. But this national perception that he's the sure-thing backup or some sort of threat to take carries away from Bradshaw has gotten out of hand. He's clearly fourth on the running-back depth chart right now, and Ware has earned that No. 2 spot. Wilson will develop, maybe quickly, and likely be an asset for the Giants down the road. But he has developing to do, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's kind of how the Giants roll.

7. Will Hill. He's getting to be a fun story, playing well at safety and coming up with a sack of Tim Tebow. Could be a nice latent-talent find by the Giants' front office, a la Herzlich and of course Cruz.
No, there's no need for any kind of outright panic. The core, star-power pieces of the New York Giants' defensive line appear to be healthy. Defensive ends Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora, who form the engine of the league's most feared pass rush, are not the topic of this post. But the Giants announced Tuesday morning a number of other injuries that strike at the overall depth of their defensive line:
  • Shaun Rogers, the veteran defensive tackle who's been one of the surprise stars of training camp, is being treated for a blood clot in his leg. This is a very serious medical issue, and there's certainly no timetable at this point for Rogers' return.
  • Marvin Austin, the second-year defensive tackle who hasn't played an angry football game since 2009, is being treated for a back injury. Austin was suspended for his final season at North Carolina as part of that program's academic scandal and missed his rookie NFL season with an injury. The Giants have been hoping he could give their interior pass rush a boost, but they don't know to what (if any) extent they can count on him.
  • Defensive tackle Martin Parker, who missed the whole 2011 season with a foot injury, needs back surgery to repair a herniated disk.
  • Defensive end Justin Trattou continues to have heel and ankle problems, and the team says he's "not expected back on the field for several weeks." It seems as though Adrian Tracy, however, has been the leading candidate to replace Dave Tollefson as the reserve pass-rusher.
  • Defensive tackle Chris Canty remains out indefinitely following offseason knee surgery.

There is good news on defensive tackle Rocky Bernard, who has been practicing this week after missing Friday's preseason opener with a knee injury. But all in all, the Giants' depth on the defensive line -- particularly at defensive tackle -- is being challenged. Austin and Rogers were the two players the Giants were hoping could help make up for Canty's absence, and right now they don't know if they'll have either any time soon. Defensive tackle is an important position at which to be deep, since the physical demands of the position make it almost essential to rest and rotate players as much as possible.

If the issues continue, the Giants could be on the lookout for a defensive tackle as teams start to make cuts later this month. Meantime, some back-of-the-roster guys are going to get a whole lot of preseason snaps.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The 2005 Seattle Seahawks just missed the cut when Jamison Hensley and I ranked our 10 best Super Bowl losers. Not that making such a list would provide consolation.

Rocky Bernard collected a career-high 8.5 sacks with that Seattle team, only to suffer through a 21-10 defeat to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XL. He's back on the Super Bowl stage with the New York Giants and intent upon at least partially atoning for what went wrong six years ago.

"I don't want to feel that pain again," Bernard said. "It's something you can't get over. You work so hard to get to that point and we were so confident going into the game, felt like we could win."

Bernard, like quite a few Seahawks fans, still feels as though officiating errors played a significant role in the outcome. Bernard brought up that aspect of the game without prompting.

"We kind of felt like it was taken away from us," Bernard said.

Referee Bill Leavy later apologized. The NFL stood by the officiating at the time.

Another NFC West Super Bowl alum, ex-Arizona Cardinal Antrel Rolle, can also offset painful Super Bowl memories if the Giants win. Rolle, whose Cardinals lost to the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII, started all 16 games and picked off two passes for the Giants this season.

"Being here one time before and not coming out on top, it's a feeling you never, ever get rid of," Rolle said. "I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure I'm not on that side of that fence again."

Also: New England Patriots special-teams player Niko Koutouvides was also part of that 2005 Seattle team. He pointed to the camaraderie of the 2005 team as one of the reasons for its success. He said the current Patriots have the same feel to them.
Good afternoon. NFC West blog headquarters will be relocating from the Northwest to Indianapolis for Super Bowl week.

The plane I'm riding in, a Boeing 757, is traveling 565 mph at 35,637 feet, according to tracking software. I'll be connecting through Atlanta, so this will be a full travel day.

Once situated in Indy, I'll be helping with our Super Bowl coverage, with an eye toward this division. Josh McDaniels, David Baas, Bear Pascoe, David Carr, Rocky Bernard, Jimmy Kennedy, Deon Grant, Antrel Rolle, Isaiah Stanback, Deion Branch, Niko Koutouvides, Tracy White and Andre Carter are among the NFC West alumni currently with the Super Bowl participants.

Quite a few current NFC West players will be filtering through Indianapolis for various events during the week. I'll be catching up with some of them.

The week will conclude with Hall of Fame voting, followed by the Super Bowl itself. I don't have a strong feeling as to which team will win the game. Both should like their chances. I did pick New England to win it all before the season -- one of the few predictions that remains on track -- so I'll likely stick with the Patriots when ESPN solicits staffers' predictions later in the week.

Here's hoping this Sunday treats you well.

Halftime thoughts: Giants muscle up

January, 8, 2012
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Well, Saints-Lions this one ain't. The New York Giants lead the Atlanta Falcons 7-2 at halftime of their wild-card round playoff game here at MetLife Stadium, and they do so because they were able to crack the Falcons' defense once and the Falcons haven't been able to crack theirs at all.

It's been a defensive struggle both ways, as the Giants' defensive front has dominated the Falcons' offensive line the way it knows it needs to and the Falcons' defensive front has returned the favor against a shaky-looking Giants pass protection unit. The first points of the game were a Falcons safety when Giants quarterback Eli Manning was called for intentional grounding in the end zone while under pressure, and neither offense was able to score until Manning found Hakeem Nicks in the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown pass with 2:47 left before halftime.

The reason the Giants were able to get those points is that they found something in the run game. Manning escaped trouble and ran for 14 yards earlier in the drive (remarkable, considering he only ran for 15, total, in the regular season). And running back Brandon Jacobs' 34-yard run was the biggest play of the first half. Jacobs also converted a big fourth down just before the touchdown pass with a spin move after being stuffed behind the line.

The Giants ranked 32nd in the NFL this year with 89.2 rush yards per game. But they have 75 already in this game, and if they can keep having success on the ground, they have to like their chances.

The Falcons will get the ball back to start the second half, but as of now there's little proof that that will help them. Quarterback Matt Ryan has been pressured from the sides and especially up the middle, with Giants defensive tackles Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard having delivered big hits already. He hasn't had time to look downfield and find his big-time receivers for big plays, which means the Giants are executing their defensive game plan exactly the way they want to. The Giants have more work to do, but to this point things have gone about as well as they could have wanted them to go. They have weathered the early assault from the Atlanta front and found a way to overcome it.

Two injury situations to watch: Atlanta safety William Moore and Giants safety Deon Grant both have left the game. James Sanders has stepped in for Moore, and there seems to be little drop-off there. But if rookie Tyler Sash has to play the rest of the game in Grant's place, the Giants' secondary could be very vulnerable. If, that is, Ryan gets enough time to take advantage of it.
Never let it be said that I don't listen to the people! This week's edition of the rolling All-NFC East Team features little change except at cornerback, which has been brutal this year in this division and raised something of an issue last week.

First, the required disclaimer that most of the people who click on this post won't even read: This team is meant to reflect performance for the year to date, not simply who performed the best in Week 5. So yes, I know some of these guys didn't play Sunday. Their performance for the year so far still merits a spot on this team.

As for cornerback, last week I had the Eagles' Asante Samuel and the Giants' Aaron Ross. I still think Ross has played much better this year than his reputation indicates, and that his mistakes seem more glaring than frequent. But several people pointed out that fellow Giants corner Corey Webster has faced tougher receivers and played well too, and so Webster takes Ross' spot this week. And I gave Samuel's spot to the Cowboys' Mike Jenkins, who's been very good and playing hurt all year and wasn't as awful as Samuel was this week because he didn't play.

Now, on to the team, which is starting to settle in a few places.

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

[+] EnlargePhiladelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy
Kevin Hoffman-US PRESSWIREThe Eagles could be a contender for years to come with several key young stars, like RB LeSean McCoy, signed to team-friendly contracts.
Running back: LeSean McCoy, Eagles (McCoy)

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

Tight end: Jason Witten, Cowboys (Witten)

Fullback: Henry Hynoski, Giants (Owen Schmitt)

Left tackle: Jason Peters, Eagles (Peters)

Left guard: Evan Mathis, Eagles (Mathis)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (Montgomery)

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: Jay Ratliff, Cowboys; Rocky Bernard, Giants (Ratliff, Cullen Jenkins)

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

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

Cornerback: Corey Webster, Giants; Mike Jenkins, Cowboys (Asante Samuel, Aaron Ross)

Safety: Kenny Phillips, Giants; LaRon Landry, Redskins (Phillips, Landry)

Kicker: Dan Bailey, Cowboys (Bailey)

Punter: Sav Rocca, Redskins (Rocca)

Kick returner: Devin Thomas, Giants (Thomas)

Punt returner: Brandon Banks, Redskins (Banks)

Do you know who's second in the NFC East in rushing yards? Yeah, it's Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. Why do we point this out? It shows you how large a lead McCoy has in the running back category. Boat race.

Thought about moving DeSean Jackson or even Victor Cruz into Maclin's spot at receiver, but Maclin is leading the division in catches and hasn't really done anything to lose his spot.

Yeah, still Peters at left tackle. I know he didn't play Sunday, but neither did Trent Williams, and unfortunately for his own case, Will Beatty did.

And yeah, I kept Trent Cole in at defense end, because I still don't think Jason Babin's a complete enough player to take the spot from him after Cole missed just one week (so far). Also thought about rewarding Osi Umenyiora's big game, but he's still played just two of them, and this is for overall performance to dated. Pierre-Paul deserves the spot.

Cullen Jenkins had a hard enough time with the Buffalo run game to lose his spot to Bernard, whose performance against the run so far this year has been superior to that of linemate Linval Joseph and deserves a mention.

Kenny Phillips had a rotten game Sunday, sure. But through four weeks he was playing as well as any safety in the league. And what am I going to do? Give the spot to Nate Allen? Phillips is on notice, but he's still on the team.

So what do you think? Let me have it.

Observation deck: Giants-Panthers

August, 13, 2011
The New York Giants could have used a feel-good preseason opener Saturday night. No, I don't think you can read much into these preseason games. You don't know which teams are game-planning and which aren't. You can make judgments on individual efforts in certain cases, and get a sense of what teams might be planning in terms of playing time and defensive and offensive alignments. But when we say a team looked good or bad in a preseason game, we are not making any predictions or judgments about the way the season will go based on that.

All of that said, after a week in which they got knocked around in free agency and faced questions about whether their offseason plan was sound or even extant, the Giants could have used a match that left them feeling good about things. Kind of like the one the Redskins had Friday.

They didn't get it.

Yeah, some good things happened in their 20-10 exhibition loss to the Carolina Panthers. Jason Pierre-Paul was the star of the first half, looking fast, athletic and hungry as he recorded two sacks. Both punters looked good, third receiver candidates Domenik Hixon and Victor Cruz had nice moments, and Michael Boley ran back an interception for a touchdown on the first series of the game. But all in all, it wasn't a good night. There were tackling issues, communication issues and special teams issues. The backup offensive line was so bad that it may have gotten kicker Lawrence Tynes hurt.

Other than the Tynes thing, none of this is cause for any reason concern. Just because they were sloppy Saturday night doesn't mean anything about the season. I'm just saying, given the way their fans were feeling in the wake of the free-agent departures of Steve Smith, they could have used a better performance.

Here's some stuff I saw:

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonJason Pierre-Paul nabbed two sacks and could be a viable replacement if Osi Umenyiora continues to sit out.
1. Pierre-Paul looks like a monster. The Giants' 2010 first-rounder has been getting a lot of snaps with the starters in practice with Osi Umenyiora sitting out, and he looked fantastic Saturday night. Two sacks, pressure on almost every play, quickness off the edge, athleticism, determination -- everything you want in a pass rusher. If Umenyiora wants to continue to sit out because of his contract, the Giants have some tape they can show him of a guy who looks like a very capable replacement. If Umenyiora wants to come back, the Giants have even more depth on the offensive line and can keep Mathias Kiwanuka at linebacker. Pierre-Paul's rapid development would be a very useful thing for the Giants.

2. Other good stuff from the defensive line. We saw encouraging play from the defensive tackles, too, with Chris Canty getting into the backfield, Rocky Bernard getting a sack, rookie Marvin Austin playing well in the second half and the Giants generally producing a lot of pressure with their defensive front. As expected, they moved Kiwanuka up to the line in passing downs, and they did the same thing with Adrian Tracy when he replaced Kiwanuka in the second quarter. Tracy played well, helping generate the pressure that led to the Bernard sack as well as Alex Hall's. The Giants are looking for depth at linebacker, and Tracy could help if he plays like this.

3. The punters look good. The coverage? Not so much. Matt Dodge hit a couple of nice punts, including one that looked a little bit like a Jeff Feagles directional special. But Steve Weatherford was one of the best punters in the league the last couple of years and hits the ball farther than Dodge does. Could be tough for Dodge to win this competition. And regardless of who wins it, the coverage team will just have to do a better job. This is one area that actually does mean something in preseason, because the guys on special-teams coverage units should be playing hard and trying to win roster spots. They were miserable all night until Cruz came up with a big solo tackle on a punt return in the third quarter. A guy like Michael Coe, who has an opportunity with the Giants losing so much depth at cornerback, needs to come up bigger than he did on Armanti Edwards' long first return.

3a. Also, one punt-related question: Why in the world did Tom Coughlin call for a 56-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter when Tynes is coming off knee surgery and he's trying to get a look at two punters? Just wondering. Seemed like a weird decision. Tynes, who is also the only kicker I've seen so far this preseason who hasn't been able to kick it through the end zone on kickoffs, missed the attempt.

4. William Beatty -- some good, some bad: The new starting left tackle got manhandled a bit on the first two offensive series, looking overwhelmed and doing a lot of reaching and grabbing as he was getting beaten off the edge. But he seemed to settle in and looked much more authoritative and aggressive on the next few series. He stayed in longer than did the other starting offensive linemen, and it's no coincidence. Whether Beatty is ready to handle his new full-time job will go a long way toward determining how well the Giants handle their transition to this new offensive line assignment.

5. Brian Witherspoon was a bright spot. The Giants' starting secondary looks as though it should be very good (though there did seem to be some communication issues there early on). The question is whether they have depth behind the starters, with Prince Amukamara and Bruce Johnson hurt. Witherspoon was a star of the second half on special teams as well as at cornerback. A guy to watch as the preseason rolls along.

6. Quick hits: It was fun to watch top draft pick Cam Newton get his first game action for the Panthers. He beat Giants rookie Tyler Sash with a great throw on his first drive, but Sash and Coe made good plays to help keep him from capping that drive with a touchdown pass. ... It appears as though Hixon is the leader for that No. 3 receiver spot. He got a lot of work in the slot in the second half with Sage Rosenfels throwing to him. ... I thought Danny Ware looked all right as a third-down back catching screen passes. ... The word on Tynes was a thigh contusion, which is better than a knee injury for sure.

More on the Giants on Sunday, as you'll get my "Camp Confidential" report on them. Meantime, let me know what you thought.

ASHBURN, Va. -- Barry Cofield is the nose tackle for the Washington Redskins now, which is not what he necessarily wanted to be when free agency began. His first choice, he said at the time and says still, was to remain with the New York Giants. But the fact that the Giants didn't re-sign him didn't make him bitter.

"No hard feelings at all," Cofield told me in an interview after a Redskins practice here Tuesday. "Now, don't get me wrong. I'm excited about Sept. 11 and the prospects of playing those guys. That fires me up. But definitely no hard feelings. I definitely think I should be able to come back to the Super Bowl reunions and not get booed."

[+] EnlargeBarry Cofield
AP Photo/Nick WassBarry Cofield says he harbors no ill feelings toward the Giants, but that doesn't mean he's not looking forward to lining up against his former team.
In the end, Cofield said, the Giants made a "respectable" offer, but that they "weren't able to be competitive because of their salary cap situation, and that's the economics of the game."

"They made their bed when they made the signings that they made at defensive tackle," Cofield said. "Guys like Rocky (Bernard) and Chris (Canty), they spent a lot of money on those guys. They're already invested in Canty, and that’s the guy they have to stick with. They drafted guys, and if they feel like they get a great value with a defensive tackle, with all the other positions of need they have, I was the odd man out."

He was surprised when the Redskins called, because he'd been a 4-3 defensive tackle in New York and the Redskins run a 3-4 scheme. But having played in a 3-4 in college, he liked the idea and the fact that the Redskins sought him out to be the man in the middle of their defensive line.

"They've definitely spelled out what they expect from me, and it's something I think I can do," Cofield said. "You're not taking on double-teams. It's not necessarily about two-gapping and being a 350-pound monster. Nose tackles come in different shapes and sizes, and I feel like I have my own fit, they obviously envision me in their defense, and we have a common vision."

Redskins coach Mike Shanahan told me Cofield and Stephen Bowen were two defensive linemen the Redskins had targeted going into free agency because of their ability, their age and their character. He said he had no concerns about Cofield adapting to the 3-4.

"He played it in college and played exceptionally well," Shanahan said. "You go back to film and you watch. He can give you all the calls of the 3-4 defense when you talk to him on the phone, so he's played it before and he's exceptionally bright. So whatever he does, he's going to be a consummate pro, and those are the guys you look for when you put a football team together."

Cofield likes the fact that the Redskins came to him. He liked, obviously, their contract offer. And the 3-4 is the defense in which he feels he fits the best. He remembers talking to the Steelers, Patriots and Cowboys before he was drafted and being surprised that the Giants, a 4-3 team, were the ones who took him.

"I thought there was a good chance I'd be going to a 3-4 defense. It just happened five years later," Cofield said. "I'm excited about it. I've always liked the 3-4 defense, I think it's an effective defense, I think there's a reason teams like the Steelers and the Ravens are always on the top of the league defensively. I think it fits my abilities perfectly. It's a defense that's built on technique, leverage and discipline, and I think those are my strengths."

He was known in recent years for his pass-rushing ability with the Giants, but Cofield said that's not really what he's all about as a player.

"I'm a guy that's disciplined, and I play with great pad level, leverage, technique, use my hands and I’m not the guy who’s aggressively flying upfield," Cofield said. "I did that when called upon in New York, and it was good for me to diversify my game, diversify my repertoire by doing that, but coming into NY, I felt like I was a guy that was better suited for a 3-4."

Now he's in one, and he's excited about making the transition. For Shanahan, who tried unsuccessfully to talk Albert Haynesworth into doing the same thing a year ago, that's pretty refreshing.

"Whoever you bring in," Shanahan said, "you want to make sure they have the right mindset."

He's got that in Cofield, who can't wait to get into that 3-4 and get at the Giants in that season opener.
The Giants are having a busy day, even though they didn't get their sit-down with Plaxico Burress yet. They picked up a new center this morning, and the afternoon has seen a flurry of interesting activity:

" The team announced a one-year contract extension for coach Tom Coughlin, who is now signed through 2012. Coughlin is turning 65 at the end of August and has missed the playoffs two years in a row, so a long-term deal isn't in the cards. And extending him one year allows him not to worry about being a lame duck while not completely taking him off the coaching "hot seat" should the Giants miss the playoffs again. If that happens, I think there's as good a chance of Coughlin walking away on his own as there is of the team deciding to replace him.

" Adam Schefter reports that the Giants and defensive tackle Rocky Bernard were unable to negotiate a restructuring of Bernard's deal, and Bernard will be cut. Hours after Barry Cofield left to sign with the Redskins, this puts even more pressure on young defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Marvin Austin to perform sooner rather than later.

" As they continue to discuss a new deal for free-agent running back Ahmad Bradshaw, the Giants have spoken with running back Brandon Jacobs about restructuring his deal to help them keep Bradshaw in the fold. This is not unexpected, and Jacobs has said in the past that it's something to which he'd be open. It could turn bad and Jacobs could get cut if they have to do it to bring back Bradshaw, but I think that would qualify as a surprise if it happened.

" There was an NFL Network report that Kevin Boss had re-signed with the Giants, but the free-agent tight end is tweeting that it hasn't happened yet: "Setting the record straight, I have not agreed to terms with any team yet ... thanks for all the support," Boss tweeted. Still could happen, but apparently it's not done yet. Or Boss doesn't want us to know it is.


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