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Thursday, January 31, 2008
Updated: February 28, 11:43 AM ET
Giants better off without Shockey? Not quite

By Jeffri Chadiha
ESPN.com

PHOENIX -- New York Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey doesn't like talking over the phone, so he's been sending constant text messages to his teammates during Super Bowl week.

They know it's killing him to be sidelined with a broken left leg and they understand why he hasn't shown up in Phoenix yet. This should be one of the most satisfying weeks of his career, an event he's dreamed of all his life. Instead, it will probably be one of the most bittersweet moments he's ever experienced.

The strangest part of this story, however, isn't that Shockey continues to rehabilitate back in Miami while the Giants prepare to face New England in Super Bowl XLII. It's that he's somehow become a topic of conversation during a week when there are plenty of other things to talk about. The question, for those who haven't heard it yet, is whether the Giants might be a better team without Shockey. The answer, for those who came to this space searching for an opinion, is that they aren't.

Make no mistake about this: The Giants would love to have Shockey available on Sunday. As much as they've benefited from the contributions of younger tight ends Kevin Boss and Mike Matthews, Shockey is a Pro Bowl-caliber player who's produced 371 receptions and 27 touchdowns during his six-year career.

"A lot has been made about [the impact of Shockey's loss] but I've always liked Jeremy's personality and his attitude," said Giants center Shaun O'Hara. "I know how hard it is for him to not be here. I also know that he's learned a lot about how to be more of a team player, just like everybody else on this team has this season."

Jeremy Shockey
Jeremy Shockey broke his left fibula against the Redskins in Week 15. Before the injury, Shockey was having another productive season.

The main reason the Giants defend Shockey so vigorously is that they think he's misunderstood. While outsiders might wonder about his more publicized moments -- the controversial comments earlier in his career, the way he chirps at quarterback Eli Manning to get him the ball, the animated histrionics that can leave the impression that he's just another spoiled, attention-seeking star -- his teammates see a guy who cares plenty about winning. In fact, they stressed that Shockey didn't come to Arizona because he feared he'd be a distraction. They think the last thing he wants to do this week is talk publicly about a game that won't include him.

So it really doesn't matter to the Giants that Shockey has been mostly absent since sustaining his injury in a 22-10 loss to Washington on Dec. 16. He's helped them this season with his production (57 receptions, 619 yards and three touchdowns) and his energy.

"I'd love for Shockey to be here but the fact is that he's hurt and he's not playing," said Giants cornerback R.W. McQuarters. "And if he was here, the media would be asking all kinds of questions and they'd want to know everything he'd been doing since he got hurt. He probably doesn't want to deal with all that. If I were in his shoes, I'd feel the same way."

The only thing that is quite apparent about Shockey's absence is that the Giants lack a vibrant personality on offense now. There isn't a vocal player like defensive end Michael Strahan or middle linebacker Antonio Pierce, and please don't say wide receiver Plaxico Burress falls into that category. He may have made news with his guarantee of a Giants win earlier this week, but he's as laid-back as they come.

Now, there can be a argument made for Manning's prospering as a leader in recent weeks -- without Shockey or former Giants running back Tiki Barber around, there isn't an outgoing personality for Manning to defer to -- but Manning could've matured regardless of the circumstances.

If anything, Shockey's absence has allowed the Giants to learn quite a bit about the other weapons in their passing game. The most notable clearly has been rookie Steve Smith, who's developed into the third receiver the Giants have lacked since Manning came into the league in 2004. Smith's ability to produce in critical passing situations has made the loss of Shockey much easier to stomach in New York.

Head coach Tom Coughlin added that the Giants have tried to avoid massive adjustments to their offense to compensate for the loss of Shockey.

"We tried not to change a whole lot," Coughlin said. "We've utilized some other personnel combinations and we've also played a couple of young tight ends -- Kevin Boss and Mike Matthews -- that Jeremy has really helped bring along. Jeremy was an outstanding blocker as well as an outstanding receiver, so you do have a difficult time trying to maintain the same level of play. But these guys have done well."

Of course, it still would be nice to see Shockey in town at some point. There hasn't been any definitive news on when he'll arrive, but the Giants maintain it will be before Sunday. They added that he'd be just as passionate about cheering them on from the sidelines as he would if he were playing. That has been his personality for as long as they've known him and they don't see him sulking now.

The question, however, is whether the perception of Shockey will be different. After all, just the mere fact that people are discussing his value means one of two things: (1) It's a pretty slow news week or (2) His reputation has taken a major hit. To be honest, the Giants might claim that both factors have plenty to do with Shockey's image right now. And as far as they're concerned, there's something really wrong with that situation.

Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.