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Friday, August 15, 2008
Updated: August 22, 12:25 PM ET
Camp Confidential: Giants trying to avoid Super Bowl hangover

By Matt Mosley
ESPN.com

Giants
The Giants pulled off one of the greatest upsets in Super Bowl history with a 17-14 win over the Patriots.
ALBANY, N.Y. -- Last month, the citizens of Waterloo, N.Y., invited their favorite son home for a Super Bowl celebration. They named a new football stadium -- and at least one street after him.

But as appreciative as he was, New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin decided on this occasion that he was finished celebrating.

"Everybody wants to know the moment we moved forward," said Coughlin while stepping back and forth over an imaginary line Tuesday. "But you're constantly brought back into it. At some point, you have to put it behind you and move on."

Coughlin joked that he didn't know what a "Super Bowl hangover" was, although it's something he has been asked about countless times. In an effort to better understand the challenge of defending a title, he reached out to former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden and current Dodgers manager Joe Torre. At the beginning of training camp, he presented some of the research he'd done on teams that attempted to defend a title.

As far as distractions go, Coughlin's made peace with the fact that disgruntled players such as Jeremy Shockey and Plaxico Burress can provide New York tabloids with an offseason of entertaining headlines. He hasn't tried to diminish the importance of either story, but he did appear to use Shockey as a motivational tool for the players who actually joined him on the field during a June minicamp.

When Giants players returned from extended vacations and book tours, Coughlin had a new batch of inspirational T-shirts waiting for them. In the offseason, he plows through books in search of inspiration. In fact, he has used U.S. swimming gold medalist Michael Phelps and PGA Championship winner Padraig Harrington (a fellow Irishman) as examples during team meetings over the past few days.

Last year's enduring storyline involved Coughlin tweaking his approach in order to foster better communication with his players. He formed a leadership council and listened to its suggestions.

So was that the secret to the team's improbable Super Bowl run? Who knows, but it changed a culture that had almost led to Coughlin's firing the previous season.

"I'm not sure what we got out of the actual meetings," said center Shaun O'Hara, a charter member of the council. "I think it was more about the gesture that [Coughlin] made."

Six months after the Giants' thrilling win over the Patriots, it sounds ludicrous to suggest that the world champs head into the season as underdogs. But that's exactly what Coughlin and Co. want you to believe. Quarterback Eli Manning talked Thursday about how the Dallas Cowboys' appearance on HBO's "Hard Knocks" and Brett Favre's arrival in Gotham City has overshadowed the "Can They Repeat?" theme. And quite honestly, he wouldn't have it any other way.

Key questions


1. Will Plaxico Burress' ankle miraculously heal once he receives a new contract?
Plaxico Burress
Plaxico Burress is expected to be ready for the Giants' season opener against the Redskins.
The Giants insist that Burress has a new injury to the same ankle that kept him out of practice for most of last season. Manning and Coughlin have been frustrated by Burress' absence, but both of them believe he'll be ready before the season opener against the Redskins. GM Jerry Reese told ESPN.com on Wednesday that he believes a new deal will be in place before the regular season. And because Burress appeared to be in great spirits the past few days, you have to think the two sides are getting close. Right now, he's trying to get used to orthotics in both his cleats and street shoes.

2. How much will the Giants miss Jeremy Shockey and Michael Strahan?
One of the reasons Shockey is gone is because Coughlin and Reese watched how the team came together without him. Coughlin has admitted as much, although he always follows it up by wishing Shockey well. Shockey had become a distraction and the Giants received good value for him. They also love the way Kevin Boss has looked in training camp. He catches everything and he's improving as a blocker. He's not as athletic as Shockey, but he's a smart enough player to find holes in opposing defenses.

Strahan's another story. Teams spent more time game planning for him than people realize, and he was a trusted voice in the locker room. In his farewell speech, he talked about how someone would replace him and the team would move on. You don't replace a player like Strahan, but defensive end Justin Tuck is a dynamic player. In case you're just joining us, he's the player who had five tackles and two sacks in the Super Bowl.

3. Who will start in the secondary?
After watching practice, it's evident that Corey Webster and Aaron Ross will be the starting cornerbacks. Coughlin loved how Webster didn't act frustrated when he was demoted early last season. He remained a constant voice of support on the sideline, and when it came time to start again, Webster made the most of it. The competition at safety isn't as cut and dry. Everyone's ready to replace James Butler, but Reese said he's been "Steady Eddie" in camp so far. Starting Butler and Michael Johnson might offer more continuity, but the Giants also have rookie Kenny Phillips and veteran Sammy Knight. Phillips has had a phenomenal camp, but he still hasn't promoted to first string. It's just a matter of time before Phillips is starting.

4. Who will become the third receiver?
The good news is that Eli Manning has been forced to establish chemistry with receivers he's not all that familiar with. At times, Steve Smith, Michael Jennings and Sinorice Moss have all made plays. Smith is probably the favorite to win the job behind Burress and Amani Toomer. Mario Manningham's not in the mix because he can't get on the field.

Market watch


The player who went unmentioned in the previous question was Domenik Hixon, who has had an outstanding camp. He gives Manning another big target amid all the mighty mites and he's excellent on special teams. Of all the players, he's the guy who made the biggest move of the offseason.

Newcomer to watch


You have to pick Phillips in this category. He never hit the training camp wall. And when the lights came on in the first game, he was at his best. Phillips loves contact, and I don't know how the Giants will keep him off the field. Also keep an eye on rookie cornerback Terrell Thomas from USC. Coaches have been raving about him, and he's already pushing the players listed in front of him.

Observation deck


Justin Tuck doesn't seem fazed about replacing Michael Strahan. The former Notre Dame player has spent the offseason boxing in an effort to develop quicker hands and be able to fight off blocks. ... The Giants have spent a significant amount of time working on the deep ball. It's something that Eli Manning launched himself into, and the Giants hope it allows them to keep opposing defenses a little more alert. ... Everyone you talk to raves about rookie defensive end Wallace Gilberry. Tuck spent several minutes Thursday talking about Gilberry, saying "I've got my eye on that kid." ... Mathias Kiwanuka has been outstanding throughout camp. Watching a 6-5, 265-pound man drop back and cover a pass 37 yards downfield is pretty amazing. ... Linebacker Gerris Wilkinson is back in practice, but he's not going to catch Danny Clark. ... The battle between backup quarterbacks David Carr and Anthony Wright has become a go-to storyline. Wright's listed No. 2, so there's a good chance Carr could be released. The Giants will probably keep rookie Andre Woodson.

Matt Mosley covers the NFL for ESPN.com.