Giants open up practice facility

7/27/2011 - NFL New York Giants

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants owner John Mara hated seeing the empty parking lots at his team's practice facility.

But 137 days later, they're full again -- and Mara is elated.

The lockout is finally over. Football is back.

"It's a great feeling to drive in here and see cars in the parking lot," Mara said Tuesday morning, the first day signed players could report to their team's facilities for optional workouts after players and owners agreed on a settlement to end the lockout on Monday. "I'm looking forward to greeting the players myself. It's been kind of an empty feeling not having the players in here over the last four or five months, so it'll be great to have them back."

Wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham and offensive lineman Chris Snee were among the notable players who showed up to work out on Tuesday afternoon. The Giants will opening training camp on Friday and hold their first practice on Saturday.

"It's a good day to be back in a Giants uniform and to be around my teammates," said cornerback Terrell Thomas. "I think everybody is excited to be back and see some familiar faces."

Said wide receiver/return man Domenik Hixon: "It feels like the first day of school. I'm glad to be back. Everybody's excited."

Offensive lineman Rich Seubert was the first Giant to arrive at 9:53 a.m. ET. But after being released by the team a little over an hour later, he was also the first to leave. Seubert's release became the first major personnel move by the Giants, who have 15 unrestricted free agents.

They'll likely try to re-sign running back Ahmad Bradshaw, tight end Kevin Boss and wide receiver Steve Smith, but may have to let defensive tackle Barry Cofield and others leave because, according to ESPN senior NFL writer John Clayton, they're already $6.1 million over the $120.375 million salary cap.

"We're going to try to re-sign guys that we need to re-sign and then do whatever else we have to do to improve the team," Mara said. "We don't have that much room, but you just try to make smart decisions and allocate your resources wisely."

The Giants will also have a decision to make on disgruntled defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who expects to have his contract re-worked by general manager Jerry Reese.

Umenyiora was one of 10 plaintiffs against the league in the Brady V. NFL antitrust lawsuit, claiming that Reese had told him the team would give him a new contract that would pay him like one of the top-five defensive ends or trade him to a team that would if he were still playing at a high level two years after the alleged discussion took place in 2008. But he softened his stance and seemed open to returning to the Giants, assuming they re-worked his deal.

Asked earlier in the day if he expected Umenyiora to report to the facility, Mara replied: "I hope so."

But to ESPNNewYork.com's knowledge, the 29-year-old never did.

Still, despite all the uncertainty surrounding the roster, Mara is glad there's going to be a season. The Giants will play their first preseason game 15 days from Friday.

"It's been a long, exhausting process," Mara said. "But at the end of the day, I think we've got a great long-term deal for both parties. I'm sorry that the fans have had to deal with it, but it's good to have it all worked out."

Mara said the team is still in the process of getting stands set up at the Timex Performance Center, so that fans can come and watch training camp, which will be held outside of the University of Albany for the first time since 1996.

The Giants released a statement Tuesday afternoon stating that all practices will be open to the public, and general admission seating will be available to approximately 2,000 fans on a first-come, first-serve basis. Standing room along the fence line outside the practice field is also available. There is no admission charge for watching training camp workouts and parking is free.

The major topic among the players was the elimination of two-a-days practices.

"Two-a-days were honestly a lot easier than one-a-days," Thomas said. "Now there are going to be long meetings and we're going to have to practice a lot harder because there's one practice (instead of two)."

Said defensive lineman Chris Canty: "I think it'll bring the injury rate down and it was done in the best interest of players' safety."

Thomas said his biggest fear is getting injured because the team has such little time to prepare for the season.

"I've been working out the entire offseason," Thomas said. "But I wonder if my hips and hamstrings are strong enough to sustain camp. It's less days, but missing OTAs and minicamps and not running and pursuing the ball, that's one thing that I'm kind of skeptical about going into camp."

Thomas also added that in speaking with the coaching staff, the Giants may not have their roster hammered out until the second week of the preseason, giving the players little time to get acclimated to their new organizations.

"Thank god we have a veteran team so we can try to stay ahead, but it's going to be a disadvantage for everybody," Thomas said. "Our first game is in 15 days. It's going to be a madhouse with the rookies and us plugging guys in."

Mike Mazzeo is a frequent contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.