September 2, 2012
On Wednesday, September 5th, the New York Giants will begin their defense of the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Yet, despite coming into the season as Super Bowl champs, the Giants face many of the same concerns they did before the start of last season. They’ve lost some personnel to free agency and injury, and GM Jerry Reese, as he did last year, will need to find production from unexpected sources in order to make a run at another championship.
After his heroic 38-yard catch late in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLVI, WR Mario Manningham decided to test free agency. And he turned that catch into millions of dollars – specifically, a 2-year 7.38 million dollar contract with the San Francisco 49ers.
Manningham wasn’t the best of the team’s wideouts, be he was good enough to draw opposing defenses away from the team’s top two WRs, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. Manningham was inconsistent, and was hard on himself when he struggled – which he did during the middle part of the season.
Despite his flaws, he ended the regualar season with 523 yards and 4 TDs. He played his best football during the postseason, catching 3 TDs in 4 playoff games, and making the key play on the eventual game-winning touchdown drive in the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl.
Last season, the Giants lost their 3rd down stalwart, WR Steve Smith, to free agency. Pressed to find a replacement, the Giants stuck with Cruz, who had been a pre-season sensation in 2010, but couldn’t stay healthy enough to play in the regular season. All Cruz did was lead the team in receiving yards (1,536) and receiving touchdowns (9).
Can Reese and coach Tom Coughlin find another diamond in the rough out of the group of Domenik Hixon, Jerrel Jernigan, Rueben Randle, and Ramses Barden? New York has been waiting for Barden, the tall, would-be replacement for Plaxico Burress, to have a breakout year. Hixon has shown flashes of brilliance, but has missed a lot of time due to injury. And if the Giants’ return game suffers, Hixon may return that role to help out.
The Giants also lost RB Brandon Jacobs, also as a free agent, also to the Niners. Jacobs has clearly lost a step, and doesn’t hit the line nearly as hard as he once did. The years of punishment he dished out – and took – seem to have finally taken their toll. So, New York decided to part ways with the 6’4″, 270-pounder.
In his place, they selected 5′ 9″, 205-pounder David Wilson in the first round of this year’s draft. The rookie from Virginia Tech had an impressive pre-season, and will be splitting time with veteran Ahmad Bradshaw. Gone is the famed “Lightning-and-Thunder” combination the Giants employed over the years. This year, they will have two cut-back specialists in their backfield. Don’t be surprised if 2nd-year fullback Henry Hynoski gets more touches this year – he showed an ability to catch the ball late last year, and was an unsung hero during the playoff run.
CB Aaron Ross also parted ways with the Giants, taking his talents to Jacksonville. Ross was a solid player for the Giants, but had trouble staying healthy. He had 10 career interceptions for New York, 4 of them coming last year.
The Giants felt they could afford to lose Ross, because Terrell Thomas, who missed all last season with a knee injury, was due to return this year. Unfortunately, Thomas suffered another injury to his twice-repaired ACL during training camp, and has been placed on season-ending Injured Reserve. In 2009 and 2010, Thomas was the team’s best CB, providing great coverage and picking off 10 passes.
The onus now falls to 2nd-year man Prince Amukamara to start CB opposite the reliable Corey Webster. Amukamara, however, has a high-ankle sprain, and is expected to miss the season opener. This leaves the CB position paper-thin heading into the season. Can the Giants squeeze some more of their magic out of someone like Jayron Hosely?
One thing is for sure, the weakened secondary will be helped along by the Giants defensive line, which, despite the loss of Chris Canty to the PUP list and Marvin Austin‘s continuing back issues, should still create havoc for opposing teams’ passing games. Their pass rush is the greatest asset of their pass defense. They still have three of the best defensive ends in the game on their team – Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, and Jason Pierre-Paul – and an excellent pass-rushing linebacker in Mathias Kiwanuka.
They’ll continue to change looks, moving a DE to DT, or a DE to LB, confusing the offensive line as they did all last year.
The offensive line was a question mark last year, and it remains so this year. The Giants found a suitable replacement at center for Shaun O’Hara in the form of David Baas, but had trouble replacing injuries to Will Beatty and others. Beatty should be back this year, and may be ready for the season opener. If he is healthy, he should solidify the left tackle position.
They also added veteran Sean Locklear and rookie Brandon Mosely for depth. Will it be enough to protect QB Eli Manning and open up lanes for the running backs?
Jake Ballard came out of nowhere last season, replacing, and surpassing, Kevin Boss, who left as a free agent prior to the 2011 season. But both he and backup Travis Beckum suffered severe injuries during the Super Bowl, and both ended up on the PUP list for this season. Beckum remains on the Giants, but Ballard was scooped up by the New England Patriots off of waivers.
Former Dallas Cowboy Martellus Bennett and blocking specialist Bear Pascoe will hold down the TE fort for the Giants this year. Bennett never fulfilled his potential in Dallas, but he had trouble getting on the field. Serving as a backup to Jason Witten, one of the best TEs in the game, will do that to a person. Bennett hopes to blossom this year as the Giants’ starting TE, in a system that seems to interchange TEs as easily as USB devices. Tight End Coach Mike Pope deserves a ton of credit for keeping his position stable since the loss of Jeremy Shockey.
Can the Giants overcome their pre-season problems and make another run at the Lombardi Trophy? After they lost Steve Smith, Kevin Boss, key offensive linemen, and suffered a passel of injuries, they still went on to win it all in 2011. It’s not a stretch to say that Reese, Coughlin, and the Giants can do the same again this year.