Friday, July 31, 2009

Giants: training Camp Notes


Giants signed second round draft picks Clint Sintim (U-Virginia) and William Beatty (U-Conn) to their rookie contracts. At this point the only Giants draft pick that has not yet signed is their first round pick, Hakeem Nicks (UNC). I look for the deal to be concluded before training camp so that Nicks does not miss any practice time. Nicks showed a lot of promise in the off season conditioning program and with the Giants search for a deep threat to step forward from the WRs, they will want everyone from this group in camp. In order to make room on the roster for Sintim and Beatty, the Giants released WR Micah Rucker and LB Kelvin Smith.

Interesting Schedule notes

My buddy Don, who is a huge Giants fan, long time seasons ticket holder and has been retired and living in North Carolina for the last several years pointed out an interesting scheduling quirk involving the Panthers (his nouveau local team) and the Giants (his real team). The Panthers will be playing 3 games in Giants stadium this year. They play the opening preseason game against the Giants on Monday August 17, they play the Jets in a regular season game on November 29th and they play the Giants again at the Meadowlands on December 27th in their 15th game of the season. It is also possible that, if the Giants and Panthers both make the playoffs this year, the Panthers may have to travel to NJ again for a playoff game. That would make 4 games in one visiting stadium in one season. That has to be a record. Or as Frank Gifford might have said: "That's sommmmme kind of record". I hope they have EZ Pass.

In another interesting schedule note, the Giants have 3 games this year slotted into the exact same weekend as last year. Specifically: Giants open at home against the Redskins, and close the season with a home game against the Panthers and a road game against the Vikings. Giants played these three teams last year all on the same weekends as they will in the upcoming 2009 season. It's not so unusual in the case of the Redskins, who the Giants play twice every year. But still....

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Giants: Training Camp Preview III


There is potential for lots of change in the LB unit. Giants brought in two new players this year: Michael Boley as a FA from Atlanta and Clint Sintim, a draftee from University of Virginia. In theory, two players would have be taken off of last year's unit in order to make room for these new players, but it is of course, not always a push-pull situation like that. Especially at the LB, RB, WR and DB position, where so many of the ST players come from, a little bit of maneuvering is possible, carrying an extra player on one unit and carrying one fewer in another. (BTW - it was on ST that I had my eyes first opened to the fact that Justin Tuck was going to be a superb player. It's rare that DL-men play on special teams and when they do, they're usually either in the wedge or the wedge-busters. I saw Tuck running down the middle of the field on KO coverage. He shed easily someone who was trying to block him and ran straight for the kick returner. The KR tried to juke him, then tried to outrun him to the sideline and Tuck flat outran the returner, whom he outweighed by probably 50-60 pounds. When he caught up to him he absolutely flattened him, of course. It was an early season game in his rookie year, or maybe even a preseason game, but when I saw that I realized that this player is gong to be a star. Turns out I was right.)

Anyway - back to the LB unit - unless there is an unusual glut of talent at one unit, or a player that they want to squeeze on the team, you can expect the Giants to keep 6 or 7 LBs, just like last year. DeOssie is listed as LB but is the long snapper for punts, so that saves a roster spot for the Giants. The starters at the end of last year were Antonio Pierce, Danny Clark and Chase Blackburn. The Giants were very high on Jonathan Goff and Ryan Kehl who were rookies last year. Gerris Wilkinson has a lot of talent, is a good hitter and is very fast, but has been hurt every year that he's been in the NFL. I am sure the Giants are looking impatiently at his progress and he needs to show big things this training camp to even make the team. But here's the thing - if he does step up and show good things, maybe he could squeeze someone else out of the rotation, like an aging Danny Clark. With Michael Boley's injury, he will surely be on the PUP list at the start of camp and probably into the opening of the season. This gives the Giants a roster exemption so they can give Wilkinson all the time he needs to show progress before they make a decision. Coming into camp, it is certainly true that Wilkinson is on the bubble. Chase Blackburn, even though he started last year, is considered a backup player and may not stick. Pierce is the only legitimate MLB on the team. The Giants think that Goff is a future starter at MLB, but he also has to develop and show something in training camp and the preseason games. The LB unit is very unpredictable and there is potentially a lot of shifting possible. The Giants might even pick up another team's released player to prop up this unit.

Looking forward, one could ask the following question: is the long term replacement to Antonio Pierce on the roster now? Even the most optimistic Giants fan would have trouble answering that question in the affirmative. Blackburn played MLB for about a game before he was injured in his rookie year. Goff was on the team last year but hardly played. All the other players on the roster are considered corner LBs. With Pierce getting older, with a noticeable decline in his play last year and with the legal trouble now surrounding him, this is not just an academic question but one that needs to be considered carefully. MLB might be the Giants most vulnerable position - the position at which they can least afford to suffer an injury.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Giants: Training Camp and Preseason Preview II

Defensive Line

An interesting battle looks like it will shape up in the DL unit. In my estimation, as well as that of all the experts, there is a lot of talent in this DL and therefore, there could be some big surprises. Last year the Giants DL wore down towards the end of the year and they reinvigorated it by adding some talented players at that position. Last year the Giants carried 8 DL-men on their roster. They carried 4 DE's: Justin Tuck, Matthias Kiwanuka, Dave Tollefson and Renaldo Wynn; and they carried 4 DT's: Fred Robbins, Barry Cofield, Jay Alford and Jerome McDougle. The Giants are adding 3 players to the roster this year at these positions: Osi Ueminyora who was on IR last year and therefore did count officially on the 53 man roster; and FAs Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard. Two DL-men from last year's team are already gone: Wynn and McDougle, but that leaves one more to be released, assuming that the Giants don't want to carry 9 DL-men. In fact, the Giants also signed several other DL-men and invited them to come to camp which will make the competition even more fierce to see who sticks on the team from this group. The other players the Giants signed are: Anthony Bryant, a 3rd year player; as well as Jeremy Clark, Maurice Evans, Tommie Hill and Leger Douzable (ya' gotta love that name). I don't give any players form this last group a great chance to make the team, but Anthony Bryant is a huge player from Alabama who weighs in at 337. He has lots of potential but is a little raw.

Assuming a surprise player does not emerge from this new group, there is one more player that must go from last year's unit to make room for the three players that are getting added to the roster at this position. The obvious choice is Dave Tollefson who can play only the DE position, and although he tries real hard and he had some success last year, he is a little light at 245 and somewhat one-dimensional in that he is a pass rush specialist. Kiwanuka is a light-ish pass rusher also and the Giants may not want to keep two similar players on the team. I think that there is potential for a huge surprise in the DL and it is possible that Fred Robbins may not make the team. Robbins is a very talented player and is a great run stuffer. He had a great year last year until the end of the year when he wore down and was slowed by some injuries. I thought the DTs were dominant on the Giants DL and added much to the success of the defense. But here's the problem: Robbins is a 10 year veteran and is coming off a year where he suffered through several injuries. He broke his hands early in the year, had some shoulder problems and had knee injuries towards the end of the year. He had surgery in the off-season on his knees and the rumor is that the recovery from his surgery is not proceeding as well as is Cofield's recovery who also had his knees scoped. Cofield's injury and surgery were apparently not as severe as were Robbins' and he is doing well. Robbins had the always risky microfracture surgery to completely repair his knees, much moe severe than simpler and less invasive arthroscopy. Even if he makes it healthy to camp, we know of Jerry Reese's philosophy about not keeping older players around, espcially when they start to get injuries. He would rather keep a bench player who is young, hungry and less likely to be injured than an older, more injury-prone player. Of course, this always has to be balanced with the experience factor and certainly talent always prevails. But with all things being more or less equal, Reese will go with the younger player. In Robbins case, when he has already started to break down, it may speed the decision process to give him an injury settlement and convince him to retire. The Guants could take a more gentle route and put Robbins on IR which will guarantee him his 2009 salary (also keep him from signing with another team in the division). As good as Robbins is, I don't think he's a lock to make the team.

Logic dictates, that coming off this microfracture surgery, Robbins will be put on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list when reporting to camp. This gives the Giants a roster exemption for Robbins and allows a little more flexibility when the final roster cuts are made. A player can stay on PUP going into the season and a final decision has to be made on him in certain windows in the season. This is what the Giants did with Tyree last year, finally putting him on IR.

The other obvious factor that could affect this decision is that the Giants made two big FA signings at the DT position, in Canty and Bernard. Canty did not get big FA money to sit on the bench. He will surely start and get significant playing time. Cofield is a better pass rusher than Robbins, and is younger and healthier. Canty is the bull who is impossible to move in tghe middle against the run and Bernard is one of the best pass rushing DT's in football. Where does that leave an opportunity for Robbins to get on the field? If Canty, Bernard and Cofield are slated to take significant playing time at DT, it just adds fuel to the fire that Robbins job may be at risk. He is in the last year of his contract; consequently there will be no salary cap hit for cutting him. I am not saying it is guaranteed he will be cut; I am just saying he is at risk. If one of the young DTs steps up and shows some talent, especially a big run stuffer like 337 lb Anthony Bryant, both Robbins and Tollefson could be released.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Giants: Training Camp and Preseason preview I

It's always interesting to look at the training camp invitees and try to project where the most competition will be, to guess who might make the final roster, to pick out the one or two players that are surprise roster cuts and to pick out which unheralded player might come out of nowhere to make the roster unexpectedly. The surprise players are the most interesting to guess at and the Giants always have a few that come out of nowhere and make the team. In the last few years, Gibril Wilson, Chase Blackburn and James Butler come to mind as players that were undrafted (or drafted late in case of Wilson) and not only made the team but rose to the level of starter, or at least got significant playing time. Michael Johnson and Ahmad Bradshaw were also late round picks that have risen to positions of significant playing time. It's also interesting to pick out the players that are at risk, that are on the bubble and need to step up and show some significant improvement in order to kick start their career or, in the worst case just to make the team.

It's really difficult to look at this in the abstract and try to evaluate a particular player to see if he is NFL ready. You can't judge a player in a vacuum but have to look at him in the context of who else is on the team and who else is competing with him at his position. Perhaps adding the most complexity are a few other factors: how many players are required at his position group; how many players drafted in high rounds and therefore relatively assured to make the team are in each position group; what is the team's philosophy for configuring the team; how many players on the team are flexible players that can play multiple positions and can also play special teams. Although the structure is relatively fixed from team to team, there is some flexibility around how many players to take at each position and therefore add an extra player here or there. One example is from the Giants last year: usually teams carry three qbs but the Giants last year carried only two qbs on the roster: Manning and Carr. That gave them a little more room to carry an extra player. Giants also carried 2 PK's last year, Tynes was inactive most of the year and Carney kicked, but Tynes was officially on the team taking up a roster spot. Of course, this cost them roster flexibility.

With that background, I would like to examine the roster by position group last year and discover the Giants philosophy on team configuration. Then we can look at the changes that have occurred by players being released, look at the new acquisitions and try to guess where the big competition will be for roster spots. In this post we will examine three positions: WR, QB and RB. We will preview other position in future posts.

Wide Receiver

Last year the Giants carried 6 WRs: Burress, Toomer, Smith, Manningham, Hixon and Moss. This year, as you know, Burress and Toomer are off the team and the Giants added draftees Nicks and Barden. Theoretically the two new draftees will replace Burress and Toomer and the Giants can enter the season with the same full compliment of 6 WRs. But of course that leaves a tricky question: does Super Bowl LXII hero David Tyree make the team or does he get unceremoniously released? Actually, I think the Giants were prepared to cut him last year. Or, more accurately I should say that Tyree was the seventh WR in a unit that required 6. The Giants would have released him last year but probably realized what a public relations disaster it would have been to do so, so they IR'ed him. That took them out of the uncomfortable position of cutting him; it allowed them to feel magnanimous by paying his salary for the year and he did not take a roster spot of a more deserving player. I really thought the Giants showed great class by first putting Tyree on the PUP list (physically unable to perform) and then graduating him to IR last year. He is not a great WR and was drafted out of Syracuse because he was a top ST player. But as his speed has slightly diminished as he ages he has become merely a very good ST player, not a difference maker on that unit. Perhaps the Giants keep a player or two who only play ST and are not good at a particular position, which might open an opportunity for Tyree to make the team. But if the Giants demand that each player have a position in addition to playing ST, Tyree might not make it. If Tyree does not make the team, perhaps the Giants will offer him an injury settlement and hope that he retires.

The interesting thing among this group of WRs is not really which ones will make the team, but rather who gets the playing time. In this regard, Moss has to be considered on the bubble. He's been on the team for 3 years, drafted originally in the second round. The first year he was injured and hardly dressed. The last two years he had trouble getting on the field. I don't exactly understand why, because whenever he did play, he looked very good to me. This is probably his last chance. Mannigham also had an invisible rookie year last year and should be expected to show a bit more this year. We heard that both Moss and Mannigham had very productive off-seasons, where they showed a lot of progress. Let's see if they are able to step forward.


Last year the Giants carried two qb's, Manning and Carr, but most teams carry 3 qb's. Last year, rookie Andre Woodson did not show enough in preseason to merit making the team. The fact that he showed so little in the preseason also made it safe for the the Giants to put him on their practice squad, and not be concerned that some other team would sign him and steal him away from the Giants. They also felt confident that Carr was a good enough qb that carrying just one extra qb was sufficient and probably had a good inkling that Carr would re-sign with the Giants for 2009, which he did. This year the situation is quite different, probably on all of these points. Carr will probably not be satisfied to sit on the bench for yet another year after this one, behind a qb that is established as starter and for a position where there is no competition for the job. The Giants, therefore, knowing that this is likely Carr's last year with the team, have to prepare themselves to find a legitmate backup to replace Carr in 2011. They will therefore want to keep a third qb on the team who can get reps in practice and maybe even take a few mop up snaps in a game that is well decided. They drafted a qb, Bomar, again this year and will probably have a spirited competition in camp between Bomar and Woodson. My guess is that the winner stays and the Giants carry 3 qbs this year. But the important point is that this additional qb takes an additional roster compared to last year's team and will make it harder for some other player on the bubble to make the team.


The Giants actually may pick up some roster flexibility at the RB position. Last year the Giants had 7 players at the RB/FB position. Two of them have departed: Reuben Droughns and FA Derrick Ward. They drafted Andre Brown who has impressed the Giants early in the off season conditioning program. They did sign some other RBs, Patrick Allen and Dwayne Wright both young veterans originally from Oklahoa and Fresno State respectively, but I don't expect they have a great chance to make the team. Realistically, Droughns was listed as RB last year but was a ST player. If the Giants carry only 6 RB/FBs it could give an opening for them to carry Tyree as an extra WR to play ST.

LB and DL are units that may be ready for a big change in its makeup and we will preview that in our next post. OL could be interesting as well. Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Giants: It's the economy, stupid

The Giants are surely feeling the pinch of the economic downturn. They may have miscalculated and overestimated the demand for high priced tickets and expensive PSL charges and did not anticipate the affects of a recession. Of course, you can not blame them for that oversight. The best and the brightest in the financial community did not see this coming and were unprepared for this meltdown which pulled the rug out from under the economy and subtracted so much wealth that had been in people's hands. In fact, not only did the financial geniuses not see it coming - they actually caused it! The Giants job is to draft and pay players and coaches, not analyze the over-leveraging and flawed risk mitigation models of the financial community or understand the fallacy in credit default swaps. So I am not blaming them; nevertheless, there are some affects. Let me elaborate.

I received a letter from the Giants this past Monday which made a somewhat surprising announcement about ticket prices for the new stadium. Instead of summarizing, I will quote directly from the letter:

"... we have decided to reduce the ticket price of the outer two sections in all four Mezzanine Club B corner areas from $400 to $250 per game. The PSL price for these seats will remain $7,500 and ticket holders in those seats will have access to the club areas. A total of 1,570 seats which is roughly 40 percent of the remaining available seats in the new building (but only 1.9% of the total seating capacity) are impacted by this decision and will form the new Mezzanine Club C."

Interesting stuff - the bad news from the Giants perspective is that they have not sold all of the seats. It is rather unexpected and surely in a healthy economy they might be gone by now. I recall when I wanted to buy tickets to the home playoff game in 2005 against Carolina. The Giants put several thousand tickets on sale, open to the general public to buy through Ticketron on a first come first served basis. I was at Ticketron 1 hour before the opening sale time to make sure I was at the front of the line. I bought my tickets 6 minutes after the sale started and the person standing behind me was locked out because the tickets were already sold out. (I wish I had come later and been sold out - Giants lost 23-0.) So it took exactly 6 minutes to sell several thousand playoff tickets whose face value was doubled, because this was a playoff game. You could certainly guess that the chance to buy seasons tickets where you have a permanent seat, would be more urgent among the fans and people would jump at the chance. But, aside from the economy and the PSL, I think the major obstacle to selling these seats was the face value, up at $400, more than was the PSL. A relatively comfortable, upper middle class, white collar worker, can probably rationalize forking over $15K for the PSL on two tickets. Especially if he considers that this $15K is spread out over 20 or 30 years of the expected life of the stadium. But at $400 face value, 2 seats for 10 games, is $8K per year. That is a big investment and a big percentage of your budgeted sports entertainment dollar. $250 is still somewhat expensive, because it comes in at $5K for 2 seats for the season. But it is less than half the total of your PSL charge, which is a psychological barrier than people don't want to cross.

Also important with this reduction to $250 is the creation of a secondary market for tickets. People who pay for seasons tickets don't plan to go to all 10 games that they pay for; not even all 8 regular season games. They pay for the tickets up front, but want to be secure in the knowledge that if they have to get rid of the tickets because they have a business trip or personal obligation, they can easily unload them. With really expensive seats, it is not a slam dunk that they will be able to be sold. Getting rid of tickets on the secondary market requires a relatively large pool of people ready to step up and buy. And that large pool comes when buying tickets to a single game is an easy, snap decision to make - you could almost call it an impulse buy. When tickets are 100 or so and you want to sell them for 150, there are lots of people who will drop 300 on a pair of tickets. That's not much more than what you would spend on dinner at a nice restaurant with your significant other and doesn't require a major budget evaluation. When tickets are $400, a small markup means that the pair of tickets will go for at least $1K, probably closer to $1,250-$1,500 which is a number that people will have to stop and at least think about before they peel 12 or 15 crisp $100 bills out of their wallet. This is something that is going to sit with the Giants as long as the stadium is standing, but at least the Giants have a relatively small number of tickets in this pricey range.

Next post - back to football. I promise.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Giants: The strategy of building a roster

This is the slowest part of the year for the NFL. The off-season conditioning program and the OTAs (organized team activities) are ended. Players and coaches are away on vacation. The draft is over. The free agent signing period is past, at least for the first wave of highly desirable FA's (our old friend Amani Toomer is still on the market, eg). Trades, which are so common in baseball and fan the flames of the winter hot stove league, are relatively rare in football and the air-conditioned league of July is cold rather than hot with trade discussions. Training camp hasn't started yet and so all we have to read and think about is the off-the-field stuff, usually filled with stories and incidents we don't want to read about.

I thought I would write a post about something I have thought about for a while now and discussed often with some of my football buddies, especially my friend Ray. The strategy of building an NFL roster is not just about filling out the lineup card. It's also about matching the parts and styles of play of the different parts of the roster so that they form a cohesive unit. In baseball, if you find a 3rd baseman who hits more HRs and has a higher OBP than the 3rd baseman currently on your team, then if you replace your current player with the better player, you will have a better offensive team and score more runs. Perhaps I am simplifying a little bit, because there is something about chemistry, hitting with RISP and some other stats that may be important. My point is that styles of play are relatively unimportant in baseball. Just ask Michael Lewis and refer to Money Ball - OBP and slugging percentage drive offenses in baseball.

In football, I think it is a bit different. For example, you don't just need a good OL; you may do better by having an OL that matches the style of your RB. I'll talk about that in more detail a little later in this post, but first consider the following example. If you have a qb that has a strong arm but is not particularly nimble, you would not want him to run a west coast style offense, which requires quickness, accuracy and quick decision making. Vinny Testaverde and Joe Montana are not going to prosper in the same types of offensive schemes. Jason Campbell, for another example, is not a good match for the west coast offense that Jim Zorn decided to run in Washington and I think their offense will decline somewhat this year. I also think coaches (like Zorn) that decide to run a particular style of offense or defense without actually evaluating the roster and seeing what style of play matches the personnel on the team are... well.. stupid. It was a breath of fresh air when Spagnuolo came in two years ago and evaluated the roster before he decided what type of defense to run. Everyone just assumed that he would run the exact same defense that DC Joe Johnson ran in Philadelphia. A month or two into his job, he was asked by reporters whether he had completed installing the new defense yet. DC Spags replied that he's not quite finished, because he's still evaluating the skills of the players and looking at what parts of the defense worked last year. The reporters laughed derisively and, not knowing Spagnuolo, took it as a sign of weakness, of a DC who was being indecisive, who was in over his head in a job that was too big for him. By implication, he would fail miserably. I, on the other hand, was applauding vigorously - imagine: a coach that actually tries to coach his team and his players, fitting a system to the skills of the players and the talent on the roster rather than forcing a system onto the team. We all saw the results.

I think it goes further than coaching the players you have and it extends to building a roster so that all the parts match. There can be subtleties in things like the style of play of the OL matching with the skills and running style of the RB and, of course, the types of running plays that the offense uses. Since this is a Giants blog, I thought I would use the Giants as an example. In the few years leading up to and ending with 2006, Tiki Barber was the Giants RB, Jim Finn was the FB, Pettigout was the LT and David Diehl was playing G. Barber was a finesse type runner, not a power back. Therefore, having Pettigout at LT and Finn as FB was not a catastrophe and was a match to his style. Pettigout was an average pass blocker and as run blocker, he was not the road-grader type. Finn was the same way at FB; he was not a huge powerful guy but was fairly nimble and had a high football IQ. The running play the Giants liked to run was to have Pettigout, Finn and a pulling G slide out to the left side of the OL and not really try to knock any defenders back, but just float out and engage the defenders. It was like a swarm of bodies bumping, touching and engaging each other on a dance floor at a disco or a club. Tiki would get out behind this swarm and would wait for an opening. When one of the defenders tried to break through the swarm of Giants in front of Tiki, the blocker would simply take the defender where he wanted to go, it would open up a crease for Tiki and he would scoot through the opening. He was quick and was great at setting up his blockers this way. It was a good match between OL, RB and types of running plays used in the offense. As a result, Tiki put up great rushing numbers under Coughlin from 2004-2006.

The scene changed in 2007 when Tiki retired and Brandon Jacobs was installed as the number 1 tailback. Instead of a finesse runner, Jacobs is all brute force. He has good speed, he can get to the edges and he can cut back and make guys miss, but he is not going to set up blockers and cut off them the way that Tiki did. Jacobs making people miss is more predicated on his size and the need for a tackler to dig in real hard when Jacobs is approaching, gather himself, plant himself and prepare for the hit. When the potential tackler is tensed up like that waiting for the collision, Jacobs only needs a little juke to get by him. Jacobs needs a big front that can get a good push on the defense and when they are moving backwards a little bit, he can finish the job and run over them. As a result, Reese got rid of Pettigout and put Diehl out at LT. Diehl is not the best LT in the NFL, but he is a very good run blocker. He is big and athletic and he really runs downhill when he gets out in front of Jacobs. Similarly Snee and Seubert, the two Gs are very athletic and run downhill when they pull to lead a running play. One of the other very first things Reese did when he took over as GM was try to replace Jim Finn, the smallish, nimble player at FB. He signed restricted free agent Vonta Leach of the Houston Texans to an offer sheet in March 2007. It turned out that the Texans matched the offer of the bruising FB, but Reese showed his intentions and his desire to upgrade and get a power FB to match his power RB. Finn got injured, was put on IR and did not play for the Giants in 2007. Instead, the Giants went into the 2007 season with some anonymous players at the FB position, but you all know how it turned out: after the first game of the season, Madison Hedgecock was inexplicably cut by the Rams and the Giants snatched him up 2 days later. When the Giants saw how good he was, they signed him to a 5 year extension after only a few games and his bruising blocking style was a big part of the Giants character, success and the Superbowl in 2007, as well as their two 1,000 yard rushers in 2008.

I don't want to flog a dead horse, but I think we saw something similar in the 1986 and 1990 championships for the Giants. The1986 OL, the "Suburbanites" were smallish, smart and relatively quick. They had Brad Benson, Bill Ard, Bart Oates, Chris Godfrey and Karl Nelson. This quick, mobile group was blocking for the darting, diminutive runner, Joe Morris. Perfect match. In 1990, the Giants had the elephant OL: Jumbo Elliott, William Roberts, Doug Riesenberg, Eric Moore, with Bart Oates back manning the C position. They switched from a finesse OL to a power OL. To beef it up further, they added Howard Cross as TE along with Bavaro, two bruising blockers. The RB they were blocking for was the once-speedy OJ Anderson who had become a power RB by that point in his career. I considered it a remarkable change over and a real credit to the Giants GM George Young and coach Parcells to switch 4 OL-men in the space of 4 years and win a championship with both units. The change of style of play and the match between RB and OL seems clear in these examples from Giants history.

You don't build a roster for an actual NFL team like you do when you're GM in a fantasy football league. It takes some mixing, matching and planning.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Giants: the roster - young and talented

It is a little premature to start talking about the makeup and character of the Giants team, since we simply don't know who is actually going to make the final roster at this point. Every NFL team has 80 or so players that they sign at this time of year. The first cut down date is September 1 where the teams have to get down to 75 players and they must reduce it further to 53 by September 5 going into the regular season. However, we can certainly speculate on one important fact. Last year the Giants, while having the best record in the NFC and the second best record in the entire NFL also had the 5th youngest team in football. In fact, this average player age was artificially raised by having the two oldest players in the league on the team in the specialty units in P Jeff Feagles and PK John Carney. Of course Carney is off the team this year and while it is too early to figure out how old the Giants will be this year, it is certainly likely that they will have gotten much younger because of the departure of other veterans including Sam Madison, Amani Toomer, RW McQuarters, Grey Ruegamer and Plaxico Burress. Right now, excluding Feagles, the Giants have only 9 players on their roster that have more than 6 years in the league. That means that probably a bit more than 80% of the roster will have 5 years or less in the league. I will assert that because of the quality of the roster, the Giants are ready for a championship run this year; but furthermore, because of their youth, they are primed to be in a contending position for the next 5 years or so. The oldest unit on the team is the OL with several players with longer experience: O'Hara (10th yr), MacKenzie (9), Seubert (9) and Diehl (7) in addition to veteran Tutan Reyes (10) signed this off-season as possible veteran backup. There is no guarantee that Reyes will make the team. It depends greatly on how good Beatty, Whimper and Koets look in camp. Nevertheless, the players in the OL are still in their prime, with the only signs of possible decline showing in MacKenzie's back problems. Furthermore, the Giants have on their team two young possible replacements that could provide an upgrade in the next year or two in Guy Whimper and William Beatty. Jerry Reese has done a masterful job at revitalizing, building up and rejuvenating the roster in the last several years making it much more talented AND much younger.

This has not been an accident by Reese, it was a conscious effort to get younger, more athletic and, of course more talented. Even though Reese was running the draft for Accorsi when Ernie was still GM, Ernie was still setting the strategy and the course for the team. Ernie was nearing the end of his career, and he knew it, in the 2003-2005 period. While he drafted Eli in 2004, which surely was a risk, he wanted to go out a champion and he rolled the dice on bringing in some veterans as FAs, who were proven players elsewhere, in an attempt to go out in a blaze of glory. You may recall that he brought in players like Lavar Arrington and Carlos Emmons at LB. He brought in Will Demp at S and he brought in Bob Whittfield as a veteran back up to the OL. He also re-signed Luke Pettigout and gave him a fairly stout contract to keep the veteran players that he had on the roster at the time. This strategy really backfired on the Giants. Emmons was coming off a broken leg, had injury problems with the Giants and never regained his form with the Giants. Lavar Arrington did not fit in smoothly and also had a serious injury when he tore his achilles tendon. Will Demp also did not regain his speed and spent time on the injured list. Pettigout was never very good, had back injury problems and apparently had a brain malfunction that affected his hearing, his timing and his memory. He could never remember the snap count, could not hear the qb's calls and could not time when to stand up and start the play, because he led the league in false start penalties all the time. The worst part of the aged roster arose with Whittfield, however. He was the substitute OL-man and when Pettigout went down with an injury and he had to come in to replace him, he was absolutely awful. He did not know the playbook, was not in good physical shape and certainly not in game shape. He had assumed that because he was a substitute he was never going to play and so he simply did not prepare himself for that possibility. It's lucky Eli did not get killed when Whittfield started playing.

Reese saw all these things, especially the Whittfield debacle and decided that he was going to make a commitment to a younger, faster, more athletic roster, even as some substitutes, who would work hard to be prepared to play when they got their opportunity and, most importantly, were less likely to be injuried. Reese cut all of those veterans, then he drafted very well, signed FA's selectively rather than as a policy to improve the team and has done an outstanding job. When you draft very well and sign only some FA's selectively, you set yourself up to be contenders for a long time. As you may recall from previous posts on this blog, I particualry liked the 2005 draft when the Giants had only 4 picks because of the Eli trade the year before and managed to get Justin Tuck, Brandon Jacobs and Corey Webster, three players that are an important part of the backbone of the team and have a good chance of being pro bowl players this year. In addition, the Giants additions of young veterans cut by other teams has been brilliant. Domenik Hixon, Derrick Ward, Danny Ware and Madison Hedgecock are examples of players that the Giants have signed cheap because they were cut by other teams and have made a real impact on the Giants. Danny Ware and Derrick Ward were both signed off the practice squad of other NFL teams (in both cases, the Jets). We will see how the FA additions this year of Canty, Bernard and Boley work out, but I have high hopes.

When you look back at the periods of time when the Giants were good and contending, you need only need to look at the drafts leading up to those periods as a forecast of the quality of the team. In the 1984-1990 period when the Giants won their first two Superbowls, the Giants drafts leading up to that sustained period of success included: LT, Simms, Banks, Bavaro, Morris and all the real good OL-men in Jumbo Elliot, William Roberts, etc. Conversely in the awful period starting with the late 1990's, the Giants drafted players like Dave Brown and Derrick Brown. The 2000 Superbowl run was a fluke and I don't consider one year as a counterexample to contradict my assertion about drafting being the main component to set up the team for a good run over several years. The drafts of the past 3 or 4 years have been so good that this portends a period of solid performance and sustained success for the Giants.