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.

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