Postcard from camp: Giants
At the University at Albany, where the Giants already seem to be playing to last season's form. Not the first portion of 2011, when they went 7-7, but the second, when they won six straight single elimination games, the last of which came in the Super Bowl against the Patriots.
Head coach Tom Coughlin's plan to end the practice I saw with an extended two-minute drill was dashed when Eli Manning led the offense down the field in just three plays, one of which was a terrific long completion to Domenik Hixon down the left sideline, which looked virtually identical to the fourth-quarter throw Manning made to Mario Manningham in the Super Bowl, which set up the winning touchdown. "Ball goes down the field in three plays, that's the drill," said Coughlin. "Not what you have in mind!" He was not complaining.
At 5-foot-9 and 205 pounds, Wilson is some seven inches shorter and 60 pounds lighter than Jacobs, but he has all of his toughness -- he led collegiate backs in yards after contact last season -- and his athletic gifts stand out on the practice field. "Phenomenal," said linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka. "His feet never stop. He's got explosion. His stop and start is almost like watching Allen Iverson on the basketball court. He can be in full speed in one direction, stop, and be full speed in the other direction the next second. That's a special skill."
Wilson and a healthy Ahmad Bradshaw make it impossible to imagine that the Giants will again rank last in rushing offense, as they did in 2011, when they averaged just 89.2 yards per game.
The prospect of 3rd-and-long -- when Kiwanuka often joins the other three on the line -- should be truly terrifying. "Oh man, it's a race to the quarterback," said Kiwanuka. "You're not only fighting against the man in front of you, or the offensive team in general, you're fighting against your teammates, because if you're one step too slow, somebody else is going to get that sack."
That the left tackle position is currently one of the only ones on the field in the air -- likely starter Will Beatty is unproven and currently sidelined with a back injury -- is worrying, as one crushing blind side hit on Manning could be all it takes for a team that looks as if it can again contend for a Super Bowl to become an also-ran.
Reese insists that reports of the Giants' concerns about Amukamara have been overblown. "That's been sensationalized," he said. "They asked me, 'What do you expect from Prince?' I said, 'I expect him to play like a first-round draft pick,' which he is. I expect Pierre-Paul to play like that, [Hakeem] Nicks to play like that. I saw somewhere, 'Jerry Reese rips into Prince Amukamara.' It comes with the territory here. That's OK. Prince knows what we expect from him. We expect him to play well, and we think he will."
"What the hell does that mean?" asked Coughlin, when apprised of his new tight end's would-be nickname. "He has practiced well. We're encouraging him to learn our system, to learn how our players react, if you will, to questions from the media, in particular. To realize that talk is cheap. Do it on the field first, and let people judge you by the way in which you play, and not by your interviews."
The best of Bennett's four seasons in Dallas came in 2008, when he amassed 283 receiving yards and four touchdowns -- but he spent all that time as the second fiddle to Jason Witten, and the Giants jumped at the chance to add a player with his physical gifts on a one-year, $2.5 million free-agent deal. He is the likely starter, and his on-field production could soon come to match that of his larynx.
The Giants have the NFL's most difficult schedule, based on last season's records. They will face opponents that went a combined 140-116 in 2011, and seven of them won at least nine games. Potentially daunting matchups are not clustered, but spread throughout: at Philadelphia in Week 4 and at San Francisco in Week 6; home against Pittsburgh in Week 9 and against Green Bay in Week 12. Their final four games should be particularly brutal: home against the Saints, then trips to play the Falcons and Ravens, and then home against the Eagles.
Still, this is an experienced, steady team that seems perfectly suited to handle such a slate. In fact, it is not hard to imagine that 2012 will look a lot like 2007 and 2011. The Giants might again finish with a record that is not particularly impressive, but good enough for a wild-card berth -- say, 10-6 -- and then turn things on when they really must.