East Rutherford is about an hour north of the Jersey Shore, but there's still plenty of sunshine, blue skies and seagulls scrounging for food. As a result of the NFL lockout, the Giants are holding training camp in New Jersey for the first time since 1995, practicing at team headquarters (instead of Albany, N.Y.) across a sea of parking lots from New Meadowlands Stadium. There's a real bird problem here -- two, actually, now that the rival Eagles have assembled a so-called Dream Team in the NFC East. But the most immediate concern is the flock of gulls that keeps landing on the pristine practice fields. Workers scare them away either by driving carts in their direction or firing a flare gun that emits a high-pitched screech. (We've witnessed one drive-by shooting.) Sometimes no warning is given when the trigger is about to be pulled, causing bystanders to grab their ears and duck for cover. Naturally it's inspired more than a few Plaxico Burress jokes from onlookers.
In an email to
"If you get injured, or they feel like you underperformed, they cut you without hesitation," Umenyiora wrote. "But if you clearly outplay your contract and ask for something to be done, you're a bad guy and not a team player. It's ridiculous."
He's right, of course, and also wrong. His point is spot on, but he's missing a larger one, because it's an issue that should've been worked out in the collective bargaining negotiations over the past four months. Players can negotiate how much guaranteed money they'll receive, but until the contract itself is a guarantee, teams will have all the leverage. It's the owners' greatest victory -- just ask former Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer what digging your heels in can lead to. What doesn't follow simple logic is this: Why would the Giants even reconsider redoing a contract for someone facing potential surgery?
Despite missing three games, second-year wideout Hakeem Nicks had a breakout season in 2010, catching 79 passes for 1,052 yards and 11 touchdowns. In his third year, Mario Manningham caught 62 passes for 944 yards and nine TDs, closing out the season with three straight 100-yard games. Both, however, are still learning the nuances of their position as questions are swirling about the passing game. Tight end Kevin Boss has bolted for the Raiders. Assuming he re-signs, Steve Smith could miss the first month while healing from microfracture surgery on his left knee. The trio of Domenik Hixon, Devin Thomas and Michael Clayton combined for two catches in 2010.
What's more: Nicks is 6-foot-1; Manningham just 5-11. Burress would have provided not only depth, but also height (6-5) that could have made Eli Manning look good throwing up jump balls. Such passes contributed to a league-high 25 interceptions last season.
It's time for safety Kenny Phillips to finally make his "Superman" nickname stick. A first-round pick of the Giants in 2008, Phillips was on the verge of becoming a marquee player before a degenerative knee condition derailed his sophomore season. He appeared in all 16 games as rookie, then started the first two in '09, pulling down a pair of interceptions before undergoing microfracture surgery. He returned last year and made 15 starts, but lined up deep to prevent his knee from being hit near the line of scrimmage. "Football is a violent game and I tried to minimize the collisions that he encountered," says defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, but no more: "I'm looking for him to take a quantum leap."
Cornerback Prince Amukamara, the longest holdout of this year's first-round draft picks, finally signed his contract on Friday after missing five practices. Now he'll miss even more. Amukamara, taken out of Nebraska with the 19th selection, fractured the fifth metatarsal in his left foot in just his second NFL practice on Saturday. He'll be out indefinitely following surgery. Giants tackle William Beatty suffered a similar injury last year and missed the first two months of the season. Asked on Friday what role he expected Amukamara to play this season, coach Tom Coughlin said it "depends on how fast he can learn a new language. It's all Chinese to him right now ... he has a lot of classroom work to make up." Now he has nothing but time to study.
The first half is favorable, as six of the Giants' first seven opponents finished no better than two games under .500 last season. The lone exception is a Week 3 trip to Philadelphia, where Big Blue will try to snap a six-game losing streak against the reloaded Eagles. Soon enough, they'll truly have their work cut out for them.
The final nine weeks include road games against the Patriots, Saints, Cowboys and Jets (though there's no traveling for that last one, to be played at New Meadowlands Stadium on Christmas Eve). They'll also face the Eagles and Cowboys again, this time at home, and host the defending Super Bowl champion Packers. The Giants faded down the stretch and missed the playoffs the past two seasons, even after posting 10 wins last year. It's a realistic number to see in the win column, but once again, it may not be enough to put the Giants in the postseason.