EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) Coming off an 11-5 regular season and their first trip to the playoffs since winning the Super Bowl in February 2012, there is a sense of optimism and big expectations for the New York Giants.
The defense has almost everyone back. The offense has added playmakers such as receiver Brandon Marshall and rookie tight end Evan Engram to support Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr., and there is hope that the much-maligned offensive line will come around after getting a vote of confidence from management.
For the players reporting Thursday, there is also the knowledge that a thin line separates winners and losers. Nothing is guaranteed. An injury here or there or a couple of bad bounces can shatter seasons.
''There's a lot of optimism. There's a lot of excitement,'' said guard Justin Pugh, whose five years with the team make him one of its longest-serving members. ''We've added some really good guys to the team, so there's definitely a lot of excitement. I remember driving over here this morning just like a kid on Christmas. I mean, we got a lot of things to look forward to this year.''
Not everything went well last season. The Giants were embarrassed in the postseason, losing 38-13 to the Packers in Green Bay.
All-Pro defensive tackle Damon Harrison said his mission this year is the same as last: be better.
''We don't come here just to be subpar, we come here to perform at our highest level,'' he said. ''If everybody does that, then I'm sure we'll win some games. But as far as predicting wins and losses and, you know, Super Bowls or bust, I don't think anyone is here for that.''
Harrison said his biggest concern is focusing on the things he did wrong and becoming more consistent. It's simply a matter of working hard, and he does not think the defense will have a problem with that, especially with everyone back except tackle Johnathan Hankins, who signed with the Colts as a free agent.
''Nobody is in the locker room talking about, `I was an All-Pro, I went to the Pro Bowl,' or, `We got it figured out,''' Harrison said. ''Guys are still trying to get better genuinely. And you'll see that this training camp. We still don't have everything figured out.''
Steve Spagnuolo's defense is expected to be one of the best in the league with Harrison, Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon up front, linebacker Jonathan Casillas and a secondary that includes All-Pro safety Landon Collins and cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
The offense is coming off a miserable season. The line was bad. There was no running game. Manning got hit way too much, and there was little production at receiver other than Beckham.
The line has everyone back with tackles Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart, center Weston Richburg, and Pugh and John Jerry at the guards. D.J. Fluker was the only free agent signed to add competition.
''As an offensive unit, we didn't have our best year,'' Richburg said. ''I think we can play so much better than we did last year and I'm looking forward to getting a lot more production and being better offensively to help our defense.''
On paper, Pugh feels this is the best Giants team he has been on.
''I'm excited with the type of guys we have, the character we have in the room, the coaches that we have,'' he said. ''I think top to bottom this is an exciting team and once you've been to the playoffs and know what it's like and get that taste and know how good those teams are. We've beaten the teams that have been in the playoffs, so I think that's where we get this confidence.''
While coach Ben McAdoo has talked about adding a fifth Lombardi Trophy to the Giants' collection, his focus is short term heading into his second season.
''You have to prove yourself every day in this business, let alone year to year,'' he said. ''There's a number of guys in our locker room that are on one-year deals. Whether it's players or coaches or whatever the case may be. I mean, we're all on a day-to-day deal. Someone else could be standing up here tomorrow if I go out and do something stupid today. That's just the nature of the business.''
NOTES: GM Jerry Reese said the 36-year-old Manning might get less time in practice to cut down on his work load. ... DE Owa Odighizuwa reported to camp. The third-year player had considered taking time off from football this season. ... RB Shaun Draughn started the camp on the physically unable to perform list with an ankle injury. ... There was no word whether linebacker J.T. Thomas, who had a season-ending knee injury against Dallas in the first game of the season, had passed his physical.
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