Training camp postcard: Giants
SI.com has dispatched 10 writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. For the complete schedule of postcards, click here.
On the campus of the University at Albany, which might not technically qualify as sprawling, but starts to seem that way when you have to make the 15-minute walk between the Giants' practice field and media center five times in a single day, as did this car-less reporter. Still, it's hard not to get caught up in the good cheer that imbues Giants camp this year, in the wake of their stunning Super Bowl triumph. "I've never been thanked more in my life," says center Shaun O'Hara, and the team's fervent supporters have also impressed middle linebacker Antonio Pierce. "There are so many more fans here than ever before," he says. "They're here early in the morning, they're here in the afternoon."
Even Tom Coughlin has gotten into the spirit. Coughlin famously committed to lighten up before last season; but here in Albany last summer, with the guillotine dangling above his neck, he chafed at the daily barrage of questions about Michael Strahan's whereabouts. This year, with a ring on his finger and a contract extension in his pocket, he seems happy to address all queries, no matter how inane. "First time I have ever heard a question like that," he said brightly to a reporter who asked about some procedural element of autograph night. "Congratulations!"
Still, the Giants say they're well aware of the possibility of a Super Bowl hangover, especially as the franchise missed the playoffs the season following each of its previous two championships. Says O'Hara, "The atmosphere's different, but we're still here in Albany for one reason: To put our noses to the grindstone and go to work."
1. The secondary's huge. I spent several moments observing what I assumed to be the Giants' linebacking corps huddled up next to the practice field -- until I realized the group was actually the team's secondary. These guys are monsters (only cornerback Sam Madison is under 6 feet), but the most physically impressive of them all is safety Kenny Phillips, the team's first-round pick out of Miami. He's listed at 6'2, 210 lbs., but he's surely bigger than that now, and the team's thrilled with how he's played so far. The Giants devoted a significant amount of their off-season resources to upgrading the secondary -- they also drafted USC cornerback Terrell Thomas in the second round and signed free agent safety Sammy Knight. They ranked 11th in pass defense last season, but that ranking was somewhat misleading, as the secondary was helped considerably by an unstoppable pass rush. Now they've got a big, fast and deep unit, which should perform well in a division that boasts only one opposing receiver who matches them physically, Terrell Owens.
2. The Giants will miss Strahan. But not that much. The Giants are completely confident there will be no Favre-ian flip-flopping for the league's fifth all-time sacks leader: He's retired for good. And while he played at an extremely high level for a 36-year-old last season, the Giants' pass rush, which led the NFL with 53 sacks, remains strong. Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck (the latter of whom should have probably joined the former at last year's Pro Bowl) should constitute one of the best tandems of ends in the league, and they'll be supported by a still-effective Fred Robbins and the up-and-coming Barry Cofield and Jay Alford, whose sack of Tom Brady with less than a minute left in the Super Bowl was one of the most important (yet somewhat forgotten) plays of the game. And Mathias Kiwanuka, who was playing the best football of his career when he was injured last November, is back at full strength. More on him below.
3. Plaxico's actually hurt -- so he says. Plaxico Burress was adamant in a meeting with reporters that his right ankle is legitimately sore (although he says it's a different malady than the one that hampered him last year), and that he's not pulling a ManRam-like contract-related ploy. "Y'all know me," he said. "If this was about my contract, I wouldn't be here. I'd be sitting at home right now." I'm guessing that Plax will be healthy enough to play on Sundays, but not healthy enough to play much during the week -- which would be fine with the Giants, if he can repeat last season's 1,025-yard, 12-touchdown performance.
New Face, New Place
Not many to choose from here, as the veteran safety Knight, who is tied with Champ Bailey for third on the active interceptions list, amounts to the Giants' only significant off-season acquisition. This will be the hard-hitting Knight's 12th NFL season, and he hasn't missed a game since 1998. However, he's played in only five playoff games, and he says that's inspiring him in camp, particularly when he sits with his new teammates in the UAlbany cafeteria. "When you see that guy sitting next to you, that ring blinding you when you're eating lunch, it makes you hungrier," he says. "I feel hungry. I see the joy these guys have on their faces, and I want that feeling."