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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- We are ready for some football. Great to see it back Sunday night, with Vince Young beginning what he hopes is his resurrection (now, if he'd only quit talking about it) in the Hall of Fame game against Buffalo.
My week began in upstate New York, stretched to the great north woods of Wisconsin and Minnesota, and ended in the Rust Belt. Along the way, I saw the Offensive Rookie of the Year, the most incredible near-miss injury in NFL history (and I mean that), and Pat Tillman's garment bag. And a few other things. Rewinding preseason Week 2 in the NFL:
11 a.m., Monday (New York Jets camp, Cortland, N.Y.): The happiest man in New York Jets camp -- other than Rex Ryan, who waited 23 years to be a head coach and walks around most of the time grinning like a kid -- is all-purpose running back Leon Washington. It certainly isn't because of his contract (Washington and the Jets are haggling over a deal that's likely to get done this summer in the $6-million-a-year range). Rather, this is about Ryan's love for Washington and what he can mean to the Jets' offense and special teams. Washington touched the ball 123 times from scrimmage last year, a ridiculously low number for one of football's 10 most dangerous players. That's about to change.
There were only a few hundred people in the stands to watch the Jets' morning practice on this day, but they made their feelings known chants of "LEEE-on, LEEE-on," was the gist of it. Twice. The knock on Washington is that he is too small, at 197 pounds, to withstand the beating an NFL running back must take if he touches the ball 15 or 20 times a game. Bad logic. Over a three-year period late in his career, Tiki Barber had the most combined rushes and receptions of any back in football. He weighed almost 10 pounds more than Washington. So, if you say to me that Washington can't touch the ball 300 times rushing and receiving, I say to you: You don't know.
"In my rookie year,'' Washington said, "I touched it 176 times and I never got hurt. I know what Tiki did. And my idol when I was younger was Marshall Faulk. He wasn't a lot bigger than me. They couldn't give him the ball enough."
Ryan has already told Washington the Jets will feed him the ball a lot more than he got it last year. How much is that? Ryan doesn't know. "But the thing I want people to understand about me," Washington said, "is that I want the ball so I can help the team win. I don't want the ball so I can just be a stat guy." The way Ryan sees it, Washington's going to be both this fall.
Looking for one reason Manningham just might be the guy the Giants have been looking for at wide receiver? It's the change in this kid. Last year, Manningham's iffy attitude pushed him into the third round of the draft and set his professional development way back. Then he strained a quad in training camp, and the year was a washout. And though Manning says he expects the Giants to be receiver-by-committee this year, I say Manningham is going to get every chance to be the bookend to Steve Smith at some point. That's how good Manningham's offseason was.
One more thing about the Giants' passing game that will be warmly received by their fans, many whom believe Manning is too much of a dink-and-dunker. When I asked Manning what he had worked on to improve his game this spring and summer, he said, "The deep ball. It's something we have to get better at."
4 p.m., Tuesday (Giants camp): I have come to the sidelines of Giants practice with a premise for GM Jerry Reese: He and director of college scouting Marc Ross are the combo platter of Theo Epstein or Billy Beane, crazy in love with player development as the cornerstone of everything they do. I told Reese I felt strongly -- as I had written before the draft -- that the Giants should have dealt a low second-round pick to get disgruntled Arizona wide receiver Anquan Boldin.
And though I still feel the Giants would be sitting prettier today with Hakeem Nicks and Boldin on the team rather than Nicks and Ramses Barden, I understood why he chose to go young: Not only would New York have had to pay the 60th pick in the draft for a 28-year-old receiver getting some wear on the tires, but also the Giants would have had to pay him $9 million a year, minimum, on a new contract. So this said everything about the Giants' draft-'em-and-develop-'em philosophy. Right? Not so fast.
"Not really,'' said Reese. "For us, there is no template. In '07, we didn't like the value in free agency, so we went bottom-feeding. We didn't feel the early stages of free agency were a buyer's market, so that was a big draft year for us. This year, we liked the free-agent market, at least for our needs. We signed Chris Canty, Rocky Bernard and Michael Boley.
"I think you trap yourself if you say, 'This is the one way to build a team.' For us, there is no Giant way. Nothing is set in stone. We believe in developing our own players; make no mistake about it. But we won't change the way we look at things, because we think you have to treat every year differently.''
I asked him if he ever talked to GMs in other sports, the way Bill Polian of the Colts uses Jim Hendry of the Cubs and Epstein of the Red Sox as occasional sounding boards. "No,'' he said, "but [mentoring former Giants GM] Ernie Accorsi taught me you could learn from the way guys do it in other sports. He used to clip out articles for me to read about how other teams handled contracts or the difficulties of the job; I remember reading about a hockey general manager once.''
Whatever Reese is doing, he's doing it right. He's done a terrific job in building a deep roster, particularly on the defensive front, without making the Giants susceptible to cap problems in the future -- if there is a cap future.
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