Going all the way
Giants have Super expectations this seasonPosted: Friday July 25, 2003 6:17 PM
This is the second in a series of postcards SI.com's Don Banks will e-mail from his annual NFL training camp tour.
Friday, July 25
Team: N.Y. Giants
"As long as I'm football coach of the New York Giants -- and I plan on being here for a while -- we're going to come back to Albany and train to get ready for the season here," Fassel said Thursday, on reporting day. "There are a lot less distractions [here]."
In May, the Giants announced that they had reached an agreement in principle on a three-year contract extension to return to Albany, but there has been no formal deal so far.
The Giants signed Levens away from Philadelphia in early April, when it looked as if Dayne was on his way out as Tiki Barber's backup. But, alas, Dayne is still here, and there's likely room on the roster for only one of them to be active on game days. If you had to lay odds, I like Levens' chances, since the former Packers starter has learned how to be effective in the No. 2 role in recent seasons.
No matter what, the Giants are not expected to cut Dayne, because his cap charge is so modest this season that it behooves them to keep him. But just imagine how much of a happy camper he'll be when he realizes he's not even dressing on Sundays. That means the Giants will be carrying him, instead of the original plan in 2000, which called for him to carry the Giants.
2. Coaches love to send messages early in training camp, and you can consider the first such missive signed, sealed and delivered by Fassel on Friday morning. The Giants' head coach was asked about first-round defensive tackle William Joseph, the University of Miami star who remains the only player not in camp.
"My understanding is we didn't get a return proposal from them until the day we checked into camp," Fassel said, with irritation in his voice. "How do you negotiate that way? We have our guys, we're working, and we'll just go on."
Don't fret, Big Blue fans. Chances are Joseph's deal will get done soon enough and he'll take his place, as planned, in the Giants' defensive line rotation. Whether defensive tackle Keith Hamilton's off-field legal questions get settled without eliciting a league suspension is another matter entirely.
3. Maybe it was just by chance -- I doubt it -- but I couldn't help but notice that the Giants spent time practicing special teams play Friday morning in the middle of the first training camp workout of the new season. Not at the end of the session, when things are starting to wind down, as is generally the custom in the league. It was just punt-team drills, but it reinforced the already strong perception that it's all business on special teams this year in New York. The Giants, of course, were plagued by special teams breakdowns last season and totally revamped their specialists roster this offseason.
Asked after practice if he liked seeing all of his team's long snaps make it back to the punter, with nary a bounce, Fassel smiled and quipped: "Every one of them made it back there. Did you see that?"
4. Speaking of special teams, one more stop in his long, productive career and new Giants return specialist Brian Mitchell has the complete set of NFC East jerseys. Mitchell, starting his 14th NFL season, has worn everybody's colors in the division except the hated Cowpokes. Maybe more remarkably, he has never played outside the NFC East, going from Washington to Philadelphia to New York.
5. Looks like the Giants won't be retiring Jason Sehorn's No. 31 in a touching halftime ceremony any time soon. With the veteran cornerback moving on to St. Louis, thanks to that shove in the back that the Giants gave him, New York hesitated for all of about 12 seconds before giving that number to rookie cornerback Rod Babers.
A fourth-round pick from the University of Texas, Babers was the roommate of Longhorns quarterback Chris Simms, who is now a Buc. The Giants are quite high on Babers, who is in the mix at nickelback, behind New York's pair of stellar young corners, Will Allen and William Peterson. As for Sehorn, I think it's fair to say New York's offense can't wait to go against the Rams in the Sept. 7 season-opener at Giants Stadium. That should be fun.
6. Giants wunderkind Jeremy Shockey reported to camp Thursday having shortened the long, blond hair that he played with last season. It's not a G.I.-issue buzzcut by any means, but it is a little less rock-star-like. Insert your own Sampson joke here, but after watching Shockey rumble through New York's linebackers and secondary Friday, my professional opinion would be that opposing defenders should consider it a sign of weakness at their own peril.
7. I always like to hear about football coaches who have a life outside the game, because far too few of them do in a profession that has become a grinding almost year-round, 24/7 type of job. This summer, Giants defensive coordinator Johnnie Lynn stopped and smelled the roses, vacationing a week or so in Europe. He managed to make it to both Wimbledon and the Tour de France, his first exposure to both world-famous events. "It was great," Lynn said. "The only thing is, we would have liked to stay longer."
8. As happens in many NFL camps on reporting day, the media who cover the Giants played the team's coaches Thursday afternoon in a friendly game of softball. It's kind of a nice way to get the season started before everybody starts using live ammunition on day two. It's no real shock to report that the Giants' coaches won the showdown 25-16, thanks to that 13-2 first-inning lead they grabbed.
But my favorite moment of the festivities came late in the game, when one veteran sportswriter, who shall remain nameless, made the following observation/wisecrack to a few of his fellow scribes: "Hey, even if we get down 24 runs, we're OK. Remember, the last game Jim Fassel coached, he lost a big lead in that one, too."
Ouch. Some people just don't seem ready to let go of that Giants' playoff collapse at San Francisco, when a 24-point third-quarter New York lead became a 39-38 last-minute loss.
Now he's back at tight end and figures to again make the team on the strength of his special teams play. Given that he can play three positions and knows how to lay on a lick in special teams coverage, too, all the numbers are in Dinkins' favor.
"What makes you feel better is that we addressed it and solved it," Barber said. "Now we've got one of the best combinations in the league doing it."
The Giants won't fly until Saturday, Oct. 25, when they'll travel to Minnesota for their Oct. 26 game at the Metrodome. When they get back from that, they'll play at the Jets (a defacto home game), home against Atlanta and at Philadelphia. In other words, one flight in the season's opening 11 weeks. Or between now and Nov. 23. That's a team that a fearful flyer could love.
Almost to a man, the Giants lined up in the first two days of camp to acknowledge that this is the most talented New York team they've been on. Barber has said it. So have Fassel, Kerry Collins, general manager Ernie Accorsi and Michael Strahan.
"I believe the expectations are realistic," Strahan said Friday. "I can honestly say this is one of the first times I've come to camp where I can say I expect to win the Super Bowl and honestly believe it. Because we have the talent to do that…and we're not afraid to make good on it.
"I wouldn't say it's a swagger. But I think everybody here thinks we have a chance to be special. If things line up, we can do it. ... This is definitely the most talent we've had coming into camp. And what's great is to see guys willing to push themselves, because we've had talent before, but we haven't always had guys willing to push themselves and do what it takes."
What's really new for these Giants is that for a change, the buzz is all about the team's offense rather than its defense. New York averaged 30 points per game in the season's final month last year, winning four in a row to rally to a 10-6 finish and a playoff berth. They're not going to score 30 points a game for 16 weeks, but there is reason to believe that those numbers weren't flukish.
In Barber, Collins, Shockey and receiver Amani Toomer, the Giants can match key offensive components with almost anyone. If they can get decent contributions from receivers Ike Hilliard, Ron Dixon and Tim Carter, the passing game should be even more explosive than it was late in 2002.
As always, there are some question marks. The right side of the offensive line is new and untested, and the defensive line rotation has to jell if the run is to be stuffed. The Giants' defense was never the same after tackle Keith Hamilton went down with a torn Achilles in October last year, and his return to form is a must.
Fassel has promised to ride herd on his talented team, not letting his players fall short of their own lofty expectations. The only problem with that notion is this: When the Giants aren't expected to go far, they usually overachieve. The opposite has been true when preseason attention comes in droves. New York hasn't made the playoffs in consecutive seasons since the end of the Bill Parcells era, in 1989-90.
Asked his personal goals for this season, Strahan returned again to the early theme of Giants camp: going the distance, all the way to Houston.
"My goals are team-oriented, the Super Bowl," he said. "At this point in my career, what else is there? I'm not here for the food."
In New York, they eat that kind of talk up.
Check back soon for more of Don Banks' Postcards from Camp.