GIANTS AN ODD SORT OF DEFENDING CHAMPION
"The defending Super Bowl champions get back to work this weekend, as the New
York Giants hold their rookie minicamp in East Rutherford, N.J. Repeating is
hard work, though, and there are good reasons why only one team this century has
been able to do it.
You lose players. You lose coaches. You become the
No. 1 target for teams that have identified you as the biggest obstacle standing
in their way of getting what they want. The people who run the Giants, and many
of the people who play for the Giants, were in this position four years ago, and
they know all about the challenges that face the defending Super Bowl champs.
But this year's Giants are not your ordinary defending champ. They were,
speaking strictly in terms of winning percentage, the weakest Super Bowl
champion in history. They didn't even secure their playoff spot until the final
game of the regular season. With two weeks to go, they were 7-7 and in real
danger of finishing under .500.
All of these things are facts, just as
much as the title they won. So as they get back to work this spring and summer,
the Giants face the seemingly incongruous dual task of maintaining the magic
that brought them their title while also improving a 9-7 team.
some things going for them, and I'm not just talking about Eli
Manning, Hakeem Nicks, Victor
Cruz, Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul. The Giants run their franchise as one that's
perpetually in transition.
Rather than wait for problems to present
themselves, or roster holes to open, the Giants constantly churn the middle and
the back end of their roster, developing players in their system so they're
ready to step in when need arises. There are running backs and wide receivers on
the roster who have been waiting for the opportunity created by the free-agent
defections of Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham, and those players will get the chance to do
what Cruz and Pierre-Paul did last year when presented with similar chances. The
Giants never allow themselves to get so thin at any one position that they don't
at least have options for replacing those who leave or get hurt or decide to sit
out training camp.
That said, this Giants team does have holes to fill
and problems to solve. They finished 32nd in the league in rushing offense -- a
fact that, while mitigated by the improvements the run game showed in December
and January -- didn't sit well with their running backs and their offensive
linemen. They will need to get better there, and to do so they'll need Ahmad
Bradshaw's feet to stay healthy for the first time in years. Plus, they must
find someone to replace the 167 touches and eight touchdowns Jacobs contributed
to last season's cause.
need to shuffle the offensive line again. While Kareem McKenzie was not what he used to be, he was the starting
right tackle on a team that won the Super Bowl, and they did not replace him.
They hope that Will Beatty (a) comes back healthy from his eye injury and (b)
plays better than he did at left tackle in the first 10 games of last season.
David Diehl isn't around to slide over and bail him out this
time. Diehl's got to play right tackle in place of McKenzie. The Giants have
some offensive linemen they like for the long-term, but this looks like another
transition year on the line. While they have enough good veterans in place to
pull it off, that's a tough tightrope act to try too many years in a row.
They have bodies at linebacker, with Keith
Rivers brought in as a good veteran reinforcement and some of last year's
promising rookies hopefully ready to take a next step, but they have no clear
man for the middle. They have bodies at cornerback, but they have question marks
Webster was awesome in 2011. Can he repeat that performance? Is Terrell Thomas fully recovered from the preseason knee injury
that cost him the whole season? Will Prince Amukamara make more of a contribution?
think for a second that GM Jerry Reese isn't concerned. He used each of his
first three draft picks on positions at which he lost a player in free agency --
running back (David Wilson for Jacobs), wide receiver (Rueben
Randle for Mario Manningham) and cornerback (Jayron
Hosley for Aaron Ross). And he's smart to be concerned, because while these
Giants rightfully consider themselves a championship team, they're also a team
that won one less regular-season game in 2011 than it won in 2010. Had someone
in the NFC East won 10 and the Giants missed the playoffs, their offseason
narrative would have been that of a team moving in the wrong direction.
Instead, the Giants have a two-front problem to solve. They have a
division and a conference and a league full of teams that saw what they did and
now consider Super Bowl glory more attainable than ever. And they have an
internal mandate to be better this year than 9-7, because they know first-hand
that it's not usually good enough to get you the chance to make a Super Bowl
They're capable of doing it, and they'll deservedly enter the
season among the favorites to win it all again. They have superstars at
quarterback, wide receiver and defensive end, and in this day and age that can
carry you a long way. But as far as defending Super Bowl champions go, these
Giants have more issues than most -- and more work to do."