In 1990, while working as the Bengals' offensive line coach, Jim
McNally went to the University of Montana to scout a tackle
prospect. Kirk Scrafford wasn't getting any attention because,
though 6'6", he was only 255 pounds, which most teams considered
too skinny to work in the NFL trenches. But McNally worked
Scrafford out in the school gym and liked what he saw--a good
athlete, strong legs, little weight-training history ... and
enormous potential. "I'd love to make a player out of him,"
McNally said at the time. "We'll try to sign him with the
Bengals, and I guarantee you he'll play in the NFL." Sure enough,
Scrafford wasn't taken in the 12-round draft, and he signed with
the Bengals as a free agent. He would play nine seasons, with the
Bengals, Broncos and 49ers.
Last season McNally integrated three off-the-street linemen into
starting roles for a Giants playoff team that ranked sixth in the
league in total offense. But during the off-season he lost the
right side of his line in free agency, so this year McNally has
another Scrafford-like project on his hands. At right tackle the
Giants have Ian Allen, an undrafted second-year player who has
never started an NFL game. At right guard will be either another
undrafted guy, second-year veteran Tam Hopkins, or more likely
the team's fifth-round choice, David Diehl of Illinois, the 25th
offensive lineman taken in the draft.
In their preseason opener, against the Patriots on Aug. 7, the
Giants started four former free agents (Allen, Hopkins, center
Chris Bober and left guard Rich Seubert), and the results were
disastrous. The first unit managed 53 yards on four drives. Last
Friday, with Diehl at guard in a 20-10 loss to the Panthers,
Kerry Collins was sacked twice, but New York's starters did pile
up 182 yards while playing the first half.
"I've been doing it this way for a long time," says the
59-year-old McNally. "Maybe I'm just not a big enough [jerk] on
draft day, because I never pound the desk and say, 'We gotta have
a tackle now!' I just try to find hard-working guys with quick
feet and develop 'em. If it's not good enough this year? Fire
Moderately quick at 6'4" and 300 pounds, Allen was on an island
against Carolina pass-rush master Julius Peppers and got beaten
for a sack. But he knows he can't come into a game scared. "For a
while, after watching so much NFL on TV and watching NFL Films
glorify the game, I was in awe," Allen says. "Now I figure, Hey,
I block [Michael] Strahan at practice every day. How much tougher
can it get?"
It will get a lot tougher if coach Jim Fassel doesn't see
progress by the Sept. 7 opener against the Rams. "That right side
has to work for us," Fassel said after last Friday's loss. "And
we're running out of time."
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO Collins (5) can only hope that the Giants' inexperienced linewill hold its own.