> Although hehas guided the Giants to the playoffs for the past two seasons, Tom Coughlin isdoing his best to shed the Dead Coach Walking tag, importing Chris Palmer asquarterbacks coach and Steve Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator. Palmer, alongtime NFL assistant and the first coach of the reborn Browns, will assumethe task of molding Eli Manning into a dependable QB, which is more necessarythan ever after the retirement of Tiki Barber, the team's rushing leader inevery game over the past five seasons. Coughlin hired Spagnuolo, fresh offeight seasons under Eagles defensive mastermind Jim Johnson, to injectaggression into a feckless unit that ranked 25th in the league and producedjust 2.0 sacks and 1.7 turnovers per game.
> In campPalmer frequently ran his charges through a drill new to the Giants. After thequarterbacks took their drops he'd bark out a color corresponding to one of sixnets positioned 20 to 25 yards away; they instantly had to set their feet andfire at the appropriate target. "It requires you to be able not only tofocus but to get your body in the right position to deliver the ball," saysCoughlin. "We've already seen progress."
While JaredLorenzen, Tim Hasselbeck and Anthony Wright presumably benefited, there's nodoubt for whom the drill was meant. Manning had a career-high completionpercentage of 57.7% in 2006, his second full season as the starter, but thatranked him one spot ahead of--gasp!--Joey Harrington. Manning began on a roll,connecting on 66.4% of his throws and achieving a 95.5¬†passer rating inthree September games; in four games in November, however, he completed just52.7% and struggled to a miserable 52.9 rating. The low point was a shockingNov.¬†26 loss at Tennessee, in which Manning threw a pair of uglyfourth-quarter interceptions to Pacman Jones that helped the Titans score 24unanswered points and win by a field goal.
Still, by somemeasures Manning has been one of the league's top quarterbacks over the lasttwo years. He ranks sixth in completions (595) and passing yards (7,006), fifthin touchdown passes (48) and, perhaps most impressive, tied for fifth in wins(19). "It's not like he hasn't done a thing," says new general managerJerry Reese. "If he wasn't the New York Giants' quarterback and if hewasn't a Manning, everybody would be telling me how good this kid is."
Manning's 2006season didn't really start to crumble until Amani Toomer went out with a tornACL after the eighth game. No other receiver--particularly not Tim Carter, whocaught only 11 balls in six games as Toomer's replacement--established himselfas a third downfield threat behind wideout Plaxico Burress and tight end JeremyShockey, both of whom regularly drew double teams. Even if Toomer doesn'tcompletely recover, a healthy Sinorice Moss, who played just six games as arookie because of a quadriceps injury, or the sure-handed Steve Smith, asecond-round pick from USC, should fill the void.
Of course, NewYork's top offensive option this millennium has gone from being Manning'ssidekick to Matt Lauer's. The Giants will try to fill the very big hole left byBarber with a very big man in Brandon Jacobs. The 6' 4", 264-pound Jacobshas proved his mettle as a short-yardage back, with 16 touchdowns in the lasttwo years--only 10 players, all of whom have had at least twice Jacobs'stouches, rushed for more--but in 135 career attempts he has just one run ofmore than 20 yards. "I've only done what my team has asked me to do,"says Jacobs. "Now I'm looking to show people that I'm a running back, allaround." Reese says that Jacobs, despite his bulk, has the speed to be agamebreaker: "If he and Tiki Barber raced in a 40-yard dash, I thinkBrandon could beat Tiki."
The Giants alsoplan to feature a Jacobs-sized strongside linebacker in 6' 5", 265-poundMathias Kiwanuka. In addition to getting the 2006 first-round pick from BostonCollege more snaps--he spent much of '06 backing up defensive ends MichaelStrahan and Osi Umenyiora--New York needs to strengthen a linebacking corpsshort on experience and talent beyond veteran Antonio Pierce. Kiwanuka shouldhelp the 'backers improve on their paltry six sacks in '06, and he has quicklygrasped the other demands of his new position. "Our focus as linebackers isgoing to be attack-style football," says Kiwanuka. "We're just goingafter it. We're going to go get the ball."
In reference tothe endless gossip and speculation that many Giants believe derailed their 2006season, players and staff began wearing T-shirts emblazoned with talk is cheap.play the game. Then Strahan's contract dispute marred camp, and the talkinstantly resumed. But chatter will be the least of Coughlin's worries ifManning fails to improve significantly or the defense doesn't develop a fierynew identity. Finding a new job will top that list.--B.R.
COACH TOMCOUGHLIN (93-83 in NFL), fourth season with Giants
HT 6' 6"
HT 6' 3"
HT 6' 3"
HT 6' 3"
HT 6' 5"
LAWRENCE TYNES(NEW ACQUISITION)
KAWIKA MITCHELL(NEW ACQUISITION)
SACKS 1 1/2
SACKS 1 1/2
SACKS 5 1/2
NEW ACQUISITION(R) Rookie (college statistics) *2004 Stats
> 2006 RECORD8-8 NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 7/19/14 DEFENSE 14/28/25
9 at Dallas
16 GREEN BAY
23 at Washington
7 N.Y. JETS
15 at Atlanta (M)
21 SAN FRANCISCO
28 vs. Miami
18 at Detroit
2 at Chicago
9 at Philadelphia
23 at Buffalo
29 NEW ENGLAND (S)
NFL rank ...¬†T21
Opponents' 2006 winning percentage ...¬†.496
Games against playoff teams ... 7
(M) Monday (S) Saturday
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AN OPPOSING TEAM'S SCOUT SIZES UP THE GIANTS
> Whatever's up with Michael Strahan, they're O.K.on the pass rush if Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka are both healthy and cango full out. . . . The rest of the defense is so-so, especially the DBs, withSam Madison and R.W. McQuarters at the corners. . . . They lost Tiki Barberfrom the backfield, but Brandon Jacobs is fine, more of a power guy. PlaxicoBurress can give you a big play here and there. . . . I think they're going tomiss Luke Petitgout on the offensive line. He wasn't great, but he was betterthan what they've got now with David Diehl. . . . Look, with the Giants it's abig year for the quarterback, and nobody in the league considers Eli Manning tobe an elite player at this point. He's still got to go out and prove that hecan be great, and he's got a long way to go.
THE KING 500
> LEFT TACKLE
With Luke Petitgout, the starter since '02, gone toTampa, the Giants are counting on the 6' 5", 319-pound Diehl, who's startedevery game in his four NFL seasons, to slide over from guard and protect EliManning's blind side. It's helped his transition to face a Pro Bowl end everyday in practice. "Being able to work against a guy like Osi Umenyiora istremendous for me," he says. "He'll make you learn quick."
BOB DONNAN/US PRESSWIRE
¬†IN THEZONE¬†Jacobs, who proved himself as a goal line back, now gets the No. 1call.