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Giants' defensive tackles eager to attack





August 8, 2007


ALBANY - Just as the Giants' secondary and linebackers are excited about Steve Spagnuolo's more aggressive defense, the tackles are looking forward to making things happen, too. Yes, even the big guys doing the thankless jobs in the middle of the line are eager to initiate rather than react to what the offense brings, as the Giants did the last three seasons under Tim Lewis.


"I was back on my heels a lot of times, and by the time I saw it was a pass, there was a long way to go," Barry Cofield said. "What we're doing this year should help us in the passing game, as well as against the run."


What may help most is having some depth inside, which the Giants lacked for a few years. Fred Robbins and Cofield started every game at tackle last season and the Giants needed a solid, four-man rotation. When William Joseph moved to end for three games, the only reserve tackle was the inexperienced Jonas Seawright. The run defense was pretty solid, finishing 14th, but was running on fumes in the middle by playoff time.


Seawright is a year older and 35 pounds lighter, coming into camp around 300. Marcus Bell, a six-year veteran, signed on and has been running alongside Seawright with the second unit. The Giants drafted Jay Alford in the third round, and he's a lock to make the roster.


Cofield, who played an enormous amount of time as a rookie, feels like "a completely different person this year."


"I went from a full college season to all-star games, to the [scouting] combine, to minicamps, to a full season," he said. "It was a lot, for sure."


The tackles' gap responsibilities are somewhat different under Spagnuolo. Lewis used a very defined nose tackle / "three-gap" tackle split, with Cofield playing the nose, traditionally a stationary spot designed to occupy blockers while others make plays.


Spagnuolo's tackles are more evenly spaced, freeing either one to rush the passer or make a play. Playmaking is one thing the Giants have gotten from Robbins, who had two interceptions last season and 5½ sacks, just behind Osi Umenyiora's team-leading six. Robbins, in his eighth season, likes what he sees from his group. "We want to get in there and disrupt some things, and the depth we have will definitely help," Robbins said. "Having Marcus with us is a big difference. We've got guys who can play both tackle spots instead of guys who can play just one."


Joseph would slide back into the tackle rotation if holdout Michael Strahan shows up. Umenyiora said if Strahan retires, the tackles will feel the pinch more than he will because he's used to double teams.


"Maybe that's true," Cofield said, "but we've got a defense now where guys are coming from all angles, even inside. You can't just key on one guy or one spot."





Spagnuolo's Philosophy: Aggressive Tackling



August 8, 2007



Just as the Giants' defensive backs and linebackers are excited about new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's more aggressive defense, the tackles are also looking forward to making things happen.


Even the big guys in the thankless middle of the defensive line are eager to initiate rather than react to what the offense brings, as the Giants defense did the last three seasons under Tim Lewis.


"I was back on my heels a lot of times, and by the time I saw it was a pass, there was a long way to go," Barry Cofield said. "What we're doing this year should help us in the passing game as well as against the run."


What might help most is having some depth inside that the Giants haven't had for a few seasons. Fred Robbins and Cofield started every game at tackle last season, but it's a grueling position and the Giants needed a four-man rotation. Once William Joseph moved out for three games to be a defensive end, the only player behind the starting tackles was inexperienced Jonas Seawright.


The run defense was fair last season, finishing 14th in the league, but the tackles were running on fumes by the time the playoffs rolled around. Seawright, 25, is in his third season, a bit wiser and 35 pounds lighter, coming into camp around 300 pounds. Marcus Bell, a six-year veteran, signed on and is alongside Seawright with the second team. The Giants drafted Jay Alford out of Penn State in the third round, and he's a lock to make the team. And Cofield, who played an immense amount as a rookie last season, feels like "a completely different person this year.


"I went from a full college season to all-star games, to the combine, to minicamps, to a full season," he said. "It was a lot, for sure."


The gap responsibilities for the tackles are somewhat different under Spagnuolo. Lewis' defense had a defined nose tackle/three-gap tackle split, with Cofield playing the nose, which is traditionally a more stationary spot designed to occupy blockers while others make plays.


Spagnuolo has his tackles a bit more evenly spaced along the line.


"It's kind of nice to be able to get off the ball and make a play," said Bell, who has been mostly a nose tackle with the Cardinals and Lions.


Playmaking is one thing the Giants have gotten from Robbins, who tied for the team lead with two interceptions last season in addition to 51/2 sacks, just behind Osi Umenyiora's team-leading six. In his eighth season, Robbins likes what he sees from this group.


"We want to get in there and disrupt some things, and the depth we have will definitely help," said Robbins, who sat out Tuesday's practice with a strained calf. "Having Marcus with us is a big difference. We've got guys who can play both tackle spots instead of guys who can play just one."


Wilkinson Out


Linebacker Gerris Wilkinson will miss a significant amount of time with a subluxed right kneecap, sustained during Monday evening's practice.


Wilkinson, a third-round pick from Georgia Tech in 2006, struggled at times as a rookie and was running as the second-unit weakside linebacker through the early part of camp, behind Kawika Mitchell.


Wilkinson's kneecap was dislocated during a nine-on-seven rushing drill. Coach Tom Coughlin said he couldn't estimate how long Wilkinson would be out.




Shockey Banged Up


Tight end Jeremy Shockey missed Tuesday's practice with upper leg soreness, the same nagging injury that caused him to miss Thursday's two practices.


"It's more precautionary than anything," Coughlin said.




Nyack's Grant in mix to make Giants' roster



(Original Publication: August 8, 2007)



Strahan saga

Day 12 of Michael Strahan's absence from Giants camp passed with no contact between the defensive end and Tom Coughlin. He has been fined $171,456 so far.



ALBANY - The fact that Ryan Grant was still standing yesterday proved the Nyack native belonged at Giants training camp.


Whether he belongs on the final roster of running backs will remain undecided until coach Tom Coughlin starts paring down that crowded field on Aug. 28. But the 6-foot-1, 225-pounder out of Notre Dame, here in his second training camp in three years, made quite the impression at the end of a live goal-line drill Monday evening.


It happened on the first and last plays of the drill. First, he was stopped short of the end zone when the fullback missed a block on rookie safety Michael Johnson, who came wide-open and blew up Grant. Two plays later, Grant shook off a big slam in the side from fourth-year linebacker James Davis and plowed through as big defensive tackle Jonas Seawright drove him into the ground.


While the second hit caused much of a stir, the one Davis delivered left the lasting memory with Grant, especially when he relived it during the nightly film review.


"It was a good one," Grant said. "Any time you leave a guy running downhill wide the heck open, and the fullback's apologizing to you after the play, that's something. But that's how it goes on goal line."


For the most part, it has gone well for Grant this camp. How could it not? That he's even here after slicing his left forearm in the offseason of 2006 shows the Giants' coaches value him to some extent. And he's running with the second and first units instead of the third-unit work he got as an eventual practice-squad player in 2005.


But is he good enough to earn a spot among a backfield headed by Brandon Jacobs and Reuben Droughns, and supported by Derrick Ward and seventh-round rookie Ahmad Bradshaw?


"I don't know," Grant said. "I take all the (second-unit) reps. I've just got to keep doing what I'm doing.


"I don't make mistakes. I know the offense. I don't know if that's my biggest advantage, but it is an advantage for me."


Grant had an idea he'd be back here last year after his accident. Since he was unable to play, the Giants easily could have sent the former Notre Dame rusher on his way. Instead, they put him first on the physically-unable-to-perform list, then on injured reserve.


Once that happened, he knew he had a chance of returning.


"If I didn't feel that way, where's my motivation?" Grant said. "As soon as that year was over, they put me right back in."


Putting a little more meat on the frame while maintaining his already good speed got him through the offseason in good stead.


"I'm bigger now, and faster," he said. "I didn't want to bulk up and be heavy. I wanted to keep my speed. I figured if I could be a little heavier and run just as fast, I'd bring more of a force."


Absorbing those two practice hits showed resiliency. The upcoming preseason, which begins Saturday against Carolina, will show whether Grant truly belongs. With the third tailback spot up for grabs, he expects to get his share of action after the first team finishes its work against the Panthers.


He'll also get a shot on special teams - "I'm doing everything," he said - where the real route to a roster spot lies.


So far, so good.


"Every time Ryan has a chance, he does good things," Coughlin said, putting Grant squarely in the mix for third-down back with Ward and Bradshaw. "He'll get a lot of time in these games. And of course, if he does a good job on special teams, he'll help himself there, too."


Notes: Backup weak-side linebacker Gerris Wilkinson suffered a subluxation in his right kneecap, which popped out and went back into place Monday night. He will miss possibly three weeks. An MRI revealed no ligament damage, but he won't be able to return until he rehabs the entire quadriceps area. ... Defensive tackle Fred Robbins and tight end Jeremy Shockey have strained calf muscles and were kept out of practice as a precaution. ... X-rays on center Todd Londot showed a high ankle sprain that will sideline him for an extended period. ... Injured long snapper Ryan Kuehl was down to one crutch, but was still hobbling badly in the protective boot around his left leg.








Giants day at camp

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Star-Ledger Staff





When Charrod Taylor hits the blocking sled, it moves. Must be all those years of military training. Or it could be Taylor has one of the thickest physiques on the team at 6-2 and 286 pounds.


"Hey," he says with a smile when told to take it easy on the sled. "I have to get my work in."


Taylor has a lot of work to get in. And very little time in which to do so. The rookie free agent, signed by the team primarily because he was on the USS Cole when it was bombed in 2000, must impress the coaches throughout camp to make the roster. That's because, at 27 years old (after four years in the Navy and four more at Georgia Southern), Taylor isn't a strong candidate for the practice squad, where teams usually stash developmental players.


So Taylor, who has come off the edge often during camp and made a few impressive plays, must show the Giants they absolutely have to keep him around. Well, at least he has a supporter in defensive line coach Mike Waufle, a former Marine who wore a camouflage hat to lunch yesterday.


"Yeah, you could say we have a little Navy-Marine rivalry," Taylor said with a laugh, then added: "We both come from the same kind of background and I guess I've been blessed with coaches like that throughout my life.


"He probably would understand where I come from and what I'm going through right now."




WR Amani Toomer looks like he's getting better with age. He and QB Eli Manning continue to hook up for short and long completions. ... S Michael Johnson, who laid a huge hit on former Don Bosco Prep RB Ryan Grant on Monday night, jumped a route by TE Darcy Johnson to intercept a pass from QB Anthony Wright. ... DE Marquise Gunn continues to come free off the edge.




CB Sam Madison was beaten several times by WR Michael Jennings and Toomer. ... OT Justin Jones gave up back-to-back sacks to Taylor and Gunn.




LB Gerris Wilkinson suffered what the team termed a "subluxed right kneecap" during nine-on-seven drills on Monday night. Coach Tom Coughlin said Wilkinson's kneecap "moved then came right back." There was no ligament damage, according to Coughlin, but last year's third-round pick is suffering from swelling and irritation and must strengthen his quadriceps before he's able to return to the field.


Coughlin wouldn't put an exact time frame on Wilkinson's absence, though he did suggest three weeks is a possibility. The missed time means Wilkinson probably won't beat out Kawika Mitchell for the starting spot at weak-side linebacker before the start of the season.




TE Jeremy Shockey, who sat out both practices on Thursday with upper leg soreness, was again sidelined yesterday with the same ailment.


WR Plaxico Burress (sprained ankle), DT Fred Robbins (calf strain), S Michael Stone (hip flexor) and CBs E.J. Underwood (hip flexor) and Aaron Ross (hamstring/gluteus muscle) all missed practice yesterday.




Toomer got a step on Madison and beat him down the left sideline for a bomb. Manning threw a perfect pass to hit Toomer in stride.




On the next play, Toomer fought off Madison with one hand and made the catch with the other.




"I didn't even feel it."


-- Ryan Grant, on the hit he took by Michael Johnson. He might not have felt it, but they heard it all the way in Schenectady.






Rookie learning hard lessons

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Star-Ledger Staff

ALBANY, N.Y. -- As the cornerback in a Cover 2 defensive call, Aaron Ross had two options: Sprint forward to cover the running back in the flat, or turn and run toward tight end Kevin Boss, who was running a flag route behind him.


Ross took too long to decide. By the time he started to break for Boss, Jared Lorenzen's pass was on its way. Ross leapt while falling backward, the ball sailing a few centimeters above his outstretched right hand and into Boss' hands for a deep completion.


It was only a few days into the rookie's first training camp. These things were bound to happen. The only thing the Giants' coaches could hope was that Ross would learn by the day.


He did. And it only took him a few minutes.


During the next drill, the running back once again ran wide. And Boss ran the flag. Ross knew where the ball was going before Lorenzen did.


"I had seen it before, so I looked straight to Boss and he was right where he was before," Ross said. "So I had a chance to make the play."


With his feet under him, Ross had more than a chance; he had the advantage -- even though Boss is half a foot taller. Ross jumped in front of Boss, got both hands on the ball and knocked it away -- the sign of a player who's learning.


"Once your mental game is right, your body will react to things better," Ross said of getting acclimated with the Giants' system and the speed of the NFL. "I started getting the mental part down and my body was just playing instead of thinking."


Ross, who won the Jim Thorpe Award last year as the nation's best defensive back while playing at the University of Texas, was the 20th player selected in the first round.


Ross' body betrayed him a bit on Saturday when he suffered a slight hamstring injury and was forced to leave practice. The tweak resulted from Ross' overcompensating for a sore gluteus muscle -- something he had chalked up as a typical ache of training camp. Not wanting to miss a day or prove himself to be injury-prone, Ross played through the pain.


But ultimately he was forced to sit for a few days just when he was getting comfortable.


"I felt I was breaking on the ball a little better and getting the defense down. Now this," he said. "But it's better to be safe than sorry."


Ross vowed to be back on the field yesterday -- "even if I have to make myself get out there" -- but he was still sidelined. Veteran cornerback R.W. McQuarters, currently one of the starters, said a few days missed won't hurt Ross' progress because of all the work he got in minicamp and during the spring workouts.


McQuarters also said Ross has adjusted quickly -- especially when he was forced to play the nickel spot with the first unit when Corey Webster was limited early in camp.


"When you're playing inside, it's a different mentality than playing outside," McQuarters said. "And the guys that just play corner, to go inside sometimes, stuff happens too fast for them. But he was picking it all up."


One thing that has taken Ross a while to pick up is learning how to play press coverage. In new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's system, the cornerbacks will be asked to disrupt the opposing receivers' routes while the front seven brings heavy blitz pressure. Ross, though, didn't play much press coverage in college at Texas, so he was rusty when he arrived for camp.


"I was looking at the receiver and then trying to run with him. I wasn't trying to distract him at the line," Ross said. "But (the coaches and veterans) have told me to play like I'm playing basketball -- move my feet and stay in front of him."


And not think too much, just react.


"I was being too technical and sort of slow," he said. "The receiver would get in front of me. (Last week) I felt really comfortable doing it."


Ross is hoping when he gets back on the field, he can get even more comfortable and perhaps make a push for one of the three top corner spots before the season opens.


McQuarters knows Ross has the ability to do so.


"He's fine athletically. He has quick feet and he can move," McQuarters said. "He's doing a good job."




Mike Garafolo may be reached at









Giants notebook

Wednesday, August 8, 2007



Wilkinson hurting


LB Gerris Wilkinson suffered a subluxation of his right kneecap during Monday night's practice and could be sidelined for three weeks, coach Tom Coughlin said Tuesday. The kneecap shifted and then moved back into place, damaging tissue around it.


"There's no ligament damage, that's the good news," Coughlin said. "But there is a lot of swelling and irritation. Then he will have to rehab the quad area. He's going to be out for a while."


With Wilkinson out, inexperienced Tyson Smith and even more inexperienced Barry Robertson become Kawika Mitchell's backups at weak-side linebacker. His absence also lessens any chance of Mathias Kiwanuka moving back to defensive end from strong-side linebacker. The Giants' first option there would have been moving Mitchell to the strong side and elevating Wilkinson to the starting weak-side position.


Reserve C Todd Londot suffered a high left ankle sprain in the same practice.


Toomer time


WR Amani Toomer had a big practice, making three exceptional catches, including one from Eli Manning deep down the left sideline. CB Sam Madison was the closest defender on all of Toomer's catches, including a one-handed grab.


WR Michael Jennings also had a big practice with a couple of crossing-pattern receptions, one of which he probably would have broken for a TD had it occurred in a game.


Injury list


TE Jeremy Shockey (leg soreness), WR Plaxico Burress (ankle), CB Aaron Ross (glute) and DT Fred Robbins (calf) were among those who missed the workout. Robbins was replaced in the base defense by Marcus Bell, whom Coughlin said has made his presence known in camp, and by rookie Jay Alford in the first nickel defense.


-- Vinny DiTrani








Osi out to sack hip pain


Wednesday, August 8th 2007, 4:00 AM



ALBANY - Osi Umenyiora can still feel pain in his hip from time to time. But the defensive end said it will not prevent him from playing and hopefully returning to the form that made him a Pro Bowl player in 2005.


"I just want to stay healthy," Umenyiora said. "That is my whole thing. As long as I stay healthy I will be a very productive player."


Umenyiora said he was playing even better than his Pro Bowl season at the start of last year before his hip injury sidelined him for five games and slowed him down the rest of the campaign.


Before injuring his hip in Dallas on a tackle of Marion Barber in the Giants' sixth game of the season, Umenyiora collected five sacks to that point. He had just one sack after returning for the last five regular-season games.


"Before that (injury) I felt like I was playing better than I had played the year before," Umenyiora said. "The year before, even though I was rushing well, you just kind of fell into a couple of things. But last year, I was beating people clean."


PAIN OF GAME: Backup weak side linebacker Gerris Wilkinson suffered a subluxed kneecap injury yesterday and could be out for three weeks. Wilkinson, who is behind Kawika Mitchell, did not tear any ligaments.


"He is going to miss a couple of weeks, maybe three weeks," Coughlin said.


Barry Robertson and Tyson Smith figure to see more time with the second team. Coughlin would not speculate on how Wilkinson's injury affects Mathias Kiwanuka's potential move back to defensive end should Michael Strahan retire.


SORE SPOT: Jeremy Shockey missed practice with soreness in his upper leg. Wide receiver Plaxico Burress (ankle) watched Amani Toomer make some impressive catches, including a 55-yard touchdown after the wide receiver beat cornerback Sam Madison.


Defensive tackle Fred Robbins (calf strain), cornerback Aaron Ross, center Todd Londot (high ankle sprain) and safety Michael Stone (hip flexor) all missed practice as well.


Ohm Youngmisuk






Mathias awaits Mike

Fate of Strahan affects LB move





Wednesday, August 8th 2007, 4:00 AM



ALBANY - Mathias Kiwanuka probably thought that letting go of Vince Young prematurely was the hardest thing he would experience as a Giant.


That was before he entered a three-month crash course on how to become a linebacker, studying films and learning to become comfortable in his new space a few yards behind where he used to line up with one hand in the grass at defensive end.


But the toughest task in the new position is covering tight ends such as Jeremy Shockey.


"There have been guys playing in the league for five, 10 years who can't cover Shockey," Kiwanuka said yesterday before practice at the University of Albany. "As long as I make strides every day and stay closer and get a little better, I can't complain."


While Michael Strahan continues to contemplate retirement, Kiwanuka is spending his training camp learning how to be the Giants' starting strong side linebacker. However, Kiwanuka knows that if Strahan retires, he could return to defensive end.


"Honestly, I have no hard feelings toward him," last year's first-round pick said of Strahan. "I know it is a tough decision. He is talking about retiring for the rest of his life. That is huge. You got to respect the guy, he has been in the league for over a decade and has poured his heart out for this organization. All the time that he needs, he can have it. I will never think bad about him for it."


Of all the players in camp, Kiwanuka is likely the one most affected by whatever Strahan's decision will be. While some would think Osi Umenyiora will become the focal point of opposing offensive lines if Strahan calls it a career, Umenyiora admits he already sees double-teams with Strahan on the field.


"That would mean they would have to commit three people to one player," Umenyiora said of teams paying more attention to him without Strahan around. "I saw (double-teams) last year. And even the year before."


The Giants defense got a taste of life without Strahan last year when the All-Pro defensive end missed six games with a foot injury. With Umenyiora also missing time due to a hip flexor injury, Kiwanuka started nine games in his rookie season at defensive end, compiling four sacks, two interceptions and one unforgettable gaffe involving Young, the Titans' elusive quarterback.


It was late during a stunning 24-21 loss to Tennessee that Kiwanuka had Young in his grasp for a sure sack only to let the rookie quarterback go, looking to avoid a roughing-the-passer penalty. Young rushed for 19yards on that fourth-and-10, eventually tying the game before leading the Titans to victory.


Kiwanuka is trying to move on now to his new position, one in which he has gotten beat on passes but one in which he also knocked down one Eli Manning attempt intended for Shockey during camp.


"He has to cover, he has to read runs, he has to react, he has to learn schemes and understand where his help is," middle linebacker Antonio Pierce said. "It's totally different from playing defensive line. He is going to have his ups and downs. But he is not going backwards. He is moving forward and that is all we can ask."


Kiwanuka will still have opportunities to rush the quarterback in second- and third-and-long situations. The question is whether he will be doing it as linebacker or a defensive end.


For now it appears that Kiwanuka will remain at linebacker with backup weak side linebacker Gerris Wilkinson out for perhaps three weeks after suffering a kneecap injury yesterday in practice.


"You got kind of a two-way pull," Tom Coughlin said of Kiwanuka's predicament. "The intent was to always have Kiwanuka at linebacker, but there are other factors involved there, too, and now with Wilkinson, we are going to have to see how it plays out."

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Great to hear Toomer is playing well.


Toomer is the MAN.


Pisses me off about Strahan, Kiwi has this intense psition change to learn, and if Mike dont come back, he has to return to DE. Thats gotta fuck with his head.

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