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Giants positive 2007 will be better

 

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By RALPH VACCHIANO

DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER

 

Thursday, September 6th 2007, 11:03 AM

 

 

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Biggest BlueWho do you think will be the Giants' MVP this season?

 

 

Eli Manning

 

Brandon Jacobs

 

Plaxico Burress

 

Jeremy Shockey

 

Michael Strahan

 

Osi Umenyiora

 

Other

 

 

The Giants tried their best to put up a united front last season, but nobody really believed it. Their coach was under fire, from both outside and inside. The star running back was retiring and firing bullets on his way out the door.

 

It was obvious from their play during an 8-8 season that all the controversy was too much to handle.

 

"I don't care how strong-willed you are," said linebacker Antonio Pierce. "Sometimes it brings you down."

 

"That negativity at times was a distraction," added guard Chris Snee. "No matter how much we said it's not."

 

But the depths of last season apparently have given rise to a newer, tighter version of the Giants this year. Their coach, Tom Coughlin, has lightened up and warmed up to his players. No quotes from anonymous Giants have reared their ugly heads. In fact, after spending nearly every day of the last six weeks together with his teammates, Pierce insisted the team, as it heads into its Sunday night opener in Dallas, is "tighter than it's been the last three years."

 

"It's probably the tightest-knit team I've been a part of with the New York Giants," Pierce said. "Guys talk to each other. Offensive players even talk to defensive players. Before it was kind of segregated a little bit.

 

"I think that's key. With all the stuff we're going to deal with this year, we've just got to stay focused. Everything we do is more team-oriented."

 

It's hard not to think that has to do with some of the personalities gone from the locker room - most notably Tiki Barber, who was critical of Coughlin often last season and has ripped both the coach and Eli Manning since he retired eight months ago. Pierce smiled and looked away when he was asked if it was a case of addition by subtraction.

 

"Maybe it's just the guys that are here changing the way they go about things," he said. "That's all I'm going to talk about - the guys that are here."

 

Those remaining Giants seem to have worked overtime at team-bonding, and not just at Coughlin-organized events such as their offseason casino night or their bowling trip during camp. Several players say they hang out together more often than they used to, and not just in the usual, position-specific cliques.

 

"That's something that (Coughlin) wanted," Snee said. "We knew that something had to change from last year. But he's the one that organized the team functions. Two years ago he wouldn't have even dreamed of doing something like that (bowling night), taking us away from a meeting. It starts at the top."

 

Whoever is responsible, it has clearly helped the Giants, who have had more than a few potential distractions this summer. There was the 38-day holdout by Michael Strahan that turned into a summer-long soap opera. There was the mini feud between Barber and Manning, followed by the firestorm set off by Barber's upcoming book.

 

None of it has seemed to faze the Giants.

 

"We're all on the same page in here," said running back Brandon Jacobs. "People outside have the idea that we don't get along, but they don't know what's really going on in here. It's way better chemistry."

 

"There's no negativity," Snee told a group of reporters. "At times you guys are bored because there's nothing going on."

 

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