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Burress had profound impact on Giants WRs


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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – A fascinating and sad bit of irony played out this week for the New York Giants.

 

It started Sunday when New York leaned heavily on young wide receivers Steve Smith (10 catches, 134 yards, one touchdown) and Mario Manningham(notes) (10 catches, 150 yards, one touchdown), taking a first step toward convincing fans and the rest of the NFL that not trading for the Cleveland Browns’ Braylon Edwards(notes) this offseason was the right move.

 

Photo Smith goes up high in front of Dallas’ Terence Newman(notes).

(LM Otero/AP Photo)

 

On Tuesday, Plaxico Burress(notes), the man that Smith and Manningham are trying to replace, officially started his two-year prison term for the gun incident he was involved in last November in Manhattan.

 

 

On Wednesday, Smith, Manningham and some other Giants explained that part of the solution in replacing Burress was Burress himself.

 

“Plax and [fellow former Giants wide receiver] Amani [Toomer] were real tough on us in that room,” said Domenik Hixon(notes), who started Sunday but was replaced by Manningham when he got hurt. “It had to be exact. You made a mistake, even in practice, you had to pay a fine.”

 

Yes, Burress, the man who ran headlong into just about every rule coach Tom Coughlin had and got fined more than 50 times, is strangely the same guy who was in charge of calling his fellow receivers on the carpet. For all of Burress’ rebellious behavior, he was a stickler for knowing the X’s and O’s of the game, a guy who took copious notes in his playbook and would regularly help teammates during games. As a result, the group may now be able to move on without him rather than seek help via a major trade.

 

“Plax would be the first guy to fine himself if he had a red mark [a mistake] up there on the board,” said Smith, in his third year with the Giants. “He was deep into his playbook. He took it seriously and he expected the same from all of us.”

 

Just to be clear, in-house fines among the receivers aren’t exactly steep. Five dollars a pop with the money going to charity at the end of the season (usually about $300, according to Smith) isn’t exactly putting anybody out, but it was more a point of pride as players rib each other.

 

There is even an appeals process. “Yeah, you can go to the committee,” Smith said. Appeals are usually heard by a group including receivers coach Mike Sullivan.

 

Burress came up with the basic idea and it helped Smith become a serious contributor in the 2007 playoffs even after he was limited to only five games and eight catches in the regular season. Now, it has helped Manningham overcome his lost rookie season.

 

Manningham was a third-round pick in the 2008 NFL draft. He was expected to be drafted higher, but ran poorly at the NFL scouting combine, lied initially about two failed tests for marijuana in college and then got hurt and missed much of training camp and the season.

 

“I said last year I wasn’t going to ever talk about that stuff again,” Manningham said, referring to the combine and the drug tests and how much they bothered him. Between all of that and the usual array of issues that any rookie deals with (learning the playbook, getting settled in a new town, just competing for a job, taking care of friends who want tickets and money are just part of the fun), Manningham struggled and got only four catches last season.

 

When Manningham showed up for offseason work this year, his demeanor completely changed.

 

“From the very first day of OTAs, I told him, ‘Man, you’re a completely different guy.’ ” Hixon said. “He didn’t know why, but you could just see it in how he handled himself, how he practiced, paid attention, everything.”

 

Manningham also sent text messages to quarterback Eli Manning(notes), asking what he could do to get better at his job, showing the type of serious approach that any quarterback would find comforting.

 

Photo The combine was not the best of times for Manningham.

(Michael Conroy/AP Photo)

 

“He just had a completely different way about him,” Manning said. “You could tell he was a lot more mature and ready to come in and fight for a position and a chance to contribute.”

 

Again, much of that had to do with the approach of the entire group of receivers.

 

“When everybody talked about us receivers in the offseason, it was always about how we maybe didn’t have the talent to get it done, that we were the weak spot,” Manningham said. “We all took that as a point of pride to say, ‘We’re going to get this done.’ ”

 

Said Hixon: “Every time you looked on the TV and they were talking about the Giants, it was, ‘Oh, they have this and this, but they don’t have the receiver.’ We heard it and we talked about it among ourselves. We just said, ‘We’re not going to say anything about that to anybody. We’re just going to play and let that do the talking.’ ”

 

The Giants are depending upon that now. General manager Jerry Reese backed away from trading for Edwards before the draft, unwilling to part with a first-round pick. Instead, the Giants drafted wide receivers Hakeem Nicks(notes) in the first round and Ramses Barden(notes) in the third round. Reese said that the coaching staff also continued its usual commitment to getting those players time early in the season.

 

“We’ve always done that, make sure guys play early so that you can get them used to the bright lights, the playing in games,” Reese said. “We’ll always do it that way to make sure that guys are ready.”

 

So far, so good. Manninghan and Smith came through in a big way against Dallas and have given the Giants hope that wide receiver won’t be a problem this season, even if the idea of replacing Burress and Toomer is a daunting task.

 

“It was a good game, but we really haven’t done anything yet,” Smith cautioned. “It’s only two games. We have a lot more to do.”

 

Source: Yahoo! Sports

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