Many teams experience a letdown season after winning a Super Bowl. As the world champion, every player has a bullseye on the back of his jersey.
The Super Bowl champion Giants have the added challenge of playing in New York (well, technically New Jersey) under the largest media microscope.
Many players on Big Blue’s roster were around during their previous championship, and Eli Manning has progressed in leaps and bounds as a quarterback and leader in the interim since.
The team at least possesses experience coping with success: in 2008 the Giants finished with a 12-4 record before bowing out of the playoffs in the divisional round.
The Giants and head coach Tom Coughlin will be going into the 2012 season with the same gritty determination that they have exhibited through their championship years. How that grit holds up against three daunting questions remains to be seen.
If Hakeem Nicks feels lingering effects from his foot injury, how will the Giants’ offense compensate?
During OTAs, Nicks broke the fifth metatarsal bone in his foot. For a reeiever, it is in an unfortunate placement considering the stress that will be placed on it when cutting. Nicks is a receiver that can beat a defense over the top while also using his size and proficient route running to make plays underneath, with his lateral agility an important part of his skill-set.
If Nicks is not his usual self, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride will make adjustments in his playbook to accommodate the talent that he has. He will possibly take from his days with Coughlin and Mark Brunell in Jacksonville, running a less wide open attack than he does with Manning in New York or did Warren Moon in Houston.
Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell formed an underrated receiver duo for Gilbride and Coughlin, and complemented each others respective skill sets very well.
If needed, Victor Cruz can be a vertical threat running a skinny post, but he thrives as the most dynamic intermediate route runner in the league.
When he is at his best, he gains separation underneath using his astounding quickness out of breaks and then gobbles up yards after the catch with his combination of speed, vision and shiftiness. He would be best served to remain in the slot where he is the top inside receiver in the league.
Unfortunately, Domenik Hixon does not have the raw athletic talent that Cruz or Hicks possess. He does excel at finding holes in coverage and catching the ball at the highest point when going up for a catch. He will never be a great vertical threat, but he runs precise routes that allow him to gain enough separation to use his body to shield the defender from the ball. Reports from OTAs indicated that he has recovered completely from a torn ACL, but his lateral agility could also be affected.
With free agent acquisition Martellus Bennett being a very large tight end, to say the least, and possession receiver Ramses Barden a towering target at 6-5, the Giants could reformat their offense to contain more timing and underneath routes that will tailor the group’s skills and make Cruz the focal point of the offense. Hicks would be more of a pure vertical threat to lessen the burden on his foot and prevent setbacks.
Of course, this is all moot if Hicks is as healthy as he plans to be for the beginning of the season. Or if rookie Rueben Randle from LSU improves his release at training camp and continues to build on the flashes he showed at OTAs. Randle has a similar skill set to Nicks and could be the Giants’ next star in the making.
With the loss of Brandon Jacobs and the first round selection of David Wilson, how will the running game look?
After the departure of the frequently disgruntled Jacobs to San Francisco, the Giants selected Wilson out of Virginia Tech with the 32nd
selection in the Draft. Although Jacobs is a much bigger man, Wilson hits the hole much harder and more decisively.
While Jacobs often tip-toed to the line of scrimmage, which negates his giant stature, Wilson runs with an Eric Dickerson-like ease. Wilson glides to the line of scrimmage and can accelerate to full speed within a couple strides, which belies his understated shiftiness.
Ahmad Bradshaw is the incumbent in the backfield, but his production was hampered last season by a stress fracture in his foot. He was yet another Giants player to suffer a fractured fifth metatarsal bone.
This injury and Jacobs' inconsistency forced the Giants to shy away from the running game, a trend that is very uncharacteristic for a Coughlin-led team.
This metatarsal is the same bone that Bradshaw had broken previously and it was already being held together with a screw. Bradshaw has received bone marrow injections this offseason, a similar procedure to stem cell injections, and hopes to be back at full speed.
Wilson will be handed a large role in the offense right off the bat in order to minimize the wear and tear on Bradshaw throughout the season. Wilson is a more dynamic playmaker and can break off runs and screen passes in large chunks, while Bradshaw is able to crank out the tough yards and consistently produces positive yardage.
Both Bradshaw and Wilson are adequate receivers, but Danny Ware was a very solid third-down back for the Giants last season and will work to continue producing in that role. Da’Rel Scott was a seventh round draft pick last season, but was unable to grasp Gilbride’s dense playbook well enough to see the field. He has impressed with his athleticism in offseason workouts and will challenge Ware for third-down duties during training camp.
How will the Giants’ cornerbacks hold up against the glut of potent passing attacks they will face in 2012?
As we examine the Giants’ cornerback situation, the recurring theme of broken metatarsals and torn knee ligaments is back again. The deep roster for this New York team allowed them to overcome a rash of injuries last season and it will make up for losses to free agency.
After Aaron Ross signed with Jacksonville, the Giants must determine who will line up across from the quietly elite Corey Webster. Due to the Giants’ depleted depth at cornerback, safety Antrel Rolle was forced to line up as a cornerback in nickel and dime packages throughout last season to incredibly disastrous results.
Terrell Thomas was an incredibly productive player when he was healthy, recording 101 tackles and five interceptions in 2010, but is trying to recover from a torn ACL that he suffered, missing the 2011 season. Although he says that he will be ready to go when camp opens, there is no guarantee that he will be recovered enough from his second torn ACL to reclaim his starting spot.
A first round draft selection in 2011, Prince Amukamara is the last of the trifecta of Giants players who had to recover from an injured metatarsal bone in the foot. After injuring his foot in camp, Amukamara came back midway through the season to mixed results. Hampered by the injured foot, he was often beat by his inability to accelerate out of breaks.
Having undergone the same bone marrow injection treatment as Ahmad Bradshaw, look for Amukamara to be the dark horse candidate that ends up claiming a starting spot. Thomas will frequently be on the field against with the growing number of snaps that teams play in nickel coverage, and free agent pick up Antwaun Moldin will join the group in dime packages.