To preview the season, I'm contacting beat writers from around the country, and asking them to answer five questions about the teams they cover. We'll get through as many of these as possible before the season starts.
The first team in this series is the New York Giants. The G-Men got hot at the perfect time last season, finishing the regular season with a 10-6 record, winning three playoff games on the road, and of course, stunning the previously undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl.
So what does 2008 hold for the Giants? What are their chances of repeating? Will there be a letdown? How will they compensate for the losses of Michael Strahan and Jeremy Shockey?
Q: What is the biggest concern for the defending Super Bowl champions heading into this year?
A: Unlike most recent Super Bowl champs, I don't think the Giants have to worry about complacency. In fact, they still consider themselves underdogs and rally around that us-against-the-world, no-one-believes-in-us thinking. Their biggest concern is probably replacing Michael Strahan's presence off the field. He was the guy who everyone turned to when things weren't going according to plan, the emotional leader of a defense that ran pretty high on emotion. They have enough talented players that they should be able to cover for him on the field, but the locker room, the meeting room and the huddle will have a very different vibe without him.
Q: What is the most recent news on Plaxico Burress? Has he practiced yet? Is he injured, or unhappy with his contract?
A: Burress was cleared for some light running on Sunday night by team doctors. He has an injury to his right ankle that is different from the one that kept him out of almost every practice during the 2007 season. That injury healed during the offseason. This new one is just a nagging situation, and after Burress went through last season with his ankle problems, he doesn't want to go back on the field until he is 100 percent. That said, a new contract would probably make that ankle 100 percent in a hurry. He and the Giants are in negotiations, and I've been told that a deal is almost certain to be struck before the team leaves training camp. Don't be surprised if that's close to the same timetable for Burress' full return.
Q: What were the Giants' offseason gains and losses?
A: The immediate answer to replacing Strahan is Justin Tuck, the third defensive end in the rotation last year along with Osi Umenyiora. The Giants also have Mathias Kiwanuka, a natural DE who was moved to OLB last year. While there will be times Kiwanuka lines up as a DE in sub packages, the team is committed to making him an LB. They also have Dave Tollefson, a second-year player who is a high-energy guy having a very good camp, along with veteran Renaldo Wynn. Other key additions are LB Danny Clark, S Sammy Knight, and rookie S Kenny Phillips who has been one of the most impressive players in camp at any position, any experience level. On offense, they lost Shockey but have Kevin Boss and his great hands to replace him. They also hope to have a healthy Steve Smith in the slot to run a lot of the routes Shockey used to run in the middle of the field.
Q: What is the team's biggest strength going into the 2008 season?
A: The biggest strength going into training camp was probably depth at WR, but with so many injuries in the area -- Burress, Amani Toomer, Smith and Mario Manningham have all missed time with injuries -- that could become an area of concern as camp continues. Right now, their strength is probably the diversity of their running game. They have Brandon Jacobs, a bruiser who is looking to stay healthy for a full season, and if he does will cash in as a free agent after the season. They have the speedy Ahmad Bradshaw, who can cut and outrun just about anyone. They have Derrick Ward, who was put on IR last year after breaking his leg late in a career game against the Bears. And they have Reuben Droughns, who has come into camp refocused after admittedly starting the year soft in 2007.
Q: What is the best and worst part about covering training camp in Albany? Is this the worst time of year to be an NFL beat writer?
A: The best part about covering training camp in Albany is that there are no Brett Favre rumors. It sounds odd now, but if the Giants had been bounced early from the playoffs last year and Eli Manning hadn't come on so strong and basically revamped his legacy in about a month, I think the Giants might have been one of the teams sniffing around Favre. I know guys on the Jets beat who are dealing with that. Not fun. As far as specifically being in Albany, it's hard to be away from home for so long, but at the same time it's nice to focus on football almost exclusively. In the past, I covered Jets training camps and commuted home every day so there were always (welcome) distractions like trying to get home early to catch my kids' games or having to mow the lawn or do other jobs around the house. Up here in Albany, I have almost nothing to do but work. I mean, it's 10:30 p.m. on a Sunday night and I'm writing this Q&A. If I were at home, that wouldn't be happening. Is this the worst time of the year? No. I think free agency with all the variables and unknowns and no real contact with the teams is the most difficult time. I always find myself pretty refreshed at the start of camp. But this period -- about 10 days into camp -- is the hardest part of camp because all of the obvious stories have been written and we're still a few days away from the preseason opener. Once the games start, though, things really pick up and all of a sudden we're in Tampa for Super Bowl XLIII.