June 2007


This is kind of old news now, but it was really nice to see Jessie Armstead sign a one-day contract and retire as a Giant.

After he came to us out of Miami in 1993 as a seventh round pick, Armstead spent three years busting heads on special teams before wresting himself the starting weakside linebacker job in 1996.

Beginning in ’97 – Fassel’s first year that saw us overachieve during the regular season and through the first fifty-eight and a half minutes of our opening round playoff game before before severely underachieving during a devastating, stunning ninety second sequence that still pains me to this day – Armstead began a run of five consecutive Pro Bowl appearances.

Strahan may have been the best player for the longest period of time, but anyone who watched the G-Men during those years knows that Armstead was the heart and soul of those late 90s/early 2000s Giants defenses, whose excellence is somewhat forgotten amidst the mediocrity that enveloped the franchise during those years (2000 Super Bowl appearance notwithstanding).

During his six years as a Big Blue starter, the Giants defense, in terms of points allowed, ranked 10th, 4th, 9th, 23rd, 5th, and 16th in the league. Basically, they were excellent for two of those years (’97 and ’00, not coincidentally), pretty good for two (’96 and ’98), average for one (’01), and very bad for one (’99).

All told, they averaged a ranking of roughly 11th in the league during that span. What that means is that throughout the Jesse Armstead years, the mediocre Giants still boasted a top-third defense.

In his write-up of the retirement ceremony, Michael Eisen has a nice little description of Armstead, who will go down in history as one of the best in the proud lineage of Big Blue ‘backers:

“Armstead played sideline-to-sideline with speed and what can best be described as controlled recklessness. At 6-1, 240 pounds, he delivered punishing hits to unfortunate ballcarriers. He was also a highly-respected and well-liked locker room leader who privately scolded teammates when they didn’t perform to his standards, inspired them to greater deeds when they did and was a stand-up guy with the media.”

Here’s a quote from Michael Strahan, (who earlier his remarks introduced to me the amazing phrase of “tasting the pineapple,” which means going to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii):

“He had the best football instinct I’ve ever been around.”

And a little later, re Armstead’s 43-yard interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XXV being nullified by a penalty…

“And if we wouldn’t have gotten screwed at the Super Bowl, he would have had a touchdown and we would have won that game…. I think about it all the time. All I remember was hitting Dilfer and I saw he dumped it and I just heard the crowd and I look up and there’s Jessie running like he stole something. That [it was called back] really put a damper on the Super Bowl.”

(Sorry Mike, but I’m not buying that. Yes, Armstead’s touchdown would have tied the game at 7 early in the second quarter and may have breathed some life into the corpses that were the New York Football Giants that night, and yes, it maybe would have changed the “complexion of the game,” but please. We lose 35-7 in one of the all-time most lopsided Super Bowls and we’re still complaining about getting screwed by one call?

We were utterly spanked in that game, period. More to the point, our offense was rendered something worse than impotent: actively counterproductive, as the Ravens defense scored more points than our offense, which gained a mere 152 yards while committing 5 turnovers. Whether Armstead’s touchdown counted or not, there was absolutely no our offense was putting up anywhere near enough points to even get close in that game.

By the way, while reliving that painful game, I came across the highlight package from this website. Do you notice how many guys seem to be close to Jermaine Lewis on his cruel rebuttal to Ron Dixon’s return? I counted four. How the hell did he get past those guys? Alas, it was that kind of night, and Armstead’s nullified touchdown was just a small piece of it.)

Ok, back to Armstead. One of the things I always liked about was his awesome celebration after big tackles: he would make the tackle, spring to his feet, then sprint twenty-five yards before launching into a full-fledged crow hop to throw a lunging horizontal punch, landing on a bent left knee and firing up the Meadowlands crowd, which appreciates nothing more in the world than good defense.

Indeed, Armstead brought passion to the Meadowlands during some pretty insipid years of Giants football. At the very least, let’s be grateful for the highlights of ’97 and ’00, which brought a tremendous career into focus.

One final note about Armstead: If you’ve ever read the book Friday Night Lights, the final play of the Permian Panthers season – a desperate fourth down pass over the middle in the Texas state championship game – was broken up by an athletic Carter Cowboys linebacker named Jessie Armstead.

Fully equipped with the first press credential ever issued in NYGMen.com history, I will be making the trek out to Edison, NJ this coming Tuesday for a business seminar featuring special guests Mike Ditka and… one Brad Benson, a G-Man left tackle from 1977 through 1987 who made the Pro-Bowl in ’86.

The seminar, one of those “success on and off the field” type things sponsored by the New Jersey-based sales and marketing organization Move Ahead 1, will be held at the Edison’s Holiday Inn at 3050 Woodbridge Avenue, from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. this Tuesday.

If you’re reading this blog, you probably know what Mike Ditka’s been up to the past ten or so years since the Saints/Ricky Williams wedding dress experiment didn’t work out. Most recently, he’s fighting the good fight for minimally adequate benefits for ex-NFL players, although Dave Duerson, a former Bear who was also a member of the Giants 1990 Super Bowl team, has questioned Ditka’s genuineness on the issue.

Benson, an Altoona, PA native, has settled on a 40-acre farm in Hillsborough, NJ with his wife and kids while running Brad Benson Hyundai and Mitsubishi, the largest Hyundai dealer in the state.

Here’s a great article on Benson written earlier this year by Michael Eisen on Giants.com, recalling how the undersized Penn State graduate – who was drafted in the eight round by the Patriots and then cut before the G-Men signed him – scrapped together a successful NFL career, due in no small part to a constant barrage of Bill Parcells ball-busting.

Here’s a Benson quote from the piece:

“I didn’t have the most athletic ability in the world so I had to be at 120 percent all the time. I was probably, on the whole offensive line, the worst athlete of the bunch…. Everything I did and achieved was through motivation. And Bill knew that. And he knew that he had to do certain things to keep me on top of my game. So Parcells had an excellent way of pushing people’s buttons without having them fall apart.”

(Did Parcells retain his way of “pushing people’s buttons without having them fall apart” when he became a celebrity and fell in love with his reputation as a dick? I don’t know. I still love Parcells and I always will, but the guy changed, man. The guy changed.)

Benson was the only Pro- Bowler on an ’86 O-Line that also included Billy Ard at right guard, Bart Oates at Center, Chris Godfrey at left guard, and Karl Nelson at right tackle. (Bill Parcells dubbed them “The Suburbanites,” and I frankly don’t know why. Do any of you out there? If so, I’m curious. Otherwise, I’ll ask Benson.)

Because of the Giants historical reputation for having a strong defense, it’s easy to overlook how good our offense was throughout the mid-to-late 80s. In 1985, we finished sixth in the NFL with 399 points. In ’86, our 371 points placed us eighth. 1987, because of the strike, doesn’t really count, but in 1988 we scored 359 points to finish eighth again.

So the perception of the Giant teams during this era – excellent defense and league-average offense – just doesn’t hold true. Our defense was sick, but our offense was really good too.

(Trivia Question: What was the highest scoring season in Giants history?

Answer: 2005. We scored 422 points to finish third in the NFL.)

So it’s gonna be fun for me to meet Benson. If any of you out there can make it, it would be really cool meeting some of you and talking Giants football into the afternoon. Anybody have any suggestions of what to ask Benson?

During the off-season, we signed Texans FB Vonta Leach to an offer sheet in an attempt to upgrade at fullback, but the Texans matched the offer and forced us to settle on Finn. At the time, I didn’t quite understand why we were so eager to replace our fullback since 2003 who did an outstanding job blocking for Tiki and had always looked pretty good catching the ball as well – I mean, Tiki’s accomplishments over the past few years must have had something to do with Finn, right?

But the thinking behind our souring on Finn, which is alluded to by Mike Garafolo in his piece in today’s Star-Ledger, seems logical enough: The Giants felt that Finn wasn’t physical enough to block for straight-ahead, downhill runners like Jacobs and Droughns. For guys like the running backs we have now, you want a fullback to be able to just blast through a hole and clear a path.

And Finn wasn’t that guy; rather, he was a quick, finesse type blocker whose abilities perfectly suited Tiki’s unique improvisational style. Finn was quick enough to get to a spot and put his body in front of the defender; even if he couldn’t out-physical that defender, Tiki could read Finn’s block (along with everything else happening in front of him) and make the appropriate cut. But, as will be evident at many points throughout the season, Jacobs and Droughns are not much like the one-of-a-kind Teekster.

Now Finn’s gone for the year – his days as a Giant are almost certainly numbered and even if he tries to come back from the most recent of his three shoulder operations that has left him with severe arthritis, he may never play football again. Football is a cold world, and like many of his peers, Finn will quickly be forgotten by most. But NYGMen thanks Jim Finn for playing a vital role in the three best seasons Giants fans have ever seen from a running back, and wishes him good luck in the future.

**

The pressing issue for Jerry Reese now is to replace Finn. Our best in-house option, evidently, is a fellow named Robert Douglas. Douglas has never suited up for an NFL game and has been released four times since he first reported to an NFL camp in 2005, so it would seem like an upgrade should be in order here.

There are a number of fullbacks not currently on rosters who have starting experience in the NFL, including William Henderson, Chris Hetherington, Bryan Johnson, Daimon Shelton, and Jerald Sowell. Another possibility is that we could trade for a guy currently on a roster.

Who knows, but expect Jerry Reese to make some sort of move, if not before camp than after. Douglas may be perfectly capable, but why take the chance? I’d be much more comfortable with a known quantity here.

This is the eighth of an eight-part series analyzing each Giants draft choice. 

Ahmad Bradshaw, Round 7 (250):

With every position of need addressed in some way, the Giants took a running back with their last pick, even though they didn’t really need one. With both Jacobs and Droughns signed through at least 2008, and the unexciting but adequate Derrick Ward recently re-signed, we have enough competent running backs on hand.

But perhaps Bradshaw can provide an upgrade over Ward (whom you would never want to see starting a game for us), allowing us to be in a better position a year from now. That might entail cutting Droughns as he enters the last year of his contract, or perhaps using Droughns at fullback (the position he played his rookie year with the Broncos), parting ways with Finn, and having Bradshaw back up Jacobs.

A best-case scenario for Bradshaw’s would be for him to become our third-down back, either this year or in the future. The scouting reports say that he is pretty good at picking up the blitz, a quality that may allow him to immediately surpass Derrick Ward, who is apparently a poor pass blocker (Source: Pro Football Prospectus 2006, just so you don’t think I’m talking out of my ass.)

Who knows? The point is that we had filled every other area of need, and with this pick, the fact that we must have liked Bradshaw and our desire to upgrade from Derrick Ward converged.

The big thing that recommends Bradshaw is his production at Marshall, where he rushed for 1,523 yards and 19 touchdowns as a junior last year for an average of 6.1 yards per carry. That’s pretty sick, and though it obviously won’t necessarily translate over to the pros, it’s certainly worth taking a flier on.

Even though he’s not very big (5-9, 198), Bradshaw is a good between-the-tackles runner, known for his good vision and ability to read blocks, pick the right hole, cut decisively, and run hard through the hole with a good initial burst. He has some moves, is a pretty good receiver out of the backfield, and is good at picking up the blitz.

Bradshaw turned heads during rookie minicamp as well. Here’s a quote from Colonel Tom:

“You’d have to say Bradshaw had a noticeable morning. He’s been back on kickoff returns, on punt returns. He caught the ball coming out of the backfield. You saw a couple of runs where he was able to turn the ball north-south. It catches your eye, for sure.”

Sure, these rookie minicamps shouldn’t be read into very much, but for a guy who will have to struggle to get noticed and contribute in a pinch, it bodes well.

On the negative side, despite his physical style, Bradshaw is small and not fast (4.66 in the 40). Scouting reports say that he doesn’t really have the speed to turn the corner consistently and won’t win any footraces in the open. There’s certainly a strong likelihood that his production at mid-major Marshall won’t translate and that he’ll find himself out of his league physically.

Another concern are a couple of “off-field incidents,” for lack of a less ridiculous term. Before his freshman year at Virginia, where he started his college career before transferring, he was arrested for underage drinking. This one doesn’t concern me, and if it concerns you, you are either a prude or a hypocrite.

The second incident is a more troubling, being that it didn’t involve drugs, alcohol, or fighting, but was rather a moral transgression indicative of a bad person: Last January, Bradshaw stole a PlayStation 2 from a dorm room at Marshall. What a fucking dick. He can talk all he wants about “learning from his mistakes,” but you don’t “learn” to become a good guy if you’re that big of an asshole when you’re 21. If I were the poor dude whose PlayStation got jacked, I’d root for this guy to tear his ACL and be working at a gas station in two years.

(If you think I’m being sarcastic about this, I’m not. Like, what a dick. I can’t stand when athletes, in their self-absorption, paper over legitimate dick moves that fuck other people over as “youthful transgressions.” Getting bagged for drinking or drugs is a youthful transgression, indicative of poor judgment. But you don’t steal someone’s shit because you have poor judgment; you do it because you’re an asshole.)

But I’m not the guy whose PlayStation got jacked. I’m a Giants fan, and I’m rooting for him. And I think that there’s a pretty decent chance that we’re gonna hear from this guy, if not this year then in the near future.

This is the seventh of an eight-part series analyzing each Giants draft choice.

Michael Johnson, Round 7 (224):

Our two starting safeties are set: Will Demps, who was a huge disappointment in his first year in Big Blue but improved considerably towards season’s end (possibly as a result of his finally getting over the effects of a partially torn ACL he suffered in 2005), will start at free safety. Gibril Wilson, who has not quite matched the excitement he generated in his 2004 rookie season but is nonetheless a good player, will start at strong safety.

These guys don’t comprise the best safety tandem in the league, but behind them isn’t much either. James Butler, a third-year undrafted free-agent, has shown flashes of competence, but nothing to get especially excited about. The recently signed Michael Stone, a bust of a second-round draft pick for Arizona in 2001, is mostly a special teams guy.

Of our four safeties, Gibril is really the only guy you would consider an asset at his position. But he’ll also be an unrestricted free-agent after the year if we don’t resign him to a long-term deal.

So the logic behind drafting a safety was is obvious. And even though Johnson lasted until pick number 224, we may have gotten ourselves a potential starter to either replace a departed Gibril or to supplant Demps if he doesn’t improve his play.

At 6-3, Johnson is a rangy guy known for taking good paths to balls in the air, a smooth stride and ability to change directions, and most importantly, good hands, timing, and leaping ability. Though he played strong safety at Arizona, these qualities show that he has the versatility to play both spots if need be.

On the negative side, his speed (4.55 in the 40) is kind of on the slow side for safeties, but is certainly well within the acceptable range and can probably be compensated for by his outstanding instincts. And his lean frame (he weighed in at 211 at the combine, but the NFL.com scouting report thinks he can add another 15 pounds) makes him vulnerable to getting blown off the ball on running plays, although scouting reports say that he has no qualms about sticking his nose in there.

Still, Johnson projects as a better talent than his seventh round status would indicate. One of the reasons he may have slipped is his injury history during his two years at Arizona after he transferred from Tyler (TX) Junior College (the hometown of Giants first rounder Aaron Ross). A spring injury in 2005 precluded him from competing for the starting job – he didn’t get much burn until he took over the job with four games remaining in the season. His senior year was marred by a series of injuries, including a quad contusion that kept him out of practice for a month (though he played in the games), and a deep hamstring pull that cost him the last two and a half-games.

There are two ways to look at this injury history: 1) That he is injury prone, which is a legitimate reason for his slippage; or 2) That because his injuries rendered him not at his best, we got the opportunity to draft a classic undervalued commodity who could turn into a steal.

But I like the pick, and so does Mike Tanier of FootballOutsiders’ and Fox Sports, who counts Johnson as one of the best picks in the seventh round:

Johnson battled nagging injuries throughout his career at Arizona. When healthy, he looked like a first-day prospect and future NFL starter. He’ll need seasoning, but he projects as a big, rangy free safety.

So there’s really no reason not to like this pick. We needed a safety, and we took a chance on a pretty talented one who slipped because of his injuries. But for a seventh round pick? I’ll take it.

This is the sixth of an eight-part series analyzing each Giants draft-choice.

Adam Koets, Round 6 (189):

Ok, we’re officially at the point where we’re talking about guys who probably won’t see the field much this year: Koets will be our fourth tackle this year, behind Kareem McKenzie, who is penciled in at right tackle, and Dave Diehl and Guy Whimper, who are competing for the left tackle job (scroll down to the fourth and fifth bullet points on that one. Remember that Diehl will stay at left guard if Whimper earns that left tackle spot.)

So it will take at least two injuries for Koets to get snaps. If any of the three tackles ahead of Koets gets hurt, you can expect the other to shuffle in at the other tackle spots while Rich Suebert or Grey Reugamer fills in at left guard. Another oft-discussed option at left tackle is Browns veteran Kevin Shaffer, who was made expendable by his team’s selection of stud tackle Joe Thomas with the third pick in the draft.

Whatever happens, don’t expect to see Koets much in 2007, barring a disastrous cascade of injuries. Remember, you hardly ever see a rookie on an NFL O-Line: Because there are so many schemes that have to be mastered, a coaching staff almost always go with vets who are more familiar with these schemes, regardless of long-term potential.

But for Giants fans who wanted to take Joe Staley in the first round – myself included – well, here is our left tackle. Koets can be seen as the poor man’s Staley: Both are agile, finesse, pass-protection specialists who need to bulk up to become physically adequate for the position at the next level. And while Staley has much more potential, Koets is intriguing in his own right.

The scouting reports describe Koets as a lean dude who, at 6-5, 298 lbs, has a frame that could accommodate twenty more pounds without losing much of his signature quickness. This quickness is his best attribute: He “shows good body control and change-of-direction agility,” “plays under control… working his hips properly to wall off and force the chase route,” and “keeps his base wide and does a good job of sealing off defenders attacking his outside shoulder,” according to the NFL.com scouting report.

Here’s a promising stat: he only allowed four sacks during his last two years at Oregon State (where he was a three year starter), no shabby accomplishment in the pass-rusher laden Pac-10.

On the downside, he’s not too big, not too physical, and, perhaps most damningly, has questionable aggression. The NFL.com scouting report says that “some might see his lack of aggression for a lack of desire.”

So time will tell with Koets, which is fine because we wouldn’t want to be in a position where he’s making much of an impact this year. But the philosophy behind the pick – prioritizing offensive lineman who specialize in pass-protection on the hope that Eli will develop into something resembling what Ernie Accorsi thought he saw at Ole Miss – is sound.

This is the fifth of an eight-part series analyzing each Giants draft choice. 

Kevin Boss: Round 5 (153):

Boss is an intriguing prospect who could turn into a fifth-round steal. This former basketball player’s strong, sure hands, excellent body control, and knack for timing his jump make him a potentially excellent red-zone target, an important attribute for second tight ends who see a lot of action in double-tight formations near the goal line. Here’s what ESPN’s scouting report had to say about the 6-6 Boss on the subject:

“Uses wide frame to shield defenders from the ball and has the strong hands to make the tough catch in traffic.”

So between Boss and Steve Smith, we’ve drafted two sure-handed, capable targets for Eli as we try to improve what was a brutal red-zone passing game last year. And I love that he’s a basketball player: These power-forward types know how to go up and get it.

Boss’s receiving abilities go beyond the red-zone: The NFL.com scouting report – which, I must say, was pretty damn glowing for a fifth round pick – says that Boss “shows the power to break tackles and the stride to separate after the catch… Demonstrates good awareness of the sticks and good balance running down the sidelines…. With his size and power, he is simply too much to tackle in one-on-one situations. Lowers his pads and squares his shoulders well to simply obliterate the smaller defensive backs who that dare to get in his way.”

Boss also fills a position of need by replacing Visanthe Shiancoe, who left as a free-agent for Minnesota this offseason. Shiancoe was a decent player, but certainly was not worth the outlandish 5-year, $18.2 million contract the Vikings gave him. The selection of Boss makes the Giants look good: They did a smart thing by not overpaying Shiancoe and replacing him – and quite possibly upgrading from him – all for the price of a second-day draft choice. And given Shockey’s penchant for getting nicked up, we really needed to address the backup tight end situation.

Mike Garafolo, in his observations of rookie minicamp, came away impressed, saying, “TE Kevin Boss had a big afternoon highlighted by a diving catch on a short crossing route over the middle. He’s definitely got the receiving ability, has size and runs good routes. It’s just a matter of whether or not he can become an accomplished blocker fast enough to see the field this year.”

On the negative side, Boss is described as a “low-gear” player, which basically means that he’s not explosive. NFL.com says that he makes up for his lack of initial explosion on passing plays by “using his hands effectively to escape jams,” so this quality will be more of a detriment to his blocking than his receiving. Addressing the subject, ESPN’s scouting report says that Boss “doesn’t deliver a violent initial punch and isn’t going to knock many defenders back. Lacks ideal lower body strength and isn’t much of a drive blocker at this point.”

But these are hardly deal-breaking qualities, and given all the positives, one has to wonder why Boss lasted until the fifth round? The fact that he comes from obscure Division II Western Oregon might have something to do with it. But the G-Men have demonstrated a good track record with guys from obscure schools recently: Osi Umenyiora from Troy, Brandon Jacobs from Southern Illinois, Rich Seubert from Western Illinois, Chase Blackburn from Akron, Visanthe Shiancoe from Morgan State, and if you want to go back a little bit, a fellow named Strahan from a school called Texas Southern.

Another reason for Boss’s slippage could have been a shoulder injury that cut short his 2006, which NFL.com says “requires further medical evaluation.” Who knows if we’ll ever hear about that again.

So this looks like a really good pick by the Giants. Boss is a guy who fills a need, will probably contribute immediately, and has a good chance of developing into a good NFL player.  That’s not bad for a fifth round draft pick.

This is the fourth of an eight-part series analyzing each Giants draft choice.

Zak DeOssie, Round 4 (116):

Of the two Giants Super Bowl winning teams, history gives a lot more respect to the ’86 version. On ESPN’s list of the all-time greatest Super Bowl teams, the ’86 team pulls in at 8th, while the ’90 team pulls in at 33rd (and the 2000 team, which they refer to as “a completely uninspiring and forgettable team” [ouch] pulls in at 78th, third to last on a list that was compiled before last year’s Super Bowl.)

I’m not disputing that the ’86 team was better, but not by nearly so much as people claim. Why no respect for the ’90 Giants? Maybe it all comes from the misconception that the Giants were lucky that Scott Norwood missed that field goal, that they benefited from another team’s fuck-up, that the wrong team won the Super Bowl because some piss-ant kicker choked the game away.

This is bullshit, and here’s why: During the 1990 season, Norwood had gone just 1-for-5 on field goals over 40 yards on grass. As of the :08 mark of Super Bowl XXV, he had never hit a field goal as long as 47 yards on grass.

Given this, it was incumbent on the Bills offense to move the ball into reasonable field goal range, while it was incumbent on the Giants defense to keep the Bills out. This was the real battle, and the Giants won it. By the time Norwood got on the field, the battle had already been lost by his offense.

Norwood could have made up for the failure of the Bills offense by coming through with an extraordinary effort on that field goal, one that, given his abilities, would have been completely out of line with his prior track record. But he didn’t come through with this extraordinary effort, but rather a normal effort, which, for him, from 47-yards on grass, amounted to a missed field goal.

To the casual, non-Giant fan, the letdown quality of the missed field goal – that dramatic moment when it’s up… it’s got the distance… and it’s… noooooo good – obscures the fact that nobody had any reason to expect Norwood to make the kick in the first place.

So did this missed field goal represent a failure for Norwood? No, because he just performed the way he should have been expected to. To say that Norwood choked is like saying that Rey Ordonez choked because he didn’t get a hit with the bases loaded and two outs: the odds simply weren’t with him. Was it a failure for the Bills offense? Yes, that it was.

But most importantly, it was a triumph for the Giants defense, which, masterminded by a mad little genius named Bill Belichick, came through in the clutch and did what they had to do.

**

Anyway, let’s keep talking about the under-appreciated 1990 New York Football Giants, who, to remind you, ranked 33rd on ESPN’s list of the top teams ever to appear in a Super Bowl and generally garner no respect.

But look, our 13-3 record that year is certainly nothing to sneeze at, nor was our +124 point differential, which was only 11 points worse than the +135 differential of the ’86 team.

And while the ’86 team steamrolled through the playoffs, outscoring their opponents by a combined 105-23, the ’90 version blew out the Bears in the first round before beating, albeit by a combined three points, two of the strongest teams of the era in the Niners and the Bills, both of whom easily would have ranked in the top 15 on ESPN’s list had they won that Super Bowl.

Quick: which of the Giants Super Bowl teams had the better defense? Was it the ’86 version that featured LT in his MVP year, Hall of Famer Harry Carson, and Carl Banks in his prime? Or was it the ’90 defense, which featured a similar cast of characters, but is often thought of as the last gasp of a once great unit that precipitously declined shortly thereafter?

Well, if you anticipated the obvious unexpected answer here, you were right. Yes, it was the ’90 Giants defense, who ranked first in fewest points allowed in giving up 13.2 points per game, slightly better than the ’86 team, which ranked second in the league in allowing 14.8 points per game.

**

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that I’m excited about Zak DeOssie, whose father Steve DeOssie (who, in my fourth grade class, was often confused with WWF’s Ted “The Million Dollar Man” DiBiase), played inside linebacker on that superior 1990 Giants defense that brought us that sweet, unexpected championship.

The strange thing about DeOssie the Younger is that despite his NFL pedigree and Brown education (how did Steve DeOssie’s son get into Brown, by the way?) he enters the league as an athletic, but raw product. The fact that he is right now more athlete than football player belies the common conception about sons of pros: usually these guys have the instincts and smarts; if they’re held back by anything, it’s that despite their parents, they didn’t hit the jackpot in the genetic lottery.

Basically what we have in DeOssie is a hard-ass, hustling athlete who currently lacks instinct and technique. His speed, rangy frame, and aggressiveness will help us immediately on special teams – the NFL.com scouting report describes him as “a capable wedge-buster,” which gives an indication of his balls-to-the-wall style. He is also a long-snapper (like his pops), and if he proves up to the task, he could allow us to get rid of one-dimensional long-snapper Ryan Kuehl and perhaps employ a kickoff specialist.

But it’s an open question whether he’s ever gonna become skilled enough to be a good outside linebacker. The NFL.com scouting report says that he “lacks a good feel for reading keys and will take false steps,” that he “needs to diagnose the in-line blocking schemes better as he can be caught up in traffic,” that he “has a tough time diagnosing the inside rush lanes,” and that he “is slow to react to the pass.”

(The same scouting report said that DeOssie’s frame – which has the potential to fill out an additional 20 pounds – may be conducive to a move down to defensive end, so we’ll see if linebacker will be his permanent home.)

Who knows what type of player DeOssie will turn into, but having athletic, kamikaze guys on the roster who can make sticks on special teams never hurts, nor does it ever hurt the Giants to have able-bodied linebackers – DeOssie will join Chase Blackburn in pushing our two projected starters at OLB, Kawika Mitchell and Gerris Wilkinson.

The thinking behind this pick was also interesting, given that we had just drafted the undersized but instinctive and productive Alford a round earlier. If drafting Alford in the third round was a vote for instincts over physique, than drafting DeOssie in the fourth round is the opposite. And I have no problem with combining the two approaches.

1) Plax and Shockey: No-Shows Again (Finn too)

So as I’m sure you’ve heard, Plax and Shockey no-showed the optional organized team activities for the third year in a row. I have no idea what kind of difference these workouts actually make, if any – I won’t pretend to know what I’m talking about by trotting out the obvious Eli/Plax Shockey vs. Peyton/Marvin Harrison parallel – but if you were Plax and Shockey, wouldn’t you just go to these things for the sake of having the media shut the fuck up about it already?

I mean, Jesus. Just show up for three days or whatever, run some routes and catch some balls, and then sit back and get showered with good press, content in the knowledge that you don’t have to hear about this shit for the rest of the season. If anything, for two guys who are accused of being uncommitted to the team, this would seem like the path of least resistance.

An aggravating circumstance here is the happy horseshit that Plax was spewing when he showed up for voluntary passing drills in early May. Here’s the quote:

“I’m just here because I want us to get better and I want (Eli) to reach his full potential, which I think can be great. I feel I’m one of the best players in the world at my position. If it takes me to come back and work with my quarterback right now to get to that level, then I’m more than willing to do that because I believe I can be that person.”

Best players in the world? That’s a little, I don’t know, grandiose, isn’t it. Whatever.

Are they doing this out of stubbornness? Are they doing this to spite the media, and/or Colonel Tom (for whom Shockey issued an unexpected, somewhat not-too-credible statement of support after the Giants retained him)? I don’t know. But grow up, fellas – this is ridiculous.

Whether these workouts make a difference or not, it’s gotten to the point where Plax and Shockey’s no-showing is a direct affront to Eli, who has openly stated that he wants these guys there. Here’s Eli’s rather pointed quote:

“(I) accept it. I have to do what I have to do. I have to be positive and make the best out of every workout with whoever’s out there and wants to come to practice and work. So these are the guys I’ll work with and try to get as good as we can with them.”

I can’t think of a better way to show up your underconfident quarterback who is always getting undermined by the media than to openly defy him publicly. (Again, this wouldn’t be that big of a deal if the media hadn’t made it one, but given that the media has acted like the media is expected to act, it has become a big deal, fair or not, and whether these guys like it or not.) The flailed arms during games are bad enough, but somewhat understandable in the heat of battle. Refusing to show up for these workouts after all the media scrutiny is now just a plain dick move to Eli.

It was hard to get a sense of how pissed Colonel Tom was from his comments. Refusing to comment on the absent players, he said: “We’ll talk about the guys that are here.”

Was that a shot at Plax and Shockey, or was that typical Tom gruffness towards the media?

I don’t know, but what I do know is that this season has already gotten off on the wrong foot. Nice job, guys.

(Also, Jim Finn blew this thing off as well. If I were Finn, I, too, would be pretty pissed that we tried unsuccessfully to replace him. This seems like a classic, “I won’t go where I’m not wanted move. Understandable, but another indication of the sour vibe that seems to be carrying over from last year.)

**

2) Antonio Pierce breeds pit-bulls, but thinks anyone who fights them “is a punk.”

This piece turned out to be pretty interesting: Pierce had a pretty strong reaction to the whole Vick thing. Some quotes:

“Anybody who fights pit bulls is a punk. It gives my dogs a bad rap. Everybody loves my dogs because they’re good dogs. So of course I’m not pleased with it.”

Re: Vick, he said, “None of it sounds positive. If (Vick was involved), then (authorities) need to do what they need to do.”

Here’s a nice quote from Kevin Dockery, who owns one of the dogs that Pierce bred:

“It’s all about how you raise them. My dog isn’t aggressive at all. They just have a bad rap because they’re capable of being aggressive and mean. But those dogs are reflective of their owners.”

Too much has been said about the whole Vick thing already, but I thought Deadspin’s Will Leitch put it best, saying of Vick, “You have to give him one thing, though: This was a unique way to go down.”

**

3) R.W. Trims His Awesome Dreads

Finally, some sad news: R.W. McQuarters has given himself his first haircut since his rookie season in 1998. So much for the R.W. – Harold Perrineau (dude in the wheelchair on “Oz”) call; the Antonio Pierce – David’s cop lover from “Six Feet Under” is now the most uncanny resemblance on the Giants. He still has one of the coolest names in professional sports, but the dreads will be missed.

This is actually a really good piece by John Branch of The Times. It shows both how attached R.W. was to his dreads and how quirky he is.

Quoth R-Dubs: “Different energies, relationships you had in the past, I think it all comes with your hair. Because it’s there. It’s always there. It grows. When you cut it off, it’s like cutting off some of the past. So it was really like getting rid of all that negativity…. In eight and a half years? Oh yeah, I’ve been through several negative situations. It was just time for me to change. I was 30, and it was time.”

Branch goes on to say that R.W. sort of started a trend in the NFL of corners with massive dreads. Following in the Dubs’ footsteps were Mike McKenzie and Al Harris, as well as Rashean Mathis, Asante Samuel, and countless others.

A new dreads devotee is corner Darren Barnett, a free-agent rookie from Missouri State. Though he probably won’t make the team, Barnett had an interesting lines about the connection between dreads and corners:

“Most of the top corners, guys who want to stand out there, have dreadlocks.”

Guys who want to stand out there. I love that. They always say corners are “on an island,” alone in their responsibility to prevent a game-breaking and embarrassing big play. Given all this pressure, there must be something psychologically comforting about rocking an awesome tassel of dreads. Like, it’s not just you against the receiver; it’s you and your dreads against the receiver, and that’s more of a fair fight.

This is the third of an eight-part series analyzing each Giants draft choice.

Jay Alford, Round 3 (81):

Like the Smith selection, this pick represents a refreshing departure in the Giants’ player evaluation philosophy, which seem to be giving a little more weight to performance over tools.

(Before we overemphasize this point, though, let’s remember that Osi Umenyiora was a raw, toolsy project when we drafted him in the second round; so was Brandon Jacobs, and so, to a certain extent, was Matthias Kiwanuka. This point – the “We’re looking for football players, not sprinters or bodybuilders” point – has become extremely fashionable among casual fans who like to rattle off the Zach Thomases of the world, but let’s remember that player evaluation is a balance of the two approaches. Yes, Zach Thomas slipped down to the fourth round because he was short and small, and that was stupid. But Osi Umenyiora vaulted himself from complete obscurity to the second round because he was freakishly athletic, and that was smart.)

Anyway, back to Alford, who isn’t physically imposing by DT standards, but is a quick, playmaking overachiever who hustles his way into the backfield to make plays.

In scoutspeak, he gets by on his outstanding first-step quickness, “suddenness” off the ball, lateral movement, excellent football instincts and general “coachability.” He is small, perhaps too small, but he is somewhat able to make up for his lack of bulk with his quickness – he beats the other man to the punch – as well as his strong hands (an extremely underrated asset in athletes, especially football players)

He also plays a position of need – getting another D-Tackle up in this piece allows us to put a merciful end to the William Joseph experiment. Alford will join a four-man tackle rotation comprised of the promising Barry Cofield, the resurgent Fred Robbins, and the under-the-radar free agent acquisition Marcus Bell, who was productive in Detroit last year filling in for an injured Shaun Rogers.

The concern here is that the Giants may have reached for the undersized Alford with the 81st pick. Alford played at well under 300 pounds during his college career – while he weighed in at 302 at the combine, it remains to be seen whether he can keep this newfound bulk without sacrificing his quickness. Even at 302, he may not have the “sand in his pants” necessary to hold it down against the run. And a D-Tackle who can’t anchor his position against the run, however quick he may be, is a pretty useless NFL player.

But the fact that the Giants reached for him – that they singled him out as a guy they liked in spite of the conventional projections – shows that maybe they saw something in this guy that others didn’t. Considering Alford’s productive track record at Penn State, I’m willing to give the G-Men the benefit of the doubt here.

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