The Giants have a few challenges mixed in with the positives this year as they start their season with an away game against the Redskins. On the plus side they are coming of a 10-6 season, have a eight year head coach in Tom Coughlin and QB Eli Manning will make his 104th consecutive start, by far the longest among active players at his position now that his brother Peyton’s streak ended at 208.
On the flip side the offense has seen many departures while the defense has been hindered with injuries.
The Giants have had to replace four offensive starters after releasing longtime linemen Rich Seubert and Shaun O’Hara, and tight end Kevin Boss (Oakland) and wide receiver Steve Smith (Philadelphia) signed elsewhere.
Defense has lost six players to season-ending injuries, including middle linebacker Jonathan Goff, cornerback Terrell Thomas and defensive tackle Marvin Austin, the team’s second-round draft choice. In addition, one two-time Pro Bowl defensive end (Osi Umenyiora) is out after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery and the other (Tuck) practiced yesterday on a limited basis and is listed as questionable with an injury he suffered in a preseason game. Rookie favorite and Giant’s top draft pick Prince Amukamara is still rehabbing his foot.
“It is unfortunate, but it is our game,” Coughlin said. “It is unfortunate that these guys have gone down. There is no question that there are a number of defensive players that have gone down. There are a number of defensive players that we were counting on that are not going to be with us and you can’t hide that fact. We have what we have and we are going forward with it.”
“That’s part of football,” Manning said. “It’s going to happen. Our concern is getting ready for Washington. You can’t worry about who’s out there and who’s not. You have to trust the guys that are out there and go out there and do a great job. You game plan, play hard, and find a way to win.”
The players say they are focused only on stopping the Redskins and winning the football game.
“As a defense, we don’t care what’s going on, we don’t care if there’s a sudden change on the field – our job is to go out there and stop the opposing team’s offense,” Corey Webster said. “It doesn’t matter where they are, whether we punted the ball and they’re backed up at the two-yard line or they got a turnover and they’re starting in good field position, our job is to go out there and stop them. We try to keep it as basic as we can.
Perhaps the most important young player this week will be rookie Greg Jones, a sixth-round draft choice who will step in for Goff at middle linebacker. Defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell won’t say if Jones will call the defensive signals, but the youngster from Michigan State will almost certainly be a key player in his first NFL game.
The coaches and players have said all week they have confidence in Jones, who led the Spartans in tackles in each of his four college seasons.
“I know he’s a physical football player that loves to play, wants to do right, that will spend the time and the energy,” Coughlin said. “We all understand that he’s going to make mistakes. Hopefully they are going to be mistakes that the other guy doesn’t capitalize on.”
“He is a little nervous,” Fewell conceded. “He is excited to play the football game. We like him for the future but the future is now. We have a lot of confidence in him going into the football game.”
Giants also lost backup linebacker Clint Sintim (knee) and cornerbacks Bruce Johnson and Brian Witherspoon.
Despite the loss of key players, Fewell is steadfast in his belief that the Giants’ defense can be one of the five best in the NFL.
“No question about it and I still believe that we have a chance to be a very solid defense,” he said. “Some guys have to assume some different roles and we are doing a good job of trying to fit those pieces into place. Now how fast those pieces will develop for us, we will find out on Sunday.”
Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride would have preferred more practice time to integrate all of his new components, but the lockout made that impossible. Gilbride said the loss of offseason OTAs was “significant.”
“You’re trying to replace four guys who were very much an integral part of what we were doing,” he said. “And not to be able to go out and practice with these young guys, these new parts, these replacements and get them up to speed, not that they would be as far along as the guys we lost, but get them far enough along that you could win and watch them continue to grow and evolve. They’re getting better. They’re getting better, but you did it without spring, without all of the time that you normally get. It hurts. There’s no question it hurts. It hurt us significantly on offense, trying to teach the intricacies of each play. You just hope you’ve progressed enough that you’re able to go out and win.”
The Giants concluded their 2010 season with a 17-14 defeat of the Redskins in FedEx Field a team they have faced 156 times in the regular season since their first game in 1932, making this their most frequently-contested rivalry. They lead the series, 91-61-4 and have won nine of their last 10 games against the Redskins.