On the Road: New York
By Mike Harmon
August 16, 2005
Without a seven-hour drive ahead of me on Saturday morning (August 6), I'll admit it, I hit the snooze button a couple times. My wife, irritated by the 80's pop music emanating from the alarm clock, finally shook me awake with the words everyone longs to hear "you're going to miss football."
Approximately seven minutes later, I was showered, shaved, and armed with a large bottle of quality H2O for the quick trip to the University of Albany campus. In the 2004 version of these workouts, Herm Edwards and Tom Coughlin let them get after it a bit. Those spirited workouts and better promotion in the local media for this year's sessions certainly inspired the sea of blue and green that awaited me as I hit the practice fields.
I settled in my seat alongside several Giants fans, one proudly donning his Mark Bavaro No. 89 jersey, as the teams hit the field. Fortunately, I sat in the proper location as the Giants offense went to work against the Jets defense. After all, it only took two plays for things to erupt and for the crowd to get the action they paid $10 a head to witness.
Soon thereafter, Willie Ponder got tattooed as he went up for a ball on a deep middle route by Kerry Rhodes. He left practice with a rib injury and spat up blood after the hit. And later, Amani Toomer took exception to a hit from Eric Barton and more shoving ensued. Before long, Giants head coach Tom Coughlin and Jets defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson were jawing with one another. Herman Edwards would later cite the 4:30am wake-up call for the bus trip from Hofstra to Albany as the source of the Jets' orneriness.
Now this is what training camp is all about! You have two teams playing in front of a big crowd and the adrenaline gets flowing. OK, it's silly for big hits to occur before the lights are turned on in stadiums around the country for preseason games. But, at the same time, rookies and those looking to catch on with the team have to make an impact, whatever the means. And it's always a better idea to lay the wood to an opponent.
Giants fans who had watched their players get bounced by defenders on play after play finally had someone step up to provide a bit of payback, and become a fan favorite at the same time. Brandon Jacobs, the 6-foot-4, 265-pound back brought in to replace the departed Ron Dayne, caught a ball out of the backfield, turned up-field and ran over CB Pete Hunter. I heard an interview with Jacobs later that day. When asked about this and several other similar plays, he seemed almost amused. Jacobs stated simply that he would have exerted more energy by running around Hunter, so he ran a straight line. He demonstrated solid pass-catching abilities, showed some nifty footwork, and clearly won't be deterred or contained by defenders in the open field. Jacobs is a tremendous vulture candidate and will succeed where Dayne failed a year ago. To save Tiki Barber, Coughlin won't hesitate to call on this behemoth near the goal-line.
Another player who has endeared himself to the Giants faithful is former Kentucky QB Jared Lorenzen. The sizable Lorenzen (6-foot-3, and listed as high as 288 pounds) looks more like a defensive lineman than a QB, but tell that to his powerful left arm. He's able to make all throws, from short ins to deep corner routes. Lorezen connected with Willie Ponder (prior to his departure) and Tim Carter on longer routes.
Fellow backup QBs Jesse Palmer and Tim Hasselbeck worked extensively in the drills, neither impressing nor disappointing fans in attendance. Both ran the screen drills effectively, but struggled in their down-field tosses. Both quarterbacks threw high and behind their intended targets for much of the morning session. (Note: Based on an interception thrown in the first preseason game, Jesse Palmer has opened the door for Tim Hasselbeck to create a more heated challenge for the No. 2 QB role). Palmer demonstrated a crisp, short release on one toss to a diving Burress over the middle.
As for starter Eli Manning, he appears to have established a solid rapport with offseason acquisition Plaxico Burress, who made several exceptional catches. Tom Coughlin likes what he's seen thus far from his new No. 1 receiver. Manning, meanwhile, struggled with consistency on his throws. He bounced a number of balls at the feet of Shockey on middle routes, and overshot the young receivers on deep routes.
For what it's worth, it's not often that you see a team throw its entire blitz package into 9-on-7 drills as the Jets did in the morning session.
For the Jets, Chad Pennington sat out the morning session, as per the custom thus far this summer. (He has since resumed two-a-days). Unfortunately, my travel schedule precluded my attendance of the afternoon workout, but from later reports, Pennington is on-track for the season opener.
As for Pennington's back-ups, Jets fans are encouraged by the acquisition of Jay Fiedler. On this morning, he threw the ball well, connecting on all routes with the re-acquired Laveranues Coles and veteran Wayne Chrebet. Coles looks energized by his return to the Jets after two years in Washington. He made several big plays down-field, and Chrebet looks healthy and ready to contribute on a bigger level in '05. Chrebet made a great over the shoulder catch on a deep route. Another player with whom he seems to have developed a rapport is TE Doug Jolley, who made several nifty catches in tight coverage and will offer a safety valve for Pennington this year.
Brooks Bollinger has also matured and ran the offense efficiently as well. He connected with Derrick Blaylock on several screen passes and worked with TE Chris Baker and wideout Justin McCareins, who will surely benefit from Coles' presence.
For veteran tailbacks Tiki Barber and Curtis Martin, it was business as usual, taking their turns in the drills and watching the youngsters lay it on the line. Both will be rested and ready for another run among the NFL's elite backs.
The Giants certainly continue to have questions behind Manning at QB, but the rest of the offense has been shored up. The Jets acquired a solid backup in Fiedler, and the return of Coles will allow them to stretch the field.
One area of concern that lingered at the end of the practice for me was alleviated somewhat by a rumor that circulated that morning that veteran defensive back Ty Law had agreed to terms pending a physical.
I left thinking that the Jets could make a run into the playoffs again and the Giants could surprise if Manning can stay healthy. But my curiosity about the QB position behind Manning will bring me back to the Albany campus soon.
I arrived home shortly after noon, sweat-soaked for the third time on this journey (I'm hoping that we have a cooler, rainier summer next year) and hit the door with a big smile on my face. "See anything good?" asked my wife. With a big laugh and a John Madden-like bellow, I shouted "It's football, baby. It's all good."
Updated on Tuesday, Aug 16, 2005 1:00 pm, EDT