EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Jerry Reese has gone through two interesting seasons to open his career as general manager of the New York Giants. In his first campaign, the Giants won three straight road playoff games (and 10 road contests overall) on the way to a stunning upset of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
Last season, the Giants were 11-1 going into the final four games of the season before finishing 12-4 with the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Their dream of back-to-back titles ended in a playoff loss to the hated Philadelphia Eagles. Along the way, Reese and the Giants dealt with the upheaval caused by wide receiver Plaxico Burress(notes), who was cut this offseason.
Reese declined to talk about suspending and eventually cutting ties with Burress, but he did discuss several other topics including the Giants' aggressive offseason in signing players such as defensive tackle Chris Canty(notes) in hopes of winning another title:
Reese: Anything can happen – we leave all our options open – but we feel pretty good about what we have going into training camp. We feel we can play with the guys we have.
Cole: Do you have a No. 1 receiver?
Reese: Do we have Larry Fitzgerald(notes)? Do we have Calvin Johnson(notes)? Do we have Andre Johnson(notes)? Those are No. 1 receivers. We don't have those guys, but a lot of teams don't have those guys.
Cole: But this is a wide-receiver-driven league right now.
Reese: I don't agree with that. Why do you say that?
Cole: Because it's a passing league right now. You have to throw to score and then control the clock. With so many teams playing three- and four-receiver base sets, you have to be able to attack with wide receivers. Your team has running back Brandon Jacobs(notes), who is unique in his ability to change field position and the X's and O's of the game, but most teams don't have that. Arizona plays wide open. New England plays wide open. Indianapolis plays wide open and even Pittsburgh played wide open at critical times last season because its running game was poor.
Reese: We have capable receivers who can give us big plays during the game. This is what I call No. 1 receivers: Randy Moss(notes), Terrell Owens(notes), Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson. I will go on the record saying those guys are blue-goose, No. 1 receivers. Do we have anybody in that category? Maybe not; time will tell. But we have very capable wide receivers we can win games with.
Cole: OK, what's the next category down from that group of five top wide receivers?
Reese: There are a lot of guys in that category.
Cole: Do you have anybody in that category?
Reese: Yeah, absolutely we do. Steve Smith is in that category. I think Domenik Hixon(notes) is in that category. Mario Manningham(notes), the jury is still out, but we think he has a lot of talent and we like him a lot. Sinorice Moss(notes) really hasn't had a lot of chances here, but when he got in games … last year he had 12 catches, two touchdowns, no missed assignments and no drops. But he doesn't get many opportunities. So now he'll get some opportunities and we'll see what he can do. Then we drafted two guys we really like in Hakeem Nicks(notes) and Ramses Barden(notes).
Cole: Do you think Nicks and Barden can get on the field this year and contribute significantly.
Reese: Anything can happen. You saw the guy down in Philadelphia [DeSean Jackson(notes)] get on the field right away. He was a [second-round] pick. On the other side, you've seen seventh-round picks get on the field and contribute, like Marques Colston(notes) in New Orleans. So it can happen. My point is, all those guys at the top – Fitzgerald, Moss, Owens, Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson – when you say it's a receiver-driven league, those five guys have zero Super Bowl rings. Zero.
Cole: OK, but Moss and Fitzgerald have been real close the past two years.
Reese: Yeah, but my point is that you don't have to have one of those guys to make it. When New England won its first Super Bowl, do you know who the receivers were? You can't remember and that's my point exactly. At the time, Brady was a guy just coming on.
Cole: But that first Super Bowl for New England was different and the league has changed since that time. It's even more wide open. You see guys like Fitzgerald take over the way he did in the playoffs last year and he basically carried that team to the Super Bowl.
Reese: But he didn't win it and that's what I'm talking about. Nobody cares that he almost won it. They only care that you did win it.
Cole: Right, but Pittsburgh wins when Santonio Holmes(notes) dominates the game at the end. Yeah, they had other people contribute, but it was the receiver who made the critical plays at the end and made a difference.
Reese: He made some great catches, but do you think he's the sole reason for them winning the Super Bowl?
Cole: No, there's never a "sole" reason for any team winning a Super Bowl. There are too many moving parts.
Reese: But you're saying you need to have one of those No. 1 receivers.
Cole: No, I'm saying it's a passing league and you have to have capable receivers. Do you think you have those types of guys?
Reese: Yes. What I think is that our offensive line has been intact three years in a row, which helps a lot. I think our running backs will be stable. Our quarterback [Eli Manning(notes)] is a Pro Bowler; we're not waiting for him to develop anything now. We're going to put more of the onus on him and I think our defense could be outstanding. I think you can win a Super Bowl with that.
Cole: When you say put more of the onus on Manning, what do you mean by that?
Reese: The thing we liked about him at Ole Miss is he was beating these upper-echelon SEC schools and he's got guys like me playing at wide receiver. He was winning with those guys. I like that about him. If we don't have this blue-goose No. 1 receiver, we have some really good No. 2s and we expect him to win with those guys.
Cole: The belief is that Ernie Accorsi went out and got Plaxico Burress [in 2005] because he was a big target who made life easier on Manning. When Manning misses, he usually misses high with throws. Do you think Manning has gotten past the need to have a big target like that?
Reese: I think you're putting words in Ernie's mouth. I've never heard Ernie say that. Ernie believed that you win games with pass rushers, I know that, and he believed in franchise quarterbacks and we have that. Whatever adjustments [Manning] has to make as far as our receivers, we expect him to make those and help us win games, keep us out of bad plays. This is his sixth year in the league and we expect big things from him. We do. He's pretty much seen it all by this time. He's won big and he has won at the highest level. With the running game and the defense that we have, the good receivers we have, we expect to be strong.
Cole: You were very aggressive in signing [Chris] Canty, fellow defensive tackle Rocky Bernard(notes) and linebacker Michael Boley(notes), but how are Barry Cofield(notes) and Fred Robbins(notes) doing in their rehab from surgery?
Reese: They're both supposed to be ready to go in training camp, so we're feeling good about their status.
Cole: Robbins had microfracture surgery, right? That's a difficult surgery to come back from.
Reese: Well, we don't comment on surgeries. That's not something we talk about.
Cole: OK, that brings up an interesting point. Everybody understands the need to keep a certain amount of injury information secret during the season. However, is it a disservice to the player at some point, particularly when he gets criticized for playing poorly? It was recently reported that New England running back Laurence Maroney(notes) had a broken shoulder last season and he was criticized severely last season.
Reese: I don't think it's a secret. I just don't think you talk to the media about injuries and surgeries, just like I don't think you talk to the media about contracts. That's just my opinion.
Cole: Fair enough, I can understand that in the season, when a player doesn't want opponents to know how badly he's injured. But in the offseason, isn't it fair to the player to acknowledge that he was hurt to explain why he may not have been playing well?
Reese: Not really … there are a lot of reasons that can happen. If you divulge all of a guy's injury information, it may hurt him as far as moving to another team, going to somebody else.
Cole: But the other team is going to do a physical on him.
Reese: Yeah, but let them do their own work. Maybe their guy who does the physical is not as good as your guy and maybe the player gets onto a team some kind of way. That has happened plenty of times in this league. Maybe you give up your injury information in the offseason, when free agency is going on and it's a chess match. The other team says, "The Giants have this injury and it must be pretty significant, so they'll probably make a move at this position." So you don't want to give out all your injury information in the offseason to other teams. It could be a number of things.
Cole: So do you basically put it on the player to come out with the information?
Reese: The player can say whatever he wants to say. You can't make the player not say anything. We'd rather they not.
Cole: So how does a player respond when he's being criticized?
Reese: That's what this league is about. If you play well, great. If you don't, you get criticized. Regardless of whether you're hurt or not, you get criticized. That's the nature of the beast. As a general manager, if you win games, everybody says you're smart. If you lose games, everybody says you're dumb. That's the way it is. You can't be thin-skinned in this business. If you have thin skin in this business as a player or coach or GM, whatever, it's a tough business. Basically, just deal with it. That's what this business is about. If you play well and win games, you have nothing to worry about. But if you don't, you get the negative part of it. That's cut and dry to me. Yeah, some guys are thin-skinned and that makes your job great. They're easy to get to so you can create some controversy.
Cole: When Jacobs and Burress were out last season, your offense really seemed to suffer last season. It seems you're putting a lot on Jacobs now.
Reese: Well, those guys really had presence, so there's no question about what not having them does to the offense. Brandon has a really unusual skill set. He's a big guy who can run away from people. He can really run and get into the secondary in a hurry. Plus, when the hole is not there, he can sometimes make his own hole by hitting it up in there. That's probably why he doesn't play 16 games. He's a big target and takes a lot of shots. He dishes out a lot of punishment and takes a lot. You got guys down around his ankles and knees who don't want to hit him high and you can understand that.
Reese: Landry is a terrific player, but that's just a mismatch in leverage. One guy weighs 265 pounds, maybe 270, and the other guy weighs 200. The bigger guy has a full head of steam; it's not a good matchup for the 200-pound guy. Brandon doesn't even look 270. He's just a big, chiseled guy. He carries his weight really well. He's unusual. I don't think there's another back in the league who's 250 right now. Uncommon – that's a good word to describe him.
Cole: So when you're planning your team, do you look for someone who can replicate what he does or do you just make do?
Reese: It's like you always say, this league is about adjustments. If you lose him, we have to have somebody step up to replace him. If Jacobs goes down, [Ahmad] Bradshaw has to step in. That's it. You go from a 270-pound guy to a 195-pound guy, a short guy. You have to just go with the best you have and make it work. You can't go ask Bradshaw to go run through people. I think our staff does a really good job of making adjustments. So if Jacobs went down for a significant amount of time, I expect we'll be ready to go.
- Jerry Reese