As promised last night, I have an interview with Star-Ledger Giants' beat writer Mike Garafolo for you today. I really appreciate Mike's taking the time to do this with the explosion of news around the Giants lately.
I hope you enjoy it.
BBV: How do you see the Jeremy Shockey situation playing out? Will he ever be happy as a Giant? More importantly, can he be a dominant player again?
MG: When the Shockey rumors were rolling before the draft, I was repeatedly asked what I thought would happen with this situation. At the time, I said there would be no draft-day trade, but I could see a situation in which he held out of camp and was traded in mid-August. Honestly, after the draft, I didn't have a lot of confidence in that prediction because I felt Shockey's being back on the field in minicamp would help heal the wounds in this situation. I still feel that could be the case, but at this point, we're all unsure if Shockey will be there. If he is, I think this situation will be resolved. The chance to speak with his position coach and members of the front office will do a lot to make him feel more comfortable about his situation. But if he doesn't show, the divide he feels between himself and the team will only grow. And then, it could get really ugly.
BBV: Now that Michael Strahan has retired how will that impact the defense? Will Mathias Kiwanuka end up back at defensive end?'
MG: With Strahan retired, expect the Giants to remain creative with their ways of filling the gap. From what I'm told, the tentative plan is for Kiwanuka to play both LB and DE in the base defense. That will allow the Giants to rotate their ends while keeping their three best defenders (Kiwanuka, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora) on the field for most of the game.
BBV: We've been discussing what we could 'reasonably' expect from the Giants this season. We know expecting another title is unrealistic. What would you say the Giants need to do to consider the upcoming season a success? Playoffs? 10 wins? NFC East title?
MG: I wouldn't say another title would be an unrealistic goal, though Strahan's retirement certainly doesn't help. I give this team a shot to make another nice run because the offensive weapons remain intact, Eli Manning does a good job of moving forward and never remaining content with some success, the defensive losses (other than Strahan) were at positions that aren't the most important on the Giants' defense and I like the look of this draft class so far (not to mention the expected growth of last year's). To me, the most important thing would be to make sure they get a home game in the playoffs - or even a bye if they can. I doubt they'd have enough left in the tank to make another run on the road. In short, I like them to win the division and make a second-round
BBV: Heading into camp, which draft pick would you expect to have the biggest impact on the team this season?
MG: Kenny Phillips will make the biggest contribution because he's got the best opportunity. If he's not starting by season's end, I'll be shocked. I like Terrell Thomas and the team is high on Mario Manningham, but I can't see them having the immediate impact Phillips will have.
BBV: Is there a guy among the undrafted free agents we should really keep an eye on?
MG: It's tough to tell right now, but I'd keep an eye on DT Ogemdi Nwagbuo. He showed good feet during minicamp and will have a shot to add depth to a position that needs it. WR D.J. Hall is intriguing, but he has a lot of other guys to beat out for a roster spot. I doubt he'll be able to do it.
BBV: Let's take a quick look at the Giants NFC East competition. Give us a quick thought on each of the other NFC East teams.
MG: Cowboys - I see a house of cards here that's ready to crumble. Too many big egos plus a weird coaching situation with Wade Phillips and Jason Garrett makes me think these guys are going to implode this year. When Garrett gets the head coaching job in '09, they'll be a real contender. For now, too many red flags for me to hand them the division. Eagles - I say they'll be the Giants biggest test in the division. If Donovan McNabb plays well, they'll have a chance. If not, no way. Redskins - Jim Zorn? Not exactly Lombardi in my mind. Enough said.
BBV: I'm really surprised that both RW McQuarters and Reuben Droughns are still Giants. Would I be wrong to expect the Giants to release one or both of them in before training camp?
MG: I wouldn't bet on both McQuarters and Droughns being on the opening-day roster, but both of them contribute on special teams, so I'd say at least one has a shot. Which one? Ask me again in August. :)
BBV: Last year at this time there were questions, questions and more questions about the Giants. Now, they are defending Super Bowl champs. When you're around the team do you sense a different atmosphere or attitude than a year ago?
MG: Until Strahan's retirement, this team was very upbeat and the locker-room atmosphere was a lot like it was during the playoffs. And even a few minutes after the Strahan news (which was followed by silence in that room), guys were bouncing around once again. This team remains confident and they're having fun. Plus, there is one seriously motivated guy on the defense in Antonio Pierce, who now wants to prove he can lead this defense in Strahan's absence. There are a lot of guys with chips on their shoulder and they'll carry them into the season. This team will remain motivated.
BBV: Eli Manning question (I can't avoid it). He's the Super Bowl MVP, but he hasn't yet put together a super star caliber regular season. What are you expecting from Eli at this point in his career?
MG: The Eli Manning you saw in the postseason is Eli Manning at his best. He's never going to be the guy who will average three or four TDs and 300 yards a game. But he's one that will be steady, won't make fatal mistakes and will make the big play at the right time. Stats and star-caliber seasons are for PEYTON Manning and Tom Brady. Last-minute drives and game-winning TDs will be part of Eli's repertiore. Look for more of that in the future, especially in spurts like this past postseason and back in '05 when he had late-game drives against the Cowboys and Broncos in back-to-back games.
Once again, thanks to Mike for taking time during a crazy week to do this. If you aren't religiously reading Mike's stuff at Ledger on Giants , you should be.