The New York Giants did 11-on-11 drills twice during Friday's first training camp practice at UAlbany. Each time, the first two offensive plays were runs. Maybe that was coincidence, maybe that was significant. What is certain, though, is that the Giants are determined to improve a running game that was last in the NFL during the 2011 regular season.
Ahmad Bradshaw, the Giants' No. 1 running back, called being last in the league a season ago "devastating." Beset by foot injuries, Bradshaw gained only 659 yards (3.9 yards per carry) after rushing for a career-high 1,235 yards (4.5 per carry) in 2010.
"That's [being last] a tough thing as a running back," Bradshaw said. "We just have to look forward to this year. I'm doing a whole lot better. Upfront, you know, all together as an offense. I think it will come."
Head coach Tom Coughlin is making the running game a point of emphasis during training camp.
"We're going to get a better running game coming out of this camp, I really believe that," Coughlin said. "We rushed it down the stretch, in the last six games at the end of the year, better than we did throughout the whole year, but we didn't have the number of big plays from the run. It was way down. The balance factor has always been something we've been able to count on. We've got to get back to that."
"Even though being defending World Champs, you've got to look back and evaluate all the important things and that's been such a strength for our offense. Being in the top 10 and being number one at one point. We just know the weapons that we have out there at wide receiver. If we can get the run game going like we're capable of, our offense can be deadly," Diehl said.
The Giants offensive line suffered a myriad of injuries last season. Will Beatty missed time with an eye injury. Chris Snee played with an elbow injury. Center David Baas missed games with a neck problem.
"There's no excuses to blame injuries. I think towards the end of the season and in the playoffs, we got the run game going strong. You can say that there are guys moving around, different things like that. But you never make any excuses for anything," Diehl said. "Like I said, I know as a group we're making a collective effort, all of us, to make it a strength. The guys that we have in our huddle, the guys we have outside, the quarterback that we have, we get the running game back to where it's capable of, our offense is definitely going to be one of the top in the league."
The Giants have Bradshaw and first-round pick David Wilson. After those two, last season's third running back D.J. Ware, holdovers Da'Rel Scott and Andre Brown, and undrafted free agent Joe Martinek are competing for spots.
Bradshaw likes what he sees from Wilson.
"His speed is tremendous. He can open up a whole lot of things for our whole offense. Outside, inside, and he's an all around back," Bradshaw said. "He's a smaller back, but I think he can execute everything."
Talent or not, fixing the running game won't be easy. Coughlin admitted that working on the running game is more difficult now without two-a-day practices, and with the less physical nature of practice thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
"It takes practice time to get the running game going. And you don't have a morning practice, where you can say, ‘we're going to devote this practice to the nine on seven, to running drills, and in the afternoon we'll pick up on the other things.' Your practices are balanced. Your attack has to be balanced," Coughlin said. "There's no excuse for it. Teams have rushed the ball and rushed it OK. We didn't rush the ball well. We've got to get that straightened out."