New York Giants Training Camp Unit Breakdown: Offense
As part of our continuing coverage of Giants training camp, Joe Bianchino again checks in to break down one of the team's three main units. This week, he tackles the offense.
What can be said about the 2011 version of the New York Giants' offense that hasn't already been said about Jim Carrey's performance in the Truman Show: Unexpected, out of character, yet unequivocally brilliant. You really couldn't ask for anything more Eli Manning and crew last season - unless you want a team capable of converting on third and fourth and inches, then you could ask for more. That infuriating deficiency aside, however, this offense was dynamic in 2011, beating back the notion that the Giants are a run-first team. Indeed, while the running backs languished, stuck somewhere between their own indecision and a surprisingly weak offensive line, Eli Manning unfurled the type of season that made Giant fans wonder why he in God's name he would ever choose to throw the ball left handed.
Helping Manning along the way in 2011 was an impressive corps of receivers, particularly so after the emergence of Victor Cruz. Bursting onto the scene with two touchdowns in week three, #80 quickly became the big play threat the Giants haven't had since...I don't know, Frank Gifford? His penchant for the dramatic equaled only by Manning's, the duo makes up a potent combination, made all the more threatening given the presence of former first round pick Hakeem Nicks. Heading into 2012, these three are clearly the driving force behind this team's offense. For more, check out below.
Key Loss - Mario Manningham: Though the former Michigan man was often reduced to third-fiddle status behind Nicks and Cruz - and while he stood on the receiving end a barrage of attacks following a key drop or two - Manningham was an important part of the Giant passing attack. The third legitimate option, Manningham's presence in the receiving corps pushed them from difficult to handle, to damn near impossible.
Key Addition - David Wilson: With Brandon Jacobs' Giant tenure in the rearview, a look through the windshield presented a troubling reality. The team's only real running back threat is a streaky runner, prone to foot injuries. And so with their first round pick, the Giant's selected an agile, speed-based back from Virginia Tech. The hope is that Wilson's change of pace will become an important part of this Giant offense.
Key Injury - Hakeem Nicks: The wide receiver has missed a good deal of time this offseason with an injured foot, though he is on his way back - Nicks was seen running routes and catching passes this week. Given Manningham's offseason exit, Nicks' presence in the receiving corps is wildly important - keeping defenses from keying on the salsa-dancing Cruz. Nicks should be good for the season opener, and the Giants better hope it stays that way.
Weakness - Offensive Line: My surprise at the Giants' selection of David Wilson in the 2012 draft had less to do with Wilson, and more to do with the fact that the Giants had gone offensive and failed to address the side's biggest weakness. Older, slower, injured, and inconsistent, the line was repeatedly a worry - making it all too clear that Manning's ability to avoid traffic had been greatly upgraded, and that 3rd and short should be feared rather than capitalized on. They'll need to improve in '12 to keep this offense going.
Strength - Passing Game: Jerry Reese told me that he's looking for a balanced offensive attack from these Giants, but let's not kid ourselves, this is a passing team. And while winning a Super Bowl thanks in large part to a Herculean effort from their passing attack in 2011 then going away from it in 2012 would be so New York Giants, I don't see it. This is a passing team in a passing league. With two dynamic wide receivers, a free agent tight end who's shown promise, and a top five quarterback, this aerial attack will be a force to be reckoned with.
Most Important Player - Eli Manning: The man behind it all - the driving force behind the above pass game, Manning's command over this offense is undeniable, and his ability sensational - a perfect juxtaposition to his "awe shucks" persona. Throwing for just shy of 5,000 yards, and setting an NFL record for 4th quarter touchdown passes in 2012, Manning consistently made the right decisions. He made the right throws, the clutch throws, and he pulled his team to wins, often with them kicking and screaming the entire way there. And like all great players, he made everyone on his team better. The man took Jake Ballard - an unknown, 5+ second forty running tight end - and turned him into a legitimate pass catching threat; there may be no better way to describe that man's greatness. Without his presence, the Giants may be no better than pedestrian...Fear the David Carr era.
Player to Watch (In Camp) - Jerrel Jernigan: With Hakeem Nicks out, training camp has offered a plethora of young receivers their chance to make a mark on this team. So far - for my money - the standout has been 2011 third round pick Jerrel Jernigan. As a WR and return man, Jernigan has consistently made plays, working his way up the depth chart to what appears to be third receiver status behind Cruz and Domenik Hixon. Look for this young WR to continue to make a mark.
Player To Watch (In Season) - Victor Cruz: After one year on the NFL scene, Victor Cruz wrote an autobiography. A bold move; most wait until their view from the top can no longer be measured in weeks before making their run at the New York Times' Best Seller list, but here we are. And so as we roll into Cruz's second real season as a member of the Giant attack, the questions loom: with defenses now keying on him, can he do it again? How good, exactly, is Victor Cruz?
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