Monthly Archives: August 2011

Emerging Talent

The popular belief amongst many fans is that a team’s improvement relies heavily on the draft and free agency. That is true to a certain extent, but what is more important is the development of the players already on the roster.

Players in their rookie years rarely make big impacts on the season. Instead, players say, their third year in the league is the year they turn into the consistent and productive players that teams rely on. The players on the Giants entering their third years are: Hakeem Nicks, Clint Sintim, William Beatty, Ramses Barden, and Travis Beckum. If those players take the necessary step, the Giants will be a much improved team.

Hakeem Nicks has, not so quietly, been evolving into a great player. Many experts expect him to be amongst the top receivers in the league soon. He was explosive last season posting 79 receptions for 1,052 yards, and 11 touchdowns. With Smith likely missing the start of the season, it is imperative that Nicks take the next step, and be a consistent and reliable producer for Eli and the offense.

Clint Sintim is a player with tons of potential. A player many believed the Giants would take in the first round, unexpectedly slipped to the second, where the Giants were able to pick him up with the first of their two second round picks. He was an OLB in a 3-4 in college and has had trouble adjusting to the Giants system. The coaching staff still has tons of faith in him, and the hope is he can figure it out in his third season. If Sintim can win the starting spot, he gives the Giants another pass rushing option, and another player with long arms to disrupt the passing lanes.

William Beatty was another player that could have been taken in the second round, but, in a class with a ton of talent at tackle, fell to the second round. He has quick feet that should help him against speed rushers, but his technique needed some refining, and he needed to bulk up. With Diehl moved to guard, it looks like Beatty will be taking over at left tackle. If Beatty can come in and play up to his potential, he should solidify an offensive line that is in flux. Beatty is easily the biggest question mark on that line, and if he can play well he can turn that question mark into a big stregnth.

Ramses Barden has been dubbed as a replacement for Plaxico Burress. Gifted with the height of a small giant, (no pun intended) Barden has been targeted as the Giants’ big redzone target. He was injured last season, when injuries to Smith and Nicks gave him an opportunity to show off his potential, but if he can come on strong and win the third receiver spot while Smith is gone, all will be forgiven. He came from a small program in college, and so the learning curve was expected to be steep, but this is his third season and he has tons of talent. If he can have a big training camp, the Giants have a lot to look forward to.

Travis Beckum has become increasingly more important today. After the news that Kevin Boss has signed with the Raiders, Beckum has become the starter for Big Blue. There is still the chance that the Giants opt to start Ben Patrick, as they prefer their tight ends to be blockers over receivers, but if Beckum continues to impress in camp, he could hold down the starting spot this season. Drafted to be an H-Back for the Giants, Beckum has yet to really contribute. The sad part about this, is every time he does see the field, he seems to make a great catch. The only reasons I could fathom as to why he has not seen the field more is his poor blocking, or perhaps a lack of knowledge of the offense. In his third season, he better have a good grasp of the offense, and for the blocking, all reports from camp indicate he has improved drastically. In college he was used almost exclusively as a receiver, so the learning curve was to be expected. Don’t forget, Boss was terrible at blocking in his first season starting. Smith and Boss were the big targets over the middle for Manning. With both likely out (at least for the first couple weeks for Smith), it would be a huge boost if Beckum could win the starting spot.

There are other, non-third year, players that could play important roles on this team based on their development, but these guys are, perhaps, the most important.

The biggest question marks going into this season are on the offensive line, the linebacking corp, and, with the loss of Boss, the tight ends. If Beatty can hold his own, the offensive line should be a strength for the Giants. If Sintim can reach his potential, the Giants will be able to pair him with last year’s starters, Jonathan Goff and Michael Boley, to form a pretty solid unit. And if Beckum keeps turning heads like he has been doing in camp so far, the Giants should not have many problems with their tight ends. Also, the development of the Barden and Nicks could help ease the transition without Boss and Smith.

While a big free agent signing would be fun, the Giants have new, talented starters in place already.

What Have You Done for Me Lately?

It would be easy to jump on the Giants for failing to make a splashy move while their close rivals scoop up every free agent on the market, but it wouldn’t be smart.

First off, it is very rare that a team goes on this kind of offseason splurge and wins a championship. The only times I can remember a team bringing in this many big names in one offseason, and it working out well, were the 2004 Eagles and the 2007 Patriots. Both teams did very well, but failed to win the SuperBowl that year, or any year after it for that matter. Most teams, however,  end up the way the Redskin, Cowboys and Raiders have with these attempts. (perhaps another indication of a supposed sports god?) Usually there is a combination of overconfidence, poor chemistry on the field, and sometimes a divided locker room. This season, those issues seem to be exacerbated with such little time to prepare before the start of the season. Think back to all the interviews during the lockout. All players, coaches, and people in the media kept saying, is the teams with the least amount of changes are set up the best to do well this season.

On the other hand the Giants have tried their best to re-sign their own players, and make a few small depth moves in the process. While none of these moves can be considered “splashy,” they each helped the Giants inch closer to their goal of a SuperBowl title.

Releasing Shaun O’Hara, Rich Seubert, and Shawn Andrews was a tough blow for the veterans on the team. O’Hara and Seubert have long been stalwarts on the offensive line and in the locker room. Their injuries and age, however, made it impossible for the Giants to keep them. In comes David Baas and Stacy Andrews. Neither one of those players have made a Pro Bowl yet, but both are more than adequate to fill their designated roles. Baas instantly upgrades the offensive line, as O’Hara, Seubert and Adam Koets (the three players who took snaps at center last season) all were coming into training camp with lingering injury problems. Baas will not only be a healthy option for the Giants, but he is coming off a pretty successful season for the 49ers. In his first season at center Baas had some growing pains, but ultimately was viewed as one of the top 10 players at his position. He was a player the 49ers were hoping to get back, and a player that will hopefully improve and play well for the Giants. Stacy Andrews has not had as big of an impact with his former teams, but is still a reliable offensive tackle in this league, and offers a nice security blanket for a team going into the season with an unproven starter (Will Beatty) and an aging veteran (Kareem McKenzie).

Other notable transactions include the signings of tight end Ben Patrick, defensive tackle Gabe Watson, quarterback David Carr, punter Steve Weatherford, and running back Andre Brown.

In my opinion, Patrick could be one of the more underrated signings of the offseason. I have been high on this guy for a while now, as I hoped the Giant would draft him when he originally entered the league. He has been used mostly as a blocker for Arizona, but Coughlin raved about his hands in his workout. He has a big body and has proven he can block in this league, something no Giants starter outside (including?) Boss has proven, and he is a better receiver than most realize. With the loss of Boss to the Raiders, it seems the Giants are going to have to rely on him as their primary tight end, unless Beckum shows he can handle the role in camp.

Watson is another “high reward” type player. While I’m not as high on him as I am Patrick, I was also in favor of drafting him when he came out. The guy was a great college player with a quick burst, and strong body. Problem is he hasn’t really shown it in his limited action in the NFL. The big concern about him coming out of college was his work ethic. It was enough of a concern that he fell to the fourth round despite having first round talent. There are a few reasons why this signing could work out for the Giants. First off, he played the nose tackle position for the Cardinals in their 3-4 set. As Warren Sapp can attest to, this is not a fun position for penetrating tackles. Perhaps a return to a 4-3 defense can help him find his footing again. Secondly, this guy is on a one year minimum salary deal. Money has a funny way of motivating people and if Watson ever wants to see a big payday he better start playing well. (admittedly he should have realized this when he dropped to the fourth round. Second times the charm?)

Carr does not have high upside, but he played very nicely as the Giants back-up. Nicely enough that the 49ers thought he might have the potential to be a starting quarterback again. (that was until he actually showed up in camp) With Sage Rosenfels and Carr on the roster heading into training camp, you can rest assured that the Giants will have at least a serviceable back-up if anything were to happen to Manning. (KNOCK ON WOOD!)

Last season the Giants’ two biggest concerns were their turnovers and special teams. Matt Dodge has a lot of talent, but struggled his rookie year. The Giants could have pinned their hopes to him again this season, but realized the importance of the position and made a move to ensure steadier production. In comes Steve Weatherford, a punter who had a very successful season and a guy who won’t smack line drives when we desperately need the field position. An under the radar signing sure, but an important one nonetheless.

Finally, there is Brown. Like Carr, Brown is a player who has worn royal blue before, as he was originally drafted by the Giants in the 4th round. He was quick and a good receiver out of the backfield, what seemed like a nice replacement for Ward. Unfortunately, he ruptured his Achilles tendon and was released the following season. He bounced around quite a bit, but now he is back. If he can prove he is healthy, he might be able to fulfill the promise he showed giving the Giants a nice security blanket in case of an injury to Jacobs or Bradshaw. Or we can flashback to 2008 and try another three-headed monster. (would that make Brown wind?)

None of these moves are real splashy, but they help to bring depth and stability to an already stacked roster. If the Giants can re-sign their remaining free agent (Steve Smith) the Giants should be in good position to make the playoffs, even though the Eagles are in their division.

Honestly the most important thing for the Giants is going to be the maturation of their young talented players. I’ll touch on that in another post sometime soon.

Some Time to Think

Back in 2005 there were high expectations for Mike Pelfrey. As a Boras client, many teams worried about his signability, allowing him to fall to the Mets at number nine despite many teams believing he projected to be an ace. Last season that potential seemed to be realized. In the first half, Pelfrey posted a 2.69 ERA and had 10 wins. Unfortunately for Pelf and the Mets, he regressed in the second half and has been spiraling down ever since.

I wouldn’t say Pelfrey has been terrible this year, but he has not been reliable. He has had his good games and he has had his bad games. My problem is he still has the stuff to be an ace. Could you imagine if Pelfrey had the poise and command of Dillon Gee?

Several analysts are pointing to Pelfrey’s mechanics as a reason for his problems. So the question becomes, would Pelfrey benefit from some time in the minors?

Pelfrey has always been a headcase, and the pressure of winning in New York could keep him from focusing on his mechanics. In AAA, against lesser competition and with less pressure to win, Pelfrey could take the time to get his head on straight.

The Mets have been notorious for rushing prospects to the majors and Pelfrey may be one of the worst cases. (ok, ok. Mejia was the worst case by far. I will never forgive Manuel for that) Without that time to develop, Pelfrey has continued to struggle. If that time could help Pelfrey realize his potential, it would be well worth it.

I can understand the counter arguments. He is still young and should be able to find his way in the majors. With the Mets still gunning for the Wild Card, they need him in their rotation as he has still given them innings and they don’t have many other options to fill out the rotation.

My point is, he has been given ample opportunities to correct his mistake and has yet to show that he can. He has glaring mechanical problems that have only gotten worse throughout the course of the season. He is a known headcase who unravels as things get harder. Trying to make this adjustment on a team in the middle of a playoff push is not conducive for Mike Pelfrey’s progression. This strategy has been used on veteran pitchers before. For example Steve Trachsel, Bobby Jones and even Roy Halladay have been sent down to the minors to refine their games. This strategy has worked for all three players.

At the end of the season the Mets have to decide if they want to tender Pelfrey, knowing he is likely going to get a raise. For a team looking to keep payroll down, they may not want to take the risk on a player who has consistently been unable to be a reliable major league pitcher. Sending him down to the minors now will give him a chance to refine his game and possibly make some September starts to show the Mets brass that he can be a front-end starter. Perhaps that seems a bit soon, but both Trachsel and Jones were able to make it back after only a few weeks.

Getting Pelfrey on track could be a major victory for a team that is looking to compete for a championship sooner rather than later.