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NFL team preview: New York Giants

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INSIDE SLANT

With the bitter taste of last year's 8-8 season still fresh in their mouths, the New York Giants came into their 2010 training camp determined to prove that last year's injury-filled, shattered season was an aberration.

In seeking to accomplish that objective, almost all of the players became born-again disciples of the weight and film rooms, as they set about strengthening not only their bodies but also their minds. More importantly, though, they developed a plan that would see them re-establish their physical presence on offense and defense, and affirm that they have strong leadership in their locker room.

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Their plans, however, have come together slowly. Right from the start, the same injury bug that wiped out their physical toughness and ability last season proved to be alive and well in this year's clubhouse, making it impossible for the projected starting offense and defense to get live game snaps together.

The most serious injuries so far have been to return specialist Domenik Hixon, lost in June to a knee injury, and cornerback Aaron Ross, who was not only projected to play the nickel back but fill Hixon's shoes on the punt return team before he was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis following the second preseason game.
Ross remains hopeful of returning, though no timetable has been given on when he might be able to come back. In the meantime, the Giants' punt returner position remains in a state of flux.

The Giants also got a taste of what life might be like without their All-Pro starting center, Shaun O'Hara, who has been battling a chronic ankle injury all summer to the point where the team's medical staff shut him down for the last two weeks of the preseason in hopes of finally getting his ankle injury under control.

Despite the fact that their lineups have had more looks than a Las Vegas performer, perhaps the most alarming development to come from training camp is the Giants' admission that the energy and the execution hasn't always been what it should.

After their 24-10 lackluster performance against Baltimore, for example, head coach Tom Coughlin said:

"I think that there certainly were some outstanding individual plays and guys that did make strong contributions, but I'm not going to change my tune from being disappointed in terms of the overall outcome of the game, the way the game was played because remember, going into the game I was very interested in upgrading our execution. Overall I did not see the kind of execution that I was anticipating and therefore I was disappointed."

"We've definitely had some growing pains throughout the preseason," said defensive tackle Barry Cofield, speaking from a defensive perspective. "There have been some miscommunications. So I think it's a process, and these next couple weeks before the season starts, I think they're going to be very critical."

"I like what (defensive coordinator Perry Fewell) is teaching us, but we haven't put together what were supposed to put together," added S Deon Grant.

Despite the bumps they've encountered so far, there have been some things for the Giants to smile about. Armed with a healthy set of running backs for the first time in more than a year, the running game has shown early signs of returning to the physical, smash mouth style of offense it was known for in 2007 and 2008.
On defense, Coughlin has to be pleased with the progress the team has made in the turnover department, which has always been a high priority for the head coach. In three preseason games, the Giants were plus-three, with two of those turnovers converted into 10 points by the offense.

The defense, while still a work in progress, has also shown signs of returning to its old physical and dominant self as Fewell's attacking style has seen hints of the pass rush returning to form after an unsuccessful season last year.

There are still some unanswered questions, though. The injuries to Ross and O'Hara have the potential to linger.

The team is also cautiously optimistic that the surgically repaired knees of safety Kenny Phillips and linebacker Keith Bulluck, two key players on the defense, will be able to hold up to the rigors of the 16-game season. Both have had their snaps managed by the coaching staff and thus far, both have responded well in the days following the games.

Then there is the matter of their punt team, specifically the consistency they're seeking from rookie Matt Dodge. Dodge has a big leg, and his numbers haven't been bad through three preseason games as he has a 36.1 net average. However, he has been inconsistent with his hang time and, in some instances, his distance. That has put more of the onus on the punt coverage team.

As the Giants continue to make their way toward the starting gate, the players are confident that come Sept. 12 when they take the field against Carolina, the world will see a team that matches what the coaches have drawn up on the chalkboard: an aggressive, attacking defense that forces turnovers and a better balanced offense that incorporates a strategic blend of the run and the pass.

"As long as the chemistry is there, I almost feel like I know we can do it," said safety Deon Grant, who was signed as a free agent in the offseason.

"The preseason is all about getting our rhythm back, and well be ready," added quarterback Eli Manning.

COACHING: Tom Coughlin, 15th year (131-108), 7th with Giants (59-44).
REMEMBERING: 2009 record: 8-8 (3rd in NFC East); did not make the playoffs for the first time in four years.
PREDICTING: 2010 regular season record 9-7 (3rd in NFC East).

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

When the Giants signed veteran Keith Bulluck the week prior to the start of training camp, they likely envisioned him moving right into the middle linebacker spot, boosting the experience that was lacking at that position.

However, Jonathan Goff, who finished the year as the starting middle linebacker, had other ideas.

Goff has pulled out all the stops to convince the coaches he can handle the spot just fine. His efforts appear to be working, as the coaches have recently taken to the idea of trying Bulluck at the strong-side linebacker spot, where he has shared snaps with projected starter Clint Sintim, who has struggled during the preseason.

Sintim, whose strengths include his explosiveness and power, continues to have issues in space, where he has been hesitant in making his reads. Moreover, he has been beaten at the point of attack far too often for comfort, which certainly hasn't helped his case.

While the starting lineup appears to be unsettled at this position, one thing is for certain, and that is the linebacking unit will continue to be tweaked accordingly, at least through the first few weeks of the season.

PLAYER NOTES

--WR Sinorice Moss was placed on the injured reserve list with a sports hernia that required surgery. Moss, the former second-round draft pick, had been in jeopardy of not making the final 53-man roster thanks in part to the emergence of rookie Victor Cruz.

--WR Ramses Barden returned to work two weeks after being diagnosed with a fractured transverse process. Barden has been competing with Mario Manningham for the third receiver spot in a battle that, after three preseason games, was still too close to call.

--LB Adrian Tracy, the team's sixth-round pick, was placed on injured reserve as part of the five roster moves the team had to make to reach the league-mandated 75-man limit. Tracy suffered a dislocated elbow and ligament damage in the 24-10 loss to Baltimore, an injury for which he needed surgery.

--RT Kareem McKenzie, who missed the Baltimore game due to a migraine, returned to practice in time for the team's final preseason workout prior to its game against New England.

--TE/H-back Travis Beckum (neck), who returned to practice for one day after missing a couple of weeks with his latest ailment, found himself right back on the sidelines when his neck injury flared up again. Head coach Tom Coughlin said that additional research would have to be done to determine why the second-year tight end continues to have this issue.

--LB Chase Blackburn, who two weeks ago sprained his MCL, was able to do some running this week. Blackburn said he was hoping to be able to return to practice when the Giants begin their preparation for their regular-season opener against Carolina.

--OL Kevin Boothe (pectoral) was moved from the active/PUP list to the reserve/PUP list. Boothe, who underwent surgery to repair a torn pectoral in May, is said to be on schedule in terms of returning by mid-October.

By being on PUP, Boothe will not be eligible to begin practicing until the day after the conclusion of the sixth regular-season weekend (Tuesday, Oct. 19), at which point the team will have a 21-day window to decide whether to activate him, release him, or retain his rights by leaving him on the reserve list.

--WR Nyan Boateng, who was signed by the Giants on Aug. 5, was waived as part of the NFL-mandated cut to 75 players. Boateng, who had been brought in to provide depth during the two-a-day practices at camp, had a 12-yard reception in the preseason-opening victory over the Jets.

--DB Courtney Brown, who started at the nickel for the injured Aaron Ross against Baltimore in the third preseason game, might very well have played himself off the roster with his subpar performance. Brown was beaten at least three times off the line of scrimmage, including once for a 9-yard touchdown by WR Anquan Boldin.

--OT William Beatty's quest to earn the starting left tackle spot might have to wait, as he has had an inconsistent summer in terms of his technique and response time. The second-year player especially didn't help himself against the Ravens when, playing at right tackle for the ailing Kareem McKenzie, Beatty surrendered a sack and a big quarterback hit on Eli Manning, both gaffes due to poor technique.

--OG/OT Shawn Andrews, who made his Giants debut against Baltimore, received about 15 snaps and fared extremely well. "He showed dominance on the pass block and gained the upper hand against his man. There's a lot that has to be learned, but he's made good progress and he's studied hard," head coach Tom Coughlin said of Andrews' progress. "He spends about every waking minute with (assistant offensive line coach) Jack Bicknell or (offensive line coach) Pat Flaherty."

--DT Rocky Bernard, whom some believed was on the bubble, looked like his old self against the Ravens, registering two sacks, two additional hits on the quarterback, and two tackles for loss. Bernard has used his big body to make life easier for the linebackers and defensive ends charging at the quarterback.

--RB DJ Ware was cleared to return to practice this week after suffering a concussion, his second in 12 months, against the Steelers in the second preseason game. Ware has been battling fellow RB Andre Brown for the third-down running back spot and the kickoff return job.

DRAFT PICKS TO STICK

Round 1/15, DE Jason Pierre-Paul, South Florida -- Tall, lean and quick athlete with an explosive first step off the ball. Could still use a little more bulk to his frame and still does too much thinking rather than reacting, but has shown the promise to be a force in the sub packages to which he has been assigned.

Round 2/46, DT Linval Joseph, East Carolina -- Big-bodied, athletic space-eater who does a nice job of creating congestion in the running lanes and collapsing the pocket. He could draw snaps away from incumbent starting nose tackle Barry Cofield.

Round 4/115, LB Phillip Dillard, Nebraska -- Feisty linebacker who is not afraid to make a tackle, but who at times has been too easily fooled by play actions and delayed draws. Will likely see most of his rookie action on special teams.

Round 5/147, G Mitch Petrus, Arkansas -- Hard-nosed offensive lineman who has also been learning the center position. Provides quality depth along the interior of the line, but is likely still a year away from contributing on a regular basis.

Round 7/221, P Matt Dodge, East Carolina -- Big-legged kicker who has struggled with consistency in his quest to replace Jeff Feagles. Has been serving as the holder for placekicks, and has mostly done a good job in quickly getting the ball in place.

UNIT BY UNIT ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Eli Manning. Backup -- Rhett Bomar.

Manning had his best season last year thanks to spending as much time as possible with his receiving weapons before the season. This year, injuries have made that objective difficult, and the timing and chemistry between Manning and his weapons has suffered just a bit. Through three preseason games -- Manning missed the second game due to a forehead laceration -- Manning completed 50 percent of his passes, averaging 5.38 yards per attempt. The good news is that as the Giants entered the final two weeks of the preseason, Manning and his receivers were reunited to work on re-establishing that chemistry. With Jim Sorgi on injured reserve, Bomar has done everything possible to convince the coaches he's capable of backing up Manning. While the second-year man has had his moments, he appears to be far from ready for the task of leading a team. Two areas in particular in which Bomar has struggled are his decision-making and his accuracy. In three preseason games, he completed just 54.7 percent of his pass attempts for 347 yards, but his tendency to lock in on his receivers has made defending his passes easy. Head coach Tom Coughlin wouldn't commit to anointing Bomar as the backup, and said that the team has been exploring all of its options since the day it learned of Sorgi's shoulder injury.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- Brandon Jacobs/Ahmad Bradshaw, FB Madison Hedgecock. Backups -- Andre Brown, DJ Ware, FB Jerome Johnson.

Jacobs, the sixth-year pro, is as healthy as he has been in about three years, but he could be losing his starting job to Bradshaw, whose ability to slash and dash through the offensive scrum has resulted in some electrifying plays. Although the coaches have said they no longer have a starting running back, they could be looking at a philosophy in which they first use Bradshaw's quickness to tire out defenses and then finish them off with Jacobs' power. Brown, the second-year player who's back from the season-ending Achilles' surgery he had last year, has quietly stolen the group's spotlight this summer, averaging 4.5 yards per carry through three games, with a team-leading 95 rushing yards with a touchdown. For as good as Brown has been with the ball in his hands, he continues to be inconsistent in terms of his blocking assignments and in picking up the blitz. Considering that he has had to spend time on special teams -- he has emerged as a front-runner for the kickoff return job -- Brown's preseason production has been encouraging as he looks to win the third-down back job.

Ware, who entered training camp as the incumbent third-down back, suffered his second concussion in the last 12 months during the game against Pittsburgh, an injury that has raised some red flags concerning his durability. While Ware, who was also in the running for the kickoff return job, will likely be the fourth running back to make the roster, he could be in danger of losing both his offensive and special teams snaps to Brown. Hedgecock, the team's blocking fullback, recently insisted that his surgically repaired shoulder is fully healed, but his preseason performance through three games has belied his assertion, as his blocks have mostly lacked power. Considering his ineffectiveness in those few opportunities he gets as a receiver out of the backfield, if he can't return to his 2008 form in terms of blocking, the team won't hesitate to search for his replacement.

Johnson, who competed with Hedgecock for the starting fullback spot, had a strong start to camp but faded toward the end. Johnson has good size, being a former linebacker at Nevada, and is a much better receiver out of the backfield. While he never really got a chance to answer the questions about his blocking abilities, he did show enough and might be worthy of a spot on the practice squad.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Kevin Boss. Backups -- H-back Travis Beckum, TE Bear Pascoe.

It was a tough summer for Boss, who in June underwent a scope to clean out some loose debris from his ankle. Thinking he was fully ready to go, Boss quickly found himself sidelined for most of the first half of training camp after he developed a hamstring strain as a result for trying to compensate for his still-healing ankle. Through three games, he has yet to have a reception, an oddity considering his pass-catching abilities.

The good news is that his ankle doesn't seem to be much of an issue any more as he was able to get the leverage necessary in his blocking assignments this preseason. Beckum, the team's H-back, has spent more time being a spectator than a participant, first with a hamstring injury and then more recently with a neck problem. When on the field, Beckum shows just enough talent to leave one wanting more, in particular an improvement in his blocking technique in which he now moves his feet better than last year and has done a fine job with both in-line and space blocking. However, if he can't stay on the field, the team will be forced to move on without him. Pascoe, who should probably seek some sort of bonus given that he took mostly every snap during the absences of his fellow tight ends due to injury throughout the 20-day training camp at Albany, has been used as both an in-line blocker and as a motion fullback, faring better in the former. The biggest challenge for the 6-5, 251-pound Pascoe will be in getting low enough to gain leverage against the heavier defensive linemen. He also has also shown that he has reliable hands, which gives the Giants' passing game another weapon.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks. Backups -- Mario Manningham, Ramses Barden, Derek Hagan, Victor Cruz, Tim Brown.

Smith, who set a franchise reception record with 107 catches last season, appears recovered from an early summer groin injury. Smith has continued his excellence in finding the soft spots in the defensive coverage. Nicks, who spent part of the time before training camp working with his starting quarterback at the Manning Family's Passing Academy in New Orleans, La., has posted pedestrian numbers in the receiving department with his 7.8-yard average this summer, but that doesn't mean his extra credit work hasn't paid off. Nicks has been the most consistent of the receivers in running the timing routes, and seems to have the best grasp of his quarterback's body language and tendencies during practice, as far as making sure he's in the right spot for the ball. Manningham has been inconsistent, and, at times, has looked uninspired. Dealing with a groin injury earlier in camp, he continues to run sloppy routes and doesn't always make the effort to adjust to the flight of the ball.

Barden, the 6-5, 227-pound prospect whose physical attributes have the coaches dreaming of strategic mismatches in their favor, experienced a minor setback when he suffered a fractured transverse process in his back, but he quickly put that behind him to return to the field despite missing the second and third preseason games. Barden has an opportunity to pass Manningham on the depth chart if he shows he can be more consistent with ball security and with running crisper routes. Hagan, who through three preseason games is second on the team with seven catches for 69 yards, has locked up his roster spot -- not just because of his receiving ability, but because of his prowess on special teams, especially as a punt team gunner.

Cruz, the Paterson, N.J., native who won the hearts of Giants fans everywhere after his three-touchdown performance against the Jets, topped the NFL in touchdowns (four) and receiving yards (251) through three preseason games. Although he has struggled to make his mark on special teams as a punt returner, his ability to stay healthy and his sophistication in running and adjusting his routes likely gave him an advantage over the other rookies on the roster. Brown, who had a good camp, lost a little ground this summer when he developed a hamstring injury. Still, he probably showed enough in terms of speed, quickness and the ability to make the first man miss to warrant a place on the practice squad.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT David Diehl, LG Rich Seubert, C Shaun O'Hara, RG Chris Snee, RT Kareem McKenzie. Backups -- Guy Whimper, T William Beatty, G/T Shawn Andrews, G Mitch Petrus, G/C Dennis Landolt.

Throughout the offseason, there was talk that the starting quintet of Diehl, Seubert, O'Hara, Snee and McKenzie might be headed for a renovation, specifically at left tackle. Head coach Tom Coughlin, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride and general manager Jerry Reese talked up second-year man Beatty nearly every time they were asked about him. Beatty, however, has not had a strong summer, as his technique has been inconsistent and his awareness, at times, lacking. Although he is likely to be the first off the bench if something happens to either Diehl or McKenzie, the latter of whom has been more susceptible to injury, every game rep Beatty can get will help.

While the starting five would appear to be safe for Week 1 of the regular season, one move that could be in the making is the replacement of Seubert with Andrews at left guard. Andrews, who was signed on the day before the team broke camp at Albany, has been force-fed the offense and has done well. Having made his debut against Baltimore -- taking about a dozen or so snaps at left guard -- Andrews is still a little rusty, but more importantly, he showed that he still has that power, quickness and aggressiveness that helped make him a Pro Bowler during his time with the Eagles. Regardless of if or when Andrews moves into the starting lineup -- he can also play tackle in a pinch -- Seubert seems to have emerged as the primary backup center to O'Hara, who is hoping to clear up a nagging ankle injury before the start of the regular season. Whimper, who hasn't done all that much since being drafted in the fourth round in 2006, will more than likely earn his living this year as a backup tackle and guard.

Petrus, the team's fifth-round draft pick, is probably a year away from being ready to contribute full time, as he's also been learning the center position. Rookie free agent Landolt, whose services the team won by way of a significant rookie signing bonus, has a lot of upside that might be worthy of a place on the practice squad if he can continue his development as a guard and center at the pro level.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LDE Justin Tuck, NT Barry Cofield, DT Chris Canty, RDE Mathias Kiwanuka/Osi Umenyiora. Backups -- DE Dave Tollefson, DE Jason Pierre-Paul, DT Jay Alford, DT Rocky Bernard, DT Linval Joseph, DL Nate Collins.

Tuck is fully recovered from a shoulder injury and should make the plays from his strong-side spot that he was known for before former Dallas offensive lineman Flozell Adams cut him down in the second regular-season game last year. Of particular interest this year is the coaching staff's use of Tuck, who in the past has had most of his pass-rushing success from the inside. In three games this summer, Tuck has yet to line up at tackle, though that could be coming. Given that he was the team leader in sacks with 2.5 through three preseason games, Tuck is proving that it won't matter where he lines up as long as he's healthy. Cofield has had a somewhat quiet summer, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing as he's mostly come through on his assignments and has done a good job in creating congestion to muck up the inside lanes.

Canty, who missed the third preseason game with a groin injury, has made the most noise this summer in the run defense, showing tremendous power and discipline in staying at home to win his battles in the pit. While he has sometimes struggled with his pass rush, in part due to his inability to get the proper leverage, Canty's run defense has proven to be a welcome addition to the defense that last year struggled to stop the run. Umenyiora and Kiwanuka have battled for the starting weak-side defensive end spot, but this battle appears to be headed toward a draw. Despite having a hip ailment, Umenyiora has continued to look as quick as ever coming off the edge, and has incorporated more power in his rushes, which have helped him better fend off blockers. Kiwanuka, meanwhile, is more about power than finesse and speed. Tollefson, who this summer has seen a number of snaps inside at defensive tackle, is a feisty competitor who also is a primary contributor on special teams. Given the numbers on the defensive line, his roster spot isn't as secure as it was in previous years.

Pierre-Paul, who missed the third preseason game with a groin strain, has shown his rawness thus far, at times appearing to think too much rather than reacting. Blessed with loads of natural athletic ability, Pierre-Paul's contributions this year will mostly likely be in a limited number of sub packages until he becomes acclimated to NFL-style defenses. Bernard, who played most of last season injured, is another player who quietly has had a good summer. Bernard has physically imposed his will in collapsing the pocket and in opening up lanes for his fellow defensive linemen to exploit. Alford, who has had some physical setbacks with his knee, has been more effective this summer against the run, as his quick first step hasn't always been there. He appears to have finally put his physical issues behind him as against the Ravens, Alford showed signs of his pre-injury explosiveness. Joseph has perhaps made the most progress of any rookie, as each week he appeared more comfortable in both the run and pass defense. In particular, the rookie has done a great job in diagnosing and blowing up running plays. Collins has shown flashes of potential this summer with his aggressive nature in fighting off blocks and plugging gaps. While there likely won't be room on the roster for this rookie, he could find himself on the practice squad.

LINEBACKER: Starters -- SLB Clint Sintim, MLB Jonathan Goff, WLB Michael Boley. Backups -- SLB Keith Bulluck, WLB Gerris Wilkinson, LB Chase Blackburn, MLB Phillip Dillard, WLB Bryan Kehl.

The Giants brought in the veteran Bulluck with visions of him moving to the middle; the only problem is that Goff, the incumbent, wasn't ready to concede the spot without a fight, in which he has delivered mixed results. Goff has been very good against the run, but his pass coverage skills remain a work in progress. So with Goff trying to hang onto the starting middle linebacker job, the coaches have experimented with Bulluck on the outside, where he played most of his career in Tennessee. Bulluck, who has yet to show that speed and quickness he had in Tennessee, has been competing with second-year man Sintim, who has had a quiet summer in terms of him showing marked improvement from a year ago. Sintim is as physical as any linebacker the team has, but he appears to be at his best when limited to playing between the tackles. Dillard, who competed for the middle linebacker job, will need another year of seasoning as his coverage skills were spotty, especially in closing up the middle of the field where tight ends have had success against the Giants this preseason.

Wilkinson is probably the second-most athletic linebacker on this team, but a late-summer groin injury must have the coaches saying, "Oh no, here we go again." Officially removed from consideration for the middle linebacker spot, it was not known how long Wilkinson might be sidelined. Blackburn, the utility man who can play all three spots, is recovering from a MCL sprain in his knee. Although he began running two weeks after suffering the sprain, his status for the season opener was in doubt, though he recently expressed optimism that he would be cleared to return to practice. Kehl, whose roster spot might have been in jeopardy given the numbers at the position, will likely get a reprieve in part due to the season-ending injury suffered by Adrian Tracy, this year's sixth-round draft pick. Kehl's contributions will most likely be on special teams, where last year he had some memorable games covering punts.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Corey Webster, SS Antrel Rolle, FS Kenny Phillips, RCB Terrell Thomas. Backups -- CB Aaron Ross, CB Bruce Johnson, S Deon Grant, S Michael Johnson, DB DJ Johnson, S John Busing, Seth Williams.

Webster has taken to the new zone-heavy defense like a fish takes to water. Through three preseason games, he leads the team with two interceptions (he was inactive for one of those three games), and has kept opposing receivers from making big plays. On the opposite side, Thomas, who last year had a breakout season playing in place of the injured Ross, has had a quiet camp as far as turnovers go, but what he has shown is aggressiveness in disrupting receivers as they come off the line, resulting in numerous incomplete passes thrown to his side of the field.

The Giants slowly began to peel away the layers of bubble wrap from Phillips, their talented playmaking safety who through three games has taken about 30 snaps and who has flown around to the ball to make plays. Phillips' return from microfracture surgery remains right on schedule. Rolle, one of the teams hardest hitters, had some issues in the third preseason game that included an illegal hit of WR Mark Clayton, an incident that head coach Tom Coughlin said will warrant some additional coaching to make sure that the safety puts himself in the best possible position to make a legal hit. Ross, who is trying to recover from plantar fasciitis, might not be immediately available to the team; if and when he does return this year, he will be the team's starting nickel. Bruce Johnson had his shares of ups and downs -- the downs mostly a result of his failure to trust what he sees. If Ross does end up missing a lot of time, Johnson will likely fill in at nickel. DJ Johnson is an intriguing prospect who offers versatility at cornerback and safety, a combination that should earn him a place on the 53-man roster. Grant, the veteran who has been an iron man throughout his career, had some early preseason issues playing in a loose zone, but he quickly adjusted and did a much better job in staying with receivers.

Busing, added to the roster just prior to the start of training camp, has safeties coach David Merritt excited about what he brings to the party, which include a non-stop motor and a willingness to do whatever is asked. Through three preseason games, Busing was fourth on the team in total tackles with 11 (10 solo) and tied for second with LB Gerris Wilkinson in special teams tackles with two. Busing could be the one who pushes Michael Johnson, a 2007 seventh-round draft pick who missed the first three preseason games because of a back ailment. Williams, who looked impressive during the spring camps, seemed to drop off once the grind of camp set in, but he still has a lot of upside that might warrant a place on the practice squad.

SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Lawrence Tynes, P Matt Dodge, LS Zak DeOssie, KR DJ Ware/Andre Brown, PR Aaron Ross/Mario Manningham.

Tynes has had his best camp since being traded to the Giants in 2007. He's not only been healthy for the first time, he hasn't tinkered as much with his mechanics as he did in previous year. Although he's only had three field-goal attempts, all of which he's hit, his kickoffs have been exceptional considering that area is not one of his strengths. Dodge, the team's seventh-round draft pick whose job is to replace the consistency that future Hall of Famer Jeff Feagles brought for so many years, focused on making his kicking motion more compact, with a particular emphasis on his catch and drop of the ball. While he's shown he has a strong leg, the consistency hasn't been there, though his showing against Baltimore in the third preseason game was his strongest outing.

Ware entered camp as the leading contender for the kickoff return job, but a mid-summer concussion, his second in 12 months, has raised some concern about his durability. Add to that the success of fellow running back Brown, who through three preseason games was the runaway leader in kickoff returns with seven returns for 120 yards (17.1 average), and Ware's hold on the spot could be in jeopardy. Ross initially jumped out as the leading contender for the punt return job, but a bout with plantar fasciitis leaves his immediate future in question. Manningham is the only other veteran with experience returning punts, and while his decision-making has at times exasperated the coaches, his ball security and quickness cannot be ignored.

Tagged: Bengals, Cowboys, Vikings, Giants, Panthers, Ravens, Steelers, Keith Brooking, Jon Kitna, Shaun O'Hara, Keith Bulluck, Kareem McKenzie, Leonard Davis, Jeff Feagles, Deon Grant, Kyle Kosier, Andre Gurode, Rocky Bernard, Marc Colombo, Rich Seubert, Osi Umenyiora, Jason Witten, Terence Newman, David Diehl, Montrae Holland, Bradie James, Tony Romo, Chris Snee, Igor Olshansky, Roy Williams, Shawn Andrews, Eli Manning, Mat McBriar, DeMarcus Ware, Marcus Spears, Mark Clayton, Justin Tuck, Jeremiah Ratliff, Madison Hedgecock, Marion Barber, Brandon Jacobs, Chris Canty, Michael Boley, Chase Blackburn, Brandon Williams, Jason Hatcher, Gerris Wilkinson, Mathias Kiwanuka, Kevin Boothe, Barry Cofield Jr., Guy Whimper, Miles Austin, John Busing, Stephen Bowen, Michael Johnson, Alan Ball, Ahmad Bradshaw, Kevin Boss, Courtney Brown, Steve Smith, Jay Alford, Doug Free, Aaron Ross, Anthony Spencer, Felix Jones, Mike Jenkins, Kenny Phillips, Martellus Bennett, Tashard Choice, Bryan Kehl, Jonathan Goff, Mario Manningham, Rhett Bomar, Bear Pascoe, John Phillips, Jason Williams, Ramses Barden, Travis Beckum, Stephen McGee, Victor Butler, Hakeem Nicks, Clint Sintim, Will Beatty, Kevin Ogletree, Bruce Johnson, Jerome Johnson, Dez Bryant, Linval Joseph, Jason Pierre-Paul, Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, Phillip Dillard, Matt Dodge, Mitch Petrus, Sean Lee, Adrian Tracy, Sam Young, Victor Cruz, Danny McCray, Bryan McCann, Barry Church, Tim Brown

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