The Giants are attracting a national cable television audience for the second straight week – well, actually, NFL Network is more interested in the summer debut of Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger than the guy who will call signals for coach Tom Coughlin.
Injuries to Eli Manning (forehead) and Jim Sorgi (shoulder) are forcing the Giants to start Rhett Bomar, who spent most of last season on the practice squad. Former Holy Cross star Dom Randolph (attended rookie minicamp) has been signed to be his backup, although he’s not likely to play much, if at all.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin insists Big Ben will take his first game snaps since being suspended for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, but hasn’t said whether he will start. The TV cameras might be focused on Big Ben, but Coughlin’s more concerned with Bomar, who leads off our list of three things to watch in the Giants’ preseason home opener (and first in the New Meadowlands Stadium):
1. QB Rhett Bomar. We commented last week that David Carr’s signing with the 49ers was a “significant” loss, but little did we know that Manning and Sorgi would be knocked out of the Jets game with injuries. Manning’s gash might not have kept him out of a regular-season game, but Sorgi’s shoulder is expected to sideline him for at least 2-3 weeks – which puts him in danger of being available for Week 1. So Bomar will receive the first extended action of his pro career and a chance to convince the Giants that he may a viable No. 2, if they need him in that capacity. Entering in the fourth quarter against the Jets, Bomar (6-7, 67 yards, 1 TD) did well with the short-passing game – his best game performance to date – and made the correct read on a 23-yard scramble that drew praise from Coughlin.
2. Medical miracles MLB Keith Bulluck and SS Kenny Phillips. Although he has defied the odds, having participated in practice nearly eight months following knee surgery, Bulluck will be taking his first game snaps since he was injured with the Titans last December. Backup MLB Jonathan Goff was active against the Jets, but also got taken out of the play far too often for somebody who expects to compete for the starting job. Bulluck has been fluid without a brace at practice – but the Giants NEED to see him demonstrate that he’s got enough mobility in a game to remain an impact player. Likewise for Phillips, who has made his doubters blink by fluidly running through limited practice reps with the backups less than a year following microfracture knee surgery. He was held out against the Jets, so this will be his first chance to compete against a live opponent, where his instincts must take over. The Giants are proceeding slowly with Phillips, so don’t expect to see him on the field for more than a few plays – he’s hoping the Steelers test him by throwing downfield.
3. P Matt Dodge. His first game performance mirrored the traits we’ve seen since he arrived at rookie minicamp – inconsistency and difficulty in placing the ball. Dodge’s 46.5-yard average against the Jets wasn’t as significant as his 32-yard net. He hit a couple of nice punts (with a roll), hit a low liner and had a pooch punt go into the end zone. The Jets’ blocked punt can be attributed to Andre Brown whiffing on his man. This weekend, Dodge may try using the Aussie kick – end-over-end style that results in the ball bouncing backwards – he learned from Jy Bond in minicamp to better pin a punt inside the 20. Punting consultant Jeff Feagles admits it’s a lot to ask the rookie to achieve consistency while refining his technique in such a short period of time – but the Giants have no choice. They need a reliable punter and there are only three preseason games left. Dodge needs to have a strong game or the clock may begin ticking on Coughlin’s patience.