By Ernie Palladino
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As usual, all the fun this summer will occur at the Jets’ training camp in Cortland starting with today’s first workout.
Between the official beginning of Rex Ryan’s lame-duck year as head coach, to the battle — maybe just a skirmish, really — between Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith, the paucity of healthy receivers, and the rebuild of the defense that was once the apple pie of Ryan’s pre-lap-band eye, the newspapers and websites will be filled with green jottings.
Meanwhile, the big news to come out of Giants camp so far is their new partnership with Quest Diagnostics. You know, the vampire people. If your doc has ever ordered a CBC or liver panel or glucose test, chances are you’ve gotten stuck with one of their needles.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be any real business to attend to when they hit the field at the re-named Quest Diagnostics Training Center at 1:30 p.m. Saturday for their first official workout. Aside from the sheer irony of a partnership with blood testers in the metropolitan epicenter of the Alex Rodriguez PED affair, not to mention the fact that their own safety, Will Hill, faces a suspension for substance abuse, the Giants have a few things to work out themselves.
Thankfully, none of them will involve the quarterback position. But it could affect Eli Manning in that right now, Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle appear his only two reliable wide receivers right now. Hakeem Nicks, in a contract year and seeking in the $11 million per year neighborhood, skipped the voluntary part of the offseason program and will probably see limited work until the season starts.
Will he look anything like the game-breaker of a couple of years ago when he does get back to a full workload? Or will he more resemble the receiver who couldn’t separate himself from his defenders in a 13-game struggle last season?
If Nicks doesn’t return to form, it’s going to be that much harder for Manning to go downfield.
Then there’s the defense. They couldn’t create a consistent pass rush last year, and that was WITH Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul. Now, Umenyiora has flown off to Atlanta, and Pierre-Paul sitting out camp after back surgery, the load is definitely going to fall on Justin Tuck’s shoulders.
Problem is, he’s not getting any younger. And aside from Mathias Kiwanuka, who moves from linebacker to his more natural defensive end, there’s not a lot next to him.
Or behind him. The linebackers are a mixed back of a promising young veteran in Jacquian Williams and six other “guys” that include such luminaries as Mark Herzlich, Dan Connor, Keith Rivers, and Aaron Curry. They’ll wage a battle all summer for those three spots. Tom Coughlin and Perry Fewell had better hope Williams wins one of them hands-down, because he’s the one with the tremendous speed and potential. But Williams had his own problems, as he comes off knee surgery.
Cornerback Terrell Thomas, coming back from two consecutive ACL surgeries on the same knee, presents a fascinating story line. Now that Aaron Ross is back, we could be seeing Thomas become one of the rare players to survive such trauma and return as a physical backup. He’s worked hard to reach this day, but one wonders if he has enough in him to sustain himself at the high level that game day necessitates.
With Corey Webster trying to rebound from a hellacious 2012, it would be nice if Coughlin didn’t have to worry about the other side of the field. But that may not happen.
So begins the battle to become football’s first team to reach a Super Bowl played in its own back yard.
It probably won’t be filled with as much drama as what’s going to happen in Cortland, but it’s just as important.
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