By Ernie Palladino
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As the clock ticks down to 0:00 on the 6-9 Giants’ season Sunday, do yourselves a favor and let your mind travel into the land of the future.
It’s an exciting place if you look at it the right way. While it is true that this blown season could simply be the third in a long trough of playoff-less, non-winning campaigns, it is equally possible that what has happened in this three-game winning streak could break such a slide, regardless of how this last game against Philadelphia at MetLife Stadium turns out.
Think about it. For all the individual excitement that rookie receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. has created — and somebody please explain how this kid didn’t warrant something better than Pro Bowl alternate — a bunch of other young players have stepped up and shown potential for quick, effective development. If they carry any of that over to next season, and if the Giants’ hospital list returns to healthy efficiency, the possibilities for success appear quite bright.
People like rookie defensive end Kerry Wynn — who was not even active the first 11 games — and last year’s second-round defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins have helped rejuvenate the pass-rush that spent most of the season in slumber. Rookie running back Andre Williams has benefited greatly from starts he made while Rashad Jennings nursed injuries.
Devon Kennard, another rookie, has looked great at strong-side linebacker after Jameel McClain vacated the spot to replace the injured Jon Beason in the middle. And lo and behold, rookie guard Weston Richburg has stepped up his game following his midseason benching to become an effective run blocker and a decent protector of Eli Manning.
While no one should misconstrue any of this as the impetus for a 2015 run to the Super Bowl, it’s a lot more encouraging than things looked last month when the Giants collapsed in Jacksonville. Any or all of these guys could turn in quite ordinary performances next season. But 2015 is not here yet, and with the slumping Eagles heading in behind erratic ex-Jet Mark Sanchez, the arrow appears to be pointing up. Especially after a season that saw the compilation of a franchise-record, 22-man injured-reserve list.
One of the wounded said he can’t wait to get back to work with the new achievers.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” said Victor Cruz, who should come back to team with the dynamic Beckham after rehabbing from the torn patellar tendon he suffered in the third quarter of the 27-0 loss in Philadelphia Oct. 12. “I don’t like to get into next year and start promising things, but when I reach my peak health and I’m 100 percent again and everything is clicking, it’s going to be a fun offense to watch.
“I can see those guys getting more and more comfortable with the offense, and it’s been fun to watch. It’s been fun to watch them grow throughout the season, because the early part wasn’t much fun to watch.”
The front office will have to make a decision on unrestricted free agent Jason Pierre-Paul, though his late-season sack surge may make discussions about length and value of a new contract a lot shorter than they would have been during the seven-game losing streak.
They’ll also have to decide on safety Antrel Rolle after an admittedly subpar season. But the abundance of young talent, fire-hardened from injury-forced service, will add a note of optimism to anything that happens in the offseason.
It is still to be determined who will coach this group, but that may be another reason for ownership to keep Tom Coughlin around. He and his staff are the ones who kick-started the youngsters. Many teams go straight down the drain because of injuries. Coughlin kept his team together, showed faith instead of resignation in the rookies and second-year players stepping up. Now they are positioned to finish with a record that will seem somewhat more palatable than it could have been had they all played like kids.
Regardless of who coaches them, though, players like Beckham, Hankins, Wynn, Williams and Richburg have advanced. Beckham is simply the most high-profile of the bunch.
They have offered hope for 2015, either as starters or quality depth pieces. That’s a lot more than the Giants had coming out of training camp.
It’s something to anticipate with a smile as this lost season winds down to its sad end.
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