By Curt Macysyn
This week, as the New York Giants (5-7) prepare to take on the Miami Dolphins (5-7) in south Florida, the team has to juggle its roster once again. Tight end Larry Donnell’s neck injury has not gotten any better, so the team had to place him on the injured reserve list. In addition, veteran long snapper Zak DeOssie was lost for the season as well with wrist injury. According to the team, DeOssie had not missed a game previously in his eight-year career with Big Blue. Losing Donnell and DeOssie can be seen as drain of talent, but both also represent veteran players who have spent more than passing time in the Giants locker room.
For the past three seasons, the Giants have undergone a post-season purge, which has eroded the institutional memory from the Giants locker room. But how important is locker room presence in molding a team?
Well, when young players are going through the rigors of an NFL season, they should be able to reach out to their compatriots for guidance. But with each passing year, the culture of the Giants locker room has been transformed through erosion. From the continued loss of draft picks from the roster every year, to the lack of any kind of roster continuity from season to season, to the loss of veteran players to injuries throughout the season, the Giants locker room has the feel of a high school homeroom class on the first day of school.
Injury Bug Bites Again
Giants fans hoping to see tight end Larry Donnell suit up again in 2015 will be disappointed, as the third-year player from Grambling was placed on the injured reserve list. Donnell played eight games this season with 29 catches for 223 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Donnell had not played since suffering his neck injury against the New Orleans Saints on Nov. 1.
Zak DeOssie was an iron man for the G-men as long snapper; he played in 140 consecutive games dating back to 2007. In addition, DeOssie was voted as one of the permanent team captains this season, along with Jon Beason and Eli Manning, so he joins Beason (Nov. 1) on the injured list.
To replace DeOssie, New York was able to secure the services of long snapper Danny Aiken, who played for the New England Patriots. According to Giants.com, “Aiken, 6-5 and 264 pounds, is 27 years old. From 2011-14, he played in 63 regular-season games and 10 postseason games for the New England Patriots, including Super Bowl XLVI against the Giants. The Patriots did not re-sign Aiken when he became a free agent last spring. He spent two days with the Carolina Panthers last month.”
To fill the other open roster spot, the Giants signed cornerback Trumain Jacobs off of their practice squad. Jacobs played two games for the G-men in November before being waived and re-signed to the practice squad.
Looking For A Hero
The New York Yankees had their “Core Four” of Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera upon which they could rely in times of trouble. And with two Super Bowl championships in in the last decade, one would think that the Giants would not have a culture problem in their locker room, but that is exactly what they have, according to Paul Schwartz of the New York Post.
“When the Giants were the Giants, Tom Coughlin had lieutenants in the locker room, trusted players and leaders to make sure the message was not only heard, but understood. The 2015 edition does not have much of a core to lean on. It is more of a collection than a team, guys just arrived, others headed out the door, very few franchise-building players who were here and will stay here,” Schwartz wrote on Wednesday after the bitter loss to the New York Jets.
The lieutenants that Schwartz refers to were players like David Diehl, Shaun O’Hara, Justin Tuck, Brandon Jacobs and Osi Umenyiora, all of whom had credibility mixed with longevity in the locker room. In essence, the locker room was sanitized completely once Antrel Rolle and Steve Weatherford were sent out to pasture, and Victor Cruz was lost for the season. Unfortunately, there is nary a candidate around the Giants these days to replace these key figures. Sure, players like Justin Pugh, Odell Beckham and Devon Kennard have the potential to take a leadership role, but not right now, and the team needs leadership right now.
It is hard to imagine anyone stepping forward now after 12 games, so the Giants will have to self-regulate or go home. But as the season winds down, it should become apparent, that unless and until the player acquisition process gets better in the Quest Diagnostics Center, these same issues will continue to plague Big Blue season after season. Can you say “Wilderness Years”?
Curt Macysyn has been covering the New York Football Giants for the past four seasons for Examiner.com, and he is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA). Born and raised in New Jersey, Curt attended Seton Hall Prep School in South Orange, N.J. and is a graduate of Rutgers University – New Brunswick. Follow him on Twitter @CurtMac23 for the latest NFL and New York Giants news.