For the sake of argument, let’s say the Giants didn’t win the Super Bowl last season. Suppose their year ended after Week 17 and they never made the playoffs or pulled off improbable road wins against the San Francisco 49ers or Green Bay Packers in January.
If that was the case—and it very nearly was—the major story of this year’s training camp would be about revamping the anemic running game.
Bradshaw said it’s “devastating” for him to be a part of such a dismal backfield, but the good news is that his surgically repaired foot is healing after a stem cell treatment in the spring.
“I feel great,” he said. “Honestly I’ve always said I felt better, but this year I feel great more than any year I’ve played in the NFL. That procedure made me so much better. Running-wise I’m just light on my feet right now.”
Jacobs is now a member of the San Francisco 49ers, which means D.J. Ware, Da’Rel Scott, Andre Brown and first-round pick David Wilson will have every opportunity to contribute on offense.
Wilson has been credited with blazing speed by his coaches and teammates alike, but the former Virginia Tech star was the fourth back to touch the football on the first day of training camp and there are a few specific things he needs to learn before he can move up the depth chart.
As running backs coach Jerald Ingram said in late May, “The No. 1 thing that we ask our running backs to do is take care of our $100 million quarterback,” and if Wilson can’t pick up the blitz for quarterback Eli Manning, he’s not going to see the field.
But, at the end of the day, speed kills and Wilson might have too much of it to ignore. Nobody thinks of Bradshaw as a between-the-tackles back, but even though he’s 5-9, he’s more of a bruiser than a speedster. And that’s what makes Wilson so intriguing—he’s actually a change of pace from Bradshaw.
“His speed, it’s tremendous,” Bradshaw said. “He can open up a whole lot of things, you know, around the whole offense. Outside, inside, he’s an all-around back. He’s a smaller back but I think he can execute everything.”
On Friday Coughlin insisted that Bradshaw will be splitting carries again this year, but there’s no guarantee on who he’ll be doing that with.
Brown, who was a practice squad player for the Giants last year, a journeyman in 2010 and was on the Giants’ IR on 2009, is the biggest of the bunch at over 230 pounds. He has good hands out of the backfield and has decent speed for someone who ruptured his Achilles three years ago.
Scott is definitely faster than Brown or Bradshaw, but, like Wilson, he too needs to learn the details of the position before he can be relied upon on Sunday.
Ultimately, the 27-year-old Ware might have a leg up on the competition because of his experience in the Giants backfield. Ware played well on Christmas Eve against the New York Jets (three carries, 20 yards and one catch for five) and on New Year’s Day against the Cowboys (two carries for 19 yards, one catch for eight), so there are some reasons to be optimistic about his prospects.
“We’re going to get a better running game coming out of this camp,” Coughlin said, adding that the absence of two-a-day practices is a major detriment because he won’t have the time to “zero in” on details in the running game with just one practice per day.
And then there’s the complication of the offensive line.
The Giants’ longtime front began breaking up last season as Rich Seubert and Shaun O’Hara were let go. This year it was veteran right tackle Kareem McKenzie’s turn on the chopping block, which means David Diehl is moving over from the left side.
Tackle Will Beatty recovered from last season’s eye surgery and he has returned to the blindside (although he is dealing with a sore back).
Whereas the interior line experienced most of the turnover last year, the grouping of (from left to right) Kevin Boothe, David Baas and Chris Snee now has much more experience together by comparison—and that’s a major improvement, Diehl said.
But whatever the grouping is, it’s important that the lineman feel a sense of urgency to improve the running game.
“Even though being defending world champs, you got to look back and evaluate all the important things and that’s been such a strength for our offense is being in the top 10 and being No. 1 at one point,” Diehl said of the running game. “And we just know with the weapons we have out there at wide receiver, if we can get the run game going like we know we’re capable of, our offense can be deadly.”
Receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks combined for 2,728 receiving yards and 158 catches, including 16 for touchdowns last season. The Giants backfield barely gained half off that yardage as a unit last season, so any improvement in that area should be terrifying for the rest of the NFC.
Stay dialed in on the New York Giants on Twitter at @CBSSportsNFLNYG throughout the season with on-site updates from CBSSports.com RapidReports correspondent Alex Raskin.