EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – With the beginning of their offseason conditioning program, the Giants this week took their first steps as a group toward the 2017 season. So naturally when several players spoke to the media for the first time Thursday, they were asked about…the 2016 season, specifically the 38-13 NFC Wild Card Game loss to the Packers in Green Bay.
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“(I) just (remember) the feeling of being in that locker room after the game and the disappointment we had,” center Weston Richburg said. “That’s going to be something that I can carry on and help bring some motivation to go further this year and in years to come.
“I don’t think we hold on to it. I think we keep it there for motivation. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to. I think we hold onto it from that standpoint and use it as motivation to carry into this year to progress and get even deeper in the playoffs this year.”
Despite the disappointing finish, the Giants have much to be proud of when they reflect on 2016. They finished 11-5 and earned the franchise’s first postseason berth in five years. The defense was the NFL’s most-improved. Young players like Eli Apple, Sterling Shepard and Paul Perkins solidified a foundation the Giants can continue to build on.
After Rashad Jennings’ release in February, Perkins is seen as the leading candidate to be the Giants’ No. 1 running back.
The Giants have acquired several players this offseason they hope will help keep them in contention, including wide receiver Brandon Marshall, tight end Rhett Ellison, offensive lineman D.J. Fluker, running back Shaun Draughn, backup quarterback Geno Smith, and cornerback Valentino Blake. And they will further bolster the roster next week in the NFL Draft.
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“I feel good about the guys that we have,” quarterback Eli Manning said. “I think everybody has come in excited, excited to get better, especially (from) the offensive standpoint, committed to do whatever it takes to play at a higher level. Our defense was outstanding last year and they are committed to get even stronger and better. So I think we do have a good group of leaders on this team, great character and that we’ll work and do everything possible to have great success.”
“I think if we put in the work, be consistent, do what the coaches tell us, we have a very good chance of getting there again and actually getting to the Super Bowl,” defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said. “That’s the goal. Everyone starts OTA’s thinking that we’re here to put the trophy in the case. That’s what we start to do right now. I think if we do what coach asks and we’re consistent, we’ll get there.”
Ten of the 11 starters on the defense that ranked second in the league in points allowed will return this season. But the Giants reflected Thursday on the one player who is missing. Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, who started all 16 games last season, signed last week as a free agent with the Indianapolis Colts.
“It was a tough loss,” Collins said. “We lost a brother. We wanted him back and tried to make something happen. Ends didn’t meet.”
“It’s next man up,” Pierre-Paul said. “Hank was a good player. I understand his situation. He did what’s best for his family. I had a brief talk with him. Hank’s a good guy. I watched to see him grow here as a player and as a man. I had some great times with him. He moved on. Next man has to step up. Jay (Bromley) and Robert (Thomas), even the other guys they bring in. They have to step up and fill that void. We’ll do the best we can to help them out, teach them to get after the quarterback and stop the run. We’ll be alright.”
Jerry Reese, who has seen his share of players depart in his 10 years as general manager, also took Hankins’ departure in stride.
“I am never surprised about anything during free agency,” Reese said. “Money talks and we are happy for Hank. We are big Hank fans around here and we wish him well.
“(At defensive tackle) we think that, obviously, Snacks (All-Pro Damon Harrison) is a good player there. We have Bromley, we have Robert, so we have a couple more guys that we expect to step up and help fill that void. And obviously we will continue to look at free agency, and we will look in the draft to see if we can add some depth to that position, too.”