EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - Toward the end of the news conference at which he announced that Brandon Jacobs would be the Giants' starting running back this week, Tom Coughlin said, "Why it would be a total surprise to anybody is beyond me."
For those who have watched the games, studied the statistics and listened to Coughlin, the switch from Ahmad Bradshaw to Jacobs was perfectly logical.
Coughlin abhors turnovers, yet the Giants lead the NFL with 30 giveaways and 14 lost fumbles. Bradshaw is responsible for five of them, tying Eli Manning for most on the team. Coughlin has all but filibustered about the importance of reducing the turnover total, but all the talk has produced no improvement. The Giants gave away the ball five times in their loss in Philadelphia on Sunday night. So Coughlin had to act. So he reversed the roles of his top two backs, with Jacobs moving into the featured spot for the Giants' home game Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"The number one consideration is to try to stop beating ourselves," Coughlin said. "That's one area we should be able to improve. It's very frustrating not to improve in that area."
Jacobs was the Giants' starting running back from 2007-09 and he twice rushed for more than 1,000 yards, despite missing time with injuries in both of those seasons. This year, Bradshaw has been the team's feature back since training camp. He leads the Giants and is fifth in the NFL with 867 yards. Jacobs has run for 387 yards. Each player has scored five touchdowns. Jacobs also lost a fumble this season.
"Brandon has run the ball – it's basically been almost like a 2-1 deal (Bradshaw has 185 rushing attempts to Jacobs' 78)," Coughlin said. "Both guys have lots of carries."
"I don't think it'll change much," Manning said. "Brandon has obviously run the ball well for us this year, he knows what it's like to get the bulk of the carries, so it should be good. We'll mix in Ahmad, he's going to stay focused, stay ready and he'll be in there and we've still got the same tandem and they'll be working together. So whoever is in there knows how to run the ball."
Jacobs and Bradshaw are as close as brothers. Their lockers stand next to each other and their families spend time together off the field. The bond they developed didn't deteriorate when Bradshaw was promoted and it won't suffer from this latest switch.
When they met the media – separately – today, both backs quickly mentioned his partner.
"The guy next to me is a great guy, and a great back," Bradshaw said. "All I can do is back him up as much and as best that I can."
Jacobs went so far as to say he expects his tenure in the starting lineup to be brief.
"Even though I'm going to rush for 200 yards each of these games I'm in, it's temporary," Jacobs said. "He's that much of an explosive runner and I want to see him in there myself other than anybody else. I want to see him in and I want to see him do well. It's only going to be temporary, and that's what I believe in my heart that it's that way. I can keep playing and doing the best I can to help this team win as long as I'm in this locker room, no matter what role I have. We just want to win games."
Coughlin and the players are counting on Jacobs to help them do that. Jacobs' season-high number of carries, which he reached twice, is 12. Bradshaw's season low, which he received against the Eagles, is also 12. He has had 20 or more rushing attempts four times. Jacobs averaged 16.5 carries a game in the three years he was the starter.
"I'm much healthier at this point," Jacobs said. "This is game 11, and I'm much healthier at this point because of the switch around. He's also fresher and feels good physically because he doesn't exactly have all the carries. We both feel good at this point. Right now, we just want to win and get all these mistakes we've been making straightened out and stop handing these games to other teams, because that's what's happening. I don't think there is anyone on our schedule that can really beat us if we don't give them the game."
Jacobs' interview with a throng of reporters was an odd blend of expressing excitement at getting to play more and regret that Bradshaw will play less. He covered both bases in almost all of his answers.
"I just want to go in there, get my team up, get the stadium up on their feet and get some momentum going," Jacobs said. "Not that he (Bradshaw) didn't do that, he did that because every time he went into the game – when I'm on the sideline and I ask Jerald (Ingram, the running backs coach), 'What's the play?' and he's about to get the ball, I'm excited because I know he's going to do something with it. I want to be able to give that back to him. I want to be able to go out there and set our team off, set the stadium off, and have a good mixture going to the game that nobody can stop us. That's really how it's supposed to be. Teams should not be able to stop us from running the football. I don't give a damn who they are."
Few teams have. The Giants are fifth in the NFL in rushing with an average of 138.3 yards a game. But they rushed for a season-low 61 yards in Philadelphia, the first time this season they failed to reach 100 yards.
"We are trying to get our running game back to where we want it to be," Coughlin said. "I know it's only a one game dip, but we want more production in the run – that's just the way we do things here."
But they have too often stopped themselves with crippling turnovers. On Sept. 26, the Giants trailed Tennessee in the third quarter, 19-10, when Bradshaw fumbled at the Titans' five-yard line, a turnover that negated the momentum of a drive that had started on the Giants' 11. The following week vs. Chicago, Bradshaw fumbled in the fourth quarter of what was then a seven-point game. The Giants won, 17-3. Last week, Bradshaw fumbled at the Giants' 24-yard line in the second quarter to set up a field goal that gave the Eagles a 10-3 lead.
"My fumbles happen on the extra effort," Bradshaw said. "All I can do is play my game, and it all comes natural. All I can really do is get what I can get and go down."
Coughlin concurred that Bradshaw's fumbles often occur when he is giving an extra effort. But the back can't use that as an excuse.
"You can say that, but you don't want to take that away from a player," Coughlin said. "The simple fact of the matter is, with the amount of exposure in this league, every team in the league goes for the ball. Everybody goes for the ball. I see people that aren't even worried about tackling, they just go try to grab the ball. I think there's a spot there where the absolute most secure position, no matter if you're striving for extra yards or what, has to be the number one priority. Easier said than done."
Coughlin was asked how Bradshaw reacted to the news of not starting.
"He's not happy," Coughlin said, "but he's going to fight his way through it."
"It's football and he's still going to get in the games and still have a great chance to make a lot of big plays for us," Manning said. "Over the years, that's where he got the bulk of his carries, at the end of games, not being a starter, and he should maybe see it as a good thing to wear down the defense and all of the sudden you bring in a different look, so it might be the spark that we need."
Coughlin would not say whether the change is for one week, two weeks or the last six games of the season.
"We're going to play this game," Coughlin said. "We'll see how we do this week."
Coughlin also said he would "try to get Danny Ware some work as well." Ware, the team's third back, has 15 rushes for 81 yards this season.
"There are plenty of carries to go around," Coughlin said. "We have three running backs. We have to utilize them all."
Ware, who has long wanted to carry a heavier load, certainly agrees.
"With the backs that we have, I think we can run the ball all day long and keep everybody fresh and keep everybody in there and continue to do that and I don't think anybody can stop us," he said. "All I'm going to do is go out there and work as hard as I can in practice. And when it comes one o'clock on Sunday, if he decides to throw me in, I'm definitely going to be ready and I'm going to be amped up to go down there and hit somebody."
*Veteran receiver Michael Clayton practiced with the team for the first time. Clayton was signed yesterday in the wake of the lower leg injury that will sideline Hakeem Nicks for an expected three weeks.
Clayton, who caught 221 passes in six seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, said he can help the team several ways on Sunday.
"Catch balls. Special teams. Everything, anything that it takes to win," said Clayton, who can also block in the run game. "Obviously, there are a lot of guys banged up here, and guys are going to be expected to do more. Guys like myself can come in and relieve other guys in their roles definitely on special teams, and the offense is pretty set in what they do and I'm focused on learning the formations and the plays right now. I did a lot of work yesterday to get the face of everything down and feel real comfortable about whatever position that they put me in. I know that they're going to put me in a position where they know that I can handle it. So I don't know for sure at this point, but we'll see on Sunday."
Coughlin said Clayton does not have to digest the entire offense this week.
"He'll get the game plan," Coughlin said. "He doesn't have to get the volume. He's got to learn what's going to happen this week."
*The Giants added another receiver today when they were awarded Devin Thomas off waivers from the Carolina Panthers.
Thomas, 6-1 and 220 pounds, played for both Washington (four games) and Carolina (one) this year, though he did not have a reception. But he has returned 15 kickoffs this year for 399 yards, a 26.6-yard average. The Giants' kickoff return average is 17.8 yards.
Thomas has played in 35 career games with 11 starts and has 40 catches for 445 yards and three touchdowns. He also has 35 kickoff returns for 838 yards, a 23.9-yard average, with a long return of 42 yards.
Thomas entered the NFL as a second-round draft choice by the Redskins in 2008 from Michigan State. As a rookie, he played in all 16 games with one start and caught 15 passes for 120 yards. Thomas had his best season in 2009, when he played in 15 games and finished with 25 receptions for 325 yards and all three of his touchdowns.
He was waived by the Redskins on Oct. 9 and awarded to Carolina two days later. The Panthers waived Thomas yesterday.
To make room on the roster for Thomas, the Giants placed fullback Madison Hedgecock on injured reserve. Hedgecock has not played since suffering a hamstring injury on Oct. 3 vs. Chicago.
*Seven Giants did not practice today: wide receivers Nicks (lower leg) and Steve Smith (pectoral), offensive linemen Shaun O'Hara (foot) and David Diehl (hamstring/hip, defensive ends Osi Umenyiora (knee) and Justin Tuck (quad) and cornerback/return specialist Will Blackmon (chest).
Umenyiora hasn't practiced on Wednesdays all season. Tuck, who had three sacks Sunday, might work tomorrow.
"He got a helmet in the thigh area," Coughlin said. "He came in this morning and got his work in and is a little bit better. I'm thinking tomorrow will be a better day."
*Tackle Shawn Andrews (back) was limited.
*Coughlin said the procedure Nicks had after being diagnosed with Compartment Syndrome went well and the Giants' leading receiver is still expected to miss approximately three weeks of action.
"According to what's been reported, the situation was well done, well handled," Coughlin said. "He's optimistic about a speedy recovery."
*Two Jaguars did not practice: wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker (ankle) and tackle Eugene Monroe (head).
*The Giants signed tight end Jake Ballard and defensive back Woodny Turenne of Louisville to their practice squad.
Ballard was on the practice squad until he was signed to the active roster on Saturday. He played as an extra tight end in Philadelphia and was waived when the Giants signed Clayton yesterday.
Turenne replaces Brandon Hughes, who was signed to the Philadelphia Eagles' active roster earlier this week.
Turenne, 5-11 and 183 pounds, entered the NFL as a rookie free agent with the Chicago Bears in 2009. He was on and off the Bears' practice squad three times last season before joining the active roster for the final game. He participated in 13 special teams plays vs. Detroit on Jan. 3.
This year, Turenne was placed on injured reserve on Sept. 5, reached a settlement with the Bears on Sept. 10 and was waived three days later.