EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - The Giants concluded their mandatory minicamp this morning with a practice at the Timex Performance Center, the last time the entire team will be together until Aug. 1, when they report to the University at Albany for training camp.
The veteran players' offseason obligations have concluded and they have departed to start their summer vacations. The rookies will be here for another week before beginning their pre-camp break.
"We have gotten a lot done this offseason," Coach Tom Coughlin said. "And the big thing that I'm interested in now is the ability of guys to bridge the mandatory minicamp into the training camp. And that is a long time. There will be, obviously, an emphasis on conditioning and strength. The developmental intensity of that program will be increased as we get closer to camp. But making sure that we are safe, enjoy the time with our families, get our minds ready to come back with great purpose, great enthusiasm. And I look forward to the challenge and I'm really excited about our preseason."
Quarterback Eli Manning was asked what he takes away from the three-day minicamp.
"It's really the last month – that's when we started practicing," Manning said. "We got some good work. We made some improvements. We got better at some things. I think we're more advanced in the offense. The receivers, the tight ends and the young guys continue to learn. It's the start that we wanted. But we have to get better in training camp. We have a lot more we can put in and a lot more we can do."
The players and coaches continued to digest the news they received yesterday, that wide receiver/special teams standout Domenik Hixon will miss the entire season after suffering a torn ACL in a practice Tuesday in the New Meadowlands Stadium.
"Domenik has nothing but respect from everyone here," Coughlin said. "He is an excellent teammate. He is a guy that we are all personally very fond of. He is completely reliable and dependable; just an outstanding young man, outstanding leader in the locker room, a stand tall guy, a guy who is very positive, always very re-enforcing for his unit as receivers and special teams. It is a major disappointment because I think we all wanted to believe – he had something similar to that a year ago – and we all wanted to believe that it wasn't inevitably what it turned out to be. We were disappointed and greatly upset.
"But I saw Domenik this morning and told him that first and foremost our concern is for him. He assures me that he will get this taken care of and he will be here to support his teammates and looks forward to coming back."
Two of the team's coordinators – Kevin Gilbride on offense and Tom Quinn on special teams – said they will miss Hixon's contributions on and off the field.
"It would embarrass him for me to say what he means," Gilbride said. "But to be honest, he is just what you are looking for as a human being, first and foremost. Every day in the meetings, out on the practice field – he is as professional a guy as we have on our football team. And so just his example of his enthusiasm, his encouragement to his fellow players, he is tremendous. It manifests itself in the kicking game because he gets more opportunities there. He is the guy. He has been on our third, he has been our second at times, he has been our fourth receiver – he has been an integral part of what we do passing-wise. So as a receiver, we will miss him terribly. As the man that he is, and the example he sets and the encouragement that he gives everybody else, you are not going to replace him. That is going to be a tough pill to swallow."
Hixon led the Giants with averages of 15.1 yards on 17 punt returns and 22.6 yards on 57 kickoff returns. He also had seven special teams tackles.
"(It's) definitely a big loss," Quinn said. "(Hixon is) such a great team player - very competitive, does everything we ask of him, whether it is offense or special teams. He is a return specialist, but he is also is a very good cover guy on kickoff and punt. So you really have to replace four starting positions on the punt/punt return/kickoff/kickoff return."
The Giants will look at several candidates for the return jobs, including Mario Manningham, Aaron Ross and rookie Chad Jones.
"We have a lot of guys working in those capacities," Coughlin said. "This is an opportunity for someone to step up and be recognized in that role, certainly, and in all of the special teams roles. Domenik was always very much involved in our receiving corps, as well. There were many days you guys watched that he looked to be the best receiver on the field. But this is an opportunity for someone. And we challenge the guys to be able to take advantage of that."
"You obviously look to who you have and we do have a lot of talented guys that can do that," Quinn said. "We always put a big emphasis early in the OTAs on guys catching punts. So we will have about eight offensive guys, eight defensive guys and we work them all out and have them catch. But Aaron obviously has the return experience and it is something that he has always wanted to do. He has been bugging us to let him to do it. This might be his opportunity. Mario is another guy. We have Sinorice (Moss). We have Chad Jones. Last year we had four guys that returned punts for us – Ahmad Bradshaw, Corey Webster even had to do it. We had three guys in one game. So you always have to be prepared to have some depth."
*Gilbride said he was pleased with Manning's performance this spring, but said he challenged his quarterback to expand his passing horizons.
"He threw it well," Gilbride said. "We kind of pushed him to be a little more aggressive, to try to take some chances now, get a sense of what you feel comfortable doing. You see a guy in New Orleans where they are throwing the seam balls and you see Drew Brees making some throws in there. And maybe not every quarterback will even try. I said, 'Until you find out if you are comfortable doing that, you have to do it now – do it in practice and what are the consequences.' So we kind of pushed him to do some of those things. As a result there were a few more interceptions than we would have liked. It upsets the head man, but I'm glad he was kind of pushing the envelope a little bit."
*New defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said he installed approximately 75 percent of his defense and was pleased with the players' grasp of the system.
"I think we have accomplished some basics and fundamentals," Fewell said. "It is very hard to say because we are running around in shorts. The real test will come when we put the pads on and we are going two a days against each other, and obviously with preseason games. But I think we accomplished some basics and fundamentals and established some evaluations. They know who I am, I know who they are, some of the techniques that they can play, some of the things that they can do, I have a better appreciation for."
*One of the important issues on defense is selecting a middle linebacker to replace Antonio Pierce, who was released in February.
"I thought some guys stepped up," Fewell said. "Jonathan Goff (who played with the first team), I thought, had a very good OTA and minicamp. I thought Phillip Dillard had a good OTA and minicamp. Gerris Wilkinson – all of them competed. And I think that was a good thing. I know I'm leaving some names out – I don't mean to leave names out. Again, I'm not calling it a pecking order. But I'm saying I thought all of those guys competed and showed us that they can play the game. Now the real deal comes when you put the pads on. When the bullets fly, who is going to step up and take charge and be our leader?"
*Quinn said neither seventh-round draft choice Matt Dodge nor former Australian Rules Football player Jy Bond has taken a lead in the competition to replace the retired Jeff Feagles as the team's punter.
"They are really going neck and neck," Quinn said. "They are really progressing well. So we have been happy with their development. This is a good session for them – the OTAs and then the mandatory minicamp and then the next progression for them is the training camp."
Dodge and Bond are also learning to hold for kicker Lawrence Tynes.
"They are both really doing well with the holding," Quinn said. "That is probably the toughest adjustment that any punter has to make at this level, getting the hold down exactly how the kicker wants it. And they have both progressed well. Lawrence has done a good job working with them exactly on how he wants the ball."
*Feagles was here working with the young punters the first two days of camp.
"He has a wealth of knowledge," Quinn said. "And he is excited to do it. So it was good to have him out here the last couple of days."
*Coughlin and Fewell are both hopeful that safety Kenny Phillips will participate in training camp. He did not play in the spring drills because of the surgery he had last year to correct an arthritic condition in his knee.
"I'm very confident - he is, also, that he will be back," Coughlin said. "We look forward to that part of it."
"I think Kenny Phillips will be ready on August 1," Fewell said. "It is unfortunate that we did not have him in the OTAs, but I'm looking forward to having him on August 1."
*Colonel Greg Gadson, who has been a huge inspiration to the Giants since his introduction to the franchise in 2007, attended the camp and spoke to the team after the final practice. Coughlin was asked about his departing message to the players.
"What you talk about here is when you make a choice make sure it is in the best interest of you and your family," Coughlin said. "And always make sure that whatever you decide to do, don't do anything that you wouldn't be proud of if it was on the front page."
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