These are heady times for the Giants. They won Super Bowl XLVI and paraded up the Canyon of Heroes. In less than a month, they'll be wearing new championship rings, the ultimate in NFL bling. They are expected to visit the White House before training camp opens. Everywhere they go, the Giants are hailed for winning their fourth Super Bowl title.
So how do they put that all behind them and prepare for the 2012 season?
"We don't have to put it back yet," defensive end and captain Justin Tuck said this week, the first in the team's offseason conditioning program. "They are still patting us on the shoulders and they are still asking us about last year with the combination of this year. It hasn't gone anywhere yet. But this team, we understand it. Everyone wants to be around a winner; we are blessed to be able to win last year and for good reason.
"But I think this team – when it is time to work – we are going to come in here and be humbled and understand that last year isn't going to have a lot to do with this year. We are going to have to be our own team – just like last year was the 2011 team. This team is going to have to be the 2012 team."
The Giants have never won a playoff game in the season following one of their Super Bowl victories. But ending that streak is not what will drive them as they prepare for the season, which begins on September 5 against the Dallas Cowboys in MetLife Stadium.
"I think the motivation is always trying to improve, always trying to get better, always trying to become a better player," quarterback and offensive captain Eli Manning said. "Sometimes, you can't worry about winning a championship next year. You know how difficult that is, you know that a lot of things have to happen. But you can't always control that. You can control making sure you are doing everything you can to be prepared – to get your workouts, to be in shape. Make sure you are doing everything you can to try to stay healthy and get your teammates mentally and physically ready for the season. So that is what we are doing right now. We are working hard. We are getting prepared and figuring out ways to get better."
They must figure it out without several key members of the championship team, who have moved on since the Giants defeated New England in the Super Bowl. The group includes Brandon Jacobs, Mario Manningham, Aaron Ross, Dave Tollefson and Devin Thomas.
In the NFL, one player's departure is another player's opportunity and the Giants are counting on their replacements to perform at a high level.
"Obviously, we are going to need some guys to step up," Manning said. "At the receiver spot we have that third receiver – it is going to be some tryouts for us. Some guys who - Ramses Barden and (Domenik) Hixon and (Jerrel) Jernigan and whoever else is going to be here, they are going to be competing for that spot. So that should be good. You have good competition. Obviously, some running backs are trying to come in and help them out. We would like to use multiple running backs and then Kareem McKenzie at tackle. So we have some spots to fill, but that happens every year. Everybody is always competing for their job in this league. It is always competitive. So everybody has to keep working hard."
Jernigan was a third-round draft choice in 2011, but he did not catch a pass (he did return eight kickoffs). But Jernigan is confident he can put up impressive numbers with regular playing time this year. Of course, Barden, entering his fourth season, and Hixon, coming off his second knee surgery in as many years, are just as sure they will produce regularly.
"I think coach will give us a fair opportunity, whether it's me, Ramses or Domenik," Jernigan said. "All three have a chance to prove ourselves going into camp.
"They know we have talent. They drafted us. We come in and everybody practices and works hard in the offseason to be that number one receiver so when we step into the spotlight the opportunity is ours to go out there and shine."
Hixon caught four passes, including a touchdown, before he was forced off the field in the second game last year. Although Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are entrenched as the top two receivers, Hixon has his sights set high.
"If you come out and say you want to be third-best, then what is the point in even competing?" he said. "You are always competing to be number one. That is what I am doing every year."
*Tight ends Travis Beckum and Jake Ballard both suffered torn ACLs in the Super Bowl and subsequently underwent surgery. Beckum hasn't ruled out playing against Dallas on opening night, though he still faces a long rehabilitation. Ballard is not as optimistic.
"My best chance (to play) will be midseason, if at all," Ballard said.
Ballard, who caught 38 passes and scored four touchdowns in a breakout season in 2011, has come to terms with the fact that he might miss the entire season.
"A lot of people have ACLs and miss a year, why should I be lucky enough that I don't miss the whole entire year?" he said. "I can't do anything about that now. I'm past that. I'm hurt. I'm trying to get better."
*The recent trade for weakside linebacker Keith Rivers has led to speculation that Michael Boley will move to middle linebacker fulltime. Boley said he can handle the role if needed, but he has no idea what the coaches are thinking.
"We haven't talked about it," Boley said. "Obviously, over the last couple of years we have played a lot of three safeties, two linebackers and the MIK linebacker has been kind of my role for the most part.
"To me, (the switch) is only as hard as you make it. It comes down to putting the time in, whatever it is, whether you're offense, defense. Just putting the time in, trying to perfect your craft."
*Kevin Boothe started seven games at left guard (including the last six), five at center and one at right guard. He has also filled in at tackle in the past. Boothe said he doesn't need to know in advance where he's going to play.
"I don't think it's that important," Boothe said. "In the several years I've been here I've played a lot of positions. I'd approach it the same way, trying to learn as much as I can and seeing wherever I fit in. Who knows what could happen over the course of a game or the course of a season, as we saw this past year. So you might prepare for one position, but you never know what might happen. So I'll try to have a broad knowledge."
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