But count the Giants quarterback among those who strongly believe the Giants will still have a healthy passing attack without Smith, who signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, and Boss, now a member of the Oakland Raiders.
"We definitely have enough weapons," Manning said. "We have guys that can make plays and guys who can do a lot of good things. It's a matter of getting guys who can be in the right spots, give them the right opportunities, and make the plays."
Manning and his receivers will get their first test under fire tomorrow night, when the Giants visit the Carolina Panthers in the preseason opener for both teams. The Giants have had only 11 practices since the NFL resumed business, but Manning has seen enough to have confidence in his wideouts and tight ends.
"I feel good about the guys that we have here, about our players, about the way things are going on the practice field," Manning said. "I think we have guys who are committed to the team, who work hard, who have good character, and are excited about their opportunities. That's what you want. You want guys who play together. They do the right thing. They have a passion for the game. That's what we have."
Manning, who had 4,002 passing yards in 2010, will still throw to Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham, whose 139 combined receptions accounted for more than half of that total (2,058). But it's the receivers who will play with or behind Nicks and Manningham who have received so much attention. The contenders include Domenik Hixon, back at work after missing last season following knee surgery; second-year pros Victor Cruz and Duke Calhoun; third-round draft choice Jerrel Jernigan; veterans Darius Reynaud, Devin Thomas and Michael Clayton, and Ramses Barden, when he escapes the physically unable to perform list.
Coach Tom Coughlin was asked if he has confidence in the receivers on the roster.
"I do," Coughlin said. "There are a couple of spots from the receiver standpoint that have to be proven out. Certainly, two guys who were most instrumental in what we did a year ago are still here and performing at a high level, so I feel good about that."
Those receivers may not have Smith's pedigree, but they don't lack for confidence.
"There's definitely enough talent," said Hixon, who seems to be first in line to claim the No. 3 receiver job. "Each year there's been something, either with a guy going down or Plax(ico Burress) not being here, (Amani) Toom(er) not being here and the receiving corps every year being questioned. We take that on as the challenge and we'll step up to that challenge.
"It's an opportunity. When you have your opportunity, you have to make the most of it and take advantage of it."
Several players want to inherit that third receiver job.
"I feel like we have a few people that can fill that role," Cruz said. "Hixon, Mario and I will probably get some time there as well. I feel like we have some guys that we're going to see throughout the course of the season and we're going to see who fits that role the best.
"This is a huge opportunity. You have to step up, be prepared and be ready to go and understand that your time is now. You have to be prepared and focused. This first preseason game is going to be a testament to that. Personally, I'll be prepared."
The Giants thought Jernigan would be a candidate to step in for Smith when they selected the receiver from Troy on the third round of the draft.
"Basically, when I talked to the coaches and Mr. (Jerry) Reese they didn't know how Steve would come back after the knee injury and they drafted me to come in and play the slot," Jernigan said. "Play behind him if came back or not or if he left.
"I do see myself filling this void, but you've got Vic Cruz and a lot of young receivers, Duke Calhoun, there are a lot of us who could fill that role. We just have to come in and see who can fill that role."
The receivers won't be the only scrutinized players in Charlotte. The coaches also need to get a handle on the tight ends, particularly Travis Beckum, touted as the best receiver in the group (assuming Beckum plays after missing two practices with a sore hamstring).
"The challenge to Travis Beckum and some of these guys that have had an opportunity to play on a part time basis which now have greater opportunities – the word is opportunity, it's right there for them," Coughlin said. "So they've got to go get it, go grab it."
Other positions of particular interest:
*The new offensive line, particularly new Giant David Baas at center and left tackle Will Beatty.
*The defensive tackle, where Linval Joseph takes over for the departed Barry Cofield, and Jason Pierre-Paul, last year's first-round draft choice, will start at right end.
"This is my shot," Joseph said. "I have to take advantage and make a lot of plays. Preseason to me is like a regular game. If I do start Saturday, that'll be an honor to me. I feel good and I don't want to let my team down. I want to make plays and I want to be ready for the regular season."
*Coughlin said punters Matt Dodge and Steve Weatherford will both kick.
*This will be the first game in an NFL uniform for the Giants rookies. Although first-round draft choice Prince Amukamara is sidelined after undergoing foot surgery, defensive tackle Marvin Austin, safety Tyler Sash, running back Da'Rel Scott and Jernigan, who have all had their moments in practice, will get a chance to make plays in a game.
"It's a big deal for me," said Sash, the sixth-round draft choice from Iowa. "It's the first time I'm putting on an actual NFL jersey. I know practice counts, but at the same time you can't really evaluate people in practice. You can only see what they can do in a game because you could be in the right spot and not make the play in practice or act like you're going to make the play. In the game you have to make that play. You have to make that tackle. You have to break on the pass. You have to stop the running back or the receiver with the ball. I'm definitely excited. It's the first exposure that I'll get to an actual game scenario at this level."
*Because NFL teams had no spring minicamps and OTA's, Coughlin said preseason games have become more critical in evaluating players.
"Without a doubt," he said. "There hasn't been any evaluation so here we go. And, you're playing a preseason game with about 11 practices, so there you go.
"It's a great chance to play and the challenge is right there in front of our guys. So, take it."
*Coughlin said the starters will play 15-18 plays. Three of the four quarterbacks will play. The backups behind Manning are Sage Rosenfels, David Carr and Ryan Perrilloux.
"When you go into your first preseason game there's an awful lot of things on your mind, but you want people free to show their ability," Coughlin said. "Organizationally, you want to be as sound as you can be, you want the substitution pattern to be understood completely. You want to hit hard. You want to run fast to the ball. You want people to take care, as soon as they have an opportunity be at their very, very best. Not be sloppy with the ball and control penalties in the first game. There will be a bunch of objectives for the first game."
*This game marks the debut of new Carolina head coach Ron Rivera.
The Panthers lead the preseason series against the Giants, 5-2. The teams' most recent preseason meeting was on Aug. 17, 2009, when the Giants won, 24-17, in Giants Stadium. The teams also played preseason games in 1995, 1996, 2003-05 and 2007.
Last year, the Giants defeated the Panthers in the first regular season game ever in New Meadowlands Stadium, 31-18.
*The Giants are 34-24-3 in preseason openers since 1950.
- The Giants were 2-2 in the preseason in 2010, beating the Jets and New England and losing to Pittsburgh and Baltimore. They are 14-14 in the preseason under Coughlin.