EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -** The Giants have been the NFL's busiest team this offseason. It began with the retirement of offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, which prompted a restructuring of the coaching staff on that side of the ball. The Giants have signed a league-high 13 free agents who played elsewhere last season and retained 10 of their own players. They have also lost some high-profile and longtime contributors. Giants.com this week sat down with head coach Tom Coughlin to discuss the Giants' active offseason.
Q: This week, the Giants signed Zack Bowman, Charles Brown and Robert Ayers to increase the number of free agent acquisitions since March 11 to 13. Is it a challenge for you as a coach to assimilate so many new veterans onto the team at the same time?
"Absolutely, it is. You've got a big part of our football team that has not been through our routine, the way we do things, the presentation of our values and our principles, what we believe in, how we work, how we practice, how they are to come to work. So we have a lot of basic, fundamental teaching to do. It is definitely a year of transition, no doubt. I think that it must be recognized in terms of the due diligence that's been done by pro personnel, (assistant general manager) Kevin Abrams and by (general manager) Jerry (Reese).
"The coaches have done an outstanding job. You talk about a recruiting job, they've done a very good job. (Secondary/cornerbacks coach) Peter Giunta has done an outstanding job and (defensive coordinator) Perry (Fewell). But, yes it is, it's exciting. And you know what, it's good for us. It's good for us at this point in time.
"I said all along that the stimulation here, even for our veteran players, for Eli (Manning) to re-focus and to be energized by new, the new learning, the new presentation of material, the different terminology, the things that must be mastered before you even get out of the huddle. I think all of those things are stimulating."
Q: Are you more concerned with X's and O's, learning the offensive and defensive systems, or getting the new players accustomed to the culture you've created here and what you expect of them?
"The culture's going to change, too. The culture will change. Now, the principles and the values will not change, but how we go about our business has to change, because we have so many new people that have to be integrated into the system. Am I concerned about the X's and O's? Yes, I'm concerned about the X's and O's. That whole situation in terms of the new system and our new offensive coordinator (Ben McAdoo), those things are all going to have to be presented to our team, both veterans and new people. It puts them basically in the same boat, because they're all learning from scratch, there's no advantage to anybody.
"Our defense has learned an awful lot about our players and how to best utilize them. We rose from 31st to eighth (in the league rankings during the course of the 2013 season), but there are a lot of changes on the defensive side of the ball. We, again, have to be in a position where we're evaluating our talent so we know how best to go ahead and try to utilize them. Everywhere in the organization there has to be a marching to a little bit faster step, if you will, just to be able to incorporate new people in a short amount of time and to learn not only a new system on the offensive side of the ball but the defense will change according to our personnel. Now terminology isn't going to change, but they will have new things to learn."
Q: You alluded to this, but you have a lot to accomplish and a relatively short time to do it all. Does that make it even more challenging?
"It's a challenge, but that's alright. That's good. That's part of the challenge. We don't have any less time than anybody else, but nevertheless, people will look at the fifth preseason game (the Hall of Fame Game) and hopefully that becomes an advantage for us. I think it's necessary to say that perhaps the few extra practices that we'll have will help us and then the ability to evaluate new arrivals, how particular players fit in, that's going to be very important as well."
Q: When the offseason began did you anticipate this much of a roster overhaul?
"It was easy to see the number of free agents that we had. That part of it was. And again, we're all a part of the evaluation process and our team from a year ago was evaluated and the difficult assignment of making decisions on personnel takes place. Then to go out and execute it is extremely important, because if you're going to follow through on your process and bring players in that are going to make a difference, and obviously we've gone through some of that and we have a ways to go, but nevertheless, that's what this is all about."
Q: You have brought in four offensive linemen (Geoff Schwartz, J.D. Walton, John Jerry and Brown). Do you have an idea what position each will play, or do you plan to look at them at different spots?**
"I think we have an idea where they should go. Again, we'll have to adjust on the fly, but we need to get started in that process, no doubt, because that's a major aspect of it. You know, the defensive line has changed also."
Q: In addition to the newcomers, you have Chris Snee back after he played only three games last season. How important is that to have him here for the new guys, both on the field and from a leadership standpoint?
"It's critical, in my opinion. We start out with Chris the last couple years and were not able to finish and all of a sudden he's gone and that aspect of his leadership is removed. So now you have not only the loss of him as a player, but the loss of him in terms of his leadership role in the classroom where he helps all these young guys.
"You have a two-fold deal, because now you've got a lot of people striving to play in positions that they may not have a lot of experience playing - I'm talking about last year's team. But they don't have anybody really to rally around. That one personality, the guy who literally has taken over since (Shaun) O'Hara left, the idea of keeping the focus in the offensive line room where it should be. We need that aspect, but we also need the toughness, we need the physicality, we need the player and what he brings to the table as much as anything else. His presence will lend a lot."
Q: Do you believe the offensive line had to be upgraded this offseason?
"Sure it did. You saw when we lost (David) Baas and Snee at the same time, we had two new people to integrate right now after what, three games? You had to go through that process with these guys. As young people, you've got to go play. They have to go play. It doesn't happen any other way. One of the guys that really helped us that we will miss is Kevin Boothe, because of his flexibility."
Q: You also revamped the secondary with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Walter Thurmond, Quintin Demps and Bowman. Was that another target area for you?**
"No doubt. The corner position more than the safety position. The fact that Antrel (Rolle) and Will Hill and Stevie Brown and Cooper Taylor (are returning at safety), that makes a lot of sense being able to come back and have those guys together. But to get (Trumaine) McBride back, to have Dominique, to have Thurmond, to have Zack Bowman, to have guys who have played and played at the highest level, been in big games - sure they have to learn the Giant way, but they're talented and they can help us."
Q: You have brought in a lot of players from teams that were successful last season, including Denver, Seattle, Kansas City and New Orleans. Is that important?
"They've been in winning organizations and they've been on the field in good times and bad, so they've been able to recognize it for what it is. Hopefully, the winning part is going to dominate in terms of what they bring to the table with the people that they will be surrounded with."
Q: Another player from a background in winning is (linebacker) Jameel McClain (from Baltimore). Do you expect Jon Beason and him to provide leadership on defense?
"Beason's role, having had him here for (12) games a year ago and having him back is very important, simply because of the way that Antrel and Beason were able to work together. It kind of inspired one another and therefore inspired everybody on the defensive side of the ball. That's something we very much wanted."
Q: When we talk on Thursdays during the season and discuss the opposing teams, it seems every one of them has a dangerous return specialist you have to stop. Now you have (former Bronco) Trindon Holliday, who's obviously very explosive. He's had some fumbling issues. When he was here to sign his contract, he said the two of you would get "real acquainted" regarding ball security. What was that conversation like for you?
"Spend a lot of time together. You said it. It was really simple and he accepted it and he knew what I was talking about in the bat of an eye. All that other stuff is tremendous, but the number one thing that you have to do, and you always talk about it terms of a punt returner, is ball security. Catch the ball, secure the ball for us, if nothing else. That's something that Rueben (Randle) has done and done well. He'll always be in that position where we can use him with regard to that, but if we can get somebody who gives us a little bit of the spectacular - I mean, when you sit down and talk about this guy's track speeds, are you serious? He runs 100 meters in 9.98 (seconds) or whatever the heck he ran. It's fun to think about. Go ahead, outkick the coverage, please do. Not only for kickoff returns, but for punt returns. What it would mean to us to have some field position, a short field all of a sudden, and take care of the football, play good defense, get turnovers for us on that side of the ball, not beat ourselves, how about that one for a theme? That would be a very nice thing."
Q: Have you ever had a return specialist with this kind of potential?
"David Wilson on kickoff returns, there is no doubt about him. Dominik Hixon was a good punt returner. But this is really an exciting thing, especially for this present group of special teams coaches who haven't had one. They haven't had a returner like this."
Q: And you also added Quintin Demps, who was third in the league last year in kickoff return average.
"He's a kickoff returner who puts it up in there, he'll lay it up in there, no doubt. Now those are real exciting. What was really interesting to me was having Bowman talking about helping on special teams, to think about Thurmond helping on special teams. There's no reason why your starting corners and safeties, who are outstanding football players, can't go out there and stop the opponent's gunner from getting down the field. It's two against one and it helps our football tremendously to have people that can do that. We've got to put that in everybody's mind, too. We've got to get that done this year. We play against an awful lot of great returners, punt returners or kick returners, every week. But we also play against some outstanding gunners and when you look at what the Super Bowl winning team (Seattle) provided in terms of people that were outstanding gunners, who were able to cover the way they did, there's no field position after those guys get off the line of scrimmage and make a play."
Q: The Giants started six different running backs in 2013 – David Wilson, Da'Rel Scott, Brandon Jacobs, Peyton Hillis, Michael Cox and Andre Brown. Do you think you will have some stability there with the acquisition of Rashad Jennings?**
"I think he's an all-around back. Whatever question I asked when I was looking at the tape got answered. In other words, he went 80 (yards for a touchdown last season for Oakland in a game at Houston). Is he fast enough? He goes 80. Does he catch it out of the backfield? Yes. Does he run the screens well? Yes. How is he from scrimmage as a runner? Good. First and second down, can he play on third down? Yes, he can. What does he need? Well, he's 230 pounds with a great attitude. He needs a little work on his pass protection, but I think we can get that done. I think he's an all-purpose guy that fits us very, very well.
"All in due time with David (Wilson). Just pray, you're praying that he has a return to excellent health and that the doctors are totally convinced that he is recovered and ready to go. When that time comes, you'll have another contributor who, if he gets a step, he's gone."
Q: Is your attitude now that you can't count on Wilson and if he comes back, it's a bonus?
"I'm counting on him, but I am not going to put him in any circumstance until it's an absolute that he's 100 percent. I'm not going to mess with that one."
Q: What are your thoughts about Mario Manningham returning to the team after two years in San Francisco?
"It was exciting and fun to talk to him, because he's so pleased to be back. He is more mature, physically and otherwise. He wants to be here, he wants to help us win. He's more appreciative of his first tenure here and he certainly wants to make it even more productive this next time back – even for a guy who will go down in history as having made one of the greatest catches in Super Bowl history."
Q: Robert Ayers started three games at right defensive end last season for Denver. Your incumbent left end, Justin Tuck, signed with Oakland. Can Ayers play on the left side?**
"Sure, he can. He's played right, he's played left, he's played inside on third down, he's played in a lot of spots. He's a powerful player. He'll be very, very good against the run. I really, quite frankly don't think there are any tight ends that will block him. He's really got exceptional hand position, does a nice job with that, and he can be used in a versatile manner and he has consistent effort. He's got the hunger and the desire and he'll make up for a lot with hustle."
Q: You lost several players that you coached for a number of years…
"I love what Kevin Boothe's done for us. His contribution, you look at last year, everybody goes 'woe is me.' If it wasn't for that kid, you could go around and talk about 'woe is me.' Great kid, very smart, will do anything you want him to do, exceptional character. He worked the room as well as anybody, was versatile in positions, great for your team, all of those things. No doubt.
"Justin Tuck has had superb playoffs when we've won Super Bowls and he has been a major contributor in all capacities, even in '11 when it started with the Jets game. Go back and look, he played very, very well from that point right through the end of the season. He's been an excellent, excellent football player, leader, person. I'm going to miss him. I'm going to miss them all. You miss the ones that you don't have once they're gone. But you understand the nature of the game.
"We're going to miss Linval (Joseph). God bless him, but we're going to miss him. We know what the game is. There's only so much (money). They're making decisions about how you're going to try to operate with multiple numbers rather than a few. These things happen. What are you going to do?"
Q: How has it been working with a new group of offensive coaches?**
"It's good, because if nothing else it's a reflection. If you take the guys that I've kept on the offensive side of the ball and kind of maneuvered them around into different spots, except the offensive line, you know what I mean. It's good because you watch the guys, they're learning. They're like sponges. It's a foreign language, there's no doubt. Ben's done a very good job of introducing every aspect of it to the staff. He's done an excellent job with that. It's been good and it will be good for the players, because they're going to have to sit up in the front of their seats and get it.
"I've been in the same system since 1988. We have incorporated whatever we can from our system that we've always had here, but there's a lot of new terminology. There will be lots of new teaching just in terms of the way in which it's presented, which will force people to study and to learn and to be anxious. When the huddle breaks you've got to go do it. They're going to have to learn it to be able to do it. The plays will become familiar to them once they recognize what the responsibility is. You have to be able to talk it, discuss it and communicate. That's different."
Q: You're always excited about anything to do with football, but has all this change energized you a little bit?
"It challenges you. Yes, it energizes you, because you're disappointed in last year and you want to change it, but you know the amount of work that has to go into it. Also know that our veteran players coming back, their attitudes, they have great attitudes, they're coming in to change. There's no question about it. What I recognize, what I see, what is necessary, how we tweak what we've done in the past. The very first year of this new CBA we won the world championship. Every year as you go on, tweaking it, maximizing your production, knowing full-well what you have. One practice a day, the manner in which you begin in shells (not full pads). Your players definitely must grasp the idea that even though it's just one practice a day, you've got to maximize your intensity for the entire day. Otherwise, you're not going to get it. You're not going to be where you should be. That's where I think the understanding and the energy has to come from."
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