Written By: Mike Ulatoski

Tom Coughlin isn’t one to mess around. So, it wasn’t surprising when the Giants head coach made it clear that Osi Umenyiora will have to earn his starting job back this season.

Umenyiora said at the start of the offseason that he wanted to return to his starting job this season, or play elsewhere. And if he couldn’t start anymore, he said he’d retire. Coughlin has sent a message: Osi is no different from anybody else on the Giants; he is going to have to fight for a starting job.

“It’s like we tell everybody: go earn it,” said Coughlin, who has spoken with the disgruntled Umenyiora. “He’s going to come in and work hard to establish that position. That’s what he is. He’s a big part of our team. He certainly is a gifted, gifted football player.”

Coughlin also said he doesn’t envision this turning into something ugly, like it did with Jeremy Shockey.

“I don’t think so,” Coughlin said of Umenyiora, who was demoted for Mathias Kiwanuka. “I hope not. There’s great respect for Osi and his ability and I think vice versa. Osi, for the New York Giants, I think he wants to be here and I think he wants to be a part of our team.”

– I like what Coughlin is doing here. We’ve seen how great of a player Osi can be, and the kind of force he can be on the defensive line. With that, nobody is bigger than the team. It’s best for the team to have the best 11 players on the field. To be one of the eleven is something that is earned, not given.

Coughlin also gave his state of the Giants address. During it, he talked about the team’s decision to release linebacker and quarterback of the defense, Antonio Pierce. He said it was not a medical decision, despite the linebacker’s season-ending neck injury.

“Antonio, again, was a great player for the New York Giants. He was a wonderful acquisition for us. We played against him when he was in Washington. He was the kind of player I really looked forward to having with us because he had the qualities of leadership and was able to inspire other guys around him. He certainly was a huge part of our Super Bowl team and continued to be a leader on the field. The decision was made; we were going to part ways. But as I told him when he left, I said, ‘I love ya. You’re a part of the New York Giant history and you always will be.’”

Coughlin also talked about the hiring of new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and firing of Bill Sheridan:

“I expect us to return to being the kind of defensive football team the New York Giants have always been,” Coughlin said. “We play the game a certain way. We play the game with great balance and with team in mind, with the way we talk about the non-turnover game, running the ball, defending the run. That’s how we play. The defensive coordinator change… Bill Sheridan was there during the Super Bowl year and did an outstanding job for us. It just didn’t work. We were not a very good football team last year on defense, we had our issues – not all coaching, not all coaching. We all share the blame, starting with me.

“But the simple fact of the matter is I felt we needed to make a change and we did. I wish Bill well in his new job with the Miami Dolphins. Perry Fewell is a young man I brought into the National Football League when we were in Jacksonville. I followed his career very closely. Perry’s a dynamic, energetic, passionate young guy and I think that’s something we need right now. We’re looking forward to the kind of leadership Perry can bring and the way he will work with our players and the kind of energy he brings to the task.”

– Pierce being released has to have something to do with his herniated disk. I can’t see GM Jerry Reese releasing the heart and soul of a Giant defense without an injury having something to do with it. I would have closely monitored his rehab in the offseason, and brought him back for one more year. Worst-case scenario, Pierce mentors a young ‘backer to replace him in his role as the defense’s quarterback.

Now, on to the defense. Take a look at these numbers:

The Giants gave up more than 40 points in each of their last two games, and a total 427 points for the season, ranking third from the bottom in the NFL. Only the Detroit Lions and St. Louis Rams gave up more points.

My jaw dropped when I read that, and I still haven’t been able to pick it up off the ground. I was depressed for a week when Spagnuolo left for the head coaching job in Football Hell…I mean St. Louis. He was the perfect fit for running the Giants’ defense. But, I loved the fact that the Giants hired from within the organization when they promoted linebackers coach Bill Sheridan. Now, the blame for last season can’t be entirely placed on Sheridan; check out the list of injuries about a quarter of the way down in this article. Unfortunately, someone had to be blamed, and a majority of the blame was aimed at Sheridan.

I like the hiring of Fewell. He spent the last 4 seasons as Buffalo’s defensive coordinator, and the last 7 games of the 2009 season as interim head coach (posting a record of 3-4). His specialty is, and always has been, defensive backs – evidenced by Buffalo’s defensive backs leading the AFC with 28 interceptions, second in the NFL behind only the Green Bay Packers (the G-Men had 13 interceptions in comparison). On top of that, the Bills’ defense allowed 14 touchdown passes in each of the last two seasons. The Giants gave up 31 in 2009. Plus, he and Coughlin are boys – Fewell spent five seasons as Coughlin’s secondary coach in Jacksonville.

Coughlin also thinks the running back tandem of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw will be healthy again this season. Coughlin expects both to rebound from mediocre seasons plagued by injuries and both to carry a heavy workload once again in 2010. Both running backs underwent surgery, with Jacobs repairing a torn meniscus in his right knee and Bradshaw undergoing surgery to fix stress fractures in both feet. Coughlin stressed that he thinks Bradshaw will be fine for the OTAs.

“There’s great concern from the standpoint of the surgical procedures that have been done,” Coughlin said of his running backs. “Again, everything is stated to us as being on schedule. I think you go all the way back to Andre Brown, he’s on schedule, too. Hopefully, they’re going to be (healthy); they’re going to have to be. Danny Ware’s improvement is going to have to be as well.”

“Brandon was able to get back and play the majority of the season, let’s put it that way. There were some weeks he was not able to practice as much as you’d like him to practice. But he gutted it out and did the best he could with it, and the expectations following his procedure are he’ll return to full speed.”

Continuing with medical updates, Coughlin also talked about safety Kenny Phillips.

“Well, we have to go step-by-step here and he’s in the early stages of coming back from a serious issue. Everyone is very positive and upbeat. All of the reports have been good and that’s basically what we have to go on. But until he puts it to the test, of course, the questions are going to be there. I don’t think I’m out of place by saying he was having an outstanding preseason, an outstanding first couple of games into the season. His return to our football team as the quality young player he was developing into is very important. He would be a great addition and a great ingredient as a part of our team, but there are other things we have to put together as well.”

– With Jacobs and Bradshaw being “on schedule” in their recovery, it’s one more thing about this offense to look forward to in the coming year. Eli Manning posted career-highs in every major passing category, despite not having an elite running game. Look for the Giants to have an all-around great year on the offensive side of the ball, thanks to the return of Jacobs and Bradshaw.

I can’t really say much about Kenny Phillips at this point in the offseason. His 2009 campaign was cut short after being placed on IR after the Giants win at Dallas in Week 2 (he had two interceptions in that game). For the first two weeks of the season, Phillips had 13 tackles (9 solo), 2 picks, and 2 defended passes. But for those two weeks, a hole in the cartilage in his left knee – that had formed sometime in the spring or summer – continued to grow. He wasn’t in pain, but his knee would swell. It became impossible for him to change direction. He badly to keep playing, but with every day the hole in his knee would get bigger and become more and more difficult to repair.

Many believed he was the safety the Giants had been missing for the last couple decades. Maybe he still is that safety, but it’s way too early to tell. So far this offseason, he has been ahead of schedule in rehabbing his surgically repaired left knee. His potential is sky-high, and he could be a perennial Pro-Bowler in the NFL.  If he’s ready to go for the upcoming season, we’ll see exactly what Kenny Phillips is capable of.

Photo Credit: news.yahoo.com