Browsing Posts tagged Antonio Pierce

Longtime Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck and the Giants agreed to terms today on a one-year contract, according to Tom Friend of ESPN. Bulluck, drafted out of Syracuse and a native of New City, New York, can make up to $2.5 million this season. Lots more on this after the jump …

Picture this in Giant Blue; Getty Images


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Rolando McClain, considered by many to be the best inside linebacker in this year’s draft class, will make a pre-draft visit to the Giants on April 12.
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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

The Giants have released their defensive captain, middle linebacker Antonio Pierce.  After missing the last seven games in 2009 with a bulging disc in his neck, Pierce’s tenure has come to an end in N.Y.  It was unknown whether Pierce would return next season for his sixth year as Giant. The 31-year-old middle linebacker was officially released according to a person close to the team, in a difficult, but hardly surprising move. Pierce was informed of the move this morning and the Giants are expected to officially announce it later today.

In 2007, Pierce was one of the emotional leaders of the team during its charge to the Super Bowl XLII championship. The Giants played that season with a huge chip on their shoulders and an us-against-the-world mentality, which they took largely from him.  Pierce’s play, though, had declined in recent years and there were indications that even if he hadn’t gotten hurt the Giants were planning to explore their options for the future.
Now what?

Middle Linebacker:
Second-year pro Jonathan Goff got a brief tryout as Pierce’s replacement during this past season, though it is more likely the Giants will find Pierce’s replacement in free agency or the draft.

With that being said, it’s time to improve and build the middle linebacker position starting with the draft.  The Giants have always built their defense linebackers and defensive linemen.  Look back at past seasons.  Whenever the Giants have been successful, it’s been because of their front-seven.  I believe a defense can dictate an opposing offense; not the other way around.

Pierce’s status has been in doubt ever since he suffered a herniated disc in his neck that caused him to miss the final seven games of last season. Due to that injury, his age, and the fact that he was due $4.75 million in salary in 2010, he figured to be expendable in the Giants’ defensive overhaul.

Still, the decision couldn’t have been an easy one. After signing a six-year, $26 million contract with the Giants as a free agent in 2005, Pierce almost immediately became the captain and leader of the Giants’ defense. He also was a force on the field at times, recording 107 tackles in 2006.  In my eyes, Pierce joins the pantheon of great linebackers who have worn a Giants uniform.

As notable columnist Matt Vereb wrote a few days prior to Pierce’s release, the G-Men need to make an attempt to draft Alabama inside linebacker Rolando McClain.  A force inside with the versatility of McClain doesn’t come along very often. McClain is 6’4, 255 pounds, and dominated inside for three seasons for the Crimson Tide. McClain won the Lambert Award in 2009, given to the best collegiate linebacker each season, and was also first team All-America and a unanimous selection for first-team All-SEC. McClain would give the Giants a multitalented linebacker capable of playing a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme. McClain has the speed (4.55 40-yard dash) to play inside or outside, and the ability to play the run, drop back into zone coverage, or play man coverage against tight ends and running backs.  There’s no question he would make an immediate impact.

Safety:
Kenny Phillips has the ability, if he can harness his potential, to be a premier playmaking safety in the NFL.  But as it stands for now, Phillips’ long-term health is an unknown – no matter what the Giants or his agent say. He was diagnosed with patellofemoral arthritis in his left knee before the season, and the condition worsened through the first two games of the 2009 season.  After having surgery to repair his unhealthy left knee, it could be a tough road back and there’s no guarantee he’ll ever be the same.  Phillips is ahead of schedule in his rehab from knee surgery, and won’t start running until the end of March.  Barring a setback, he should be ready for training camp.  Regardless, he needs a partner in the Giants secondary.  Michael Johnson and Aaron Rouse will suffice as the third and fourth safeties, but somebody else has to be brought in to start.

Some notable safeties on the free agent market this offseason include Darren Sharper of the Saints, Green Bay’s Nick Collins, Houston’s Bernard Pollard, Pittsburgh’s Ryan Clark and Tyrone Carter, and St. Louis’ OJ Atogwe.  If I were a betting man, and if betting were legal in this country, I’d wager on Sharper resigning with New Orleans.  Collins and Pollard are restricted free agents, while the rest are UFA’s.  Pollard is a big, fast, physical specimen who would fit perfectly alongside Phillips.  With Pollard excelling at playing up near the linebackers, excelling against the run and playing man coverage against tight ends and slot receivers, Phillips would be able to roam freely in coverage and make plays in coverage.

Written By: Mike Ulatoski

The NFL offseason is now under way.  Teams can start cutting players or making other adjustments to their rosters in preparation for the 2010 season.  While most moves won’t happen right away, it will be interesting to see what moves the Giants will make between now and the start of training camp…

The blueprint the Giants laid out starting in 2007 is tailor made for success in the NFL: a dominating running game, along with a strong defense built around pressuring the quarterback.  There are a few weaknesses on this team that seemed like strengths only a year ago.  What a difference a year makes …

Last season was a disappointment on many levels.  The defense (and New York Giants football has been, and always will be, about playing great defense) was the worst it had been since the late 60’s.  Eli Manning showed why he was selected first overall in 2004, and proved he is an elite NFL quarterback, even while playing with a stress reaction in his right foot; unfortunately, it came in a year in which the Giants were a .500 team.  Brandon Jacobs played all year with an injured knee, which he suffered in week 1, and the dominating running back Jacobs was in 2008 was nowhere to be seen.

I mean, just look at how unstoppable Jacobs was.  Defenders were afraid to make contact, at the line of scrimmage and at the second- and third-levels, and in the open field.  He was hesitant this past year in hitting holes, he wasn’t as fast as he was in his 3 previous seasons, and he seemed reluctant to be that bruising back with breakaway speed and acceleration that we all came to know and love.  I think that can be mostly attributed to the knee injury he suffered and attempted to play through.  After a good offseason Jacobs will be back to being a bulldozer in 2010.

As cliche as it sounds, injuries plagued the Giants from the start.  The Giants never really had every starter playing at 100 percent; not even 90 percent.  Just take a look at this list:  Eli’s foot; Madison Hedgecock’s shoulder; Jacobs’ knee; Ahmad Bradshaw’s feet, and ankles; Rich Seubert’s shoulder; and Kareem McKenzie’s back/groin/knee … and that’s just the offense.  On defense, the list continues: Justin Tuck’s shoulder; Aaron Ross’ hamstring; Antonio Pierce’s neck, Kenny Phillips’ knee; Michael Johnson’s shoulder; Corey Webster’s knee; Michael Boley’s hip, and knee; and Chris Canty’s hamstring/calf/knee.  When you see all the injuries written out like that, it’s incredible the Giants stayed in the playoff race until week 17.

The status of some players heading into the offseason is no doubt in question. The media, the fans, even former players recognized change needed to made. Fast.

Will Rocky Bernard return next season, or will the Giants release him?
I bet some people forgot he was even on the team.  It’s unfortunate because he could be a force in the trenches against the run.  But, Bernard was a monster disappointment, and that might be an understatement.  He has three years remaining on his contract for $9.1MM.  However, none of it is guaranteed.  He failed to make any impact this season because of injuries, and there would be no cap penalties if the Giants cut him.

Is Osi Umenyiora going to retire?

He gets a pass in terms of his performance, from me at least, because he missed all of 2008 due to knee surgery, and there were times when he looked like the Old Osi (and the Next Strahan) rushing the QB. But he made things difficult right from the start of 2009, first by walking out on then-defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan during a preseason meeting; then by complaining to him and the rest of the coaching staff over his playing time and his role on defense, after losing his starting job to former first-rounder Mathias Kiwanuka after the Thanksgiving Day game.  Many people within the organization and the NY media grew tired of his act.  Even with his diminished role, he still led the team in sacks.  He loves the organization, loves his teammates, and loves New York.  It’s difficult to see the Giants moving on without one of their best defensive players, on a defense that needs significant improvement and would without a doubt be worse without him.  He recently said he expects to have a sit-down with his agent, Tom Coughlin, and GM Jerry Reese “at some point”, most likely before the team’s offseason workouts begin in late March.  If the Giants really like what they saw out of Kiwanuka (and a lot of people liked the way he played in the starting role in December) and decide to give him the starting job heading into 2010, and if Osi really is serious about retiring, his days in Giant blue will be over soon.  Or, the two sides reconcile their differences and Osi comes back and plays the way he did in ’07.  There’s a lot of different ways this could play out …

Will linebacker Antonio Pierce play next year?
The captain and heart-and-soul of the Giants defense was placed on injured reserve following the Thanksgiving game against Denver because of a bulging disk in his neck.  He originally sustained a burner when the Giants played Arizona in week 7, and an MRI later revealed the bulging disk.  It’s unknown whether Pierce will be back to form next year.  He’s a free agent, and at this point very early in the offseason it’s not clear whether the Giants will bring him back or not.  If he does come back, I feel like it might only be for one more year and that’s it.  Right now it’s unknown how he’s even feeling: new defensive-coordinator Perry Fewell said he “doesn’t know” how Pierce’s rehab is going.  Thank you, Perry.  I feel like you should know these things.

GM Jerry Reese, coach Tom Coughlin, and the rest of Big Blue’s management and coaching staff will most likely meet within the next week or two to discuss the status of the team in 2010.  I’ll post Part II in the next couple of days.