Its exact composition won’t be revealed until game time Monday in New Orleans, but change is again coming to the Giants’ offensive line.
Will Beatty, who has started every game at left tackle, underwent surgery yesterday to repair a detached retina and is out indefinitely – but certainly for the Giants’ key game against the Saints in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Giants could replace him with Stacy Andrews, an eight-year veteran who has started two games this season as an extra lineman. Or they could move David Diehl from left guard to tackle – where he played the four seasons prior to this one – and slot Kevin Boothe in at guard. No matter what happens, the Giants will start their fourth different offensive line combination of the season. Boothe started two games at center for David Baas and one at right guard for Chris Snee.
Tom Coughlin characteristically revealed little when asked about what the line will look like.
“You will have to wait and see,” Coughlin said. “We have some candidates.”
Diehl was typically loquacious while being interviewed by perhaps a dozen reporters, but declined to reveal where he’ll line up.
“Well, we’ll see,” Diehl said. “Nothing’s been declared yet. Obviously, I’ve been playing some of it (tackle) in practice, playing next to Boothe but I’ve been playing next to Stacy as well. So it’s nothing new for me. This is part of being a guy who can play multiple positions. If things happen, guys go down, I’m capable of moving. I know what to do at left tackle, I know the calls, the protections, the blocking schemes, all that stuff. In case it does happen, if that’s what they decide is best for us, it’s good I’m getting these reps in practice and getting myself ready to go.”
Coughlin disagreed when a reporter characterized the movement on the line as a “shakeup.”
“You have to react to an injury, so we will make the necessary reaction,” Coughlin said.
No matter who plays where, the line is stepping into a tough situation. The Saints, who are 7-3 and in first place in the NFC South, blitz more than any team in the NFL. Their home stadium is also arguably the league’s loudest. And now the Giants are changing personnel at possibly two line positions out of necessity. Baas, Snee and right tackle Kareem McKenzie are expected to start in their accustomed positions.
“You always have concern, whatever the position change is that takes place,” offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said. “Obviously, up there it can have an impact on everything. Not just the passing game, but everything, run game, pass game, protection of the quarterback, what have you. You’re concerned and you just hope that whoever you put in there is going to rise up and play the way you think he can, or he wouldn’t be on the team. We wouldn’t put him in there in the first place. We’re confident. We have some guys in the backup role who can play.”
They’ll need to play well, because the line is looking to improve after a subpar performance in last week’s 17-10 loss to Philadelphia. The Giants rushed for only 29 yards, their lowest total in five years, and Eli Manning was sacked three times.
“It was a bad game all around,” Gilbride said. “There’s no question. You hope that it was an aberration, that it’s not a downward spiral. We actually thought we were making some headway, not as fast or as much as you’d like, but we thought it would get better and improve. But last week is not what you were looking for.”
This is a new week, but it presents a formidable challenge for the Giants. New Orleans is 4-0 in the Superdome this season.
“New Orleans is a great team and has been for the last several years,” Boothe said. “Playing in that dome, they present a lot of challenges with their great defensive packages and we’ll have to bring our A game.”
Diehl and Boothe are the Giants’ most versatile linemen; the former has started at every position on the line but center in his career and Boothe is capable of playing any position on the line.
That’s the good news. What is not so positive is that the offensive line, more than any other position group, needs cohesion, communication and chemistry to succeed. It’s hard to develop those ingredients when the parts keep changing.
“Obviously, it’s tough,” Diehl said. “Injuries along the line, different people in and out. It’s hard to have that continuity. But the thing about it, we’re continuing to work and continuing to fight and the most important thing is now we’re in a situation where we’ve got six games left. This game is a very, very important game for us. Not only is it a big step for us in regards to building momentum moving forward, this is an NFC game. We’re angry. We’re still upset. The only way you can do anything to change anything is to go out there and perform and come away with a win.”
Coughlin did not seem as concerned about the chemistry issue.
“These guys have worked here all year long, not necessarily in the spots that they’re at,” Coughlin said. “I am hoping that we can have some carryover and be able to execute.”
If nothing else, the linemen have plenty of incentive to improve after last week. It’s safe to say everyone involved was angry about rushing for 29 yards last week.
“Everyone’s disappointed,” Diehl said. “I think as a group, as an offensive line group, you’re challenged, we’re going to step up and make it happen. Even with our two days off, guys were in here lifting and watching film. And it was good to see everybody in with that little (ticked) off attitude, ready to get back on the field. Since we’ve started, since we’ve prepared this week, guys are fired up. Guys are flying around on the practice field. Guys are holding each other accountable. And I know this, I know we’re going to go out and fight on Monday night.”
*Coughlin had no timetable for Beatty’s potential return, but it’s not going to be anytime soon.
“I really don’t (know),” Coughlin said. “It is not any good, though. You are not going to hear any ‘tomorrow afternoon’ or anything like that.
“He had surgery and it is a very serious situation, obviously. People keep asking about any length of time and I can’t give you that answer. We are just going to have to see. There is supposedly a segment or period of time where you are evaluating and seeing what he can or can’t do. That is where we are.”
*In addition to Beatty, four Giants players did not practice today: Running back Ahmad Bradshaw (foot), linebacker Michael Boley (hamstring), wide receiver Mario Manningham (knee) and safety Derrick Martin (hamstring).
Boley, who was hurt two weeks ago in San Francisco and missed the Eagles game, ran today.
“I thought he looked good,” Coughlin said.
“It is getting a little better,” Boley said. “Obviously, it is not where I want it to be yet, but it is getting better. I am still hoping that I can get out there and suit up on Monday. We still have a few days, so obviously I have to see how treatment goes and how it feels running tomorrow.”
Boley said he was able to “go out and stride a little bit.” But the hamstring must improve further for him to take the field on Monday.
“I just have to test it, just going out with the trainers and getting some work in and doing some drills,” he said. “If I don’t feel right, then I won’t be able to play. Obviously, I don’t want to put myself in situations where I hurt the team or I hurt myself. I would rather miss another week than miss a few more weeks.”
Manningham was more definite about his plans for the Saints game.
“I am going to be good to go on Monday,” he said. “My knee is a little sore.”
Manningham missed practice for the second day in a row, but is confident that will not inhibit his ability to excel in the game.
“I have been here for four years with the same quarterback,” Manningham said. “I missed one game earlier in the season, but I don’t think it makes a difference. We have more practices than games year-round.”
Regarding Bradshaw, Coughlin said, “(he) started out moving well and I don’t have any idea to what extent they ran him. They were to run him and depending on what they saw, they would perhaps do more or less.”
McKenzie (toe) and defensive end Justin Tuck (ankle and shoulder) returned to practice and were limited, as was defensive end Osi Umenyiora (knee).
*The Giants’ defense also has many concerns this week. The Saints are ranked first in the NFL in yards per game (436.9), passing yards (319.4), first downs (24.5) and third-down efficiency (53.3 percent, 72 of 135). They are second in scoring 31.3 points a game. Quarterback Drew Brees leads the league in passing yards.
“It’s going to be a big challenge for us,” defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said. “They are playing at a high level, playing at their place. Drew Brees is extremely efficient in his offense. They have a lot of weapons to go to.”
New Orleans has five different receivers with at least 32 catches, led by tight end Jimmy Graham (62) and running back Darren Sproles (60), who will be covered at least some of the time by rookie linebackers Mark Herzlich, Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger.
“That’s a tough matchup for us,” Fewell said. “Our young linebackers have to grow up real fast. We’ve been emphasizing that to them all this week. The speed of the play, the speed of the game, the way we think and the way we approach them, we have to play at a very fast and high level of football in order to be successful.”
*Fewell confirmed that Deon Grant will continue to wear the helmet with the receiver, allowing him to get the calls from the coordinator and relay them to the players in the huddle.
“He’s going to be on the field more because of the different packages that we run,” Fewell said. “He’s on the field, being able to communicate more than our other linebackers. Based upon who the person that’s on the field the most, we can have the fluid line of communication with that person.”
*Manning needs 48 yards and two touchdown passes to become the fifth quarterback in history with seven consecutive seasons with at least 3,000 yards and 20 touchdown passes. He will join some illustrious company. The other four quarterbacks to accomplish the feat are Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Dan Marino and Brees.
*The Giants have won their last three indoor games, including a 31-27 victory in Arizona on Oct. 2 and are 9-3 in regular season dome games under Coughlin and 27-15 overall. They also won Super Bowl XLII indoors. But they are 3-6 in the Superdome, where they have lost their last three games.
*The Giants are 22-31-1 on Monday Night Football, including 15-23-1 on the road. This is their second Monday night game of the season; the Giants defeated St. Louis, 28-16, in MetLife Stadium on Sept. 19.
*The Giants lead the regular season series with the Saints, 14-11.
*New Orleans was off last week. The Giants are 8-3 since 1990 when their opponents are coming off a bye and the Giants are not.
*This season, kickoffs were moved from the 30 to the 35-yard line. Lawrence Tynes has 21 touchbacks – equaling his total from his first four seasons with the Giants.