Hope on the horizon

At some point this winter, two young Giants quarterbacks will begin a European adventure designed to clear their heads and broaden their horizons.

Imagine Jesse Palmer and Eli Manning strolling through the streets, talking as much about the great architects as they do about the great signal-callers.

"Waldo [Manning] said, ‘Just pick a city and we'll go,' " Palmer said. "Originally it was in Spain, but now it looks like Prague."

It is all a part of the process of insuring what the Giants expect will be a bright future. Sometimes you have to travel a long way to get where you ultimately want to be.

Manning is unquestionably the future of the Giants. And the time off may suit Manning after such a long and stressful season, dealing with the demands of his coach, his fan base, his teammates and the media.

"I don't know if it was anything that Eli did or said in particular, but you could tell as time went on that he was gaining confidence and a belief in himself," Tiki Barber said. "He was not afraid to make throws and not afraid to take risks. He was very calculated in his actions. He always seemed to be making the right decisions."

With just one play, ironically the 693rd and final of their 6-10 season, Manning proved there should be a lot to look forward to. The audible he called at the line, switching from pass to a run to spring Barber's game-winning touchdown against the Cowboys, proved all the study and observation was worth it.

"I think it [ending the season with a win] can provide a lot of positive vibes," Tom Coughlin said. "It can say a lot of stuff. It can really excite you."

With Manning in control, for what the Giants hope is the next decade, there is obviously much that's potentially positive about the Giants. But Manning is just a piece of the puzzle, albeit the largest and most expensive.

"It's just a matter of taking what we've done and running with it," Manning said. "We need to have the confidence we can improve, move the ball and score points. The way we finished was encouraging. We improved. I thought I learned a lot from the season and I'm glad I got the chance to play. There were some tough times and I struggled a lot. But that's what you need to go through. You need to fight and stay strong. Everyone stuck with me and we finally started to play better. I have no regrets for the season. I think I gave it my best shot."

The losing season, sent into a downward spiral by 17 players on injured reserve and others who very easily could have joined them, spawned a number of young players the organization is excited about.

Primarily, the four other remaining members of Manning's draft class – guard Chris Snee, linebacker Reggie Torbor, safety Gibril Wilson and receiver Jamaar Taylor – will likely form the nucleus of the team for many years.

All made strong contributions until injuries and illness kept Snee, Wilson and Taylor from contributing much to the second half.

Snee started at guard and capably handled the physical defensive linemen assigned to him until a glandular infection sidelined him the last five games. Wilson made three interceptions and some of the hardest hits of the year until he suffered a burner to his shoulder/neck in Arizona Nov. 14. He did not play again. Taylor caught six passes for 155 yards, including hookups of 52 and 50 with Manning against the Eagles Nov. 28, until a quad injury put him out of commission. Torbor, a defensive end at Auburn, may have been the most athletic player on the defense, darting from sideline to sideline to make plays and putting pressure on the quarterback.

"A year ago, I didn't think we were close to anything here," Giants GM Ernie Accorsi said. "That was an entirely different team. There were no indications down the stretch [the Giants lost their last eight] that were similar in any way to the way this team played the last three weeks. Our players played their hearts out and our young players did so well.

"You can start with Reggie Torbor and Osi Umenyiora [the second-year defensive end]. There was Curry Burns [a safety, who made his first career interception and sack against the Cowboys]. The pro personnel department never gets accolades for picking up the players they did because they really are not names. But the guys they brought here were remarkable against the Cowboys. Because we had so many guys out, and so many young players had a chance to play, it will give us a tremendous lift next year whether they start or are backups. We have a lot of good, young players to build around and most of us felt, even before the Cowboys game, pretty optimistic."

The Giants are also excited about defensive linemen Davern Williams and Damane Duckett, who played so well and so tirelessly in their first pro starts against the Cowboys, when coming out of the game simply was not an option.

Receivers David Tyree and Willie Ponder were among the best special teams players in the NFL. Tyree made the Pro Bowl as an alternate and caught seven passes and a touchdown against the Cowboys. Ponder led the league in kickoff returns, the first Giant to do so since Clarence Childs in 1964.

Rookie Derrick Ward, signed off the Jets practice squad Oct. 13, returned a kickoff for a touchdown against the Redskins. Second-year lineman Wayne Lucier played well at center and guard and his partner, right tackle David Diehl, became the first Giant in the era of the 16-game schedule to play all 32 games in his first two seasons.

For all those reasons, Coughlin seemed thrilled in his exit address to the media.

"I think the young people made a strong presentation and I'm excited about that," Coughlin said.

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