Friday, August 15, 2008

Notes From Giants Camp

We will be starting the high school season beginning on Monday, but before we get to that, I thought I'd share a few notes from Giants camp this week.

Plaxico Burress, wearing orthotics in his cleats, practices with the wide receivers Thursday at Giants Camp at the University at Albany. (J.S. Carras - The Record)

Plaxico Burress returned to the practice field on Tuesday night, wearing full pads. It was the first time he had practiced this training camp and he has been limited since the 2007 training camp when he fell and hurt his right ankle. Burress spoke to the media on Thursday about returning to practice and he seemed excited to be out there practicing again.

Wide receiver Brandon London (19) scopes out the defense before a play at Giants camp on Thursday. (J.S. Carras - The Record)

In Burress' absence during camp - wideouts Mario Manningham, David Tyree, Steve Smith and Amani Toomer have also missed time - a crop of young receivers have a great opportunity to showcase their talents for Giants brass. Domenik Hixon joined the team last year as a free agent pickup midway through the season and impressed on kick returns and it looks like he'll make the team this time around. Michael Jennings, Craphonso Thorpe, Sinorice Moss and D.J. Hall are among the 11 receivers fighting for five or six spots on the final 53-man roster.

Brandon London (19) takes a break to discuss practice with Plaxico Burress (left) on Thursday. (J.S. Carras - The Record)

London has perhaps been the most impressive of the group of longshots trying to claw their way to a roster spot. He's from a football family - his father, Mike, is the head coach at the University of Richmond. Mike London also assisted as the defensive line coach with the Houston Texans in 2005 and after playing at Richmond in the 1980s, signed as a free agent with the Dallas Cowboys.

Brandon, like his father, came from a defensive background. He played safety and corner in his younger days but a growth spurt in high school led coaches to move him to the other side of the ball and he never looked back.

London graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 2006 and was a member of the Giants practice squad during the 2007 season.

One little conflict: his alma mater, UMass, plays Richmond this season.
"I’m excited to see what they do," London said about his father's Spiders. "Of course they’re going to lose to UMass, but…I don’t know who I’ll be cheering for in that game."

London caught three passes for 46 yards in the Giants preseason opener at Detroit and looked impressive in scrimmages this week at camp. With some of the starting wideouts on the sidelines, London worked in during three-wide sets and seemed to have a good rapport with quarterback Eli Manning , who pulled London aside after plays a few times.

"Opportunity is knocking right know," said London. "I have a good chance to make this team. And with the exposure I’m getting from these reps and these games, I’m going to take it and compete and compete and compete with myself and live up to my own expectations I have for myself."

Since London knows both sides of the ball better than most players in the NFL, he has fun ribbing the d-backs in camp.

"We mess around with the defense all the time," he said. "But we’re all a team and it’s a healthy competition out there. Nobody wants to be beat for six and nobody wants an interception to be made on them, so we’re out there continually getting ourselves better for the opener. We have some good defensive backs on this team, some real athletic defensive backs. You really have to be on top of your game when you’re going against some of them."

But the glue that ties together any NFL team isn't the camaraderie in the lockerroom or perfect execution on a two-minute drive that saves a team's season. No, it's plastic and you plug it in the wall. It has controllers.

That's right, video games. London got to know the No. 1 draft pick in the 2002 draft, David Carr, when they played Halo together at Texans camp in 2005. London, then a UMass student, was tagging along with his father, serving as a ballboy during Texans practices. The bond the pair created blasting away imaginary space aliens survived the years and when Carr walked into the Giants locker room in the spring after signing as a free agent, London couldn't wait to say hello.
"It’s funny to see (Carr) in the locker room when he came in during the spring," London recalled. "And I was like, 'hey man, remember me from Halo'?"

It also keeps the wide receivers and defensive backs loose after hours of heated competition on the fields at UAlbany.

"We jaw ‘em, we do all that," he said, "but when we get back to the dorms, we’re playing Madden, we’re playing college football. We’re just hanging out. It’s a good competition right there."

Giants fullback Madison Hedgecock chats with coaches during Tuesday's evening practice (Tom Killips - The Record)

Madison Hedgecock is another interesting cog in the Giants offense. He won't get many touches - he caught seven passes and did not get one carry in all of 2007 - but his run blocking skills pave the way for runners like Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward.

With NFL teams always looking for an edge, the true fullback is a dying breed on many pro clubs. They would rather go with super-versatile players who can block, carry and catch. But Hedgecock knows his value to the team.

"They might use a tight end instead of a fullback now," he said about pro coaching staffs. "They just want to merge positions. They'll still have a tight end that can hit like a fullback, or supposedly can, that's how the game has changed."

Jacobs and Ward combined for over 1,600 yards last year and time will tell how effective the G-Men will be on the ground in 2008.

Hedgecock heads towards the flat during a passing play at Giants practice on Tuesday. (Tom Killips - The Record)

Some folks you might recognize from watching the NFL on TV on Sundays were roaming the sidelines. I saw Curt Menefee and Jay Glazer on Tuesday and Peter King showed up on Thursday afternoon.
He was overheard favoring the Cowboys and the Redskins in the NFC East this season and also mentioned that the Carolina Panthers should be much improved.
It also sounded like he got a speeding ticket on his way to Albany.
Too much coffee, Pete. Slow down.

--Will Montgomery


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