ALBANY, N.Y. -- Last year at this time, most of us thought the New York Giants were a major Super Bowl contender. They'd been virtually unstoppable in '08 until Plaxico Burress fired the shot heard 'round the Latin Quarter. But even after the subsequent playoff loss to the Eagles, you figured coach Tom Coughlin would have New York back in contention. Well, the '09 season turned out to be a disaster and now it's hard to know what to make of the 2010 team's chances.
On Monday, quarterback Eli Manning sat down with the NFC East blog and talked about the challenge ahead of this team. For the most part, he's tried to bury the memories of '09.
"I just wanted to get that taste out of my mouth," said Manning. "I still look back at some of the film at times, but for the most part, we need to flush that from our memories and move on down the road."
Ironically, one of the biggest worries heading into '09 turned out to be one of the Giants' few positives. An inexperienced group of receivers blossomed as they were forced to compensate for an anemic running game.
"We made a ton of big plays in the passing game," said Manning. "We were in the top five [in the league] in plays of 30 to 40 yards. Now, if we can get the running game going again, I think we can be even more dangerous in play-action."
Manning has high hopes for second-year receivers Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden. In fact, he took Nicks with him to the 2010 Manning Passing Academy earlier this month, which he conducts with his brothers, Peyton and Cooper. Manning said that throwing to Nicks for those three days has given the pair a head start early in camp. Nicks came on strong last season, but Barden couldn't get on the field because he wasn't consistent on special teams.
"I think Barden's earned the right to get on the field," Manning said Monday. "We need to get him some more game experience and see him make decisions on the run. But I think he's earned the opportunity."
It's something that general manager Jerry Reese echoed during our conversation later in the evening. There's a belief that Barden will be able to take some of his spectacular practice plays to the games in 2010. And then you'd have Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham and Barden all competing for playing time.
I half-jokingly asked Manning on Monday if he sits around daydreaming about playing a Super Bowl in the Cowboys' home stadium.
"That would be fun," Manning shot back. "And I have to admit that I have thought about that a little bit."
That's enough to give Jerry Jones nightmares for a month.