I started off this week with a visit to New York Giants training camp. Here are some observations from my evening in East Rutherford, N.J.:
The Giants made some adjustments to their training camp this year as a result of the lockout. The primary change is the actual location of the camp; this year it's being held locally at their training complex, the Timex Performance Center in East Rutherford, instead of Albany, New York. Having never been to this facility before, I was in for a treat when the weather and the time of day cooperated to create a picture-perfect backdrop. From the sideline of the practice field, I enjoyed the comfortable early-evening temperatures -- certainly the players had to be thankful practice was not at high noon when it was approaching 90 degrees -- while taking in the sight of the grand new stadium just off to the left. To the right, off in the distance, the postcard-like view of the Manhattan skyline shone brightly as the glass from the skyscrapers reflected the sharp glare of the setting sun. In fact, I wondered if the Giants players ever paused to admire the glorious outdoor "office" where they go to work each day.
My quiet admiration of the view was interrupted, however, by a workout that was up-tempo and intense. There was alternate yelling and cheering, by both coaches and players, as plays were either missed or made, and no one was taking it easy. With the new collective bargaining agreement, teams are now relegated to one full-contact practice a day. Combine that with the fact that there is an unspoken sense of urgency to get familiar with the playbook, the rulebook and, to some degree, each other (new free-agent acquisitions and rookies have been with their teams for days, not weeks), and it's easy to see why every minute of practice is valuable.
And to be honest, the main reason the Giants were on my list of camps to attend was because they had quite a few injuries to check on. The Giants have a number of key players returning from injury, and just in the few days since camp has opened, the injury list has expanded. Rookie Prince Amukamara fractured the fifth metatarsal in his left foot Saturday, requiring surgery and an expected absence of at least six weeks. Defensive end Osi Umenyiora, already at odds with the team over his contract, is having issues with his knee again. He spent the early portion of practice gently pedaling a stationary bike, then stood with teammates and watched drills after that. Just how extensive his injury is and how much, or how long, it will limit him are unclear, but he will reportedly consult with a specialist Thursday.
Meanwhile, wide receiver and popular Eli Manning target Steve Smith, coming off microfracture surgery, was already targeted for the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list and a delayed start, but now he's permanently unavailable to the Giants after signing a one-year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles. The same can be said for tight end Kevin Boss, who just signed with the Oakland Raiders. His expected replacement at tight end, Travis Beckum, has been nursing a hamstring injury. The Giants could use Beckum, who played in every game last season, in a multitasking role on offense (tight end, receiver) ... if he's healthy.
But fantasy football enthusiasts are perhaps most interested in the players below, the guys who will be running and catching the ball on Sundays. Here's who I was tracking and what I saw, from an injury perspective:
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB: Bradshaw underwent surgery on his left ankle in the offseason (February, to be precise), a procedure that was reportedly similar to what he underwent last year on his right ankle. Of course, Bradshaw also had procedures on both feet in 2010, so this must have seemed relatively minor.
Bradshaw looked nimble and quick in practice. He was very involved in the offense, including on numerous short-yardage passing plays, hinting that he will touch the ball frequently in 2011. He seemed intent on ball-control, often tucking the ball in protective fashion as he moved through a crowd of defenders. Most notably to me, he made sharp cuts and showed agility while eluding would-be tacklers on several occasions. It was good to see Bradshaw's speed and ease of directional change on display early in camp.
Hakeem Nicks, WR: Nicks missed a few weeks last season after undergoing a fasciotomy to relieve pressure in his lower leg. Nicks made an excellent recovery and returned to play well. He wasn't done with the injuries, however. He ended up breaking the big toe on his left foot and did not play the final week of the season. Nicks had reportedly looked strong at some of the player-organized workouts, but it was worth seeing for myself. Nicks ran well and looked capable, making a couple of spectacular catches.
Mario Manningham, WR: Despite a few nicks and bruises last season, Manningham played in all 16 games. With Smith now departed, he's expected to step up, and he played the part in the practice I saw, getting plenty of action with the first team, lining up opposite Nicks.
Domenik Hixon, WR: Hixon is on the mend from ACL reconstructive surgery and is rotating days of practice with days of rest. He was watching practice when I attended, reviewing plays with fellow receivers during drills, seemingly engaged despite not being able to participate. It was just one year ago, less than a full day into practice at the New Meadowlands Stadium, when Hixon's ACL gave out on him, ending his season prematurely. He has been working out his knee ever since and hopes to showcase his talents this year. It is not immediately clear where Hixon sits on the WR depth chart, but he has value as a kick returner. Sometimes the long return from an injury such as this inspires a player to a new level of achievement, and that could be the case here. Hixon told me he's eager to return, saying, "I can't wait to put my uniform back on."