As soon as left guard Pat Crummey flinched at the line of scrimmage during practice this afternoon, a chorus of players began cursing loudly, badgering the third-team rookie. "Crummey, that's crummy!" one said with a predictable yell.
All of the Giants then lined up at the goal line to run, 100 yards down, 100 yards back — the current punishment for practice penalties like false starts, offside and illegal formations. "And if you can't run, then walk," Giants Coach Jim Fassel said with a bark, and Jeremy Shockey limped down the sideline, other injured players doing the same.
Twice more the Giants were forced to run the dashes, after mistakes by tight ends Darnell Dinkins and Marcellus Rivers, and on a hot afternoon, most gasped for air. Fassel had followed through on his promise that there would be repercussions for the mental mistakes that sabotaged the Giants in Atlanta last weekend.
What Fassel saw on Saturday concerned him immensely. The Giants' opening drive against the Falcons was crisp, 9 plays, 77 yards and a touchdown — before they collapsed, their veterans knocking out the underpinnings with multiple mistakes against a team thought to be one of the league's worst.
And the Giants are probably not good enough and not experienced enough to overcome many unforced errors. "I haven't quit looking for players," said Fassel, hours after the Giants signed another long snapper.
Tiki Barber and Shockey played the first series, and as soon as they left the game, the delicate balance was lost and the offense struggled. The special teams are loaded with young players and may be manned by a new punter and kicker by the time training camp is over, and the Giants are a minimum five-deep in healthy and trusted offensive linemen.
Center Dusty Zeigler acknowledged today that he was given a cortisone shot last week in his right knee to help with the pain that results from tendinitis. The joint will be re-examined sometime in the next two weeks, and if it has not improved, other options will be considered. Zeigler joked that he might be ready for amputation, his humor veiling a serious truth for the Giants: they have no idea when Zeigler will be ready to play.
Beyond the first six offensive linemen — including Zeigler — they "are real green," said Jim McNally, the offensive line coach. "We'll never really know until they play in real live games what they can do — not so much in technique, but in the assignments and picking up the different blitzes and stuff. Experience. But that's what we've got.
"I don't know what else there is. You might pick up somebody here or there, but you never know if they'll be the sure deal."
The Giants are searching for linemen, considering possible waiver claims and trades. They signed center Morris Unutoa today to contend for the job of long snapper, after looking at three in a morning tryout. Unutoa is an eight-year veteran who most recently played for the Buffalo Bills. It had appeared that Jody Littleton was the front-runner, but the blocked punt in Saturday's loss may have convinced the Giants there was a need for change.
Tension filled the day here. Frank Ferrara practiced with the second unit, after playing some of the first half at right defensive end with the first team on Saturday, and Kenny Holmes is being pressed for his job. Holmes played below expectations last season, and he abruptly ended an interview with reporters about his possible demotion today. "That's that," he said, walking away. "You're not going to spoil my day. You're not going to spoil my day."
Owen Pochman missed a 23-yard field goal at the end of the first half Saturday. "I missed the kick — it's pretty cut and dried on that one," he said. "You don't want to let opportunities like that slip by, and where you give you guys something to write about and the coaches something to talk about. That's what I'm trying not to do. Unfortunately, that's what I did, and I've got to live with it."
Fassel repeated his hope that Pochman — a left-footer who seems to have trouble making kicks from the left hash mark — starts hitting field goals, gaining confidence and realizing the talent everyone sees in him. But few chances remain for Pochman, and for punter Rodney Williams, to entrench themselves with the Giants; Saturday's exhibition against the Jets could be important for both.
Fassel wanted to increase the concentration level of his players, so he imported a team of flag-throwing referees to monitor this afternoon's practice. He warned the players that they would run if there were infractions of concentration — to make them directly beholden to each other, to subject them to peer pressure. "Don't move!" cornerback Will Allen shouted to the linemen, after the second 200-yard dash. "Don't move!"
Fassel might make one small change in his system in the coming practices: the player who commits the infraction may be asked to stand with Fassel and blow the whistle and watch the other players run.
Anything to eliminate mistakes, in a year when the Giants are vulnerable enough to be wrecked by them.
Aug 19, 2002