Fassel is stressing special teams

Giants coach Jim Fassel played long-snapper to a new holder Wednesday, and it was the last person anyone might predict.

But there was quarterback Kerry Collins, tucked away in a corner of the Giants' practice field, learning how to hold the football for a placekicker. He wasn't alone, either, joined by fellow veterans Jason Sehorn and Ike Hilliard. The scenario is part of Fassel's new plan to improve special teams, where the Giants ranked among the league's worst in nearly every statistical category last season.

"Every player on this team will have a special teams assignment," Fassel said following the afternoon practice during the team's first day of a full-squad minicamp. "They'll all be in meetings, watch film, and do walk-throughs. I'm hell-bent that we're going to play good special teams and win some games with special teams. This is not lip service."

Front-line starters likely won't start on specials, but they will be on the depth chart, with Fassel mentioning all-pro defensive end Michael Strahan on the field goal unit and Collins learning to hold.

However, players such as second-year cornerbacks Will Peterson and Will Allen will almost certainly see action, while backup quarterback Jesse Palmer will likely become the holder. Palmer is atop the depth chart since the release of veteran backup Jason Garrett during the off-season.

"I don't want special teams to lose us a game," said Fassel, who replaced former special teams coach Fred von Appen with Bruce Read and used five of seven draft picks on players with extensive special teams experience.

BULKED UP: Hilliard, who had surgery on his chronic toe Feb.1, is attending camp but not participating in drills. He did turn heads, however, for the 11 pounds of muscle added to his 5-11 frame.

"I'm not Tony Atlas, I'm just stronger," said Hilliard, up to 206 pounds.

Hilliard, perpetually unhappy with the organization's unwillingness to extend his contract, skipped this camp last season and ended up in an war of words with Fassel over his decision to delay toe surgery. Now, he hopes to be ready for the start of training camp.

"I've been given the opportunity to rest this off-season and hopefully it will help," he said. "I feel fine now, but we'll see when I get back out there. I don't know if I ever will be [pain-free]. I don't know if I can play without pain."

CATCH OF THE DAY: Top draft pick Jeremy Shockey impressed the crowd with a leaping catch over safety Shaun Williams. He fell to the ground without getting touched by Williams, prompting Fassel to yell at him to "Get up and score." Shockey popped up, cut right, and sprinted to the end zone, running right into a linebackers drill.

"Damn rookie -he ran straight into the defense," Fassel deadpanned. "That was a great catch. I know we're out here in our pajamas [without pads], but I love the athleticism and speed."

CONTRACT TALKS: Collins said negotiations between his agent and the Giants regarding a possible extension are ongoing, but will end July 1.

"That would give me three weeks, regardless of what happens, to focus and regroup [for training camp]," he said. "I know they're talking, and if it makes sense for both sides, it will get done."