The Sports Xchange

By Patti Traina, The Sports Xchange

NFL Camp Preview: Giants' Manning has much to prove

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Following the worst season of his career, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning may be the man with the most to prove when the team begins training camp practices July 26 at the Timex Performance Center.

It will be the job of new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, armed with his version of the West Coast offense, to help Manning turn things around.

Although Manning has two Super Bowl MVP awards, his performance has been quietly slipping ever since the second half of the 2012 season. In the last eight games of 2012, Manning threw seven of his 15 interceptions versus throwing 14 (out of 26) touchdown passes. He finished 2012 by posting a 59.9 completion percentage, the first time he has completed fewer than 60 percent of his pass attempts since the 2007 Super Bowl season.

That downward spiral carried over into 2013 when Manning threw a career-high 27 picks to 18 touchdowns, the touchdowns being his lowest total in a 16-game season (excluding 2004, his rookie season when he played in nine games and threw six touchdown passes).

He'll try to do so in McAdoo's faster-paced offense that is supposed to be more quarterback friendly. But Manning must learn how to get the ball out quicker rather than wait for those deep passes.

The key position battle in camp will be on the offensive line. The Giants finished 28th in the league with their average of 307.5 yards per game, and they must get better up front in the trenches and do a better job of not only run blocking but keeping Manning upright.

Key starting positions to be determined are center and right guard. Figuring into the mix at both spots is second-round pick Weston Richburg, a natural center who is also going to work at guard this summer. Veteran J.D. Walton must be healthy after missing last year recovering from an ankle issue that lingered from 2012. Richburg, regarded as the team's future at center, may also compete against veteran Chris Snee at right guard. Snee is recovering from hip and elbow surgeries.

The weakest position on the team is probably tight end, where the team made a curious decision not to address the position in the draft. Instead, they apparently have hung their hats on the continued development of Adrien Robinson and Larry Donnell, both third-year players.

Both Robinson and Donnell say McAdoo's new offense requires a lot more thinking and movement from the tight-end position. So far, neither has committed any blatant errors that might cause concern. Robinson, who appears to be the front-runner, has yet to record his first NFL reception. The good news is that he looked good this spring catching the ball in the seam, using his 6-foot-4, 264-pound frame to pluck high passes out of the air.

On defense, the Giants will give rookie, fifth-round pick Devon Kennard a good look. With starting middle linebacker Jon Beason expected to miss at least three months with a broken foot, Kennard, from USC, has an excellent opportunity to shoot up the depth chart.

"He's picked things up very well," said Giants coach Tom Coughlin. "He's very smart, very good on the board ... We're excited about him."

Overall, the Giants' linebacker unit, at one point widely regarded as a weakness, has quietly transformed into a strength on the team.

This change began last year, when the Giants acquired Beason in a trade with the Carolina Panthers. This offseason, they added Jameel McClain during free agency, re-signed Spencer Paysinger, and drafted Kennard in the fifth round.

It's not necessarily a Hall of Fame group akin to Lawrence Taylor, Harry Carson, etc., but defensive coordinator Perry Fewell likes how the unit has come together.

"Obviously Jon was a big part of our being able to turn around last year because of his play, his communication and his leadership," Fewell said of the 29-year-old Beason, whose injury is a broken sesamoid bone and torn ligament in his right foot.

"We found the same thing in Jameel McClain, in that he has very good communication skills, very good leadership. (Linebackers coach) Jim Herrmann will tell you in the meeting room, those two guys are constantly talking.