THE ROOKIES (Part II)

On February 2, a day before the Super Bowl, Ultimatenyg quickly ran through the rookies from the Draft Class of 2007, pinpointing them as a big reason the Giants were in the big game. With the Super Bowl in the record books, is there any doubt that the rookies were also a big reason the Giants WON the big game? They made an impact on the biggest stage of all.

Any credit given to the rookies has to start with the front office and Jerry Reese. All of the great successes in professional sports are due in part to the front office finding talent and getting the support players who allow those stars to excel. Men like Carmen Policy (blogger’s note- originally stated Eddie DeBartolo, the owner, my mistake), Bobby Beathard, Ron Wolf, George Young and the Rooneys are the lifelines for how these organizations can make championships possible not only once but again and again.

Ernie Accorsi set the table for Reese and Tom Coughlin by locking up a number of key players for a long time, simultaneously passing down a salary cap that was in very good shape. The Giants’ cap room is the best in the N.F.C. East and is in a very good position to keep Reese competitive with new signings where he deems fit.

Where Accorsi ended, Reese began. Reese was also the director of player personnel, so the result of the 2007 draft was going to fall squarely on his shoulders.

It was historic and seismic. Reese’s draft made him instant royalty. The first-year impact players became known as “Reese’s Pieces.” Super Bowl or not, Reese’s crop of kids made such a big splash that it was almost uncomfortable for him to accept such inordinate praise. He went out of his way to compliment the young group of players. He redirected accolades to the coaching staff for enabling the draft class to assist the team so positively and so quickly.

The new Giants were not all along for the ‘Parcells ride,’ where rookies are seen but not heard. With the exception of Adam Koets, every other rookie drafted (and even a few who were signed as UFAs) made significant contributions. This added up to a record number of rookies getting Super Bowl rings.

How do the Giants win if #1 pick Aaron Ross is not providing tremendous coverage all season? As soon as Ross started playing meaningful minutes, the defense tightened up. Everyone remembers the second half of the first Redskins game, but does everyone remember that that was the first time Ross stepped in to play corner? He was there knocking Marion Barber down with a separated shoulder. He was there to save the Jets game when the rest of the team was flat. He was not immune to getting beat, but he had mostly excellent coverage and could also be physical. Add that he played through multiple injuries, had Madison, Dockery, Webster and McQuarters rotating in and out with their injuries, and you can see how significant his efforts were in getting the team to a championship.

For a second pick, Steve Smith was almost all-world. If not for a midseason injury, he would have been putting up numbers all year. He caught four passes in the Super Bowl, none bigger than the play sandwiched between David Tyree’s helmet grab and Plaxico Burress’s game-winning TD. On 3rd and 11, Smith caught a pass in the right flat, came to a complete stop to avoid going out of bounds, ran another 3-4 yards up field for the first down, then went out of bounds to stop the clock. That kind of play would have been excellent for a seasoned veteran like Amani Toomer, but for a rookie who did not even play half the games this season, it was nothing short of spectacular. It will be overlooked in history, but Giants fans who appreciate the rookies will remember Smith’s grab and key first down as long as they remember the Super Bowl XLII win.

Jay Alford (#3) plays a tough position for any rookie, DL. But he was good enough to provide rotation relief among the veterans. And his entire career may already be remembered for the sack on 2nd down of the final series that buried Tom Brady and the Patriots’ chances.

Zak DeOssie (#4) put the finishing touches on the 1990 championship season’s analog by being the long snapper and impact special teams player for a Giants Super Bowl winner just like his father 17 years before. It was enough to bring Steve DeOssie to tears.

Kevin Boss (#5) filled in for injured TE Jeremy Shockey. His great hands made him an instant threat and kept defenses off balance as soon as he went into a route. The Boss catch-and-run for 45 yards at the beginning of Q4 of the Super Bowl ignited the offense and set up the first go-ahead score. Imagine a rookie doing what Welker, Moss, Burress and Toomer could not do! Boss’s chemistry with Eli Manning was so impressive that it forced others to question whether Shockey was already yesterday’s news. That conclusion is most likely unfounded, and the Giants are poised to reap many rewards from a two TE set with double threats.

Michael Johnson (#7a) filled in and started for the Giants when other safeties were hurt. He never lost his aggressiveness and was instrumental in the team’s drive to 6-2 earlier in the season. At one point he and undrafted rookie Craig Dahl were each patrolling the defense’s deep waters … a large responsibility that proved critical along the team’s path to a Super Bowl. Coughlin went out of his way to point out that it was Johnson who got the McQuarters nightmarish fumble vs. Green Bay knocked away so that Domenik Hixon (another great pickup by Reese) could recover the ball.

Ahmad Bradshaw (#7b), the last Giant pick, was taken only a few spots from the end of the draft. Bradshaw was featured early and often on ultimatenyg because his speed, cutbacks, quickness to the hole, north-south running, pass catching and ability to pound defenses was a total find. It took an injury by Brandon Jacobs (on top of Derrick Ward already being on IR) for Bradshaw to get up on the depth charts high enough to be seen. His impact on the team’s late-season and postseason drive was nothing short of stunning. In the second half of the Bills game W16, when everyone knew the Giants were running the ball, Bradshaw told his teammates during a timeout that if they made their blocks he would take it the distance. One snap and 88 yards later, he helped sew up the team’s playoff berth. The accolades he received from competitors was a reminder that Bradshaw can be special for quite some time if he remains healthy. His only weakness was a lack of experience and knowledge in how to pick up the blitz. This may get squared away in 2008’s training camp, affording him the opportunity to be the starting RB. He is that good.

The Giants made a very special run to collect their third Super Bowl title. It is next to impossible to envision how this could have happened without the major contributions delivered by this fine rookie class. As a group, they exhibited maturity and experience beyond their years. The draft of 2007 can be the backbone for many playoff runs to come.

Quantcast