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    Interesting Takes From Warner & Coughlin

    Wednesday, June 9, 2004

    By Sal Paolantonio
    Special to

    EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- You can see it in his eyes. Kurt Warner's eyes are wide open, revealing the happiness of a man who has emerged from the long slumber of lost opportunity.

    "I feel completely re-energized," said Warner, as he came off the field after his first mini-camp practice with his new team, the New York Giants.

    Warner lacked some zip on his passes during practices.
    Rewind to Giants Stadium, Week 1 last year. Under constant pressure from Michael Strahan and company, Warner was sacked six times and fumbled six times, and started his last game for the St. Louis Rams. Sitting on the trainer's table in the visitors' locker room at Giants Stadium that Sunday afternoon, Warner had just been diagnosed with a mild concussion and his eyes had the vacant look of a man who had just bought a one-way ticket down the rabbit hole.

    The contrast between Warner then and Warner now couldn't be more stark. And the situation couldn't be more ironic -- the team that ended his season has now handed Warner a chance at NFL redemption.

    It's no wonder that Warner has displayed the same wide-eyed eagerness of the former stock boy from Iowa who emerged from NFL Europe and replaced the injured Trent Green to re-write the history of Rams football in St. Louis.

    "Normally, the player will sit down and will have to talk to his agent on the phone," said Giants head coach Tom Coughlin. "He said, 'I don't want any of this. Let's get this done.' He signed right away. He was down the hall, looking for coaches, saying 'Let's go meet.' He wanted to get himself immersed in this offense right away."

    There is good reason for Warner to be anxious. Coming to New York means that Warner, who will be 33 on June 22, will be under-going several mid-life, mid-course adjustments.

    He must adjust to the demands of Coughlin's offense, which shall we say is a bit more conservative than the Greatest Show on Turf choreographed by Mike Martz. And Warner will be learning the new offense with a newly minted franchise quarterback, Eli Manning, looking over his shoulder.

    The Giants invested two first-round draft picks and expended a lot of public relations good will to acquire Manning in a trade with San Diego in this year's NFL draft. Some see Warner as the perfect mentor for Manning, or at least a temporary diversion so that Manning can incubate his talents without being over-exposed by the white, hot lights of the New York media.

    Warner will have none of that. You can tell by the tone and conviction in his voice that, for Warner, this is not about Peyton Manning's little brother.

    "Obviously, I'm coming in to compete to start," said Warner, who has lost his last eight starts. "There is no question about that. I don't see myself holding a clipboard. I know I can still play, and play effectively in this league."

    Warner insists the injuries to his throwing hand, especially his right thumb, have fully healed. "Physically, I feel great, as good as I've felt," said Warner. "All the other stuff I think will come. It's just hard trying to step into a new offense after such a short period of time and really feeling comfortable in what's going on … I plan on being the starter Sept. 12 in Philadelphia."

    That may be the case, but it's been clear in mini-camp that Warner is struggling to catch on. He admitted as much.

    "I had a couple of incomplete passes last week in practice and my wife heard about it all weekend," said Warner, whose passes seem to lack zip. "You build that mentality where you want to be perfect, you want to complete every pass. When it doesn't happen, it is frustrating. I expect myself to make the passes I should make and make the decisions I should make, whether it's my second day or I'm here for four years.

    "I need to get better," Warner added. "Little by little, I'm feeling more comfortable. I'm seeing the field a little bit but it's early on, with things like the cadence, it's hard, it's a transition. I'm thinking about the cadence actually rather than thinking about what's going on downfield."

    Right now, Warner may be less than satisfied with his adjustment to his new surroundings, but the veterans in the Giants locker room couldn't be happier to see him out there.

    Indeed, within the Giants organization, there is a quiet consensus that general manager Ernie Accorsi only took an interest in Warner after several Giants veterans, including Strahan, expressed public displeasure with starting the season with Manning as the starter.

    They also publicly questioned the team's treatment of Kerry Collins, who piloted the Giants to the Super Bowl in 2001 and played through several painful re-configurations of the Giants offensive line without so much as a hint of complaint.

    The Giants first tried to sign Neil O'Donnell. He decided to stay retired. Then Accorsi talked to ex-Jet quarterback Vinny Testaverde. But instead of staying in New York, Testaverde decided to sign his with old coach, Bill Parcells, in Dallas.

    That left Warner as the only viable alternative. But Accorsi had to do something. It was clear from the Giants first post-draft mini-camp last month that Manning's development would take time, and every hiccup would be magnified in the New York press. Accorsi had to take some of the spotlight off Manning. And he had to find a veteran who had the star power that the Big Apple demands.

    Most important, Accorsi had to convince his locker room that the Giants organization wasn't chalking up the 2004 season to the Manning experiment.

    "We needed to know that we have a chance this year," said one veteran player. "A lot of guys around here don't have that much time left in this league. We're not in a position to start over."

    Said Carlos Emmons, a veteran linebacker who missed the playoffs last year with the Eagles because he broke his leg, "We know having a guy like Warner gives us a better chance of winning this year, not wasting a year."

    “ Obviously, I'm coming in to compete to start. There is no question about that. I don't see myself holding a clipboard. I know I can still play, and play effectively in this league. ”
    —QB Kurt Warner

    If Warner can give the Giants just a little taste of the quarterback who once threw 98 touchdown passes in three years, then that will give Coughlin and his coaching staff enough time to get Manning ready by, say, Week 6 or 8. Because, make no mistake about it, the folks high up in the Giants organization believe it is critical that Manning make his debut as a starter in the 2004 season.

    "This is not a Carson Palmer situation," said one official familiar with the thinking of the Giants organization. Palmer, of course, was drafted No. 1 overall by the Bengals, then sat for a year while Jon Kitna put Cincinnati in playoff contention.

    There is too much pedigree in the Manning name, and too much was invested in making the bold, unorthodox move to acquire Manning. And this is not Ohio, and an organization that has fans who have been accustomed to losing.

    That said, two straight 4-12 seasons won't cut it in New York. So, this is Coughlin's dilemma and challenge -- make Warner productive while he gets Manning ready, and make the transition smooth while keeping the team competitive. A tall order.

    "We are going to do everything that we can to have the best possible football team for the New York Giants fans," said Coughlin, who has added 17 veterans through free agency and waiver claims -- one of the biggest roster turnovers in the league this offseason. "I am saying to the players that we are trying to put the best team together that we possibly can."

    First, Coughlin must re-tool an offensive line that was arguably the worst in the NFL last season. The Giants gave up 44 sacks last year, tied with Arizona for worst in the NFC. Then, he's got to find a way to ignite the Giants offense -- without sacrificing his core values. The sluggish New York offense averaged just 10.59 yards per pass completion, second lowest in the NFC (only Detroit was worse). Third downs were converted only 33.5 percent of the time -- worst in the NFC. And the Giants only scored 26 touchdowns -- only the Cardinals scored fewer (25) in the NFC.

    Coughlin's offense is a protection first offense. He wants the quarterback protected at all costs. And part of that is the quarterback's job. He wants the ball released after a specific three- or five-step drop on time to the receiver. Coughlin doesn't like the quarterback holding onto the ball, waiting for the play to develop downfield.

    At this juncture in his career, Warner should welcome this change without equivocation. Trying to regain his confidence and re-tool his once deadly accuracy and zip, Warner should embrace Coughlin's philosophy and approach -- get the ball and get it out in a hurry.

    Coughlin said a big reason Warner was 0h-for his last eight in St. Louis was "he was hit solidly in the mouth when he had the ball." That, Coughlin said, won't happen here.

    "That's what everybody wants, to take care of the quarterback, so in that sense it does suit Kurt -- this is what he needs right now," said Coughlin. "Our offense attempts to combine the controlled game with the deep ball. We will throw it down the field, when the opportunity presents itself."

    Warner said he would "love" to finish his career in New York. But the contract he signed suggests he has been careful to protect his future options. He signed a two-year deal with New York, with the second year voidable -- by Warner.

    That couldn't be a clearer indication that the Giants are giving him an opportunity to kick start his near-dead NFL career, while the organization hopes that Warner bridges the gap until Manning arrives.

    "What the future holds," said Warner, "nobody knows. Nobody knows what the scenario is going to be. But I don't want to keep moving. I don't want to pick up my family and keep moving. I want to continue to have success and I would love it to be here in New York."

    Sal Paolantonio covers the NFL for ESPN.

  2. #2
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    Re: Interesting Takes From Warner & Coughlin

    Coughlin said a big reason Warner was 0h-for his last eight in St. Louis was "he was hit solidly in the mouth when he had the ball." That, Coughlin said, won't happen here.

    Pretty bold, in your face statement by Coughlin. We'll see if he can back it up.

  3. #3
    vicdan's Avatar
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    Re: Interesting Takes From Warner & Coughlin

    I posted this yesterday and I want to share it again cause it appear today agian,
    Here in a newspaper I receive daily writes the FB (Edgar Cervantes) of the Giants that is Mexican (from DF although moved when was child to california) from U. Iowa , today writes about the QB's and all he says is that Warner is better, cause in the huddle he's the leader and his voice makes confident the players and also thinks is more accurate, confident and experience, and he made his final statement by saying that Warner will be the starter because of what he has seen as today.

    Maybe he's wrong but at least is an oppinion from somebody that is in the camp and in the huddles, and he always writes since Warner came to camp that he's a leader in the huddle and Manning is not at least for now and he thinks Warner should play this year completely.

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