Becoming Super: Defensive End Dave Tollefson and Receiver Devin Thomas

In today’s doubleheader, we hear from a pair of unsung heroes, defensive end Dave Tollefson and receiver Devin Thomas.  First up is Tollefson, the man whose “roadhouse” sack dance has endeared him to Giants fans everywhere.

I used to watch it on TV and I wanted to play, but my mom made me wait until I was in sixth or seventh grade until I could start playing tackle football. I started out as a guard and a kicker, but played linebacker most of my life prior to attending Northwest Missouri State, which was the first time I ever played defensive line. It was one of those deals where I was a thinner linebacker, but as I grew and gained weight, they put me at defensive end.

And here is the story of Thomas,  of one of the heroes from the NFC Championship game.

Early off, I started watching football, and I started liking certain guys. I was a Barry Sanders fan, having grown up in Michigan, and then I heard about Deion Sanders and I was like, ‘Hey, they have the same last name and they’re both good!’ So those were my two favorite guys growing up. Then I finally got a chance to sign up for a team – I used to run around all the time in the backyard with a football, but my step-dad signed me up for organized football when I was in sixth grade.

In my first year, I was actually an offensive lineman and a defensive lineman because I didn’t know about the positions. I also got out there a little late, so they kind of just threw me out there where there was an opening. I had an alright time, but by seventh grade, I figured it all out and they put me at running back, receiver, and defensive end, and we went undefeated and won the Super Bowl in our league. I scored the touchdown to win that game!

It was a hard choice to eventually pick one position to play, which of course is wide receiver. I feel like I’m a very versatile player and I had a couple of different options, either running back or defensive back, but I just had an itch to make the big play and I liked the idea of making that big catch for the touchdown and more of the heroics, so I picked receiver.

I think now, with me being on special teams, all of those positions I played has prepared me to where I can play on any special teams unit. That’s what gave me my versatility. When I was with the Redskins, I had a guy like James Thrash who started at receiver, but later started doing special teams and was humbled by it. I took the same approach and I knew that my abilities would enable me to do special teams and be fine.

Becoming Super: Offensive Linemen Jim Cordle and Kareem McKenzie

Offensive linemen Jim Cordle and Kareem McKenzie couldn’t be more different. Cordle enjoys a good conversation while McKenzie tends to be a man of few words, measuring what he says carefully.  Both players are featured in today’s installment, starting with Cordle.

I remember it as though it was yesterday – well maybe a little further than that, like last week. I went to school at St. Mary Elementary in Lancaster (Ohio) and a couple of guys came in for a school assembly and they said they were going to start a football tackle team that next year. I was in third grade at the time, and the league was going to be for third through eighth graders.

So my friends and I were all excited about it and wanted to get involved. I started the next fall, when I was in fourth grade, and was one of the biggest kids on the team. I was also the only kid that could snap, so I played center.  I did play some defensive line, but I was too big to run to the ball but it was fun. S

In fact, when I went to the Catholic high school, which was part of the smallest division in Ohio, I played defensive line there as well. I transferred after my sophomore year to the biggest division and just played offense because there were enough guys to go both ways.

Here is McKenzie’s story.

I didn’t play football until my junior year of high school. Because I was a big kid, I played offensive line. Back then you played both ways – I played offensive and defensive line –but when I went to college, I played offensive line because that’s where the coach put me. The thing I really like about playing offensive line is just the ability to understand the Xs and Os as well as any position on the offense.

Giants Defense Pitches Shutout Against Falcons in Wild Card Win

East Rutherford, NJ – Perhaps it was something that the coaches slipped into the Gatorade, or maybe it was a matter of the players finally realizing exactly what they’re capable of doing if they put their minds to it.

Whatever it was, the Giants defense has come to play ball, and they’ve delivered their best knockout punch to date in their 24-2 win over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Wild Card round. Continue reading Giants Defense Pitches Shutout Against Falcons in Wild Card Win

Eagles 23 – Giants 11: Hits, Misses & Musings

HITS
Terrell Thomas. Another awesome game by the rookie, who not only saved a Jeff Feagles punt from going into the end zone, but also applied pressure on McNabb. This kid is a player folks.

Kevin Dockery. Our special guest in “Ask a Player” this past week came up with a huge interception which the Giants ultimately converted into another field goal. A lot of people probably don’t know this, but Dockery had a pretty impressive year, allowing less than ten yards per catch against him and giving up ZERO touchdowns.

Justin Tuck. He played on one leg folks, and fought for everything. In fact, he was the only defensive lineman to get any pressure on McNabb. And of course forced the intentional grounding from the end zone for the safety. 

Fred Robbins. He had no tackles on the stat sheet, but he did come up with the big interception which unfortunately the offense couldn’t convert. He also had a quarterback hit and a pass defensed

Brandon Jacobs. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry and came up just eight yards short of 100 on only 19 carries. Imagine what he might have done if his offensive coordinator called his number more often and didn’t keep sending him wide  against the smallish but quick Eagles defensive front. 

MISSES
Kevin Gilbride. Where do I begin? Why oh why did he try having Brandon Jacobs run wide against the Eagles smallish but quick defensive front? Why did he not allow Jacobs to get into a flow by pounding the ball down consistently to soften up the defense?

And then there was that sequence inside of the two minute mark where with fourth at less than a yard to go and 1:35 left on the clock, Gilbride, who must have forgotten he has the NFL’s top ranked rushing offense and Coughlin (who’s jut as much to blame on this one) go for the field goal instead of trying to pick up the first down by running the 6-4, 266 lb. Jacobs up the gut?

I have no problems with getting the points, but I have a big problem with the amount of time they left on the clock as the Eagles proceeded to march right down the field to take the lead n a go-ahead field goal.

It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that Gilbride finally went back to what got them there in the first place; but by then it was too late as the Giants had no rhythm, no rhyme and seemingly no reason to challenge the Eagles, who were clicking on all cylinders in this one. 

Eli Manning. Surprised to see him here again? You shouldn’t be. He missed open receivers like the first quarter interception by Asante Samuel when Manning didn’t adjust to throwing into the wind. Or how about the very first pass of the game in which a pass to Steve Smith also fell victim to the wind. All together Manning completed 15 of 29 passes for 169 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions for a whopping 40.7 passer rating.

The Wide Receivers. With Plaxico Burress not in there, this group just hasn’t been able to get it done. And I am expecting a major shake up of this unit next year as New York must make getting a deep threat a top priority one way or another.

John Carney. He’s been a class act and a true gentleman, but he’s not going to be back with this team as toward the end, he started to show his age. He admitted that the two kicks he missed were on him for not adjusting to the winds, which to me is inexcusable considering that in Jeff Feagles, he has a major advantage on days like today.

Giants Offensive Line. They had no answers for the Eagles defense, especially on the short yardage situations., though they did manage to keep their quarterback protected. Suffice to say I would  not be shocked if that unit gets a renovation next season as down the stretch, some leaks have sprung in that dam.

MUSINGS
I don’t have one set thought on this rather abrupt ending to the 2008 season, so I’ll share a few instead.

Overall I thought the game was well called by the officials, but the one play which drove me nuts cane at the two-minute warning in the first half when the Giant snapped the all with 2:01  left on the clock, but someone was asleep at the switch and decided that the five yards the Giants picked up on the play should not count because they failed to stop the clock. But I guess everyone makes mistakes, and in thus case it’s not like the mistake mattered much in the outcome. But still, you like to think that those fundamental mistakes are few and far in between. 

I have been in my share of losing post game locker rooms and I have to say that the one tonight was very unusual. For instance, I saw a couple of players joking with each other, with one defensive starter saying they should have put him in on the fourth down. And when I went around getting quotes with some of the guys, the feeling was one of disbelief rather than anger. Maybe it doesn’t pay to get angry considering there’s nothing more to play for this year, but certainly, this post game locker room’s mood reminded me too much of the ones after the last Philly game (when they didn’t seem as bothered by that loss either ).

To no one’s surprise, several players did express to me off the record that they were perplexed by the offensive game plan and by the coaches’ refusal to adjust when things weren’t working. While one guy in particular stopped short of pointing the finger at the coaches, he did agree with me when I expressed bewilderment that Brandon Jacobs didn’t get the ball more often.

With the Giants’ done for the year, now the waiting begins. Will defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo be back?  Remember the Broncos were supposed to make an offer to their top candidate this weekend, but to my knowledge that hasn’t happened. Will it be Spags, and if so, will the Giants promote linebackers coach Bill Sheridan to replace him in order to maintain defensive continuity? Stay tuned as I’ll be following that story in the coming days.

And finally, there’s going to be a major roster overhaul this off-season. I’ll break it all down in the issue but suffice to say this Giants team is probably going to have a much different complexion next season.

THE TURNING POINT
Second  Quarter, (1:38 left): With fourth and inches, the Giants, who have the ball on the Eagles’ 17, decide to try a field goal instead of sending the big guy up the middle to pick up the first down.

Why is this the turning point? Because although the decision game the Gins a temporary 8-7 lead, it left the Eagles with plenty of time to come back to take the lead, which they did on a 25-yard David Akers field goal. Had the Giants had been allowed to keep going in the red zone, they might have scored a touchdown, which might have been the shot in the arm they desperately needed.

You can certainly look at the red zone failures, but that one was all on the coaches, whose subliminal message to the offense that they lacked confidence in tem to get it done probably set the tone going forward.
 
INJURIES
None were reported, not that it matters wit the Giants’ season over. I’m sure a lot of injury news will emerge during tomorrow’s “baggy day.”

INACTIVES
GIANTS: RB Danny Ware; CB Rasheed Barksdale; LB Gerris Wilkinson; OL Adam Koets; DE Dave Tollefson; DT Jeremy Clark; DT Leger Douzable; WR Mario Manningham

PHILADELPHIA: A.J. Feely (3rd QB); CB Dimitri Patterson; RB Lorenzo Booker; LB Joe Mays; DE Bryan Smith; OL Shawn Andrews; WR Greg Lewis; and TE Matt Schobel

READING THE KEYS
Let’s see how the Giants did with our keys to the game…

1. Get off the Field on Third Down.   Fail
The Eagles converted 50% of their third down attempts. Let’s take a look at a couple of the ones that really hurt. In the third quarter with third and 20, McNabb avoided the pass rush to find Jason Avant for a 21-yard reception. Then later on that same drive with third and ten, this time Correll Buckhalter hauled in a 19 yard pass. The result of the conversions/ a 35-yard field goal to give the Eagles the lead for good at 13-11.

2. Win the Field Position Battle.  Pass
The Giants average starting field position was their own 33 compared to the Eagles starting at their own 32. Sadly though New York was unable to do anything with it.

3. Stop Brian Westbrook.  Pass
The defense held Westbrook to only 2.0 yards per carry with a long of eight. Further he only caught two passes for ten yards.  But it wasn’t enough, sadly.

4. Run the Ball.  Fail
I know what the stat sheet says, but the Giants rushing game seemed to have no rhyme nor reason as instead of letting Brandon Jacobs get 25 carries at a minimum to wear down the Eagles’ defense, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride opted to split the workload between Jacobs and Derrick Ward. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the types of runs Jacobs was asked to execute left many people scratching their heads.

5. Harass Donovan McNabb.  Fail
Once again the Giants defense was unable to sack McNabb, tough they came close a couple of times and how about that third and 20 play when McNabb avoided the pass rush and found a receiver for a 21-yard pick up? This is one reason why the Eagles worried me going in. Anyway, the Giants ended up hitting McNabb only twice this game and knocked down four of his passes as he pretty much had his way with New York.

DID YOU NOTICE?
The Giants finally broke out their version of the Wildcat  in the fourth quarter when on third and two, Derrick Ward took the direct snap from center only to be stopped for no gain.

THE FINAL WORD
As readers know, the Giants spend the bye week working on numerous things that hampered their production down the stretch, such as scoring in the red zone, getting off the field on third downs, etc.

At the end of the two days the Giants spent on this self-improvement process, I asked head coach Tom Coughlin about whether he was satisfied with how his team went about this process.

His response didn’t exactly leave me feeling warm and fuzzy, and after seeing the same problems pop up again in this playoff loss, namely the offense’s inability to score in the red zoned, I’d like to rewind what he said. “We will have to wait and see.  We have worked on the areas that we really wanted to work on.  We were very thorough, very fundamental with a lot of things.  And hopefully, just by virtue of the emphasis, we will get that. Just by virtue of the circumstance, what is at stake and the emphasis, we get better.”

Well, they didn’t get better, not according to the numbers they posted today. And I don’t know, maybe I’m being unfair here, but I can’t say I ever got the feeling that the sense of urgency was really 100 percent there.  I mean usually after a loss, I’ve seen these guys hang their heads or get angry with how things turned out. Not so this week as a few guys were actually joking around and smiling after the loss.

I don’t know. As much as I’m kind of glad the season is over, that bothered me a bit because I got the impression that some of this group rested on its laurels from last year and were satisfied with what they accomplished this year. That’s why I would not be surprised to see a massive overhaul of the roster this off-season and why next year I hope this team finds its back against the wall more often as that’s when they really seem to pull out all the stops and do what it takes to come out on top.