Commentary

Jerry Reese says all jobs are on the line

Coming off a dismal 8-8 season, Giants GM says team has to get back to its roots

Updated: August 5, 2010, 1:27 AM ET
By Ohm Youngmisuk | ESPNNewYork.com

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Jerry Reese was sitting in a booth inside the New York Giants' cafeteria, and he was feeling much better than the day before.

A stomach virus was finally making its way out of his system after sapping him of his energy -- and 5 pounds. And later Wednesday afternoon, Reese felt even better when the team learned wide receiver Hakeem Nicks would be fine after two MRIs revealed no serious damage to his hyperextended right knee.

The Giants' general manager can use good news this season. Last year at this time, Reese thought he had assembled his best roster yet. But his team was decimated by injuries, and a 5-0 start quickly turned into an 8-8 disaster. Reese got his first taste of mediocrity after winning a Super Bowl and making the playoffs in each of his first two seasons as GM.

Now, as Reese enters his fourth season as GM, he sat down with ESPNNewYork.com to discuss everything from Kenny Phillips' knee to Plaxico Burress.

Q: How upsetting was it for you to watch last season unravel?

[+] EnlargeJerry Reese and Tom Coughlin
AP Photo/Bill Kostroun"I feel like my job is on the line all the time," says Jerry Reese, shown here with coach Tom Coughlin.

JR: I thought it was the most talented team we have put together on paper, and we couldn't overcome the injuries. Then our mental state went away.

That is the most disappointing thing for me: We couldn't overcome some of the injuries and right the ship. We started off 5-0 and only win three more games; we should have been able to manufacture at least 10 wins, in my mind, even with the catastrophic injuries that we had. And we let some games get away. There were a couple of games that we had a chance to win and we didn't make the plays at the end to win the game. That was disheartening for me.

People make a big deal about [former defensive coordinator) Bill Sheridan and his play calling. I don't care who is calling the plays; the guys out on the field have to make the plays. It stung, but we have a new season and we have a chance to get it right.

Q: Do you feel snake-bitten with all the injuries the Giants have had since last season?

JR: No. Nope. It is the National Football League. Look all over the league. Everybody has got injuries. I saw the Philadelphia Eagles' [WR Jeremy] Maclin get carted off. I saw the other receiver [DeSean Jackson] in Philly get carted off. That is just what happens in the National Football League. You practice twice a day, and somebody is going to get hurt more than likely. If you get through practice and nobody gets dinged up or pulls a hamstring or strain, you are lucky.

Q: When a seething John Mara said he would not tolerate another season like last year, did that put you on notice?

JR: John is an emotional guy. It is the end of the season, and we end up playing bad down the stretch. Everybody understands why John felt the way he felt. I think we all said it, Tom [Coughlin] said it, nobody is happy with 8-8. John expressed it differently than we did, but we all said the same thing. If you don't win, you suffer the consequences of not winning. If you are 8-8, for the New York Giants, that is not our standard.

I feel like my job is on the line all the time. It's the National Football League. Everybody's job is on the line. You see coaches go 14-2 and get fired. There are really no honeymoons in this business. You don't get any passes in this business. You got to get it done every year, and if you don't, there are consequences.

Q: Why did you focus so much on defense through the draft and free agency this year, specifically at safety, where Kenny Phillips' condition is a concern?

JR: We just try to fortify every position. We definitely thought we needed to go out and do something on the back end of the defense, so we went out and tried to get the best safety available. We think we got that in [Antrel] Rolle. We think he's got the leadership ability and the play-making ability that we are looking for. We brought Deon Grant in, a veteran who has seen it all, and he brings leadership and can play in some different roles for us.

And again, we think Kenny Phillips is going to be the starter when we play the Carolina Panthers [in Week 1]. We expect him to be the starter out there. And Michael Johnson, we expect him to bounce back. He didn't play as well as we think he can play. We know he is a better player than he played last year, so we expect him to bounce back.

The bottom line for us is it starts up front. Both sides of the ball. If our defensive front plays to its ability, the linebackers will be fine -- people seem to be worried about the linebackers -- and the secondary will be fine because you got to have the guys taking care of business up front. If those guys take care of business up front, we will be fine both sides of the ball.

Q: Do you expect Phillips to return healthy again?

JR: If he has no setbacks, we expect him to play at a high, high level, like he was playing before he went out last year. And really, he was playing probably 85 percent in the games that he played last year. It is not getting worse. There's no swelling. He is on a good course. If he doesn't have any setbacks, we expect him to be a dynamic player for us again.

Q: There are a lot of questions surrounding your linebackers, much like there were with your wide receivers last season. Why do you have confidence in your linebackers?

JR: I have been scouting and doing this for a long time. You see guys with ability, and we drafted guys from the second round all the way to the sixth round who can play in this league. You see guys who are free agents who play well in this league. We have some guys with talent. We just got to get those guys ready to play. We got guys that we like, guys who need to step out of the shadows and play.

Just like last year with the receivers, people were like, "Well, you guys lost a great player in Plaxico; what are you going to do?" I said we will probably do it by committee because we have some young receivers with some talent. You just got to let them play. They stepped out there and did a really nice job for us, and we expect them to even grow more this year. We believe in developing players, and it is time for us to develop some linebackers.

Q: Did you always have your sights set on signing linebacker Keith Bulluck, or was it just waiting for his surgically repaired ACL to heal?

JR: Keith was coming off the knee surgery, he said he was ready to work out and he had a really good workout for us, for a guy coming off an ACL in less than eight months. We know he can play; we just got to bring him along slow and don't take him too fast and have a setback with his knee. If he gets his knee healthy, there is no question that he can play. Whether he is a starter or a backup, he brings a tough mentality. He brings a man's man to the middle of our defense and he brings that leadership that you like for a veteran player. He is one of those guys that has seen it all and probably one of the most underrated guys in the last 10 years. People don't really talk about him a lot, but the guy has been a really good football player.

Q: Osi Umenyiora says if he has to come off the bench this season, he will be the best bench player ever. That's a bit of a change from demanding that he start.

JR: Osi is a prideful kid and has been a really good football player for us. I expect him to have an explosive impact on our defense. There are a bunch of motivated people on this defense and a bunch of motivated people on our coaching staff and our front office. We have something to prove, but you can't talk about it, you have to do it, you have to be about it.

Q: What do you need to see from the offensive line and specifically tackle William Beatty?

JR: I just want the best five guys to play. I don't care if it is Beatty, [David] Diehl, Shaun O'Hara, Chris Snee or Kareem McKenzie. I don't care what combination it is. Keep our quarterback upright and get our running game its fill.

When I think about Giants' football, I think about a power running game. We need Brandon Jacobs to put the power back in our power running game. We know what [Ahmad] Bradshaw can do when he is healthy. Danny Ware has had a good three days; Andre Brown has had a good three days. So we have the backs. We just have to get the right combination up front to get our power running game back.

When I think about Giants defense, I think about pass-rushers, tough physical fronts. So when people ask me about what do you think about your team, we got to get back to our identity. If we do that, we will be there at the end./p>

Q: Is there any interest in bringing back Plaxico Burress whenever he is released from prison?

JR: Well, you know my line on that. We investigate everything. I never say never on personnel, and we will see how things unfold. We will investigate everything.

Q: Do you know when he will be released?

JR: I don't know anything about that at all.

Q: After everything that the Giants went through with Burress, can you bring him back into the mix here?

JR: Well, never say never. It is the National Football League. I learned that as a young scout. Funny things happen in personnel. Don't be surprised by anything that happens. You see some strange combinations. You see Donovan McNabb playing for the Washington Redskins; you see Brett Favre playing for the Jets [in 2008]. Anything can happen in personnel.

Ohm Youngmisuk covers the Giants for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.
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