ALBANY, N.Y. -- It's hard to imagine, but Giants quarterback Eli Manning is heading into his seventh NFL season. He is 29 years old. He is coming off his finest statistical season, throwing for 4,021 yards, 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He is entering what should be the prime of his career.
And the Giants hope his numbers go down.
Last season, Manning threw because the Giants struggled to run. He threw because he had to -- after winning their first five games, the Giants lost eight of their last 11, often playing from behind. Now, even though he is poised to play better than he ever has, Manning's numbers might not reflect it for a simple reason.
"Coaches said we're going to get back to running the ball this year, and the backs are really excited about it," Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw said. "The running game will be good."
Bradshaw underwent offseason surgery on both feet and one ankle. Running back Brandon Jacobs underwent offseason knee surgery as well. Both are practicing, both are looking spry and both are eyeing the running back version of the type of statistics Manning had last season.
In the prime of his career, Manning is face of the franchise, but the Giants need the legs of Bradshaw and Jacobs to run back to the top of the NFC East.
Other observations from Giants training camp:
" Shortly before our bus rolled into Albany, Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas fired off a tweet to one of the people aboard it.
"You coming to tomorrow's practice or Monday?" @TerrellThomas24 tweeted. "I make sure I got DB's ready to put on a show on how we gone be #1 this yr!"
After watching the Giants practice Saturday, it's easy to see why. Thomas is one of three superb Giants cornerbacks, along with Corey Webster and Aaron Ross. Throw in Bruce Johnson and the Giants can play the four-corner defense as well as anyone.
But where this Giants team figures to be significantly improved is at safety. Former first-round pick Kenny Phillips, who spent the majority of last season on injured reserve with what could have been a career-threatening knee injury, is scheduled to return to practice Monday. New York spent big money on former Cardinals standout Antrel Rolle. And just to make sure they had enough help at the position, the Giants signed former Seahawks safety Deon Grant.
Thomas might be on to something. Even if this Giants secondary isn't No. 1 this year, it will be significantly improved.
" On the first play of his first day of practice with the Giants in a 9-on-7 drill, linebacker Keith Bulluck made his presence felt immediately. For starters, Bulluck was positioning the defense even though he never had played in it. Then he was the first defender to get to the football once it was snapped.
New York is counting on more of both from Bulluck -- leadership and plays. When New York signed him last month, some wondered how much the 33-year-old linebacker had left, which might help to explain why Bulluck ran over to a reporter at the beginning of Saturday's practice to say, "Got a lot left -- and those other teams will see."
" New York has enough pass-rushers to make life miserable late in the game for opposing quarterbacks. The Giants' two-minute pass defense has experimented this summer with a formation in which Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora line up at defensive end while Mathias Kiwanuka and first-round pick Jason Pierre-Paul line up at defensive tackle. Few teams will be able to trot out a four-man front like that one.
" Injuries helped derail the Giants last season, and there already have been some disconcerting signs this season. Guard Rich Seubert has a broken hand and could miss a few weeks. Wide receiver Steve Smith is nursing a strained groin, but he does not think it is serious. Center Shaun O'Hara hasn't practiced due to an ankle injury, Grant strained his groin and the Giants still haven't see how Phillips' knee will respond to practice. The Giants haven't suffered injuries of the magnitude that a team such as the Broncos have, but this team has every reason to be paranoid.
" Funny how one year ago, the talk of Giants camp was how the team would replace Plaxico Burress. Now Smith, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham have made enough plays and demonstrated enough ability that New York's greatest concerns have nothing to do with its wide receivers.
" If any team has a better dining room setup than the Giants, it hasn't been found yet. The Giants treat their players, and anyone around their organization, with nothing but class. The Giants even allowed one newspaper reporter to bring his two children into the cafe to eat with him. In all my years covering football, I've never seen that. It's the small things that can make a big difference.
" And now, on to Bethlehem, Pa., and the Philadelphia Eagles.
Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.