Jerry Reese has often referred to Hakeem Nicks as the "linchpin" of the Giants' offense in this week of self-reflection and non-playoff disappointment. Friday, he said that perhaps the Giants should have pulled that pin when they had the chance.
Nicks played most of the season with a knee injury that hampered his performance and limited his practice reps. While he missed only three games early in the season, Nicks said this week that doctors told him he would have needed six to eight weeks of rest to recover from the injury that occurred in Week 2. He wound up gutting his way to 53 catches and 692 yards with three touchdowns, but in the final two weeks of the season, he was a non-factor. He did not catch a pass in either game and, although he was active for the finale against the Eagles, was on the field for just one offensive snap.
"In hindsight, I think if we had to think about it again, we would've taken him out a little quicker than we did," Reese said in an interview on ESPN Radio on Friday. "But that's neither here nor there at this point."
Nicks said on Monday that he had always been a fast healer and that he believed he would rebound from the knee injury faster than doctors believed. He did not. He was also coming into the season hobbled by a broken bone in his foot which required offseason surgery. With new injured reserve rules in place for this season, the Giants could have put Nicks on IR with a designation to return after eight weeks. That would have made him available -- and conceivably healthy -- for the final five games of the season.
"I don't have any regrets," Nicks said. "It happened. I played through it . . . It was just a situation where I was just gutting it out and I wanted to play for the team and for myself. It was a situation where I felt like if I was sitting I would have been miserable, so I felt like if I was just out there trying to give it whatever I had, everything would work out."
Tom Coughlin praised Nicks for his desire to play through the injury.
"In the first place, you love Hakeem," Coughlin said Monday. "He is an incredible competitor . . . When you speak to a group of individuals, and you talk about having 53 people on your team, when you do have an injury, you've got to play through it. Well, he's a tremendous example of a guy that wants to play through it, and wants to play through it despite that fact, and you love that about him. Was he able to play at the level that if he didn't have the injury he could play at? No. No. But he believes he can play, and he believes he can be a huge part of it."
The Giants believed him, too. Now, it seems, they're not so sure.
This isn't the only second-guessing that Reese has done this offseason regarding coaching and personnel deployment, although it is the most direct. He was more subtle in suggesting that rookie David Wilson, the player he selected with the first-round pick in April, should have been a bigger part of the offense. It wasn't until the end of the season that Wilson became part of the backfield rotation, and that was due to injuries to Andre Brown and Ahmad Bradshaw.
"David flashed some things and he looked like the guy we thought he could be," Reese said on Monday. "Again, you fumble the ball early on in the season and that kind of set him back. Coaches get a little bit nervous when young players, you put them in and they turn the ball over early in the game. He proved himself and got back in there and we think he's going to be a terrific player for us. He's a dynamic, really kind of a world class athlete. We think he has a bright future for us."
Reese was again extolling Wilson when he appeared on the radio on Thursday, that time on WFAN.
"I don't think there's any question that he can be [a lead back]," Reese said. "It's a two- and three-back league nowadays, but do I think he can be a lead dog, I do think that . . . He's a sleek, well-chiseled athlete, but I do believe he can be the lead back."
Coughlin, who kept Wilson in the doghouse and not as the lead dog for most of the year, agreed that Wilson's future is bright.
"He can be a 15-carry guy, he had 15 the other day," Coughlin said on WFAN. "I think you'd be surprised how strong this guy is. He has outstanding legs. He wants it, he wants to be a player, he wants to do well, he loves to play, and I think he had outstanding endurance. I've seen him. I mean, hell, he runs all day long. I like that part of it."