Landon Collins spent part of this past Friday on a high school field in Wayne, New Jersey, working with about 200 grade school-aged football campers. He posed for pictures, threw some soft passes and handed out a few tips and words of advice to the kids. It was a very sweet optic.
But that was not the camp on Collins’ mind. Instead, he already was counting down the days to a much more intense camp. One that begins when the Giants’ players report Thursday and take to the practice field for the first time Friday.
Training camp, the official start of the 2017 season, is about to begin. The Giants, driven by both the successes and failures of 2016, are excited to return.
“I’m ready to get back,” Collins said in between reps with the kids. “It’s been too long . . . I’m ready to put some shoulder pads to people. Ready to knock some heads off.”
And ready, no doubt, to achieve the goal that was stated at this time a year ago — putting a fifth Lombardi Trophy in the case. The players managed to bring the Giants back to a respectable level in 2016, winning 11 games and making the playoffs for the first time in five years. Although the season ended on a downer in the playoffs — and with a hole in the wall to illustrate their frustrations — it was hard to describe 2016 as anything but a success for the Giants.
But this year, the challenge is both more within reach and more daunting. No longer are winning records and wild-card berths (with a prompt exit) the barometers for success. When the Giants opened camp a year ago talking about the Super Bowl, their brashness mostly was met with eye rolls and giggles. On Thursday, when they report and verbalize the same silvery goal, as they almost assuredly will, there will be no derision and fewer doubters.
In fact, in some circles, they may even be popular picks to win it all.
The Giants haven’t had this much preseason excitement and buzz and potential in years, and for many on the roster it will be a new experience.
“We embrace them,” Collins, entering his third season, said of the heightened hopes. “You want to live up to the expectations that everyone else has.”
That will be the key to Camp McA-two, the second training camp with Ben McAdoo as coach of the team.
To meet those expectations, the Giants will have to maintain the level of defensive play they showed last season and drastically improve an offense that stumbled through most of last year. It’s the exact opposite of the blueprint a year ago, when the Giants overhauled their defense from a historically bad season in 2015 and hoped their offense would continue to be explosive.
There is little doubt that if the Giants’ 2015 offense and 2016 defense somehow had been able to play during the same season, the team would have been at least a serious contender for another Super Bowl title and maybe could have added a trophy. Instead, the Giants have to hope that 2017 provides the mash-up of those past two seasons and they are able to play well on both sides of the ball.
“I think we want to get back to where we are scoring points and being explosive and where we can take over a game,” Eli Manning said this spring. “It wasn’t easy for us last year. But I think honestly, when we are game-planning this offseason, when we are doing things, we are going in with the expectations that we need to score a lot of points, and that we can score a lot of points and move the ball and be explosive.”
If they can do that, 2017 might just be their season.