ESPN.com New York Giants reporter Dan Graziano makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.
Week 1: at Detroit Lions
The Giants are coming off a mess of a preseason, undermanned and overwhelmed, with the offensive line still a mess and the new offense not clicking at all. No one will pick them to win this game. Except me. Prediction: Win
Week 2: Arizona Cardinals
This one's a comedown off the Week 1 surprise, as Arizona's banged-up defense still manages to flummox Eli Manning and collect a few interceptions. It's a bummer of a home opener as reality begins to set in. Prediction: Loss
Week 3: Houston Texans
Houston's defense is as liable as Arizona's to make life miserable for Manning and the offensive line. But Houston has bigger questions on offense than even the Giants, and this is a win for the New York defense against Ryan Fitzpatrick. Prediction: Win
Week 4: at Washington Redskins
Week 5: Atlanta Falcons
The pattern continues, and the Giants overcome two Osi Umenyiora sacks to outscore the Falcons with a furious Manning comeback in the final minutes. The Giants poke their heads over the .500 mark as they make the turn into the most brutal stretch of their schedule. Prediction: Win
Week 6: at Philadelphia Eagles
The Giants don't have Matt Barkley to kick around this time when they visit the City of Brotherly Love. Chip Kelly and the Eagles show them what a truly innovative offense looks like. Prediction: Loss
Week 7: at Dallas Cowboys
The season-long debate about what gives when an anemic Giants offense meets a pathetic Cowboys defense tilts in Dallas' favor in the first meeting. Tony Romo & Co. have more than enough weapons to outscore Manning and his bunch, and the Giants hit the bye with a 3-4 record. Prediction: Loss
Week 9: Indianapolis Colts
After a long break before the Monday night home game, the Giants get taken apart by Andrew Luck, Hakeem Nicks & Co. at MetLife Stadium for a third straight loss. The offense is starting to run more smoothly, but it still doesn't have enough playmakers to outscore one of the league's better offenses. Prediction: Loss
Week 10: at Seattle Seahawks
You're kidding, right? Prediction: Loss
Week 11: San Francisco 49ers
The Giants have obviously handled the Niners in recent years and in some high-profile situations. But by this point in the season, San Francisco's defense is back to full strength, and the 49ers can't afford to lose ground to the Seahawks by failing to beat the team Seattle just beat the week before. Prediction: Loss
Week 12: Dallas Cowboys
A sixth straight loss is by no means out of the question here, as Romo and his crew still have the potential to outscore anyone in a given week. But from this far out, I'll forecast that something goes wrong for Romo late in this game, and the Giants get a gift. Prediction: Win
Week 13: at Jacksonville Jaguars
This is where the schedule starts to soften up, when the Giants start playing teams that insist on not starting their best quarterback. It's unfortunate they're 4-7 at this point and just about out of the playoff hunt, but they will get it going against the bottom-feeders. Prediction: Win
Week 14: at Tennessee Titans
I think the Titans are going to be dreadful this year, and by December they won't be very difficult for anyone to beat, even at home. A third straight victory keeps the Giants' hopes alive. Prediction: Win
Week 15: Washington Redskins
Have to be honest: The NFC East is so unpredictable that, when doing these predictions, I just decided to give the Giants a 3-3 division record with victories in all three home games and losses in all three road games. It's as fair a way as any to do it, I believe. Prediction: Win
Week 16: at St. Louis Rams
After moving back to .500 with four straight wins, the season falls apart at the hands of the St. Louis pass rush. An offensive line that has once again been the Giants' biggest problem all year can't protect Manning in a must-win game. Prediction: Loss
Week 17: Philadelphia Eagles
Tom Coughlin's teams can always find a way to play for pride. The Giants' playoff hopes are extinguished, but they still manage to end the season on a high note and with a .500 record. Prediction: Win
Predicted Record: 8-8
“No different to what we’d do with players who are gone from after the offseason before training camp and from the end of the regular season before they come back, before the offseason program,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “Talk to (strength coach Mike Woicik, assistant strength coach Brett Bech), get everything squared away that way.”
Safety Jakar Hamilton will miss the first four games because of violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, but he is allowed to continue to work out at Valley Ranch during his suspension. He is not eligible to take part in practices until Sept. 29.
We had 64 people here at ESPN issue preseason predictions -- all 32 of our NFL Nation team reporters plus 32 national NFL writers/personalities. Of those 64, only five picked the Giants to reach the playoffs.
Four of those people picked the Giants to win the NFC East. Only ESPN Insider K.C. Joyner (who picked the Giants to win the division in 2011 when the Eagles were the popular pick) picked them to win an NFC wild card spot.
The four who picked the Giants to win their division are Bears reporter Michael C. Wright, Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas, 49ers reporter Paul Gutierrez and Neil Payne of FiveThirtyEight.com.
Of the 64 ESPN experts issuing predictions, 53 picked the Philadelphia Eagles to win the NFC East. Seven picked Washington, and I was one of them. I think the Eagles are the division's best team on paper and a worthy favorite, but I just couldn't bring myself to pick a repeat champion in this wacky division. So I picked Washington because I think it is loaded at the offensive skill positions, and I think Robert Griffin III can bounce back. Not that I don't think Eli Manning can bounce back, but I think the group around Griffin looks better on paper than the group around Manning does.
Also, all 64 experts were asked to pick Coach of the Year, MVP and Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year. No one picked Tom Coughlin or any Giants player. As I said, expectations for this team are low.
Personally, I went with the Saints over the Patriots in the Super Bowl, picked Sean Payton for Coach of the Year, Drew Brees for MVP and Brandin Cooks for Offensive Rookie of the Year, so I'm kind of all-in on the Saints this year. I picked Baltimore's C.J. Mosley for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The Saints are not an unpopular pick. Of our 64 experts, 13 of us picked New Orleans to win the Super Bowl. The only team that got more votes was the Denver Broncos, with 18.
The other Super Bowl picks are the 49ers (12 votes), the defending champion Seahawks (9), the Patriots (6), the Eagles (3) and the Packers (3).
If you'd like to check out all of the predictions, here are some links:
Other ESPN Personalities
Jones has been consistent in insisting this summer that Romo was completely healthy, even as the Cowboys’ $108-million-man missed several practices throughout training camp, with the team attributing those absences to preventative maintenance. Jones firmly believes that a healthy Romo is primed for his best season at the age of 34 because of the blossoming relationship with new offensive play-caller Scott Linehan.
“I also think you’ll see an improved player relative to the experience and the time that he’s spent with his new coordinator,” Jones said Tuesday on 105.3 The Fan after being asked about Romo’s health. “This is a real successful matchup. I think these guys are going to be pretty effective with the way they work together.
“Tony basically said, ‘He’s thinking of it before I do,’ and that’s something because Tony has a lot of thoughts as he plays a ballgame. He stays out ahead of it pretty good, so we’re going to be pretty pleased with that combination.”
That version is a good tackle and veteran leader on an offensive line that is expected to be one of the league's best. The other version of Free is a weak link.
The problem: Free might be the most unpredictable player on the team.
For whatever reason, Free's four seasons as a full-time starter have been a roller coaster. He was very good in two of them and terrible in the other two.
Just look at where Free ranked among offensive tackles in Pro Football Focus' grading system the last four seasons: tied for fifth in 2010, 51st in 2011, 68th in 2012 and 20th in 2013.
Those looking for reasons to be optimistic can take some comfort in the fact that Free has been at his best when he had major financial motivation. He was playing for a contract in 2010, when he had the best season of his career and cashed in with a four-year, $32 million deal. Last season, after Free accepted a pay cut that slashed his salary in half over the option of being released, Free had a bounce-back campaign, which was probably necessary to keep his roster spot with this year's $3.5 million not being guaranteed.
Another factor, which the Cowboys consider much more important, is Free's comfort level playing for offensive line coach Bill Callahan. This will be Free's third season under Callahan, and the Cowboys believe he benefitted last year from a better understanding of the techniques Callahan coaches.
The bad news is that the last live glimpse we got of Free wasn't exactly encouraging. He gave up two sacks in a half playing against Pro Bowl pass-rusher Cameron Wake in the preseason loss to the Miami Dolphins, when the starting offensive line as a whole was a disappointment.
Garrett noted that Free's performance outside of the two sacks allowed wasn't bad, but subjecting Tony Romo to that sort of punishment is never acceptable.
"Any time you give up a sack, it's not something you want to do," Free said. "You want to play all year without giving up a sack. At times, it happens, but you try the best you can to not give up a sack. He's a good player, but it's something you've got to shut down."
Added Garrett: "You certainly have to learn and grow from that situation."
If Free performs as well as he did last season, he'll fly under the radar, which is fine with him. If he turns back into the 2011 and 2012 version, he'll get plenty of attention as one of the primary reasons as high-powered offense is underachieving.
ESPN.com Dallas Cowboys reporter Todd Archer makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.
Week 1: San Francisco 49ers
Surprise. The Niners have been among the best teams in the NFC the past few years, but they won't have NaVorro Bowman and Glenn Dorsey and likely Aldon Smith on their tough defense. That's good news for Tony Romo and the offense. Prediction: Win
Week 2: at Tennessee Titans
The last time the Cowboys played in Nashville, Jerry Jones was signing autographs in his suite during the game. He should be fortunate to do the same again with the Cowboys off to their first 2-0 start since 2008. The Titans don't have the passing game to keep up with the Cowboys, even with a subpar defense. Prediction: Win
Week 3: at St. Louis Rams
If this game was at home, it would be a win and DeMarco Murray would have a huge game on the ground. But it's at the Edward Jones Dome and the Rams' defensive front will provide a huge test for the Cowboys' offensive line. Prediction: Loss
Week 4: New Orleans Saints
The Saints annihilated the Cowboys last year, picking up 40 first downs and 625 yards in a 49-17 win that wasn't even that close. This game will be closer but Drew Brees will be able to pick apart a secondary that will be facing the best quarterback to date. Prediction: Loss
Week 5: Houston Texans
J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney are a nightmare duo for offensive lines, but the Cowboys won't be afraid. New Texans coach Bill O'Brien will succeed but Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't the answer at quarterback. This is one of those early-season must wins for the Cowboys. Prediction: Win
Week 6: at Seattle Seahawks
There are all sorts of bad memories at Seattle, starting with Romo's bobbled snap in the 2006 playoffs. But the Cowboys' most recent visit to CenturyLink Field was a 27-7 drubbing in 2012. The Legion of Boom will be looking forward to Dez Bryant. This will be another day of bad memories. Prediction: Loss
Week 7: New York Giants
The Cowboys finally beat the Giants at AT&T Stadium last year and will make it two in a row in Arlington. Eli Manning doesn't look comfortable in the new offense and the Giants' defense does not match up well against the Cowboys' strengths. Prediction: Win
Week 8: Washington Redskins
Jon Gruden will be in the house calling the game for ESPN on "Monday Night Football," to see his brother Jay lose in a low-scoring, hard-hitting game like most of the contests between the Redskins and Cowboys. Dwayne Harris makes the difference again on special teams. Prediction: Win
Week 9: Arizona Cardinals
The Cowboys put together their first three-game winning streak since late in the 2012 season to get to 6-3. If they want to stay in the playoff conversation, this is the kind of start they would need, but it does not guarantee them a postseason appearance. Prediction: Win
Week 10: at Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars have the kind of defense the Cowboys would like to have: young, fast, aggressive, angry. This game will surprise many people, but Gus Bradley is building something in Jacksonville worth noting. The Cowboys might be America's Team, but they're not London's Team. Prediction: Loss
Week 12: at New York Giants
The Cowboys have fared well at MetLife Stadium with some surprising wins, but the doubts start to creep in after the Jacksonville loss and the bye week does not help them get things corrected. Playing the second time in five weeks, New York will have better answers at home. Prediction: Loss
Week 13: Philadelphia Eagles
The NFL did the Cowboys no favors by giving them a night game on Sunday in New York to make a short week even shorter. Despite their defensive woes a year ago, the Cowboys were OK against Chip Kelly's offense. They'll be better than OK here to temporarily right the ship. Prediction: Win
Week 14: at Chicago Bears
Last year's visit to Soldier Field was a mess. Josh McCown lit up the Cowboys for four touchdowns and 348 yards. He's now in Tampa Bay and Jay Cutler is a better quarterback to feature wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Prediction: Loss
Week 15: at Philadelphia Eagles
Like the Giants in Week 12, the Eagles come up with the answers in the rematch. The Cowboys will have a 10-day break leading into the game to help prepare for Kelly's pace of play, but it won't help. Tight ends Zach Ertz and Brent Celek have big days against the Dallas linebackers. Prediction: Loss
Week 16: Indianapolis Colts
The Cowboys are in must-win territory with four losses in their past five games. The offense will be able to do its part, but the defense will not have any answers for Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who will be making his first visit to AT&T Stadium. Prediction: Loss
Week 17: at Washington Redskins
The Cowboys can make history with a win. It's just not the history they want. With a win, the Cowboys will become the first team with four straight 8-8 finishes. Is this the last game of the Jason Garrett era, or does Jerry Jones give him an extension? Prediction: Win
Predicted Record: 8-8
ESPN.com Philadelphia Eagles reporter Phil Sheridan makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.
Week 1: Jacksonville Jaguars
Jaguars coach Gus Bradley was in Philadelphia to interview for the Eagles' head coaching job when Chip Kelly was hired. Bradley may get the Jags to the promised land, but he's definitely on a more deliberate track than Kelly. Chad Henne? Prediction: Win
Week 2: at Indianapolis Colts
The first game dictated by the Eagles' first-place schedule is a tough one: on the road, in prime time, against Andrew Luck and the Colts. A win would be awfully impressive. Prediction: Loss
Week 3: Washington Redskins
If the Eagles are going to win the division again, they have to pile up the wins against NFC East opponents. That should start here with Jay Gruden's squad. Prediction: Win
Week 4: at San Francisco 49ers
The Niners are one of the teams the Eagles are trying to catch at the top of the NFC. It's important to give a respectable effort here, but a win might be asking for a bit too much. Prediction: Loss
Week 5: St. Louis Rams
Count this game as a fair barometer for where the Eagles stand. They should be ahead of the Rams, and here's their chance to prove it. Prediction: Win
Week 6: New York Giants
This one's in prime time and it should be. The Giants are in the best position to challenge the defending NFC East champions in 2014. Prediction: Win
Week 8: at Arizona Cardinals
A loss here wouldn't be too disappointing. It's a tough road matchup, after all. But if the Eagles are the team they believe they are, this has to be a win. Prediction: Win
Week 9: at Houston Texans
Week 10: Carolina Panthers
Former Eagles assistant Ron Rivera brings Cam Newton to Lincoln Financial Field. Turns out things are very different with Chip Kelly, not Andy Reid, on the opposite sideline. Prediction: Win
Week 11: at Green Bay Packers
The Eagles won at Lambeau last year, but Aaron Rodgers didn't play in that game. Rodgers makes a little bit of a difference. Prediction: Loss
Week 12: Tennessee Titans
The biggest risk here is that the Eagles overlook the Titans between games at Green Bay and Dallas. But that's unlikely. Prediction: Win
Week 13: at Dallas Cowboys
I don't think the Cowboys will be very good this season, but the Eagles will be traveling on a short week for this Thanksgiving Day game. It's a tough assignment. Prediction: Loss
Week 14: Seattle Seahawks
Circle this one on the calendar. The defending Super Bowl champs come East for a late-season game against the Eagles. Should be entertaining. Prediction: Loss
Week 15: Dallas Cowboys
Getting the Cowboys again fresh off the Thanksgiving game should stoke the Eagles' competitive fire. It's also the start of the homestretch against NFC East opponents. Prediction: Win
Week 16: at Washington Redskins
It is possible the Eagles could clinch the NFC East title with a win here. Either way, it's a game that should mean more to them than to Washington. Prediction: Win
Week 17: at New York Giants
Somehow, I see Mark Sanchez playing in the Meadowlands again as the Eagles rest their starters in preparation for the playoffs. If the Giants are alive, the result could be different. Prediction: Win
ESPN.com Washington Redskins reporter John Keim makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.
Week 1: at Houston Texans
The Redskins' defense does more than enough to combat a Houston team with no real threat at quarterback. Not that this has mattered in the past to Washington. The question will be: How do the Redskins slow J.J. Watt and rookie Jadeveon Clowney? Prediction: Win
Week 2: Jacksonville Jaguars
Jay Gruden's home opener will result in fans dreaming of the postseason thanks to a quick start. The Jaguars have received kudos for what they're building, but they have too many questions, though it'll be interesting to see rookie quarterback Blake Bortles, if he plays. Prediction: Win
Week 3: at Philadelphia Eagles
DeSean Jackson's return to Philadelphia will end in disappointment. The Eagles should be the class of the NFC East. Though they're not unstoppable, they do have enough offensive talent to make almost any system work. Prediction: Loss
Week 4: New York Giants
It's not just that the Giants are using a new offensive scheme, it's that their offensive line remains in, uh, transition. Their defense should be solid, but I like the Redskins' pass rush against quarterback Eli Manning in this Thursday night game. Prediction: Win
Week 5: Seattle Seahawks
The last time Seattle played at Washington, the Redskins were in position to win a playoff game. Then Robert Griffin III got hurt and several careers were altered. The Seahawks are just too good defensively and efficient enough offensively for the Redskins to win their only "Monday Night Football" appearance of the season. Prediction: Loss
Week 6: at Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals were a good team last season, thanks to an aggressive 3-4 defense. Carson Palmer played well enough to help them win 10 games (but not make the postseason). The Cards are better. Prediction: Loss
Week 7: Tennessee Titans
Quick: Name five players on Tennessee's roster. Better yet, who will be playing quarterback? Jake Locker? Good luck. The Redskins have enough to plow through this game. Prediction: Win
Week 8: at Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys enter the season with plenty of questions about their defense. My guess is a lot of them will be answered by this point -- and not in a good way. Their corners, Brandon Carr in particular, had one good game versus Washington last year and one tough one. Jason Hatcher gets a little revenge. Prediction: Win
Week 9: at Minnesota Vikings
Another season in which this becomes the stumble game. And it's the sort of game where if Washington handles its business, the second half of the season could go differently. The game will be played outdoors in early November so weather could be an issue. The Redskins have done a nice job against Adrian Peterson at times, but need to limit big plays (not to mention the interior of the Vikings' defense). Prediction: Loss
Week 11: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I like what the Bucs are building and I like coach Lovie Smith. My guess is his scheme will do a good job limiting quarterback Robert Griffin III. The key will be Tampa's quarterback play -- and who will be playing the position. Prediction: Loss
Week 12: at San Francisco 49ers
A tough stretch continues for the Redskins. I don't think the Niners will be as good as they were the past few seasons and quarterback Colin Kaepernick is enduring his own growing pains (just as he was last season before playing well against Washington). Prediction: Loss
Week 13: at Indianapolis Colts
The first real game between the top two picks in the 2012 draft, Griffin and fellow quarterback Andrew Luck. The Colts never seemed to debate what they'd do with this pick and Luck will show why. The Colts are a flawed team, but they win. Prediction: Loss
Week 14: St. Louis Rams
The Rams have a dangerous pass rush, but in 2013 they also allowed a lot of yards after the catch. Sam Bradford's injury changed their season, though it's not as if he had been lighting up the NFL. Again, by this point in the season we'll know exactly who both teams are. Prediction: Win
Week 15: at New York Giants
Tom Coughlin always seems to have his teams playing well at the end of the season. Of course, that's not always true, but stay with us for a moment. The Giants' offensive issues will be forgotten for a day. Prediction: Loss
Week 16: Philadelphia Eagles
The Redskins will suffer another season of being swept by the Eagles, who will win the NFC East. I'm not sold on Nick Foles as much as on Chip Kelly, not just as an offensive mind but as a head coach. I do wonder about the Eagles' pass rush, but they have fewer issues than others in the division. Prediction: Loss
Week 17: Dallas Cowboys
The Redskins will close the season by sweeping Dallas; is that good enough? Well, not if the goal is to reach the postseason. But it will be enough to feel good as they enter the offseason and continue their rebuild. Prediction: Win
Predicted Record: 7-9
“I’m just going to go with the flow,” Melton said. “If they want to hold me to a certain amount of plays, I’m just going to listen to them.”
For the Cowboys to have any chance of having a solid defense this season, they need Melton to play well.
That's especially important against a physical offense like San Francisco, which prefers to use its running game to control the game. Last season, the 49ers ranked third in the NFL in rushing attempts (505) and yards per game (137.6) and fourth with 18 touchdowns.
“The biggest thing for (Melton),” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said, “is to get out there and practice and go against a live opponent. He was able to do some of that today.”
- Tracy Porter re-injured his hamstring in practice Saturday and did not practice Monday. The big knock on Porter throughout his career has been durability. Last season was the first time Porter played 16 games -- and only the second time he's played more than 12 -- in six seasons. The Redskins want Porter to play in the slot. Rookie corner Bashaud Breeland has worked there this summer, but is still learning the position.
- The Redskins finalized their 10-member practice squad, signing safety Akeem Davis, as expected, and linebacker Chaz Sutton. Davis was cut by Washington Sunday after it claimed Duke Ihenacho off waivers. Tampa Bay cut Sutton on Aug. 25 after signing him as an undrafted free agent from South Carolina in May. The 6-foot-5, 263-pound Sutton played defensive end in college.
- The Redskins placed safety Phillip Thomas on the practice squad for the same reason they did it with Chris Thompson. They have questions about his ability to stay healthy and want to see him work for an extended time without getting hurt. Thomas visited his foot specialist in North Carolina over the weekend to determine the cause of soreness in his foot. It's the same foot that suffered a Lisfranc injury last summer. Thomas did not practice Monday and might not be ready for another week or so. The Redskins do like him, but being available is a must.
- The Redskins did not want to put linebacker Darryl Sharpton on injured reserve, but coach Jay Gruden said his sprained ankle was "worse than we anticipated." Sharpton suffered a high ankle sprain in the first preseason game against New England and did not think he'd miss that much time, though this type of injury can linger. "We had high hopes for Darryl," Gruden said. "It just didn't get any better for him. We want to make sure we take care of it the right way."
The 6-foot-4, 277-pound Edwards had nine tackles in seven games as a rookie. The Cowboys acquired him on Saturday for a conditional 2015 seventh-round pick.
“I think I’m a little better fit in the 4-3,” Edwards said. “I was the only defensive end they kept on the line last year. They moved all the others to outside linebacker. I had no idea I was going to get traded, but it’s good to be employed. That’s the most important thing.”
Coach Jason Garrett said the Cowboys view Edwards as a left defensive end, which means he’ll usually line up against tight ends and tackles and will need to be strong against the run.
He'll join George Selvie, Tyrone Crawford and Jeremy Mincey as part of the Cowboys' defensive end rotation.
“He was a guy we really liked coming out of school,” Garrett said. “We feel like he can be part of our rotation -- a big strong guy who plays with really good effort.”
The surprise, too, was that of the three they kept none were Chris Thompson or sixth-round pick Lache Seastrunk. They at least signed Thompson to the practice squad, but opted not to do the same with Seastrunk. They also cut veteran Evan Royster.
But he also struggled in the pass game, despite his turning a short pass into an 80-yard touchdown against Tampa Bay in the preseason finale. He routinely was beaten in coverage during training camp practices.
The three who won jobs included undrafted rookie free agent Silas Redd, who earned his spot with his physical running style. He also was better in the pass game overall than Seastrunk, notably in protection. As for Thompson, health remains the single biggest issue. Before spraining an ankle, Thompson was on track for a roster spot. But it fed into the durability questions many have about him.
“We want Chris to come back and stay healthy for some time,” Gruden said. “He could be activated sooner than later if he can prove he can stay healthy. … Silas is all-around, running and blocking and catching. His consistency was pretty good for a rookie.”
The first two backs -- Alfred Morris and Roy Helu -- were not in question. Helu will handle third-down duties, though Redd will be able to provide an occasional boost.
For Redd, making the roster capped a tough road, starting off as undrafted. He found out he made it when he reached the locker room for practice Saturday. Had he not made it the 53, the Redskins would have told him beforehand. Redd then went to thank coach Jay Gruden and his position coach Randy Jordan.
“It's just a little surreal,” Redd said. “I worked really hard for it, prayed a lot. ... Being undrafted and coming in here [against] a sixth-round pick and not having a chance. That's a testament to my hard work and how I was brought up. I couldn't be more happy.”
Redd's coaches told him he must now adjust to regular-season work habits.
“[Jordan] said your preparation has to change, things you were doing just aren't good enough anymore. You have to step it up another level, you're a pro now,” Redd said. “I take full responsibility for that. I'm ready for that. That type of thing excites me.”
For example, he could definitely do without dealing with the media, as McClain said as politely as possible as a swarm of reporters surrounded him Monday, six days before his debut with the Dallas Cowboys.
"If I lied and said I did enjoy camp, then you shouldn’t ask me any more questions," McClain said, laughing.
The real fun starts soon for McClain, who will likely start at middle linebacker for a Dallas defense desperate for playmakers.
McClain cut off questions about Sunday’s season opener against the San Francisco 49ers. He is adamant that he has to simply focus on the next practice, a fair point for a guy who has had problems staying on the practice field this summer. But he is clearly anxious for his first regular-season action since November 2012.
This is the kind of opportunity that makes the work worth it.
"I still love the game like I’m an 8-, 9-year old kid," McClain said. "It’s just about getting back into it, building chemistry with some of these guys, some trust, and just playing and having fun really."
The 25-year-old McClain’s passion for the game can certainly be questioned after he gave it up twice after being selected with the eighth overall pick in the 2010 draft by the Oakland Raiders, but he insisted that was never his problem. He had to learn how to be a professional, which required a lot of growing up for a guy whose rocky road has included three arrests.
Over the past year, McClain has cut ties with a lot of his friends and family from his Alabama hometown, attempting to eliminate the bad influences from his life. He has made his two sons his priority and made his faith his foundation.
McClain doesn’t want to be the same guy who came into the league with such high expectations after being an All-American at Alabama. That guy failed in football and life.
"I’m just an overall better man," McClain said. "That makes me a better football player, a better boyfriend, a better father. You’ve got to start with the base, man, get yourself right and then fill in the blanks from there. That’s what I had to do."
The Cowboys acquired McClain’s rights in a minimum-risk deal with the Baltimore Ravens because they had a massive void at middle linebacker after Sean Lee's injury. After consulting with Alabama coach Nick Saban, head coach Jason Garrett and the Dallas decision-makers determined that it was worth taking a chance on McClain.
Given the low risk and Saban’s recommendation, the Cowboys could deal with McClain’s character red flags. Of course, that is the case only because of his rare talent.
The Cowboys really need McClain to live up to his potential to have any realistic hope of fielding a respectable defense.
"If you live up or care about somebody’s expectations, you’ll always let them down," McClain said. "So you set your own expectations.
"What are my expectations? I don’t have to reveal them."
McClain punctuated the thought with a laugh. At least football is fun for him again as the regular season approaches.
"He’s a tough guy and became available," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "We thought he could be immediate help and we’re lucky we got him."
The third-year Ihenacho started 17 games for Denver last season, including three postseason games. Even though Denver signed T.J. Ward and returned Quinton Carter from an injury, Ihenacho still thought he would stick with the Broncos. Now that he’s not with Denver, Ihenacho wants to make an impact here. In Denver, he stood out on special teams and is considered more of an in-the-box safety, struggling in some areas of coverage.
"I just bring some physicality, man, and playmaking ability," Ihenacho said, "a little more excitement, a little more passion to the game."
The question now becomes: How long will it take Ihenacho to contribute for his new team? He played in a different defensive system in Denver and will need time to learn Washington’s.
"I don’t know the defense too much," Ihenacho said. "Hopefully I’ll get squared up."
"It depends on how quickly he picks it up mentally," Gruden said. "I envision him participating in some capacity, but it’s too early to tell. We’ll see how much he can pick up and help on special teams. Whether he’s activated or not, we’ll see."
The Redskins wanted to improve their special teams this season, and Ihenacho represents more of that philosophy. The player Washington cut for him, Akeem Davis, initially earned a spot because of his special teams ability. But Ihenacho has more ability to provide help from scrimmage, which is important given safety Brandon Meriweather's two-game suspension.
Ihenacho embraces special teams.
"I think kickoff is the easiest thing in the world," Ihenacho said. "If you’ve got that mentality then they put you on kickoff because you like doing it."
So as the Giants begin their official preparations for their "Monday Night Football" opener in Detroit, Manning is focusing on the things the Giants' offense did well in the preseason, and choosing to build on those.
Manning has, throughout the summer, painted a picture of an offense that is almost there. He also said last week that he expected this new offense, under first-year coordinator Ben McAdoo, to remain a work in progress throughout at least part of the season. The trick will be finding ways to win games while everyone is still getting fully up to speed.
"The big thing happening in the preseason, the reason we won a couple of games, is because we didn't beat ourselves," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "If you look at the numbers, you can see that. So that is something we can hang our hat on, regardless of what the statistics are."
You can start to imagine a plan in which the Giants get things started this season with a run-heavy offensive game plan whose emphasis is on limiting turnovers, then build a passing game off of that as the season goes along. Not that they would admit to something like that, but it might make sense since they feel good about their defense and the ability of their offensive line to at least block the run.
"I have been practicing and I know exactly what we are capable of," wide receiver Victor Cruz said, when asked his reasons for optimism. "I know all of the things we've implemented that are beneficial to us and can benefit us on game day, and I'm excited to put that to the test come Monday Night."
That is when we will start finding out just what the Giants believe they're able to do with their offense right now, and maybe what they might have to wait until later in the season to try.