EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- For the Giants, an extra week of training camp is just an extra week for things to go wrong.
July is often a calamitous month for the Giants, so starting a week early just gave the team a jump on misfortune. Veteran guard Chris Snee abruptly retired at the start of camp, while linebacker Jon Beason started camp on the PUP list to complete his recovery from a foot injury. Neither reversal took the Giants by surprise -- Snee dealt with multiple injuries last year, and Beason spends more time in medical facilities than hand sanitizer -- so the Giants insulated themselves with contingency replacements like Brandon Mosley and free agent signee Jameel McClain.
Both Mosely and McClain were carted off the field during the Giants' first full practice on Tuesday. The Giants traditionally dig deeper into their depth chart in mid-July than most teams do all season.
The Bills actually beat the Giants out of this year's starting gate, officially starting on-field activities last Sunday. For a team trying to escape the sub-.500 doldrums, speculation of franchise locations, and the clutches of 80s tinsel rockers, an extra week of searing heat and media attention is a mixed blessing. A handful of Bills players were hospitalized for heat-related issues stemming from the same steamy weather pattern that felled Mosley and some other Giants. (McClain had a foot injury). Upstate New York brings you to your knees one way or the other: heatstroke in July, hypothermia in winter, ennui the rest of the year.
The Giants and Bills meet in the Hall of Fame Game in two weeks, hence the jumpstart on the IVs. All this early activity AND a fifth preseason game on a mid-major college field for two franchises that long ago dinged the door of the Injury God's Lexus? Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone's cups runneth over.
The Giants' official 2014 motto is "Burn the Boats." Tom Coughlin has a soft spot for alliterative phrases with lots of B sounds: The team's 2012 motto was "Build the Bridge," and while I cannot find the 2013 motto in the archives, it was presumably "Borrow the Bulldozer."
All of the built bridges and burnt boats remind us that though he is at the age where many men fall asleep watching the Military History channel, Coughlin stays wide awake. "Burn the Boats" refers to ancient Grecian soldiers who cut off their own means of retreat as motivation to press forward, not to Viking funerals, for which Snee is grateful. The Giants may come home from battle carrying their swords or carried on them, but they won't be taking the Waterway Ferry.
Before the heat haze set in, the opening days of Bills camp were an impromptu Sammy Watkins Festival, which is a little like a Sadie Hawkins Festival without all the emboldened country gals. Watkins earned top billing in Peter King's MMQB article by being a) one of the few interesting players at an actual camp doing actual football stuff, and b) conveniently located near the border after King's month-long sojourn into the Canadian heart of whiteness.
Other writers followed suit: If you were an NFL writer with a Monday or Tuesday deadline, and you did not choose to bury readers in statistics or 4,000 words, Watkins was probably your subject. The 21-year-old became a cottage industry for a few giddy midweek hours: His stock rose, which first made him overrated, then a victim of high expectations, all in the course of a few thousand feverish Tweets among football experts in desperate need of about 30 more open training camps.
And then Watkins was hurt. Fear not, Bills diehards -- he was just shaken up while catching a pass in an early drill. Two days later, he made the first official Amazing One-Handed Catch of training camp; it would have catapulted him into odds-on Rookie of the Year candidacy if he was not already there. From agony to ecstasy in just a few days; it will take the Bills until mid-autumn to complete the round trip.
At least Watkins generated some highlights. Here in East Rutherford, fellow rookie receiver Odell Beckham Jr. got tangled up with cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie during early drills, tweaking the hamstring that has been bothering him throughout the offseason. The Giants' first-round pick is day-to-day, but DRC intercepted a Ryan Nassib pass, so there's that. Coughlin sounds frustrated by Beckham's absence; mention the rookie's name, and the coach looks ready to set some dinghies ablaze.
An early camp can at least keep players out of trouble. From drug possession in Alabama to drag racing in Hamburg (New York, not Germany, which would be far cooler), Marcell Dareus has been a busy defensive lineman on the police blotter. Dareus flunked the Bills conditioning test before returning to Alabama for state mandated substance-abuse counseling, which we all know is the most effective substance-abuse counseling on earth: that's why it can be completed in a single day!
Many teams are eliminating or downplaying the importance of their conditioning tests, in part because they have become little more than a "gotcha" to incite the angriest elements of the fan base, but also because the tests appear impossible for the league's highest-paid defensive tackles to pass. For Dareus-types, the conditioning test is like Star Trek's Kobayashi Maru, but with brisket instead of Romulans. Dareus was back in Rochester doing stationary-bike penance at press time; with conditioning and personal issues, he only needs to complain about the Bills new scheme to earn the Albert Haynesworth Triple Crown.
By late in the week, other teams opened camps, riding to the Bills and Giants' rescue. Reggie Wayne arrived at Colts camp riding in Ed Carpenter's Indy car, so 80 percent of Wayne's commute was under a yellow flag, but he eventually made it. The Jets reported to training camp in Cortland and should have thanked their fellow New York teams for getting everyone warmed up. By Thursday afternoon, Tom Brady was besieged by microphones in Foxboro, Jimmy Garoppolo was carrying enough shoulder pads to outfit a Mad Max reboot, and equilibrium was restored to the NFL campscape.
Cloudy skies and cooler weather brought optimism to East Rutherford by week's end. Beason plans to be back by the start of camp, and he is just one of dozens of PUPed players around the league. Mosley and McClain are back on the field, and Beckham looks ready to return as soon as Coughlin's displeasure becomes harder to bear than hamstring pain. Offensive players are excited about Ben McAdoo's new 21st century offense. Jason Pierre-Paul is bubbly about feeling healthy for the first time in over a year.
The Giants shortened Thursday's practice in fear of thunderstorms that never arrived. Summer hardship often leads to February elation for the Giants, but maybe this year they can enjoy the latter without the former. As for the Bills, well, Watkins could win Rookie of the Year if he survives.
Meanwhile, in Ravens camp, cornerback Aaron Ross tore his Achilles during initial sprints and will be lost for the season. He must have thought he was still playing for the Giants.