Giants glad Shockey is in their corner

Talented tight end often rubs opponents wrong way

January 02, 2003|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

A team two years removed from the Super Bowl has leaned on a rookie tight end for inspiration and offense this season. Jeremy Shockey hasn't disappointed the New York Giants in either area.

From the first day of training camp, coach Jim Fassel knew the Giants had something special in Shockey.

"You don't know until he gets here and really gets going," Fassel said. "But I guess that first day he reported in and I was finishing dinner, walking around with my cup of coffee, and I saw that fight break out, I knew that my man was here.

"He's exactly what I wanted."

Shockey brawled with linebacker Brandon Short at the start of camp, and ever since, he has been making waves as well as big plays for the Giants.

Opponents are often agitated by Shockey's on-field antics and wild gesturing. Teammates are mostly uplifted, never more so than last Saturday when his 7-yard touchdown catch against the Philadelphia Eagles released a geyser of frustration and got the Giants into overtime.

The Giants' 10-7 victory, coupled with an Atlanta Falcons loss, earned them the fifth seed in the NFC playoffs.

Shockey muscled the ball away from Eagles safety Brian Dawkins in the end zone, and shook his head vigorously up and down for emphasis as he lay atop Dawkins. Then Shockey bounced the ball off an upper-deck facade of the stadium.

What did he say to Dawkins?

"Skip that question," he said.

The two players very well could meet again in two weeks. The Giants need to beat the San Francisco 49ers on the road on Sunday to put themselves in position for a third game against the Eagles this season.

Because Shockey has helped resuscitate the Giants' offense in a big way, it's a reasonable proposition.

"It didn't take long to see the kid is a heck of a competitor," Giants quarterback Kerry Collins said. "I think that is probably his greatest asset.

"He is a tough kid and he is a huge part of what we have done this year. Without him, we would probably be in big trouble right now."

Shockey supplies the Giants with the answer for the prevalent Cover 2 defense, or two-deep zone. He makes many of his catches down the middle of the field, where the Cover 2 is most vulnerable.

His presence there has opened up the outside for wide receiver Amani Toomer, who led the team in the regular season with 82 catches and eight touchdowns.

Shockey's 74 receptions broke the team's single-season record for a tight end, set by Mark Bavaro, who had 66 in 1986. Shockey's 894 receiving yards are the team's most at the position since Bavaro had 1,001, also in 1986.

The 74 catches also led all tight ends in the league this season, six more than the Ravens' Todd Heap, to earn a spot in February's Pro Bowl.

Similar in style to Bavaro, Shockey is a throwback player whose high-energy level is infectious.

"The guys on the team love him," Fassel said.

"The guys respond to him and he is just one of those guys who is fun. He is walking around the locker room and always talking to somebody. ... He is a rare breed of guy."

Shockey has had two 100-yard receiving games this season and just missed a third on Saturday with 98 yards.

Better yet, he responds to challenges. When Indianapolis Colts safety David Gibson made the observation before a Week 16 game against the Giants that Shockey was not as good as the Kansas City Chiefs' Tony Gonzalez, Shockey made a statement of his own.

On the first play of the second quarter, he took a short pass from Collins and literally ran over Gibson for a big gain.

Said Shockey of Gibson's faux pas, "He won't be saying anything else about me, I don't think."

Giants defensive end Michael Strahan has gained an appreciation for Shockey, too.

"Shockey is tough and hard to defend," Strahan said.

"If you put a safety on him, just throw the ball up and he makes it happen. He makes plays, and he is a rare offensive player. We are lucky that we are playing with him and not against him."

To assure themselves of getting Shockey in last April's draft, the Giants surrendered a fourth-round pick to move up one spot to No. 14 in the first round. He was clearly the top tight end in the draft, coming out of the University of Miami.

"That school is like no other," Shockey said. "Anybody that comes out of there is going to be ready to play at the next level. My coaches did a great job preparing me for the next level."

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